Monday, 10 October 2016

Lexicographers and Library Treasures

"REFERENCE, s. (from refer.)
Relation; respect; view toward, allusion to. Raleigh."  Samuel Johnson, Dictionary

King George III's Library at the British Library, London  © British Library

For many of the books I pull from the shelf for reference --  like Shakespeare, Evelyn, Johnson, Dickens, Pevsner --  I have a clear image of the author,  but several I rely on equally are just names, like Roget, Kennedy, and Brewer, so this blog celebrates these indispensable nineteenth century scholars.

"The man is not wholly evil, he has a Thesaurus in his cabin."  J.M. Barrie on Captain Hook

Peter Mark Roget, physician, writer and scholar, was born in Soho in January 1779, graduating from Edinburgh in 1798.  He travelled on the continent and worked as tutor and physician in many places, finally settling in London as a professor of physiology, where he was an active member of the Royal Society and many other scientific institutions.  
Very much a child of the Enlightenment, in 1825 he contributed to the very early development of moving pictures with his observations on the retina's retained images,  and his work on natural selection in Animal and Vegetable Physiology,  published in 1833-4, was a forerunner to Darwin.

His early life was very unsettled; several close relatives died young or suffered mental problems, and he found list-making kept away depression.  As early as 1805 he was cataloguing words and phrases, and in his retirement he worked on his Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases, published in 1852 and never since out of print.  What writer, reader, or crossword devotee does not possess a well-thumbed copy on their bookshelf?

Strahov Monastery Library, Prague
The Theosophical Hall contains a vast collection of Bibles

Benjamin Hall Kennedy  Born in 1807, Benjamin H. Kennedy was a contemporary of Darwin at school.   An outstanding classical scholar at St. John's College, Cambridge, he took holy orders in 1824, and was a well-regarded headmaster at Shrewsbury School from 1836-1866.  His retirement also saw the first publication of his Latin Primer for Schools. Kennedy was a keen supporter of education for women and campaigned for the women students of Girton and Newnham to have full access to the University lectures and examinations.   It is not surprising then, that in 1888 he relied on his two daughters'  help for the revised edition of the Primer;  with its new rhyming mnemonics to guide even the dullest scholar, it became an indispensable success. To this day I can quote the 5 line verse for spotting the ablative absolute, without (until I looked it up) remembering what was an ablative absolute. (and see

The Teleki-Bolyai Library, Targu-Mures, Romania
In this eighteenth century public library founded by Count Samuel Teleki, chancellor of Transylvania,  in 1802, you can see works by Galileo, Descartes, Locke and Newton, as well as books they will have studied.

Ebenezer Cobham Brewer  Born in Norwich in 1810, Brewer graduated in law from Trinity Hall, Cambridge; he then taught at his father's school and wrote textbooks on education, literature and science.  He travelled and lived in Paris for six years the 1850s, where he married, and then concentrated on his writing.
He began his "treasury of literary bric-a-brac", The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable in the 1860s, publishing it in 1870, and revising it in 1894.  It runs from A: "modified from the Hebrew aleph = an ox",  to Z: " Zulfagar, Ali's sword" .  As he explained, "I have always read with a slip of paper and a pencil at my side, to jot down whatever I think may be useful to me, and these jottings I keep sorted in different lockers."  His methodical labour and lively mind created a beguiling treasury for us, as well as a lasting work of reference.

The New York Public Library Reading Room
As well as its inspiring architecture and collections, it has a wonderful collection of authors' manuscripts, including A.A. Milne's "Winnie the Pooh".

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