The social milieu of eighteenth-century England gave rise to the middle classes. As their numbers, wealth, and influence grew, they felt the need for an authority on language to settle disputes of usage and variation. An English Language Academy was proposed but came to naught. Instead, dictionaries, such as Samuel Johnson’s, and grammars, such as Robert Lowth’s, took the place of a language academy. Together, dictionaries and grammars were felt to have accomplished the three goals that were deemed necessary: to ascertain, refine, and fix the English language once and for all.
And the introduction gives a summary of her approach:
Where do these rules and exceptions to the rule come from? This paper traces the beginnings of the phenomenon of prescriptive grammars in English. Part Two describes the milieu which led to the writing of prescriptive grammars. Part Three details the attitudes toward language itself that prevailed at this time. Part Four discusses the call for an English Language Academy and why it failed. Part Five shows that an English dictionary and an English grammar were found to be adequate substitutes for an English Academy. In Part Six prescriptive grammars are discussed in detail, and Part Seven shows what the results of this prescriptivist movement are today.
Her conclusion is admirably even-handed:
Whatever the grounds on which the decisions were reached about the correct standards, however arbitrary the choice, however faulty the reasoning behind the choice, the work of prescriptivist grammarians has indeed led to the fixing of an amazing number of points of disputed usage.
You can see some further quotes in aldiboronti’s Wordorigin.com post, from which I shamelessly stole the link. I swear, aldi, I’d split the profits from this site with you if there were any.