Paradigm, No 17 (September, 1995)

The path through an undergrowth:
A Royal Compleat Grammar, English and High-German (1715)
by John King alias Hans König

Werner Hüllen

Herchenbachstr. 1
40470 Dusseldorf, Germany

Around 1700, German intellectuals could do without a knowledge of English in almost every respect; by 1800 this knowledge was indispensable.1 The reasons for such a development lay in the growing recognition of English literature and philosophy in Germany, the influence of the English sciences, for example the intentions and work of the Royal Society, founded in 1662, the stabilisation of commercial links, England’s reputation as a country of the Reformation, and a general awareness of English culture in the wake of political connections between the British monarchy and the House of Hanover.2 Consequently, the years between 1700 and 1800 saw a rapid growth of English language teaching in the country. Between 1660 and 1699 we have evidence for the teaching of English at only seven places. Between 1700 and 1769, when English had reached an initial phase of stability relative to the hitherto-dominant French as a foreign language, this number had risen to 49. By the end of the century, 93 institutions were offering English in their curriculum.3 These institutions were mainly universities and Ritterakademien (knights’ academies)4, but also municipal grammar and commercial schools.

This growth of teaching created an increasing demand for teaching material. After 1665, grammars of English began to appear.5 Between 1700 and 1770, we witness the publication of 27 text-books, of which 16 have the word ‘grammar’ in their title. John King’s books were among them.

Apart from Friedrike Klippel’s recent study6, hardly any research has been done on English text-books, i.e. on their didactic quality. They have, however, been assessed as phonetic and grammatical manuals, i.e. as documents of language use at the time of their publication.7 Unfortunately, Konrad Macht’s history of teaching methods8, which is text-book based, does not begin until 1800.

It is beyond doubt that text-books provide perhaps the most direct access to the reality of foreign language teaching in the present as well as in the past. In this respect, they certainly surpass theoretical deliberations on teaching, which may or may not have been observed by teachers, or official acts and the regulations of curricula and teaching methods.9 Only biographical reminiscences of teachers and learners, which are however scarce, may be more dependable. The following analysis is meant to contribute to the historiography of English teaching in Germany.

John King, alias Johann König, was a very successful text-book author. In 1706, he published A Complete English Guide for High-Germans/Ein vollkommener englischer Wegweiser für Hoch-Teutsche. By 1802, this book had seen twelve editions (with varying titles). It was the most successful text-book for English as a foreign language in the eighteenth century.

Moreover, in 1715 John King published A Compleat Royal Grammar, English and High German. Das ist: Eine Königliche vollkommene Grammatica. Zu Englisch-und Hochteutscher Sprach. It is very siilar to the Guide. According to the introduction to the Grammar, it is a revised version of the Guide which includes the experience and results of King’s oral teaching. The Guide itself, he maintains, had gone out of print. In fact, it was re-edited even after the appearance of the Grammar by other editors, among them by the second outstanding author of the genre at the time, Theodor Arnold. Obviously, King himself looked on the Grammar as the ultimate version of his didactic ideas on teaching English as a foreign language, and this is why it is the object of our analysis.

The author was a German who lived in London. He believed that his thirty years’ stay in English-speaking countries (in England, Scotland, Ireland, and the West Indies) had enabled him to teach English as a foreign language more effectively than a native speaker was able to do. His advantage is, he says, that he had to learn the language and did not acquire it per habitum infusum et confusum. When he published his book, he had been teaching English in London for ten years.10

King’s Grammar is dedicated to George I who, as a member of the House of Hanover, had become King of England one year before the Grammar appeared. Moreover, the author refers to the negotiations and correspondence of the Dukes of Braunschweig Lüneburg as an incentive for his work.11 Both facts show the political and cultural links between the North German territories and England at the beginning of the eighteenth century and the resulting interest in the English language, which centred most of all around the University of Göttingen.

