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The English Grammar: Textual Essay

Derek Britton

The English Grammar occupies sigs. D4-L2 of F2(3), being placed between Horace, His Art of Poetry and Discoveries. D4, the title-page, reads:

THE | ENGLISH | GRAMMAR | MADE | BY | BEN. IOHNSON. | For the benefit of all Strangers, out of his obſer- | vation of the English Language now ſpoken and in uſe | [rule] | Conſuetudo certiſsima loquendi Magiſtra, utenduma', | planè ſermone, ut nummo, cui publica | eſt, Quinct. | [rule] | Printed M.DC.XL.

At the foot of D4v are four Latin quotations on the subject of grammar. 'THE | PREFACE' follows on E1, and the English text itself begins on E2, occupying pages 35-84. The first four chapters of book 1 are accompanied with extensive Latin notes beginning on E1v (page 34) and occupying the facing pages alternating by leaf, as follows: E1v (Latin), E2r-v (English), E3r-v (Latin), E4r-v (English), F1r-v (Latin), F2r-v (English), F3r-v (Latin), F4r-v (English), G1r-v (Latin). The Latin text ends on G1v, with G2 and subsequent pages being in English. The running title of the English text is 'The Engliſh Grammar.' The running title of the Latin notes is 'Grammatica Anglicana'.

The printing of the Grammar must have presented considerable difficulties to a compositor. As a work concerned with the analysis and illustration of linguistic structure it required careful attention to lay-out and strict adherence to authorial intentions in respect of spelling (in many instances), of choice of font and of upper- or lower-case characters, and punctuation. Published posthumously, the Grammar was printed without authorial supervision, and there is no sign of any other kind of learned editorial guidance in its printing. Since Jonson's original was plainly not revised for publication by the author, it seems likely that it was this draft, rather than a fair copy made by a professional scrivener under the author's scrutiny, that provided the copy-text for the edition. But there is no proof of the copy-text being an autograph copy, and it could be that there was an additional source of error in an uncorrected scribal copy. Jonson's hand was not difficult to interpret, but the Latin and Greek passages in the text would have been highly susceptible to misreading by a scribe or a compositor who was not totally fluent in these languages; and Jonson's intended lay-out and specification of font might not always have been clear from a draft version. It is also possible, given the evidence for the unrevised state of the original, that Jonson himself may have been responsible for some of the errors in the text. A number of the misquotations, the failures to give attribution to sources, and some of the many incorrect references to sources of quoted passages, for example, may well be authorial.

Given the circumstances, it is unsurprising that the Grammar should be 'the worst printed of all Jonson's texts' (H&S, 8.455). But, even when due allowance is made for special difficulties, it must be acknowledged that the quality of printing was not of a high standard. Checking against the readings of the copy-text at stop-press stages seems to have been casual and haphazard. In an edition that abounds in error, the only page subject to a substantial number of changes is E2v (36) which, however, includes an important miscorrection, made either without reference to the copy-text or in violation of its reading, in the insertion of 'for' in 'her, for hir' (line 31).

Of the several errors of omission, the most substantial in length is that on G4v (56), line 13, where repetition of a word in the copy-text has made for a loss of two of the three examples of singular nouns, of a line introducing examples of the formation of the plural, and an example of the plural of 'tree' (see 1.8.12-13 in the present edition, where the missing passage is supplied by the F3 reading, itself based on editorial conjecture). An earlier, more lengthy lacuna attributable to repetition was detected in the Oxford edition in line 10 of E4v (40). This may be true, but since there is a possible argument for the F2 reading being authorial, it has been allowed to stand in this edition (see 1.3.68-9n.). Shorter, but significant omissions in the English text (see below for omission of Latin words in the Grammatica Anglicana) occur in the following examples: 'i' after 'precedeth' (F4v [48], line 16); 'all' before 'Adverbs' (I2v [68], line 8); 'A, or' before 'An' (K2 [75], line 1); and 'not' after 'varieth' (K2 [75], line 11).

