Bryan A. Garner on the Scandalous History of Grammar

Courtesy of Bryan A. Garner

Bryan A. Garner, a grammarian, lexicographer, and law professor, whose new book is titled Taming the Tongue in the Heyday of English Grammar (1711-1851).

In our new spring issue, we profile the brilliant Bryan A. Garner, a lawyer, lexicographer, and America’s foremost grammarian, whose book collection numbers around 38,000 volumes, including 4,500 dictionaries and 1,900 grammars. Garner has been collecting since he was a teen; over decades of travel, he has visited hundreds of bookshops and uncovered some breathtaking items, such as ‘Father of English Grammar’ Lindley Murray’s handwritten last will and testament listing “his most precious books” inside an 1818 copy of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary.

Courtesy of Bryan A. Garner

One hundred of Garner's grammars are on display at New York's Grolier Club through May 15.

One hundred of Garner’s grammars are on exhibit in Taming the Tongue in the Heyday of English Grammar (1711-1851), opening today at the Grolier Club in New York City. It’s a fascinating assemblage of books about language, yes, but also about the people behind those books about language. Many were plagiarists, some were backstabbers, and there is even a grave robber among them — truly, newspaperman William Cobbett, represented in the exhibition with his Grammar of the English Language (1818), exhumed the bones of Thomas Paine and brought them back to England with him! “No other grammarian is anything like him,” Garner told me.   

The exhibition runs through May 15 (free and open to the public, but RSVPs for visits are required in advance). If you won’t find yourself in New York this spring, check out the online edition of the exhibition and Garner's excellent exhibition catalogue available through Oak Knoll.