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WATSON, Shevaun E.

Fall 2001, pages 45-66

Complicating the Classics: Neoclassical Rhetorics in Two Early American Schoolbooks

Abstract: This article examines two texts important in American rhetorical history, Caleb Bingham's 1794 American Preceptor and Eliphalet Pearson's 1802 abridgment of Blair's Lectures. These schoolbooks challenge accepted historiographies of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century rhetoric in two ways: they demonstrate that neoclassicism encompassed a much greater variety of ancient figures and texts than is usually presumed, and they suggest that neoclassical rhetorics operated within a more complicated sociopolitical milieu than is commonly understood. Bingham and Pearson emerge as key figures in early American rhetorical history and their books prompt reconsideration of American neoclassicism.

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