Monthly Archives: March 2007

Peter Hall’s 1834 Memoir of Robert Lowth

Anthony Lowth sent us the following entry: 

In November last year a biography of Robert Lowth was posted on the Codifiers weblog to mark the anniversary of his death. This biography, which was originally published around the time of Lowth’s death in the Gentleman’s Magazine, was full of factual errors.

For those interested in a rather more accurate and detailed account of Robert Lowth’s career there is now on the web a scan of Rev.Peter Hall’s 1834 publication ‘Sermons and Other Remains of Robert Lowth, Lord Bishop of London’. This starts with a 45 page ‘memoir’ of Robert Lowth’s career. Included in this is a biography of Robert’s father William Lowth, said to have been written by the son.

To find this scan, open the Google homepage, click on More, then select  Book Search. Next enter ‘Lowth Sermons’ in the search box, and it will find, amongst other things, Peter Hall’s book.

Anyone reading this account of Lowth’s career who has a particular interest in his grammar is, I’m afraid, likely to be disappointed. There is only one short paragraph that mentions the grammar at all (see page 24). The work for which Robert Lowth is best known, and most often written about, is his series of lectures delivered at Oxford University about Sacred Hebrew Poetry. Having said that, I don’t think there can be much doubt that, 245 years later, it is his grammar that has had the greatest effect on greatest number of people. Sadly this is something he gets few thanks for from current generations.

Try and or try to?

Gunnel Tottie (University of Zurich) asked me the following question:

"Can you can tell me anything about attitudes to the complementation of try – the choice between try and and  try to?  I have a paper in press in the ICAME Journal about the current use of these forms, together with Charlotte Hommerberg, and we have looked at the attitudes of contemporary prescriptivists.  I am now doing some work on the history of the constructions, and that is what I am writing about – can you tell me anything about earlier attitudes or maybe give me some bibliographical tips?"
The construction does not occur as a usage problem in the 1st edition of Lowth’s grammar (see my inventory in the recently published Handbook of the history of English by van Kemenade and Los (2006:553-5), and I can’t think of any 18th-century grammarian writing about it. Perhaps there is something in Leonard’s appendix in the Doctrine of correctness (1929)? I do seem to remember that the issue is discussed in Mittins et al., Attitudes to English usage (1970, I believe (I don’t have the copy here at hand). The nice thing about their study is that they place the usage problems they investigated into a historical perspective.
Perhaps other people have further suggestions?

A two-penny loaf?

On 25 April 1750, Lowth reported to his friend Sir Francis Dashwood that he had visited the newly excavated site of Herculaneum. He had been most struck by the following:

"Among other things of the like perishable nature there have been found vessels full of wheat, & beans, a bottle of Oil, another of some Spiritous Liquor, pieces of bread, & one entire Loaf: it is about the size of a common two penny brown Loaf, has the same form & appearance, & does not look so very stale neither: it is kept in a Glass case to secure it. I did not ex::amine it very nicely, but a Gentleman that saw it since observ’d some Letters upon it, wch. he was told no body could make out; he viewd it very narrowly, and with supplying a few Letters at the beginning, wch. I shall mark, is confident that he has hitt it off completely & truly as follows: siligo c ranii e cicere."

Could it be that what he witnessed was the loaf of bread that is currently on display at the exhibition called "The last hours of Herculaneum" at the Museum ‘t Falkhof in Nijmegen?

As the picture on this website shows, there is a stamp on it, but I can’t read it. What does a two-penny loaf looks like?