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Sanford Brown Meech at the Middle English Dictionary Michael Adams Allen Walker Read once asked of Sherman Kuhn, dien editor of the Middle English Dictionary (MED), "Is there an account anywhere in print about the dismissal of Sanford Meech and Harold Whitehall [from the MED]? Tm not sure that I ought to put anything about that into my account, but a year or two ago Kemp Malone made a glancing reference to it, and some people might think I was sidestepping a duty if I leave it out." Kuhn responded as follows: I know the story of the dismissal you refer to—at second and third hand. I am in favor of burying it. None of die parties to the conuoversy has ever mentioned the matter to me, but I think I have heard both sides. As I see it, the whole thing turned out to be a mistake [emphasis added] (however good intentions die participants may have had), and a full airing of it would reflect no credit upon anyone.1 The story, however, reflects some credit upon Meech, largely forgotten as a lexicographer, yet as significant a figure in the MED's history as 1 Quoted from a diree-page letter from Read to Kuhn, typed and signed, on personal letterhead, dated 12 January 1963; and from a carbon copy of Kuhn's two-page reply, dated 7 February 1963. These letters are currendy housed in filing cabinets in die MED offices, as are all odier documents mentioned below unless odierwise noted. Because diese documents are not filed systematically and may be moved upon die dicdonary's completion, I give fairly full descriptions of material from which I quote. The author is grateful to Allen Walker Read for permission to quote from his letter—and to Robert E. Lewis, Executive Director, The Middle English Dictionary, University of Michigan and die Bentley Historical Library (Lisa B. Hum, Reference Assistant), University of Michigan for permission to quote from unpublished archival material and documents in their possession. 1 52Michael Adams Samuel Moore or Thomas Knott, the dictionary's first two editors at the University of Michigan.2 Without Meech, his dismissal, and the aftermath of that "mistake," the MED might have been written and published more quickly, but as a work inferior to the current MED. In what follows I attempt to give Sanford Meech his due, to describe the role he played at the MED during its early history and the circumstances of the MED's "false start," that stage of lexicography in which early failure prompts editors to reassess and revise their purposes and principles to ensure future success, and which the MED shared with many major dictionary projects, including Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language, and the OED.5 2 In 1919, in an address to the Philological Society (London), Sir William Craigie, editor of the Oxford English Dictionary (1901-1933), suggested die writing of national and period dictionaries on historical principles to expand and improve upon die OED within their own special areas. Craigie began editing the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue (1933-) and, with J. R. Hulbert, completed die Dictionary of American English (1938-44). Ewald Flügel, of Stanford University, and Clark Northrup, at Cornell, began dictionaries of Middle English in the 1920's; but under the auspices of the Modern Language Association, die MED began in earnest in 1930, at die University of Michigan, under Samuel Moore. Moore served as editor until his premature death in 1934, at which time Thomas A. Knott assumed the editorship, continuing until 1945. H. T. Price, the prominent Shakespearean scholar, maintained the dictionary until Hans Kurath was appointed editor in 1946. Kurath finally began publication in 1952, and the dictionary has appeared, in quarterly parts of 128 pages (more or less) until die present. Sherman M. Kuhn replaced Kurath in 1961 and continued until 1982, when Robert E. Lewis, die current editor, arrived in Ann Arbor. Though initially organized and promoted by die Modern Language Association, by 1946 the MED had become entirely a research project of the University of Michigan, funded partly by the University and partly by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 151-185
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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