Geoffrey the Grammarian (DNB00)

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GEOFFREY the Grammarian, alias Starkey (fl. 1440), compiler of the ‘Promptorium Parvulorum,’ is said by himself in the preamble to the ‘Promptorium’ (Way's edition, pp. 1–3) to have been a friar-preacher at Lynn. He was bred, if not born, in Norfolk, for he says that he had followed only the manner of speech of the county of Norfolk, which he had learnt from infancy and of which alone he had perfect knowledge. To this he adds that he was ‘reclusus,’ which word he probably uses in its strict sense of ‘ankyr,’ one who was shut up in a building specially appropriated to the purpose, and with a solemn service, by episcopal sanction; after which he could not leave his cell except in case of necessity or with the leave of the bishop; he himself explains ‘ankyr’ as ‘recluse, Anachorita’ (p. 12). The name of the author is given in Hearne's edition of Langtoft (ii. 624) as Richard Fraunces, on the strength of a manuscript note in a copy of Pynson's edition of 1499, but a similar note in another copy of the same edition gives the author as ‘Galfredus Grammaticus dictus,’ and with this Bale, himself an East-Anglian, and writing about a century after the author's time, agrees (p. 631). Bishop Tanner, finding as a note in the margin of the Lincoln MS. ‘Galfredus Starkey,’ conjectured this to be the full name of the author, but it is equally likely to be that of a former owner of the volume. Geoffrey speaks of himself as ignorant and unskilled, but, pitying the destitution of young clerks, he had drawn up for their use a slight compendium. This is the English-Latin dictionary known as the ‘Promptorium Parvulorum,’ also called ‘Promptorius Parvulorum,’ ‘Promptorius Puerorum,’ and ‘Promptuarium Parvulorum Clericorum.’ This last title is doubtless the most correct. The promptuarium of a monastery was a store-room, and the word is similarly used by other writers, e.g. ‘Promptuarium Vocabulorum,’ published at Antwerp in 1516. The author arranges the English words in alphabetical order, first placing under every letter the nouns and other parts of speech except the verbs, and then the verbs by themselves. Each English word is interpreted by one or more Latin words, whose gender, declension, &c., are noted, and in many cases English synonyms or paraphrases are added. The work is valuable as an authentic record of the English of the fifteenth century, as illustrative of the East-Anglian dialect, and explanatory of much debased Latin. Geoffrey himself gives his sources of information, chiefly consisting of the writings of previous grammarians, and especially of John Garland [q. v.] The ‘Promptorium’ was printed by Pynson 1499, by W. de Worde 1510, 1512, 1516, 1518, 1519 (?), 1522, and 1528, and by Julian Notary 1508. It has been edited for the Camden Society in 3 vols., by Albert Way, in whose third volume there is a very full account and discussion. The most important manuscript of the ‘Promptorium’ is Harl. MS. 221. Five others are known. Bale attributes to Geoffrey the following works: ‘In Doctrinale Alexandri’ (i.e. Neckam), lib. iii.; ‘In Johannis Garlandi Synonyma,’ lib. i.; ‘In Equivoca ejusdem,’ lib. i.; ‘Expositiones Hymnorum,’ lib. i.; ‘Hortus Vocabulorum,’ lib. i.; ‘Medulla Grammatices,’ lib. i.; ‘Præceptiones Pueriles,’ lib. i., all of which he says he had seen printed at Paris and London. The ‘Synonyma’ and ‘Equivoca’ were several times printed by Pynson and Wynkyn de Worde ‘cum expositione Magistri Galfridi Anglici,’ who may reasonably be identified with the author of the ‘Promptorium.’ From his quotation of the ‘Incipit,’ Bale's ‘Medulla’ seems to have been the same work as the ‘Promptorium.’ The colophon to Pynson's edition of 1499 says: ‘Finit opus … quod nuncupatur Medulla grammatice.’ There is, however, another ‘Medulla Grammatice,’ a Latin-English dictionary, of which seventeen manuscripts are extant; this has been with great probability ascribed to Geoffrey. The ascriptions in the manuscript are apparently by a later hand. The ‘Hortus’ or ‘Ortus’ is also a Latin-English dictionary (the first printed in England, W. de Worde, 1500); it seems to be a modified reproduction of the ‘Medulla.’ A ‘Liber Hymnorum’ is bound up with the Lincoln MS. (A. 3, 15) of the ‘Medulla,’ and is there stated to be by the same author. To Bale's list Pits erroneously adds ‘In Poetria Nova,’ a poem by Geoffrey Vinsauf. Bale and Pits give Geoffrey's date as 1490; 1440 is the date given by the author himself in his preamble.

[Way's edition of the Promptorium, vol. iii. (Camd. Soc.); article on Latin-English and English-Latin Lexicography by Professor J. E. B. Mayor in the Journal of Classical and Sacred Philology, vol. iv.; Dibdin's Typ. Ant. ii. 155-8, 406, 416; Bale, p. 631; Pits, p. 679; Tanner, p. 305.]

C. L. K.