Blog Archives

Digital Joseph Priestley Collection at Penn State University

The Joseph Priestley Collection at Penn State University has been digitized and is now available on the website of the PSU Library. The digital collection contains several of Priestley’s letters, his last will & testament, his memoirs and his library card, identifiying Priestley as president of the Birmingham Library. All these materials can now be seen read in manuscript on the PSU libary website (follow the link above).

Joseph Priestley interactive biographical map

Just to show what interesting things linguists can do with Google Maps, I have created two interactive maps relating to the eighteenth-century grammarian Joseph Priestley.

One is based on biographical information on Priestley, available through the following link Priestley biographical map.

The other shows the places where Priestley’s grammars were published, available by following the link Priestley’s grammars.


Joseph Priestley translated into German

One of the measures of the popularity of an eighteenth-century grammar is its translation into other languages. In my research on Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) I have not come across many translations of his works on language, but just the other day I found one I haven’t seen mentioned before. I happened upon the website European Cultural Heritage Online (ECHO), for which I have added a link in this post, and found a German translation of Priestley’s Course of Lectures on Oratory and Criticism (1777).

titlepage German translation Priestley's Lectures on Oratory and Criticism

Dr. Joseph Priestley’s Vorlesungen über Redekunst und Kritik was published by Schwickert in Leipzig in 1779, just two years after its original publication in England, in German blackletter typeface. It was translated by the German critic and literary historian Johann Joachim Eschenburg (1743-1820), who "is best known by his efforts to familiarize his countrymen with English literature" (‘Eschenburg, Johann Joachim’ Encyclopaedia Brittanica, 11th ed. vol.9).

Late Modern English in Sheffield

Thanks to Susan Fitzmaurice, Joan Beal and Jane Hodson for organising the Fourth Late Modern English conference at the University of Sheffield. It was another very good, focused conference. For those of the delegates who are interested, here are pictures from the Lord Mayor’s reception at the Town Hall and the conference dinner at the Blue Moon Cafe.

ECCO Part II: for better or for worse?

ECCO Part II, a new version of Eighteenth Century Collections Online was released earlier this year. It has everything that was in ECCO, plus nearly fifty thousand additional titles and a new interface. One of the great additions for this group for instance is the two volumes of the first edition (1755) of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary (in folio). This all sounds great, but it seems that not everything is improved. Read more »

Benjamin Franklin’s subjunctive/indicative confusion

While I was looking at the use of the subjunctive in letters by Benjamin Franklin and Joseph Priestly for a paper for the conference Patriotism(e) & Prescriptivism(e) in Toronto, this August, I came across the following. In the second edition of his Rudiments of English Grammar Priestley discusses the decline of the subjunctive in favour of the indicative:

This conjunctive form of verbs, though our forefathers paid a pretty strict regard to it, is much neglected by many of our best writers […] So little is this form of verbs attended to, that few writers are quite uniform in their own practice with respect to it. We even, sometimes, find both the forms of a verb in the same sentence, and in the same construction (Priestley 1768: 119-120)

I found precisely this in one of Benjamin Franklin’s letters, where he uses both the indicative and the inflectional subjunctive forms with two verbs which refer to the same subject, combined by a coordinating conjunction.

Mr. Joseph Crellius is gone to Holland and I suppose may call at London before he returns, and settle his Daughter’s Affair [emphasis mine] (letter to William Strahan, 6 December 1750 – American Philosophical Society)

Was Franklin really confused here? Or, as this is the only instance of this I have found, is it a transcription error? The letter is available on the website The Papers of Benjamin Franklin


When is “This day published” in 18th century newspapers?

The 17th-18th Century Burney Newspapers Collection is an invaluable database for all scholars of 18th century England. The advertisements  in the classified ads sections are helpful to me in tracing ‘lost’ editions of Priestley’s Rudiments of English Grammars. However, the phrase "This day published" in the ads can be misleading and definitly pose a problem for determinating the publication date of a work to the day.

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The London Magazine, Or Gentleman’s Intelligencer on the web

When searching for reviews of Joseph Priestley’s Rudiments of English Grammar, I found that the Hathi Trust Digital Library has a collection of fully searchable issues of the London Magazine, or Gentleman’s Monthly Intelligencer of the years 1732-1782. The library is accessible via the Mirlyn Library Catalog from the University of Michigan and does not require a subscription or login to function. Not all issues are available but enough for scholars of eighteenth-century England.

After you have found the title via the "Basic Search" window, follow the link "Online links to individual volumes". Follow the link to the Hathi Trust Digital Library for the full-text versions. Beware that the search function is not perfect and appears to have some imperfections in the OCR, so you may have to search more than once with different keywords to find what you’re looking for. Once you’re on the Hathi Trust website, you can search other public collections. Most contain works from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Textual Authority & 18th Century Copyright Law

The lack of definition for the right of the author as the proprietor of his/her own works after being sold to a publisher means that the textual authority of later editions/printings cannot always be taken for granted.
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Nähesprache & Distanzsprache

Incorporating German theory in Anglo-American historical linguistic research: the Nähesprache / Distanzsprache-model.

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