Bain, From English Composition and Rhetoric

Bain, Alexander. "From English Composition and Rhetoric." The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present. 2nd ed. Eds. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001. 1145-1148. Print.

Alexander Bain (1818-1903) was a Scottish rhetorician who published English Composition and Rhetoric as a textbook in 1866. The textbook’s impact includes the enduring focus on the importance of composition principles such as paragraph unity and topic sentences, and that the modes of discourse are description, narration, exposition, and persuasion (1143).

The book offers a psychological theory of composition, suggesting that figurative speech follows mental operations, which include the understanding, the will, and feeling (1145-7). These faculties relate to modes of discourse thus:

  • To inform the understanding (Description, Narrative, Exposition)
  • To persuade the will (Oratory)
  • Please/Feeling (Poetry) (1146).

In Bain’s section on “Style in General,” he discusses figures of speech in relation to mental faculties: discrimination (contrast), similarity (simile, metaphor and allegory), and retentiveness (metonymy) (1147).

Bain also discusses the unity of the Paragraph, noting the importance of considering topics, order, and purpose, and of including topic sentences (1148).