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The Early History of, and its Impact upon, the Middle English Dictionary T! N. F. Blake 'he completion of the Middle English Dictionary (MED) in 2001 is a great achievement for which those involved deserve great credit. However, attempts to establish such a dictionary and its early history had considerable impact on its final shape and organization . The story of its many vicissitudes has significance for the way it developed and may have some echos in other projects of this size and nature. In what follows, I divide the story and its implications into four unequal parts: (1) the period before the establishment of the Middle English Dictionary project, (2) the initial stages in the establishment of the project (3) the publication of the Middle English Dictionary and some of the early views expressed about the early fascicles, and (4) a brief look at the future. The pre-Middle English Dictionary era1 Several dictionaries of Middle English (ME) were compiled in the Victorian period, but all were brief and/or incomplete. The only one with any kind of completeness was Stratmann's issued in 1867 (supplement 1881) which in 1891 was re-issued in a version revised by Henry Bradley with a slightly different title. This is a single volume dic- 'The following account draws freely and variously on the many available sources for the history of the MED listed among the references below; but especially important is the account in Adams (in preparation) . Dictionaries:Journal ofthe Dictionary Society ofNorth America 23 (2002) __________On the Completion of the Middle English Dictionary________49 tionary of somewhat over 700 pages, which those who have used it (as most of us have had to until very recently) accept as both incomplete and difficult to find one's way in. Mayhew and Skeat produced a concise dictionary in 1888 containing about 270 pages which was selective and literary. The most ambitious was the work of Eduard Mätzner, who tried single-handedly to construct his own dictionary to form the second volume, Wörterbuch, of his Altenglische Sprachproben, published between 1878 and 1900. Although a more substantial affair, with etymologies , examples, and illustrative material in its approximately 1,900 pages, it got no further than misbileven; it remained unfinished and subsequent editions of Altenglische Sprachproben did not include the dictionary volume. The next development was the concept of a Chaucer concordance which embraced many features of a dictionary as well. As with so many things concerned with medieval English scholarship, it was Frederick Furnivall (1825-1910) , in the second half of the nineteenth century , who promoted the idea of a Chaucer dictionary and concordance to supplement the volumes of his Chaucer Society. Some of the transcripts of early manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales and other poems were undertaken with this concordance-dictionary in mind. In 1871 he asked for volunteers, and, from 1877 to 1883, he claimed that Hiram Corson, Professor of English at Cornell University, was organizing things. Nothing seemed to get done, but, from 1888 to 1891, a Mr. W W Aylward took over the organization of this glossarial concordance. For reasons unknown, this Mr. Aylward assumed the pseudonym "Mr. Wilson Graham" for this work and through advertisements recruited readers and allocated material to them with the instruction to follow Furnivall's guidelines. Most readers were amateurs, including a future governor of the Bank of England; and friction arose between some of the readers and "Mr. Graham" which resulted in the airing of some grievances in public. As Furnivall's guidelines as to how this concordance should be constructed and what it should contain were not precise, it is hardly surprising that slips came in on all types of paper in various shapes and colors and often with insufficient surrounding context to make the quotations usable. In 1890, Ewald Flügel, then a privat dozentat Leipzig University and the son and grandson of distinguished lexicographers and scholars of English, volunteered to take over the preparation of this glossarial concordance, a task he was later to call "this stone of Sisyphus" (Flügel 1911, 354). Although accepted by Furnivall, he was not an obvious candidate for this position, since his scholarship hith- 50N. F...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 48-75
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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