Blog Archives


Robin Straaijer directed our attention to the site which shows how you can cut a quill from a feather.

Penny Post

According to Lynda Mugglestone, in her own chapter on nineteenth-century English (Lynda Mugglestone, ed., The Oxford History of English, just out), the introduction of the Penny Post in 1840 led to a phenomenal increase of private letters. While in 1839, approximately 75 million letters were sent, ten years later this figure had risen to 347 million! Quite a few of those should be available for the historical sociolinguist to analyse: very promising indeed (Mugglestone 2006:276).

Susan Burney Letters Project

I recently came across the Susan Burney Letters Project website.This project by Nottingham University sets out to make the 330 letters and letter-journals of Susan Burney, Fanny Burney’s younger sister, widely available for the first time. According to the project’s website, Susan’s letters and letter-journals ‘provide a uniquely informed account of English musical culture, a chronicle of some of the period’s major political events and valuable insights into the social status and occupations of an educated woman.’ 

eighteenth-century letters

Willemijn Ruberg sent us this announcement:

Recently published: Clare Brant, Eighteenth-Century Letters and British Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke 2006). Study of several types of eighteenth-century letters like love letters, travel letters and letters from parents to children.

The Matthew Prior Project

This website is, I think, an excellent example of how a Late Modern English collection of letters could be published. Currently, as Phase I of the project, it contains a calendar of Prior’s complete correspondence (nearly 3000 letters!). One of the compilers, Deborah K. Wright, has informed me that Phase II of the project, which entails the publication of the actual letters online, will start this year. I think I am not alone in saying that I would be very interested in seeing the letters published. Hopefully, a project like this will inspire the publication of more open-access databases of letters, as they open up immense new opportunities for research into Late Modern English.

We have also just added a link to the project in Historical Sociolinguistics and Sociohistorical Linguistics.

Finding and publishing Late Modern English letters

For a paper which I am hoping to present at ICEHL-4, I should like to ask scholars who work with original (i.e. unpublished) letters from the Late Modern English period (1700-1900) to fill in a questionnaire. Please let me know if you yourself or anyone else you know of might be interested in filling it in. You may do so by writing a comment with your name in it to this entry. I will send you the questionnaire accordingly.

Dutch letters in the London National Archives

This Saturday (11 February 2006), an article by historian Roelof van Gelder appeared in the Dutch paper NRC Handelsblad on the presence of piles of Dutch letters from the Late Modern period in the National Archives in London. The letters are part of so-called "prize papers", papers which were confiscated when Dutch ships were pirated by the English navy during the wars between the two countries at the time. There are letters from children to fathers in the East or West Indies, from jilted lovers, from local administrators begging for financial support, and much, much more besides. What a treasure trove! The Royal Library in the The Hague is currently preparing a database of the letters, and summaries will soon be published on the website of the National Archives (Search Catalogue: HCA 30, 32, 49).

Roelof van Gelder rightly notes that the letters should contain important material for studying the language of the common man (women and children included!). In order to be of real use to the sociolinguistic historian, I hope that proper attention is paid to the transcription of the letters.

What I’d be interested to know is whether the collection includes English letters as well. These would be of particular interest to our project.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

In her article on children’s correspondence in the Netherlands (17701850) (see Paedagogica Historica, Vol 41, No.3, June 2005), Willemijn Ruberg notes that during the years 1836 and 1837 the letters of Lady Montagu, in which she writes about her travels, were part of the curriculum of the three sons of the Hubrecht family. Between the ages of ten and twelve the boys studied "with Mr De Gelder, who headed a boarding school in Leiden. They had to learn rhetoric, of which the composition of letters formed a part" (2005:297).

Robert Lowth and Hannah More

"Reconsidering the Bluestockings" (2003, eds. Pohl & Schellenberg) has an interesting article by Susan Staves on Church of England clergymen and women writers. Robert Lowth was among the friends and correspondents of Bluestocking and philantropist Hannah More. They read each other’s works, and Lowth apparently encouraged More to publish her poem ‘Sensibility’ which was something of a tribute to the "in-crowd" of literary London. It includes a reference to Lowth himself. More writes to her sister in 1781: "Mrs. Kennicott tells me Bishop Lowth insists upon my publishing ‘Sensibility’, and all my other poems together, immediately, that people may have them all together" (p.94). The poem can be found here:

More wrote to her friend Frances Boscawen (another Bluestocking, to whom ‘Sensibility’ was dedicated) apparently in 1782 that she was reading Lowth’s "Isaiah. A New Translation. With Notes", and recommended Lowth’s "De Sacra Poesi" to her "as a treasure": it "has taught me to consider the Divine Book it illustrates under many new and striking points of view; it teaches to appreciate the distinct and characteristic excellence of the sacred poetry and historians, in a manner wonderfully entertaining and instructive" (p.82). Staves notes that an English translation of Praelectiones de Sacra Poesi Hebraeorum came out in 1787, so if the editor William Roberts (1834) dated this letter correctly, More perhaps had access to the English translation before its publication. (More could read Latin, though.) There is no mention of Lowth’s grammar, unfortunately!

Letter writing in Late Modern English

I am currently systematically investigating self-corrections in Late Modern English letters. If you come across any examples of self-corrections, could you please let me know about this. Thanks a lot!