Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres

From Wythepedia: The George Wythe Encyclopedia
Revision as of 14:40, 13 March 2014 by Sjwilmes (talk | contribs)

Jump to: navigation, search

by Hugh Blair

Hugh Blair (1718-1800) was born in Edinburgh, the only child to a prominent Presbyterian family.[1] He entered the University of Edinburgh at age thirteen where he studied moral philosophy and literature. Two years after finishing his university education, Blair became a Presbyterian preacher. Blair achieved various positions of authority within the Church and began publishing his largest work, Sermons, during this time.

Blair later taught rhetoric and composition at the University of Edinburgh, beginning in 1760. As he approached retirement, Blair published many of his lessons in Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres, perhaps fearful that corrupt manuscripts would circulate. The Lectures series was first published in 1783 in London and later that year in Edinburgh. Blair’s Sermons had gained some fame in the United States during the early nineteenth century, but the publication of Lectures on Rhetoric and Bells Lettres firmly cemented Blair’s place as a central figure in the Scottish Enlightenment. Blair based his lectures “on plain common sense, so as to be intelligible to all.” As such, the work was especially influential in the United States and became the prevailing guide on rhetoric, composition, and literary criticism.[2]

Bibliographic Information

Author: Hugh Blair.

Title: Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres.

Published: Philadelphia: Printed and sold by Robert Aitken, 1784.

Edition: First American edition; viii, 454, [12] pages.

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

Wythe definitely owned this title—a copy at the College of William & Mary includes the inscription on the front free endpaper: "For the Honorable George Wythe Esquire from his most affectionate friend and obliged humble servant. Thomas Lee Shippen." Signed "George W" below this. Listed in the Jefferson Inventory of Wythe's Library as Blair's lectures. 1st. vol. 4to. and given by Thomas Jefferson to his grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph. Both Brown's Bibliography[3] and George Wythe's Library[4] on LibraryThing list this title.

Description of the Wolf Law Library's copy

On permanent loan from the Earl Gregg Swem Library at the College of William & Mary. Bound in the original paper boards. A presentation copy, it is inscribed, "For the Honorable George Wythe Esquire from his most affectionate friend and obliged humble servant. Thomas Lee Shippen." Includes signatures of "George W." (on the front free end paper, below the inscription) and "T. J. Randolph" on the title page. The bookplate of W. K. Bixby is on the front pastedown.

View this book in William & Mary's online catalog.382045


  1. Richard B. Sher, [“Blair, Hugh (1718–1800)”] in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004- ), accessed November 2, 2013. Subsequent biographical information derives from this article.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Bennie Brown, "The Library of George Wythe of Williamsburg and Richmond," (unpublished manuscript, May, 2012) Microsoft Word file. Earlier edition available at: https://digitalarchive.wm.edu/handle/10288/13433
  4. LibraryThing, s. v. "Member: George Wythe," accessed on June 28, 2013, http://www.librarything.com/profile/GeorgeWythe