Friday, November 23, 2007

C.S. Lewis on John Jewel (1522-71)

"One of Jewel's very minor works in Latin, the early Oratio contra Rhetoricam would be of great literary interest if we could be sure that it was seriously intended. We should have to salute a man who stood almost alone in maintaining that rhetorical study is a total waste of time, that rhetoricians are neither better understood nor more believed than natural speakers, and that an art which bad causes need far more than good ones is the ruin of states. The Oratio has been so taken by an eminent scholar, but I cannot agree with him. What first awakes suspicion is the absence of all arguments drawn from religion. Its whole atmosphere is that of literary paganism. And towards the end we find a passage which, from such a man at such a date, must surely be ironical. It might be translated thus:

Our owne country men not many yeares sithence whan they had no shadowe, I saie not of eloquence but of verie Latine and clene language, whan Cicero lay despised and scorned in kennels and darke corners and Scotus blocked vp the gate and entrie of all the scholes, how well learned neuerthelater, of how sharpe iudgment in philosophie, how graue in diuinity they were esteemde? Oh blessed vniversitie! Oh the goode worlde! For than naught might be done against oure sentence, than might we make peace and warre and stirre vp tumultes and sette prynces by the eares.

What can this be but an insinuation that none could seriously attack (as Jewel has been ostensibly attacking) the new Ciceronianism, unless he were a Papist and a scholastic? The whole Oratio is a laboured academic joke of the kind not then uncommon. Jewel was no more seriously condemning rhetoric than Erasmus was seriously praising folly."

--English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama, 306-307

1 comment:

Lee Faber said...

that's great. If only Scotus were still blocking up the schools.