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


Correction to OED’s entry for “government”

The grammatical term “government”, according to the OED, was first found as a lemma in Johnson’s dictionary, where it is defined as “influence with regard to construction”. It is next recorded as being first used by Lowth in a nineteenth-century reprint of the grammar, published in 1838. The quotation in question, “Adverbs have no Government”, is, however, also found in the first edition (1762:126), so the reference in the OED may be simplified accordingly.

Professor of Poetry in Oxford

The poet Ruth Padel, who resigned as Professor of Poetry in Oxford after only nine days, was preceded in this chair by Robert Lowth. Lowth was Professor of Poetry in Oxford from 1741 to 1751. The lectures he delivered there were published as De Sacra Poesi Hebraeorum Praelectiones Academiai in 1753, and he was subsequently awarded his doctorate from the University of Oxford a year later.

Monthly Lunch Meeting

On 29 May Lyda Fens-de Zeeuw (University of Leiden and University of Toronto) will give her presentation: "Where two text corpora meet: The implementation of Hexham’s (1647) A Copious English and Netherduytch Dictionarie (E-D) into (2006-) Lexicons of Early Modern English (LEME) in LIPSIUS/130 from 12:00-13:00. All welcome!

Monthly Lunch Meeting

On 8 May MA students of the University of Leiden will give presentations. Nienke van Lieshout will present "James Elphinston, an 18th-Century Centipede"; Matthijs Smits, "William Cobbett and the Politics of Grammar"; and Vera Willems, "James Buchanan and Ann Fisher’s A New Grammar" in LIPSIUS/002 from 12:00-13:00. All welcome!

Christine Erkelens wins prize for best paper

Christine Erkelens, one of this year’s Pre-University students who took a course in the context of the Codifiers project, won the Jan Kijne prize for the best final paper. Her paper, called “Reconstructing Social Networks: Comparing the Wills of Mrs Thrale and her daughter” and supervised by Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade, was nominated along with ten other papers on a wide variety of topics within fields taught in this university. The final nomination as the best paper was unanimous. Warmest congratulations from the Codifiers project, Christine!

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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ECCO wish list

In the short time since it has been available, ECCO (Eighteenth Century Collections Online) has become an indispensable tool for our research. Yet it contains errors, and, despite its vastness, it lacks books and editions of grammars that are important for the study of the publication history of English grammars, to mention one example. Here, please add which titles of grammars and editions of already included works you would like to be added to ECCO. Hopefully, they will soon be included as a result.

Righter or more right?

On 15 March 1755, Lowth wrote to his wife asking if she “should think it righter to stay at home” with their little boy. The form righter would be entirely in agreement with his own rule in the grammar (1762) (also found in other grammars of the period) that monosyllabic adjectives should occur in the comparative form with –er. Yet Quirk et al. (1985:461-3) specifically note that “the exceptions real, right, and wrong require comparison with periphrasis”, so it should be more right in other words. Why should this be the case? And since when has right been an exception?

Lane’s Key to the Art of Letters

Last year, a very interesting article came out by Robert Rix, dealing with a grammar that has not received a lot of attention within English linguistics: A. Lane’s Key to the Art of Letters, first published in 1700 and reprinted twice down to 1706. The grammar must therefore have enjoyed a certain amount of popularity, and it may not have been reprinted after that date because the author appears to have been no longer alive by that time. As Rix notes, the final edition of the grammar contains his obituary. (Lane’s lifedates in Koerner’s Index of Biographical Names can thus be pushed slightly forward: fl.1695-c.1706.)

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