Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Learning Languages in Early Modern England$

John Gallagher

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780198837909

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198837909.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2020. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use.  Subscriber: null; date: 27 January 2020

Speaking Books

Speaking Books

The Early Modern Conversation Manual

(p.55) 2 Speaking Books
Learning Languages in Early Modern England

John Gallagher

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

If you wanted to learn a foreign language in early modern England, the cheapest and most useful tool available was a multilingual conversation manual. Working from a corpus of over 300 editions, this chapter charts the changing place of these texts in the early modern print market: price, authorship, what languages they offered, and how they developed as a physical object. Using these books, readers engaged with the multilingual oral and aural worlds of early modern Europe. Changes in the form of these manuals over time were closely tied to developments in pedagogy and reading. The kind of reading advocated by these manuals was rarely silent or abstract. In teaching skills from correct pronunciation to social interaction, these manuals demanded that readers confer the text with the oral, sociable world beyond. This chapter offers a new way of understanding linguistic education, multilingual reading, and shifting ideals of linguistic competence.

Keywords:   phrasebook, conversation manual, speaking book, noisy reading, multilingual, book history, language-learning, early modern, orality, oral culture, print culture

Introduction: ‘A Book for the Language’

On his arrival in Rotterdam in July 1678, the young Ralph Thoresby wasted little time getting to grips with his surroundings. Thoresby had been sent to the Low Countries by his father, a Leeds merchant dealing in wool and cotton, in order to learn French and Dutch and to study the trade. He took lodgings with a Dutch-speaking family, enrolled in a school ‘in order to my learning the Dutch lingua’ alongside ‘their way of cyphering’, and made a point of ‘observing the customs, &c.’ of Rotterdam’s urban and commercial life. In his diary, he recorded that he had spent his first week ‘walking about the city, observing their customs, which at first seemed mighty strange, differing so very much from my own country’s’. Thoresby wrote that he had spent this valuable time ‘not neglecting to look into a book for the language, and being very intent upon it’, and noted with some pride that the family with whom he lodged had praised his ‘considerable progress’ in Dutch.1 He gives no indication of which ‘book for the language’ he was using in Rotterdam, though one strong candidate is Edward Richardson’s Anglo-Belgica, subtitled The English and Netherdutch Academy, which had been published in Amsterdam in 1677.2 Richardson’s manual was designed to appeal to a learner like Thoresby, who would benefit from its collection of ‘Dialogues, Letters, Bills of Exchange, and other things relating to Merchandise: whereby men may in a short time attain to the perfect knowledge of the Dutch Language’.3 Anglo-Belgica assumed that the audience for an English-Dutch manual was primarily mercantile, and sought to provide materials that would be of particular use to those involved in trade and finance. Among its dialogues, it offered an in-depth conversation (in Dutch and English) in which speakers navigated the complexities of bills of exchange and trade between European cities, as well as a bilingual set of sample merchants’ letters, accounts, bills, and bonds in the Dutch style.4 A list of ‘Words of most use amongst the Merchants’ included commercially useful (p.56) vocabulary from ‘Arbeytsloon. Labourage’, ‘Factuur. Invoice’, and ‘Loots-gelt. Pilot-money’, to ‘Wissel. Change, Exchange’.5 A book like Richardson’s would have suited a traveller and merchant-in-training for whom linguistic competence needed to consist not just in a knowledge of grammar and syntax, but in the mastery of technical vocabulary and foreign ways of writing and drafting documents.

Anglo-Belgica was, in many ways, a typical early modern ‘book for the language’. It was what I will call a ‘conversation manual’: a bi- or multilingual text which usually included some material on pronunciation, orthography, vocabulary, and grammar, and which had at its heart material that mimicked speech and could be employed in conversation by the reader. In early modern conversation manuals, phrases, proverbs, and situational dialogues taught situationally appropriate language to a variety of audiences, ranging from artisans to elite travellers. The conversation manual was a popular genre of early modern print: polyglot manuals offering dialogues in up to eight languages were printed, reprinted, and plagiarized throughout Europe, while in England books offered instruction in languages from French, German, and Italian to Malay and Narragansett.6 Popular authors like Claudius Hollyband and Claude Mauger shaped language-teaching practice in print and saw their works go into multiple editions, with some especially popular texts long outliving their authors. Conversation manuals were used as textbooks in language schools or as private aids to learning; men and women made multilingual notes in their margins; and travellers bought and packed them when departing for the continent. Usually pocket-sized, affordable, and concerned with teaching useful speech for everyday situations, these books represent a culture of language-learning which was oral and sociable. They engaged their readers in the overlapping activities of reading, writing, speaking, and listening in a way that has been underappreciated: these were speaking books.

(p.57) Scholarly treatments of the conversation manual can be broadly divided into four approaches. First, work in literary studies and book history on particular editions or texts has argued for the popularity and cultural importance of these materials, and traced the transmission of particular texts across political and linguistic borders.7 Second, research in linguistics—particularly historical sociolinguistics and historical pragmatics—has attempted to use these manuals as the basis for analysis of speech in the past, examining the rules and norms governing early modern speech situations.8 Third, literary scholars have used critical readings to explore representations of gender, race, and international politics in the manuals.9 Fourth, work by historians and literary scholars has related the manuals to broader questions of foreign-language study, though this remains a relatively uncrowded field.10 But while conversation manuals have not been ignored by scholars, their role in multilingual encounters, their importance in histories of education, reading, and the book, and their unique place at the intersection of oral, aural, and textual cultures remain to be explored. This chapter begins by defining (p.58) the conversation manual as a genre, tracking the numbers of texts and the languages on offer from the late fifteenth to the early eighteenth century, and tracing the development of the conversation manual as a textual genre: from questions of size, price, and print runs to those of layout and content. It then turns to questions of practice, asking how different kinds of conversation manuals were read, and drawing together teachers’ injunctions and educational developments with textual cues and readers’ responses. It ties developments in form and format with the practical and pedagogical concerns of teachers and learners, and argues that these texts model unique interactions between the worlds of print, speech, and hearing. These ‘books for the language’ allow us to understand early modern language-learning as it was experienced by individual language-learners and as it related to the broader cultural and social changes shaping England and Europe in the early modern period.

Conversation Manuals: Tracing an Early Modern Print Phenomenon

What was a ‘conversation manual’? These texts, which prefigure in a number of ways the modern phrasebook, developed gradually in dialogue with early modern Europe’s cultures of print and education. Different from stand-alone grammars and dictionaries (though conversation manuals commonly contained grammatical and/or lexicographical material), these were texts which aimed to inculcate competence in reading, writing, and—crucially—speech. I use ‘conversation manual’ to mean any text which offered dialogues or collections of conversational phrases (which I define as ‘speech-oriented’ material) in English and at least one other language. Historical linguists Jonathan Culpeper and Merja Kytö, in their study of early modern English dialogues, suggest three kinds of ‘speech-related’ texts: ‘speech-like’, meaning texts such as personal correspondence which share features with oral speech; ‘speech-based’, meaning writing based on actual observed speech events, such as depositions or records of sermons and orations; and ‘speech-purposed’, meaning that the text at least attempts to be mimetic of spoken interaction.11 Culpeper and Kytö place conversation manuals in this third category, but I would argue that the conversation manuals are more than simply ‘speech-purposed’. Their authors did not aim simply to imitate speech in their (p.59) phrases and dialogues: they expected that their printed materials would make the jump from text to speech, and be used in conversation and in the classroom. These are texts which trumpet their practical usefulness and even contain embedded instructions for speaking and performing their pedagogical materials aloud. The term I use for outward-facing texts like these is ‘speech-oriented’. Culpeper and Kytö recognize that language-learning dialogues could be used in classroom situations, for performance and practice between students and teachers, but neglect the role they played in the wider social world. The authors of conversation manuals, by and large, attempted to model their dialogues and phrases on language which would be socially acceptable and useful in a variety of interpersonal situations, and as such the aim of the conversation manual was not just to represent effective speech, but to allow for its redeployment in conversation. It reflected social realities but also was intended to act within them. In this—as this chapter shows—the conversation manual models a unique and underappreciated model of reading and its relationship to speech and hearing.

Having established a definition of the conversation manual as containing speech-oriented material in English and at least one other language, the next step is to work out the number of these texts which were printed across our period, from the beginning of printing in England until 1715. Using the English Short Title Catalogue, the bibliographical work of R. C. Alston, and works on the study of different languages, I have compiled a bibliography of conversation manuals published between 1480 and 1715, counting each edition of each manual separately.12 Three caveats, before we look at the data: firstly, while every effort has been made to make this list exhaustive, there is no doubt that some editions have escaped my notice. I am confident, however, that this is the most comprehensive bibliography of its kind so far created. Secondly, this bibliography only lists texts which have survived. Some texts listed by other authors have been difficult to identify with any certainty, while others are known to have disappeared relatively recently, such as the last known copy of Gabriel Meurier’s Traité pour apprendre a parler Francois et Anglois (Rouen, 1553), which was destroyed during the Second World War.13 Some early language-learning texts like A lytell treatyse for to lerne (p.60) Englysshe and Frensshe (Antwerp, 1530?) survive only in fragments. Further to texts like these, there are also texts whose absence we are unaware of: smaller, cheaper, and unbound texts may have been less likely to survive.14 Relevant to questions of textual survival, recent work at Belton House by Abigail Brundin and Dunstan Roberts suggests that in at least one case, more utilitarian books purchased during travel were stored and kept separately from more prestigious texts, not being bound or kept in the family’s library.15 This type of behaviour has obvious implications for survival rates. The final caveat is to remind the reader that what follows is based on a bibliography of speech-oriented conversation manuals, meaning that stand-alone grammars and dictionaries which contained no speech-oriented materials are not included in the graphs below.16

With these caveats in mind, we can turn to the data on the publication of conversation manuals between 1480 and 1715. The number of conversation manuals published for each language across the period can be seen in Figure 2.1. By far the most popular language of bilingual manuals was French, with 146 separate editions published across the period (many of them new editions or reprints of work by popular teachers like Claudius Hollyband and Claude Mauger). Italian texts appeared in twenty-two separate editions, Dutch twenty, and German eleven. Twelve Spanish manuals appeared irregularly across the period, and two manuals for Portuguese (still regarded by some as simply a dialect of Spanish) appeared near the end of the period.17 Eighty-five separate editions of polyglot manuals (those containing more than one language besides English) (p.61) were counted.18 Not included in this graph are the rare manuals which attempted to provide instruction in non-European languages, like Roger Williams’s famous Key into the Language of America (London, 1643), and Augustine Spalding’s translation of Arthus Gotthard’s Dialogues in the English and Malaiane languages (London, 1614), written at the behest of Thomas Smith, governor of (among others) the fledgling East India Company. Other kinds of text boasted wordlists or vocabularies of non-European languages—one example is Thomas Gage’s The English-American his Travail by Sea and Land: Or, A New Survey of the West-India’s (London, 1648), which boasted among its contents ‘a Grammar, or some few Rudiments of the Indian Tongue, called, Poconchi, or Pocoman’, compiled on the basis of Gage’s study of the language.19 The focus here, however, is on texts whose primary aim was the teaching of a continental European vernacular language. With at least 294 editions of conversation manuals featuring continental vernaculars published across a 235-year period—so, just over 1.25 editions a year—the market was a vibrant one. (It should be noted that some manuals have probably been lost, and also that these conversation manuals could be supplemented by the stand-alone grammars, verb tables, and dictionaries also (p.62) published during the period).20 By way of comparison, in his study of vernacular medical literature, Paul Slack found 153 medical titles published in the period c.1486–1605, a figure which accounts for roughly 3 per cent of the total number of books published.21 In the same period, my own research finds eighty-eight conversation manuals: more than half the number of vernacular medical texts, so (following Slack) around 1.5 per cent of the total number of texts published in the same period. A further 206 were published in the period 1606–1715. Conversation manuals came nowhere near genres of print like almanacs or popular religious literature in their numbers, but innovations and reprintings ensured that the would-be language-learner rarely lacked for printed materials throughout our period.22

Speaking BooksThe Early Modern Conversation Manual

Figure 2.1 Conversation manuals featuring English by language, 1480–1715

It is difficult to be certain how many copies of each edition were printed, and this definitely varied depending on factors like projected demand for the book. In September 1578, the Court of the Stationers’ Company ordered that Thomas Vautrollier, the printer of Hollyband’s French Littelton, deliver 100 copies of every edition of the text to Abraham Veale, ‘whereof there shalbe printed twelfe hundred & an half of an ympression’.23 That year, Vautrollier would print the second edition of what became an extremely popular text: if we assume that 1,250 copies were printed of every edition of the French Littelton, then 17,500 copies of this text alone had been printed by 1639. John Palsgrave agreed with his printer that 750 copies of his Lesclarcissement (1530) would be produced, but this was an enormous book, with the attendant commercial risks, as well as one whose sale was restricted by its author.24 Paul Slack, following H. S. Bennett and Lucien (p.63) Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin, argues that an average print run for the medical texts he looks at in the period 1486–1605 would have been around 1,000 copies.25 The maximum permitted print run after 1587 was 1,500 copies, though this was relaxed in 1635 to between 1,500 and 2,000.26 In 1679, Paul Festeau boasted that 2,000 copies of the third and fourth editions of his French grammar had been printed, ‘whereas they use to draw but one thousand’.27 If we assume an average print run of 1,000 for these conversation manuals, then we are left with a very rough figure of around 300,000 copies printed across just over two centuries.

