Monthly Archives: February 2007

Readership of the British Library (1753-1836)

Anthony Lowth has just sent me a link to a document of a text which analyses the readership of the British Library (formerly British Museum) between 1753 and 1836. Among much other information the text informs us that "in 1759 there were 135 readers. There were 17 clerics, 19 doctors, and 18 who were reverend doctors making a total of 54. Of the 19 who were doctors only, at least eight were physisians or surgeons, and one, William Blackstone, was traced to a law professorship at Oxford. The other ten remain unknown. Many of the clerics achieved outstanding posts later in life. Charles Lyttleton, John Ross, John Douglas, Robert Lowth, and John Green became bishops, while the Bishop of Norwich was a reader in 1759 … (pp. 104-5)".

I wonder what Lowth would have been reading in the library of the British Museum in 1759.

A bibliographic approach to the study of 18th century grammars

María Rodríguez-Gil and Nuria Yáñez-Bouza  are currently carrying out bibliographic research on the eighteenth-century grammatical tradition and they would like to request your collaboration. They have prepared a brief questionnaire, where you will find more information about our study. They would be very grateful if you could take some time to complete it and would return it to them by email (for details, see attached file). Download file

Best Practice Session EEBO and ECCO

On Friday 16 February, the Codifiers project presented a Best Practice Session on EEBO and ECCO at the Faculty of Arts here at Leiden, intended for anyone from the university with an interest in these databases. The meeting started with highly informative explanations by Duncan Campbell (EEBO) and Julia de Mowbray (ECCO) on how the databases were compiled, how they could be searched, and what kind of information could be retrieved. Nest, four invited scholars, Marika Keblusek (Leiden, Art History), Helmer Helmers (Leiden, English, literature), Anita Auer (Leiden, English, sociohistorical linguistics) and Suzan van Dijk (Utrecht, French, literature, gender studies) showed us what working with these databases meant for their research as well as their teaching. Afterwards, their was the opportunity to practise with the databases in the computerlab, under the guidance of the Codifiers project members, who had prepared a set of tasks for this purpose. Participants were asked to report back on their findings during the concluding panel session, which included most of the previous speakers as well as Richard Todd (Leiden, English, British literature since 1500).

The topic for the session was "New electronic resources, new questions in research and teaching" (see also "New databases, new research questions" elsewhere in this Weblog). To what extent do these new databases allow us to ask different questions for our research, and how will they affect our research?

Marika Keblusek noted that she no longer has to travel to many different libraries all over the world in order to have access to material she needs for her research, and also, now that we have access to EEBO here at Leiden, that she no longer has to print out texts frantically whenever she visits a library that does have EEBO. Helmer Helmers showed us that the title of the database is not quite accurate, as EEBO contains much more than merely old books. Anita Auer demonstrated the many uses ECCO has for her research as well as her teaching, showing that students now have access to original material such as letter writing manuals and books on local dialects informing us of how individual sounds were pronounced at the time. Suzan van Dijk is interested in translations of Belle van Zuijlen’s Lettres de Lausanne, and she showed how the English translator of the letters coped with Belle’s frequent implicit sentence connections, a problem by which every reader of the letters is confronted. It also became clear, to mention a linguistic example, that the word brother could mean "brother-in-law" at the time, which is something to be reckoned with in all research that includes family relationships at the time. My own favourite example of how to make use of ECCO in a novel way is that it allows you to find that influence between authors need not be reciprocal: by doing a full-text search with one name and an author search with another and then reversing the operation I found that Priestley refers to Lowth’s grammar but Lowth does not refer to Priestley’s. Next the question has to be asked why this would be so (there is a very good reason for this, but I would never have considered the question if I hadn’t found out about this). Richard Todd, finally, mentioned the fact that EEBO should perhaps include different copies of texts of the same print run, as during the Early Modern period books were usually corrected while coming off the press; thus, no copy of a single book is exactly alike. This would allow us to study textual differences in an unprecedented amount of detail.

It was noted, moreover, that it seems unlikely that we will start producing more publications just because we have access to more data in less time than ever before. We will probably simply use the time gained to process our data, as in the past, but produce more accurately researched and thus higher quality output! It was generally felt that we are living in what feels like revolutionary times. More such databases should be produced, also outside the field of English, and universities should learn to look ahead and make money available for the acquisition of such databases in order for the scholars employed by them to be able to compete with the rest of the world.

