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Title: "Prejudice Against Composition Writing," Class Composition of J. Horace Lacy, [January 1851]: Electronic Edition.
Author: Lacy, James Horace, 1834-1852
Editor: Erika Lindemann
Funding from the State Library of North Carolina supported the electronic publication of this title.
Text transcribed by Erika Lindemann
Images scanned by Mara E. Dabrishus
Text encoded by Brian Dietz
First Edition, 2005
Size of electronic edition: ca. 21K
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina

No Copyright in US

The electronic edition is a part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2005-04-20, Brian Dietz finished TEI/XML encoding.
Part of a series:
This transcribed document is part of a digital collection, titled True and Candid Compositions: The Lives and Writings of Antebellum Students in North Carolina
written by Lindemann, Erika
Title of collection: Drury Lacy Papers (#3641), Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Title of document: "Prejudice Against Composition Writing, "Class Composition of J. Horace Lacy, [January 1851]
Author: J. Horace Lacy
Description: 4 pages, 4 page images
Note: Call number 3641 (Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Topics covered:
Education/UNC Curriculum
Reading and Writing/Composition
Examples of Student Writing/Compositions, Examples of
Editorial practices
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Transcript of the class composition. Originals are in the Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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For more information about transcription and other editorial decisions, see Dr. Erika Lindemann's explanation under the section Editorial Practices.

Document Summary

Lacy's composition gives the reason, the cause, the consequences and the remedy for prejudice against writing compositions, advising the writer to take up familiar subjects, divide the subject into headings, state the proposition he intends to prove at the outset, and subordinate everything else to this proposition.
"Prejudice Against Composition Writing," Class Composition of J. Horace Lacylink opens in a new window , [January 1851]1
Lacy, James Horace, 1834-1852

Page 1
Prejudice against Composition writing2
It is a well known & an established fact that most, if not all men are very much inclined to be prejudiced against composition writing, and consider it a difficult matter to sit down and write a few lines on any subject, however much it may deserve their attention, which is not, in itself, very attractive or interesting to them, which will not bring from them natural & impromptu sentiments, and which is not such, that, in treating it, they can express their ideas with a greater degree of facility & readiness, (on account of their familiarity with it & the interest they have in it) than they could, were it a subject of a different character. This spirit of prejudice not only exists, but also shews itself very plainly in young persons, & in those who are inexperienced in the art of composing well,—I say that this spirit is found fully as much, if not more in these, than in, those who are not advanced in age, & who know more of the toils & fatigues attending him, whose chief desire is his own improvement in this great Art, & who would devote his time, his attention, & his talents to it, & who would sacrifice every thing else for the fulfilment of his desire. But I must beg leave to say, before proceeding any further, apart from the subject itself, that, if it is possible for one to be free, in a great measure, from this feeling of prejudice, I am he who is; for although I feel & know my insignificance as a composer in a class of forty members, & am very sensibly conscious of my inability to throw out any very original idea, or to construe any beautiful sentences, which may adorn the composition & serve as a varnish to conceal the rude under work, yet I do not

Page 2
shrink back from the task (if it may be so called) with so much dread, as I have seen manifested by some, whom I have always considered far superior to myself in composition. But we must return to our subject & attend with more care & assiduity to those rules, which he, whom we consider high Authority,3 has instructed us to use & to abide strictly by, lest we too fall into the very same error about which we have been speaking, & become as much prejudiced against comp. w. ourselves as any one can be; for we will certainly get into difficulties if we go at random writing whatever happens to come in our way; & here, we may very easily account for the fact, viz why young men are at all prejudiced against writing comps.—: Why! they can not even converse with any one, with the least degree of composure, about sitting down two4 or three hours at a time, & thinking over some subject, a thought of which, (they will say) never crossed the mind of any person. Now for the reason;—if they only had certain rules which might direct them, which might apply very well in different ways in different cases, & by which they might question themselves as to the propriety or the impropriety, the "whys & wherefores" &c &c of their subjects, why! the mere answers to these questions would enable them to progress some, by all means, in their compos: taking away thereby all cause of complaint on account of the lack of subject matter, & consequently taking away as much cause of prejudice; for we suppose that, if they could compose without an effort of the mind, if they only were to write down on paper mere words & sentences without taxing their brains to construe them & to put them in their proper places giving the correct orthography of their language, they would be altogether indifferent as to the matter but for the writing. This5 plan of composing is altogether false; they reject