As a method of teaching, King refuses to accept everything that works par routine. Whoever tries this

  • (sie) sind die jenigen, die den leichten kurtzen und vorgebahnten Weg durch ein Gebüsche verlassen, und nach ihrem eigenen Sinn sich einen andern erfinden wollen . . . 12
  • This prepared path is, of course, outlined in King’s Grammar. He ridicules those who learn their English from native speakers in Holland or by learning French from English teachers in England, two methods which must have been popular at King’s time. He also refutes the opinion that there are no grammatical rules in English.

  • Ich habe mir sehr angelegen sein lassen, durch zehnjährige Informierung . . . solche Regeln auszufinden, die das Englische ziemlichermaßen ficilitiert (haben) . . . 13
  • King has a clear vision of his teaching aims. After two months, learners will be able to take part in conversations. After two more months, they will be able to read papers mit der Hülffe eines guten Meisters.14 Again, after six weeks they will be able to " explain" an author.

    These deliberations place King’s Grammar at the centre of a dichotomy which even today governs much of the discussions about foreign language teaching and learning: "acquisition vs. learning", "[so-called] natural [or direct] teaching vs. cognitivising". King clearly sympathizes with the second branch of this dichotomy. This may be one reason why he calls his book a "grammar".15 On the other hand, his teaching aims were clearly practical. Speaking comes before reading, everyday communication comes before understanding literature. This might contradict a grammatically-oriented teaching method. It remains to be explained what "grammar" in King’s case means.

    With 302 octavo pages, King’s Grammar is quite bulky. Thirty-six pages are devoted to rules of pronunciation. They define sounds with reference to letters and in contrast to German.16 Thirteen pages contain lists of homophones, idioms and polysemous words which have several translaters in German (for example, "He is all alone". Er ist gantz allein." / Let me alone". Laßt ich zufrieden."/ Let him alone for that". Laßt ihn dafür sorgen.) Moreover, there are idiomatic translations of phrases. proverbs appear in English and in German, in many cases also in Latin.

    Ninety-one pages are devoted to grammar in the narrow sense, which consists of definitions of word-classes and their structural paradigms for the (Latin) cases of nouns, the pronouns, the tenses of verbs (present, imperfect, perfect, pluperfect, future) and the modes (indicative, subjunctive, imperative, infinitive). Comparisons with German and French are quite frequent. King gives many sentences for the illustration of rules. In the case of prepositions, these sentences are systematized as "Observations 1&endash;12", which extensively list idiomatic usage. Only seven pages are devoted to rules of word-order, i.e. to (surface-) syntax. All rules and explanations are given in German and English. Rules of word-formation with long lists of nominal compounds and adjectives derived from nouns are part of the grammar section.

    All this is quite traditional for the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. King, like other German grammarians of English in the eighteenth century, leaves "a monotonously uniform picture of unoriginality"17, which makes the fact of his success the more worthy of explanation.

    No historiographer so far has discussed the following 162 pages of the book.

    First of all, there is a dictionary with 2,429 entries (i.e. not a small one for a one-volume text-book) extending over thirty-nine pages. Words in English and in German are not arranged alphabetically but according to topics. We can break them down into groups of semantically related lexemes:

  • God, the elements, time (i.e. the world as a whole)

    Man, society

  • body, senses, clothes, food
    family relationships
    arts, professions
    church, court
    house, husbandry
    precious stones
    agriculture, plants
    countries, towns
    measures, numbers
  • The choice of semantically related words betrays some basic (not sophisticated) principles about God and the world, men and their ways of living, and nature. At the same time, it reveals King’s understanding of the practical needs of somebody who practises a foreign language. If we assume that the grammatical rules and examples in the previous parts of the book were presented in order to be learned, we can also assume that John King assembled these semantic word-groups for the same purpose. He must have thought that an arrangement in semantically cohesive clusters would facilitate memorisation for the learner.

    This assumption is as old as the grammatical tradition, though in the historiographical literature it goes largely unnoticed.18 The principle is best known from Comenius’ textbooks, but it is much older. Since the classical Hermeneumata (third century and later) and Anglo-Saxon glossaries (eighth century and later), there have always been word-collections for the purpose of language-learning, word-lists at first and whole dictionaries later. In them a deeply-rooted opinion surfaces, according to which a "natural" arrangement of words, which follows the "natural" order of things, is helpful for the memory of the language learner. This opinion has only rarely been considered. The best known example is again Comenius.

