The evolution of English lexicography
James Augustus Henry Murray

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The Evolution of English Lexicography

M.A., LL.D., D.C.L., PH.D.



When the 'Act to facilitate the provision of Allotments for the
Labouring Classes' was before the House of Commons in 1887, a
well-known member for a northern constituency asked the Minister who
had charge of the measure for a definition of the term _allotment_,
which occurred so often in the Bill. The Minister somewhat brusquely
told his interrogator to 'look in the Dictionary,' at which there was,
according to the newspapers, 'a laugh.' The member warmly protested
that, being called upon to consider a measure dealing with things
therein called 'Allotments', a term not known to English Law, nor
explained in the Bill itself, he had a right to ask for a definition.
But the only answer he received was 'Johnson's Dictionary! Johnson's
Dictionary!' at which, according to the newspapers, the House gave
'another laugh,' and the interrogator subsided. The real humour of the
situation, which was unfortunately lost upon the House of Commons,
was, that as agricultural allotments had not been thought of in the
days of Dr. Johnson, no explanation of the term in this use is to be
found in Johnson's Dictionary; as, however, this happened to be
unknown, alike to the questioner and to the House, the former missed a
chance of 'scoring' brilliantly, and the House the chance of a third
laugh, this time at the expense of the Minister. But the replies of
the latter are typical of the notions of a large number of persons,
who habitually speak of 'the Dictionary,' just as they do of 'the
Bible,' or 'the Prayer-book,' or 'the Psalms'; and who, if pressed as
to the authorship of these works, would certainly say that 'the
Psalms' were composed by David, and 'the Dictionary' by Dr. Johnson.

I have met persons of intelligence who supposed that if Dr. Johnson
was not the sole author of 'the Dictionary'--a notion which, in view
of the 'pushfulness' wherewith, in recent times, Dictionaries,
American and other, have been pressed upon public notice, is now not
so easily tenable--he was, at least, the 'original author,' from whose
capacious brain that work first emanated. Whereas, in truth, Dr.
Johnson had been preceded by scores of workers, each of whom had added
his stone or stones to the lexicographic cairn, which had already
risen to goodly proportions when Johnson made to it his own splendid

For, the English Dictionary, like the English Constitution, is the
creation of no one man, and of no one age; it is a growth that has
slowly developed itself adown the ages. Its beginnings lie far back in
times almost prehistoric. And these beginnings themselves, although
the English Dictionary of to-day is lineally developed from them, were
neither Dictionaries, nor even English. As to their language, they
were in the first place and principally Latin: as to their substance,
they consisted, in large part at least, of _glosses_. They were Latin,
because at the time to which we refer, the seventh and eighth
centuries of our era, Latin was in Western Europe the only language of
books, the learning of Latin the portal to all learning. And they were
_glosses_ in this wise: the possessor of a Latin book, or the member
of a religious community which were the fortunate possessors of
half-a-dozen books, in his ordinary reading of this literature, here
and there came across a difficult word which lay outside the familiar
Latin vocabulary. When he had ascertained the meaning of this, he
often, as a help to his own memory, and a friendly service to those
who might handle the book after him, wrote the meaning over the word
in the original text, in a smaller hand, sometimes in easier Latin,
sometimes, if he knew no Latin equivalent, in a word of his own
vernacular. Such an explanatory word written over a word of the text
is a _gloss_. Nearly all the Latin MSS. of religious or practical
treatises, that have come down to us from the Middle Ages, contain
examples of such glosses, sometimes few, sometimes many. It may
naturally be supposed that this glossing of MSS. began in Celtic and
Teutonic, rather than in Romanic lands. In the latter, the old Latin
was not yet so dead, nor the vulgar idioms that were growing out of
it, as yet so distinct from it, as to render the glossing of the one
by the other needful. The relation of Latin to, say, the Romanic of
Provence, was like that of literary English to Lancashire or Somerset
dialect; no one thinks of glossing a literary English book by
Somersetshire word-forms; for, if he can read at all, it is the
literary English that he does read. So if the monk of Burgundy or
Provence could read at all, it was the Book-Latin that he could and
did read. But, to the Teuton or the Celt, Latin was an entirely
foreign tongue, the meaning of whose words he could not guess by any
likeness to his own; by him Latin had been acquired by slow and
painful labour, and to him the gloss was an important aid. To the
modern philologist, Teutonic or Celtic, these glosses are very
precious; they have preserved for us a large number of Old English,
Old Irish, Old German words that occur nowhere else, and which, but
for the work of the old glossators, would have been lost for ever. No
inconsiderable portion of the oldest English vocabulary has been
recovered entirely from these interlinear glosses; and we may
anticipate important additions to that vocabulary when Professor
Napier gives us the volume in which he has been gathering up all the
unpublished glosses that yet remain in MSS.

In process of time it occurred to some industrious reader that it
would be a useful exercise of his industry, to collect out of all the
manuscripts to which he had access, all the glosses that they
contained, and combine them in a list. In this compact form they could
be learned by heart, thus extending the vocabulary at his command, and
making him independent of the interlinear glosses, and they could also
be used in the school-teaching of pupils and neophytes, so as sensibly
to enlarge their stock of Latin words and phrases. A collection of
glosses, thus copied out and thrown together into a single list,
constituted a _Glossarium_ or _Glossary_; it was the remote precursor
of the seventeenth-century 'Table Alphabetical,' or 'Expositor of Hard

Such was one of the fountain-heads of English lexicography; the other
is to be found in the fact that in those distant days, as in our own,
the learning of Latin was the acquisition of a foreign tongue which
involved the learning of a grammar and of a vocabulary. Both grammar
and vocables were probably in the main communicated by oral teaching,
by the living voice of the master, and were handed down by oral
tradition from generation to generation. The stock of vocables was
acquired by committing to memory classified lists of words; lists of
names of parts of the body, lists of the names of domestic animals, of
wild beasts, of fishes, of trees, of heavenly bodies, of geographical
features, of names of relationship and kindred, of ranks and orders of
men, of names of trades, of tools, of arms, of articles of clothing,
of church furniture, of diseases, of virtues and vices, and so on.
Such lists of vocables, with their meaning in the vulgar tongue, were
also at times committed to paper or parchment leaves, and a collection
of these constituted a _Vocabularium_ or _Vocabulary_.

In their practical use the Vocabulary and the Glossary fulfilled
similar offices; and so they were often combined; the possessor of a
Vocabulary enlarged it by the addition of a Glossary, which he or some
one before him had copied out and collected from the glossed
manuscripts of his bibliotheca. He extended it by copying into it
vocabularies and glossaries borrowed from other scholars; he lent his
own collection to be similarly copied by others. Several such
collections exist formed far back in Old English times, the composite
character of which, partly glossary, partly vocabulary, reveals itself
upon even a cursory examination.

As these manuscript lists came to be copied and re-copied, it was seen
that their usefulness would be increased by putting the words and
phrases into alphabetical order, whereby a particular word could be
more readily found than by looking for it in a promiscuous list of
some hundreds or thousands of words. The first step was to bring
together all the words having the same first letter. The copyist
instead of transcribing the glossary right on as it stood, extracted
first all the words beginning with A; then he went through it again
picking out all the words beginning with B; then a third time for
those with C, and so on with D, E, and the rest, till he had
transcribed the whole, and his copy was no longer in the fortuitous
disorder of the original, but in what we call _first-letter_ order.

A still later scribe making a copy of this vocabulary, or possibly
combining two or three lists already in first-letter order, carried
the alphabetical arrangement one stage further; instead of
transcribing the A-words as they stood, he went through them, picking
out first those that began with Aa-, then those in Ab-, then those in
Ac-, and so on, to Az. Then he did the same with the B-words, picking
out first all in Ba-, then Be-, Bi-, Bl-, Bo-, Br-, Bu-, By-; and so
exhausting the B-words. Thus, at length, in this second recension, the
Vocabulary stood, not yet completely alphabetical, but alphabetized as
far as the second letter of each word.