How did different languages fare in the conversation manual market across the period? Figure 2.2 offers an answer to this question, showing the publication of editions of conversation manuals, divided by language, at ten-year intervals. Some trends in provision responded to their immediate political contexts, while others reflected the rise and fall in popularity and prestige experienced by specific languages.

Speaking BooksThe Early Modern Conversation Manual

Figure 2.2 Conversation manuals by language per decade, 1480–1719

¹ Portuguese is omitted here to avoid crowding the graph: the bilingual English-Portuguese conversation manuals published in this period were A. J., Grammatica Anglo-Lusitanica: or a short and compendious system of an English and Portugueze grammar (London, 1702), and a second edition of the same text published in Lisbon in 1705. On these, see Rolf Kemmler, ‘The Grammatica Anglo-Lusitanica (London, 1701), a translation of Bento Pereira’s Ars grammaticae pro lingua Lusitana addiscenda Latino idiomate (Lyons, 1672)?’, Beiträge zur Geschichte der Sprachwissenschaft 23:1 (2013), pp. 87–102.

French is the first foreign vernacular language to appear in the corpus of conversation manuals: at the end of the fifteenth century, a generation of printers (often themselves with strong connections to French- and Dutch-speaking communities on the continent) saw a market in England for bilingual texts offering instruction in French conversation.28 Early manuals published by William Caxton, Richard Pynson, and Wynkyn de Worde were followed by, among others, John Palsgrave’s monumental Lesclarcissement de la langue francoyse (1530). Palsgrave’s work treated pronunciation in great detail, acting (as Gabriele Stein has argued) ‘not [as] a help to read French texts, but to produce correct French, in a spoken or a written form’.29 French would remain the most popular vernacular foreign language in print across our period, as—with the decline of Latin as a spoken European lingua franca—it became the working language of international politics, and competence in it became a prestige accomplishment for both men and women.30 The only significant negative fluctuation in the popularity of French conversation manuals also hit other languages: this was the general slump in the (p.64) (p.65) production of conversation manuals during the period 1640–60. This is particularly noticeable in the case of manuals for French, with eleven texts in 1630–9 shrinking to five, seven, and six in the succeeding decades, before climbing to an unprecedented high of thirteen editions in 1670–9, a figure which was maintained in the decade that followed. The slump in the years of the civil wars and Interregnum is difficult to peg to any particular factor, especially as the breakdown of censorship in the early 1640s saw a rapid increase in the numbers of texts of other kinds being printed; however, this was a period in which significant numbers of people (including many Royalists) travelled to the continent and learnt languages abroad.31 It seems likely that a series of factors, including the cultural prestige granted to French by the Francophile court of Charles II, the growth of what would become the ‘grand tour’, and the increasing numbers of French Protestant immigrants coming to England in the two decades surrounding the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, may together have helped to push up provision for students of that language during the Restoration.32 By the final decade of the seventeenth century, Abel Boyer could write with only some exaggeration that French had become ‘the General language of all Courts, and one of the chiefest Qualifications of accomplisht Persons in Europe’, and that ‘there is scarce any thing to be seen every where, but French-Grammars’.33

Italian-English conversation manuals first appeared in the final quarter of the sixteenth century, beginning with the work of Claudius Hollyband, who first published a manual for the language to accompany an Italian edition of Diego de San Pedro’s Tractado de Amores de Arnalte y Lucenda in 1575.34 When a (p.66) second edition appeared in 1597, the novella had been relegated in importance and the text bore the title The Italian Schoole-maister. This period also saw the publication of John Florio’s two Italian conversation manuals, the Firste Fruites (1578) and the Second Frutes (1593), both texts which appealed to a literate elite readership seeking to access the literature and culture of the Italian Renaissance at a moment of English Italophilia.35 Florio’s texts were literary, but they were also written with an eye for the everyday, containing dialogues that featured shopping, eating, and drinking in company. These were not the first or only texts available to learners of Italian: William Thomas’s Principal Rules of the Italian Grammer, first published in 1550, went through two further editions during the 1560s, while readers could also consult grammars by Scipione Lentulo (translated into English by Henry Grantham) and John Sanford.36 The popularity of Italian was commented on by William Stepney in his English-Spanish manual (1591), where he argued that ‘in my simple judgement, [Spanish] is farre more necessary for our countrey-men then the Italian tongue is’.37 In spite of the prestige status of Italian in the latter half of the sixteenth century, there was only one English-Italian conversation manual published in the decade 1600–9, and one more in 1610–19, with the language disappearing entirely from the bilingual market in the 1620s and 1630s.

Italian only reappeared on the conversation manual market with the efforts of Giovanni Torriano, who cast himself as a successor to John Florio, and had inherited some of Florio’s papers.38 Where Florio’s flowery language was often suited to courtly speech and writing, and to those who sought to read Italian literature, Torriano addressed himself to ‘the good of all the English Nation’, but aimed his work more ‘espetially’ towards ‘you who are in a continuall commerce with most parts of Italy, as well as Turkey, where the Italian Tongue is all in all’.39 The expansion of English Mediterranean trade replaced cultural prestige as the main reason for the study of Italian: it was a language which could serve as a lingua franca throughout the Mediterranean, from the Italian peninsula to the Barbary Coast, and to Istanbul, (p.67) Izmir, and beyond.40 Writing in 1660, Pietro Paravicino noted that his readers were more likely to be using their Italian in ‘the piazzas of merchants than in the courts of princes’.41 From this period there survives a manuscript fair copy with the title ‘Raccolta di Frasi Italiane. A collection of Italian Phrases. Taken out of the best Authors, and Orderly Disposed under their Alphabetical Heads in English … For the use of such as desire to write and speak Italian’. The manuscript was evidently drawn up for the press, though no printed text matching it survives; its author, who signs themselves ‘B.S.’, dedicated the text to senior figures in the Levant Company, since they ‘have always here been justly esteemed the proper Patrons of the Italian Language which is soe useful to their Factorys in the Levant’, Italian being ‘more currant than any other’ in the company’s factories abroad.42 The manuscript aimed to serve a wider audience but left no doubt that its composition, much of which had been undertaken under the roof of the Levant merchant Dudley North in Istanbul, owed much to the linguistic opportunities and activities associated with the Levant Company and with England’s Mediterranean trade.43

The figures for conversation manuals bear out contemporary teachers’ impression that Italian language-learning had suffered a mid-century slump. In 1657’s Della Lingua Toscana-Romana, Torriano wrote that, after a period of decline, the study of the language had been made popular again amongst women by ‘several Ladies of qualitie’, a formulation which suggests that he may have been disregarding the language-learning efforts of less socially distinguished students, such as those involved in commerce.44 The view of Italian as a language which had fallen into disuse for a time before regaining its prestige was encapsulated in the title of Torriano’s The Italian Reviv’d (1673). A further blow to the study of the language, according to Torriano, was the destruction by the Great Fire of London in 1666 of stocks of Italian books. ‘Had not the late dismal Fire destroyed all the Printed Books which concern the Italian’, he wrote, ‘there would have been no need for one while of more Books of that nature; but for want of them, the Italian declining, and almost expiring, I thought it necessary to revive it in time.’45 The market for Italian books does seem to have picked up somewhat in the 1650s and (p.68) 1660s, broadly in line with Torriano’s implication that it was undergoing a revival as a prestigious cultural attainment, though its popularity dipped again in the 1670s.46 The end of our period witnessed the beginnings of a new revival of Italian, with a manual like Giacomo Rossi’s Le maître aisé & rejouissant; Ou nouvelle methode agreable pour apprendre sans peine la langue italienne (London, 1710?) reflecting the new taste for things Italian that went hand in hand with the beginnings of opera performance in England—fittingly enough, Rossi was to write libretti for some of Handel’s works.47

The appearance of occasional Spanish-language material often seems to have been tied to political factors: two texts were printed under the Marian regime, while a flurry of texts appeared when the Spanish Match was a serious prospect.48 When the political situation was less favourable, authors had to explain their motives carefully, as we can see in the preface to William Stepney’s Spanish schoole-master, published just three years after the Armada, though reprinted in 1619 and 1620.49 This work was at pains to stress its author’s loyalty and the suitability of its subject, knowing the potential for accusations of disloyalty associated with Spanish print.50 As Christopher Highley argues, ‘[the] prejudice (p.69) of the English toward the Spanish was equalled only by the English fear of becoming like the Spanish’: language education, with its potential for personal transformation, was fraught with danger for the English reader’s identity.51 William Stepney played it safe by addressing his manual to ‘all those which are desirous to learne the said tongue within this our Realme of England’ (my emphasis), potentially covering himself from the charge that his book might encourage or facilitate travel to Spain.52 Stepney’s epistle to the reader further emphasized his loyalty, citing his motivation for writing as ‘my duetie, and the good will which I do beare unto my countrey’.53 Dialogues set at Paul’s Cross, a humble dedication to Robert Cecil, and a bawdy joke about a friar reminded any reader of the author’s English political loyalties, while the distinctly Protestant tenor of the prayers with which the book closed left no doubt as to his religious orthodoxy.54 This wariness about providing materials for learning Spanish—and for travel in Spain—had its roots in anxieties about Spanish power, English national security, and Catholicism, and may account for the relative paucity of Spanish language-learning texts in English in early modern print.55 In the early eighteenth century, with England embroiled in the War of the Spanish Succession, there were two texts published for Spanish, one by Captain John Stevens, whose military credentials are made clear on the title page, and the other by Pasqual Joseph Anton, a teacher of Spanish in London, who described himself as ‘[d]irecting my Labour in this little Work to the Service of the Nobility and Gentry of England, that upon the Occasion of the War go to Spain’.56 It seems competence in Spanish was mainly considered an acceptable accomplishment at times of Anglo-Spanish détente or heightened conflict.

