The Genius of the Nation: Rhetoric and Nationalism in Eighteenth-Century Britain
Abstract: This article examines the claim that rhetoric declined precipitously, and perhaps even “died,” sometime in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. While various causes have been proposed for the presumed demise, the rise of both Romanticism and nationalism has been advanced as destructive of the rhetorical tradition. Nationalism, in particular, is said to be incompatible with rhetoric because it replaced an older, universal, Latinate culture and thus displaced the classical tradition of which rhetoric was a key part. Contrary to such claims, I argue that the rise of British nationalism certainly influenced rhetoric, but did so in ways that benefited the development of modern rhetoric in Britain. I argue further that classicism and nationalism functioned, not in opposition, but in concert, contributing to a resurgence of rhetoric, elocution, and oratory in Britain in the eighteenth century and beyond.