All these stages can actually be seen in four of the most ancient
glossaries of English origin that have come down to us, known
respectively, from the libraries to which they now belong, as the
Leiden, the Epinal, the Erfurt, and the Corpus (the last at Corpus
Christi College, Cambridge). The Leiden Glossary represents the
earliest stage of such a work, being really, in the main, a collection
of smaller glossaries, or rather sets of glosses, each set entered
under the name of the treatise from which it was extracted, the words
in each being left in the order in which they happened to come in the
treatise or work, without any further arrangement, alphabetical or
other. It appears also to incorporate in a final section some small
earlier vocabularies or lists of names of animals and other classes of
things. In order to discover whether any particular word occurs in
this glossary, the whole work from beginning to end must be looked
through. The first advance upon this is seen in the Epinal Glossary,
which uses part at least of the materials of the Leiden, incorporating
with them many others. This glossary has advanced to _first-letter_
order: all the A-words come together, followed by all the B-words, and
so on to Z, but there is no further arrangement under the individual
letters[1]. There are nearly fourteen columns of words beginning with
A, containing each about forty entries; the whole of these 550 entries
must be looked through to see if a given word occurs in this glossary.
The third stage is represented by the Corpus Glossary, which contains
the materials of its predecessors, and a great deal more, and in which
the alphabetical arrangement has been carried as far as the second
letter of each word: thus the first ninety-five words explained begin
with Ab-, and the next seventy-eight with Ac-, and so on, but the
alphabetization goes no further[2]; the glossary is in _second-letter_
order. In at least one glossary of the tenth century, contained in a
MS. of the British Museum (Harl. 3376), the alphabetical arrangement
has been carried as far as the third letter, beyond which point it
does not appear to have advanced.

The MS. of the Corpus Glossary dates to the early part of the eighth
century; the Epinal and Erfurt--although the MS. copies that have come
down to us are not older, or not so old--must from their nature go
back as glossaries to a still earlier date, and the Leiden to an
earlier still; so that we carry back these beginnings of lexicography
in England to a time somewhere between 600 and 700 A.D., and probably
to an age not long posterior to the introduction of Christianity in
the south of England at the end of the sixth century. Many more
vocabularies were compiled between these early dates and the eleventh
century; and it is noteworthy that those ancient glossaries and
vocabularies not only became fuller and more orderly as time advanced,
but they also became more _English_. For, as I have already mentioned,
the primary purpose of the glosses was to explain difficult _Latin_
words; this was done at first, whenever possible, by easier Latin
words; apparently, only when none such were known, was the explanation
given in the vernacular, in Old English. In the Epinal Glossary the
English words are thus relatively few. In the first page they number
thirty out of 117, and in some pages they do not amount to half that
number. In the Corpus Glossary they have become proportionally more
numerous; and in the glossaries that follow, the Latin explanations
are more and more eliminated and replaced by English ones, until the
vocabularies of the tenth and eleventh centuries, whether arranged
alphabetically or under classified headings, are truly Latin-English:
every Latin word given is explained by an English one; and we see
clearly that a new aim had gradually evolved itself; the object was no
longer to explain difficult Latin words, but to give the English
equivalents of as many words as possible, and thus practically to
provide a Latin Dictionary for the use of Englishmen[3].

Learning and literature, science and art, had attained to fair
proportions in England, and in the Old English tongue, when their
progress was arrested by the Norman Conquest. The Norman Conquest
brought to England law and organization, and welded the country into a
political unity; but it overthrew Old English learning and literary
culture. In literary culture the Normans were about as far behind the
people whom they conquered as the Romans were when they made
themselves masters of Greece; and it was not till some two generations
after the Conquest, that learning and literature regained in England
somewhat of the position which they had occupied two centuries
earlier. And this new literary culture was naturally confined to the
French dialect of the conquerors, which had become the language of
court and castle, of church and law, of chivalry and the chase; while
the rich and cultured tongue of Alfred and AElfric was left for
generations without literary employment, during which time it lost
nearly all its poetical, philosophical, scientific, and artistic
vocabulary, retaining only the words of common life and everyday
use[4]. And for more than 300 years after the Conquest English
lexicography stood still. Between 1066 and 1400, Wright-Wuelcker shows
only two meagre vocabularies, occupying some twenty-four columns of
his volume. One of these, of the twelfth century, is only an echo of
the earlier literary age, a copy of a pre-Conquest glossary, which
some scribe who could still read the classical tongue of the old West
Saxon Court, transliterated into the corrupted forms of his own
generation. The other is a short vocabulary of the Latin and
vernacular names of plants, a species of class-vocabulary of which
there exist several of rather early date.

But when we reach the end of the fourteenth century, English is once
more in the ascendant. Robert of Gloucester, Robert Mannyng of Brunne,
Dan Michel of Canterbury, and Richard Rolle of Hampole, William
Langland and John Wyclif, John Gower and Geoffrey Chaucer, and many
other authors of less known or entirely unknown name, have written in
the tongue of the people; English has been sanctioned for use in the
courts of law; and, as John of Trevisa tells us, has, since the
'furste moreyn' or Great Pestilence of 1349 (which Mrs. Markham has
taught nineteenth-century historians to call the 'Black Death'), been
introduced into the grammar schools in the translation of Latin
exercises, which boys formerly rendered into French. And under these
new conditions lexicographical activity at once bursts forth with
vigour. Six important vocabularies of the fifteenth century are
printed by Wright-Wuelcker, most of them arranged, like the Old English
one of AElfric, under subject-headings; but one large one, extending to
2,500 words, entirely alphabetical. About the middle of the century,
also, was compiled the famous _Medulla Grammatices_[5], designated,
with some propriety, 'the first Latin-English Dictionary,' the
popularity of which is shown by the many manuscript copies that still
survive; while it formed the basis of the _Ortus (i.e. Hortus)
Vocabulorum_ or first printed Latin-English Dictionary, which issued
from the press of Wynkyn de Worde in 1500, and in many subsequent
editions down to 1533, as well as in an edition by Pynson in 1509.

But all the glossaries and vocabularies as yet mentioned were
Latin-English; their primary object was not English, but the
elucidation of Latin. A momentous advance was made about 1440, when
Brother Galfridus Grammaticus--Geoffrey the Grammarian--a Dominican
friar of Lynn Episcopi in Norfolk, produced the English-Latin
vocabulary, to which he gave the name of _Promptuarium_ or
_Promptorium Parvulorum_, the Children's Store-room or Repository.

The _Promptorium_, the name of which has now become a household word
to students of the history of English, is a vocabulary containing some
10,000 words--substantives, adjectives, and verbs--with their Latin
equivalents, which, as edited by Mr. Albert Way for the Camden Society
in 1865, makes a goodly volume. Many manuscript copies of it were made
and circulated, of which six or seven are known to be still in
existence, and after the introduction of printing it passed through
many editions in the presses of Pynson, Wynkyn de Worde, and Julian

Later in the same century, the year 1483 saw the compilation of a
similar, but quite independent work, which its author named the
_Catholicon Anglicum_, that is, the English Catholicon or Universal
treatise, after the name of the celebrated Latin dictionary of the
Middle Ages, the _Catholicon_ or _Summa_ of Johannes de Balbis, or
John of Genoa, made in 1286. The English _Catholicon_ was in itself a
work almost equally valuable with the _Promptorium_; but it appears
never to have attained to the currency of the _Promptorium_, which
appeared as a printed book in 1499, while the _Catholicon_ remained in
two MSS. till printed for the Early English Text Society in 1881.

