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date: 20 September 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Rhetoric was a central preoccupation of natural philosophers in eighteenth-century Europe as they strove to create audiences for their work and negotiated appropriate forms for communicating their discoveries. Focusing on two influential English scientific texts from the period—Hans Sloane’s Voyage to Jamaica (1707–25), a botanical taxonomy, and Joseph Priestley’s Observations on Different Kinds of Air (1772), a narrative of chemical experiments—this chapter explores two core rhetorical challenges that preoccupied scientific writers: the arrangement of materials (dispositio); and the establishment of the character of the author (ethos). The new science’s grappling with these problems of representation became, ultimately, transformative for rhetorical theory in the period, which repudiated classical ornament for the plain style and perspicuity. Together, Sloane and Priestley model new scientific ideals of selfless labor and careful witness that ultimately become the single, universally celebrated virtue of nineteenth-century scientific writing: objectivity.

Keywords: rhetoric, Enlightenment, science, ethos, dispositio, narrative, taxonomy, plain style, perspicuity, audiences

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