Literary Work 535
increased the number to six. The Philomathesians held to one
dissertation until September, 1851, when they discontinued their
dissertations along with declamations. After that they had neither until
March, 1857, when they restored dissertations, to the program, but
from this time they required them only of the Freshmen and
Sophomores, dividing these classes into five sections, each of which
in turn read dissertations at intervals of five weeks. In both Societies
the dissertations when read were handed to a critic or to a committee
who corrected them and made suggestions for improvement,
sometimes though not uniformly in reports before the Societies.2
In this part of their work the Societies were, so far as they were
able, providing their members with a training in English composition
which was not given in the regular collegiate classes of that day,
either at Wake Forest or elsewhere. It is true that courses in Rhetoric
were provided by the faculty, but they were largely lecture and
textbook courses and were valuable chiefly because they furnished
those who took them with general principles of composition to apply
as they could, the chief emphasis being on argumentation and debate.
In this situation the dissertations required by the Societies offered
practically the only opportunity the students had for practice in
supervised writing. Even this was limited in its value by the lack of
training of the critics in the essentials of composition. And yet,
whatever its inefficiencies, this required writing of dissertations
doubtless called forth latent powers which otherwise would have
never been developed.
The character of some of these early compositions may be inferred
from their subjects, which were such as "Republicanism," "On
Influence," "On the Improvement of the Heart," "Education," "On
Man," "Innocence," "Independence," "Love of Freedom,"
"Curiosity.”3 With such subjects which continued through all
―――――――
2
The dissertations were continued after the Civil War until toward the end of
the century when the instruction given in the classroom in English Composition
was thought to have rendered the Society training unnecessary.
3
Phi. Records, March 21, September 3, 16, 25, 1838; February 2, 1848; March
12, 1842; October 7, 1843. Only the Phi. Society Records give subjects of
dissertations.
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