18c Midcentury Premodern
8. The Complete English Scholar in Three Parts.
Buchanan, James. London: A. Millar, 1753.
A Scotsman by birth, Buchanan (fl. 1740–1773) became a schoolmaster in Surrey and a prolific author of educational books and dictionaries. He wrote not only the book displayed here but also A Regular English Syntax (1767) and The British Grammar (1784)—both of which were also printed in the United States. In The Complete English Scholar, Buchanan wrote that “a wrong education of children is an evil that starves posterity.”
9. The Royal Universal British Grammar and Vocabulary.
Farro, Daniel. London: J. Hodges & R. Baldwin, 1754.
This book, by a London schoolmaster, engaged in puffery that was odd even by 18th-century standards: “This grammar contains a method so easy that every Female Teacher in the British dominions may open an English grammar school, and render themselves much more useful to the public.” Farro claimed that with this book, the English language had been “reduced to a standard . . . its copiousness manifested.” He overestimated himself.
10. “A Grammar of the English Tongue,” in A Dictionary of the English Language.
Johnson, Samuel. London: W. Strahan, 1755.
Samuel Johnson (1709–1786) is one of the two most illustrious writers ever to write an English grammar, the other being the playwright Ben Jonson (whose English Grammar appeared posthumously in 1640). Johnson’s short grammar—essentially the translation of a 1653 grammar of English written in Latin—was the last piece prepared for the 1755 dictionary. Johnson followed “the common grammarians” and disparaged the “innovators” whose “new terms have sunk their learning into neglect.”
11. An Introduction to the English Language and Learning.
Martin, Benjamin. 3d ed. London: W. Owen, 1757.
Best known as a popularizer of science, Martin (1705–1782) had a prodigious intellect and remarkable versatility. His New English Dictionary (1749) was among the better pre-Johnson efforts in English lexicography. As for this book, Martin says that “nothing has been so much wanted in our English schools as an Introduction to the English Language and Learning; since common experience but too much evinces how little our youth understand of either.”
12. A Practical New Grammar with Exercises of Bad English.
Fisher, Ann. 7th ed. Newcastle: Thomas Slack, 1762.
Born in Cumberland, Fisher (1719–1778) became a business partner with her printer-husband Thomas Slack, who founded the Newcastle Chronicle. The mother of nine, she wrote many pedagogical works. This grammar is in the form of a catechism—a long series of questions and answers. She is remembered chiefly as the grammarian who first stated a rule that still sparks controversy: that the masculine pronoun includes the feminine.
13. Hermes: Or, A Philosophical Inquiry Concerning Universal Grammar.
Harris, James. 2d ed. London: John Nourse & Paul Vaillant, 1765.
One can understand Samuel Johnson’s evaluation of Harris (1709–1780) as “a prig and a bad prig.” His self-praise was undisguised: he thought that with this book, he had done “a service to mankind.” If the book sold well, Harris would find it “no unpleasing event.” And his chauvinism was worse than priggish: “The Supreme Being . . . is in all languages masculine, in as much as the masculine sex is the superior and more excellent.”
14. A Vocabulary or Pocket Dictionary, to Which Is Prefixed a Compendious Grammar of the English Language.
Baskerville, John. Birmingham: John Baskerville, 1765.
A renowned printer, Baskerville (1706–1775) was acquainted with Benjamin Franklin, who consoled him after he experienced the unpleasant biases of London printers against provincial ones. Appearing at a time when Baskerville had mostly withdrawn from printing, this grammar is sometimes considered an anonymous work. It is usefully supplemented with a 15-page guide to the “most usual mistakes” occasioned by “inattention to the rules of grammar.”
15. An Essay on Grammar.
Ward, William. London: Robert Horsfield, 1765.
A Grammar of the English Language, in Two Treatises.
Ward, William. York: A. Ward, 1767.
A Yorkshire schoolmaster, Ward (1708?–1772) produced the most comprehensive 18th-century English grammar: his 554-page Essay. In it, he magnanimously acknowledged that he could not have completed it without “Mr. Johnson’s Dictionary . . . a most excellent performance.” The smaller book (1767) was issued by the famous York printer Ann Ward (unrelated), who is best known as the initial printer, in 1760, of Laurence Sterne’s typographically challenging Tristram Shandy.