An Alvearie or Quadruple Dictionarie, containing foure sundrie tongues: namelie English, Latine, Greeke, and French

Chrzanowski 1580bEnglish dictionaries began as aids—basically word lists—to teach students Latin, the language of learning in schools. Promptorium parvulorum (Storehouse for the Little Ones) was the first dictionary printed in England. Compiled about 1440, the dictionary was published by Richard Pynson in 1499. It provided a list of about 12,000 (Middle) English words roughly in alphabetical order and their translation into Latin. In 1538, Thomas Elyot produced the first Latin–English dictionary (which was the first English dictionary to be called a dictionary). In the process of preparing it, he coined new English words when no equivalent existed. The 16th century’s first English–Latin dictionary was compiled by Richard Huloet in 1552. Containing 26,000 words, it was the first dictionary to include at least of few illustrations how the word was used in English.

Beginning about 1530, lexicographers began producing dictionaries to translate English to other vernacular languages—first French, then Welsh, and followed by Italian. One of the more noted examples was compiled by John Baret, a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1573. In the preface he relates how it came to be named An Alvearie (a beehive). Baret appointed his students “every day to write English before Latin, and likewise to gather a number of fine phrases out of Cicero, Terence, Caesar, Livie, etc., and to set them under severall titles, for the more ready finding them againe at their need. … [W]ithin a yeare or two they had gathered together a great volume [like] diligent Bees in gathering their wax and hony into their Hive.”

An Alvearie was a triple dictionary in English, Latin, and French. The present copy is the second edition, enhanced by Abraham Fleming in 1580 to become a quadruple dictionary, adding Greek. Numbered in the margin, each entry word is in English and generally followed by a definition or example usage, the Latin equivalent (with citations), and the Greek and French equivalents. At the back of the volume are alphabetical lists of Latin and French words, each labeled with the first letter and marginal number of its English equivalent for cross-reference.

One particular interest of Baret’s was English orthography and the need for spelling reform. The section for each letter of the alphabet begins with a preface, often used to make editorial remarks. Recognizing the utility of “K” and “S”, he begins his discussion of “C” with “This letter troubleth me worst of all, & maketh me wonder howe it got this third place of honour, or how so absurdely thus long usurped that dignitie.”

Chrzanowski 1580b *

STC 1411

Title List

1479–1550 | 1551–1580 | 1583–1608 | 1609–1675