>A few days ago I posted about Elizabeth Elstob (1683-1756), the first female scholar of the Anglo-Saxon language in history. I scanned the title page of her last book (Rudiments of Grammar). We also have a great copy of her first major publication (shown here), which was owned by her aunt (her father’s sister-in-law) Matilda, whose name in written on one of the fly leaves.
This is Aelfric’s tenth century life of Pope Gregory the Great. It is in both Old and modern English, and contains copious critical and explanatory notes. Elstob’s portrait can be found in the historiated initial “G” at the beginning of the modern translation.
Though small in size and only partly available in print Elizabeth Elstob’s scholarly oeuvre is on a par with the best work produced in Anglo-Saxon studies at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Moreover, her concept of writing her Old English grammar in English, and of providing her editions with a critical apparatus, introductions, and translations-all in English-at a time when scholarly publications in the field were almost invariably written throughout in Latin, clearly pointed to the future. The evidence of her works and letters does not permit the conclusion-often drawn-that her books were written in English to cater for the demands and abilities of the women of the leisured classes. No doubt she aimed to include women among the readership of her books but her primary concern was with Anglo-Saxon studies. By the early eighteenth century scholarship in that domain (culminating in the publication of Hickes’s Thesaurus) had attained a level that was not to be surpassed for more than a century; but the future of the subject was threatened, nevertheless, by public neglect and lack of financial security for scholars working in the field. This is the context in which to judge Elizabeth Elstob’s attempts to arouse genuine interest in the Anglo-Saxon past in a wider-both male and female-public than had hitherto been reached. Her learned contemporaries (men such as George Hickes, Humfrey Wanley, John Hudson, Richard Rawlinson, Ralph Thoresby, and Edward Rowe Mores) and scholars in the early nineteenth century appear to have appreciated her aims and scholarly standing more perceptively than twentieth-century critics, who have often judged her by the criteria of the moving details of her biography and her role as a woman in a male-dominated society. (M. Gretsch, new DNB).