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Language Arts & Disciplines Composition & Creative Writing

Letter-Writing Manuals and Instruction from Antiquity to the Present

Historical and Bibliographic Studies

edited by Carol Poster & Linda C. Mitchell

University of South Carolina Press
Initial publish date
Aug 2007
Composition & Creative Writing, Communication Studies
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    Publish Date
    Aug 2007
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An in-depth history of epistolary instruction from Isocrates to email

Once nearly as ubiquitous as dictionaries and cookbooks are today, letter-writing manuals and their predecessors served to instruct individuals not only on the art of letter composition but also, in effect, on personal conduct. Carol Poster and Linda C. Mitchell contend that the study of letter-writing theory, which bridges rhetorical theory and grammatical studies, represents an emerging discipline in need of definition. In this volume they gather the contributions of eleven experts to sketch the contours of epistolary theory and collect the historic and bibliographic materials that form the basis for its study.

Robert G. Sullivan pushes back the origin of the genre to Isocrates' classical epistolary theory and letters, and Poster continues the search through antiquity by summarizing Greek and Latin works to discover the epistolary theory that permeated ancient schooling. Malcolm Richardson surveys medieval dictamen, and Martin Carmago places letter-writing manuals in their educational context of fifteenth-century Oxford.

Moving into the largely unchartered territory of Renaissance epistolary theory, Gideon Burton examines philology and letter-writing theory in relation to medieval precursors. Lawrence D. Green discusses editions of letter-writing treatises in England; W. Webster Newbold explores the relationship between epistolarity and rise of vernacular English literacy; and Judith Rice Henderson investigates the uses of Erasmus' Opus de conscribendi epistolis in sixteenth-century schools.

Drawing attention to the broadening of the Renaissance model, Mitchell traces modern letter-writing instruction through eloquence handbooks, self-teaching manuals, and grammar books. John T. Gage surveys the patterns of inclusion and exclusion from late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century composition textbooks, and Joyce R. Walker considers how the electronic medium is reviving a long-neglected form of the epistolary tradition. A substantial collection of bibliographies close the volume, offering a compendium of sources for this burgeoning field.

About the authors

Contributor Notes

Carol Poster, an associate professor of English at York University in Toronto, has written numerous articles and book chapters on the history of rhetoric, the rhetoric of philosophy and religion, and classical tradition. She has also published translations of Arstophanes' Clouds and Plautus' Stichus. Poster has won the 2003 Kneupper Award for best article in Rhetoric Society Quarterly and the 1997 Gildersleeve Prize for best article in American Journal of Philology.