Page 3
with scorn our systematic mode, viz by rules; & they go so far as to call it a humbug; While they indeed are building on a rotten foundation & are writing according to false rules (if they write accordig to any) & rules to6 which will lead to very unsalutery consequences in deed. Some of the consequences are these; It is quite evident that those who reject these rules will always have to wait for a thought instead of deriving any thing from their rules, as we would do; and it so happens that those who wait for thoughts generally have to wait a pretty long time; & does7 not this, by theway, remind you of Menas at Philippi's table who, poorfellow! as Horace expresses it, said—dicunda tacenda—whatever came into his head.8 (I am much of opinion that my quotation comes under the head of tacenda.). But it is well authenticated by the observation of every one, that their manner this way—i.e. the above of writing influences the style of compos. of those who practise it considerably, when they grow up to years of manhood; for their productions, instead far from being terse, argumentative, convincing, are without head or tail & are generally an incongruous mass mixed up in the most disgusting manner, without divisions or heads & in short without a subject (so to speak). I would advise a young man therefore never to allow himself to fall into this habit of writing loosely; of bringing together and classing under one head subjects as much different as black & white; for it is difficult for it is difficult for a person to do this well & the difficulty or impossibility of the matter [activates]9 that prejudice against comp. writing, which is the subject of our present attempt. But like almost all other things there is a remedy for these terrible consequences of which I was speaking & I can, as well as I know how, express, in a very few words, wherein this remedy consists. To overcome these difficulties & these consequences one should never take a subject on which his limited reading would constrain him to say but little.

Page 4
I mean by this that he should always take a familiar subject; and not only this; but he should also divide his subject into heads, never neglecting to state the proposition which he intends to prove, at the outset, & to make every thing else subordinate to this one great head; by practising this rule, or any one like it, he may make great personal advancement in the art & may finally shine as one of the most brilliant writers of the age. A few general remarks & we are have done; Composition writing is an art which differs from every other in one particular & it is this; viz; that, wecommence with the hardest & as we proceed we find it becoming easier & easier; in other words, that the principles or elements, as we would call them, are harder than the actual application of them to practical purposes; I might have mentioned this in the former part of my comp. as a reason why we are prejudiced against comp writing; & not have been, by any means wrong as to my statement. Let one, who would improve by this art, as well as in it, practise the few rules, the substance of which I have given once or twice in the course of my comp, & he will succeed in a pursuit which has rendered the names of not afew men immortal. With these few remarks I submit10 my piece to your inspection & criticism, hoping that you will correct all mistakes, with a view to my improvement in a thing, in which I take a good deal of delight.


1. Drury Lacy Papers, SHC. John Thomas Wheatlink opens in a new window , professor of rhetoric and logic, corrected the composition in pencil. Wheatlink opens in a new window also wrote in the upper left corner of page one "J H Laceylink opens in a new window /5." Though the composition bears no date, Lacy'slink opens in a new window classmate, George N. Thompsonlink opens in a new window , discussed the assignment in his diary, in an entry dated January 28, 1851: "We did not go to recite Geometry directly after prayers as was our custom on Tuesday mornings, but in its stead, had a lecture from Dr Wheatlink opens in a new window , on the subject of composition. The suject he chose after the lecture for us to write on was what he had said in his lecture—viz. 'Predujice against composition. What is the fact? Why is it so? What has been the consequence What is the remedy?" (George N. Thompson Papers, SHC). The first three questions Wheatlink opens in a new window posed appear at the end of Chapter One in Richard Whately's Elements of Rhetoric (1828). Other compositions corrected by Wheatlink opens in a new window in the Drury Lacy Papers include "Whether the diversities of individual character be owing more to moral or to physical causes"; "Kossuth"; "Considerations which should influence us in the Choice of a Profession"; "University in a City, University in the Country"; and "The Pleasures and Pains of College Life."

2. Wheatlink opens in a new window crossed out w in writing and wrote W above the word in pencil.

3. Lacylink opens in a new window wrote a lower and upper case a on top of each other, making it difficult to determine whether or not he intended to capitalize authority. Wheat'slink opens in a new window primary textbook for the sophomore composition class was Richard Whately's Elements of Rhetoric (1828). Lacy'slink opens in a new window composition treats some of the prejudices and rules discussed in Chapter One of Whately's book.

4. Lacylink opens in a new window wrote two on top of 2.

5. Lacylink opens in a new window wrote This on top of Their.

6. Wheatlink opens in a new window pencilled a second o above to.

7. Lacylink opens in a new window wrote does on top of is.

8. Horace, Epistles, I.vii.72: "On coming to supper, he [Volteius Mena] chatted about anything and everything" (1806?).

9. Lacylink opens in a new window wrote the word on top of makes.

10. Lacylink opens in a new window wrote submit on top of hereby.

11. To the right of this line of text, Lacylink opens in a new window has drawn a 1 3/4-inch oval and written "Report of opens in a new window " at the top of the oval outside its circumference. Wheat'slink opens in a new window endnote, written in pencil begins below Lacy'slink opens in a new window signature: "Mr Lacylink opens in a new window has more than ordinary talent for this exercise. He understands the forms of composition very well. His style will be improved by going over every sentence & throwing out all words that are not absolutely required to express the idea intended. By such condensation, both energy & elegance will be gained."