The Murray Years
30. Noah Webster contracts to buy land in lower Manhattan from Lindley Murray (20 Dec. 1794).
This document marks a turning point in literary history: Lindley Murray, an American expatriate living in York, England, agreed through agents to sell land in downtown New York City to Noah Webster. In the six months following, Murray wrote the book that would earn him the moniker “the father of English grammar”—ultimately selling 15.5 million copies of his literacy books. Eclipsed in grammar, Webster soon turned primarily to lexicography. Biographers have been unaware of this link between the men. Never before has this document been displayed with an understanding of its significance.
31. English Grammar Adapted to the Different Classes of Learners.
Murray, Lindley. 2d ed. York: Wilson, Spence & Mawman, 1796.
An American Quaker lawyer, Murray (1745–1826) moved to York, England, in 1784—perhaps after his family was caught trading with the British after the Revolution. In retirement there, he wrote two books on religion and then, six months after contracting to sell his New York real estate to Noah Webster (no. 30), this historic grammar. With it, he became one of the best-selling authors of the 19th century—and the foe of Noah Webster.
32. Marriage certificate of Ann Tuke and William Alexander of York, England (1 Sept. 1796).
The impetus behind Murray’s 1795 English Grammar—at least the one given publicly (cf. no. 30)—was the urging by Ann Tuke and two other teachers at a Quaker girls’ school in York. One year after the book’s appearance, Ann married William Alexander, who became a major York printer focusing especially on Quaker materials by Tuke family members and Murray himself. This is the Tuke–Alexander marriage certificate, signed prominently by Murray atop the second column.
33. Selected letters of Lindley Murray to the Tuke family (1787–1825).
Murray insisted “very strongly” that “after his decease, none of his letters should on any occasion, or in any manner, be published.” Yet some of the 262 known Murray letters have now been published. The 37 letters collected here, ranging from 1787 to 1825, haven’t been. They were collected by Ann Tuke’s half-sister Elizabeth, a Quaker minister. In April 1795, while completing his Grammar, Murray wrote: “The time is short in which this temporal scene will afford either joys or sorrows.”
34. The Young Lady’s Accidence: Or, A Short and Easy Introduction to English Grammar.
Bingham, Caleb. 10th ed. Boston: I. Thomas & E.T. Andrews, 1797.
A native of Salisbury, Connecticut, Bingham (1757–1817) graduated from Dartmouth and spent the rest of his life in Boston as a textbook author, publisher, and bookseller. This book, his first, has a doubly punning title—originally The Young Ladies Accidence (1785) but later changed to The Young Lady’s Accidence. (For an explanation of the less obvious pun, see catalogue p. 65.) Bingham was a vociferous advocate: “The author is encouraged to hope that a reformation, in favor of female education, is about to take place.”
35. Επεα Πτεροεητα: Or the Diversions of Purley.
Tooke, John Horne. 2d ed. 2 vols. London: For the author, 1798, 1805.
Meaning “Winged Words,” the title of this book suggests its fancifully obscure style. Tooke (1736–1812) was a radical reformer in politics, law, and philology. In the 1770s, he was imprisoned for criminal libel. In 1794, in a notorious trial, he was acquitted of high treason (see no. 18). With quirky linguistic theories, he insisted, for example, that if is really a verb equivalent to give. The only essential words, he thought, are nouns and verbs—all others being “abbreviations.” Historical linguists today say that his influence stultified linguistic learning for many decades.
36. A Letter to the Governors, Instructors, and Trustees of the Universities and Other Seminaries of Learning in the United States on the Errors of English Grammars.
Webster, Noah. N.Y.: George F. Hopkins, 1798.
Just before breaching his contract with Lindley Murray (no. 30), Webster issued this curious pamphlet. He thought he had “long since laid aside the study of language” and become a political polemicist. But he couldn’t resist declaring that “certain rules laid down in English Grammars” were “fundamentally wrong.” He criticized Johnson (no. 10) and Lowth (no. 16), neither of whom had “become acquainted with the etymological discoveries of Mr. Tooke,” which “would have corrected their grammatical principles.” Actually, though, Tooke’s misguided “principles” tainted all of Webster’s later work.
