By Brycchan Carey (auth.)
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Additional resources for British Abolitionism and the Rhetoric of Sensibility: Writing, Sentiment and Slavery, 1760–1807
Smith attacks the simplicity of this position by noting that Cicero’s Oration in defence of Milo, though fine rhetoric, is unsustainable. 33 Clearly, the simple assertion of good character was nonsense when all the facts pointed against it. Just as clearly, we should not automatically assume that a speaker or writer is telling the truth on any occasion merely because they have a reputation for honesty. But curiously, given this position, Smith is at some pains to point out the importance of character in a rhetorician.
In a later lecture, the sixteenth, Smith explains why suffering will always form the best subject for rhetoric and belles lettres and, in effect, for literature in general: It is an undoubted fact that those actions affect us in the most sensible manner, and make the deepest impression, which give us a considerable degree of Pain and uneasiness. This is the case not only with regard to our own private actions, but with those of others. 35 He concludes the lecture with an overtly sentimentalist statement.
These, and other sentimental writers, maintained that since all people felt in the same way they should all be treated in the same way. The rejection of false sensibility This strategy was widespread, both in material about slavery and elsewhere. Often mistaken for rejection of sentimentalism itself, writers who reject false sensibility typically criticise those whose tears are prompted by trivial events or misfortunes, particularly those that affect only themselves, The Rhetoric of Sensibility 39 and those whose tears are prompted too readily by fictional suffering rather than, in Hannah More’s phrase, ‘living anguish and substantial woe’.
British Abolitionism and the Rhetoric of Sensibility: Writing, Sentiment and Slavery, 1760–1807 by Brycchan Carey (auth.)