Albrecht von Haller's view of the relationship between rhetoric, literature and truth in the context of his time.
To Haller the Bernese patrician, rhetoric as the art of
persuasion still had a public function. He saw rhetoric and
literature as brother 'and sister, both offspring of wit or
the imagination, and their primary function as the promotion
of truth and virtue rather than mere entertainment.
The thesis falls into two parts. The first part deals with
aesthetic problems: that is, with the relationship between
form and content (verba' and 'res'), imagination and judgment
('ingenium' and 'iudicium'), and wit and sublimity. The
second part extends the dispute between wit and sublimity
into the wider arena of morality, politics_and religion.
The first section examines Haller's Neo-Platonic mistrust of
rhetoric as a perversion of the truth,· a mistrust based on
his scientific and religious background. His elevation of
content over form leads to an examination of the concept of
sublimity, and in particular, of sublime simplicity, where
truth and grandeur of content are conveyed in the simplest
words. I try to place Haller's own elliptical brevity in
this context, noting that the directness and immediacy
Breitinger admires in it are also a feature of sublime
simplicity. There is also some examination of the contrast
between flawed sublimity and faultless mediocrity which so
preoccupied German criticism from the 1740s onwards.
Section Two examines the question of the poet's moral
character, or the concept of 'vir bonus'. A poet may be
a skilful manipulator of his audience's emotions, yet remain
uncommitted to the truth or morality. I examine ·the
proposition that great men, whether of literature, politics,
or arms, only truly flourish in the relative freedom of a
republic, taking Haller's Swiss republicanism into account.
I try to analyse Haller's concept of virtue as loyalty bo
the community rather than to one's own self-glorification.
The final chapter assesses his attitude towards contemporary
writers, most notably the French, in this light.