    Grammar and dictionary thus show the structural and the semantic side of the language to be learnt. Didactically, they complement each other. The topics of the dictionary are, again, quite traditional. Looked at in the light of tradition, it may be just as ‘monotonously unoriginal’ as the grammar. The important fact is that neither of these aspects of language is neglected.

    The thirty-seven subsequent pages are devoted to language in dialogues. But a first group of the so-called Gemeine Gaspraeche [Common Conversations] are not dialogues but lists of idiomatic expressions which typically occur and re-occur in them. Among such building-blocks of dialogues are exclamations, routine expressions, the beginnings and endings of conversations, politeness-markers, and apologies. They are subsumed under communicative headings (to use a modern term) which, of course, remind us of contemporary pragmatic linguistics and conversational analysis. Some examples:

  • Of Desiring and Exhorting Umb zu bitten und zu ermahnen

    Of shewing Civility öfflichkeit zuerweisen

    Of Lying Von Leugnen

    To ask Advice Umb Rath zu fragen

    Of Admiring Zu verwundern

    Of Reprimanding Auszuschänden

    Of Encouraging Muth einzusprechen

  • The following are examples under such headings:

  • Pray Sir, do me the Favour Mein lieber Herr, er theu mir den Gefallen

    My Heart, my Sweetheart Mein Hertz, mein Schätzgen

    Prithee, I beseech you Ey lieber ich bitte doch

    What do you call this? Was heist dann diss?

    What is the meaning of that? Was bedutet dieses?

    Dare on ask? Man mag wohl fragen?

    What signifies that? Was ist daran gelegen?

  • The second group of the Gemeine Gespraeche [Common Conversations] consists of 22 dialogues, embedded in communicative situations, for example:

  • Greetings, asking after health,

    Asking for news

    Talking about the weather

    Farewell and request to stay

    Invitation, denied

    Invitation, accepted

    Dialogue in a coffee-house

  • Here, too, routine formulae are more frequent than unexpected turns of the conversation. In spite of this, the dialogues are true oral language.

    Orality is also the principle of the following "London Guide. Oder Londenischer Wegweiser" which, printed in English and German in two columns, covers 45 pages. The history of the town and the description of its most renowned buildings, including allusions to the life-style of wealthy owners and visitors, are followed by reports on the royal palaces outside London (Kensington, Hampton Court, Windsor) and an Oxford, Cambridge, Tunbridge Wells, Epsom, Islington, and Acton. All this is given as if a guide were speaking to tourists. Some little dialogues are inserted but, overwhelmingly, this part of the book presents oral monologue.

    The penultimate section of John King’s text-book contains rules for writing letters. They consist of conventionally polite openings and endings and of models for letters of introduction and even for love letters. Finally, there are twenty-three of Aesop’s Fables.

    By now, it should be clear where the special merits of King’s Grammarlie. It is not a grammar but a comprehensive text-book. The grammatical part, which includes phonetics and word-morphology, is given as a system of rules illustrated by plenty of examples. It is complemented by the lexical part which arranges almost 2500 words in a meaningful order. This structural section is followed by a section presenting oral language-in-use, first in a part giving situational dialogues, then in a part giving a long monologue. Finally, there is a section presenting written language-in-use, the first part of which is meant to guide writing, its second part containing classical texts for reading. Thus, the sections of the book and their parts mirror the teaching aims which the author had explained in his preface.

    Not only the grammar and the dictionary, but all the sections and parts of King’s text-book are quite traditional. Again since the Hermeneumata, dialogues are a regularly used method of teaching a foreign language. Their topics are standardised and often include references to towns or other places which the learners are supposed to visit. 19 Finally, Aesop’s Fableshave always been favourites for foreign language literature texts.

