Book Review: Self-Culture In Reading, Speaking, And Conversation

Self Culture In Reading, Speaking, And Conversation:  Designed For The Use Of Schools, Colleges, And Home Instruction, by William Sherwood

I do not know who William Sherwood is.  His is not a name that has long endured, and this work of his, a lengthy and serious tome of nearly 400 pages, has certainly been long forgotten.  Yet simply because a work has been forgotten does not mean that it is not worth reading and recovering for memory.  This book deserves to be remembered.  As a thoughtful and serious book on rhetoric, this is precisely the book that would be treasured by classical Christian private schools and home educators who want to educate children in both the practical arts of reading aloud and speaking formally as well as engaging in thoughtful and witty conversation, as well as those who wish to improve their own lives through self-education [1].  Published in 1857 (!), this book would be an immense challenge for many readers today, and is yet another reminder, if any were necessary, that we have lost a lot of ground in our educational system over the past 160 years in that this book could be appreciated by students of home instruction, and even college students today would struggle with the material and with its moral implications.

This is first and foremost a book on rhetoric.  Yet this book takes a very broad meaning for rhetoric, far beyond our own contemporary sophistic tendencies.  The materials of this sizable volume are divided into fifty-one chapters that deal with a wide variety of subject matter.  The author begins curiously on reading and elocusion, spending a great deal of time discussing the proper pronunciation of vowels and consonants and punctuation marks, dealing with emphasis and cadence and voice modulation.  In addition to giving rather critical comments of the reading and speaking habits of many in his time, the author goes on to give a lot of material that both models his points and provides materials for young people to read and memorize and use for moral and intellectual education.  The author seems particularly concerned to provide both aspects of education, an education to improve the mind of readers and allow them to gain a familiarity with classical, British, and American rhetoric, and also to provide through instruction and examples a sound moral education is how rhetoric is to be used.  Examples, as might be expected, follow solid translations of classical Greek and Roman sources, biblical situations, and the political discourse of the English speaking world form the basis of the material for students to read.  It was, and is, solid material to read.

This book in many ways is a refutation of contemporary educational trends.  Nowadays we often pander to the poor speaking or moral habits of students.  This book challenges students to improve.  We often consider our happiness and well-being to be dependent on fortune.  This book challenges its readers to take responsibility for themselves.  We are used to neglecting the importance of scripture and history as serving as models for behavior.  This book explicitly looks to the best of the past as serving as a model and exemplar for those growing up in need of learning.  Our age excuses poor conduct and ungracious behaviors.  This book reminds its readers that in order to be of sound mind, someone must be of gentlemanly conduct and moral self-discipline.  Where the heart and spirit are unsound, the mind can be scarcely more sound.  This book will likely not attract a great deal of mainstream appeal in our decadent age, but I trust that there are still enough people who want to learn from the past and improve themselves and their children through self-culture to make this a worthwhile and appreciated book.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, Christianity, History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Book Review: Self-Culture In Reading, Speaking, And Conversation

  1. Pingback: Book Review: A Study Of Open Hearth | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: How To Listen So People Will Talk | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: A Student’s Guide To Liberal Learning | Edge Induced Cohesion

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