Gerald Nelson (ed.) Graphics and Design by Justin Buckley.
Landmarks in English Grammar The Eighteenth Century: Fully indexed electronic editions of five eighteenth-century English grammars.

Survey of English Usage, University College London, 1998.

To the best of my knowledge, this collection is the first attempt to provide grammatical treatises published before 1800 in the form of a CD-ROM. It contains five eighteenth-century English grammars:

  1. Charles Gildon and John Brightland, A Grammar of the English Tongue, 1711.
  2. Joseph Priestley, The Rudiments of English Grammar, 1761.
  3. Robert Lowth, A Short Introduction to English Grammar, 1762.
  4. John Ash, Grammatical Institutes, 4th edition, 1763.
  5. Lindley Murray, English Grammar, 1795.

Besides these grammars, the CD-ROM comprises an introduction, contents lists and indices to all five treatises, and a select bibliography. It also includes Acrobat Reader and Search software, by which the reader views the texts.

According to the 'Introduction', the above texts 'have been selected for their importance in the history of English grammar, for their contemporary influence, and for their influence on later writers'. Lowth and two of his followers, Ash and Murray, represent the prescriptivist tradition. By way of contrast, Priestley is selected for his emphasis on custom and usage. Gildon-Brightland is included 'as an example of the continuing influence of the Port-Royal Grammaire Générale et Raisonnée (1660)'.

Considering that more than 230 grammatical treatises dealing with English were written in the course of the eighteenth century (cf. Michael 1970:588-594), any selection of five representative grammars of English from that century would naturally be open to criticism of some sort or other. I shall therefore refrain from commenting on the selection itself and confine myself to questioning the way these five grammars are presented on the CD-ROM. As the editor explicitly remarks in the introduction, '[t]he editions presented here have been electronically scanned from facsimile editions produced by R. C. Alston in the series English Linguistics 1500-1800, published by the Scolar Press'. That is to say, what the CD-ROM has to offer are reprints of reprints, and that in the form of scanned images, not as digitized texts. It is therefore impossible to search for a specific word or string of words the user happens to be interested in unless it is one listed in the indices. In other words, searches are limited to the range of grammatical terms and cited authors listed as index entries. Although searches are conducted across all five grammars, the accuracy of the results entirely depends on that of the indices themselves. This is little better than a cumulative index of a multi-volume work in book form; the advantage of a CD-ROM could have been more profitably utilized if the trouble to digitize the whole texts had not been spared. I doubt whether the mere images scanned from the already existing reprints deserve the name of 'electronic editions', as they are called in the subtitle, at all.

Reprints are in no way inferior media in themselves; they frequently serve as reliable substitutes for scarce and fragile originals. One cannot emphasize too strongly the benefit many historiographers of linguistics have received from Alston's series of facsimile reprints. But if the editor has decided to base the CD-ROM on Alston's reprints, he ought to have incorporated at least all the information contained in Alston's brief and suggestive notes to his facsimile editions. The 'Introduction' of the CD-ROM does not even mention the provenances of the copies that have been used for reproduction. To take Lowth's grammar for example, the copy reprinted by Alston was the author's own and contains important additions and corrections in manuscript. Alston has also reprinted as an appendix a selected number of pages from another copy in which there are additions in a different hand that has not been identified. Both copies are in the possession of Winchester College (cf. Alston 1967). Surprisingly enough, the 'Introduction' says nothing about these bibliographical facts. Moreover, the CD-ROM omits including the manuscript annotations and the appendix. Thus Lowth's grammar as it is presented in the CD-ROM is not even a faithful reproduction of Alston's reprint.

The 'Select Bibliography' also leaves something to be desired. In a sense it is a more demanding task to compile a 'select bibliography' than an all-inclusive one, because it should aim at listing such works as can be consulted for further reading. For instance, among the items listed in the 'Bibliography' Jones (1983) is the only one devoted solely to Lindley Murray. If a single title had had to be selected for Murray, Tieken-Boon van Ostade (1996) should surely have been listed, which provides an up-to-date comprehensive survey of Murray studies including Jones (1983).

This collection is important to the extent that it has drawn attention to the possibility of using a CD-ROM as a medium for providing literature in the field of the history of linguistics. But it should not set a model for future attempts. If one aims at producing an 'electronic edition' of a grammatical treatise, one should at very least provide the text in digitized form. And the critical apparatus such as introduction and bibliography should come up to the same standard as is normally expected of critical editions in book form.


Alston, R. C. 1967. "Note" to Robert Lowth, A Short Introduction to English Grammar. English Linguistics 1500-1800, No. 18. Menston: Scolar Press.

Jones, Bernard. 1983. "William Barnes on Lindley Murray's English Grammar". English Studies 64.30-35.

Michael, Ian. 1970. English Grammatical Categories and the Tradition to 1800. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tieken-Boon van Ostade, Ingrid, ed. 1996. Two Hundred Years of Lindley Murray. Münster: Nodus Publikationen.

Masataka Miyawaki, Yokohama / Oxford