Ward Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric

Back in April, Eugene blogged this book, written by my friend, fellow Justice Kennedy alumnus, and fellow Rolling Stones fan Ward Farnsworth, who is a law professor at Boston University.  I have since been able to read the book, and add my enthusiastic endorsement. 

The book is divided into eighteen chapters, each of which analyzes a classical rhetorical technique, explaining how to use it effectively and providing many examples from literature.  There are six chapters on using the repetition of words (e.g., simple repetition/repetition at the start of a sentence, the end, or both/repetition of the root); six chapters on sentence structure (parallel structure/reversal of structure/inversion of words); and six chapters on dramatic devices (rhetorical questions/correcting oneself/breaking off in midstream/saying things by not saying them). 

I have always been a big fan of parallel structure (which I now know is “isocolon,” although I will promptly forget it).  But I had no idea of the breadth of ways it has been used.  Thus, for example, the book discusses the ways the device can be used to make two claims about the same subject.  They can be consistent claims:

He was a morose, savage-hearted, bad man: idle and dissolute in his habits; cruel and ferocious in his disposition. (Dickens, The Pickwick Papers (1837))

But parallel structure can also be used to make comparisons and emphasize contrast (the second example is my particular favorite).

Married in haste, we may repent at leisure. (Congreve, The Old Bachelor (1693))

The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.  (Emerson, Worship (1860))

All-strong without, he is all-weak within. (Churchill, radio broadcast to the United States (1938))

The book’s use of examples makes reading it doubly enjoyable.  It is not only an interesting book on a fascinating subject (and surprisingly readable given the academic nature of the subject); it is also a collection of great writing that is well edited and organized.  There are many passages that beg to be read aloud—and which, indeed, I have read aloud to my wife—a hallmark of great writing.  The examples both aptly illustrate the principles they exemplify, and also simply entertain. 

Law students and young lawyers sometimes ask me how they can become better writers.  The first thing I tell them is to practice, and to work on becoming a critical reader and self-editor.  The other thing I tell them is to read good writing.  As the Chief Justice told Bryan Garner (p.39), “[t]he only good way to learn about writing is to read good writing.”  Both this book and the excerpts it contains fall into that category. 

My one complaint is the dearth of Stones lyrics in the book.  But I guess you have to leave something for the Second Edition.

One of the commenters to Eugene’s write-up expressed his wish that it were available in electronic form.  It apparently now is, as a Google eBook here (don’t know if it works for Kindle, but apparently works for iPad).