Erroneous insertions which distort the intended meaning of the original are rarer. One occurs in the miscorrection to E2v [36], line 46, cited above, and another in the mistaken addition of 'was' in 'footing, was first' (G3v [54], line 12). Substantive misreadings of English words and characters include 'long' for 'strong' (F2v [44], line 23), 'K' for 'IC' (F3 [45], line 27), 's.' for 'e.'(H2 [59], line 29), 'That' for 'yt' (H3 [61], line 4), 'two' for 'too' (H4 [63], line 13), 'our' for 'one' (K1 [73], line 4), 'in bed' for 'a bed' (K1v [74], line 48), 'his' for 'is' (K2 [75], line 16), 'if' for 'of' (K2v [76], line 2), and 'Or' tte . . . 'tte' for 'Or He . . . He' (L2 [83], line 5).

Mispunctuation, unlikely to have been present in Jonson's original, is a common feature of the printed text; and in the rendering of Latin and Greek forms the wrong diacritics appear frequently, while in other instances the required diacritics are omitted. Such errors in the use of diacritics have also occurred on occasion in the printing of English forms which had authorial superscript accents to denote the nature of a vowel. Thus, the necessary acute accent is missing from the first vowel of 'thriving'in line 8 of E4 (39); on the same page 'tìtle, títle' (Present-day English 'title, tittle') appears in line 17, where 'títle, tìtle' was required; and a grave is omitted from 'us' (E4v [40], line 5).

Given the evidence that Jonson's Latin may not always have been perfect (see the commentary on Grammatica Anglicana, note (w) 2-5) and the likelihood that he never revised and corrected his draft of the Grammar, it is difficult to be certain which of the numerous errors in rendering the Latin of the Grammatica Anglicana may be attributable to the author and which to the compositor. Those which seem likely to have been compositorial include: 'amend.L.Latin.' for 'emend. L. A.' (E1v [34], line 14); 'his' for 'hic' (E1v [34], line 22); 'tum' for 'tam' (E1v [34], line 36); 'proferantur' for 'proferuntur' (E1v [34], line 43); omission of 'I.' before 'porrigit' (E3v [38], line 2); 'vetustissmi' for 'vetustissimi' (E3v [38], line 39); 'vice sit' for 'vice si sit' (F1 [41], line 23); 'amend.' for 'emend.' (F1 [41], line 32); 'habebunt' for 'habebant' (F3 [45], line 32); 'stabulis' for 'stabilis' (F3v [46], line 10); 'Libris'for 'Labris' (F3v [46], line 15); 'cœcum' for 'cæcum' (F3v [46], line 16); 'Atticicissat' for 'Aticissat' (G1 [49], line 32); 'si'for 'sic' (G1v [50], line 12); 'cœteræ'for 'cæteræ'(G1v [50], line 27); 'Prosopæia' for 'Prosopopœia' (H1 [57], line 16).

Greek words and characters are likewise frequently misrepresented. Setting aside the numerous mistakes in the use of diacritics, errors in the text include 'Απολλοδόρου' for 'Ἀπολλοδώρου' (F1 [41], line 11), 'έν' for 'εὐ' (F1v [42], line 44 and F2 [43], line 40), 'γενναωτατον' for 'γενναιότατον' (F3v [46], line 46), 'x' for 'ῥ' (F4v [48], line 43), 'Σὰνκίβδηλόν' for 'Σὰν κίβδηλον' (G1 [49], line 1), 'οῦ' for 'τοῦ' (G1v [50], line 19), 'ἀχον ἀκούσεσθε' for 'ἀκοῇ ἀκούσεσθε' (K4 [79], line 6m), 'Τίτυ᾽' for 'Τίτυρ᾽' (K4v [80], line 27m), 'πεφιχαμένη' for 'πεφιλημένε' K4v [80], line 27m),

Passages in Latin verse are laid out as prose in E3 (37), lines 25-6, in 'ME. . . . noctuam' (F1 [41], line 13), and in 'Versâ . . . vide' (F1 [41], lines 23-4); and on another occasion a prose quotation from Martianus Capella – 'Faucibus . . . formatur' (F3 [45], line 31) – which should have begun a new line, is mistakenly run on from the previous sentence and so presented as part of that sentence, with lower-case initial 'f'. Words often appear with lower-case initials where capitals were required and vice versa; and words and phrases intended to be cited in italic or roman characters are frequently printed in the wrong font. There are also examples of whole passages of illustrative prose quotation appearing in roman (with accompanying failure to indent as a sign of quotation) where italic was required. Such passages are found on I4 [71], lines 9-11 and on K2 [75], lines 26-30, 32-4, and 40-3.

