Crowley, Sharon. “Invention in Nineteenth-Century Rhetoric.” College Composition and Communication 36 1 (1985): 51-60. Print.

  • In this piece Crowley argues against the charge that 19th century rhetoricians like Alexander Bain, John Franklin Genung, Adams Sherman Hill, and Barrett Wendell lacked originality in their rhetorical works.
  • Crowley claims that the theoretical tradition passed on from 18th century rhetoricians provided huge problems in the way of rhetorical invention for 19th century theorists of rhetoric.  Specifically, invention in the 19th century was severely curtailed pedagogically because 18th century rhetoricians understood originality and invention in terms of solitary genius (51) instead of as a social act (both classically and modern/postmodern).
  • Invention for the 18th century rhetoricians (Hume, Blair, Campbell, Bacon) assumed that invention occurred as a result of the natural ability of the writer in concert with a well-developed knowledge of the world.  This relegated invention to the resources available in observation and research, not in commonplaces (topoi).
  • Crowley’s model of invention from the 19th century is tripartite: 1) utilization of prior knowledge and natural ability (the accumulation of knowledge was external to the province of rhetoric at this point as 18th century empiricist philosophers divorced rhetorical concerns (enthymatic in Aristotelian terms) from observed/factual concerns (syllogistic in A.’s terms); 2) disciplined exercise of the mental faculties ; and 3) method, called “planning” by most writers (52) (We might call this third one “arrangement” or the ordering of assertions that establishes a clear and cogent line of reasoning.  The method was either synthetic [associated with syllogistic reasoning, deductive] or analytic [borrowed from the natural sciences and inductive in nature].  This method also assumed a universal associational psychology in the minds of the audience that understood arrangement and delivery as universals, unhinged from their material/contextual realities).


1.      There are so many convergences with this Crowley article and the inversion of Aristotelian theory that occurred in 18th century Empirical philosophy.  The move from the deductive (enthymatic) to the inductive (syllogistic) was achieved by the common sense philosophers and filtered on down through composition pedagogy in the succeeding century(ies).

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