Provision of bilingual conversation manuals teaching Dutch or German was patchy at first, with the first bilingual English-Dutch manual, Marten Le Mayre’s Dutch Schoole Master, only appearing in London in 1606. Dutch would only become a relatively regular feature on the bilingual manual scene after 1630, with (p.70) at least one manual published in every decade thereafter until the 1710s; the seventeenth century would also see the publication of important Anglo-Dutch dictionaries by Henry Hexham and Willem (or William) Sewel.57 German provision began in the 1680s with Martin Aedler’s High-Dutch Minerva. The study of German would later be energized by the accession of the Hanoverians, while good relations between Anne’s England and her German neighbours, along with the prospect of a Hanoverian succession, meant that print provision responded to a perceived increase in the desire for English competence among speakers of German.58 Both German and Dutch conversational materials, however, were available from as early as 1525 and 1530 respectively in polyglot conversation manuals—texts that contained phrases and dialogues in more than two languages.59

Figure 2.3 shows the languages available in polyglot manuals during this period: we can see that Dutch and German were already well-represented in the sixteenth (p.71) century, before there were any bilingual materials available for these languages. This probably reflects their status as objects of study—as foreign languages, they were more the preserve of those involved in trade, rather than prestige vernaculars like Italian or French. As such, they were probably learnt mostly as part of a programme of vocational training or apprenticeship, rather than through the formal study of a conversation manual. This was the case, for instance, for Edward Coxere, who was briefly sent to Middelburg to learn the trade of a cooper, but gave it up and became a sailor. Serving on a Dutch vessel, he had to learn Dutch quickly on the job: ‘still, though I had French and English’, he wrote, ‘I had Dutch to learn to understand those I was withal, which I soon got’.60 For those with less time or pedagogical opportunity, polyglot manuals could fill a niche, providing basic vocabulary and phrases appropriate to a variety of situations, many to do with travel and commerce, and often including languages less prestigious than French, Italian, and Latin (though these often featured too). They did not provide an in-depth pedagogy but acted more as cribs for travellers and merchants in multiple languages.

Speaking BooksThe Early Modern Conversation Manual

Figure 2.3 Languages featured in polyglot manuals, 1525–1714

A sharp decline in the production of polyglot phrasebooks containing English set in around 1645. Maria Colombo Timelli notes that the last known edition of the extremely popular Solenissimo vochabuolista text, which appeared in a great variety of European languages and in editions published across the continent, is a Rouen edition of 1636. The production of polyglot texts based on the popular Colloquia initially written by Noël de Berlemont peaked around the 1590s but only really started to go into decline around 1640.61 These two source texts had long and varied European careers: the bibliography of polyglot manuals containing English among their languages suggests that the majority were based on one or other of these source books. However, while an edition of the Solenissimo vochabuolista was published in Southwark in 1537, and Michael Sparke produced corrected quadrilingual editions of Berlemont in 1637 and 1639, the printing of polyglot conversation manuals containing English was not particularly common in England itself, with only sixteen published in England as against sixty-nine coming from the continent. It is difficult to pinpoint a specific reason for this, though the beginnings of the decline of the polyglot phrasebook with English provision comes at roughly the same time as the general slump in the genre seen above. Still, the market for polyglot manuals did not recover after the Interregnum. In dealing with the polyglot manuals, it is important to remember that the editions containing English among their several languages are only a subset of a (p.72) broader European publishing phenomenon: there were many editions of the Solenissimo vochabuolista and of the Berlemont text that did not contain English material. It is also noteworthy that the rise of Dutch and German in the corpus of bilingual conversation manuals began around the time the polyglot manuals went into evident decline. Where provision for these languages had hitherto been found largely in the polyglot texts, authors were beginning to offer more complete pedagogical materials for their study, perhaps rendering the significantly cruder dialogues and extremely sparse grammatical instruction of the polyglot manuals redundant. To add another layer of complexity to this narrative, some of the bilingual English-Dutch manuals which began to appear in this period translated and adapted dialogues which had first appeared in the Berlemont text, ensuring that his dialogues (or those of the expanded editions of his original) did not disappear entirely with the decline of the polyglot phrasebook.62 The polyglot manual did not die out altogether: in 1794, the publication of The soldier’s pocket dictionary, or friend in need: being a vocabulary of many thousand words, terms, and questions by Captain James Willson suggested that such texts were still needed for certain polyglot milieus.63 However, by the middle of the seventeenth century, the heyday of the pocket polyglot companion was clearly over, and the bilingual conversation manual was the standard.

Among the many bi- and multilingual texts published in early modern England, a number were not aimed—or not solely aimed—at English learners of foreign vernaculars. Some manuals addressed themselves to learners of English as a second language. The French Wars of Religion had resulted in a wave of French Protestant migrants to England in the later decades of the sixteenth century: one Frenchman, Jacques Bellot, published a text in 1586 titled Familiar Dialogues: for the Instruction of them, that be desirous to learne to speake English, and perfectlye to pronounce the same. Bellot’s text was aimed explicitly at ‘them that be refugiate in a strange countrey’, offering instruction in English to refugees, emigrants, and exiles, much as would Guy Miège’s Nouvelle Methode Pour Apprendre L’Anglois almost exactly a century later, printed at a time of renewed French migration and refuge in England (both texts are discussed at greater length in Chapter 3).64 The Grammaire angloise originally published in 1625 was similarly meant for foreign learners of English, though its intended audience seems to have been mobile courtiers and members of Henrietta Maria’s Francophone (p.73) household rather than those fleeing religious or other persecution.65 In the preface to his Volkommener englischer Wegweiser für Hoch-Teutsche, published in 1706, the author—Johann König, alias John King—addressed the contemporary politics of migration, writing that ‘[a]mong the vast Concourse of Foreigners that resort to this Flourishing Kingdom, the Germans, since their happy Alliance with the English, are not the least considerable’. Of this group, he argued, ‘many of them are now particularly oblig’d, and others no less desirous, to be well acquainted with the English Tongue’.66 Another manual published in 1710 offered English instruction to a different group of German-speaking immigrants: those who had arrived as part of the ‘Palatine’ migration from 1709 onwards.67 The appetite for English study seems to have developed significantly earlier in the Low Countries than it did elsewhere, as reflected in texts like the anonymous Den Engelschen School-Meester/The English Schole-Master (1646), which addressed Dutch and English publics, offering ‘[c]ertaine rules and helpes, whereby the natives of the Netherlandes, may bee, in a short time, taught to read, understand, and speake, the English tongue’, as well as parallel instruction for English learners of Dutch.68 Even John Florio’s Firste Fruites, a text often read as central to England’s encounter with Italian, explicitly advertised its two-way usability, with Florio addressing ‘all the Italian Gentlemen and Merchants who delight in the English language’ alongside his English audience.69 The prestige of English as a foreign language remained relatively low in this period, but materials nonetheless existed for the diverse groups—traders, courtiers, and migrants—who had need of English before it became an international lingua franca.

The formats in which these manuals were printed and their size became standardized during our period, with pocket-sized books (usually in octavo) gradually becoming dominant. Enormous folio volumes like John Palsgrave’s Lesclarcissement (1530) and John Wodroephe’s True Marrowe of the French Tongue (1623) gradually gave way to books in octavo and sextodecimo. Claudius Hollyband wrote of his French Littelton that ‘I have caused [it] to be printed in this small volume, that it might be easier to be caried by any man about him’, while the (p.74) author of a Spanish treatise of 1711 excused ‘this small Offering, which for its Dwarfishness seems to vanish in the Hand, tho’designedly so for the greater Convenience of those that travel’.70 Portability in travel was a concern: Addressing the readers of his English and Nether-dutch Dictionary, J. G. van Heldoren said that ‘[c]onsidering that little Books are convenient for young schollars and travellers, seeing they are easie to be carried therefore I have composed a Dictionary very brief, good and useful’.71 A small text would be more easily consulted in an idle moment, the book’s utility enhanced by its form: Pietro Paravicino boasted in 1662 of having published ‘commodious Books to carry in your Pocket’.72 Of his Choice Phrases he said that ‘it hath been my study to make it little and good, to the end that having it in your Pocket, you may the oftner have it in your hand to read, and practise it’: size and utility were directly linked.73 Authors might struggle with the constraints of size: in 1617, William Bathe apologized for the unwieldy quarto format of his Janua Linguarum, saying ‘I sought in adding two languages, to render the volume yet as portable as might be, and if not as a Manuall or pocket-booke, yet a Pectorall or bosome-booke, to be carried twixt jerkin and doublet’.74 Polyglot texts often came in pocket-sized editions, their six, seven, or eight languages crammed across each opening of an octavo or sextodecimo volume. The appearance and materiality of these conversation manuals suggests a generic expectation that a speech-oriented manual would normally be of manageable size; Bathe’s protestations about his ‘bosome-booke’ suggests that he was aware of stretching the formal expectations of the genre—as well as the jerkins of his readers—to breaking point. While folio and quarto editions were common in the sixteenth century, the octavo format had become the standard for a conversation manual by the mid-seventeenth century: affordable, portable, and useful.75

A book’s size, among its other physical characteristics, could suggest to a reader the kind of text they were likely to encounter.76 Some authors marketed books in different formats at readers with different needs or budgets. Two texts published by one ‘A.J.’ at the beginning of the eighteenth century illustrate this point: in (p.75) 1701, he released his A compleat account of the Portugueze language, a folio text containing a dictionary and rules for pronunciation, grammar, and composition. It contained no dialogues, unlike the text A.J. published in 1702, the Grammatica Anglo-Lusitanica: or a short and compendious system of an English and Portugueze grammar. This text—which appeared in octavo—advertised itself as containing instruction on grammar and syntax, supplemented with some ‘[u]seful Dialogues and Colloquies, agreeable to common Conversation’, alongside ‘a vocabulary of Useful Words in English and Portugueze’. The title emphasized the text’s utility and even its potential use by travellers and traders, claiming to be ‘Designed for, and fitted to all Capacities, and more especially such whose Chance or Business may lead them into any part of the World, where that Language is used or esteemed’.77 A.J.’s two texts served different purposes and envisaged different kinds of usage—the folio a reference book, the octavo a socially and orally oriented utilitarian text. These usages were reflected in the shape the different texts took. Claudius Hollyband’s French Schoolemaister appeared in octavo, while his French Littelton was a sextodecimo: the former was addressed more at a younger audience, and at those studying at Hollyband’s school, while the Littelton is more of a general conversation manual aimed at the adult learner or traveller. Over two centuries, authors and publishers settled on a physical form for the manuals which became the generic standard: readers’ needs, expectations, and presumably pockets, were important factors in this development.

Conversation manuals came to fit the pocket, but how did they hit the pocket? Detailed information about pricing is difficult to come by, but booksellers and book buyers have left some clues. In September 1578, John North’s Italian-language diary recorded his purchase of ‘Florio and another book’, costing 2s. 9d. in all. In November of the same year, North paid Claudius Hollyband 14 shillings for a month’s teaching, as well as 2 shillings for a book, which was probably either the French Schoolemaister or the French Littelton.78 Printed in 1660, the front page of Pietro Paravicino’s True idioma of the Italian tongue noted that it cost ‘1s. 6d. Bound’; an unbound volume would have been cheaper.79 Early eighteenth-century advertisements show that the twentieth, twenty-first, and twenty-second editions of Claude Mauger’s French grammar were all priced at two shillings.80 Similarly, the fourth edition of Abel Boyer’s Compleat French-Master was available for 2 shillings in 1707, and Laurentio Casotti’s New method of teaching the Italian tongue to ladies and gentlemen was priced at 1s. 6d. in 1713.81 All three (p.76) were in octavo, though it is not clear whether or not they were sold bound. The mid-seventeenth-century travel journal of Richard Symonds refers to two French grammars as costing 8d. and 9d. apiece, when purchased at Paris.82 There were cheaper forms of print, like ballads and newsbooks, though print that did reach a more ‘popular’ audience (with all the difficulties that term implies) could be more expensive: the prayer book, unbound, in quarto or duodecimo could cost between 5d. and 9d. at the end of the seventeenth century, while bound and interleaved almanacs could cost 6d. in the period before 1660.83 Assuming the standard price range of manuals in this period was between 1s. 6d. and 2s., it suggests that manuals in octavo (the standard form by this time) were not prohibitively expensive, especially if one was content to leave them unbound—and that they were becoming cheaper in real terms across the period. Michael Sparke’s 1637 edition of the Berlemont text made reference to its cheapness, particularly when compared to hiring an interpreter:

I finding the want of these Languages, found this to bee a great helpe, with small charge. This Guide or Interpreter will not bee any wayes chargeable, more than at first buying; but shouldst thou hire another, it may cost thee some pounds.84

