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Gram[m]aire Cantabrique faite par Pierre d'Urte Min. du St Evangile natif de St Jean de Luz dela Province de Labour dans la Cantabrie francoise ditte vulgairem[ent] pais de basque ou biscaye, Escalberria ou bizcaya. [London, c

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Urte, Pierre d' (c. 1650-1720?)., Gram[m]aire Cantabrique faite par Pierre d'Urte Min. du St Evangile natif de St Jean de Luz dela Province de Labour dans la Cantabrie francoise ditte vulgairem[ent] pais de basque ou biscaye, Escalberria ou bizcaya. [London, c. 1720], manuscript on paper, [538], [2]pp., paginated (in a later hand) on rectos 1-537, in a uniform hand across the page (pp. 1-74, and 379-476) or in 2 columns pp. 75 -377, 476 ad fin.), in brown ink, paper watermarked PRO PATRIA and countermark CVW, upper hinge broken\nIbid. Dictionarium Latinocantabricum Dicçionário Latignescára. Vel Latignescarazco Dicçionariòa vel Dicçcionário Latign escarázcoa. [London, c. 1720], 5 volumes, manuscript on paper, vol. 1: a ab-amoenare, [533]pp.; vol. 2: amandatio-astrepere alicui, [548]pp.; vol. 3: astricte-caduciter, [450]pp.; vol. 4: caducu-cholera, [476]pp.; vol. 5 clericus-commotus, [470]pp. together 6 volumes, folio (320 x 195mm.), binding: uniformly bound in nineteenth-century brown calf by Hatton of Manchester, gilt Macclesfield arms on covers, spines gilt with red and green morocco lettering-pieces, all edges red


this virtually unknown grammar and dictionary of the basque language of labourdin in the french basque country is unique of its kind.

"De toute la Cantabrie Françoise où l'on parle le meilleur basque c'est dans la province de Labour, qu'on nomme Laphurdi, et surtout à S. Jean de Luz et à Sara deux paroisses de cette province distantes de deux petites lieux l'une de l'autre [actually about eight miles] ç'est çe que tout le monde avoue unaniment en ce païs la." So, with justifiable local pride, begins Pierre d'Urte's grammar, in which he sets out at considerable length the phonology, morphology, grammar, dealing particularly fully with the verb, with sentence construction etc. of  French Basque. As is detailed below, the Grammar has been published from a faulty transcript, but in such a limited way as to be virtually unobtainable, even in the grandest libraries, and its appearance, together with the Dictionary, about which almost nothing has been written, is a major event in Basque studies. "L'importance de cet ouvrage [the Grammar] se voit par le seul fait qu'il est peut-être la première Grammaire Basque qui fut jamais écrite" (Wentworth Webster).

Basque, as is well known, is unlike any other language. It is of great antiquity, and is known in nine dialects, of which Lapurdian (that found here) is one. Although famously unrelated to any other language, it would seem from the remains of Aquitanian, the language used by the non-celtic peoples of S.W. Gaul, that this was an ancestral form of Basque. Its geographical extent was once much wider, even extending to areas in which in historical times Catalan was found, and in 1349 the byelaws of Huesca in Aragon forbade the use of Hebrew, Arabic and Basque in the market place. Basque glosses exist as early as AD 950.

Trask (The history of Basque, 1997, p.196) writes that "The study of Basque morphology and syntax has made little progress in comparison with the study of phonology and the lexicon". The absence of literary texts has played an important role, and the d'Urte Grammar, although, as is so often the case, bedevilled by being forced into a Latin straight-jacket, and even to some extent the Dictionary (see below), is founded upon the ordinary quotidian use of a (then) undocumented and unsystematized language of immense complexity.

Basque has no grammatical gender (sex marking is generally made by lexical variation) and no noun classes. It is highly inflected: there are some twelve cases of the noun, but it is truer to say that it is not nouns or adjectives which are inflected but  'noun phrases'. This is something which can be seen in these works. The verb in particular in Basque, with its complicated use of auxiliaries, the richness of its non-finite verb forms (something of which d'Urte is clearly more than aware), and much else besides, is a fascinating subject.