Normally, substitution of acceptable variants of authorial spellings would be of no consequence to the meaning of a text, but here thoughtless changes to Jonson's spellings have marred the presentation of linguistic features in sets of cited forms, as, for example in 'Path' for 'Pathe' (H2 [59], line 32) in a list of nouns ending in 'e' which add 's' to form the plural, and in 'Princes' for 'Princis' as the genitive singular of 'Prince' (H2 [59], lines 42 and 45), where Jonson notes that the genitive singular suffix in such words has 'i', contrasting with 'e' in the plural suffix. Such changes have also been damaging to the account of groups of irregular verbs. Past forms of 'reede' are cited as 'read', where the text requires 'red' (H4v [64], lines 44-5); and 'stride' (I1 [65], line 43), 'Shine, strive, thrive' (Iv [66], line 1) appear with 'i' spellings when Jonson's convention for representing the long root vowel in this conjugational sub-class demands 'y'.

Collation of F2(3) reveals stop-press corrections in ten formes. A full list of variants and copies collated appears at the end of this essay.

The F3 version of the Grammar is a remarkable achievement on the part of the anonymous editor. His learning was such as to enable him to correct several of the errors in the Greek and Latin of F2 and to make other revisions to the Latin text of the Grammatica Anglicana. But such emendations are somewhat modest in character, and many of F2's mistakes in rendering Latin and Greek are allowed to stand, suggesting, in someone who clearly applied himself very assiduously to the task of editing, an educated man who was competent in the classical languages, but lacked the expertise of a scholar. His corrections include the following (with textual references, both here and subsequently, to this edn of F2): (k)1 5 tam for F2 tum; (i)2 2 eundem, apud for F2 eundem, quod F2; (o)1 7 and 1.4.25 εὐ for F2 ἐν; 1.4.27 οὐ for F2 ον (but here the correction should probably have been to italic English ov: see this edn, 1.4.27n.); (r)2 9 stabulis for F2 stabilis; (z)2 8 Atticissat for F2 Atticicissat and αττικίζει for F2 ἀττικίζει; (c)3 2 τοῦ for F2 οῦ; (d)3 1 p for Pe in a failed attempt to correct the errors in this passage (see the note in this edition); (e)3 5 cæteræ for cœteræ; (f)3 12-13 τῷ. . .τῷ for F2 τῶ. . . τῶ; and 2.7.58 (m) ἐν τῷ for F2 ἐν τῶ.

A small number of 'improving', non-corrective revisions were also made to the Latin, as in (r)2 8 hæc haud inconsulto as an expansion of F2 hæc, or in these following changes to quotations from Smith, De recta and Ramus, Scholae on the matter of the letter'H': (a)3 11 variarum for omnium; (a)3 14 and omnibus Vocalibus for Vocalibus; and (a)3 15 quibusdam intrinsecus for intrinsecus, ut plurimum .

Of German and French this editor clearly knew very little, for he failed to detect the errors in F2's Ein Hause (1.9.10-11) (which becomes Ein House in F3, perhaps as a result of a printer's error), and Un Maison (1.9.11), merely adding, for the benefit of the reader, 'Ger.'after the former and 'French' after the latter.

