Paradigm, No 4 (December, 1990)

The King his Grammar? King Edward the VIth’s Latin Grammar [1841]

Chris Stray

This grammar is of interest for three reasons. First, it was probably the best-selling Latin grammar in England c.1845-65. Second, its writing belongs to an interesting contemporary nexus of education, philology, religion and politics. Third, evidence survives of its planning and production to a degree rarely paralleled elsewhere. Its author was Christopher Wordsworth, headmaster of Harrow and nephew of the poet. He and his brother Charles, Second Master of Winchester, planned to issue grammars of Latin and Greek in parallel, mutually supporting and typographically similar. Grammatical uniformity would, they thought, promote uniformity in religion -- for them, a Tory High Anglicanism. Christopher’s book attempted to combine the authority of the past (of Lily on which it was based, of the name of King Edward VI, traditionally linked with Lily’s or the ‘Royal’ grammar) , with that of modern philology. His fussiness over details in the book, and in advertisements for it, is evident from correspondence in the archives of his publisher, John Murray. The book was superseded in 1866 by Kennedy’s Primer, and sales collapsed.

Charles Wordsworth’s Greek grammar had a stormier history. His several attempts to have it accepted by Eton failed, until it was accepted. by OUP. But since Murray was already its publisher, this led to acrimonious dispute. The book (Graecae grammaticae rudimenta, 1839) was eventually adopted as a standard grammar by the Clarendon headmasters in 1866, but seems to have been widely hated by pupils. In his memoirs, written at the age of 85, a headmaster of Winchester reported that he had nightmares about it, and ‘still shuddered at the sight of p.75’.


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