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The evolution of English lexicography, 

3 1924 006 755 239 

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The Evolution 


English Lexicography 


M.A., LL.D., D.C.L., Ph.D. 


JUNE 22, 1900 




5 ok £ -% 

A- 14* s*jfe 





When the 'Act to facilitate the provision of Allot- 
ments for the Labouring Classes' was before the 
House of Commons in 1887, a well-known member for 
a northern constituency asked the Minister who had 
charge of the measure for a definition of the term 
allotment, which occurred so often in the Bill. The 
Minister somewhat brusquely told his interrogator 
to 'look in the Dictionary/ at which there was, 
according to the newspapers, ' a laugh.' The member 
warmly protested that, being called upon to consider 
a measure dealing with things therein called 'Allot- 
ments,' a term not known to English Law, nor 
explained in the Bill itself, he had a right to ask 
for a definition. But the only answer he received 
was 'Johnson's Dictionary! Johnson's Dictionary!' at 
which, according to the newspapers, the House gave 
•another laugh,' and the interrogator subsided. The 
real humour of the situation, which was unfortunately 

6 The Romanes Lecture 1900 

lost upon the House of Commons, was, that as agri- 
cultural allotments had not been thought of in the 
days of Dr. Johnson, no explanation of the term in 
this use is to be found in Johnson's Dictionary; as, 
however, this happened to be unknown, alike to the 
questioner and to the House, the former missed 
a chance of 'scoring' brilliantly, and the House the 
chance of a third laugh, this time at the expense of 
the Minister. But the replies of the latter are typical 
of the notions of a large number of persons, who 
habitually speak of 'the Dictionary,' just as they do 
of ' the Bible,' or ' the Prayer-book,' or ' the Psalms ' ; 
and who, if pressed as to the authorship of these works, 
would certainly say that ' the Psalms ' were composed 
by David, and 'the Dictionary' by Dr. Johnson. 

I have met persons of intelligence who supposed 
that if Dr. Johnson was not the sole author of 'the 
Dictionary' — a notion which, in view of the 'push- 
fulness' wherewith, in recent times, Dictionaries, 
American and other, have been pressed upon public 
notice, is now not so easily tenable — he was, at least, 
the ' original author,' from whose capacious brain that 
work first emanated. Whereas, in truth, Dr. Johnson 
had been preceded by scores of workers, each of 
whom had added his stone or stones to the lexico- 
graphic cairn, which had already risen to goodly 
proportions when Johnson made to it his own splendid 

For, the English Dictionary, like the English Con- 
stitution, is the creation of no one man, and of no 
one age ; it is a growth that has slowly developed itself 

The Evolution of English Lexicography 7 

adown the ages. Its beginnings lie far back in times 
almost prehistoric. And these beginnings themselves, 
although the English Dictionary of to-day is lineally 
developed from them, Were neither Dictionaries, nor 
even English. As to their language, they were in the 
first place and principally Latin : as to their substance, 
they consisted, in large part at least, of glosses. They 
were Latin, because at the time to which we refer, 
the seventh and eighth centuries of our era, Latin was 
in Western Europe the on ly language of books, the 
learning of Latin the portal to all learning. And they 
were glosses in this wise: the possessor of a Latin 
book, or the member of a religious community which 
were the fortunate possessors of half-a-dozen books, 
in his ordinary reading of this literature, here and 
there came across a difficult word which lay outside 
the familiar Latin vocabulary. When he had ascer- 
tained the meaning of this, he often, as a help to his 
own memory, and a friendly service to those who 
might handle the book after him, wrote the meaning 
over the word in the original text, in a smaller hand, 
sometimes in easier Latin, sometimes, if he knew no 
Latin equivalent, in a word of his own vernacular. 
Such an explanatory word written over a word of the 
text is a gloss. Nearly all the Latin MSS. of religious 
or practical treatises, that have come down to us from 
the Middle Ages, contain examples of such glosses, 
sometimes few, sometimes many. It may naturally be 
supposed that this glossing of MSS. began in Celtic 
and Teutonic, rather than in Romanic lands. In the 
latter, the old Latin was not yet so dead, nor the vulgar 