A number of judicious corrections were made to the English text, a sample of the most significant of which is noted hereafter. At the crux in 1.3.66-7 F2 problematically reads, with reference to the letter 'V': 'When it leadeth a sounding Vowell in the Syllabe, it is a Consonant: as in save. reve. prove. love. &c.' Since 'v' does not lead a sounding vowel in these examples, there must be some kind of error here (see 1.3.68-9n.), which the editor of F3 deftly resolves by substituting 'followeth' for 'leadeth' in line 68. A lacuna in F2 between 'tree.' and 'bookes.' in 1.8.12-13 leads to the omission of other singular examples, of remarks prefacing illustration of plurals, and of plural 'trees.'. The editor of F3 remedies the gap in the text in a manner subsequently adopted in the Oxford edition and in this edition:

tree. booke. teacher.
Plural, when it expresseth more things than one: as
trees. bookes. teachers.

Similarly, what may, shortly afterwards, be another lacuna in F2, in the omission of examples of plural forms of 'man. run. horse' is emended thus: 'Man, men; run, runs; horse, horses.'

Most of the changes to F2, and the most substantial of all such changes, do not result from correction of error, but rather from editorial improvements in the way of either elucidation or modernization. The editor often sought to clarify the text by revising the wording wherever he felt it seemed in need of clarification or further explication. Thus, for example, for F2's reference to the letter 'l' as 'seldome doubled, but where the Vowel sounds hard upon it', followed by the examples 'hell . . . full '(1.4.55-6), F3 has the neater, more specific 'always doubled at the end of words of one Syllable'. In 1.4.114 the notion of 'h' as 'the Queen mother of Consonants' is illustrated and explained by replacing 'them.'(referring to such consonants) with 'of c, g, p, s, t, w; as also r when derived from the aspirate Greek ῥ; as Cheat, Ghost, Alphabet, shape, that, what, Rhapsody. Of which more hereafter.' On occasion revision was occasioned by the desire to be more specific, as when Jonson's account of voicing of initial /s/ to /z/ 'with rustick people' (1.4.104). For this the editor substituted 'in the West-Country people', and in so doing unintentionally registered a shift of the boundary of this feature far away from the environs of London, where it had remained in Jonson's lifetime, as shown in the Middlesex dialect speech of A Tale of a Tub.

In an attempt to resolve difficulties in understanding part of Jonson's account of the epicene gender (see this edition, 1.10.16n.) the editor expanded the following sentence in F2: 'So to Fowles for the most part, we use the Feminine; as of Eagles, Hawkes, we say she flies well; and call them Geese, Ducks, and Doves, which they flye at.' (1.10.15-16). The final stop is replaced by a comma, followed by an explanatory 'not distinguishing the Sex'.

In 1.13.16-17 the editor of F3 clearly felt that the F2 account of mutative nouns (such as Mouse, Goose, etc.) needed to be made more explicit and less cumbersome. And so for 'Many words ending in Dipthongs, or Vowells, take neither z. nor s. but only change their Dipthongs or Vowells, retaining their last Consonant', he substituted 'Many Monosyllables never take s. in the Plural Number' and allowed the following list of illustrative examples to specify the types of root-modification involved.

One of the many such attempts by the editor of F3 to improve the readings of F2 (arguably exceeding editorial propriety in the extent of interference in the text) led to error as a consequence of the printer misinterpreting the placing of the editorial revision. The intention was to revise the observations on the values of the letter 'I' in F2 (1.3.46-7), where the reading is 'For, where it leads the sounding Vowell, and beginneth the Syllabe, it is ever a Consonant: as in James. John. jest. conjurer. perjur'd.' The revised wording, possibly written in the margins of the F2 exemplar, was 'When it begins a Word or Syllable (a Vowel following it) it always has the force of a Consonant; as Jade, Jove, Judge etc.' But in the printed edition the F2 reading remains unchanged and the revised passage appears incongruously at the end of the passage concerning the letter 'V', after 'Latine.' in 1.4.71.

The editor of F3 wished the Grammar to have relevance to a late seventeenth-century readership and in pursuit of this aim revised many of the linguistic forms cited in the text in order to bring the Grammar up to date, and in so doing he was often obliged also to make alterations to Jonson's prose in the passages that introduced or commented on the illustrative examples. These modernizing emendations are of considerable interest to the historian of English, since a comparison of F2 and F3 makes it possible to document significant changes made to Standard English in the course of the seventeenth century.