The Renascence of Ancient Learning had now reached England, and during
the sixteenth century there were compiled and published many important
Latin-English and English-Latin vocabularies and dictionaries. Among
these special mention must be made of the Dictionary of Sir Thomas
Elyot, Knight, the first work, so far as I know, which took to itself
in English what was destined to be the famous name of DICTIONARY, in
mediaeval Latin, _Dictionarius liber_, or _Dictionarium_, literally a
repertory of _dictiones_, a word originally meaning 'sayings,' but
already by the later Latin grammarians used in the sense of _verba_ or
_vocabula_ 'words.' The early vocabularies and dictionaries had many
names, often quaint and striking; thus one of _c_1420 is entitled the
_Nominale_, or Name-book; mention has already been made of the
_Medulla Grammatices_, or Marrow of Grammar, the _Ortus Vocabulorum_,
or Garden of Words, the _Promptorium Parvulorum_, and the _Catholicon
Anglicum_; later we find the _Manipulus Vocabulorum_, or Handful of
Vocables, the _Alvearie_ or Beehive, the _Abecedarium_, the
_Bibliotheca_, or Library, the _Thesaurus_, or Treasury of Words--what
Old English times would have called the _Word-hord_, the _World of
Words_, the _Table Alphabetical_, the _English Expositor_, the _Ductor
in Linguas_, or Guide to the Tongues, the _Glossographia_, the _New
World of Words_, the _Etymologicum_, the _Gazophylacium_; and it would
have been impossible to predict in the year 1538, when Sir Thomas
Elyot published his 'Dictionary,' that this name would supplant all
the others, and even take the place of the older and better-descended
word _Vocabulary_; much less that _Dictionary_ should become so much a
name to conjure with, as to be applied to works which are not
word-books at all, but reference-books on all manner of subjects, as
Chronology, Geography, Music, Commerce, Manufactures, Chemistry, or
National Biography, arranged in Alphabetical or 'Dictionary order.'
The very phrase, 'Dictionary order,' would in the first half of the
sixteenth century have been unmeaning, for all dictionaries were not
yet alphabetical. There is indeed no other connexion between a
dictionary and alphabetical order, than that of a balance of
convenience. Experience has shown that though an alphabetical order
makes the matter of a dictionary very disjointed, scattering the
terminology of a particular art, science, or subject, all over the
book, and even when related words come together, often putting the
unimportant derivative in front of the important primitive word, it is
yet that by which a word or heading can be found, with least trouble
and exercise of thought. But this experience has been only gradually
acquired; even now the native dictionaries of some Oriental languages
are often not in alphabetical order; in such a language as Chinese,
indeed, there is no alphabetical order in which to place the words,
and they follow each other in the dictionary in a purely arbitrary and
conventional fashion. In English, as we have seen, many of the
vocabularies from the eleventh to the fifteenth century, were arranged
under class-headings according to subject; and, although Sir Thomas
Elyot's Dictionary was actually in alphabetical order, that of J.
Withals, published in 1554, under the title 'A short dictionarie for
young beginners,' and with the colophon 'Thus endeth this Dictionary
very useful for Children, compiled by J. Withals,' reverts to the
older arrangement of subject-classes, as Names of things in the AEther
or skie, the xii Signes, the vii Planets, Tymes, Seasons, Other times
in the yere, the daies of the weeke, the Ayre, the viii windes, the
iiii partes of the worlde, Byrdes, Bees, Flies, and other, the Water,
the Sea, Fishes, a Shippe with other Water vessels, the earth,
Mettales, Serpents, woorms and creepinge beastes, Foure-footed
beastes, &c.[6]

It is unnecessary in this lecture to recount even the names of the
Latin-English and English-Latin dictionaries of the sixteenth century.
It need only be mentioned that there were six successive and
successively enlarged editions of Sir Thomas Elyot; that the last
three of these were edited by Thomas Cooper, 'Schole-Maister of
Maudlens in Oxford' (the son of an Oxford tradesman, and educated as a
chorister in Magdalen College School, who rose to be Dean of Christ
Church and Vice-Chancellor of the University, and to hold successively
the episcopal sees of Lincoln and Winchester), and that Cooper, in
1565, published his great _Thesaurus Linguae Romanae et Britannicae_,
'opera et industria Thomae Cooperi Magdalenensis,' founded upon the
great French work of Robert Stephens (Estienne), the learned French
scholar and printer. Of this work Martin Marprelate says in his
_Epistle_ (Arber, p. 42), 'His Lordship of Winchester is a great
Clarke, for he hath translated his Dictionarie, called Cooper's
Dictionarie, verbatim out of Robert Stephanus his _Thesaurus_, and
ill-favoured too, they say!' This was, however, the criticism of an
adversary; Cooper had added to Stephens's work many accessions from
his editions of Sir Thomas Elyot, and other sources; his _Thesaurus_
was the basis of later Latin-English dictionaries, and traces of it
may still be discovered in the Latin-English dictionaries of to-day.

Of printed English-Latin works, after the _Promptorium_, one of the
earliest was the _Vulgaria_ of William Herman, Headmaster and Provost
of Eton, printed by Pynson in 1519. This is a _Dictionarium_ or _liber
dictionarius_ in the older sense, for it consists of short _dictiones_
or sayings, maxims, and remarks, arranged under subject-headings, such
as _De Pietate_, _De Impietate_, _De corporis dotibus_, _De
Valetudinis cura_, _De Hortensibus_, _De Bellicis_, and finally a
heading _Promiscua_. It may therefore be conceived that it is not easy
to find any particular _dictio_. Horman was originally a Cambridge
man; but, according to Wood, he was elected a Fellow of New College,
Oxford, in 1477, the very year in which Caxton printed his first book
in England, and in this connexion it is interesting to find among the
illustrative sentences in the _Vulgaria_, this reference to the new
art (sign. Oij): 'The prynters haue founde a crafte to make bokes by
brasen letters sette in ordre by a frame,' which is thus latinized:
'Chalcographi artem excogitauerunt imprimendi libros qua literae formis
aereis excudunt.' Of later English-Latin dictionaries two deserve
passing mention: the _Abecedarium_ of Richard Huloet or Howlet, a
native of Wisbech, which appeared in the reign of Edward VI, in 1552,
and the Alvearie of John Baret, Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge,
published under Elizabeth in 1573. The Abecedarium, although it gives
the Latin equivalents, may be looked upon to some extent as an English
dictionary, for many of the words have an English explanation, as well
as a Latin rendering; thus _Almesse_, or gift of dryncke, meate, or
money, distributed to the poore, _sporta_, _sportula_; _Amyable_,
pleasante, or hauing a good grace, _amabilis_; _Anabaptistes_, a sorte
of heretyques of late tyme in Germanye about the yere of our Lorde God
1524.... _Anabaptistae_.

Baret's _Alvearie_ of 1573 has been justly styled 'one of the most
quaint and charming of all the early Dictionaries.' In his 'Prefatory
Address to the Reader' the author tells, in fine Elizabethan prose,
both how his book came into existence, and why he gave it its curious

'About eighteene yeeres agone, hauing pupils at Cambridge
studious of the Latine tongue, I vsed them often to write
Epistles and Theames together, and dailie to translate
some peece of English into Latine, for the more speedie
attaining of the same. And after we had a little begun,
perceiuing what great trouble it was to come running to
me for euerie worde they missed, knowing then of no other
Dictionarie to helpe vs, but Sir Thomas Eliots Librarie,
which was come out a little before; I appointed them
certaine leaues of the same booke euerie daie to write
the english before the Latin, & likewise to gather a
number of fine phrases out of Cicero, Terence, Caesar,
Liuie, &c. & to set them vnder seuerall titles, for the
more readie finding them againe at their neede. Thus,
within a yeere or two, they had gathered together a great
volume, which (for the apt similitude betweene the good
Scholers and diligent Bees in gathering their waxe and
honie into their Hiue) I called then their _Aluearie_,
both for a memoriall by whom it was made, and also by
this name to incourage other to the like diligence, for
that they should not see their worthie praise for the
same, vnworthilie drowned in obliuion. Not long after,
diuers of our friends borrowing this our worke which we
had thus contriued & wrought onelie for our owne priuate
vse, often and many waies moued me to put it in print for
the common profet of others, and the publike propagation
of the Latine tongue.'

But when Baret at length resolved to comply with this suggestion,
there were many difficulties to be overcome, the expense of the work
being not the least:--

'And surelie, had not the right honourable Sir Thomas
Smith knight, principall Secretarie to the Queenes
Maiestie, that noble Theseus of learning, and comfortable
Patrone to all Students, and the right Worshipfull M.
Nowell, Deane of Pawles, manie waies encouraged me in
this wearie worke (the charges were so great, and the
losse of my time so much grieued me) I had neuer bene
able alone to haue wrestled against so manie troubles,
but long ere this had cleane broken off our worke begun,
and cast it by for euer.'