The arrival of the printed conversation manual did not render manuscript language aids obsolete. Manuscript books of phrases and dialogues continued to be prepared, sometimes by teachers, as in the case of the ‘Libretto’ of Italian dialogues created by Giacomo Castelvetro and discussed in Chapter 1. Peter Auger has shown that Jacques Bellot’s printed French manuals had their roots in a manuscript manual Bellot had drafted for use with his students: scribal practice and pedagogical interaction fed into the creation of the printed conversation manual.85 Other manuscript conversation aids were drafted for particular users and shaped to fit their purposes: perhaps the most famous is the trilingual primer created for Elizabeth I, which contains phrases and dialogues in Irish, Latin, and English.86 When, in 1653, Bulstrode Whitelocke took up the post of ambassador extraordinary to Queen Christina of Sweden, he went supplied with a trilingual manuscript phrasebook (in English, French, and Latin) which contained phrases necessary for dealing with the queen and with members of the Swedish nobility, as well as for discussing and debating the finer points of the recent constitutional (p.77) upheavals in Britain. Polite utterances like ‘[b]e pleased to goe into this chamber, where I shall waite uppon your [Excellency]’ shared space with trilingual explanations that ‘[t]he Parliament is the foundation of the English government, & the supreame Court & Councell of the Nation & so hath bin in all times’, that ‘[a]ll leagues & alliances made with any Prince or State by the kinges of England before the chaunge of government have bin punctually observed afterwardes’, and how ‘[t]he king of Denmarke was pleased to use the Commonwealth of England in such a manner as hardly could be excused of unworthines in the meanest private person’.87 The line between print and manuscript was blurred: a 1683 manuscript Italian manual kept by John Armytage (probably of Kirklees in Yorkshire) contained phrases and dialogues transcribed from Giovanni Torriano’s The Italian Reviv’d (1673).88 The rise of the printed conversation manual did not mean that manuscript language aids ceased to be used.

Just as scribal practices persisted long after the coming of print, so too did some language manuals outlast the historical moment of their production and enjoy significant afterlives.89 For instance, we might think of Claudius Hollyband as predominantly an Elizabethan author, but his French Schoolmaster, originally published in 1573, was reprinted throughout the seventeenth century, with the final edition appearing in 1668.90 Hollyband is recognized as having been the most important and prolific language teacher in Elizabethan England, but his manuals—the Schoolmaster and the French Littelton—went into twenty-four editions after 1603.91 The last edition of the Littelton would come in 1630, but the French Schoolmaster went into fifteen post-1603 editions. After Hollyband’s death, revisions of the Schoolmaster were purportedly undertaken by Pierre Erondell—himself author of The French Garden, a textbook for female students of French which explicitly aimed to fill a gap in the market left by Hollyband—and subsequently by one James Giffard, a ‘professor of the sayd tongue’, with another edition claiming the involvement of ‘divers professors’ of French.92 Beyond this, elements of Hollyband’s work (p.78) would appear in plagiarized form in the anonymous Grammaire Angloise and in Marten Le Mayre’s Dutch Schoole Master, bringing his pedagogy to an audience beyond learners of French and Italian.93 Similarly, Gabriel Meurier’s Familiare communications no leasse proppre then verrie proffytable to the Inglishe nation desirous and nedinge the Frenche language was originally published at Antwerp in 1563, but saw the light again in a Rouen edition of 1641, as well as having its material copied by the compiler of A plaine pathway to the French tongue (London, 1575).94 The French Alphabet by ‘G.D.L.M.N.’—G. de la Mothe—went into seven editions between 1592 and 1647, and Marten le Mayre’s text reused some of its material in Dutch.95 Perhaps most strangely, elements of John Eliot’s Ortho-Epia Gallica (1593) found their way into Peter Berault’s A New, Plain, Short, and Compleat French and English Grammar (1688): Berault cribbed a significant proportion of his dialogues from Eliot’s text, nearly a century after it was first published.96 Guy Miège’s English-French grammar, first published in 1678, looked like going out of print after the London edition of 1706, but reappeared thirty-three years later in Rotterdam, going into nine further editions printed in Rotterdam and in France, with the last recorded edition appearing in 1779.97 These lengthy afterlives show that more popular texts were thought to have value beyond their original moment, and significantly complicate questions of the relationship between the conversation manual and its immediate temporal (and geographical) context: this suggests that some among the readers, authors, publishers, and editors of these works perceived a continuity in language-learners’ needs across a long span of time.

(p.79) These texts did not just survive as museum pieces: some were still in use long after their original publication. Richard Symonds, travelling in France and Italy during the Interregnum, listed some ‘Books brought from Paris’ which included ‘The French Schoolemaster’, which can only be Hollyband’s text.98 At this point the text was still in print, and would be until 1668, but one traveller’s journal from around 1691 shows that among books in Latin, French, English, and Spanish, he purchased a ‘Dict. 8 Linguarum’—almost certainly a version of the polyglot Berlemont text—and a copy of Hollyband’s French Littelton, the latest known edition of which had been published in 1630.99 Hollyband, in choosing the title of his Littelton, wanted it to be as indispensable a work of reference for the student of the language as Thomas de Littleton’s Tenures was for legal students; it seems that his hopes for posterity were at least partly justified, with travellers continuing to look to his simple but evidently effective dialogues and grammatical advice long into the next century.100 For all that they responded to changes in fashion, politics, and pedagogy, some conversation manuals lasted long in print and even longer in usage.

Noisy Reading: How to Use a Conversation Manual

When we talk about conversation manuals, the elephant in the room is practice. How were these texts actually used? How did print lead to speech? How did books teach linguistic competence? Users had to deal with the manuals’ evident deficiencies, which included their inability to represent correct pronunciation with total accuracy, to teach aural comprehension, or even (in the case of many polyglot texts) to print foreign-language material free of substantial errors. The question of the manuals’ usage—particularly in relation to speech—has often been sidestepped, though John Considine regards certain of the polyglot manuals as so corrupt as to be essentially unusable.101 Generally, scholars have been reluctant to posit a model of usage in line with authors’ insistence that the manuals taught speech as well as reading and writing. As a result, our understanding of these speaking books remains too silent. The conversation manual, carrying material which mimicked speech and aimed to equip its users to speak for themselves, existed between textual and oral culture: manuals’ readers were urged to use the book as an aid to speech, while also using voices from outside the text to animate its materials. They practised a kind of noisy reading which capitalized on what Adam Fox has called the ‘dynamic continuum’ in which oral and literate cultures (p.80) fed off each other in early modern England, ‘a society ever more accustomed to communicating information, disseminating opinion, and enshrining ideas in text’, but in which ‘oral exchange remained the primary mode of receiving and transmitting cultural capital’.102 Conversation manuals, in their pedagogies and the practices of reading they asked of their readers, model a unique relationship between early modern cultures of print, speech, writing, and hearing. These ‘speaking books’ are the key to understanding early modern language-learning.

Early modern materials for language pedagogy placed the study of pronunciation and speech front and centre. They made significant attempts to provide instruction in pronunciation, and suggested ways in which their readers could supplement the text with oral practice, whether in private consultation with the author or otherwise. Early modern pedagogy itself contained a substantial oral element—students at grammar schools, universities, and inns of court were familiar with the oral practices of oration and disputation, and correct, appropriate, persuasive speech was the fundamental attribute of the Ciceronian orator who was the model of humanist educational philosophy.103 How did this orality manifest itself in vernacular language-learning? The compiler of the Plaine pathway to the French tongue declared that ‘the learning of the French tonge consisteth on these two pointes, true pronuntiation, and proprietie of phrase’: this manual, like many, began with a section on pronunciation, only giving way afterwards to dialogues.104 De la Mothe’s French manual urged pupils to begin their study of the language with three or four days spent learning the letters and their pronunciation, then proceeding to read the dialogues. Pupils were to work their way slowly through the words, applying what they had learnt of pronunciation and of orthography, and working out which letters were silent.105 This pedagogical method—which the common placing of pronunciation materials at the beginning of manuals seems to suggest—developed reading knowledge in a way that fundamentally linked it to the acquisition of oral competence. Even the pupil who was looking to develop a reading knowledge passed through the stage of sounding out words. John Wodroephe’s pedagogical programme began with pronunciation, and a practical metaphor that argued its fundamental importance:


Before wee beginne to warpe the Webbe of this thinne and shire peece of cloath, I must go about to know if the tooles be oiled, and in good order, to the end it may be the easier to weave by the workemen, to wit: the french Pronounciation of the letters, comparing them with the tooles of a weaver, who can not exercise the same unlesse they bee in good order to beginne his webbe.106

The system of learning described in Comenius’s influential Porta linguarum trilinguis urged the student to have their work corrected by a master, to read carefully what they had to remember, and, to test their competence, to communicate what they had learnt to another student: in this way, oral practice and classroom communication became part of the fabric of teaching and learning.107 Vernacular language-learning as explained in the manuals was a process which mixed the textual encounter with oral performance: the reader who studied quietly and learnt only to read was the exception, not the rule.

Early modern authors were divided on the place of speech in language-learning. Writing in the early seventeenth century, the French teacher John Wodroephe warned of the dangers of competence acquired through oral practice alone, without the intervention of grammatical rules. To illustrate ‘what Advantage hee gaineth above him who thinketh to obtaine the said Tongue by the eare only’, Wodroephe gave the story of three sons of gentlemen who learnt more in six months from Wodroephe’s rule-based tuition than they had over four years in Paris. He went on:

And sundry others have I helped who never saw France, and yet could talke, reade, and write better language in one yeare, then those who have bene at Paris two yeares, learning but the common phrase of the contrie, shaiking off a litle paines to learne the rules.108

Wodroephe’s insistence on rules to accompany oral experience is particularly interesting because it betrays a concern not only with grammatically correct speech but with the acquisition of a prestige variety. Similarly, de la Mothe warned that those who learnt by listening to the common people of France ‘cannot speake but commonly and vulgarly, because their manner of speech and termes be common and base, of a broken French’.109 The kind of competence which became increasingly valorized over the seventeenth century could only be acquired by a (p.82) combination of book and oral experience. Juan de Luna defended rules, even if they proved difficult for those who did not already have a knowledge of Latin: ‘for not onely they make the way plainer and easier, but withall by their helpe, things once learned are not so easily forgotten, and things forgotten are easier remembred’. He went on to take aim at a worrying trend, writing that ‘[t]his erronious opinion, That it is best, to learne a language without rules, is maintained by many Teachers, who because they themselves neither know nor understand any, say, it is best learning a language by familiar discourse’.110 For de Luna, this ‘familiar discourse’ had to be married with sound grammatical instruction and a good master’s correct pronunciation for the student to gain adequate competence. His insistence that speech alone was not enough was not a privileging of written competence, but reflects a belief that the conversation manual should complement oral experience and practice. It was not a textual end point; instead, its pedagogical programme demanded that the words be performed orally and informed by what the pupil heard and learnt from other speakers. The exception to this rule was Giovanni Torriano, who argued that ‘they who are last at speaking, speak the best and surest’.111

Like early modern teachers and learners, modern historians have been divided on the place of speech in early modern language pedagogy. Jason Lawrence overstates the primacy of reading and writing in early modern language pedagogy, and seems to relegate the acquisition of oral and aural competences to being a secondary accomplishment. He argues that ‘The English desire to read Italian fluently in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries is predicated primarily on a specifically literary interest,’ and sees instruction in pronunciation as only supplementary to the dialogues, arguing that

[e]ven if the Italian character in the earlier dialogue has learnt to speak English by reading, the interlocutors in Florio’s section on Italian grammar … seem to place the ability to speak the language accurately below the successful acquisition of a reading knowledge of it.112

Lawrence mentions Gabriel Harvey’s marginalia in his copy of Florio, but does not comment on the fact that Harvey bemoans not having ‘the mouth, and tongue’ of an Italian, and not the hand or pen of one.113 Harvey had noted the importance of spoken competence: reading in Scipione Lentulo’s Italian grammar that ‘the manner of pronouncing, cannot be shewed by writing: wherfore it is to be learned (p.83) of him that hath th’Italian tongue’, Harvey scribbled the words ‘viva voce’ in the margin.114 On the place of speech, Michael Wyatt comes closer to the reality suggested by conversational manuals when he argues that John Florio’s inclusion of complex material from his opening chapters onwards ‘reflects a pedagogical approach that values speaking above grammatical precision’.115 While there were individuals who learnt Italian wholly or partly as a language to be read and written (Lawrence offers the example of William Drummond of Hawthornden), evidence from conversation manuals bears out the argument that speech and listening were fundamental to early modern vernacular linguistic pedagogy.116 The manières de langage which were the medieval manuscript predecessors of the conversation manuals seem to have shared a preoccupation with the development of oral competence: in one text from 1396, writing was treated primarily as a means of recording spoken conversations, while appropriate speech was the main focus; in a series of fourteenth-century texts, the written material was accompanied by songs, which featured as pedagogical tools to complement a text which was focused on oral performance.117 This was carried through into the printed conversation manual tradition.

