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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVIII. Later National Literature, Part III.

XXV. Scholars

§ 28. Rhetoric in Harvard

The beginnings were meagre. The low estate of belles lettres and liberal studies in general at Yale in 1778 has been indicated in President Stiles’s Inaugural Oration. Almost at the same time (1776) Timothy Dwight, then a tutor, “gave a course of lectures on style and composition similar in plan to the lectures of Blair,” then not yet published. During his presidency Dwight resumed the teaching of belles lettres, probably with the same scope as that of Blair’s rhetoric—the study of diction and style in the narrower sense. Rhetoric at Yale, however, was until a late period generally rather a step-child in the family of the arts. At Harvard, rhetoric has been taught continuously and systematically. The sum left by Nicholas Boylston (1771) for the foundation of a professorship of Rhetoric and Oratory having accumulated until 1806, John Quincy Adams was installed and held the chair until 1809. His Lectures on Rhetoric and Oratory (1810), to the number of thirty-six, begin with the regular defence of rhetoric against its maligners; move historically through Greece and Rome down to Quintilian, with, however, only the barest mention of Aristotle; and thence build upon a combination of Cicero’s analysis (invention, disposition, elocution, memory, and pronunciation or action) with Aristotle’s classification of all oratory as demonstrative, deliberative, and judicial, adding a modern class, “eloquence of the pulpit.” The discussion throughout is illustrated by excellently chosen examples from the orators and the poets, modern as well as ancient. It is doubtful whether anybody wrote or spoke the better for having listened to these lectures, substantial and sensible as they are, but that fact does not prevent them from being an exceedingly interesting account of rhetoric as understood early in the nineteenth century.