The Swiftian Years
1. A Short Introduction of Grammar.
Lily, William. Oxford: At the Theater, 1714.
First published in 1513, this Latin grammar was a mainstay in English schools for more than two centuries. Latin remained the cornerstone of grammar-school education throughout this period. Lily (1468–1522) was modest about his contributions, saying that he hoped his grammar might make study “a lytle more easy to yonge wyttes.”
2. A Grammar of the English Tongue.
Brightland, John; and Charles Gildon. London: John Brightland, 1711.
Primary authorship is customarily given to Gildon (1665–1724), described by the Dictionary of National Biography as “one of the most unfortunate scribblers of his time.” He was satirized in Alexander Pope’s Dunciad and denounced by Jonathan Swift. To promote the book, the authors appropriated Swift’s pseudonym—Isaac Bickerstaff—as the book’s “censor” and attributed laudatory comments to him: “Buy, read, and study this Grammar.” By 1714, it was in a third edition.
3. The Rudiments of Grammar for the English-Saxon Tongue.
Elstob, Elizabeth. London: J. Bowyer & C. King, 1715.
As a teenager in the 1690s, Elstob (1683–1756) pursued Anglo-Saxon studies with a group of Oxford scholars, including her brother William—a fellow at University College. In 1708 she published two books: her translation of a French work and a Latin text with Old English glosses. Then came a 1709 edition of a 10th-century homily by Ælfric. The Rudiments, her last book, is a remarkable feat: the first grammar of Old English ever published. Her incisive intellect is on full display in the preface, where she cheerfully derides Jonathan Swift.
4. An Essay Towards a Practical English Grammar.
Greenwood, James. 2d ed. London: John Clark, 1722.
When this volume was published, Greenwood (1683?–1737) was second master at St. Paul’s School, London. Although Isaac Watts said that Greenwood had shown “deep knowledge,” there were vituperative critics as well. Charles Gildon (see no. 2) charged Greenwood with making the task of learning grammar “more difficult.” And Andrea Guarna called it “the worst Grammar of the English Tongue that I ever saw.”
5. An Introduction to an English Grammar.
Henley, John. London: J. Roberts et al., 1726.
A scholarly poseur, Henley (1692–1756) struggled as a student at Cambridge, where he said he “had the Stupidity to be educated.” He supposedly “bested Ten Examiners & was thanked by the University.” Henley’s original plan, he claimed, had been to publish a grammar for each major language—at the rate of one per month. His plan was derailed by “delays of the press.” As for errors in this book, Henley tried to deflect criticism by saying that “a moderate scholar will easily discern and correct them.”
6. “A Compendious English Grammar,” in A New General English Dictionary.
Dyche, Thomas; and William Pardon. 2d ed. London: Richard Ware, 1737.
First published eight years after Dyche’s death in 1727, this book was one of the more important pre-Johnson English dictionaries. The “Compendious Grammar” consists of ten pages in the front matter—an early instance of prefacing a dictionary with a grammar. Dyche (or Pardon) wrote: “The vulgar error among the generality of people is that young persons are necessitated to learn the Latin, or Lily’s Grammar [no. 1], to understand English.”
7. A New Guide to the English Tongue in Five Parts.
Dilworth, Thomas. [1st ed. 1740?] Unattested London ed.: 1793.
This 138-page primer is the first English-language book to combine a speller, a grammar, and a reader—a formula later copied by James Buchanan (in one volume), Noah Webster (in three volumes), and Lindley Murray (also in three). Dilworth (1710–1780) listed 200 potentially confusing homophones, such as “Board, a plank, Bor’d, made a hole.” Posthumously, Dilworth was remembered for his namesake ghost who boisterously accused Noah Webster of plagiarism (see no. 23).