Between the dates of the _Abecedarium_ and the _Alvearie_, Peter
Levins, Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, published, in 1570, the
first essay at an English Riming Dictionary, the _Manipulus
Vocabulorum_, or Handful of Vocables, an original copy of which is in
the Bodleian Library; it was reprinted for the Early English Text
Society in 1867 by Mr. H.B. Wheatley. The English words are arranged
in order of their terminations, and each is furnished with a Latin

Of all the works which we have yet considered, Latin was an essential
element: whether the object was, as in the glossaries and vocabularies
before the fifteenth century, to explain the Latin words themselves,
or as in the _Promptorium_ and _Catholicon_, the _Abecedarium_ and the
_Alvearie_, and other works of the sixteenth century, to render
English words into Latin. But a new stage of development was marked by
the appearance of dictionaries of English with another modern
language. In 1521, the 'Introductory to write and to pronounce
Frenche,' by Alexander Barclay, author of the 'Ship of Fooles,' was
issued from the press of Robert Coplande; and about 1527 Giles du Guez
or du Wes (anglicized Dewes), French teacher to the Lady Mary,
afterwards Queen Mary, published his 'Introductorie for to lerne to
rede, to pronounce and to speke French trewly.' In addition to
grammatical rules and dialogues, it contains a select vocabulary
English and French. In 1514, Mary Tudor, younger sister of Henry VIII,
became the unwilling bride of Louis XII of France. To initiate the
princess in her husband's tongue, John Palsgrave, a native of London
and graduate of Cambridge, who had subsequently studied in Paris, was
chosen as her tutor, and accompanied her to France. For her use
Palsgrave prepared his celebrated _Esclarcissement de la Langue
Francoyse_, which he subsequently revised and published in 1530, after
his return to England, where he was incorporated M.A. at Oxford. The
_Esclarcissement_ is a famous book, at once grammar and vocabulary,
and may be considered as the earliest dictionary of a modern language,
in French as well as in English. It was reprinted in 1852 at the
expense of the French Government in the series of publications
entitled 'Collection de documents inedits sur l'histoire de France,
publies par les soins du Ministre de l'Instruction Publique, Deuxieme
Serie--Histoire des Lettres et des Sciences.' It is a trite saying
that 'they do these things better in France'; but it is, nevertheless,
sometimes true. Amid all the changes of government which France has
seen in modern times, it has never been forgotten that the history of
the French language, and of French letters and French science, is part
of the history of France; the British government has not even now
attained to the standpoint of recognizing this: among the historical
documents published under the direction of the authorities of the
Record Office, there is no series illustrating the history of the
language, the literature, or the science of England.

Next to French, the continental languages most important to Englishmen
in the sixteenth century, were Italian and Spanish, of both of which,
accordingly, dictionaries were published before the end of the
century[7]. In 1599 Richard Percevall, Gent., published his dictionary
in Spanish and English; and in the same year 'resolute John Florio'
(who in his youth resided in Worcester Place, Oxford, and was
matriculated at Magdalen College in 1581) brought out his
Italian-English Dictionary, the _World of Words_, which he
re-published in a much enlarged form in 1611, with dedication to the
Queen of James I, as _Queen Anna's New World of Words_. This year,
also, Randall Cotgrave published his famous French-English Dictionary,
which afterwards passed through so many editions. In the absence as
yet of any merely English dictionary, the racy English vocabulary of
Florio and Cotgrave is of exceeding value, and has been successfully
employed in illustrating the contemporary language of Shakspere, to
whom Florio, patronized as he was by the Earls of Southampton and
Pembroke, was probably personally known. Thus, the same year which saw
England provided with the version of the Bible which was to be so
intimately identified with the language of the next three centuries,
saw her also furnished with adequate dictionaries of French, Italian,
and Spanish; and, in 1617, a still more ambitious work was
accomplished by John Minsheu in the production of a polyglot
dictionary of English with ten other languages, British or Welsh, Low
Dutch, High Dutch, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Latin, Greek,
and Hebrew, which he entitled '[Greek: Haegemon eis tas glossas], id
est _Ductor in Linguas_, the Guide into Tongues.'

But though in these works there is necessarily contained much of the
material of an English dictionary, so that we can from them recover
most of the current vocabulary, no one appears before the end of the
sixteenth century to have felt that Englishmen could want a dictionary
to help them to the knowledge and correct use of their own language.
That language was either an in-born faculty, or it was inhaled with
their native air, or imbibed with their mothers' milk; how could they
need a book to teach them to speak their mother-tongue? To the
scholars of the Renascence the notion would have seemed absurd--as
absurd as it has seemed to some of their descendants in the nineteenth
century, that an English grammar-school or an English university
should trouble itself about such aboriginal products of the English
skull, as English language and literature. But by the end of the
sixteenth century, as by the end of the nineteenth, there was a moving
of the waters: the Renascence of ancient learning had itself brought
into English use thousands of learned words, from Latin, Greek,
Hebrew, Arabic, and other languages, 'ink-horn terms,' as they were
called by Bale and by Puttenham, unknown to, and not to be imbibed
from, mother or grandmother. A work exhibiting the spelling, and
explaining the meaning, of these new-fangle 'hard words' was the felt
want of the day; and the first attempt to supply it marks, on the
whole, the most important point in the evolution of the modern English

In 1604, Robert Cawdrey, who had been a schoolmaster at Okeham, and
afterwards at Coventry, published a modest octavo of 120 pages, 5-1/2
inches by 3-1/2, calling itself _The Table Alphabeticall of Hard
Words_, in which he set forth the proper spelling and meaning of some
3,000 of these learned terms; his work reached a third edition in
1612[8]. In 1616, Dr. John Bullokar, then resident in Chichester,
followed with a work of the same kind and size, named by him _An
English Expositor_, of which numerous editions came out, one as late
as 1684. And in 1623 appeared the work which first assumed the title
of 'The English Dictionarie,' by H.C., Gent. H.C., we learn from the
dedication, was Henry Cockeram, to whom John Ford the dramatist
addressed the following congratulatory lines:--

To my industrious friend, the Author of this English Dictionarie,

Borne in the West? liue there? so far from Court?
From Oxford, Cambridge, London? yet report
(Now in these daies of Eloquence) such change
Of words? vnknown? vntaught? tis new and strange.
Let Gallants therefore skip no more from hence
To Italic, France, Spaine, and with expence
Waste time and faire estates, to learne new fashions
Of complementall phrases, soft temptations
To glorious beggary: Here let them hand
This Booke; here studie, reade, and vnderstand:
Then shall they find varietie at Home,
As curious as at Paris, or at Rome.
For my part I confesse, hadst not thou writ,
I had not beene acquainted with more wit
Than our old English taught; but now I can
Be proud to know I have a Countryman
Hath strugled for a fame, and what is more,
Gain'd it by paths of Art, vntrod before.
The benefit is generall; the crowne
Of praise particular, and thats _thine owne_.
What should I say? thine owne deserts inspire thee,
Twere base to enuie, I must then admire thee.

A friend and louer of thy paines,

And a deeply interesting little book is this diminutive ancestor of
the modern English Dictionary, to describe which adequately would take
far more time than the limits of this lecture afford. It is divided
into three parts: Part I contains the hard words with their
explanation in ordinary language; and instructive it is to see what
words were then considered hard and unknown. Many of them certainly
would be so still: as, for example, _abgregate_, 'to lead out of the
flock'; _acersecomick_, 'one whose hair was never cut';
_adcorporated_, 'married'; _adecastick_, 'one that will do just
howsoever'; _bubulcitate_, 'to cry like a cow-boy'; _collocuplicate_,
'to enrich'--concerning which we wonder who used them, or where
Cockeram found them; but we are surprised to find among these hard
words _abandon_, _abhorre_, _abrupt_, _absurd_, _action_, _activitie_,
and _actresse_, explained as 'a woman doer,' for the stage actress had
not yet appeared. _Blunder_, 'to bestir oneself,' and _Garble_, 'to
clense things from dust,' remind us that the meanings of words are
subject to change. The Second Part contains the ordinary words
'explained' by their hard equivalents, and is intended to teach a
learned style. The plain man or gentlewoman may write a letter in his
or her natural language, and then by turning up the simple words in
the dictionary alter them into their learned equivalents. Thus
'abound' may be altered into _exuperate_, 'too great plenty' into
_uberty_, 'he and I are of one age' into _we are coetaneous_,
'youthful babbling' into _juvenile inaniloquence_--a useful expression
to hurl at an opponent in the Oxford Union.

