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Chironomia; or, A Treatise on Rhetorical Delivery

By Gilbert Austin

  • Transcription, correction, editorial commentary, and markup: Tonya Howe

    OR A
    Et certe quod facere oporteat, non indignandum est discere, cum praesertim haec Chironomia, quae est (ut nomine ipso delcaratur) lex gestus, et ab illis temporibus heroicis orta sit, et a summis Graeciae viris, et ab ipso etiam Socrate probata, a Platone quoque in parte civilium posita vertunum, et a Chrysippo in praeceptis de liberorum educatione compositis non omissa. Quint.

    Non sum nescius quantum susceperim negotii qui motus corporis exprimere verbis et imitari scriptura conatus sim voces. Rhet. ad Herenn l 3.
    [end page titlepage]


    Of Reading.

    Of public speaking in general — Different modes of public speaking — Reading the simplest and most useful — Its divisions — The intelligible reader — Acquirements necessary for him and offices suited to his talent — The correct reader — His acquirements and offices — The impressive reader — His acquirements and public reading — Reading of the Liturgy and of the holy Scriptures — Frequent repetition of the church service — Its effects on the feelings of the reader — The efforts necessary to be made and persevered in by a minister of the Gospel — The rhetorical reader — Requisites for him — The value of accomplished reading — Of dramatic reading — Private dramatic readers — Public dramatic readers— Of dramatic, reading in which the characters are distributed among several persons in private company — Reading of history - Of epic poetry — Of novels — Reflections on this last species of writing. [end page section]

    History, which is the most improving subject of private reading, in the mere narrative parts requires no greater efforts on the part of the reader than the style which is termed correct. But in those lively descriptions of places, situations, and great actions which rhetoricians name hypotoposes, impressive reading is altogether necessary ; and in the speeches or prosopopoeias which sometimes occur, rhetorical reading should in some measure be introduced. [end page 204]

    The same circumstances occur more frequently, and more heightened in epic poetry: and therefore, as well as on account of the lofty measure, and elevated language, an epic poem requires of the reader a more dignified and exalted strain, and a manner almost constantly sustained above the ordinary level. Descriptions in such poetry abound more, and are more highly ornamented than in the most interesting history; similes and other poetical figures are introduced in all their grandeur and beauty; battles are described with the most terrible and striking precision, and speeches are delivered with all the ornaments, and all the powers of eloquence. Thus every thing sublime and beautiful, awful and pathetic, being assembled in an epic poem as in a tragedy, the reader must be all awake if he would deliver either with just effect; he must be filled with his subject governed by taste and judgment, alive to feeling, and inspired like the poet himself with a degree of enthusiasm.

    Novels, or modem fictitious biography, are so frequently the subject of private readings, and influence so much the taste of young people, that they demand some notice. Perhaps it would be well if this species of writing were still unknown : in its best form, and in its most innocent preparations, it is found to retain certain relaxing and sedative qualities, injurious to the vigour of the mind ;. and to have an influence upon it altogether different from those more solid studies of which Cicero says ; "Other studies do not suit all times, or all ages or places ; but these are the food proper for the nourishment of youth, they are the delight of old age ; they adorn prosperity, and supply refuge and consolation in adversity: they afford [end page 205] pleasure in private, and give no embarrassment in public ; they are our companions throughout the night ; they travel with us abroad, they follow us into our retirement in the country." 14 But it is not to be expected that the rapid progress of extreme refinement which has pervaded every art and enjoyment of life in Europe, should fail to shed its softness also upon our literature. And if this soft learning was never corrupted, or served only for the amusement of a leisure hour, instead of engrossing every hour in amusement, we should have less reason to complain. Some of those compositions may be esteemed valuable additions to our stock of amusing literature, and we may apply to such the former part of the passage just quoted from Cicero, who is speaking of other writings, and knew of none of this species.15 In reading these works aloud to the private circle, custom, arising from the eager desire of unravelling the story, has determined that the mere narrative should be read with unusual rapidity. The interesting scenes demand impressive reading, and many of the scenes, which are constructed like those in a regular drama, require to be read in a similar manner.

    [end page 206]
    From Quintillian's Institutio Oratoria, meaning 'and there can be no justification for disdaining to learn what has got to be done, especially as chironomy, which, as the name shows, is the law of gesture, originated in heroic times and met with the approval of the greatest Greeks, not excepting Socrates himself, while it was placed by Plato among the virtues of a citizen and included by Chrysippus in his instructions relative to the education of children' (1.11.17). The image above shows the titlepage of the 1720 Leiden edition of Institutio Oratoria. Image from Wikimedia Commons. A second-century CE Roman orator and rhetorician, Marcus Fabius Quintilianus is most well known for his 12-volume textbook on rhetoric, Institutio Oratoria, from which this epigraph is taken. The image obove is the frontispiece to the 1720 edition of Quintilian's Institutio Oratoria, which shows him teaching rhetoric to assembled men. Image from Wikimedia Commons. From Cicero's Rhethorica ad Herennium: 'I am not unaware how great a task I have undertaken in trying to express physical movements in words and portray vocal intonations in writing' (III.xv.26). Following the link will take you to the source in Loeb Classical Library. Following the link will take you to the record for Finding Aid for the Caddell and Davies Records, 1790-1840 at the Online Archive of California. Of unknown authorship but once attributed to Marcus Tullius Cicero, To Gaius Herennium, De Ratione Dicendi or Rhetorica ad Herennium is perhaps the oldest Latin text on rhetoric. Following the link will take you to the source. Hypotyposis is a rhetorical figure used to identify lively descriptions that help to 'creat[e] the illusion of reality.' Following the link will take you to the source. Prosopopoeia is a rhetorical figure of personification. Following the link will take you to the source. Marcus Tullius Cicero, a Roman orator of the 1st century BCE who was profoundly influential in the development of the Latin and, as a result, English language. Image above from Wikimedia Commons; following the link will take you to the source. Nam caetera neque temporum sunt, neque aetatum omnium, neque locorum : haec studia adolescentiam alunt, senectutem oblectant, secundas res ornant, adversis perfugium ac solatium praebent, delectant domi, non impediunt foris, pernoctant nobiscum, peregrinantur, rusticantur. Cic. pro Archia Poeta. [footnote in original; following the link will take you to the Perseus Project.] Quod si non hic tantus fructus ostenderetur et si ex his studiis delectatio sola peteretur: tamen ut opinor, hanc animi remissionem, humanissimam ac liberalissimam judicaretis. ib. [footnote in original; following the link will take you to the Perseus Project.]


  • London: W. Bulmer, and Co. Cleveland Row, St. James. 1806. . First edition. The accompanying page images are sourced from The University of Virginia Special Collections Library.
  • Public domain electronic facsimile copy: Internet Archive. . Link .
  • More information on available editions is available through the English Short Title Catalog and Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker.

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  • This text is prepared as part of the Literature in Context project, which provides an accessible, curated, and marked-up selection of primary sources relevant to the study and the teaching of British and American literature of the 18th century. This project is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and developed by faculty at The University of Virginia and Marymount University.
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