    King’s special merit seems to be the bringing together of all these traditional ways of teaching in the sequence in which they appear. His is not a book on grammar, lexis, etc., but a text-book. This, together with the natural appeal of his style, may account for his success. 20

    It is still difficult to imagine what the actual teaching with the Guideor with this Grammar was like. Everything &emdash; rules, illustrative sentences, and texts &emdash; are given in two languages. So, translating will have been of overriding importance. For the grown-up learner, King’s bilingual method made many explanations superfluous, because the structures of English became clear by the juxtoposed structures of German. This is also why the author does not need to bother about carefully planned progress from the simple to the difficult. He envisaged learners who knew their German well, and this knowledge would help them to understand English.

    Presenting (by the teacher), imitating (by the learner), learning rules by heart, imitating and finding model sentences, translating, memorizing vocabulary, but also role-plays (to use another modern term) with dialogues, writing exercises (letters) and translations as well as explanations of texts (fables) will have been the recurring steps of the lessons. If we take King’s books as a document of scholastic reality, we can certainly infer that, in the eighteenth century, teaching a foreign language was not as dominated by grammar as we tend to believe.

    John King was a Sprachmeister.21 They were well known for their native-speaker methods of teaching, which depended on native competence and on practice. But he was not a native speaker in the strict sense. His awareness in the introduction to his book of the advantages of having to learn the language which one has to teach may have been quite right. It made him reflect on what is necessary if foreign language teachers want to achieve practical results. He developed the beginnings of a linguistically-guided diactic theory. It is worth mentioning that King’s dependence on other grammarians was limited to those who, like himself, wrote grammars for foreigners. He probably expected to profit more from them than from indigenous grammarians. Perhaps the happy mixture of traditional, generally accepted contents with a convincing arrangment of the various aspects of language that prove necessary for successful teaching and learning account for King’s success. And there was also some advertising which must have helped. Why otherwise call the Grammarnot only ‘compleat’ but also ‘royal’?




    1. See Fabian, Fremdsprache [Foreign Language], 1985, p. 178.

    2. The transition from the admiration of the French to a growing recognition of English culture is a well researched and described fact of Germany’s intellectual history. Overviews can be found in almost every treatment of the eighteenth century. From the angle of foreign language teaching and learning and the advent of a new foreign language, in adition to French, Italian and Spanish, see Schröder, Entwicklung [Development], 1969, Fabian, English books, 1976, pp. 119-196, Turner, Grammars, 1978, pp. 7-18, Fabian, Fremdsprache [Foreign Language], 1985, pp. 178-196, and Klippel, Englischlernen [Learning English], 1994, pp. 39-58.

    3. Klippel, 1994, pp. 458-462.

    4. In these schools the offspring of the lower and middle nobility was educated in order to avoid the costs (and the bad influences) of a year-long stay at one of the princely or royal courts of Europe. They are of great importance for the development of a "modern" , i.e. non-classical, curriculum at German schools. For foreign languages in this context see the valuable information in Achle, Anfänge [Beginnings], 1938. Unfortunately, the dissertation is tinged by the fascist ideology of the time of its publication.

    5. The first was S. Tellaeus’ Grammatica Anglica, 1665. Extensive bibliographies of English textbooks are Schröder, Lehrwerke [Text-books], 1975, and, of all foreign languages taught in Germany, his Annales (1980-1985), four volumes covering the period to 1800. Schröder is also the author of a biographical-bibliographical dictionary, listing foreign language teachers in Germany from the late Middle Ages to 1800, so far in three volumes, letters A-Q, 1987-1992, but to be continued. In the first volume, pp. 1-114, there is an extensive bibliography on the history of foreign language teaching, arranged according to places. (In a country like Germany, which was, for many centuries, divided into many autonomous regions with their own historical developments of the school systems, and which even today pride themselves on the cultural autonomy of their regions, this aspect is very important.) The most recent detailed bibliography of English text-books, covering the eighteenth and nineteenth century, is contained in Friederike Klippel’s thorough study, 1994.

    6. See fn. 5.

    7. For King, this is the case, for example, in Driedger’s dissertation Königs Grammatiken [King’s Grammars], 1907, and in Turner’s dissertation, 1978.