The last part is the most entertaining of all: it is headed 'The Third
Part, treating of Gods and Goddesses, Men and Women, Boyes and Maides,
Giants and Diuels, Birds and Beasts, Monsters and Serpents, Wells and
Riuers, Herbes, Stones, Trees, Dogges, Fishes, and the like'; it is a
key to the allusions to classical, historical, mythological, and other
marvellous persons, animals, and things, to be met with in polite
literature. A good example of its contents is the well-known article
on the _Crocodile_:--

'_Crocodile_, a beast hatched of an egge, yet some of them
grow to a great bignesse, as 10. 20. or 30. foot in length:
it hath cruell teeth and scaly back, with very sharpe clawes
on his feete: if it see a man afraid of him, it will eagerly
pursue him, but on the contrary, if he be assaulted he wil
shun him. Hauing eaten the body of a man, it will weepe ouer
the head, but in fine eate the head also: thence came the
Prouerb, he shed Crocodile teares, viz., fayned teares.'

Appreciation of Cockeram's 'Dictionarie' was marked by the numerous
editions through which it passed down as late as 1659. Meanwhile
Thomas Blount, Barrister of the Inner Temple, and correspondent of
Anthony a Wood, was devoting the leisure hours of twenty years to his
'_Glossographia_: or a Dictionary interpreting all such hard words,
whether Hebrew, Greek, Latin,' etc., 'as are now used in our refined
English Tongue,' of which the first edition saw the light in 1656.

I suppose it is a truism, that the higher position now taken by
English studies, is intimately interwoven with the advances which have
been made during the last quarter of a century in the higher education
of women, and that but for the movement to let women share in the
advantages of a university education, it is doubtful whether the
nineteenth century would have witnessed the establishment of a School
of English Language and Literature at Oxford. In connexion with this
it is a noteworthy fact, that the preparation of these early
seventeenth century English dictionaries was also largely due to a
consideration of the educational wants of women. The 'Table
Alphabeticall' of Robert Cawdrey, which was dedicated to five 'right
honourable, Worshipfull, vertuous, and godlie Ladies[9],' the sisters
of his former pupil, Sir James Harrington, Knight, bears on its
title-page that it is 'gathered for the benefit and help of Ladies,
Gentlewomen, or any other vnskilfull persons.' Bullokar's _Expositor_
was dedicated 'to the Right Honorable and Vertvovs his Singvlar Good
Ladie, the Ladie Jane Viscountesse Mountague,' under whose patronage
he hoped to see the work 'perhaps gracefully admitted among greatest
Ladies and studious Gentlewomen, to whose reading (I am made belieue)
it will not prooue altogether vngratefull.' In similar words, the
title-page of Cockeram's Dictionary proclaims its purpose of 'Enabling
as well Ladies and Gentlewomen ... as also Strangers of any Nation to
the vnderstanding of the more difficult Authors already printed in our
Language, and the more speedy attaining of an elegant perfection of
the English tongue, both in reading, speaking, and writing.' And
Thomas Blount, setting forth the purpose of his _Glossographia_, says,
in words of which one seems to have heard an echo in reference to an
English School in this University, 'It is chiefly intended for the
more-knowing Women, and less-knowing Men; or indeed for all such of
the unlearned, who can but finde in an Alphabet the word they
understand not.'

It is noticeable that all these references to the needs of women
disappear from the later editions, and are wanting in later
dictionaries after 1660; whether this was owing to the fact that the
less-knowing women had now come upsides with the more-knowing men; or
that with the Restoration, female education went out of fashion, and
women sank back again into elegant illiteracy, I leave to the
historian to discover; I only, as a lexicographer, record the fact
that from the Restoration the dictionaries are silent about the
education of women, till we pass the Revolution settlement and reach
the Age of Queen Anne, when J.K. in 1702 tells us that his dictionary
is 'chiefly designed for the benefit of young Scholars, Tradesmen,
Artificers, and the female sex, who would learn to spell truely.'

Blount's _Glossographia_ went through many editions down to 1707; but
two years after its appearance, Edward Phillips, the son of Milton's
sister Anne, published his _New World of Words_, which Blount with
some reason considered to be largely plagiarized from his book. He
held his peace, however, until Phillips brought out a Law-Dictionary
or _Nomothetes_, also largely copied from his own _Nomo-lexicon_, when
he could refrain himself no longer, and burst upon the world with his
indignant pamphlet, 'A World of Errors discovered in the New World of
Words, and in Nomothetes or the Interpreter,' in which he exhibits the
proofs of Phillips's cribbing, and makes wild sport of the cases in
which his own errors and misprints had either been copied or muddled
by his plagiarist. The latter did not vouchsafe a reply; he knew a
better plan; he quietly corrected in his next edition the mistakes
which Blount had so conveniently pointed out, and his 'New World of
Words,' furnished with an engraved frontispiece, containing views of
Oxford and Cambridge, and portraits of some Oxford and Cambridge
scholars, lived on in successive editions as long as Blount's.

Time and space forbid me even to recount the later dictionaries of
this class and period; we need only mention that of Elisha Coles, a
chorister and subsequently matriculated student of Magdalen College
(of which his uncle, Elisha Coles, was steward under the
Commonwealth), a meritorious work which passed through numerous
editions down to 1732; and that of Edward Cocker, the celebrated
arithmetician and writing-master of St. George's, Southwark, by whom
people still sometimes asseverate 'according to Cocker.' This was
published after his death, 'from the author's correct copy,' by John
Hawkins, in 1704, with a portrait of the redoubtable Cocker himself in
flowing wig and gown, and the following lines:--

'COCKER, who in fair writing did excell,
And in Arithmetic perform'd as well,
This necessary work took next in hand,
That Englishmen might English understand.'

The last edition of Phillips' _New World of Words_ was edited after
his death, with numerous additions, by John Kersey, son of John Kersey
the mathematician. Two years later Kersey threw the materials into
another form and published it in an octavo, as Kersey's '_Dictionarium
Anglo-Britannicum_, or a General English Dictionary,' of which three
editions appeared before 1721. In this work there are included a
considerable number of obsolete words, chiefly from Spenser and his
contemporaries, marked O., and in some cases erroneously explained.
Professor Skeat has pointed out that this was the source of
Chatterton's Elizabethan vocabulary, and that he took the obsolete
words, which he attributed to Rowley, erroneous explanations and all,
direct from Kersey's Dictionary.

