Home  »  Volume XVIII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART III  »  § 3. The Later Eighteenth Century; Ezra Stiles

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

XXV. Scholars

§ 3. The Later Eighteenth Century; Ezra Stiles

Thus the utilitarian and the dilettante production went sporadically on, continuing, as has been indicated, long after the new forces had begun to work. The signs of these were not wanting. During and shortly after the Revolution American learning became self-conscious, and took account of itself. In 1794 Mitchill, then professor of chemistry and botany in Columbia College, made a report to the Senatus Academicus on “the present state of learning in the College of New York” (i. e. Columbia College); and Ezra Stiles, in his Latin Inaugural Oration upon his induction as president of Yale in 1778, offered a prospectus of much the same kind, which is notable as showing the relative values that a highly estimable scholar then attached to the various disciplines. Stiles would have his ideal pupil study the vernacular with a view to rendering materials from other languages available in it, and for practice in writing and public speaking. Latin and Greek, Hebrew, Syriac, and Arabic he is also to study; but arithmetic, algebra, geometry, geography, logic, and rhetoric are mentioned only to be dismissed as leviora studia. Let the youth pass onward to the higher mathematics, natural philosophy, and astronomy. Astronomy will lead him to the heavenly hierarchy, this to metaphysics and ontology, and thence to ethics and moral philosophy—the latter chiefly mystical and concerned with the Divine Love. He is to study human history too; and at odd times (subsecivis horis), music, poetry, drama, and polite and belles lettres. The programme is closed with the professional studies: medicine; theology, which Stiles analyzes in some detail as doctrinal, historical, etc.; and law, for which he lays out a course in considerable detail. Notable especially are the slighting mention and the small space (only a little more than four pages out of his forty) and with which Stiles dismisses the humanistic studies.