8 The Romanes Lecture 1900 

idioms that were growing out of it, as yet so distinct 
from it, as to render the glossing of the one by the 
other needful. The relation of Latin to, say, the 
Romanic of Provence, was like that of literary English 
to Lancashire or Somerset dialect; no one thinks 
of glossing a literary English book by Somersetshire 
word-forms ; for, if he can read at all, it is the literary 
English that he does read. So if the monk of 
Burgundy or Provence could read at all, it was the 
Book-Latin that he could and did read. But, to the 
Teuton or the Celt, Latin was an entirely foreign 
tongue, the meaning of whose words he could not 
guess by any likeness to his own; by him Latin had 
been acquired by slow and painful labour, and to him 
the gloss was an important aid. To the modern 
philologist, Teutonic or Celtic, these glosses are very 
precious; they have preserved for us a large number 
of Old English, Old Irish, Old German words that 
occur nowhere else, and which, but for the work of 
the old glossators, would have been lost for ever. 
No inconsiderable portion of the oldest English 
vocabulary has been recovered entirely from these 
interlinear glosses ; and we may anticipate important 
additions to that vocabulary when Professor Napier 
gives us the volume in which he has been gathering up 
all the unpublished glosses that yet remain in MSS. 

In process of time it occurred to some industrious 
reader that it would be a useful exercise of his 
industry, to collect out of all the manuscripts to which 
he had access, all the glosses that they contained, and 
combine them in a list. In this compact form they could 

The Evolution of English Lexicography 9 

be learned by heart, thus extending the vocabulary 
at his command, and making him independent of the 
interlinear glosses, and they could also be used in 
the school-teaching of pupils and neophytes, so as 
sensibly to enlarge their stock of Latin words and 
phrases. A collection of glosses, thus copied out and 
thrown together into a single list, constituted a Glos- 
sarium or Glossary; it was the remote precursor 
of the seventeenth-century 'Table Alphabetical,' or 
' Expositor of Hard Words.' 

Such was one of the fountain-heads of English 
lexicography; the other is to be found in the fact that 
in those distant days, as in our own, the learning of 
Latin was the acquisition of a foreign tongue which 
involved the learning of a grammar and of a vocabulary. 
Both grammar and vocables were probably in the main 
communicated by oral teaching, by the living voice of 
the master, and were handed down by oral tradition 
from generation to generation. The stock of vocables 
was acquired by committing to memory classified lists 
of words ; lists of names of parts of the body, lists of 
the names of domestic animals, of wild beasts, of fishes, 
of trees, of heavenly bodies, of geographical features, 
of names of relationship and kindred, of ranks and 
orders of men, of names of trades, of tools, of arms, 
of articles of clothing, of church furniture, of diseases, 
of virtues and vices, and so on. Such lists of vocables, 
with their meaning in the vulgar tongue, were also at 
times committed to paper or parchment leaves, and 
a collection of these constituted a Vocabularium or 

io The Romanes Lecture 1900 

In their practical use the Vocabulary and the Glossary 
fulfilled similar offices; and so they were often com- 
bined ; the possessor of a Vocabulary enlarged it by the 
addition of a Glossary, which he or some one before 
him had copied out and collected from the glossed 
manuscripts of his bibliotheca. He extended it by 
copying into it vocabularies and glossaries borrowed 
from other scholars; he lent his own collection to be 
similarly copied by others. Several such collections 
exist formed far back in Old English times, the com- 
posite character of which, partly glossary, partly 
vocabulary, reveals itself upon even a cursory exami- 

As these manuscript lists came to be copied and 
re-copied, it was seen that their usefulness would be 
increased by putting the words and phrases into alpha- 
betical order, whereby a particular word could be more 
readily found than by looking for it in a promiscuous 
list of some hundreds or thousands of words. The first 
step was to bring together all the words having the 
same first letter. The copyist instead of transcribing 
the glossary right on as it stood, extracted first all 
the words beginning with A; then he went through 
it again picking out all the words beginning with B ; 
then a third time for those with C, and so on with 
D, E, and the rest, till he had transcribed the whole, 
and his copy was no longer in the fortuitous disorder 
of the original, but in what we call first-letter order. 

A still later scribe making a copy of this vocabulary, 
or possibly combining two or three lists already in 
first-letter order, carried the alphabetical arrangement 

The Evolution of English Lexicography n 

one stage further ; instead of transcribing the A -words 
as they stood, he went through them, picking out 
first those that began with Aa-, then those in Ab-, 
then those in Ac-, and so on, to Az. Then he did 
the same with the 5-words, picking out first all in 
Ba-, then Be-, Bi-, BI-, Bo-, Br-, Bu-, By-; and so 
exhausting the 5-words. Thus, at length, in this 
second recension, the Vocabulary stood, not yet com- 
pletely alphabetical, but alphabetized as far as the 
second letter of each word. 

