Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Victorian Pulpit: Spoken and Written Sermons in Nineteenth-Century Britain

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Victorian Pulpit: Spoken and Written Sermons in Nineteenth-Century Britain

Article excerpt

ROBERT H. ELLISON. The Victorian Pulpit: Spoken and Written Sermons in Nineteenth-Century Britain. Cranbury, New Jersey: Susquehana University Press, 1998. Pp. 219, works cited, index. $34.50.

Robert Ellison has produced a slim but useful text which studies the often missed importance of Victorian preaching. Ellison makes use of the orality-literacy scholarship of individuals such as Walter Ong and others to study and critique the nineteenth-century tradition of preaching. The book is set up in a theory and praxis model. The first chapters examine the oral and written nature of Victorian preaching while the second half analyzes the work of three prominent preachers.

Ellison claims that there is genuine lack of development in the understanding of Victorian preaching. He states that the sermon must be understood as a type of "oral literature." He believes that preaching, more than any other form of nineteenth-century prose, "is characterized by the often uneasy juxtaposition of oral and written traditions."

The first chapter shows that many Victorians felt the sermon was both oral and written tradition. They believed that preaching was similar to classical, public discourse, but they maintained that the sermons themselves should be shaped by techniques governing the written, rather than the spoken, word. The second chapter takes up one of the topics most frequently debated: whether, and to what degree, the oral act of preaching should be aided by written materials, be they notes, outlines, or even complete manuscripts. …

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