Exhibition opens today: Bryan Garner’s “Taming the Tongue”

We all know Bryan Garner as the author of Garner’s Modern American (now English) Usage (4th ed. 2016), but not everyone may be aware of the fact that he is also a collector of 18th and 19th-century books, grammars as well as dictionaries. And not only of books, but also of letters and other original documents from the period. Last night (midnight in this part of the world) was the opening of an exhibition at the Grolier Club in New York called Taming the Tongue, celebrating his great collection.

The opening was – obviously – an online event, attended by a large number of people from the US and elsewhere, and we were given an overview of the selected books and other documents from Bryan Garner’s truly amazing collection, which comrpises as many as 38,000 items. The exhibition is also open online, and it takes you through the collection in a topical manner, ranging from Swift’s attempts at establishing an English academy, through the Lowth and the Murray years, to the early 1850s.

Bryan was asked for his most spectacular find (cliffhanger: watch the vimeo of the opening if you want to hear about it!), but my favourite, apart of course from the sections on Lowth’s grammar and the letter addressed to Robert Dodsley, would have been a first edition of Robert Baker’s Remarks on the English Language (1770), the first usage guide ever to have been published. I had no idea that the book would still be around.

There is a wonderful book accompanying the exhibition, filled to the brim with illustrations, called Taming the Tongue: In the Heyday of English Grammar (1711-1851). It is a must-have for anyone interested in the subject (I know, because Bryan kindly sent me a copy earlier this year), and despite its rich contents, very affordably priced.

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