From the letters and documents that relate to Palsgrave's life we learn very little about the composition of Lesclarcissement de la langue francoyse. Our only sources of information are his contract with Richard Pynson for the printing of the work and Stephen Vaughan's letter to Thomas Cromwell. Both precede the actual date of publication, 1530, and might enlighten us on stages of the work. In this chapter we shall look at them more closely and assess how far they are in line with what Palsgrave tells us about his work, its beginnings, its progress, and its difficulties, as well as his aim in Lesclarcissement de la langue francoyse itself.
Several copies of the Lesclarcissement have been preserved, but it has always been pointed out in the literature that Palsgrave's masterpiece was a very precious and rare work. T. F. Dibdin in his enlarged edition of Joseph Ames's Typographical Antiquities describes it as follows: 'This seems to be the FIRST GRAMMAR OF THE FRENCH LANGUAGE in our own country, if not in Europe . . . It is undoubtedly a noble performance, and reflects equal credit upon the author and the age' ( Ames 1816/1969: 364). Since he had found that 'it is by no means of common occurrence', Dibdin gives us an account of the copies known to exist:
Mr. Bliss considers it a volume of peculiar rarity; as Anthony à Wood knew of only one copy of it, which was Selden's, now in the Bodleian library. Athen. Oxon. vol. i. Col. 122, edit. 4to. [this refers to the seventeenth century] Mr. Bliss discovered another copy (at Bristol); and I have seen and examined not fewer than five copies; in the libraries of Earl Spencer, Mr. R. Wilbraham, Mr. Dobree, senr. Mr. Douce, and Mr. Heber. They are usually in fine condition. (ibid.)
Sir Henry Ellis, in his Original Letters of 1846, writes 'Very few copies of this work are now known to exist, probably not more than seven or