“through a maze of inversions, evolutions, and harlequin changes”

October 21, 2013 § Leave a comment

The rhetorician’s art in its glory and power has silently faded away before the stern tendencies of the age; and if, by any peculiarity of taste or strong determination of the intellect, a rhetorician, en grand costume, were again to appear amongst us, it is certain that he would have no better welcome than a stare of surprise as a posture-maker or balancer, not more elevated in the general estimate, but far less amusing, than the acrobat, or funambulist, or equestrian gymnast. No; the age of rhetoric like that of chivalry has passed amongst forgotten things; . . . . So multiplied are the modes of intellectual enjoyment in modern times, that the choice is absolutely distracted; and in a boundless theatre of pleasures, to be had at little or no cost of intellectual activity, it would be marvellous indeed if any considerable audience could be found an exhibition which presupposes a state of tense exertion on the part of auditor and performer. To hang upon one’s own thoughts as an object of conscious interest, to play with them, to watch and pursue them through a maze of inversions, evolutions, and harlequin changes . . . proclaims at least a quiescent state of the public mind, unoccupied with daily novelties, and at leisure from the agitations of eternal change.

— Thomas De Quincey, “Rhetoric”

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