Oratorical Culture in Nineteenth-Century America: Transformations in the Theory and Practice of Rhetoric

Oratorical Culture in Nineteenth-Century America: Transformations in the Theory and Practice of Rhetoric

Oratorical Culture in Nineteenth-Century America: Transformations in the Theory and Practice of Rhetoric

Oratorical Culture in Nineteenth-Century America: Transformations in the Theory and Practice of Rhetoric

Synopsis

Gregory Clark and S. Michael Halloran bring together nine essays that explore change in both the theory and the practice of rhetoric in the nineteenth-century United States.

In their introductory essay, Clark and Halloran argue that at the beginning of the nineteenth century, rhetoric encompassed a neoclassical oratorical culture in which speakers articulated common values to establish consensual moral authority that directed community thought and action. As the century progressed, however, moral authority shifted from the civic realm to the professional, thus expanding participation in the community as it fragmented the community itself. Clark and Halloran argue that this shift was a transformation in which rhetoric was reconceived to meet changing cultural needs.

Part I examines the theories and practices of rhetoric that dominated at the beginning of the century. The essays in this section include "Edward Everett and Neoclassical Oratory in Genteel America" by Ronald F. Reid, "The Oratorical Poetic of Timothy Dwight" by Gregory Clark, "The Sermon as Public Discourse: Austin Phelps and the Conservative Homiletic Tradition in Nineteenth-Century America" by Russel Hirst, and "A Rhetoric of Citizenship in Nineteenth-Century America" by P. Joy Rouse.

Part 2 examines rhetorical changes in the culture that developed during that century. The essays include "The Popularization of Nineteenth-Century Rhetoric: Elocution and the Private Learner" by Nan Johnson, "Rhetorical Power in the Victorian Parlor: Godey's Lady's Book and the Gendering of Nineteenth-Century Rhetoric" by Nicole Tonkovich, "Jane Addams and the Social Rhetoric of Democracy" by Catherine Peaden, "The Divergence of Purpose and Practice on the Chatauqua: Keith Vawter's Self-Defense" by Frederick J. Antczak and Edith Siemers, and "The Rhetoric of Picturesque Scenery: A Nineteenth-Century Epideictic" by S. Michael Halloran.

Excerpt

Gregory Clark and S. Michael Halloran

In his history of the discipline of English studies, Gerald Graff speaks of an "oratorical culture" that grounded the study of language and literature in American colleges through the first half of the nineteenth century (1987, 36-51). in his view, this oratorical culture "pervaded the college and linked the classical courses with the courses in English rhetoric and elocution, with the literary and debating societies, and with the literary culture outside" (35). It consisted of the oral exercises -- disputation, declamation, forensic oration, and the like -- that were a part of the traditional arts curriculum, as well as the literary and debate societies and the literary magazines that were increasingly prominent in the extra-curriculum of American colleges from the mid-eighteenth century on. According to Graff, this collegiate oratorical culture lent some vitality to the study of literature in English, though it supported a view of literature as "a public or civic discourse fit for socializing future citizens" (42), a view he takes as falling short of the true "literary" understanding that began to emerge with the dawn of "the professional era" in English studies in the last quarter of the century (53). "What finally should be the verdict on the literary education provided by the old-fashioned college?" he asks, replying that "in many ways it was worse than a waste of time, a form of unredeemed drudgery carried on in the name of archaic social ideals" (50).

As Graff's reference to "archaic social ideals" hints, "oratorical culture" in fact pervaded more than college life in the early nineteenth century. American politics and society during this period were in-

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