Pierre d'Urte's Grammar seems to have been composed over a number of years. There are signs that as the work advances the French becomes more peculiar and more English is used, which would suggest that d'Urte began it as a fairly recent arrival in London. However the paper and script are uniform and represent a finished work. The hand is that also found in the Basque Old Testament Genesis and (part of) Exodus which was sold in the Macclesfield Bible sale in 2006 (lot 2412; see below). Pierre d'Urte seems to have been disorganised, as Webster puts it: "il se sert capricieusement de plusieurs langues dont souvent deux contribuent à former une seule phrase. Il n'y a aucun système suivi de poctuation, d'accent, de construction grammaticale. Pour comble de confision, les feuillets manuscripts n'étaient pas numerates. A une époque indéterminée, en les unissant pour les donner au relieur [Hatton of Manchester], le bibliothecaire de Shirburn Castle les laissa tomber: il s'empressa de les ramasser, de les arranger, de les numéroter, aussi bien que pouvait le faire quelqu'un qui ne savait pas le premier mot de la langue Basque. Si Pierre d'Urte avait observé un ordre quelquonque, cela n'aurait pas eu de consequence, mais ça n'était pas le cas...". But Wentworth Webster goes on to say, "Il ne faut pas néanmoins trop dénigrer Pierre d'Urte et sa grammaire. Il faut le juger par la science de son temps. Il fut le premier d'écrire une veritable grammaire de la langue Basque. La difficulté d'une telle tâche, les obstacles à surmonter" may be evaluated by reference to Larramendi's grammar of Guipuzcoan Basque published in 1729 in Salamanca (El impossible vencido). Larramendi wrote his grammar in Guipuzcoa in daily contact with Basque speakers, whereas d'Urte was far from home, in a foreign country and with no resources. His grammar is much larger than Larramendi's, and he devotes much attention to the verb. D'Urte's grammar is based on the language spoken at his time, in the French Basque speaking area, and he tells us that he writes only what he has heard said or said himself. Larramendi was a Jesuit with access to people and to books; in his own library he had various eighteenth-century Basque books, and a copy of the Basque translation of S. François de Sales published in Paris in 1664 (see J. Iturriaga, Larramendi: Biblioteca del santuario de Loyola. Catalogo y inventario de la biblioteca  personal, Bilbao, 1992). Books printed in Basque at Bordeaux and Bayonne before the eighteenth century are very few, and tend to be known in one copy only, e.g. Haramburu's Debocino Escuarra, mirailla eta oracinotequia Virginaren debocinoa, marinelena, eta san Francesen heren Orden... (Bordeaux: P. de la Cour, 1635; BL C 37.a.60), Selden's imperfect copy of the second edition of Esteve Materre's Dotrina Christiana (Bordeaux: Millanges, 1623; Bodleian 8o M 30 Th. Seld) or Volterre's Tresora hiroir lenguaiteaqua, francesa, espagnola, et a hasquara (Bayonne: F. Bourdot, 1642). In the eighteenth century, particularly at Bayonne, but also in Basque lands in Spain, many more works of popular piety etc. were printed and these, whilst far from common, do survive and details are afforded in the relevant volumes of the Répertoire bibliographique des livres imprimés en France au XVIIIème siècle (vol.1 for Bayonne).

One of the useful and well-tried tricks of language books is to signal by the use of suprascript letters which words in which language correspond. This is here particularly used in the section devoted to "Phrases familières". It is also used in the dictionary but for a different purpose.


The dictionary gives not simply word for word equivalents but it also groups together phrases and sentences, nominal, adjectical, verbal and adverbial, or a mixture of all categories, and thus affords much more information about the make-up of the language and its use. Had it been taken the end of the alphabet, it would have been a huge compilation, but as it is the text only reaches COM, and is preceded by 4 pages on the Basque verb, where d'Urte distinguishes 5 infinitive types of the verb: 1. Substantive - Mintçatçea - le parler. 2-3. with an auxiliary to indicate present and imperfect / perfect and pluperfect. 4 as imperative. 5 as future. These numbers are used throughout the text to distinguish the different infinitival types.

The dictionary proper begins with the preposition 'a' or 'ab' for which (and this is found throughout the work) various combinations (some purely nominal, other with adjectives or verbs) are given: "ab oriente, ab occidente, ab aquiline, a meridie, ab agro... ab incunabulis, ab infantia... utinem a primo ita tibi esset visum (óchola bada bérchala & horla iduritu balitçïtçu)" etc., all with Basque equivalents. Many of the entries are not words but phrases or sentences employing either the same 'root' word or others derived from it (e.g. the section based on the word 'alienus') in conjunction with other words, and sometimes in different persons of the verb, or moods thereof. It is thus not only a dictionary but serves also as a 'thesaurus'.

One gets the impression that the author has used something like a Gradus as well as a dictionary: "a Tenedo" (from Tenedos, the island near Troy where the Greek fleet hid when it left behind the Trojan horse) in Basque is hardly likely to have been much used. Neither perhaps is "pennis adjutus amoris" (amudioaren hegalez Lagundua). "Bucephalus" is accurately described: "Alexandre Erregueren camari haundiä vel ospenhauditácoa vel famóssoa". Pointing however to the use of a dictionary is a phrase like "bellicrepa saltatio" (enoplios orchesis in Greek), a war sounding dance, which is attested by Festus and seems to be used once in Ennius. This obscure expression, manifestly not common in Latin literature, is nevertheless translated into Basque. This, pace what d'Urte says à propos his Grammar, is not something he would have come across in his normal life, although it would be a perfectly good expression to use of, let us say, the war dances of Native Americans or even the Zulus at Rorke's Drift.

