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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

§ 29. Edward Tyrrel Channing

The Boylston Professorship was held from 1819 to 1851 by Edward Tyrrel Channing (1790–1856), a younger brother of William Ellery Channing. His Lectures, published immediately after his death, obviously owe much to Adams’s. From a comparison of the orator’s opportunity in ancient and in modern times, they proceed through the usual apology for rhetoric to the usual division into demonstrative, deliberative, judicial, and pulpit oratory. They omit the discussion of composition itself in its parts and phases, and treat instead the standards and the forms of criticism, with what looks like a distinct plea in defence of the cryptic and Orphic utterances of the transcendentalists. Channing, like Adams, is descriptive and critical rather than practical; he gives a student standards by which to judge existing discourse rather than assistance in producing his own. Such assistance he seems to have reserved for the personal conferences which he held with his students over their themes. There is general agreement that he was a most successful teacher of the art of writing, and that, as Colonel Higginson says, Channing “turned out more good writers than any half-dozen other rhetoric teachers in America.” Among his pupils were Emerson, Edward Everett Hale, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Holmes, Lowell, Motley, Parkman, George Ripley, W. L. Furness, and Andrew Preston Peabody, the last of whom considers Channing’s appointment as “perhaps the most important ever made in the interest of American literature.”

Channing’s personal conferences with students over their written work foreshadowed the changes which the nineteenth century wrought in the philology of rhetoric. Rhetoric has moved from oratory and public speaking to writing, and to speaking as a preparation for writing. It has moved from rhetorical history, precept, and theory, to practice. It has moved from the study of diction and style to the study of development and structure. It has moved from rules, through logic, to psychology.

Meanwhile, in the fifties and sixties, just when rhetoric was turning from diction to invention, there arose a new group of writers on diction. These seldom deal with linguistic groups larger than the phrase, and never with the sentence; they are interested for the most part in the history of words and locutions; and they all sooner or later discuss Americanisms as an exceedingly interesting phase of this history. Though they all more or less tell the reader what to say and not to say, they are distinguished from mere writers of textbooks by their much higher degree of historic purpose and objectivity.