Authors of conversation manuals worked hard to teach pronunciation, and readers worked hard to learn it. Authors employed a variety of textual strategies to recreate the sounds of words and letters on the page, from the tiny marks under letters used by Claudius Hollyband to indicate silent letters in French, to the renditions of English phrases in French phonetics attempted by Jacques Bellot, in a text aimed at French-speaking migrants arriving in Elizabethan London (see Figure 2.4).118 John Eliot offered similar phonetic approximations in a small portion of his Ortho-Epia Gallica.119 Some authors took a physiological approach, describing the physical movements of the mouth that would produce the requisite sounds—Giovanni Torriano wrote that the accented a in Italian would require ‘a certaine jerke of the tongue’ on the part of the speaker.120 A curious section in (p.84) (p.85) Torriano’s New and easie directions for attaining the Thuscan Italian tongue (1639), borrowed and adapted from Lorenzo Franciosini, described itself as a ‘Dictionarie’, but was actually an attempt to offer rules for where the stress fell in Italian words depending on their endings, including an index of endings so that readers could easily look up the correct pronunciation of a new word.121 In works like those of John Florio and César Oudin, accent marks indicated where stresses fell in words in Italian and Spanish.122 Authors’ efforts to make their printed texts more easily translatable into spoken utterance were matched by some readers’ interventions in their books. One reader of John Florio’s Second Frutes (1593) hand-marked the stresses in words like ‘faréi’, ‘spauentéuoli’, and ‘leuárui’ to aid with pronunciation. This reader also added their own phonetic renderings of the Italian sounds for an English reader, for instance, writing ‘oo’ and ‘keea’ above ‘gucchia’ or ‘Lashio’ in the margin next to the word ‘lascio’ (see Figures 2.5 and 2.6).123 Annotations of this kind suggest a wider culture of reading for sound, and remind us that even where some conversation manuals did not make express provision for those who wished to speak their contents, readers could engage with and modify the text to serve their oral purposes.

Speaking BooksThe Early Modern Conversation Manual

Figure 2.4 Jacques Bellot, Familiar Dialogues (London, 1586). Bellot printed his dialogues in parallel columns of English, French, and English in French phonetics

Source: Folger Shakespeare Library, call number STC 1851, sig. C2r. Used by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Speaking BooksThe Early Modern Conversation Manual

Figure 2.5 John Florio, Florios second frutes (London, 1591)

Source: Cambridge University Library, Pet.B.4.35, p. 2. Reproduced by kind permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library.

Speaking BooksThe Early Modern Conversation Manual

Figure 2.6 John Florio, Florios second frutes (London, 1591)

Source: Cambridge University Library, Pet.B.4.35, p. 4. Reproduced by kind permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library.

Print was fundamentally insufficient for teaching another language, and authors often made a point of highlighting where the text’s usefulness as text alone ran out. Authors of texts frequently referred to the natural deficiency of print in not being able to fully represent the sounds of spoken language, and offered compensating advice to their readers. De la Mothe warned his readers, ‘do not thinke that my booke is able by it selfe to make you a good Frenchman’.124 His remedy for this pedagogical deficit was practice with a native speaker:

when you are pretily furthered in [the language], get you acquainted, if it be possible, with some French man, to the end you may practise with him, by daily conference together, in speech and talke, what you have learned. And if you be in place, where the Frenchmen have a Church for themselves, as they have in London, get you a French Bible, or a new Testament, and every day go both to their Lecture and Sermons. The one will confirme and strengthen your pronunciation, and the other cause you to understand when one doth speake125 (p.86) (p.87)

(p.88) The anonymous compiler of A plaine pathway to the French tongue (London, 1575) wrote that

for pronuntiation in this worke are contained brief rules, wherein if the learner occupieth him self, he shall nede no more to make him a perfect utterer of the speach, saving onely a little labour and leasure bestowed in the company and hearing of some Frenche man, without which no booke can throughlie instruct him126

Claudius Hollyband, always with one eye on commercial advantage, attempted to monetize the insufficiency of print, suggesting with regard to pronunciation that ‘if those, which be in London, wil resort to Pauls churchyeard, to the signe of the golden Ball, they shall heare by mouth, to satisfie their owne minde’.127 St. Paul’s churchyard was the site of Hollyband’s school. In Italian, Hollyband was just as circumspect about representing sounds in print: the sound of the letter Z, he said, could not be expressed on the page, meaning that ‘it is needefull for the learner of the saide language, to heare it by mouth’.128 Claude Mauger, the most prolific language teacher in Restoration London, admitted his own shortcomings: ‘I confesse, that the Living Voice of a Master is better, then all that can be set down in writing.’129 These author-teachers encouraged their students to go beyond the printed material and to engage with the language as spoken outside the text, though always bringing their knowledge of rules, forms, and basic language acquired from the manuals with them. The manual was meant to be used in dialogue with an oral world, and its prescriptions compared against the realities of speech.

Inside the covers of bilingual conversation manuals, the presentation of language-teaching material on the page changed over time and in dialogue with pedagogy and reading practices, with authors and printers eventually settling on a standard parallel-text format. The earliest printed language aids commonly employed interlinear rather than parallel translation—as, for instance, in Wynkyn de Worde’s 1497 English-French manual (see Figure 2.7).130 In this, they drew on the content and the presentation of their manuscript forebears, from Ælfric’s Colloquy (a medieval text for the teaching of Latin, copies of which contain interlinear glosses in the vernacular) onwards.131 The use of interlinear translation in language-learning materials did not disappear with the birth of print: rather, it (p.89) (p.90) remained a relatively common choice in printed conversation manuals up until around the middle of the sixteenth century. Interlinear translation can be found in mid-century manuals like A Very necessarye boke both in Englyshce & in Frenche (1554). It also appears in the Boke of Englysshe, and Spanysshe (1554), which is curious, because that text is based on the Solenissimo vochabuolista, a continental text whose other editions were arranged in parallel columns, suggesting there was a conscious choice made to rearrange the text for presentation in this way.132 In the period before 1550, readers of English conversation manuals could encounter the interlinear arrangement as well its parallel-text equivalent in print. Still later, an author like John Wodroephe could employ a method that included interlinear translation and printed marginal annotation in order to try to convey information on meaning, pronunciation, and syntax all at once: the result is almost unusably confused, but it stands as a reminder that the parallel text form as a standard emerged only gradually from a combination of tradition and innovation in pedagogical print (see Figure 2.8). With the exception of rare outliers like the 1688 edition of Peter Berault’s A New, Plain, Short, and Compleat French and English Grammar, authors of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century conversation manuals adopted the parallel-text form almost unanimously.

Speaking BooksThe Early Modern Conversation Manual

Figure 2.7 [Wynkyn de Worde], Here begynneth a lytell treatyse for to lerne Englysshe and frensshe (London, 1497)

Source: British Library, call number G.7570, sig. [A4r]. © The British Library Board.

Speaking BooksThe Early Modern Conversation Manual

Figure 2.8 John Wodroephe, The spared houres of a souldier in his travels. Or the true marrowe of the French Tongue (Dordrecht, 1623)

Source: Cambridge University Library, Bb*.2.15(C), p. 127. Reproduced by kind permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library.

The triumph of the parallel-text conversation manual had its roots in Renaissance pedagogical practices. Double translation—the practice whereby a foreign language would be translated into English and then, after a period, translated back into the original, and the translations compared—was fundamental to sixteenth-century English humanist pedagogy.133 Jason Lawrence’s study of Italian language-learning and literary imitation in the period has argued convincingly for the importance of practices of translation to individuals’ development of their own linguistic competence, as in the case of William Drummond of Hawthornden, who (p.91) (p.92) learnt by comparing Italian books closely with their English translations.134 The dialogues in some conversation manuals were used similarly: John Eliot, in his semi-satirical Ortho-epia Gallica, complained about language teachers whose ‘order in teaching’ was ‘only to read some halfe side, and to construe it, which is no great matter’.135 The ‘construal’ of a ‘halfe side’ refers to the blind translation of one column of text, as instructed by de la Mothe in his French Alphabet (first published in 1592). Once his reader had spent a good amount of time working through the sections on pronunciation and orthography, he urged them that ‘when you can read truly, & pronounce perfectly, then go about to english it’, checking their translation against the parallel column, and subsequently translating the same text back into French, and correcting it again. This was to be repeated several times a day and would, de la Mothe argued, lead the student to be able to read any book in French. After much practice of this kind, the student could progress to more difficult texts: de la Mothe encouraged them to buy a dictionary and use it to translate ‘the hardest booke you can finde’.136

The parallel-text dialogues of the conversation manual brought the silent written exercise and the vocal world of the classroom together. Claudius Hollyband offered a glimpse into classroom practice (he taught both children and adults) in a dialogue from his French Littelton: ‘Children, turne your lessons out of french into english: and then out of english into frenche: let us decline a noune and a verbe in french: how say you in french N: how do you call that in french?’137 The teacher in his dialogues advised his pupils to ‘[r]ehearse after supper the lesson which you will learne to morrow morning: and read it six or seven times: then having said your prayers, sleepe upon it: you shall see that to morrow morning you will learne it easely, and soone, having repeated the same but twise’.138 Oral practice and oral repetition of textual lessons was a useful method of memorizing and testing students’ knowledge. The employment of oral translation exercises in Hollyband’s noisy classroom is a reminder that, as Jennifer Richards argues in relation to Roger Ascham, double translation was ‘a homosocial as well as a linguistic exercise’: an activity that linked reading and writing to oral performance and social-pedagogical interaction.139 Conversation manuals frequently feature teachers correcting their students’ reading and recitation of (p.93) conversation manual materials: in Edward Richardson’s Anglo-Belgica, a governess admonishes her student, a young gentlewoman, for her oral rendition of a printed dialogue, saying ‘You do not pronounce well,’ ‘You take no pains’ (even more suggestively, the Dutch-speaking reader of one copy has annotated this section with some phonetic pronunciation notes on words in the English text (see Figure 2.9).140 In Pierre Erondell’s French Garden, a young female student named Fleurimond reads an exercise aloud, and is corrected on her pronunciation and delivery by her teacher, who urges her to ‘speake somewhat lowder, to th’end I may heare if you pronounce well: say that worde againe’. The teacher picks up specific mistakes in pronunciation, asking ‘Wherefore do you sound that s? Doe you not knowe that it must be left?’; he criticizes the speed at which the student reads, and even her physical performance of the activity of reading (‘Hold your booke higher, or else set it on a cushen’). Having assessed his student’s speech, the tutor proceeds to test her on questions of translation: ‘Construe me, what is that? do you understand that? tell me the signification in English.’141 The methods used by Fleurimond’s teacher include reading aloud, the criticism of pronunciation, and extempore oral translation: Erondell, like Hollyband, was a working teacher, and it seems reasonable to assume that both meant their dialogues to reflect their teaching practice.142 The dialogues of the conversation manuals written by them and by other teachers formed the foundation of a pedagogical method based on oral practice and performance.