    8. Macht, Methodengeschichte [History of Methods], 3 vols., 1986-1990.

    9. See the seven-volume collection of such documents, covering foreign language teaching in German state-run schools between 1700 and 1945, by Christ and Rang, Verwaltung [Administration], 1985.

    10. See Schröder, 1982, pp. 65-67. Our knowledge of King’s personality and life rests solely on his preface to the Grammar. Brekle et al. Handbuch [Handbook], 1992 ff., the most ambitious undertaking on eighteeth-century linguistics, so far three volumes (letters A-G), eight volumes in all, will contain an article on King.

    11. The connections of this German noble family with England are treated in Bepler, Ferdinand Albrecht, 1988, and in the contributions to Bepler, Barocke Sammellust [Baroque Joy of Collecting], 1988.

    12. "[They] are those who leave the easy, short and prepared path through an undergrowth and plan to find a different one according to their own mind . . . " (This and the following quotation is from the Introduction to the Grammar, which has no page numbers.)

    13. "In ten years of teaching experience, I have eagerly tried to find such rules, which have facilitated the English language . . ."

    14. In the eighteenth century, the usual German name for foreign language teachers was Sprachmeister. This placed them in line with other teachers of practical skills, like riding, fencing and dancing [Reitmeister, Fechtmeister, Tanzmeister]. They were altogether a different social category from professors. Moreover, Sprachmeister were native speakers because, before the advent of phonetics, this was the only guarantee for a correct pronunciation.

    15. Admittedly, this is not only King’s decision. Other authors also call their text-books "grammar". But they may have the same reasons for doing this as King.

    16. There is an analysis of the phonetic chapters in Driedger (1907) which also refers to previous literature. Driedger’s quintessence: Die phonetische Schulung des ‘Sprachmeisters’ ist nach unsern Begriffen gering [From our point of view, the phonetic knowledge of the ‘language teacher’ is poor].

    17. See Turner, 1978, p. 255. Driedger (1907) shows many dependencies on other grammars of the time. This, however, is not so interesting as it may seem, because firstly freely borrowing rules and example sentences was a general habit, and secondly we would have to sort out the various editions of the Guidein order to attribute the borrowing either to King or to his editors. The only really interesting observation is that King’s epigonal grammar did not preclude the success of his books. On the contrary, his success made him later a model for other grammarians. See Turner (1978), p. 256.

    18. See Hüllen, Orbis pictus, 1992, and Onomasiological tradition, 1994.

    19. This again is a poorly researched area of the history of foreign-language teaching. See, though for the sixteenth century, the recent study of Kaltz, L’enseignement [Learning], 1995, and Hüllen, Caxton, forthcoming.

    20. I cannot explain why this success was more attached to the older Guide than to the younger, and more perfect, Grammar. Both books, however, are very similar. Looked at from the present, the Grammarrepresents King’s place in history of a text-book writer better than the Guidedoes.

    21. See fn 14.




    Aehle, Wilhelm Die Angänge des Unterrichts in der englischen Sprache, besonders in den Ritterakademien (Diss, Hamburg, 1938).

    Bepler, Jill Ferdinand Albrecht, Duke of Braunschweig-Lüneburg (1636-1687). A Traveller and his travelogue. Wolfenbütteler Arbeiten zur Barockforschung 16 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1988).

    Bepler, Jill Barocke Sammellust. Die Bibliothek und Kunstkammer des Herzogs Ferdinand Albrecht zu Braunschweig-Lüneburg (Wolfenbüttel: Herzog August Bibliothek, 1988).

    Brekle, Herbert Ernst et al. Bio-bibliographisches Handbuch zur Sprachwissenschaft des 18. Jahrhunderts. Die Grammatiker, Lexikographen und Sprachtheoretiker des deutschsprachigen Raums mit Beschreibung ihrer Werke (3 vols. so far, Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1992 ff.).

    Christ, Herbert, and Rang, Hans-Joachim Fremdsprachenunterricht unter staatlicher Verwaltung 1700 bis 1945 (7 vols. Tübingen: Narr, 1985).

