Materials for the History of the Oxford English Dictionary
- Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America
- Dictionary Society of North America
- Number 8, 1986
- pp. 176-178
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MATERIALS FOR THE HISTORY OFTHE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY MATERIALS FOR THE HISTORY OF THE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY RICHARD W. BAILEY For some years, I have urged others to consider writing a history of the Oxford English Dictionary. The work that I have envisaged would include not only biographies of the editors and sub-editors but also an evaluation of the work of assistants, volunteer readers, and major figures who encouraged and advised the editors in their efforts (for instance, F. J. Furnivall and Walter Skeat). The origins of the Dictionary, details of editing, and the contemporary reception of each fascicle would also be given careful attention. There are, of course, beginnings of such a history in the pioneering article by Hans Aarsleff ("The Early History of the Oxford English Dictionary," Bulletin of the New York Public Library 66 , 417-39) and in the excellent biography of James A. H. Murray by K. M. Elisabeth Murray (Caught in the Web of Words [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977]). But much remains to be done on this interesting subject, and the materials are available to the diligent scholar who seeks them. (I have in mind the citation slips now stored at the University of Michigan for the Middle and Early Modern English periods, the extensively revised proofs kept at the Bodleian in Oxford, and the rich files of correspondence archived by the Oxford University Press.) The Dictionary Society of North America, at its founding, encouraged the editor of its journal to reprint essays published elsewhere but not generally available. The following selection combines that idea with the hope that materials for the history of the Oxford English Dictionary will find interested readers and perhaps inspire someone to become the historian of that work. The pages that follow contain documents from three periods of the Dictionary. The first was published in January 1859 as the "Proposal for the Publication of a New English Dictionary by the Philological Society" and was the first general declaration of "the main outlines of the plan." It reflects the 176 Richard W. Bailey177 literary and historical bias already articulated by Richard Chenevix Trench in his influential work, On Some Deficiencies in Our English Dictionaries (1857), especially in the declaration that "purely scientific subjects" would not fall within the scope of the work. A preference for the earlier stages of English is also apparent, and those centrally involved declare their plan to extract quotations from older English and the "principal writers." "The whole of the eighteenth-century literature" was delegated to American volunteers under the direction of G. P. Marsh. The details provided in this document (and the invocation of the Brothers Grimm as worthy antecedents in lexicography) give this pamphlet particular interest. The second selection was published in 1879 after J. A. H. Murray had been appointed editor of the Dictionary. The author begins with a brief description of the diversion of interest from lexicography to textual editing as the founders became aware of the need for reliable sources. He expresses disappointment that the American committee has not been more active and, though nothing is said about "scientific subjects," the bibliography that Murray provided lists authors in astronomy, natural history, and geology. The edition we draw upon here also contains a reprint from the Nation (New York) directed toward American volunteers, who are now asked to communicate with Professor F. A. March (the preeminent American philologist of his day). The third selection concerns the celebration on June 6, 1928, when the Oxford English Dictionary was officially completed. The banquet held at Goldsmith's Hall in London was a splendid affair, marred by the stipulation that only "men of science" would be seated on the main floor. (Any women present were obliged to watch the men eat, from the balcony; Agnes Carswell Fries took offense at this condition of the invitation and did not accompany her husband to the dinner. From the beginning of the work, many women had selected quotations for the Dictionary, but their contribution was not acknowledged at the ceremony.) The Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, made a witty toast in which he celebrated the 178Materials for the History of the OED Dictionary for including "all...