- "To Shine with Borrowed Splendour": J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps, Thomas Wright, and Victorian Lexicography
- Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America
- Dictionary Society of North America
- Number 16, 1995
- pp. 109-150
- View Citation
- Additional Information
ARTICLES "To Shine with Borrowed Splendour": J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps, Thomas Wright, and Victorian Lexicography Neil C. Huitín W ith the possible exception of Johnson's classic work, English dictionaries and glossaries are typically things of the moment. Older editions attract scant attention while new or revised texts are cordially welcomed by booksellers and their patrons alike. This was no less the case in 19th-century Britain where the number and variety of new dictionaries and glossaries excited the wonder of scholars and journalists. The London Review in 1860, for example, counted "independently of a numerous brood of minor compilations and-miniature compendiums for the satchels of school-boys, the pockets of adults, and the carpet-bags of travellers ... no less than a hundred and twentyfour English dictionaries of words, exclusive of the three whose titles we quote at foot."1 More recent assessors have similarly been impressed by the quantity, if not always the quality, of these many publications;2 Martyn Wakelin, for one, found that "from the beginning of the nineteenth century," glossaries are "too frequent to exemplify." Still, from the mass of titles, he selected "two nineteenth-century general dialect glossaries [as] worthy of special note": J. O. Halliwell's Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words (hereafter, Archaic Dictionary) and Thomas Wright's Dictionary of Obsolete and Provincial English (here1 "English Dictionaries," London Review I (22 December 1860), 597. 2 Richard Lovett, "Dictionary Making, Past and Present," The British Quarterly Review, LXXIX (April 1884), 343, noted that "since Johnson's day dictionaries have poured forth from the press in a steady stream." 110Neil C. Huitín after, Provincial Dictionary).3 It is true that some Victorian commentators were scathing in their assessment of these volumes by Halliwell and Wright—The Athenaeum referred sarcastically to Halliwell's "monument of . . . lexicographical talents," but, then, it had already decided that he was a scoundrel,4 and Edwin Guest felt free to malign Herbert Coleridge by saying that his "vocabulary was a sad affair— worthy of T. Wright himself."5 Despite a few similarly hostile comments, both glossaries were generally reckoned valuable compilations by contemporaries, so much so that F. J. Child praised the Archaic Dictionary for "supply[ing] a great desideratum" (Letters of Authors, hereafter LOA),6 and The Critic found Wright's dictionary "an indispensable portion of every library of reference" (16 March 1857, 13). Those concerned with the preservation of popular lore and provincial speech particularly welcomed Halliwell and Wright as colleagues in the struggle to preserve regional dialects from the dominating literate culture. Accordingly, one of Halliwell's correspondents deplored "the increase of literature in country villages [for it] will quickly obliterate many ancient words and expressions, which have come down traditionally from very old times." Convinced that "the unlettered peasant never coins a word or a phrase, and even the pro5 English Dialects. An Introduction, rev. ed. London: Athlone Press, 1977, 45; repeated in "Treatment of Dialect in English Dictionaries," Studies in Lexicography , ed. R. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987, 169. The full titles are: Halliwell—Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words, Obsolete Phrases, Proverbs, and Ancient Customs from the Fourteenth Century. (London : John Russell Smith, 1847); Wright—Dictionary of Obsolete and Provincial English, Containing Words from the English Writers Previous to the Nineteenth Century which are no longer in use, or are not used in the same senses. And words which are now used only in the Provincial Dialects (London : Henry G. Bohn, 1857). 4 No. 1086 (19 August 1848), 828. Sir Frederick Madden, insuumental in identifying the stolen manuscripts in the Trinity College affair discussed below, called Halliwell a "scoundrel" in a letter of 17 September 1846 (British Library , Add. 34576, fol. 162v). 5 Cited by William Benzie, Dr. F. J. FurnivaU, Victorian Scholar Adventurer. Norman, OK: Pilgrim Books, 1983, 92. 6 This letter of 16 January 1849 is held by Edinburgh University, Shelfmark Letters of Authors, vol. 1 1, item 19. References to this collection will be designated LOA, followed by volume and item number. The diary of Henrietta Halliwell, also preserved in Edinburgh University, is referred to as Diary, followed by volume and page numbers. To Shine with Borrowed Splendour111 nunciation...