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Dr. Minor and the Oxford English Dictionary Elizabeth M. Knowles On 13 April 1872 the British Home Secretary, Henry Austin Bruce, signed a "warrant for the reception of Edmund Dainty and William Chester Minor into the Broadmoor Asylum" (Broadmoor file 742). Both men had appeared at the Surrey Assizes in Kingston-onThames on 25 March, when Edmund Dainty was "found to be insane on arraignment," and William Chester Minor, who had been charged with the murder of George Merritt in Lambeth, was "acquitted on the ground of insanity." The two were admitted to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum (now Broadmoor Hospital) on 17 April. It was recorded that William Chester Minor was considered to be dangerous to others, his chief delusion being that "persons (unknown) are attempting to do him an injury by poisoning etc." Although at this stage few details of his background seem to have been known, his degree ofeducation was noted as "superior" (Broadmoor). William Chester Minor was in fact a doctor, an American, and a formersurgeon in the American Army, having served with the Union forces during the Civil War. He was 38, with a history of some mental disturbance, when he came to England in 1872. His belief that he was in danger ofattack apparently caused him to keep a loaded revolver in his room, and the killing occurred when he awoke one night with the conviction that his room had been entered. Taking his revolver, he ran out into the street and killed George Merritt, a passer-by. Dr. Minor was to remain in Broadmoor for 38 years. He was visited regularly by members of his family as well as by various American friends, and contact was maintained with the American Embassy. He had his own room, books, music, and a personal attendant, and in general was probably made as comfortable as his illness allowed. That no real improvement in his condition occurred is shown by a letter 28Elizabeth M. Knowles from the Medical Superintendent, Dr. Richard Brayn, to the American Embassy in 1909: Dr. W.C. Minor suffers from chronic delusional insanity. He imagines that he is persecuted in various ways during the night, and although capable of writing an intelligible letter is quite unreasonable on the subjects having any relation to his morbid ideas.1 Lexicography was one of the subjects that did not disturb Dr. Minor, and for many years he contributed material to the New English Dictionary (later the Oxford English Dictionary). In Caught in the Web of Words Miss K. M. Elisabeth Murray has given a sympathetic sketch of "Dr. Minor of Broadmoor" and his connection with the OED (K. M. E. Murray 305-07), but while the story is one that has always caught the public interest, the precise nature of his contribution to the project has not been adequately described. We have found no record of the initial contact between Dr. Minor and James Murray, the first and chief Editor of the OED, but it seems most probable that Dr. Minor saw an appeal for volunteer readers in one of the Philological Societyjournals. We do know that over a period of more than twenty years he worked systematically at reading selected texts and recording instances of words and phrases. Material in the OED Archives has now been added to information from the Broadmoor Hospital files and the Murray Papers to provide the basis of a detailed account of his work. The OED Archives contain a number of "word-lists" for 16th-, 17th-, and 18th-century works. They consist of alphabetical vocabulary lists with what appear to be page references for the words. In some cases, individual items have been ticked or otherwise distinguished . All the lists appear to be comprehensive, but some are physically very small, with entries that appear to have been written with a fine-tipped pen. None of the lists provides any indication as to the compiler, other than that implicit in the handwriting. Comparison of the hand ofone such list with a holograph letter of Dr. Minor's suggested to the Archivist that Dr. Minor had compiled at least some of the indexes. This hypothesis was validated by the discovery of a second letter...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 27-42
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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