The Ethics of English

"When a thing ceases to be a subject of controversy,
it ceases to be a subject of interest."

—William Hazlitt

The treason of the teacher of English: that is the principal subject of Professor Booth's discourses over two turbulent decades in the academy. Dr. Booth, a temperate rhetorician, does not call this dereliction of duty "treason." Yet he makes it clear that a great many college professors of English literature have cast aside the venerable discipline of rhetoric, the art of persuasion—preferably beautiful and just persuasion.

I find the most moving of his "Occasions" the fourth one, "To Warring Factions in an Up-to-Date 'English Department,'" a talk given at Syracuse University in 1987. Mr. Booth hopes that some beliefs are shared by most instructors of English literature:

First, what we label with the catchall term 'English' is the most important of all college subjects. Some of us think it is most important because in our culture it is the major heir of a once-glorious liberal arts tradition. Call us the Ancients. Others of us think it is the most important because in our culture it is the standard-bearer of some new vision that is to replace the outward purposes and fixed canons of the past. Call us the Mods. Both groups are aware that because of the basic requirements...

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