Carr, Carr, and Schultz: Archives of Instruction pp. 33-80

September 18, 2007

From the chapter “Reproducing Rhetorics” (pp. 33-80).  19th Century Rhetorics, Readers, and Composition books in the United States.


Early in the nineteenth-century (1800-1830), text on rhetorical theory and instruction were presented in U.S. editions of previously printed British editions.  The texts were not a clear reprinting of the British texts but were selective adaptations based upon the needs of local and regional geographical areas.  This was an attempt to meet the needs of education growth in a particular area.  There was no need for widespread publication of texts since school participation had not reached widespread importance.   No text at this time had a “national circulation,” but a number of British authors and their rhetorical contributions standout during this early time period.


Hugh Blair’s Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres was the most noted forerunner of rhetorical instruction in the United States.  It was first that came close to a national circulation.  Still his text was not taken as a whole but was printed as selected editions and abridgements.  It was divided into five areas:  “the nature of taste ,” “consideration of language,” “style,” “eloquence” (“public speaking”), and “a critical examination of the most distinguishing species of composition” (34).  Blair presented his arguments in first person lectures and reflective narratives.  He also used teaching analogies related to the “primitive man” to make connection and present Latin, Greek, Russian, and Gaelic.  “Blair’s orientation allows him to understand language as a historical human creation subject to change” (35).  But unlike other authors of the time, he did not suppose a “divine origin of language” (36).


Others built upon Blair’s work, taking what they needed by way of extensions and rewrites.  Some author’s of interest are listed:  Eliphalet Pearson’s British Essays on Rhetoric was used at Harvard.  He rewrites Blair in Dr. Blair’s Essay on Rhetoric, dropping Blair’s first person lecture and reflections and includes “dogmatic rules and principles.”  George Campbell argued for a “pure and proper usage” of rhetoric.  “His principles codify and rationalize the linguistic grounds of national identity” (39).  He developed canons for implementation of usage.  Bendict Anderson called for “imagined community.”  Using “print-capitalism,” texts would facilitate social relationships, producing a national language and identity.  David Irving combines Blair and Campbell views.  Alexander Jamieson’s A Grammar of Rhetoric and Polite Literature was the first “rhetoric printed in the U.S. to number its sections” (43).


The first American authors of rhetoric were teachers of local institutions.  Prior to 1831, “Authorship and Modes of circulation” could be divided into three areas:

1.             Commemorative recognition: usually printed posthumously and only one edition.

2.            Compilation: catechistic nature; for local instruction use.

3.            Elocutionary:  (late 1820’s) was more personal projects and independent publications of authors.  Blending of rhetoric and elocution.


By 1831, catechistic text began to disappear.  Authors began to produce texts that presented rules, definitions, and writing exercises.  By mid-century commemorative and elocutionary instruction were widely published.  Compilation was still important in the U.S. because “some were still linked to local institutions and teachers and had only a limited circulation” (53).


1866-1900 saw a call for more “practical” textbooks.  Rhetorical texts now considered grade levels of its readers, reflecting “the paragraph as a unit of discourse,” and “scientific, philosophic, or historical descriptions” (62).  Users wanted instruction to address “principles with local or immediate occasions of writing.”  With this new focus, British Rhetorics began to decrease as new U.S. rhetorical publications increased.  Still British author Alexander Bain is of importance with the publication of English Composition and Rhetoric (1866).  “He organizes the second part of his book, “Kinds of Composition,” not by genres or occasions of writing by what will later become the “modes of discourse.”  He lists five “kinds”: description, narrative, exposition, persuasion, and poetry” (63).  These five modes are used in Composition course today.


By the end of the century, with the many transformations and publications of rhetorical texts, archives were needed to house the “historical” growth of the field.  “The earliest archives were official repositories or sites of institutional memory” (79).  Unlike today’s archives which tend to be more eclectic, the 19th century archive’s “texts are ordered, through practices of compilation, as a series of reproductions, redistributions, and critical appropriations and in some cases appear only as the tedious monotony of simple repetition.”  Because the field was constantly evolving, no “static” generalizations of textbook publications may be made from the viewing of 19th century archives.  Items were lost and/or not evaluated for future importance.  However, archives may hold items which may give a limited view of issues such as national identity, instructional transformations, and concerns of educational growth in the U.S.



The one question that keeps popping into my head:  Why is this historical account of textbook publications and the onset of archives important?  I think it is most important because we are able to trace the influence of British Rhetorical authors and their contribution to American Rhetorical authors,which relate not only a national rhetorical identity, but shows the growth and importance of academic learning in the United States and the need for archives.  Early inventors were able to piecewise their way through modes of discourse, wiriting instructions, and publication methods that may taken for granted today.  Readers today must realize that the field of Rhetoric was never “static” and went through great evolutions to arrive at the place we are at today.