More than 100 years had now elapsed since Robert Cawdrey prepared his
'Table Alphabeticall,' and nearly a century since the work of
Cockeram; and all the dictionaries which had meanwhile appeared,
although their size had steadily increased, were, in purpose and fact,
only what these works had been--Vocabularies of 'Hard Words,' not of
words in general. The notion that an English Dictionary ought to
contain _all_ English words had apparently as yet occurred to no one;
at least no one had proposed to carry the idea into practice. But this
further step in the evolution of the modern dictionary was now about
to be made, and the man who made it was one of the most deserving in
the annals of English lexicography. We now, looking back on the
eighteenth century, associate it chiefly with the work of Dr. Johnson;
but down beyond the middle of that century, and to the man in the
street much later, by far the best-known name in connexion with
dictionaries was that of NATHANAEL BAILEY. An advertisement appended
to the first edition of his Dictionary runs thus: 'Youth Boarded, and
taught the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin languages, in a Method more Easy
and Expedient than is common; also, other School-learning, by the
_Author_ of this _Dictionary_, to be heard of at Mr. Batley's,
Bookseller, at the Sign of the Dove in Paternoster Row.' Bailey was
the author or editor of several scholarly works; but, for us, his
great work was his _Universal Etymological English Dictionary_,
published in 1721. In this he aimed at including all English words;
yet not for the mere boast of 'completeness,' but for a practical
purpose. The dictionary was not merely explanatory, it was also
etymological; and though Englishmen might not need to be told the
meaning of _man_ or _woman_, _dog_ or _cat_[10], they might want a
hint as to their derivation. Bailey had hit the nail aright:
successive editions were called for almost every two years during the
century; when the author died, in 1742, the tenth edition was in the
press. In that of 1731, Bailey first marked the stress-accent, a step
in the direction of indicating pronunciation. In 1730, moreover, he
brought out with the aid of some specialists, his folio dictionary,
the greatest lexicographical work yet undertaken in English, into
which he also introduced diagrams and proverbs. This is an interesting
book historically, for, according to Sir John Hawkins, it formed the
working basis of Dr. Johnson[11].

Bailey had many imitators and rivals, nearly all of whom aimed, like
him, at including all words; of these I need only name Dyche and
Pardon 1735, B.N. Defoe 1735, and Benjamin Martin 1749.

During the second quarter of the century, the feeling arose among
literary men, as well as among the booksellers, that the time had come
for the preparation of a 'Standard Dictionary' of the English tongue.
The language had now attained a high degree of literary perfection; a
perfect prose style, always a characteristic of maturity, had been
created; a brilliant galaxy of dramatists and essayists--Dryden, Pope,
Addison, Steele, Swift, Defoe--had demonstrated that English was
capable of expressing clearly and elegantly everything that needed to
be expressed in language. The age of Queen Anne was compared to the
Ciceronian age of Latin, or the age of Aristotle and Plato in Greek.
But in both these cases, as indeed in that of every known ancient
people, the language, after reaching its acme of perfection, had begun
to decay and become debased: the golden age of Latinity had passed
into a silvern, and that into a brazen and an iron age. The fear was
that a like fate should overtake English also; to avert which calamity
the only remedy appeared to be to _fix the language_ by means of a
'Standard Dictionary,' which should register the proper sense and use
of every word and phrase, from which no polite writer henceforth would
be expected to deviate; but, even as generation after generation of
boys and men found their perfection of Latinity in the imitation of
Cicero, so all succeeding ages of Englishmen should find their ideal
of speech and writing fixed for ever in this standard dictionary. To
us of a later age, with our fuller knowledge of the history of
language, and our wider experience of its fortunes, when it has to be
applied to entirely new fields of knowledge, such as have been opened
to us since the birth of modern science, this notion seems childlike
and pathetic. But it was eminently characteristic of the eighteenth
century, an age of staid and decorous subsidence from the energetic
restlessness of the seventeenth--an age in which men eschewed
revolution and innovation, and devoted themselves assiduously to
conserve, consolidate, polish, refine, and make the best of what they

In this notion of ascertaining, purifying, refining, and fixing the
language, England was only following in the wake of some other
countries. In Italy the _Accademia della Crusca_, and in France the
_Academie francaise_, had been instituted for this very purpose, and
the latter had, after twenty years of preparation, and forty more
years of work, published the first edition of a dictionary in which
the French language was (fondly and vainly) supposed to be thus
ascertained, sifted, and fixed for ever. England had no Academy; but
it was thought that what had been done in France by the Forty
Immortals might perhaps be done here by some leading man of letters.
The idea had, it appears, been put before Alexander Pope, and approved
by him; he is said even to have drawn up a list of the authors whose
writings might be taken as authorities for such a dictionary; but he
died in 1744, before anything further was done. The subject seems then
to have been pressed upon the attention of SAMUEL JOHNSON; but it was
not till 1747 that the matter took definite shape, when a syndicate of
five or six London booksellers contracted with Johnson to produce the
desired standard dictionary in the space of three years for the sum of
fifteen hundred guineas. Alas for human calculations, and especially
for those of dictionary makers! The work occupied nearly thrice the
specified time, and, ere it was finished, the stipulated sum had been
considerably overdrawn. At length, in 1755, appeared the two massive
folios, each 17 inches long, 10 inches wide, and 3-1/2 inches thick,
entitled 'A | Dictionary | of the | English Language | in which | the
Words are deduced from their Originals, | and | illustrated in their
different significations | by Examples from the Best Writers. | By
Samuel Johnson.' The limits of this lecture do not permit me to say
one tithe of what might and ought to be said of this great work. For
the present purpose it must suffice to point out that the special new
feature which it contributed to the evolution of the modern dictionary
was the illustration of the use of each word by a selection of
literary quotations, and the more delicate appreciation and
discrimination of senses which this involved and rendered possible.
Only where he had no quotations did Johnson insert words from Bailey's
folio, or other source, with _Dict._ as the authority. The literary
quotations were entirely supplied by himself from his capacious
memory, or from books specially perused and marked by him for
extraction. When he first began his work in the room in Gough Square,
his whole time was devoted to thus reading and marking books, from
which six clerkly assistants copied the marked quotations. The fact
that many of the quotations were inserted from memory without
verification (a practice facilitated by Johnson's plan of merely
naming the author, without specifying the particular work quoted, or
giving any reference whereby the passage could be turned up) is
undoubtedly the reason why many of the quotations are not verbally
exact. Even so, however, they are generally adequate for the purpose
for which they are adduced, that is, they usually contain the word for
which they are quoted, and the context is more or less accurately
rendered. But in some cases it is otherwise: Johnson's memory played
him false, and he quotes a passage for a word that it does not
actually contain. As an example, under _Distilment_ he correctly
quotes from _Hamlet_, 'And in the porches of mine ears did pour the
leperous distilment.' But when he reached _Instilment_, his memory
became vague, and forgetting that he had already quoted the passage
under _Distilment_, he quoted it again as 'the leperous instilment'--a
reading which does not exist in any text of Shakspere, and was a mere
temporary hallucination of memory. There are some other curious
mistakes, which must, I suppose, have crept in either in the course of
transcription or of printing. As specimens I mention two, because they
have unfortunately perverted ordinary usage. The two words _Coco_ and
_Cocoa_--the former a Portuguese word[12], naming the _coco-nut_, the
fruit of a palm-tree; the latter a latinized form of _Cacao_, the
Aztec name of a Central American shrub, whence we have cocoa and
chocolate--were always distinguished down to Johnson's time, and were
in fact distinguished by Johnson himself in his own writings. His
account of these in the Dictionary is quoted from Miller's _Gardener's
Dictionary_ and Hill's _Materia Medica_, in which the former is spelt
_coco_ and the latter _cacao_ and _cocoa_. But in Johnson's Dictionary
the two words are by some accident run together under the heading
_cocoa_, with the disastrous result that modern vulgar usage mixes the
two up, spells the _coco-nut_, 'cocoa-' as if it were _co-co-a_, and
on the other hand pronounces _cocoa_, the cacao-bean and the beverage,
as if it were _coco_. The word _dispatch_, from It. _dispaccio_, had
been in English use for some 250 years when Johnson's Dictionary
appeared, and had been correctly spelt by everybody (that is by
everybody but the illiterate) with dis-. This was Johnson's own
spelling both before and after he published the dictionary, as may be
seen in his _Letters_ edited by Dr. G. Birkbeck Hill[13]. It was also
the spelling of all the writers whom Johnson quoted. But by some
inexplicable error, the word got into the dictionary as _despatch_,
and this spelling was even substituted in most of the quotations. I
have not found that a single writer followed this erroneous spelling
in the eighteenth century: Nelson, Wellesley, Wellington, and all our
commanders and diplomatists wrote _Dispatches_; but since about 1820,
the filtering down of the influence of Johnson's Dictionary has caused
this erroneous spelling _despatch_ to become generally known and to be
looked upon as authoritative; so that at the present time about half
our newspapers give the erroneous form, to which, more larmentably,
the Post Office, after long retaining the correct official tradition,
recently capitulated.

