As in the rest of Europe during the “Siècle des lumières,” the decadence of rhetoric was a fact in Spain. Persuasion based on the rhetorical employment of language was neither considered important nor respected, consequently leaving poetry as much more highly esteemed than eloquence. There was only one exception, namely, sacred oratory – that is, religious discourses given by priests from the pulpit. That is how we can interpret the translation from Latin into Spanish of the work of Fray Luis de Granada (1504–1588) about eloquent preaching entitled Rhetorica ecclesiatica, which was published in 1770.
Resounding and flashy baroquism along with a recalcitrant conservatism were the most characteristic features of rhetoric at this time, in sacred as well as in profane oratory. The Jesuit priest José Francisco Isla (1703–1781) wrote a novel, entitled Historia del famoso predicador Fray Gerundio de Campazas, alias Zotes (1770), which was a satire against the bombastic eloquence of sacred oratory in his time. Fray Gerundio enters a religious order, where he learns to preach in a grandiloquent style full of baroquisms, inopportune and confused citations of Latin authors, and many other nonsensical extravagances.
The work of Ignacio de Luzán (1702–1754), entitled Arte de hablar, o sea, retórica de las conversaciones (1729) is an adaptation of the classical doctrine on rhetoric as designed and exposed by Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian to the social and political context of Spain in his time.
Gregorio Mayans y Siscar (1699–1781) is another author of rhetorical treatises worth citing in this time. With his three works (Oración que exhorta a seguir la verdadera idea de la Elocuencia Española, 1727; El orador christiano, 1733; Rhetorica, 1757), he not only furnished Spanish scholars with a lot of beautiful examples of Spanish eloquence in the sixteenth century, but presented them with a full exposition of the rhetorical theories of Aristotle, Hermogenes, Dionysius, Longinus, Cicero, and Quintilian as they were explained by the important Spanish scholars Elio Antonio de Nebrija (1441–1522), Luis Vives (1492–1540), and Francisco de las Brozas, “El Brocense” (1523–1601).
In the next century, the romantic nineteenth century, there are two methodological guidelines – fully typical of Romanticism – that can be detected in Spanish works concerning rhetoric: sentimentalism and belletrism. For the adherents to sentimentalism, a rhetorical discourse must be particularly emotional and full of psychological and expressive strategies in order to capture the will of the hearers. For instance, José Gómez de Hermosilla, in his work Arte de hablar en prosa y en verso (1826), argued that the task of rhetoric was to teach the orator to impact the soul of his hearers. For the defenders of belletrism, rhetoric – conceived as basically an art or science of style – must be integrated in literature conceived as a preceptive art of beautiful speaking and writing. For instance, there are in this century a great number of books about rhetoric with titles such as Poética, Retórica o Literatura Preceptiva (e.g., Arpa y López 1878; Latorre y Pérez 1878; María Terradillos 1883; Flórez-Villamil y Rives 1900).
Beginning in the past century, a rehabilitation of classical rhetoric took place in Spain, as it did in the rest of the world. Antonio García Berrio and his disciples have played a role of paramount importance in this movement. Spanish scholars have two different conceptions regarding rhetoric. They conceive it either as a science of style, useful in literary studies (e.g., Melero Bellido et al. 1981; Paraíso Almansa 2000), or as general science of a much broader scope and part of a general theory of communication, in close contact with other sciences (e.g., Berrio 2000; Capdevila 2004).
- Arpa y López, S. (1878). Compendio de retórica y poética, ó, Literatura preceptiva: adaptado a la índole y extension de esta asignatura en la segunda enseñanza. Cadiz: D. Federico Joly.
- Berrio, J. (2000). La comunicació en democràcia. Bellaterra: Universitat Aut noma de Barcelona, Servei de Publicacions.
- Capdevila, A. (2004). El discurso persuasivo: la estructura retórica de los espots electorales en televisión. Bellaterra: Universitat Aut noma de Barcelona, Servei de Publicacions.
- Fl rez-Villamil y Rives, M. (1900). Nociones de retórica y poética ó literatura preceptiva. Madrid: G. Juste.
- Latorre y Pérez, N. (1878). Manual de retórica y poética, ó, Elementos de literatura preceptiva. Jerez: Guadalete.
- Melero Bellido, A., López García, A., & Simón, C. (1981). Lecciones de retórica y métrica. Alberica: J. Huguet Pascual.
- Paraíso Almansa, I. (2000). Retóricas y poéticas españolas, siglos XVI–XIX: L. de Granada, Rengifo, Artiga, Hermosilla, R. de Miguel, Milá y Fontanals. Valladolid: Secretariado de Publicaciones e Intercambio Editorial, Universidad de Valladolid.
- Terradillos, A. M. (1883). Lecciones elementales de retórica y poética, 8th edn. Madrid, n.p.