Rhetoric, Science, & Magic in Seventeenth-Century England Review

Rhetoric, Science, and Magic in Seventeenth-Century England
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Rhetoric, Science, & Magic in Seventeenth-Century England ReviewBeing a scholar of seventeenth-century literature and rhetoric I absolutely loved this study, especially the thought-provoking analysis of Thomas Sprat's History of the Royal Society from 1667. Stark argues convincingly that Sprat was anti-occult, not anti-rhetoric, and contrasts Sprat's own use of rhetorical figures with that of e.g. Rosicrucian magicians. Non-specialist readers will find the book gives a very helpful overview of the relationship between rhetoric and (occult) philosophy in the period. The chapter on "Demonic eloquence" is just brilliant.Rhetoric, Science, & Magic in Seventeenth-Century England OverviewRhetoric operated at the crux of seventeenth-century thought, from arguments between scientists and magicians to anxieties over witchcraft and disputes about theology. Writers on all sides of these crucial topics stressed rhetorical discernment, because to the astute observer the shape of one's eloquence was perhaps the most reliable indicator of the heart's piety or, alternatively, of demonry. To understand the period's tenor, we must understand the period's rhetorical thinking, which is the focus of this book.Ryan J. Stark presents a spiritually sensitive, interdisciplinary, and original discussion of early modern English rhetoric. He shows specifically how experimental philosophers attempted to disenchant language. While rationalists and skeptics delighted in this disenchantment, mystics, wizards, and other practitioners of mysterious arts vehemently opposed the rhetorical precepts of modern science. These writers used tropes not as plain instruments but rather as numinous devices capable of transforming reality. On the contrary, the new philosophers perceived all esoteric language as a threat to learning's advancement, causing them to disavow both nefarious forms of occult spell casting and, unfortunately, edifying forms of wonderment and incantation. This fundamental conflict between scientists and mystics over the nature of rhetoric is the most significant linguistic happening in seventeenth-century England, and, as Stark argues, it ought profoundly to inform how we discuss the rise of modern English writing.

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