This will not be a complete nor an exhaustive (or exhausting) review of definitions of rhetoric. What it will be is some definitions of rhetoric and some of my early thoughts on them.
Erasmus: “Elegance depends partly on the use of words established in suitable authors, partly on their right application, partly on their right combination in phrases.…style is to thought as clothes are to the body. Just as dress and outward appearance can enhance or disfigure the beauty and dignity of the body, so words can enhance or disfigure thought” (507, 508).
Style was a major feature in rhetoric in classical times and I think it continues to be important today. If rhetoric is inherently persuasive (and I haven’t decided how I feel about that even now), then style becomes more important. Certainly style impacts persuasiveness.
Bacon: “The duty and office of Rhetoric is to apply Reason to Imagination for the better moving of the will” (629).
Bacon is stressing the logic of rhetoric, but I am not sure that logic is rhetoric’s main force. Despite that, I like this definition because it includes imagination and a specific aim for rhetoric. Rhetoric has an aim, whether implicit or explicit and the moving of the will is a general enough description of its aim that it can apply to many different things.
Have I been looking at rhetoric as something about everything? There’s an interesting question to ponder.