But despite small blemishes[14], the dictionary was a marvellous piece
of work to accomplish in eight and a half years; and it is quite
certain that, if all the quotations had had to be verified and
furnished with exact references, a much longer time, or the employment
of much more collaboration, would have been required. With much
antecedent preparation, with much skilled co-operation, and with
strenuous effort, it took more than nine years to produce the first
three letters of the alphabet of the Oxford New English Dictionary.

Johnson's great work raised English lexicography altogether to a
higher level. In his hands it became a department of literature. The
value of the Dictionary was recognized from the first by men of
letters; a second edition was called for the same year. But it hardly
became a popular work, or even a work of popular fame, before the
present century. For forty years after its first publication editions
of Bailey followed each other as rapidly as ever; numerous new
dictionaries of the size and character of Bailey, often largely
indebted to Johnson's definitions, appeared. But the only new feature
introduced into lexicography between 1755 and the end of the century
was the indication of the Orthoepy or Pronunciation. From Bailey
onward, and by Johnson himself, the place of the stress-accent had
been marked, but no attempt had been made to show how such a group of
letters, for example, as _colonel_, or _enough_, or _phthisical_, was
actually pronounced; or, to use modern phraseology, to tell what the
_living word_ itself was, as distinguished from its written symbol.
This feature, so obviously important in a language of which the
spelling had ceased to be phonetic, was added by Dr. William Kenrick
in his 'New Dictionary' of 1773, a little later in 1775 by William
Perry, in 1780 by Thomas Sheridan, and especially in 1791 by John
Walker, whose authority long remained as supreme in the domain of
pronunciation, as that of Dr. Johnson in definition and illustration;
so that popular dictionaries of the first half of the present century
commonly claimed to be abridgements of 'Johnson's Dictionary, with,
the Pronunciation on the basis of Walker.'

From the first quarter of the nineteenth century, the lexicographical
supremacy of Johnson's Dictionary was undisputed, and eminent students
of the language busied themselves in trying, not to supersede it, but
to supplement and perfect it. Numerous supplements, containing
additional words, senses, and quotations, were published; in 1818 a
new edition, embracing many such accessions, was prepared by the
learned Archdeacon Todd, and 'Todd's Johnson' continues to be an
esteemed work to our own day. But only two independent contributions
to the development of lexicography were made in the earlier half of
the nineteenth century. These were the American work of Noah Webster,
and the English work of Dr. Charles Richardson.

Webster was a great man, a born definer of words; he was fired with
the idea that America ought to have a dictionary of its own form of
English, independent of British usage, and he produced a work of great
originality and value. Unfortunately, like many other clever men, he
had the notion that derivations can be elaborated from one's own
consciousness as well as definitions, and he included in his work
so-called 'etymologies' of this sort. But Etymology is simply
Word-history, and Word-history, like all other history, is a record of
the _facts_ which _did_ happen, not a fabric of conjectures as to what
may have happened. In the later editions of Webster, these
'derivations' have been cleared out _en masse_, and the etymology
placed in the hands of men abreast of the science of the time; and the
last edition of Webster, the _International_, is perhaps the best of
one-volume dictionaries.

Richardson started on a new track altogether. Observing how much light
was shed on the meaning of words by Johnson's quotations, he was
impressed with the notion that, in a dictionary, definitions are
unnecessary, that quotations alone are sufficient; and he proceeded to
carry this into effect by making a dictionary without definitions or
explanations of meaning, or at least with the merest rudiments of
them, but illustrating each group of words by a large series of
quotations. In the collection of these he displayed immense research.
Going far beyond the limits of Dr. Johnson, he quoted from authors
back to the year 1300, and probably for the first time made Chaucer
and Gower and Piers Ploughman living names to many readers. And his
special notion was quite correct _in theory_. Quotations _will_ tell
the full meaning of a word, _if one has enough of them_; but it takes
a great many to be enough, and it takes a reader a long time to read
and weigh all the quotations, and to deduce from them the meanings
which might be put before him in a line or two. As a fact, while
Richardson's notion was correct in theory, mundane conditions of space
and time rendered it humanly impracticable. Nevertheless, the mass of
quotations, most of them with exact references, collected by him, and
printed under the word-groups which they illustrated, was a service
never to be undervalued or forgotten, and his work, 'A New Dictionary
of the English Language ... Illustrated by Quotations from the best
Authors' by Charles Richardson, LL.D., 1836-7, still continues to be a
valuable repertory of illustrations.

Such was the position of English lexicography in the middle of the
nineteenth century, when the late Dr. Trench, then Dean of
Westminster, who had already written several esteemed works on the
English language and the history of words, read two papers before the
Philological Society in London 'On some Deficiencies in existing
English Dictionaries,' in which, while speaking with much appreciation
of the labours of Dr. Johnson and his successors, he declared that
these labours yet fell far short of giving us the ideal English
Dictionary. Especially, he pointed out that for the _history_ of words
and families of words, and for the changes of form and sense which
words had historically passed through, they gave hardly any help
whatever. No one could find out from all the dictionaries extant how
long any particular word had been in the language, which of the many
senses in which many words were used was the original, or how or when
these many senses had been developed; nor, in the case of words
described as _obsolete_, were we told _when_ they became obsolete or
by whom they were last used. He pointed out also that the obsolete and
the rarer words of the language had never been completely collected;
that thousands of words current in the literature of the past three
centuries had escaped the diligence of Johnson and all his
supplementers; that, indeed, the collection of the requisite material
for a complete dictionary could not be compassed by any one man,
however long-lived and however diligent, but must be the work of many
collaborators who would undertake systematically to read and to
extract English literature. He called upon the Philological Society,
therefore, as the only body in England then interesting itself in the
language, to undertake the collection of materials to complete the
work already done by Bailey, Johnson, Todd, Webster, Richardson, and
others, and to prepare a supplement to all the dictionaries, which
should register all omitted words and senses, and supply all the
historical information in which these works were lacking, and, above
all, should give quotations illustrating the first and last
appearance, and every notable point in the life-history of every word.

From this impulse arose the movement which, widened and directed by
much practical experience, has culminated in the preparation of the
Oxford English Dictionary, 'A new English Dictionary on Historical
Principles, founded mainly on the materials collected by the
Philological Society.' This dictionary superadds to all the features
that have been successively evolved by the long chain of workers, the
historical information which Dr. Trench desiderated. It seeks not
merely to record every word that has been used in the language for the
last 800 years, with its written form and signification, and the
pronunciation of the current words, but to furnish a biography of each
word, giving as nearly as possible the date of its birth or first
known appearance, and, in the case of an obsolete word or sense, of
its last appearance, the source from which it was actually derived,
the form and sense with which it entered the language or is first
found in it, and the successive changes of form and developments of
sense which it has since undergone. All these particulars are derived
from historical research; they are an induction of facts gathered by
the widest investigation of the written monuments of the language. For
the purposes of this historical illustration more than five millions
of extracts have been made, by two thousand volunteer Readers, from
innumerable books, representing the English literature of all ages,
and from numerous documentary records. From these, and the further
researches for which they provide a starting-point, the history of
each word is deduced and exhibited.

Since the Philological Society's scheme was propounded, several large
dictionaries have been compiled, adopting one or more of Archbishop
Trench's suggestions, and thus showing some of the minor features of
this dictionary. They have collected some of the rare and obsolete
words and senses of the past three centuries; they have attained to
greater fullness and exactness in exhibiting the current uses of
words, and especially of the many modern words which the progress of
physical science has called into being. But they leave the _history_
of the words themselves where it was when Dr. Trench pointed out the
deficiencies of existing dictionaries. And their literary
illustrations of the older words are, in too many cases, those of Dr.
Johnson, copied from dictionary to dictionary without examination or
verification, and, what is more important, without acknowledgement, so
that the reader has no warning that a given quotation is merely
second-or third-hand, and, therefore, to be accepted with
qualification[15]. The quotations in the New English Dictionary, on
the other hand, have been supplied afresh by its army of volunteer
Readers; or, when for any reason one is adopted from a preceding
dictionary without verification, the fact is stated, both as an
acknowledgement of others' work, and as a warning to the reader that
it is given on intermediate authority.

