The Lowth Years
16. A Short Introduction to English Grammar.
Lowth, Robert. New ed. London: A. Miller, T. Cadell & J. Dodsley, 1767.
A clergyman, poet, and Hebrew scholar, Lowth (1710–1787) was, apart from Lindley Murray, the most influential grammarian of the 18th century. His work was widely “pirated, pilfered, and plagiarized,” in the words of Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade. He is often misunderstood as having been archly prescriptive when in fact he was aware of the different registers in language and understood the structure of English as well as anyone in his day.
17. Letter from Robert Lowth to his publisher, Robert Dodsley, acknowledging receipt of a grammar the day before and requesting seven more copies as gifts (1762?).
This extraordinary letter appears to date from 1762 and to involve the first edition of Lowth’s grammar. Lowth asked Robert Dodsley, the noted publisher, to prepare copies for Sir Charles Mordaunt, a Tory MP; Lord Sandys, Chancellor of the Exchequer; Francis Barrell, the owner of a large Kentish estate called Godinton; Edward Weston, a didactic writer and expert on European affairs; John Hawkesworth, founder of the periodical The Adventurer; and Benjamin Kennicott, a Hebrew scholar at Exeter College, Oxford.
18. Lord Eldon’s copy of Lowth’s English Grammar.
New ed. London: J. Dodsley, 1769.
John Scott (1751–1838), 1st Earl of Eldon, obtained this volume while attending University College, Oxford. He graduated in 1770, was called to the bar at the Middle Temple in 1776, and became attorney general in 1793. He unsuccessfully prosecuted Horne Tooke (no. 35) on charges of high treason. Despite that embarrassing failure, Scott was elevated to the peerage in 1801 when he became Lord Chancellor—a post he held until 1827. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography calls him “the greatest lawyer of his time.”
19. The Rudiments of English Grammar.
Priestley, Joseph. 2d. ed. London: T. Becket et al., 1768.
Priestley (1733–1804), the scientist credited with discovering oxygen, was the greatest 18th-century intellect to give intense study to grammar. He rebelled against English grammarians’ being too heavily influenced by Latin. And he was among the earliest English-language grammarians to embrace the idea that universal usage governs propriety. He may have been the first to defend He is taller than me (treating than as a preposition) over the more orthodox He is taller than I (treating than as a conjunction).
20. The Circles of Gomer . . . with an English Grammar.
Jones, Rowland. London: S. Crowder et al., 1771.
An amateur philologist, Jones (1722?–1774) became convinced that Welsh held the key to the primeval speech prevalent before the events at the Tower of Babel. He wrote several books advancing this idea. During his lifetime, Jones’s notions were considered outlandish, just as his prose style was. “He talks,” said a reviewer in 1764, “like a druid rising out of the grave after 1,800 years’ sleep.”
21. “A Rhetorical Grammar of the English Language,” in A New Dictionary of the English Language.
Kenrick, William. London: J. & F. Rivington, 1773.
Kenrick (1729–1779), the son of a corset-maker, was a Grub Street writer who was rarely without a public enemy. Writing always with a bottle of brandy at his side, he thought he could complete even the most challenging literary tasks in no more than two days. Kenrick repeatedly tried to manufacture controversy where there was none, launching scurrilous attacks against Samuel Johnson, David Garrick, and Oliver Goldsmith. They mostly ignored him. His dictionary was largely lifted from Johnson’s.
22. The American Grammar.
Ross, Robert. 7th ed. Hartford: Nathaniel Patten, 1782.
Irish by birth, Ross (1726–1799) was brought to America at age 3, graduated from Princeton, and became a Congregational minister. This “7th edition” is actually his first to add English to the Latin. Ross’s prose rambles, as on page 3: “How wretched and despicable is the man, who, when the years come wherein there is so little of the common pleasures of life to be enjoyed, can employ himself in nothing but in bitter complaints, or take to his bottle, for relief from his growing infirmities.”