English became a defining term in the 1880s, when, for the first time, two members of the faculty, Professors P.V. Veeder and Theodore Moses Barber, were named Professors of English and English became a department of study.
In 1882, the university was reorganized into a College of Arts and Philosophy, a School of Engineering and Chemistry, and the Preparatory School. The newly-formed College of Arts and Philosophy featured 17 “departments of study.” Theodore Moses Barber was responsible for two of them: Latin Language and Literature and Rhetoric and English Literature. A third “department,” Rhetorical Exercises, was the responsibility of Barber and Henry Gibbons (Professor of Greek).
In the newly formed Department of Rhetoric and English Literature, the freshman would study English literature of the 19th Century, “in the written discussion of themes therefrom, and in the recitation of choice portions.” Sophomores would study English Literature of the 18th Century. Juniors would have three recitations a week throughout the year, with two terms devoted to the study of Rhetoric and two to the study of English literature. Seniors, the catalog said, “will give one hour weekly for three terms to the study of earlier English literature."
The 1886 catalog announced a change in the curriculum, with more hours given to Chemistry and Physics. Other areas of study would need to be cut to provide room, and most of the cuts fell to the study of Latin and Greek. There was now a Department of English rather than a department of Rhetoric and English Literature. The catalog provides a much extended discussion of the course of study in English. It says, “Under this general head are included the three branches, Language, Literature, and Rhetoric; in other words, English in its philological, literary, and practical aspects. Courses in all three areas are continuous throughout the four years of study.”
And, according to the catalog statement, these three branches of English are “mutually auxiliary.” That is, the study of literature would provide subject matter and models for composition; the compositions (“analyses, summaries, paraphrases, reviews and biographical sketches”) would provide a clearer understanding of the literature; the courses in rhetoric included the study of style and the “lost art of reading aloud;” and the study of language provided a “clearer conception of the meaning and uses of important words at different periods of their history.”
The aim of the department was to provide instruction in “What to Read and How to Read; that is, to cultivate a taste for the best literature and to form in the student that habit of reading with close attention, frequent consultation of the dictionary and other reference books, and subsequent reflection and mental digestion—in short, the habit of reading intelligently.” (The emphasis was in the original.)
The Language courses were intended to “show the continuity between the period of the Saxon settlement in England to the present day.” The courses relied on the works of Marsh, Earle, Skeat and Morris to supplement the textbook. The literature classes focused primarily on English authors--including Tennyson, Scott, Addison, Milton, Shakespeare and Chaucer. Bain’s English Composition and Rhetoric was the standard text for rhetoric and composition. During the Junior and Senior Years, each student was required to deliver eight original orations before students in the College of Arts and Philosophy.
In 1883, the Chancellor established two prizes of twenty dollars and fifteen dollars to be given to the two top students in the study of English literature. The prizes persisted throughout this decade and into the next.