Evolutionary and codifying changes to the orthography since Jonson's time meant that in the updated F3 text numerous changes had to be made to the illustrative examples in book 1, especially those in chapters 3 and 4, concerning the spellings and sounds of vowels and consonants. And often the change in spelling demanded a rewording of passages introducing the examples, as in 1.4.49, where Jonson's list of items illustrating initial sk- required the deletion of 'skape. skoure.'and 'skrape. skuller.' and the change of 'many words' to 'some words' in the preceding 'It followeth the s. in many words'.

Lexical obsolescence in the standard language of the late seventeenth century led to the substitution of 'more' for 'mo'(1.3.27), of thinketh for weeneth (1.21.19), and the omission of mickle 'much' (1.4.45) and of all forms of the verb hyght (1.19.11); and it was probably a response to semantic change as much as to the wish to elucidate that made for an explanatory addition to Jonson's 'indenison'd' (1.4.105), as applied to the naturalization of loan-words, in 'i.e. derived from the Greek, and commonly us'd as English'. Another such emendation in recognition of semantic change brought F3 into error. The editor knew that in the past rhythm could be used in senses which plainly already, as today, pertained only to rhyme. As a result he substituted Rhyme(s) for F2 Rhythme(s) (1.6.20 and 35) when, in fact, Jonson was discussing metre and no change was necessary.

Where morphological change is concerned, the omission from F3 of meece and leece (1.13.18), and keene (1.14.6) signals the relegation to dialectal usage of the south-eastern mutated plurals of mouse, louse, and cow,which for Jonson had been acceptable variants in Standard English. Similarly, the disappearance from the standard language of -en noun plurals in 'housen', 'eyen', 'shooen' (1.14.13), cited as variants by Jonson, are marked as dialectal by 'Nounes' in the sentence preceding the list being qualified in F3 by '(according to the different Dialects of several Parts of the Country)'. And in the verb system the demise of past forms attested by Jonson is shown, for example, in the omission of flyne as past participle of flye (1.19.4) and of the whole of the paradigm for reach (1.20.24), because the past form rought/raught had become obsolete.

Book 2, on 'Syntax', was subject to much less revision than Book 1, possibly reflecting little evolutionary change in the syntax of Standard English in the course of the seventeenth century. One significant modernizing change, however, is the group genitive registered in F3's 'The Men of the Duke of Mysia' in place of the ancient construction, 'the Dukes men of Mysia'(2.2.25-6).

Such is the general authority of F3 that one needs at least to consider the (rather remote) possibility that the editor may have had before him both F2 and Jonson's own manuscript copy of the Grammar or a scribe's copy of the autograph text. That this was almost certainly not the case can be shown from common error in F3 and F2 (state 1) that was corrected in F2 (state 2). From the margin of G4 [55] Genus (this edition, 1.8.2m) and Figura (this edition, 1.8.3m) are erroneously omitted, but they are restored, clearly after checking the printed text against the manuscript, in state 2. If such a careful editor as that of F3 was working from this same manuscript, then he would surely have remedied the omission of these marginal headings.

Outside the collected editions, The English Grammar has also been edited (with modernized text and with the Latin text accompanied by an English translation) by Alice V. Waite (1909), and by Strickland Gibson (1928). A facsimile of a copy of the Grammar in the possession of R. C. Alston was published by the Scolar Press, Menston (1972).


The following copies of F2 have been collated for this edition:

