Monday, May 15, 2006

Bishop Lowth Part II: Stranded Prepositions and Split Infinitives

I promised in my previous post to report on Bishop Lowth's pronouncements regarding stranded prepositions and split infinitives, since he is usually blamed for originating the prohibitions against these constructions.

As to the split infinitive, I could not find any prohibition or even any mention of the construction in the whole work. People who attribute this prohibition to Lowth, usually cite the whole work only, with no number of the page containing the prohibition, the reason for this omission perhaps being, that no such page exists in the book.

As to the stranded preposition, Lowth does mention the construction, but he does not prohibit it, nor does he make any comparisons with Latin:

The Preposition is often separated from the Relative which it governs, and joined to the Verb at the end of the Sentence, or of some member of it: as, "Horace is an author, whom I am much delighted with."... This is an idiom, which our language is strongly inclined to : it prevails in common conversation, and suits very well with the familiar style in writing : but the placing of the Preposition before the Relative is more graceful, as well as being more perspicuous ; an agrees much better with the solemn and elevated style. (p. 164)

Lowth acknowledges the existence of both constructions, and does not brand either one as incorrect: he says only that each is appropriate in its own context. Now, whether the fronted preposition really is more "perspicuous", is open to question; but that it creates a more "solemn and elevated" tone, few people, I think, can dispute.


Blogger Conrad H. Roth said...

Nice detective work; the development of grammar in the 18th century is a very interesting topic. From what I understand, c.1900 marks something of a watershed for the split infinitive: the Edwardians are much keener to avoid it than the Victorians.

As for Lowth, his Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews fits the conventional image of him better, squeezing Biblical language into constraints and figures derived from classical rhetoric--something to which Herder, for one, strongly objected.

12:31 AM  
Blogger Gheuf said...

Ah, thanks for the info on the split infinitive, since this is another idea whose history I would like to trace.

7:14 PM  
Blogger Conrad H. Roth said...

See: Richard Bailey, Nineteenth-century English, p. 248.

8:57 PM  

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