Speaking BooksThe Early Modern Conversation Manual

Figure 2.9 Edward Richardson, Anglo-Belgica (London, 1689), part II, p. 88

Source: Image courtesy of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

What about less sophisticated conversation manuals, in particular those polyglot texts which offered little or no material on grammar or pronunciation, and whose texts were often seriously corrupt? These texts seem fundamentally impractical, and so their popularity in print markets throughout Europe demands an explanation. Could they actually be used as language aids? The significant historiographical problem posed by these manuals has recently been stated concisely by John Considine with regard to the Solenissimo vochabuolista text: ‘[it is] hard’, writes Considine, ‘to believe that anybody ever learned a language from it or made extended use of it for the purposes of communication across language barriers’. The text’s lack of information on grammar and pronunciation, its limited vocabulary provision, and the corruption of the text over time—the English is frequently mangled—made it essentially impractical. Considine concedes that ‘[t]he numerousness of the editions of this dictionary implies that it was much read; but it must have been read just for the pleasure of seeing the world divided up by language, (p.94) (p.95) and of being assured that the languages of Europe all divided it up alike’.143 The Solenissimo vochabuolista is not the only conversation manual that presents this problem: Noël de Berlemont’s Colloquia survives in many editions where the English text and certain other languages are corrupt—a predictable result when the type was being set by an individual who did not possess a working knowledge of six to eight languages, and was often working from an edition which was itself already corrupt. Within the polyglot manual tradition, this was recognized as problematic: Michael Sparke’s 1639 edition of the Berlemont text noted proudly that previous editions had had corrupt English and Latin, and that ‘I thought it a matter of good importance, to salve up this deformity, and to supply this defect.’144 But in spite of this, Sparke (or his father) had seen the popularity of the book on the continent and was confident of its good reception in England, since he told the reader that ‘I seeing the much use and good respect of it beyond the seas, thought it very fitting that it should be twice prest, to doe thee service.’145

Counter-intuitive though it may seem, the rudimentary layout of some of these polyglot conversation manuals need not, as Considine believes, have inhibited their usefulness, but may rather have enhanced it. To understand this, we need to look at how they were designed to be read. Crude and defective in printing though they often were, the manuals suggested and supported a utilitarian reading tied intimately to oral experience. Both the Solenissimo vochabuolista and the Berlemont appeared in editions which displayed six or more languages in parallel columns across two facing pages. The Sex linguarum (see Figure 2.10) advertised itself first and foremost as a vocabulary, with words in each language across two pages: Latin, French, and Spanish on the verso, and Italian (mislabelled as ‘Vuelsch’), English, and German on the recto.146

Speaking BooksThe Early Modern Conversation Manual

Figure 2.10 A sample section from Sex Linguarum (Venice, 1541)

Source: British Library General Reference Collection Voyn.11, sig. L2v–L3r.

The vocabulary takes up the vast majority of the book, giving way to basic phrases or elements of them, presented as in Figure 2.10. The six-column arrangement may be awkward, but actually allows for the manual to be used by a reader without any grounding in the grammar or syntax of the target language. This arrangement allows for—or, rather, insists on—the splitting up of expressions into discrete elements which can be easily compared across two pages. This leaves the reader with a toolkit of phrases which, along with the vocabulary—which is arranged not alphabetically but, like the phrases, topically—can be put together to form rudimentary sentences. In the Solenissimo vochabuolista text, both words and phrases alike are presented as units to be abstracted and recombined (p.96) (p.97) according to the situation. The Berlemont text faces a similar issue but a greater challenge, since where the Sex linguarum showed primarily small phrases and items of vocabulary, the Colloquia contains dialogues with sentences and phrases which frequently cross over into multiple lines. In this case, the multi-column format becomes a pedagogically useful element rather than a simple restriction. Even where the compiler attempts to show phrases too long to fit on a single line, these are frequently split up in such a way that the elements or phrases that make up a whole sentence are often presented discretely, as we see in Figures 2.11 and 2.12. The arrangement of the text may seem haphazard until it becomes clear that it has been arranged so that equivalent phrases within sentences are on the same line. The Latin has clearly been wrenched so that it fits more exactly the word orders of the surrounding European vernaculars; this can only be because the text was designed with this kind of utility in mind. The reader could read and learn the contextualized dialogues if they felt they were necessary, but they could also strip down longer sentences and phrases for parts—mouthfuls of language—to be reassembled as the situation demanded. Rather than being essentially unusable, as Considine deems the Sex linguarum, the form assumed by these small multi-column polyglot texts actually enhanced their usability, particularly given that they imagined a user who needed to be able to express themselves in six or more languages, and hence could not normally be expected to have a solid grasp of grammar and syntax in them all. While the competence that these texts allowed their readers to exercise had little of the refined language found in other manuals, it was utilitarian and adaptable to different situations.

Speaking BooksThe Early Modern Conversation ManualSpeaking BooksThe Early Modern Conversation Manual

Figures 2.11 & 2.12 Noel de Berlemont, Colloquia cum dictionariolo sex linguarum :Teutonicae, Anglicae, Latinae, Gallicae, Hispanicae, & Italicae (Antwerp, 1583), sig. C2v–C3r. –Cote : FB 926 128

Source: Tours, Bibliothèque Universitaire, Fonds Ferdinand Brunot – Bibliothèques Virtuelles Humanistes, CESR, Tours.

Another hint as to the anticipated usage of these manuals is in the fact that their vocabularies and phrases are organized not alphabetically but topically—the ‘onomasiological’ arrangement discussed in Werner Hüllen’s work on dictionaries.147 This was an arrangement found in varying forms across early modern printed conversation manuals—many texts embedded vocabulary lists into dialogues, placing all of the terms one might need to use to talk about clothing in a dialogue set at a tailor’s shop, for instance. This topical arrangement reflects an ideal of situational utility which is found throughout the corpus of early modern conversation manuals but is at its purest in the polyglot texts. These texts are perhaps the closest to the modern phrasebook—they contained little or no significant pedagogical programme beyond their vocabulary and phrases, and were designed to be hand-held and applicable to multiple situations by literate readers with no prior understanding of the languages they taught.

The authors of conversation manuals wanted their readers to practise a form of reading which looked outwards from the text—these were books whose information was waiting to be activated by experience in the social, oral world. In the same way (p.98) (p.99) that Stefano Guazzo argued that civil conversation could not be taught as a set of precepts but had to be learnt through social practice in the world, so too did conversation manual authors accept their own shortcomings and insist on a reading of the world outside which would inform the reading of the text.148 One comparable genre might be the early modern ballad: as Christopher Marsh argues, it is difficult to understand the bare printed text of a ballad without an insight into ‘the sound of print’: how it was performed and heard, and in what social contexts.149 This brings us back to Ralph Thoresby, with whom this chapter began, and to his use of a ‘book for the language’. By combining the study of a conversation manual with his careful observation of the realities of urban life, his lodging with a Dutch-speaking family, and some private schooling in the language, Thoresby could hope achieve a competence in Dutch that equipped him to use the language in social and professional contexts. The time he spent at the ‘Verke-mart’ (Varkensmarkt, or pig market) in Rotterdam was typical of this kind of learning: he noted that he had spent this period ‘in the town, observing the customs, &c’. By ‘observing the customs’ at work in the marketplace, he could supplement the language learnt at school and in his manual with the experience of a space in which negotiation was not a formal script but a variable social performance incorporating variations in tone, gesture, and behaviour as well as the linguistic material found in a manual’s dialogues. Observing it critically allowed him to supplement the linguistic and social primer of the manual with personal sensory experience, to test the knowledge of the books and of the schoolroom against the realities of the marketplace. When, in July, the family he stayed with (a foreign-language residence was another environment rich with educational potential) had praised him, it was for a competence derived not from a purely textual study, but from his usage of the conversation manual as part of a holistic pedagogy which brought experience of the social realities of language use and the sounds of the language itself to bear on the ‘intent’ study of the raw textual material. It was the pedagogical practice these manuals themselves demanded: the complementary reading of environment and text.


The conversation manual was a significant genre in early modern print, and one which underwent growth and development over the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This chapter has charted the rise of the genre in English print, looking at provisions for different languages which were often tied to political developments as well as fashionable trends. It has sketched a typology (p.100) of the conversation manual, and traced the ways in which developments in form drew on and influenced trends in language pedagogy. Having offered a picture of the growing trade in conversation manuals and the evolution of a genre, it has reconstructed ways of reading different kinds of conversation manual, resulting in a clearer picture than we have hitherto possessed of why these texts were produced, and what kind of usage they were meant for. The early modern conversation manual was not just a text of the scholarly and literary contexts which it has inhabited in much previous work, but existed and was used beyond, in the oral, sociable world which it drew on and was intended to feed back into. Following on from this picture of the trade in conversation manuals and the ways in which they were meant to be used, it is time to look more closely at the material they contained. In the Introduction, I argued that the early modern ideal of linguistic competence was fundamentally a social one, and that we should think less about one single ideal of competence, and more about multiple, variable, situational, social competences. Chapter 3 will look at a variety of competences with which different early modern conversation manuals attempted to equip their readers.


(1) Joseph Hunter (ed.), The Diary of Ralph Thoresby, F.R.S. Author of the Topography of Leeds (1677–1724), online edition courtesy of the Thoresby Society and the Leeds Library, at http://www.thoresby.org.uk/diary/1678.html, accessed 12 Mar. 2019.

(3) Ibid., part II, title page.

(4) Ibid., part II, pp. 74–83, 116–161.

(5) Ibid., part II, p. 162.

(6) On polyglot manuals, see Susan E. Phillips, ‘Schoolmasters, Seduction, and Slavery: Polyglot Dictionaries in Pre-Modern England’ in Medievalia et Humanistica 34 (2008), pp. 129–58; Werner Hüllen, ‘Textbook-Families for the Learning Of Vernaculars between 1450 and 1700’, in Sylvain Auroux (ed.), History of Linguistics 1999: Selected Papers from the Eighth International Conference on the History of the Language Sciences (Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1999), pp. 97–107. See also Alda Rossebastiano, ‘La Tradition des manuels polyglottes dans l’enseignement des langues’, in Sylvain Auroux, E. F. K. Koerner, Hans-Josef Niderehe, and Kees Versteegh (eds.), History of the Language Sciences, vol. 1 (Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 2000), pp. 688–95; Rossebastiano, ‘Prefazione’ to ‘Introito e Porta’: vocabolario italiano-tedesco compiuto per Meistro Adamo de Roduila, 1477 adi 12 Augusto (Turin: Edizioni dell’Orso, 1971); Rossebastiano, Antichi vocabolari plurilingui d’uso popolare: la tradizione del ‘Solenissimo Vochabuolista’ (Turin: Edizioni dell’Orso, 1984); Maria Colombo Timelli, ‘Dictionnaires pour voyageurs, dictionnaires pour marchands ou la polyglossie au quotidien aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles’, Linguisticae Investigationes 16 (1992), pp. 395–421; Gabriele Stein, ‘The Emerging Role of English in the Dictionaries of Renaissance Europe’, reprinted in Roderick McConchie (ed.), Ashgate Critical Essays on Early English Lexicographers, Volume 3: The Sixteenth Century (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2012), pp. 87–120.

(11) Culpeper and Kytö, Early Modern English Dialogues, p. 13. On other kinds of text—such as early modern letter-writing—which contain features considered characteristic of orality, see Andreas H. Jucker, Gerd Fritz, and Franz Lebsanft, ‘Historical Dialogue Analysis: Roots and Traditions in the Study of the Romance Languages, German and English’, in Jucker et al., Historical Dialogue Analysis, pp. 5–6; Fitzmaurice and Taavitsainen, Methods in Historical Pragmatics, pp. 19–20; Suzanne Romaine, Socio-Historical Linguistics: Its Status and Methodology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), pp. 17–18. On ‘oral residue’ in sixteenth-century English, see Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (London and New York, 1982), p. 115.

