Although the Rev. James W. Alexander, Professor of Belles- Lettres, delivered in 1838 what should probably be regarded as the first course of lectures in English literature, official recognition of this subject in the College catalogue had to wait until 1864 when John S. Hart was listed as ``Lecturer on English Literature.'' Further evidence of increasing attention to English studies came in 1868, when the title of Joshua H. McIlvaine, second incumbent of the University's oldest endowed chair, the Holmes Professorship, was changed from ``Belles-Lettres and Elocution'' to ``Belles-Lettres and English Language and Literature.'' In 1870 the first description of courses in English appeared in the Catalogue, almost certainly as a result of the introduction of a modified form of the elective system by President James McCosh, who had come to Princeton from Belfast two years earlier. But the main burden of instruction remained on composition, rhetoric, and language.
The mid-1870s brought two key appointments: Theodore W. Hunt as Adjunct Professor of Rhetoric and English, and James O. Murray as Holmes Professor. ``Granny'' Hunt, as he became affectionately known, was the first chairman of the English Department. Murray became the first dean of the faculty; a professorship was named after him.
The growing importance of English within an expanding curriculum during the last decade of the nineteenth century is apparent from the names of the eminent scholars and teachers who joined Hunt and Murray. These included: Bliss Perry, Professor of Oratory and Aesthetic Criticism; Henry van Dyke, first Murray Professor; and George McLean Harper, who relinquished the Woodhull Professorship of Modern Languages to succeed Perry as Holmes Professor. In 1902 Thomas Marc Parrott was appointed Professor of English.
The stage was now set for the establishment of a Department of English in 1904 and its rapid expansion a year later, when President Wilson added to the current nucleus of professors seven preceptors, among whom were: Gordon H. Gerould, Francis C. MacDonald, Charles G. Osgood, Robert K. Root, and J. Duncan Spaeth. With the addition, in the years immediately following, of such preceptors as Morris W. Croll and Charles W. Kennedy, the department attained a position of national prominence that it has continued to enjoy.
The founding members of the department embodied to a remarkable extent the qualities that came to be associated with Princeton's ideal of the teacher-scholar. English shared with Greek Literature, Roman Literature, and Philosophy the distinction of being the first of the humanistic departments to be able to offer, after the new Graduate School was founded in 1901, a full roster of graduate as well as undergraduate courses. The authoritative learning of the members of the English faculty enabled them to preside over a program of graduate studies that had only three or four rivals, while their devotion to humane values made them among the most popular and influential undergraduate teachers. Despite the scholarly reputations they built up through their publications, none was confined in intellectual range to his field of specialization. Harper combined pioneer research on Wordsworth with the teaching of courses covering the entire Renaissance; Parrott was equally at home with Shakespeare, Renaissance drama, and the broad field of Victorian literature; Osgood, celebrated for his variorum edition of Spenser, was also an authority on Milton and Johnson; Gerould, who introduced the first course entirely devoted to prose fiction, was known for his mastery of early narrative poetry, especially the ballad. Root, whose teaching embraced Chaucer, the eighteenth century, and a famous course in the history of the language, in addition held successively the positions of the departmental chairman and dean of the faculty. His brilliance as a teacher is commemorated in ``Root's Alumni Preceptorial,'' a group of alumni who met with Root periodically for dinner and discussion of assigned reading from the 1920s until his death in 1950, and since then have continued to meet similarly with other members of the English faculty.
During the late 1920s and 1930s a new generation of teacher-scholars came forward. Hoyt H. Hudson, later departmental chairman, reaffirmed the University's ancient allegiance to rhetoric and public speaking. His successors were Wilbur S. Howell, who established an international reputation for his studies in the history of rhetoric, and Jeremiah S. Finch, who was later also dean of the College and secretary of the University. Spaeth had offered a course in American literature as early as 1919. Joining the faculty in 1926, Willard Thorp, with his studies in Melville and others, gave the department a leadership in American studies that eventuated in 1942 with the establishment of a Program in American Civilization. In 1939 he was joined by Lawrance R. Thompson, who that year was appointed official biographer of Robert Frost. They were joined subsequently by Richard Ludwig, who is chief bibliographer for the Literary History of the United States, of which Thorp was one of the founders; and still later by William Howarth, chief editor of an edition of Thoreau's complete works issued by Princeton University Press with the aid of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Bliss Perry in the 1890s originated a tradition of brilliant literary criticism, carried on by an unbroken line, which included Morris W. Croll, Asher E. Hinds, who gave his name to the departmental library, Donald A. Stauffer, Richard P. Blackmur, and A. Walton Litz. Stauffer was chairman from 1946 until his early death in 1952. He and his successors as chairman, Carlos Baker and Willard Thorp, were primarily responsible for revising the curriculum to include a large number of courses in modern literature, although students were still required to be firmly grounded in earlier periods.
A course in advanced composition, first offered in 1915, was taken over in 1922 by Herbert S. Murch, who made it a breeding ground for writers. In 1939 this instruction was formalized within the Creative Arts Program, with Allen Tate as first Resident Fellow in Writing. His distinguished successor, Blackmur, became Professor of English as well. In 1971 the Program in Creative Writing became a separate entity under the chairmanship of Edmund L. Keeley, novelist and translator of modern Greek poetry, assisted by Theodore R. Weiss, poet and editor of Quarterly Review of Literature, and a staff of visiting writers who came for one or two years. The establishment of the Ferris Professorship of Journalism and Public Relations in 1964, with Irving Dilliard as first incumbent, provided further opportunity for students to perfect their writing skill.
The decade preceding the Second World War had brought to the department two additional scholars of note, both Princeton Ph.D.'s: Maurice W. Kelley, who maintained the department's eminence in Miltonic studies; and Carlos Baker, whose published works extend from Shelley to the standard biography of Ernest Hemingway.
The postwar years were ones of rebuilding in many fields. Gerald E. Bentley, author of the seven-volume Jacobean and Caroline Stage, and Alan S. Downer, who was later chairman, expanded the teaching of dramatic literature. Other major appointments included Louis A. Landa in the eighteenth century with particular emphasis on Swift and Defoe, and Durant W. Robertson, Jr., author, notably, of A Preface to Chaucer, in medieval studies. Robert B. Martin, an accomplished writer in many fields, joined E.D.H. Johnson in guiding the expansion of Victorian studies. The appointments of Hans Aarsleff and of Albert H. Marckwardt guaranteed that the department would continue to encourage the attention to Old English and linguistics first nurtured by Theodore W. Hunt and Charles W. Kennedy.
The Departments of English and History have for many years shared, in friendly rivalry, the distinction of having the largest number of upperclass concentrators. With the advent of coeducation the number of outstanding students electing English studies increased noticeably. At the same time the department welcomed women to its teaching staff; their number had reached seven in 1974. In the preceptorial and lecture rooms of McCosh Hall, the department's teacher-scholar tradition continued to flourish.
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