Original work, patient induction of facts, minute verification of
evidence, are slow processes, and a work so characterized cannot be
put together with scissors and paste, or run off with the speed of the
copyist. All the great dictionaries of the modern languages have taken
a long time to make; but the speed with which the New English
Dictionary has now advanced nearly to its half-way point can
advantageously claim comparison with the progress of any other great
dictionary, even when this falls far behind in historical and
inductive character.[16] Be the speed what it may, however, there is
the consideration that the work thus done is done once for all; the
structure now reared will have to be added to, continued, and extended
with time, but it will remain, it is believed, the great body of fact
on which all future work will be built. It is never possible to
forecast the needs and notions of those who shall come after us; but
with our present knowledge it is not easy to conceive what new feature
can now be added to English Lexicography. At any rate, it can be
maintained that in the Oxford Dictionary, permeated as it is through
and through with the scientific method of the century, Lexicography
has for the present reached its supreme development.

In the course of this lecture, it has been needful to give so many
details as to individual works, that my audience may at times have
failed 'to see the wood for the trees,' and may have lost the clue of
the lexicographical evolution. Let me then in conclusion recapitulate
the stages which have been already indicated. These are: the glossing
of difficult words in Latin manuscripts by easier Latin, and at length
by English words; the collection of the English glosses into
Glossaries, and the elaboration of Latin-English Vocabularies; the
later formation of English-Latin Vocabularies; the production of
Dictionaries of English and another modern language; the compilation
of Glossaries and Dictionaries of 'hard' English words; the extension
of these by Bailey, for etymological purposes, to include words in
general; the idea of a Standard Dictionary, and its realization by Dr.
Johnson with illustrative quotations; the notion that a Dictionary
should also show the pronunciation of the living word; the extension
of the function of quotations by Richardson; the idea that the
Dictionary should be a biography of every word, and should set forth
every fact connected with its origin, history, and use, on a strictly
historical method. These stages coincide necessarily with stages of
our national and literary history; the first two were already reached
before the Norman Conquest; the third followed upon the recognition of
English as the official language of the nation, and its employment by
illustrious Middle English writers. The Dictionaries of the modern
languages were necessitated first by the fact that French had at
length ceased to be the living tongue of any class of Englishmen, and
secondly by the other fact that the rise of the modern languages and
increasing intercourse with the Continent made Latin no longer
sufficient as a common medium of international communication. The
consequences of the Renascence and of the New Learning of the
sixteenth century appear in the need for the Dictionaries of Hard
Words at the beginning of the seventeenth; the literary polish of the
age of Anne begat the yearning for a standard dictionary, and inspired
the work of Johnson; the scientific and historical spirit of the
nineteenth century has at once called for and rendered possible the
Oxford English Dictionary. Thus the evolution of English Lexicography
has followed with no faltering steps the evolution of English History
and the development of English Literature.


[1] Thus the first six Latin words in A glossed are _apodixen_,
_amineae_, _amites_, _arcontus_, _axungia_; the last six are _arbusta_,
_anser_, _affricus_, _atticus_, _auiaria_, _avena_; mostly 'hard'
Latin it will be perceived. The Erfurt Glossary is, to a great extent,
a duplicate of the Epinal.

[2] Thus the first five Latin entries in ab- are _abminiculum_,
_abelena_, _abiecit_, _absida_, _abies_, and the last five _aboleri_,
_ab borea_, _abiles_, _aborsus_, _absorduum_. To find whether a wanted
word in ab- occurs in this glossary, it was necessary to look through
more than two columns containing ninety-five entries.

[3] An important collection of these early beginnings of lexicography
in England was made so long ago as 1857, by the late distinguished
antiquary Thomas Wright, and published as the first volume of a
Library of National Antiquities. A new edition of this with sundry
emendations and additions was prepared and published in 1884 by
Professor R.F. Wuelcker of Leipzig, and the collection is now generally
referred to by scholars in German fashion under the designation of

[4] This is the primary reason why in Middle and Modern English,
unlike what is found in German and Dutch, the terms of culture, art,
science, and philosophy, are of French or, through French, of Latin
origin. The corresponding Old English terms were forgotten during the
age of illiteracy, and when, generations later, the speaker of English
came again to deal with such subjects, he had to do like Layamon, when
he knew no longer _tungol-croeft_, and could refer to it only as 'the
craft ihote _astronomie_ in other kunnes speche.'

[5] Also _Medulla Grammaticae_, or usually _Grammatice_.

[6] At the end is an alphabetical list of adjectives; extending from
lf. 79a, col. 2, to 83a, foot.

[7] It must however be mentioned that the second dictionary of English
and another modern tongue was appropriately 'A Dictionary in Englyshe
and Welshe, moche necessary to all suche Welshemen as wil spedlye
learne the englyshe tongue, thought vnto the kynges maiestie very mete
to be sette forth to the vse of his graces subiectes in Wales, ... by
Wyllyam Salesbury.' The colophon is 'Imprynted at London in Foster
Lane, by me John Waley. 1547.'

[8] In the Dedication he says, 'Which worke, long ago for the most
part, was gathered by me, but lately augmented by my sonne Thomas, who
now is Schoolemaister in London.'

[9] 'To the right honourable, worshipfull, vertuous, & godlie Ladies,
the Lady Hastings, the Lady Dudley, the Lady Mountague, the Ladie
Wingfield, and the Lady Leigh, his Christian friends, R.C. wisheth
great prosperitie in this life, with increase of grace, and peace from
GOD our Father, through Iesus Christ our Lord and onely Sauiour.' (A

[10] His explanations of such words were curt enough: '_Cat_, a
Creature well known'; '_Horse_, a Beast well known'; '_Man_, a
Creature endued with Reason.'

[11] 'An interleaved copy of Bailey's dictionary in folio he made the
repository of the several articles.' _Works of J._, 1787, I. 175.

[12] Pg. _coco_, a grinning mask, applied to the coco-nut because of
the three holes and central protuberance at its apex, suggesting two
eyes, a mouth, and nose.

[13] The following are examples of his own practice: _The Rambler_
(1751), No. 153, par. 3, 'I was in my eighteenth year dispatched to
the university.' Ibid., No. 161, par. 4, 'I ... soon dispatched a
bargain on the usual terms.' _Letter to Mrs. Thrale_, May 6, 1776, 'We
dispatched our journey very peaceably.'

[14] Among such must be reckoned the treatment of words in the
explanation of which Johnson showed political or personal animus or
whimsical humour, as in the well-known cases of _whig_, _tory_,
_excise_, _pension_, _pensioner_, _oats_, _Grub-street_,
_lexicographer_ (see Boswell's _Johnson_, ed. Birkbeck Hill, i. 294);
although it must be admitted that these have come to be among the
famous spots of the Dictionary, and have given gentle amusement to
thousands, to whom it has been a delight to see 'human nature' too
strong for lexicographic decorum.

[15] In some cases, long Lists of the Authors, from whose works 'the
illustrative quotations have been selected,' are given, without the
statement that many of those quotations have not actually been
selected from the authors and works named, but have merely been
annexed from Johnson or one of his supplementers.

[16] The famous _Deutsches Woerterbuch_ of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm,
after many years of preparation, began to be printed in 1852; Jacob
Grimm himself died in 1863, in the middle of the letter F; the work is
expected to reach the end of S by the close of the century. The great
_Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal_ was commenced in 1852; its first
volume, _A--Ajuin_, was published in 1882, and it is not yet quite
half-finished. Of the new edition of the _Vocabolario della Crusca_,
which is to a certain extent on historical principles, Vol. I,
containing A, was published in 1863, and Vol. VIII, completing I, in
1899; at least twenty-five more years will be required to reach Z.
None of these works embraces so long a period of the language, or is
so strictly historical in method, as the New English Dictionary.
Rather are they, like Littre's great _Dictionnaire de la Langue
Francaise_, Dictionaries of the modern language, with the current
words more or less historically treated.


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