(12) The full list of manuals, including those not referenced directly in the text, is included as a supplementary bibliography. In assembling this bibliography, I drew on texts including R. C. Alston, A Bibliography of the English Language from the Invention of Printing to the Year 1800, Vol. 2: Polyglot Dictionaries and Grammars (Ilkley: Janus, 1967); Loonen, For to learne to buye and sell; Rossebastiano, Antichi vocabolari plurilingui; Spartaco Gamberini, Lo studio dell’italiano in Inghilterra nel ’500 e nel ’600 (Florence: G. D’Anna, 1970); Edward Gray, New World Babel: Languages and Nations in Early America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999); Lambley, Teaching and Cultivation of the French Language; Helmut Glück, Deutsch als Fremdsprache in Europa vom Mittelalter bis zur Barockzeit (Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 2002). The English Short Title Catalogue online—estc.bl.uk—was also a crucial tool in locating obscure manuals and confirming details of editions and physical characteristics.

(13) Nigel Stoughton, ‘“His hatband is made of diamonds”: France’s First English Textbook’, The Book Collector 60 (2011), p. 63.

(14) As examples of these more ephemeral texts, see François Cheneau, The shortest way to write and speak Latin, by numbers and rules, hereto unknown to masters (London, 1710?); Anon., Phrases Françoises fort necessaires pour ceux qui apprennent à parler françois, en forme de question (London, 1624)—a small (sixty pages) monolingual French text containing correct French phrases for learners who already knew their French verbs and some of the language but wanted to correct their speech.

(16) The scholarship on early modern grammars and dictionaries is far too broad to summarize here. On grammars of Italian, see Lucilla Pizzoli, Le grammatiche di italiano per inglesi (15501776): un’analisi linguistica (Florence: Accademia della Crusca, 2004); for Dutch, see Osselton, Dumb Linguists; on French, see the essays in Jan de Clercq, Nico Lioce, and Pierre Swiggers (eds.), Grammaire et enseignement du français, 1500–1700 (Leuven: Peeters, 2000); and Douglas A. Kibbee, ‘French Grammarians and Grammars of French in the 16th Century’, in Hans-Josef Niederehe and Konrad Koerner (eds.), History and Historiography of Linguistics: Papers from the Fourth International Conference on the History of the Language Sciences (ICHoLS IV), Trier, 24–8 August 1987, Vol. 1 (Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1990), pp. 301–14. On dictionaries, the work of John Considine is indispensable: John Considine, Dictionaries in Early Modern Europe: Lexicography and the Making of Heritage (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008); Considine, Academy Dictionaries 1600–1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014); Considine, Small Dictionaries and Curiosity: Lexicography and Fieldwork in Post-Medieval Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017). See also Werner Hüllen, English Dictionaries, 800–1700: The Topical Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).

(17) James Howell, A new English Grammar (London, 1662) contained a ‘Grammar of the Spanish or Castilian Toung’, to which was appended ‘som special remarks upon the Portugues Dialect’. See also Francisco Javier Sánchez Escribano, ‘Portuguese in England in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries’, Sederi 16 (2006), pp. 109–32.

(18) On the polyglot manual tradition, see Hüllen, ‘Textbook-Families for the Learning of Vernaculars between 1450 and 1700’; Rossebastiano, ‘La tradition des manuels polyglottes dans l’enseignement des langues’; Rossebastiano, ‘Prefazione’ to ‘Introito e Porta’; Rossebastiano, Antichi vocabolari plurilingui d’uso popolare; Timelli, ‘Dictionnaires pour voyageurs, dictionnaires pour marchands’; Phillips, ‘Schoolmasters, Seduction, and Slavery’; and Stein, ‘The Emerging Role of English in the Dictionaries of Renaissance Europe’.

(20) On the different types of text produced for early modern European language-learners, and the difficulties in establishing a strict typology, see Barbara Kaltz, ‘L’enseignement des langues étrangères au XVIe siècle. Structure globale et typologie des textes destinés à l’apprentissage des vernaculaires’, Beiträge zur Geschichte der Sprachwissenschaft 5:1 (1995), pp. 79–106.

(24) H. S. Bennett, English Books and Readers, 1475 to 1557: Being a Study in the History of the Book Trade from Caxton to the Incorporation of the Stationers’ Company (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1952), p. 226; Stein, ‘Emerging Role of English’, p. 93. Palsgrave’s Lesclarcissement is not strictly speaking a conversation manual by the definition given above, but it is included and discussed here for two reasons: firstly, it was one of the most important and accomplished manuals for the study of French published in the period and, secondly, the extent and detail of its pronunciation instruction means that, even if it does not contain conversational material, it is very clearly a text with the teaching of correct speech at its heart.

(25) Slack, ‘Mirrors of Health’, p. 239.

(28) On French, see Lambley, Teaching and Cultivation of the French Language and Kibbee, For to speke Frenche trewely. On the international nature of England’s early print culture, see A. E. B. Coldiron, Printers without Borders: Translation and Textuality in the Renaissance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

(30) On gender and competence in French, see Michèle Cohen, ‘French Conversation or “Glittering Gibberish”? Learning French in Eighteenth-Century England’, in Natasha Glaisyer and Sara Pennell, Didactic Literature in England 1500–1800: Expertise Constructed (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003), pp. 99–117; see also Gabriele Beck-Busse, ‘À propos d’une histoire des “Grammaires des Dames”. Réflexions théoriques et approches empiriques’, Documents pour l’histoire du français langue étrangère ou seconde 47–8 (2012), at https://journals.openedition.org/dhfles/3121, accessed 12 Mar. 2019.

(33) Abel Boyer, The Compleat French-Master, for Ladies and Gentlemen (London, 1694), sig. A5v.

(36) For a more detailed discussion of trends in Italian language-learning in this period, see John Gallagher, ‘“Ungratefull Tuscans”: Teaching Italian in Early Modern England’, The Italianist 36:3 (2016), pp. 392–413.

(37) Stepney, Spanish Schoole-master, A4v.

(39) Giovanni Torriano, The Italian Tutor or a new and most compleat Italian grammer (London, 1640), ‘To the right worshipfull and now most flourishing Company of Turkey Marchants’.

(41) Pietro Paravicino, Choice Proverbs and Dialogues, in Italian and English (London, 1660), sig. A4r.

(42) British Library, London, Harleian MS 3492, ‘Raccolta di Frasi Italiane’, fols. 4r, 3r.

(43) Ibid., fols. 5v–6r.

(46) Stephen Parkin’s account of Italian printing in early modern London broadly reflects these conclusions, seeing it as episodic and recognizing the slump in Italophile sentiment around the mid-century: Stephen Parkin, ‘Italian Printing in London, 1553–1900’, in Barry Taylor (ed.), Foreign-Language Printing in London 1500–1900 (Boston Spa and London: The British Library, 2002), pp. 133–174. On Italian printing in England until the middle of the seventeenth century, see Soko Tomita, A Bibliographical Catalogue of Italian Books Printed in England 1558–1603 (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009), and Soko Tomita and Masahiko Tomita, A Bibliographical Catalogue of Italian Books Printed in England 1603–1642 (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014).

(47) Donald Burrows, ‘George Frideric Handel, 1685–1759’ in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography online (https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/12192). Rossi’s manual, published in London but written in Italian and French, neatly illustrates the point that Italian was often at least the second ‘foreign’ language studied by any given learner—they would likely have had French (as assumed by Rossi’s text) or Latin, as assumed by a text like Francesco di Gregorio, Discepulo instrutto nelli Principij della Lingua Latina, spiegati per la Volgare & Inglese a modo di Dialogo (London, 1643).

(52) Stepney, Spanish Schoole-master (1591), title page.

(53) ibid., sig. A3v.

(54) Louis Wright argues that in spite of political antipathy, it was the increased trade with Spain that led to the boom in language-learning materials for that language at the end of the sixteenth century: Louis B. Wright, ‘Language Helps for the Elizabethan Tradesman’, Journal of English and Germanic Philology 30 (1931), pp. 343–4. The joke about the friar is Stepney, Spanish Schoole-master (1591), p. 66; the prayers are ibid., pp. 158–61.

(55) On Spanish print more generally, see Barry Taylor, ‘Un-Spanish Practices: Spanish and Portuguese Protestants, Jews and Liberals, 1500–1900’, in Taylor (ed.), Foreign-Language Printing in London, pp. 183–202.

(56) John Stevens, A new Spanish and English Dictionary: Collected from the Best Spanish Authors, Both Ancient and Modern … The Whole by Captain John Stevens (London: George Sawbridge, 1706); Pasqual Joseph Anton, Grammatica Española/A Spanish Grammar: which is the shortest, plain, and most easy method to instruct an English man in the true Knowledge of that extensive Language … By Dn. Pasqual Joseph Anton. Master of Languages in London (London, 1711), ‘To Her Grace the Dutchess of Shrewsbury’.

(58) Fredericka van der Lubbe surveys the factors in England and in the German-speaking lands which may have motivated the appearance of the earliest English-German materials: Fredericka van der Lubbe, Martin Aedler and the High Dutch Minerva: The First German Grammar for the English (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2007), pp. 33–48. See also Glück, Deutsch als Fremdsprache, pp. 323–37.

(59) German appeared in Anon., Here begynneth a lytell treatyse for to lerne Englysshe and Frensshe. Sensuyt vng petit liure pour apprendre a parler Francoys, Alemant, et Ancloys (Lyons, c.1525); Dutch in Anon., A lytell treatyse for to lerne Englysshe and Frensshe (Antwerp c.1530)—this latter text only survives in fragmentary form.

(61) Timelli, ‘Dictionnaires pour voyageurs’, p. 396; Stein, ‘Emerging Role of English’, passim. For more on the history of these polyglot texts, see Timelli, ‘Dictionnaires pour voyageurs’; Alda Rossebastiano, ‘Tradition des manuels polyglottes’; Caroline B. Bourland, ‘The Spanish Schoole-master and the Polyglot Derivatives of Noel de Berlaimont’s Vocabulare’, Revue Hispanique 81 (1933), pp. 283–318; Phillips, ‘Schoolmasters, Seduction, and Slavery’; Stein, ‘Emerging Role of English’.

(62) For instance, in the Dutch tradition, both Anon., Den grooten Vocabulaer Engels ende Duyts/The Great Vocabuler, in English and Dutch (Rotterdam, 1639) and Anon., The Dutch-Tutor: or, a new-book of Dutch and English. (London, 1660) borrow liberally from the Berlemont text, though the language is corrected somewhat from the corrupt state of the polyglot editions.

(63) The polyglot conversation manual has never quite died out. See, for instance, Barry McKay, Gay Phrase Book (London: Cassell, 1995), which teaches readers to ‘Get your man in six different languages!’

(64) Jacques Bellot, Familiar Dialogues, for the Instruction of them, that be desirous to learne to speake English, and perfectlye to pronounce the same (London: Thomas Vautrollier, 1586), sig. A2r.

(65) Stoughton, ‘France’s First English Textbook’.

(66) Johann König/John King, Ein volkommener englischer Wegweiser für Hoch-Teutsche/A compleat English guide for High-Germans (London, 1706), preface.

(67) Anon., A Short and Easy Way For The Palatines To Learn English. Oder Eine kurze Anleitung zur Englischen Sprach, Zum Nutz der armen Pfältzer/nebst angehängten Englischen und Teutsche ABC (London, 1710). This manual, and the linguistic aspect of the Palatine migration, are discussed in Chapter 3. For more on the printing of German manuals and German-language texts, see Graham Jefcoate, ‘German Printing and Bookselling in Eighteenth-Century London: Evidence and Interpretation’, in Taylor (ed.), Foreign-Language Printing in London, pp. 1–36.

(68) Anon., Den Engelschen School-Meester &c. The English Schole-Master &c. (Amsterdam, 1646), title page. Osselton, Dumb Linguists, contains a useful description of the study of English in the early modern Low Countries, pp. 23–33.

(69) ‘A tutti i Gentilhuomini, e Mercanti Italjani, che si dilettano de la lingua Inglese’: John Florio, Florio His firste Fruites which yeelde familiar speech (London, 1578), sig. **.i.r, **.ij.v.

