ethical rhetoric. Rhetoric “at its truest seeks to perfect men by showing them better versions of themselves, links in a chain extending up toward the ideal, which only the intellect can apprehend and only the soul have affection for.”95 Looking at the terms upon which Weaver extolled Miltonic rhetoric, at those as- pects which Weaver found pertinent, pro- vides the foundation of his ethical pro- gram.
An Ethical Rhetoric
The title of the sixth chapter in the Ethics is itself revealing of Weaver’s ethical pro- gram: “Milton’s Heroic Prose.” Milton is the hero, the archetypal champion to be emulated: “...Milton’s very arduousness of spirit calls for elevation on the part of the reader. Milton assumes an heroic stance, and he demands a similar stance of those who would meet him.”96 Weaver himself adopted a similar posture in his approach to Milton making analysis an heroic undertaking.
Weaver identified “three or four sources”97 of Milton’s style. First, he claimed, there is “the primacy of con- cept,” or the extent to which Milton “wrote primarily as a thinker and not as an artificer,” and thus his “units of composi- tion are built upon concepts and not upon conventional expository patters.”98 This refusal to accommodate expository patterns at the expense of his ideas was manifest in sentences of extraordinary length and complexity which demanded “more than ordinary effort of attention and memory”99 on the part of his reader.
He readily admitted that this style evi- denced an “aristocratic tendency”100 in Milton’s writing which, Weaver argued, was necessary given the pressures of Milton’s age. Milton, who lived in a “tough- minded period of Western culture,” when “every thinking man virtually had to be either a revolutionary or a counter-revo- lutionary,” wrote for “a sternly educated
minority, which had been taught to rec- ognize an argument when it saw one, and even to analyze its source.”101
While Weaver’s contemporaries were defining rhetoric as the art of “adjusting ideas to people and people to ideas,”102 and insisting that the “prime quality of prose style is clarity,”103 Weaver’s ideal orator had no intention of forcing his ideas into easily digestible categories nor of sacrificing meaning for the sake of a more widely available manner of under- standing. It is the hallmark of the neu- tered speaker and the non-lover that his language should be available to all. Here, too, it would do well to note the point of departure with the style of Lincoln, for whom it was crucial “that everyone un- derstand precisely what he was saying.”104
The second significant aspect of Milton’s style was the “restless energy that permeates his substance” and that refused to permit “the reader to remain inert.”105 Milton’s style made indifference to his ideas impossible and to that end, Weaver argued, Milton wrote in a “super- lative mode...reaching out toward the two extremes of a gauge of value” and couch- ing his expressions “in terms raised to their highest degree.”106 Throughout his writings, Milton spoke of the best and the worst, whether it be depth or darkness or dejectedness or downtroddenness. Never would the reader be allowed the passive comfort of the middle ground but was offered only the extremes from which to chose:
He wrote in this superlative vein because his principal aim was the divorcement of good and evil. To show these wide apart, he had to talk in terms of best and worst, and being a rhetorician of vast resources, he found ways of making the superlative even more eminent than our regular grammatical forms make it, which naturally marks him as a great creative user of language.105
The second element of Milton’s style which Weaver associated with vigor and