37. Presentation copy of Murray's English Grammar to Samuel Miller, the New York theologian.
Murray, Lindley. 8th ed. York: Wilson & Spence, 1802.
In 1803, the New York Presbyterian minister Samuel Miller published his Brief Retrospect of the Eighteenth Century, the first significant intellectual history of the prior century. Soon after, Lindley Murray sent him this inscribed book: “Presented to Samuel Miller, by The Author.” The two became correspondents, and soon Murray helped arrange the publication of Miller’s British edition. A few years later, Miller became a trustee of the precursor to Princeton University and the founder of the Princeton Theological Seminary. Inexplicably, the Seminary purged the book from its stock in the early 2000s. I bought it online in 2005.
38. A System of English Grammar.
Taylor, Joseph. Sheffield, England: J. Montgomery, 1804.
Taylor (fl. 1770–1814), a headmaster near Sheffield, was a verbose, impractical grammarian who sought “security for approbation.” Encumbered with footnotes, some in Latin, this book is marred by a subject-verb-agreement error in the opening sentence: “daily experiences evinces [read evince] what a great deal is still further requisite.” In 1814, Taylor suffered “a series of misfortunes.” According to a public notice to raise money for his wife and six children, Taylor had been reduced “to absolute want” stemming from “a severe affliction of mind” causing “utter imbecility.” The aftermath is lost to history.
39. A Philosophical and Practical Grammar of the English Language.
Webster, Noah. New Haven: Oliver Steele & Co., 1807.
In 1803, Lindley Murray wrote to Noah Webster sending an updated version of Murray’s grammar (probably a copy of no. 37). For many years, Webster quoted this letter to Murray’s disadvantage. Rather than answer the letter directly, Webster wrote this Philosophical Grammar—a book hopelessly unsuited to classrooms because of its long digressions about far-fetched etymologies. In the book, Webster claimed to understand “the symmetry of the whole edifice” of the English language. Just before releasing the book, Webster engaged in an anti-Murray campaign in the newspapers.
40. English Grammar: Adapted to the Different Classes of Learners.
Gardiner, Jane. 3d ed. London: E. Hemsted, 1809.
Daughter of the scientist John Arden, Gardiner (1758–1840) grew up with Mary Wollstonecraft, a founding feminist philosopher. As teenagers, the girls had a tempestuous friendship, as their surviving letters show. Gardiner became the headmistress of schools in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. She modeled her English grammar on French instead of Latin because all girls’ schools taught French. Copies of her books were used as student prizes. This one, as noted probably in Gardiner’s own hand, was a prize for improved reading.
41. The Principles of English Grammar.
Lennie, William. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1810.
A Key to Lennie’s Principles of English Grammar.
Lennie, William. 3d ed. Edinburgh: J. Ballantyne & Co., 1819.
Lennie (1779–1852) was a staunchly Latinate grammarian who thought English should be subjugated to Latin. In the preface, he called his little book “superior to any other book of the kind.” It is intended only for teachers whose “minds are ever on the stretch,” and not for those who “bid defiance to the fetters of form.” Meanwhile, parents received a stern admonition: “Many parents . . . in the lower ranks . . . grudge to pay for books to their children.” These wrongheaded parents believed that pennies were well saved if “fraudulently withheld from the teacher.”
42. Rudiments of English Grammar.
Webster, Noah. N.Y.: I. Riley, 1811.
Improbably enough, this schoolbook abridgment of Webster’s 1807 Philosophical Grammar (no. 39) contains the most direct attacks on Lindley Murray. Webster urged teachers (or perhaps children?) to compare the two grammarians’ work to “detect the plagiarisms.” Short extracts from Webster’s 1807 grammar had been “dispersed in various parts of [Murray’s] work.” Murray seems to have been unaware of these allegations until four years later, when he directed his brother John that no reply should be made: “Whoever writes a Grammar,” Murray said privately, “must in some degree make use of his predecessors’ labours.” (Cf. no. 23.)