"Abietarius" (a joiner/carpenter) is hardly a common word, but it is used once in the Vulgate of Exodus and is attested by Festus, although pine trees ("abietes") are no doubt plentiful in the region. Occasionally an obvious loan word will strike one, e.g. "alopecia" (illerortçea, followed by "Illerortçeritassuna Vulpes laborant alopecia" and others of the same). Plant and animal names abound, e.g. "mustela alpine" (alpine weasel), Larresagúä. "Bassasagúä" or "Blatta" (cockroach; "harra; chiçhariä cedéna. chimitcha. cucússoa corriá"). The section devoted to the word "bonus" is, as one might expect, quite long. There is an interesting section on breeches "braccae" in their various forms, both external and internal, and such expressions are "cacare in braccis" (to shit in one's breeches) which has a whole raft of Basque equivalents, as does fear of the same (metu cacare in braccis. Beldúrrez vel beldurraren podorez galtçetan & caca equitea). The word "cacabare" which is (very rarely) used of the cry of the partridge ("cacabat perdrix" Epherras cantatçendu) is elaborately explained. The word "cacabus" meaning a cooking pot (a word used by Varro, Columella and in the Digest) is translated as "Eltçea. Marmita. haragui egosteco altçea & saldguiteco eltçea & kaldéra" etc.). The inclusion of many Greek words again points to the use of a dictionary (choragus - dantcalari vel Tocalari; choralis; choraules; chorda - harpa cordela vel lotcharria vel çurda; christianismus - guinstignotassuna... christiaütassuna; chrysalectus lapis - harripreciatu bonecaussa, horiaren coloreccoa...), and one is surprised to find the rare word for a heavily mailed soldier, "cataphractarius" (used in Byzantine times for heavy mailed cavalry), for which a Basque equivalent is given. Even stranger is another Greek compound (originally derived from a hapax legomenon in Euripides, kalliblefaroV meaning "having beautiful eyelids"), "calliblephara", a type of dye for colouring eyebrows, a word used by Pliny in his Natural History, where the existence of a Basque expression one imagines clearly points to the existence of the habit. There is an elaborate treatment of the various citrus fruits as of the various sorts of paper (s.v. charta and its derivatives, also including maps and nautical charts). The use of loan words from Romance can easily be seen in many, many words of which one must suffice as an illustration: Charites is glossed by both "hirur" and "graçias". Interestingly "baléa", from "balaena" is used for whale and not an Ur-basque word.

Verbs are frequently given elaborate treatment. There are some cross references, e.g. "adnati to agnati". Although two columns are used, the work is set out not in parallel form but consecutively, the Basque words or phrases being written beneath the Latin, and it seems originally to have been written in some 25+ sections before it was bound.

Pierre d'Urte seems to have been born about 1650. La France protestante (2nd edition, v, 1063) tells us that in 1706 "Pierre d'Urte de St Jean de Luz, prêtre converti" was "assisté à Londres avec sa femme et son enfant" by the payment of a sum of 15 pounds or 375 francs, which gives us a precise date for his being in London. At a meeting of the SPCK on June 21 1717, "Pierre d'Urte of Béarne in France formerly a Capuchin, being in years, and having a wife and one child, the Committee are of the opinion that he be allowed six pounds". The expression "being in years" might suggest that he was about sixty-five or seventy, and this would place his date of birth in about 1755 (which would tie in with his having been a godfather in 1669). Two years later, he seems to have remarried without the Committee's consent "for which he was excluded in the last distribution, since when he has gone off with his daughter by a former wife, and his present wife, being no Proselyte is not an object of the charity of the Commissioners".

He therefore seems to have spent some fourteen or more years here in London. Whether he was originally a Capuchin, we do not know, but the evidence clearly points to his being a convert from Catholicism to Protestantism. In any case, he would have been one of the legions of French refugees in England after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, who were so active in various crafts from that of silversmith to silk weaver as well as impecunious scholars. We know that he was connected with David Wilkins and the Basque version of the Pater noster printed in the 1715 Oratio dominica, but that seems to be the only knowledge we have of him in a scholarly context. It is however indicative of his knowledge of the Lapurdi dialect.

