1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Skeat, Walter William

SKEAT, WALTER WILLIAM (1835–), English philologist, was born in London on the 21st of November 1835, and educated at King's College, Highgate Grammar School, and Christ's College, Cambridge, of which he became a fellow in July 1860. In 1878 he was elected Ellington and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Cambridge. He completed Mitchell Kemble's edition of the Anglo-Saxon Gospels, and did much other work both in Anglo-Saxon and in Gothic, but is perhaps most generally known for his labours in Middle English, and for his standard editions of Chaucer and Piers Plowman (see Langland) As he himself generously declared, he was at first mainly guided in the study of Chaucer by Henry Bradshaw, with whom he was to have participated in the edition of Chaucer planned in 1870 by the University of Oxford, having declined in Bradshaw's favour an offer of the editorship made to himself. Bradshaw's perseverance was not equal to his genius, and the scheme came to nothing for the time, but was eventually resumed and carried into effect by Skeat in an edition of six volumes (1894), a supplementary volume of Chaucerian Pieces being published in 1897. He also issued an edition of Chaucer in one volume for general readers, and a separate edition of his Treatise on the Astrolabe, with a learned commentary. His edition of Piers Plowman in three parallel texts was published in 1886; and, besides the Treatise on the Astrolabe, he edited numerous books for the Early English Text Society, including the Bruce of John Barbour, the romances of Havelock the Dane and William of Palerne, and Ælfric's Lives of the Saints (4 vols.). For the Scottish Text Society he edited The Kingis Quair, usually ascribed to James I. of Scotland, and he published an edition (2 vols., 1871) of Chatterton, with an investigation of the sources of the obsolete words employed by him. In pure philology Skeat's principal achievement is his Etymological English Dictionary (4 parts, 1879–1882; rev. and enlarged, 1910), the most important of all his works, which must be considered in connexion with the numerous publications of the English Dialect Society, in all of which, even when not edited by himself, he had a hand as the founder of the society and afterwards its president.

His other works include: Specimens of English from 1394 to 1597 (1871); Specimens of Early English from 1298 to 1393 (1872), in conjunction with R. Morris; Principles of English Etymology (2 series, 1887 and 1891); A Concise Dictionary of Middle English (1888), in conjunction with A. L. Mayhew; A Student's Pastime (1896), a volume of essays; The Chaucer Canon (1900); A Primer of Classical and English Philology (1905), &c, &c.