Encyclopedia Brunoniana

Dunn, Robinson P.

Robinson Potter Dunn(1825-1867), professor of rhetoric and English literature, was born in Newport on May 31, 1825, the son of a physician. At the age of eleven, he suffered a disease which confined him to his bed for six months and resulted in lameness. He spent his time in study, continuing with French which he had already begun with his aunt, and he was able to enter Brown at fifteen, although he needed crutches until his junior year. While still a student, he taught a class of boys in the Sunday School of the Beneficent Congregational Church. After graduation as valedictorian of his class at Brown in 1843, he took charge of the library and taught French during the absence of Professor Charles Coffin Jewett. He would have entered Princeton Theological School in the fall of 1845, but remained at Brown because of the delay of Jewett’s return from Europe. He did not lose any time, however, as he began the studies of his theological course, keeping up with his class and receiving weekly bulletins from his collegemate William F. Hansell 1845, who was taking the course. He went to Princeton in December of 1845, graduated in 1848, was ordained a Presbyterian clergyman and was paster of the First Church in Camden, New Jersey, from 1848 to 1851. In 1851 he exchanged his pulpit with misgivings for the professorship of rhetoric and English literature at Brown. His colleague on the faculty, James B. Angell recalled,

“By the end of the second year of his professional labor, Mr. Dunn had so thoroughly surveyed his field, he had become so accustomed to his duties, he had his work so well in hand, and he had gained so firm a hold on the respect and esteem of the students and all the friends of the college, that he could not well doubt that he was in the right place. From the moment that he was assured of this, his development went on with ever-increasing rapidity. His ideal of his work was now constantly rising. He formed broader and wiser plans. Cutting loose more and more from text-books, and trusting with firmer self-reliance to his own expositions of the studies which his classes were pursuing, he lent to his instructions more of the freshness of original investigations. ... He never forgot how to look at things from the students’ point of view; and so he was ever able to appreciate their difficulties and mistakes, to place himself alongside of them, to gain their confidence, and to guide them with wisdom.”

Having found his place, Dunn remained until his death on August 28, 1867. He was fondly remembered by his students. Samuel Thurber 1858 wrote:

“Most of all I loved Professor Dunn, though he made me commit to memory Campbell’s and Whately’s rhetorics. From my intercourse with Dunn I feel I am somewhat different from what I should have been without that influence. He gave me suggestions, promptings; he was affable, kindly, cultivated in manner, easy and fluent of speech, a genuine example of good rhetoric, himself more potent as a lesson than the books we repeated to him verbatim.”
Adoniram Brown Judson 1859 remembered,“He was an elegant and refined gentleman, whose influence on the students and Faculty was doubtless most excellent. The polish of his shining pate accorded well with his precise deportment and the polished diction of his lectures on rhetoric.”