Our Mother Tongue: Mr. Baldwin on the Oxford Dictionary
- Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America
- Dictionary Society of North America
- Number 8, 1986
- pp. 246-250
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OUR MOTHER TONGUE: MR. BALDWIN ON THE OXFORD DICTIONARY* STANLEY BALDWIN, PRIME MINISTER A dinner given by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths to the editors and staff of the Oxford English Dictionary to celebrate the completion of their fifty years' work on the book was the occasion of a witty and felicitous speech by the Prime Minister. Mr. Baldwin, as reported in The Times, pays high tribute to the labours of all who were associated with the task, and to the enduring worth of the Dictionary which will remain a monument to the English tongue and to English scholarship. The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths has a just cause of pride in that it bore the expense of producing one of the volumes. Mr. Baldwin, proposing the toast, said:— I have spoken at many dinners—I have never been allowed to dine without speaking—but I have never risen under such a feeling of oppression and depression as I do to-night, partly by the weight of learning in this room and partly by the weight of the toast which I have to propose. I am expected in a few words to do justice to the merits of Professor Craigie and his co-editor and the staff, of 15,000 pages of literature, of 400,000 words, of 3,000,000 quotations, and 178 miles of type. Sir, not even Gladstone in the plenitude of his power and with the pomp of his participles could have done justice to that subject in anything less than a rectorial address; and I, who always endeavour to speak in monosyllables, am expected to cover one of that great man's postcards. Genesis ofthe work. Professor Craigie has indeed stood by and helped to rock the cradle of our tongue, and has listened to the alliterative babbling of our ancestors in the nursery. He has watched that tongue through the ages, in its births, its marriages, and its * Reprinted from John O'London's Weekly, June 30, 1928, p. 383. Ellipses are original. 246 June 6, 1928247 deaths, and in its associations with foreign countries, and he has brought it up to the time when it is, as we have known it for long, the most efficient instrument that has ever been used by the tongue of man. I have not much acquaintance myself with tongues, nor have I had the opportunity of consulting our latest member of the Order of Merit, who, I have been told, is familiar with 179 Indian languages and 554 dialects, but those whose powers of comparison exceed mine—and they are many—assure me that English yields place to no tongue in its power of expressing human thought, except to the tongue of ancient Greek alone. What was the genesis of this great work? It was this: it was the desire to record and to safeguard and to establish for all time the manifold riches of the English tongue. It was that desire that led a small group of men to lay the foundations of that structure whose completion we are celebrating tonight. It is half a century now since Dr. Murray had his first interview with the delegates of the Clarendon Press. That year is not without interest to me, for it was just about that time that the words "Prime Minister" began to creep into regular official use. It is forty-four years since the first part was published, and, as was said then, "with the assistance of many scholars and men of science." When I ask myself in what mood we are gathered together to-night I do not think I can express it better than it was expressed by the young man of Christ Church who, if reported truly by Bolingbroke, was overheard in his prayers acknowledging the Divine goodness in furnishing the world with makers of dictionaries. In the self-denying, lifelong labours of a succession of great scholars from Dean Trench to the present day, we remember perhaps above all others Dr. Murray, Professor Craigie, and Dr. Onions. We remember with them the chief editors, the sub-editors, the voluntary readers, the assistants, the pressmen, and the compositors, and, under and above and...