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The HUGE presence of Lindley Murray: An illustration of the scope of Lindley Murray's authority on all things prescriptive

  • Lyda Fens–De Zeeuw

The grammarian Lindley Murray (1745–1826), according to Monaghan (1996), was the author of the best selling English grammar book of all times, called English Grammar and first published in 1795. Not surprisingly, therefore, his work was subjected to severe criticism by later grammarians as well as by authors of usage guides, who may have thought that Murray's success might negatively influence the sales figures of their own books. As the publication history of the grammar in Alston (1965) suggests, Murray was also the most popular grammarian of the late 18th and perhaps the entire 19th century, and this is most clearly reflected in the way in which a wide range of 19th- and even some 20th-century literary authors, from both sides of the Atlantic, mentioned Lindley Murray in their novels. Examples are Harriet Beecher Stowe (Uncle Tom's Cabin, 1852), George Eliot (Middlemarch, 1871–2), Charles Dickens, in several of his novels (Sketches by Boz, 1836; Nicholas Nickleby, 1838–9; The Old Curiosity Shop 1840–1; Dombey & Son, 1846–8); Oscar Wilde (Miner and Minor Poets, 1887) and James Joyce (Ulysses, 1918) (Fens–de Zeeuw, 2011: 170–2). Another example is Edgar Allen Poe, who according to Hayes (2000) grew up with Murray's textbooks and used his writings as a kind of linguistic touchstone, especially in his reviews. Many more writers could be mentioned, and not only literary ones, for in a recent paper in which Crystal (2018) analysed the presence of linguistic elements in issues of Punch published during the 19th century, he discovered that ‘[w]henever Punch debates grammar, it refers to Lindley Murray’. Murray, according to Crystal, ‘is the only grammarian to receive any mention throughout the period, and his name turns up in 19 articles’ (Crystal, 2018: 86). Murray had become synonymous with grammar prescription, and even in the early 20th century, he was still referred to as ‘the father of English Grammar’ (Johnson, 1904: 365).

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I am grateful to Ingrid Tieken–Boon van Ostade for her contribution to this paper.

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