The Grammaire was published in its entirety in several numbers (30-32, 38, & 33-35 supplements) of the Bulletin de la Société Ramond of Bagnères-de-Bignorre (at one time a famous spa town) in the French Pyrenees, and then made into a single volume of more than 568 pages. Only one hundred copies were printed. The only copies in the UK are in the Bodleian (374.d.3) and the Taylorian Institute libraries in Oxford. The first section (to p. 75) was printed at the expense of the Société and the remainder was published by them, but largely paid for by Antoine d'Abbadie, member de l'Institut de France, and a Bascophile. It was edited by Wentworth Webster (1829-1907), an English Bascophile and scholar who, for the benefit of his health, lived abroad at Sare in the Basque country. At one time for about twelve years, Webster had in fact been Anglican chaplain at St Jean de Luz. Webster edited it from a distance - from a transcript from this Shirburn manuscript made by a Miss Lee of the staff of the Bodleian in Oxford where the original had been placed on deposit by the sixth Earl of Macclesfield. This, it would seem, had been arranged by the Reverend Andrew Clark (1856-1922), fellow of Lincoln College, who edited the Shirburn Ballads and Aubrey's Brief Lives, and who seems to have been the link between the library at Shirburn and [Thomas] Llewelyn Thomas of Jesus College, and indeed the Bodleian. Llewelyn Thomas (1841-1897) was scholar, fellow, librarian and eventually vice-principal of Jesus College, Oxford, and University reader in Welsh. He edited at Oxford in 1894 the translation into Basque by d'Urte of Genesis & Exodus (see Macclesfield Bibles, lot 2412). It had been intended that Thomas would be able to check things on the spot for the Grammar, but he died, as did the sixth earl of Macclesfield (in late July 1896), before the work was completed. Webster, in a letter pasted into the copy of the Grammaire dated 8 September 1900 addressed to Bodley's Librarian (then), outlines his difficulties: "The editor wishes to put on record the almost insuperable obstacles to accuracy in this edition. -The transcript of d'Urte's ms. was made by a copyist who had no knowledge of Basque. -The death of the Rev. Llewelyn Thomas of  Jesus College deprived the manuscript of the benefit of his collation. -The editor had to print from the transcript without having seen the original... -The work was set up by local French printers, who knew not a word of Basque, and who were often short of this or that type. The revision of the sheets had to be carried out by post, and for the most part, the editor was unable to get a final revise...". In his preface Webster says that L. Thomas's death and that of d'Abbadie obviously interfered with the work, and the death of the sixth earl meant that the manuscript had to be returned to Shirburn, where, apart possibly from another trip to the Bodleian in 1959, it has remained. Webster further states that he has kept all the compiler's mistakes, and only in a few cases has made small changes.

Webster also published a brief (24pp.) notice of the Dictionary at Bayonne in 1895 (Le Dictionnaire latin-basque de Pierre d'Urte), copies of which are also to be found in Oxford (Bod. 373.d.2,  L. Thomas's copy with some notes). Julien Vinson the French specialist on forests turned opinionated philologue and Bascophile, who founded and ran for many years his own journal (with his portrait), Revue de linguistique et de philologie comparée, published the preface on the verb in the July 1893 issue of that periodical. In one of his articles he even mentions the Welsh inserts in volume 3 of the Dictionary (1897 pp. 222 onwards), and is aware of the Williams connection, which these leaves so clearly show. Webster's De quelques travaux sur la Basque faits par des étrangers pendant les années 1892-94 (Bayonne, 1894, a copy of which he sent to Thomas), is an interesting account of much of the work done at this period, and contains much on the British contribution.


Ibid. Dictionarium Latinocantabricum Dicçionário Latignescára. Vel Latignescarazco Dicçionariòa vel Dicçcionário Latign escarázcoa. [London, c. 1720], 5 volumes, manuscript on paper, vol. 1: a ab-amoenare, [533]pp.; vol. 2: amandatio-astrepere alicui, [548]pp.; vol. 3: astricte-caduciter, [450]pp.; vol. 4: caducu-cholera, [476]pp.; vol. 5 clericus-commotus, [470]pp. together 6 volumes, folio (320 x 195mm.), binding: uniformly bound in nineteenth-century brown calf by Hatton of Manchester, gilt Macclesfield arms on covers, spines gilt with red and green morocco lettering-pieces, all edges red


There is no indication of this, but its date and the presence of the leaves in Welsh, must surely, as has been suggested in the past, connect it with the circle of Moses Williams and the group connected with the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge, with which the first earl of Macclesfield was himself connected. It would seem likely that these manuscripts and that of the translation into Basque of Genesis and part of Exodus came into the library at the death of Moses Williams when the important Welsh archive was acquired. As is well known, it was erroneously held in the first half of the eighteenth century that Basque and the Celtic languages were connected, and indeed much later when George Borrow took up the language, he believed that there was a connection with Irish.

*Note that the price is not recalculated to the current value, but refers to the actual final price at the time the product was sold.

*Note that the price is not recalculated to the current value, but refers to the actual final price at the time the product was sold.