    Driedger, Otto Johann Königs (John King’s) deutsch-englische Grammatiken und ihre späteren Bearbeitungen. 1706-1802. Versuch einer kritischen Behandlung (Diss. marburg, 1907).

    Fabrian, Bernhard ‘English books and their eighteenth century readers’ in The widening circle: Essays on the circulation of literature in eighteenth century Euope ed. Paul J. Korshin (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Pres, 1976), pp. 119-196.

    Fabian, Bernhard ‘Englisch als neue Fremdsprache des 18. Jahrhunderts’ in Mehrsprachigkeit in der deutschen Aufklärung ed. Dieter Kimpel (Hamburg: Meiner, 1985), pp. 178-196.

    Hüllen, Werner ‘Der Orbis sensualium pictus und die mittelalterliche Tradition des Lehrens fremder Sprachen" Beiträge zur Geschichte der Sprachwissenschaft 2.2-3 (1992), pp. 149-171.

    Hüllen, Werner ‘A great chain of words: the onomasiological tradition in English lexicography’ in Anglistentag 1993 Eichstätt ed. Günther Blaicher and Brigitte Glaser (Tübingen: Niemeyer 1994), pp. 32-46.

    Hüllen, Werner ‘A close reading of William Caxton’s Dialogues - to lerne Shortly frenssh and englyssh’ in Historical pragmatics ed. Andreas Jucker (Amsterdam: Benjamins, forthcoming).

    Kaltz, Barbara ‘L’enseignement des langues étrangères au Xvle siècle. Structure globale et typologie des textes destinés à l’apprentissage des vernaculaires’ Beiträge zur Geschichte der Sprachwissenschaft 5.1 (1995), pp. 79-106.

    King, John (König, Hans) A Complete English Guide for High-Germans…By John King, Master of that Language in Londen. Ein vollkommener Englischer Wegweiser für Hoch-Teutsche…Durch Johann König, Englischer Sprach-Meister in Londen. Londen: Gedruckt for Wilhelm Friedmann, bei dem Zeichen der Biebel, gegen dem Mitleren Temple-Thor über, in Fleetstreet, and B. Barker bey dem Weissen-Hirschen in West-münster-Hall. 1706.

    King, John (König, Hans) A Royal Compleat Grammar. English and High-German. Das lst: Eine Königliche vollkommene Grammatica. Zu Englisch-und Hochteutscher Sprach. Mit einem Wegweiser alleu Curiositäten so in- und umb Londen herumb und sonsten in Engelland zu sehen und zo finden sind, &c. Durch John King, Englischen Sprach-Meister in Londen. Londen: Gedruckt for Wilhelm Frieman, bey dem Zeichen der Biebel, gegen dem Mitlern Tempel-Thor in Fleet-Street, und bey B. Barker und Charl. King, beyde in West-Münster-Hall, 1715.

    Klippel, Friederike Englischlernen im 18. und 19. Jahrhundert. Die Geschichte der Lehrbücher und Unterrichtsmethoden (Münster: Nodus, 1994).

    Macht, Konrad Methodengeschichte des Englischunterrichts (3 vols. Augsburg: Universität, 1986-1990).

    Schröder, Konrad Die Entwicklung des Englischunterrichts an den deutschsprachigen Universitäten bis zum Jahre 1850 (Ratingen: Henn 1969).

    Schröder, Konrad Lehrwerke für den Englischunterricht im deutschsprachigen Raum 1665-1990 (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft 1975).

    Schröder, Konrad Linguarum Recentium Annales. Der Unterricht in den modernen europäischen Sprachen im deutschsprachigen Raum(4 vols. Augsburg: Universität, 1980-1985).

    Schröder, Konrad Biographisches und bibliographisches Lexikon der Fremdsprachenlehrer des deutschsprachigen Raums. Spätmittelalter bis 1800 (3 vols. so far, Augsburg: Universität, 1987 ff.).

    Turner, John Frank German Pedagogic Grammars of English 1665-1750. The Nature and Value of their Evidence of Language usage in Early Modern English (Diss. Braunschweig 1978).


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