At a time when medieval studies is increasingly concerned with historicizing and theorizing its own origins and history, the development of the study of Middle English has been relatively neglected. The Invention of Middle English collects for the first time the principal sources through which this history can be traced. The documents presented here highlight the uncertain and haphazard way in which ideas about Middle English language and literature were shaped by antiquarians in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is a valuable sourcebook for medieval studies, for study of the reception of the Middle Ages, and, more generally, for the history of the rise of English.
The anthology is divided into two sections. The first section traces the development of ideas about the Middle English language in the work of thirteen writers, including George Hickes, Thomas Warton, Jacob Grimm, Henry Sweet, and James Murray. The second section represents literary criticism and commentary by nineteen authors, including Warton, Thomas Percy, Joseph Ritson, Walter Scott, Thomas Wright, and Walter Skeat. Each of the extracts is annotated and introduced with a note presenting historical, biographical, and bibliographical information along with a guide to further reading. A general introduction provides an overview of the state of Middle English study and a brief history of the formation of the discipline.