The sense of rhythm: Nationalism, sympathy, and the English elocutionists

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This essay traces a peculiar conception of linguistic rhythm developed by the English Elocutionists and imagined to foster strong sympathy among members of linguistic communities. Focusing on Joshua Steele's An Essay Towards Establishing the Melody and Measure of Speech (1775), I demonstrate that such rhythm and the fellow-feeling it fosters were imagined as at once national and personal as well as formal and embodied. This conception of linguistic bonding coheres with David Hume's early discussion of sympathy, while also offering interesting solutions to problems in Adam Smith's later theatrical model. Additionally, it provides an illuminating perspective on the much debated ethic of speech, as it was shaped by Rousseauvian nostalgia and reconsidered in more recent deconstructive and psychoanalytic theorizations of presence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)173-192
Number of pages20
JournalEighteenth Century
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Adam
  • An essay towards establishing the melody and measure of speech (1775)
  • David
  • Eighteenth-century Britain
  • Elocutionists
  • Ethic of speech
  • Hume
  • Joshua Steele
  • Nationalism
  • Rhythm in language
  • Sheridan
  • Smith
  • Sonority in language
  • Sympathy
  • Thomas

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