  1. R.C. Alston copy, reprinted in facsimile by Scolar Press, Menston (1972).
  2. British Library, 79.1.4
  3. British Library, C.39.k.9
  4. Cambridge University Library, Brett-Smith. A.7
  5. Cambridge University Library, Syn.4.61.20 [lacking 2E3-2E3v]
  6. Cambridge University Library, Syn.4.64.14
  7. Cambridge University Library, Syn.4.64.15
  8. Cambridge University Library, Keynes.D.6.23
  9. Christ's College, Cambridge, Rouse 8.11
  10. King's College, Cambridge, Keynes C.5.14
  11. King's College, Cambridge, C.10.6
  12. Newnham College, Cambridge, Young 205b
  13. Trinity College, Cambridge, Grylls 32.140
  14. Trinity College, Cambridge, Grylls 32.180
  15. Trinity College, Cambridge, VI.12.11
  16. Trinity College, Cambridge, Capel, F8
  17. All Souls College, Oxford, pp.4.12
  18. Balliol College, Oxford, 525 c.-2
  19. Bodleian Library, Oxford, Douce I 303
  20. Bodleian Library, Oxford, Don.d.66
  21. Bodleian Library, Oxford, Vet A2.d.73
  22. Bodleian Library, Oxford, Gibson 520
  23. Brasenose College, Oxford [no shelfmark]
  24. English Faculty Library, Oxford, Rare Bks. YK 1.1 [Sta] Rar.B.fol.94
  25. English Faculty Library, Oxford, Rare Bks. YK 1.26767 1640 Rar.B.fol.56
  26. Oriel College, Oxford, 2W a.11
  27. Leeds University Library, Brotherton Library, Spec.Coll. Strong Room Engl. fol 1640 JON
  28. Leeds University Library, Brotherton Library, Spec. Coll. Brotherton Coll. Lt q JON (1640)
  29. Durham University, Cosin's Library, Cosin AA.3.29
  30. Edinburgh University Library, Df.4.55
  31. M. Butler copy
E2.3 (inner)
E2v (36) state 1 state 2 state 3
15 in in ~
17 Syllabes Syllables ~
22 and, and ~
24 in, in ~
24 shé. | in . . . thè | shé. in . . . thè | ~
27 Which which ~
29 sound, sound ~
29 makeit make it ~
32 as Whistle as Whistle ~
35 Syllabe Syllable ~
46 her, hir her, for hir ~
E3 (37)
9 Ramus Ramus ~
10 Dionysius Dionysius ~
10 a. esse a.esse ~
33 magester ~ Magester
33 dro pro ~

state 1: 4, 13, 14, 19, 20, 21, 25

state 2: 9, 12, 15, 28, 30

state 3: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18, 22, 23, 24, 26, 27, 29, 31

F1.4 (outer)
F4v (48) state 1 state 2
5 these these,

state 1: 7

state 2: all other copies

F1.4 (inner)
F1v (42) state 1 state 2
2 Latines Latinis
13 quam quám
14 vi. vi
F4 (47)
20 O P
26 reputation, reputation
46 Serpents Serpents

state 1: 7, 13, 19

state 2: all other copies

F2.3 (outer)
F2 (43) state 1 state 2
22 Chi. or the of Chi. or | the

state 1: 3, 5, 6, 8, 18, 25, 30, 31

state 2: all other copies

F2.3 (inner)
F3 (45) state 1 state 2
8 Qoudq Quodq

state 1: 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 14, 15, 16, 18, 20, 27, 29, 30, 31

state 2: all other copies

[In copies 4, 9, 17, 26 and 28 the accent over the ‘ύ’ of ‘glυxύtaton’ is so faint as to be scarcely visible.]

G1.4 (inner)
G4 (55) state 1 state 2
39m [omit] Genus.
45m [omit] Figura.

state 1: 2, 8, 10, 12, 14, 15, 17, 22, 23, 24, 26, 27, 28

state 2: all other copies

H.1.4 (outer)
H1 (57) state 1 state 2
26m Newter Neuter
H4v (64)
8 in the ti me in the time

state 1: 5, 12, 14, 15, 27

state 2: all other copies

H2.3 (inner)
H2v (60) state 1 state 2
11 plurall Plurall
34 housen. housen houses. housen
35 Eyes. eye Eye. eyes

state 1: 27

state 2: all other copies

I.4 (outer)
I4v (72) state 1 state 2
11 Ginetive Genitive

state 1: 5, 10, 11, 28

state 2: all other copies

K1.4 (outer)
K1 (73) state 1 state 2
1 who-so whoso
10 dare deare
11 chere cheare
13 I know you I know you
16 Gender: Gender.
26 daughter daughter bore

state 1: 11

state 2: all other copies

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