A Note on James Blair and the Southern Plain Style
Bain, Robert, The Southern Literary Journal
Discussions of the plain style of preaching and writing in colonial America usually center upon the authors of New England and the Middle Colonies. Perry Miller and others have demonstrated that concepts of a plain style are rooted in the English Puritan heritage transplanted to Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay. (1) It is equally true, however, that in the early decades of the eighteenth century, Commissary James Blair of Virginia, representative of the Bishop of London and the Anglican Church, and other writers associated with the South were advocating a plain, unadorned way of writing.
The influence of the Royal Society and of such divines as Archbishop John Tillotson (1630-1694) accounts for some of the emphasis upon the plain way of preaching and writing, (2) both in England and in the Colonies. Equally significant is what Blair himself called the "plain Country Auditory" to which Virginia ministers addressed their sermons. Howard Mumford Jones, in his study of American prose style between 1700 and 1770, notes that the "movement for simplicity in the British pulpit is paralleled in America" and that this "movement was not confined to non-Anglican faiths." Jones' sources, however, are drawn largely from the writings of New Englanders, though he cites Anglican William Smith of Philadelphia as an advocate of "plainness and lucidity" as early as 1762. Jones mentions only two writers of the South--Virginia historians Hugh Jones and William Stith, whose books were published in 1724 and 1747, respectively. (3)
But the Prefaces to Blair's sermons, published in London in 1722, and to Robert Beverley's The History and Present State of Virginia (London, 1705) amply illustrate that concepts of the plain …
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Publication information: Article title: A Note on James Blair and the Southern Plain Style. Contributors: Bain, Robert - Author. Journal title: The Southern Literary Journal. Volume: 4. Issue: 1 Publication date: Fall 1971. Page number: 68+. © 1999 University of North Carolina Press. COPYRIGHT 1971 Gale Group.
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