We would be interested in hearing about more novel ways in which ECCO leads to new research results, and I would like to encourage readers of this forum to share ideas with us here. Not exactly new research questions, but two particularly exciting research findings may be found in the screenshots on this page.

Captain Cook Schoolroom Museum

A reconstruction of a schoolroom of the early eighteenth century can be seen at the Captain Cook Schoolroom Museum in Great Ayton, North Yorkshire. For more information see the following website
Read more »

The size of Lowth’s grammars

Lowth’s grammars were published in two, sometimes three different sizes, mostly quarto and octavo. Noel Osselton wrote to me about this as follows: "Is it true that 12mo schoolbooks (roughly 12 x 11 cm, or 26 x 11 cm when lying open) were favoured at that time because they fitted well into the available space remaining at the top of a pupil’s desk? What would have been the usual dimensions of a pupil’s desk at a well-founded school in the 1760’s?" This is a very interesting point indeed. Does anyone know where I can find more information about the size of school desks in the eitheenth century?

Vestigial second “l” in the handwriting of Elizabeth Vesey

This example of vestigial second "l" was sent to me by Anni Sairo. It is from a letter by Elizabeth Vesey (1715–1791). It shows a vestigial second "l" the word "shall" in the last line "I shall have a letter…"

example double 'l' Elizabeth Vesey

Anni describes Vesey’s hand as dynamic and very careless, features that would certainly also adequately describe Priestley’s. He was known to dash off letters to fellow scientist right after the completion of an experiment and this haste shows in the handwriting.

In Priestley’s case however, the feature also seems to occur in letters that do not appear to have been written hastily and appear to be written in a fairly neat hand.

The Infant’s Grammar or a Pic-Nic Party of the Parts of Speech

If you enjoyed the quote from The Infant’s Grammar or a Pic-Nic Party of the Parts of Speech (1822), you can view all the pages from this grammar through this link:

Jane Austen and Lowth’s grammar-

In The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, David Chrystal states that "Jane Austen would have arrived at School (Abbey School, in Reading) at a time when Lowth’s Grammar was well established and a second generation of ‘young ladies’ was having its tenets instilled into them" (2001:77). Does anybody know whether or not Jane Austen studied Lowth’s A Short Introduction to English Grammar (1762)?

Double “l” in Eighteenth-century Manuscripts

Transcribing the manuscript letters of Joseph Priestley, I notice that, at least to modern standards, he has a rather peculiar way of writing word-final double "l" in such words as "all" and "shall". The first "l" is a fully formed letter, the second one is invariably vestigial. For the most part, this second "l" has no discernable loop and does not nearly reach the top of the line, making it more akin to a lowercase "’r" or lowercase "e" than anything else.

I am not sure whether this is a feature of the eighteenth century English writing system or whether it is an idiosyncracy of Priestley’s. Since I’ve not been able to find any literature about this ‘feature’, I would be interested to find whether anyone else working with eighteenth century letters has also observed this.

Here is an example with "shall" in a letter to the Dutch chemist Martinus van Marum (dated  14 Septeber 1785):

JP to MvM 14_09_1785

Murray comic

View image   This cartoon by Thomas Nast from Harper’s Weekly, 2 August 1884, p. 507, has a double purpose. It lampoons the reputation of Senator John Logan, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, for butchering the English language. It also criticizes the foreign policy of Republican presidential nominee James Blaine, the former secretary of state. "By jingo," is a pun on the candidate’s nickname, "Jingo Jim," a term highlighting his allegedly aggressive, saber-rattling foreign policy. During the 1884 campaign, Blaine often criticized the British government in an attempt to gain the votes of Irish-Americans. By Blaine’s failure to carry out his words in this cartoon, however, Nast indicates that the nominee’s position on the English may be part of his characteristic bluster. In the background, the artist has sketched John Bull, the symbol of Great Britain, in front of London’s Big Ben clock tower. The caption mimics Shakespeare’s Hamlet: "Alas! Poor Yorrick!"