The rhetoric of sensibility : argument, sentiment, and slavery in the late eighteenth century
This dissertation argues that by adapting the style and techniques of sentimental novels, poetry, and drama to persuasive writing a significant number of late-eighteenth century political writers were able to develop a distinct and recognisable rhetoric of sensibility. It develops this argument by examining eighteenth-century views on the use and purpose of rhetoric, and by looking at writing in one of the most wide-ranging debates of the lateeighteenth century, the debate over abolition of the slave trade. Chapter One looks at traditional ('neo-classical') rhetoric and contrasts this with some of the many varieties of the eighteenth-century 'new rhetoric'. Chapter Two looks at particular rhetorical strategies employed during the sentimental period and identifies the main tropes of the rhetoric of sensibility. Chapter Three examines the relationship between slavery and literary sentimentalism, looking at the way in which imaginative writers used sentimental rhetoric to advance the idea of anti-slavery. It also considers the extent to which abolitionist poems, plays, and novels themselves contributed to the development of a sentimental rhetoric. Chapter Four examines the use of sentimental rhetoric in nonfictional slavery-related tracts and pamphlets. It explores the ways in which the sentimental rhetorical strategies outlined in Chapter Two were adopted by both pro and anti-slavery writers of the 1780s. Chapter Five discusses how William Wilberforce, the main parliamentary advocate for abolition, used sentimental rhetoric in his early parliamentary speeches. The conclusion examines anti-slavery writing after the collapse of the first abolition campaign in 1792. In particular, it examines the use of sentimental rhetoric in responses to the revolutions in France and Haiti and suggests that after this date sentimental rhetoric, though never entirely disappearing, was progressively supplanted by other forms of rhetoric.