Get Walter Skeat essential facts below. View Videos or join the Walter Skeat discussion. Add Walter Skeat to your PopFlock.com topic list for future reference or share this resource on social media.
19th/20th-century British philologist
Walter William Skeat
Walter William Skeat, FBA (21 November 1835 – 6 October 1912) was the pre-eminent British philologist of his time. He was instrumental in developing the English language as a higher education subject in the United Kingdom.
In 1860, Skeat was ordained an Anglican deacon and married Bertha Clara. In December 1860, he became a curate at East Dereham, where he served during 1861 and most of 1862. From 1862 to 1863, Skeat served as the curate at Godalming, Surrey. In October 1864, he returned to Cambridge University as a mathematics lecturer, a position he held until 1871.
Skeat soon developed an interest in the history of the English language. In 1870, Skeat and Henry Bradshaw collaborated on an edition on Geoffrey Chaucer for the University of Oxford. However, the project fell through when Bradshaw failed to keep his commitment. In 1894, Skeat published a six-volume edition on Chaucer; a supplementary volume, Chaucerian Pieces, was published in 1897.
Skeat was the founder and only president of the English Dialect Society from 1873 to 1896. The society's purpose was to collect materials for the publication of The English Dialect Dictionary. The society was dissolved in 1897.
In pure philology, Skeat's principal achievement was his An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language (4 parts, 1879-1882; rev., and enlarged, 1910). While preparing the dictionary, he wrote hundreds of short articles on word origins for the London-based journal Notes and Queries.
Skeat also coined the term ghost word and was a leading expert in this subject. Skeat was also a pioneer of place-name studies. His major publications in this field include:
Skeat produced what is still the main edition of Ælfric of Eynsham's Lives of the Saints; the edition includes translations which were largely the work of two women referred to as Mss Gunning and Wilkinson, who were credited in the preface to his edition.
According to A. J. Wyatt, Skeat 'was not a great teacher ... he left the teaching to those who had learned from him'---i.e. Wyatt himself and Israel Gollancz---'his teaching was episodic. Yet his lectures were eagerly followed by the fit though few; they were always interesting when least utilitarian, when he forgot examinations and syllabuses, and poured forth from the quaint storehouse of his motley memory things new and old'.
Skeat's pedagogical works include:
Specimens of English from 1394 to 1597 (1871)
Specimens of Early English from 1298 to 1393 (1872), in conjunction with Richard Morris
Principles of English Etymology (2 series, 1887 and 1891)
A Primer of Classical and English Philology (1905)
Skeat was one of the very few scholars in English studies who had sufficient expertise to compete with the state-employed and tenured colleagues from German universities.
Like Henry Sweet, Skeat regarded Geoffrey Chaucer and other medieval English authors as part of his national heritage and objected to German scholars publishing works on them. At one point, Skeat exclaimed that even though he was "...to some extent disqualified, as being merely a native of London, in which city Chaucer himself was born," he should be able to contribute scholarship on Chaucer without perceived German interference.
^ abInterpreters of Early Medieval Britain, ed. Michael Lapidge, Oxford University Press (on behalf of the British Academy), 2002, p. 37
^Buckingham, James Silk; Sterling, John; Maurice, Frederick Denison; Stebbing, Henry; Dilke, Charles Wentworth; Hervey, Thomas Kibble; Dixon, William Hepworth; MacColl, Norman; Rendall, Vernon Horace; Murry, John Middleton (27 March 1897). "English Philology". The Athenaeum. No. 3622. pp. 413-414.
^Kenneth Sisam, "Skeat, Walter William (1835-1912)", rev. Charlotte Brewer, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2008 accessed 23 Feb 2017
^Skeat, Walter William; Presidential address on 'Ghost-Words' in: Transactions of the Philological Society, 1885-87, pp. 350-373; Published for the society by Trübner & Co., Ludgate Hill, London, 1887.
^Geoffrey Chaucer, A treatise on the astrolabe addressed to his son Lowys by Geoffrey Chaucer, A.D. 1391, edited from the earliest MSS, ed. by Walter W. Skeat, Early English Text Society, Extra Series, 16 (London: Trübner, 1872).
^The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, ed. by Walter W. Skeat (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1894-1897).
^Ælfric's Lives of Saints: Being a Set of Sermons on Saints' Days Formerly Observed by the English Church, Edited from Manuscript Julius E. VII in the Cottonian Collection, with Various Readings from Other Manuscripts, ed. by Walter W. Skeat, Early English Text Society, Original Series, 76, 82, 94, 114, 2 vols (London: Trübner, 1881-1900).
^Obituary of Skeat in The Cambridge Review, 34 (1912), 15, cited by Michael Lapidge, 'Introduction: The Study of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic in Cambridge, 1878--1999', in H. M. Chadwick and the Study of Anglo-SAxon, Norse and Celtic in Cambridge, ed. by Michael Lapidge (Aberystwyth: CMCS Publications, 2015) [=Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies, 69/70 (2015)], pp. 1--58 (p. 12 n. 44).