(70) Hollyband, French Littelton, sig. *2v; Anton, Grammatica Española/A Spanish Grammar, ‘To Her Grace the Dutchess of Shrewsbury’.

(73) Ibid., p. 1.

(77) A.J., A compleat account of the Portugueze language (London, 1701); A.J., Grammatica Anglo-Lusitanica. See also Kemmler, ‘The Grammatica Anglo-Lusitanica’.

(78) Diary of John North, 1575–7, Bodleian Library, MS Add. C. 193, fols. 41r, 47r.

(80) Mauger’s grammar was advertised frequently: see Daily Courant, issue 945 (26 April 1705); London Gazette, issue 4438 (20– 24 May 1708); Daily Courant, issue 3908 (4 May 1714).

(81) Post Boy, issue 1890 (24–26 June 1707); Post Boy, issue 2828 (23–25 June 1713).

(82) Travel journal of Richard Symonds, British Library, Harleian MS 943, fol. 25v.

(83) Peter Lake, ‘Religion and Cheap Print’, in Joad Raymond (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Popular Print Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 219–21; Lauren Kassell, ‘Almanacs and prognostications’, in Raymond (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Popular Print Culture, pp. 437–8.

(86) A digitized edition of the manuscript primer has been made available online at https://www.isos.dias.ie/master.html?https://www.isos.dias.ie/libraries/MARSH/Irish_Primer/tables/2.html?, accessed 12 Mar. 2019.

(87) British Library, RP 209, fols. 5r, 25r, 28v, 49v.

(88) John Armytage, Italian manuscript phrasebook, West Yorkshire Archive Service (Calderdale), KE/8. On the vibrancy of scribal copying and manuscript culture well after the beginnings of print, see Julia Crick and Alexandra Walsham, ‘Introduction: Script, Print, and History, in Crick and Walsham (eds.), The Uses of Script and Print, 1300–1700 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 1–26.

(89) Lambley is good throughout on the textual histories of French-language materials: Lambley, Teaching and Cultivation of the French Language, passim.

(91) The rights to Hollyband’s Italian Schoole-maister were sold on in 1638, which R. C. Simonini reads as indicating a similarly long-lived popularity: R. C. Simonini, ‘The Italian Pedagogy of Claudius Hollyband’, Studies in Philology 49 (1952), p. 148.

(92) Hollyband died in 1597: Mark Eccles, ‘Claudius Hollyband and the Earliest French-English Dictionaries’, Studies in Philology 83 (1986), p. 61. After this, the 1602 edition of the French schoole-master claimed to have been ‘newly corrected and amended by M.R.F.’. The 1606 edition advertised itself as ‘now newly corrected and amended by P. Erondelle’. Erondell’s name is featured on the editions of 1609, 1612, 1615, 1619, and 1623. The editions of 1628, 1631, 1636, 1641, 1649, 1655, 1660, and 1668 carry James Giffard’s name, though I have been unable to discover more about him. The 1632 edition describes itself as ‘First collected by Mr C.H. and since often corrected by divers professors of the sayd tongue.’ Frances Yates argues that a number of Giovanni Torriano’s printed dialogues were inherited in manuscript from John Florio: see Frances Yates, John Florio: The Life of an Italian in Shakespeare’s England, pp. 322–33.

(93) Stoughton, ‘France’s First English Textbook’, pp. 58–61; Phillips, ‘Schoolmasters, Seduction, and Slavery’, pp. 132–3.

(94) Anon., A plaine pathway to the French tongue: Very profitable for Marchants, and also all other, which desire this same (London, 1575). The changes to the Meurier text are largely superficial: the orthography is corrected and the form letters are reprinted, though not in the secretary hand of the original.

(95) Compare, for instance, ‘Of Plays/Du Jeu’, in G.D.L.M.N. [de la Mothe], The French Alphabeth (London, 1592), pp. 150–1, and ‘Of Playes/Van Speulen’, in Marten Le Mayre, The Dutch Schoole Master (London, 1606), sig. F4r–F4v; the surrounding dialogues are also lifted from de la Mothe.

(98) Travel journal of Richard Symonds, British Library, Harleian MS 943, fol. 111v.

(99) Journal of a gentleman’s travels through Germany, Holland, Low Countries, British Library, Harleian MS 6427, fols. 55v, 55r.

(101) Considine, ‘Narrative and Persuasion’.

(102) For ‘noisy reading’, see Margaret Aston, ‘Epilogue’, in Crick and Walsham (eds.), The Uses of Script and Print, pp. 278–9; John Gallagher, ‘“To heare it by mouth”: Speech and Accent in Early Modern Language-Learning’, Huntington Library Quarterly 82:1 (2019), pp. 63–86; Adam Fox, Oral and Literate Culture in England 1500–1700 (Oxford: Clarendon, 2000), pp. 50, 19, 12. Compare Keith Thomas, ‘The Meaning of Literacy in Early Modern England’, in G. Baumann (ed.), The Written Word: Literacy in Transition (Oxford: Clarendon, 1986), p. 98.

(104) Anon., Plaine pathway to the French tongue, sig. A2r.

(105) De la Mothe, The French Alphabet, ‘An Epistle to the Reader’.

(106) John Wodroephe, The spared houres of a souldier in his travels. Or The True Marrowe of the French Tongue, wherein is truely treated (by ordre) the Nine Parts of Speech. Together, with two rare, and excellent Bookes of Dialogues … (Dordrecht, 1623), p. 13.

(107) John Amos Comenius, Porta linguarum trilinguis reserata et aperta. The gate of tongues unlocked and opened, Or else A Seminarie or seed-plot of all Tongues and Sciences. That is, A short way of teaching and thorowly learning within a yeare and halfe at the farthes, The Latin, English, French (and any other) tongue, together with the ground and foundation of Arts and Sciences, comprised under an hundred Titles, and a thousand periods, trans. John Anchoran (London, 1631), pp. 159–60.

(108) Wodroephe, Spared houres, p. 7.

(109) De la Mothe, French Alphabet, p. 100.

(110) De Luna, A short and compendious art, ‘An Advertisement necessary for the understanding of this Grammar’.

(111) Torriano, Italian Reviv’d, sig. [A4r.]

(112) Lawrence, Who the devil, pp. 5, 21–9 and passim.

(113) Ibid., p. 28.

(114) Scipione Lentulo, An Italian Grammer; written in Latin by Scipio Lentulo a Neapolitaine: and turned in Englishe: By H[enry]. G[rantham] (London, 1575). California, Huntington Library, call number 62184, p. 17.

(115) Wyatt, Italian Encounter, p. 168.

(116) Lawrence, Who the devil, p. 11.

(118) For Hollyband’s practice, see, for instance, Claudius Hollyband, The French Littelton (London, 1597); Hollyband, A treatise for declining of verbes (London, 1580). This seems to have become something of a trademark for Hollyband, appearing even in texts which seem unlikely to have been read aloud. See Gallagher, ‘To heare it by mouth’.

(119) Eliot, Ortho-Epia Gallica, sig. Cr–C2v.

(120) Giovanni Torriano, New and easie directions for attaining the Thuscan Italian tongue (1639), p. 3.

(121) Torriano, New and easie directions, pp. 37–75.

(122) John Florio, Queen Anna’s New World of Words (London, 1611); César Oudin, A Grammar Spanish and English: or a briefe and compendious Method, teaching to reade, write, speake, and pronounce the Spanish Tongue (London, 1622), for instance at pp. 216–17. A similar method is employed in the Portuguese materials published by ‘A.J.’ at the beginning of the eighteenth century: see Kemmler, ‘The Grammatica Anglo-Lusitanica’, p. 91.

(123) Cambridge University Library, Pet. B. 4. 35: John Florio, Second Frutes (London, 1593), pp. 2–4.

(124) De la Mothe, French Alphabet, ‘An Epistle to the Reader’.

(125) Ibid.

(126) Anon., Plaine pathway, A2r.

(130) [Wynkyn de Worde], Here begynneth a lytell treatyse for to lerne Englysshe and frensshe (London, 1497), sig. [A4r].

(131) Helmut Gneuss, ‘The Study of Language in Anglo-Saxon England’, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 72 (1990), pp. 3–32. I would like to thank Kate Wiles for this reference. See also Caravolas, La Didactique des langues, pp. 101–2.

(132) The books I have found which use interlinear translation of dialogic material in whole or in part are as follows: Anon., Here begynneth a lytell treatyse for to lerne Englysshe and Frensshe (London, 1497), and a reissue, Anon., Here is a good boke to lerne to speke French/Lytell treatyse for to lerne Englysshe and Frensshe (London, 1500?); Wynkyn de Worde, Here begynneth a lytell treatyse for to lerne Englysshe and Frensshe (London, 1498?); Anon., A lytell treatyse for to lerne Englysshe and Frensshe (Antwerp, c.1530); Anon., A Very necessarye boke both in Englyshce & in Frenche wherein ye mayst learne to speake & wryte Frenche truly in a litle space yf thou gyve thy mynde and diligence there unto (London, 1550); Anon., Lytell treatyse for to lerne Englysshe and Frensshe (London, c.1553); Giles Du Wés, An introductorie for to lerne to rede, to pronounce, and to speake Frenche trewly, compiled for the right high, excellent, and most vertuous lady, the lady Mary of Englande, doughter to our most gracious soverayn lorde kyng Henry the eight (London, 1533?), and the editions of the same text published in 1540? and 1546?; Anon., The boke of Englysshe, and Spanysshe (London, 1554?). Andrew Boorde, The fyrst boke of the introduction of knowledge (London, 1555?), mixes parallel and interlinear translation depending on the length of the phrase; the same is true of the 1562 edition. A very late example is Peter Berault, A New, Plain, Short, and Compleat French and English Grammar (London, 1688).

(133) The classic early modern English argument for double translation is found in Roger Ascham, The Scholemaster (London, 1570), though it was in use as a method before Ascham, being employed by John Cheke at Cambridge and by other mid-Tudor humanists. See William E. Miller, ‘Double Translation in English Humanistic Education’ Studies in the Renaissance 10 (1963), pp. 163–74; Kibbee, For to speke Frenche trewely, pp. 183–5; Howatt, History of English Language Teaching, pp. 24, 34.

(134) Lawrence, Who the devil, pp. 6, 11–12.

(137) Claudius Hollyband, French Littelton, sig. [C5v].

(138) ibid. sig. [C6v].

(139) Richards, Rhetoric and Courtliness, p. 126. While Jason Lawrence is correct to argue that double translation ‘has been almost entirely overlooked in critical accounts of sixteenth-century language-learning techniques’, it is important to note that this technique was not just a textual one: Lawrence, Who the Devil, p. 29.

(140) Richardson, Anglo-Belgica, part II, pp. 87–8.

(142) Erondell to Elizabeth, Lady Hicks, 1 September 1613, British Library, Lansdowne MS 93, fol. 29r.

(143) Considine, ‘Narrative and Persuasion’, p. 200.

(144) Anon., New Dialogues or Colloquies, and A little Dictionary of eight Languages (London: printed for E. G[riffin] for Michael Sparke junior … 1639), sig. A4r. In the 1637 edition which preceded this, Sparke (or perhaps his father) declared that ‘It spake the Latin, French, and Dutch well before, but the English too grosse, which is here refined’: Anon., English, Latine, French, Dutch, Schole-master, ‘To the Reader’.

(145) Anon., English, Latine, French, Dutch, Schole-master, ‘To the Reader’.

(146) Here, I am working from the Venice text of 1541: Sex linguarum, Latinae, Gallicæ, Hispanicæ, Italicæ, Anglicæ, et Teutonice, dilucidissimus dictionarius … (Venice, 1541).

(147) Hüllen, English Dictionaries, 800–1700, passim.

(148) On Guazzo and civil conversation, see Richards, Rhetoric and Courtliness, p. 24 and passim.

(149) Christopher Marsh, ‘The Sound of Print in Early Modern England: The Broadside Ballad as Song’, in Crick and Walsham (eds.), The Uses of Script and Print, p. 175.