Thursday, March 2, 2017

What Clement C. Moore taught in 1823, and how

In this formal report to the Board of Trustees, Clement C. Moore specifies what Hebrew texts he was teaching at General Theological Seminary during the academic year 1822-1823--the first full year at St. John's Chapel of Trinity Parish. In the last paragraph Moore summarizes his philosophy and style of teaching. Moore adopts an informal, conversational approach that encourages open communication and dialogue between teacher and student, since
"the lively and unbiassed intellects of youth may sometimes produce combinations of ideas, from which even veterans in literature may derive advantage."
When Moore submitted this report in May 1823, his famous Christmas poem was already written, probably, though not yet published. His "A Visit from St. Nicholas" first appeared anonymously in the Troy Sentinel on December 23, 1823. As Moore later acknowledged in print, he wrote "Visit" "not for publication, but to amuse my children."
The Professor of Oriental and Greek Literature begs, leave respectfully to report, that during the first session, which commenced in November last, he was attended by the students of the second and third [first year] classes. The second class recited twice in each week; and in the course of the session, read in the original, and translated into English, the nineteenth, twentieth, twenty-first, and twenty-second Psalms; the first, sixth, ninth, eleventh, thirteenth, fourteenth, fifty-third, and sixtieth chapters of Isaiah, and the first nine chapters of the book of Job. Beside which, other parts of the Hebrew Bible were, with the assistance of the Professor, occasionally translated, without having been previously studied. During the course of the recitations, the attention of the students was carefully directed to the characteristic force and beauties of the Hebrew Language, as well as to the vast difference between the ideas excited in the mind by translations, and the vivid pictures presented to the intellectual view by the original.  
The students of the third class, during the first session, attended the recitations in the Hebrew three times in a week; and since the commencement of the second session, they have attended but twice in each week. They commenced their studies with the Hebrew Grammar, and soon proceeded to read and translate the Psalter. They have gone over the first twenty-two Psalms, and the first, sixth, ninth, eleventh, thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifty-third chapters of Isaiah. In the course of these recitations, the minute rules of grammar have been continually pointed out, and questions upon them again and again repeated, as occasions occurred for the application of them. This class has also read with the Professor, and without previous study, several chapters in Genesis.  
In both classes, a part of the business of most of the recitations has been, to repeat some portion of what had previously been recited. So that, while the students have been gradually extending their stock of acquirements, they have been continually impressing on their minds what they had already learned.
It was thought advisable that those who commenced their Hebrew studies in the Seminary, should begin to translate the more difficult books of the Old Testament; because, the time allotted by the statutes being too short for a complete course, it seemed best that they should have the assistance of the Professor in those parts where they were most likely to meet with impediments in their progress. 
It has been the aim of the Professor to conduct his course of instruction in such a manner as to give to the recitations in his department the character of friendly and familiar conversations; and to afford the students every encouragement to state, without reserve, whatever they found difficult or embarrassing, and to offer freely the thoughts which presented themselves to their minds, in the persuasion that more may be learned by unreserved communications, than by formal lectures; and that the lively and unbiassed intellects of youth may sometimes produce combinations of ideas, from which even veterans in literature may derive advantage. 
Professor of Oriental and Greek Literature.
 --Journal of the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church

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