1742
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Proposals for perfecting the English Language.

Mr. Cooke's Original Poems, with Imitations and Translations of several select Passages of the Antients, in four Parts: to which are added Proposals for perfecting the English Language.

Thomas Cooke


Thomas Cooke, a friend of the Whig poets Ambrose Philips and Thomas Tickell, proposes rules for regularizing English tenses, including a return to some of Spenser's obsolete forms; "most of our eminent writers since him may be reduced to these laws of speech." Spenser is used four times as an illustration in the essay (pp. 293, 96, 303, 305).

Critical Review: "Learning and language are ever fluctuating, either rising to perfection or retiring into primeval barbarity: perhaps the point of English perfection is already passed, and every intended improvement may now be only deviation. This at least is certain, that posterity will perceive a strong similitude between the poets of the sixteenth, and those of the latter end of the eighteenth century" "Review of Church's Faerie Queene" 7 (February 1759) 104-05.

Several such proposals for regularizing the form of English grammar and orthography were made in the eighteenth century, most notoriously in John Pinkerton's Letters of Literature (1785) — it was something of an antiquarian folly.

Samuel Austin Allibone: "In 1725 he published a poem entitled The Battle of the Poets, in which Pope, Swift, and others were treated with more freedom than reverence.... If Pope was not a Hellenist, he was an excellent satirist, and Mr. Cooke was at once placed in the literary pillory yclep'd The Dunciad. In a subsequent edit. of The Battle of the Poets, Cooke notices this contemptible conduct of Pope, and speaks with little respect of his 'Philosophy or dignity of mind who could be provoked by what a boy writ concerning his translation of Homer, and in verse which gave no long promise of duration'" Critical Dictionary of English Literature (1858-71; 1882) 1:422.




Sect II.
Of Verbs.

If we would make the Syllabel "ed" the invariable Termination to the passed Tenses of Verbs, we should be free from many Irregularitys which we fall into. I shall instance the Verbs "shine" and "strive"; the passed Tenses of which, as generally used, are "shone" and "strove." These barbarous Changes in the Formation, which are in many more Words, are made by no Rule, but from the Tyranny of Custom. Let us observe the stated Rule of adding to the last Person of the present Tense the Syllabel "ed" to make the passed Tenses, and no Foreigner, who is inclined to study our Language, will be puzzeled to form any Verb thro every Mood and Tense, if he knows the present; and since "shined" and "strived" are as well sounding, by the Help of an Apostrophe, as "shone " and "strove," we have no Reason to prefer an irregular Conjugation to a regular. The Case is not with us as with the Greeks, who had several Terminations of the same Persons of Verbs, and the same Cases of Nouns. Tho the same Person of the same Tense of a Verb, or the same Case of a Noun, may end in [Greek characters], or other Terminations, according to the Dialect, a Regularity is nevertheless preserved in each Dialect. If the Greek and Latin have still their irregular Verbs and Nouns, they are not so many, in the best Authors, as will burden the Memory to retain them. I am certain that the passed Tenses of "sit" and "see," which are, according to present Use, "sat" and "saw," will not, if this Rule is observed, be presently reconciled to the Ear; but what I propose is the Observation of this Rule where Propriety and Sound are both maintained; and an Observation of it all Events would be right. Spenser often preserves a Rule of Speech in the imperfect Tenses of the Verb "tell," as in this Verse,

Thus sitting on her Throne, as I have TEL'D:
Fairy Queen. Book 7, Canto 7, Stanza 13.

Which is as well sounding as "told"; and frequent Use would reconcile it as well to our Ears. . . .

Sect. IX.
Improvements which the Latins made in their Language.

. . . .The Religion and Style of Chaucer had still maintained their Ground, if our Ancestors had feared to reform in either; but we must now look on him, as Fabius says of Ennius, "as the Object of our Veneration, like the sacred Groves, for his Antiquity." I am afraid that the same may be sayed of Spenser, whom I truly revere for his Genius. He is like the Groves "in quibus grandia et antiqua Robora jam non tantum habent Speciem quantam Religionem," in which the large and antient Oaks contain not so much of themselves as of Religion. Most of our eminent Writers since him may be reduced to these Laws of Speech, without much, and some without any, Detriment to the Original, as may likewise some few Parts of him without much Difficulty.


[pp. 292-93, 303-04]