All these stages can actually be seen in four of the 
most ancient glossaries of English origin that have 
come down to us, known respectively, from the libraries 
to which they now belong, as the Leiden, the Epinal, 
the Erfurt, and the Corpus (the last at Corpus Christi 
College, Cambridge). The Leiden Glossary represents 
the earliest stage of such a work, being really, in the 
main, a collection of smaller glossaries, or rather sets 
of glosses, each set entered under the name of the 
treatise from which it was extracted, the words in 
each being left in the order in which they happened 
to come in the treatise or work, without any further 
arrangement, alphabetical or other. It appears also 
to incorporate in a final section some small earlier 
vocabularies or lists of names of animals and other 
classes of things. In order to discover whether any 
particular word occurs in this glossary, the whole work 
from beginning to end must be looked through. The 
first advance upon this is seen in the Epinal Glossary, 
which uses part at least of the materials of the Leiden, 
incorporating with them many others. This glossary 

12 The Romanes Lecture 1900 

has advanced to first-letter order : all the A-words 
come together, followed by all the B-words, and so 
on to Z, but there is no further arrangement under 
the individual letters 1 - There are nearly fourteen 
columns of words beginning with A, containing each 
about forty entries ; the whole of these 550 entries 
must be looked through to see if a given word occurs 
in this glossary. The third stage is represented by 
the Corpus Glossary, which contains the materials of 
its predecessors, and a great deal more, and in which 
the alphabetical arrangement has been carried as far 
as the second letter of each word : thus the first 
ninety-five words explained begin with Ab-, and the 
next seventy-eight with Ac-, and so on, but the 
alphabetization goes no further 2 ; the glossary is in 
second-letter order. In at least one glossary of the 
tenth century, contained in a MS. of the British 
Museum (Harl. 3376), the alphabetical arrangement 
has been carried as far as the third letter, beyond 
which point it does not appear to have advanced. 

The MS. of the Corpus Glossary dates to the early 
part of the eighth century ; the Epinal and Erfurt— 
although the MS. copies that have come down to 

1 Thus the first six Latin words in A glossed are apodixen, 
aminem, amites, arcontus, axungia ; the last six are arbusta, anser, 
qffricus, atticus, auiaria, avena; mostly 'hard' Latin it will be 
perceived. The Erfurt Glossary is, to a great extent, a duplicate 
of the Epinal. 

a Thus the first five Latin entries in ab- are abminiculum, abelena, 
abiecit, absida, abies, and the last five aboleri, ab borea, abiles, aborsus, 
absorduum. To find whether a wanted word in ab- occurs in this 
glossary, it was necessary to look through more than two columns 
containing ninety-five entries. 

The Evolution of English Lexicography 13 

us are not older, or not so old— must from their 
nature go back as glossaries to a still earlier date, 
and the Leiden to an earlier still; so that we carry 
back these beginnings of lexicography in England 
to a time somewhere between 600 and 700 a.d., and 
probably to an age not long posterior to the introduction 
of Christianity in the south of England at the end 
of the sixth century. Many more vocabularies were 
compiled between these early dates and the eleventh 
century; and it is noteworthy that those ancient 
glossaries and vocabularies not only became fuller and 
more orderly as time advanced, but they also became 
more English. For, as I have already mentioned, 
the primary purpose of the glosses was to explain 
difficult Latin words ; this was done at first, whenever 
possible, by easier Latin words ; apparently, only 
when none such were known, was the explanation 
given in the vernacular, in Old English. In the 
Epinal Glossary the English words are thus relatively 
few. In the first page they number thirty out of 117, 
and in some pages they do not amount to half that 
number. In the Corpus Glossary they have become 
proportionally more numerous; and in the glossaries 
that follow, the Latin explanations are more and 
more eliminated and replaced by English ones, until 
the vocabularies of the tenth and eleventh centuries, 
whether arranged alphabetically or under classified 
headings, are truly Latin-English : every Latin word 
given is explained by an English one; and we see 
clearly that a new aim had gradually evolved itself; 
the object was no longer to explain difficult Latin 

14 The Romanes Lecture 1900 

words, but to give the English equivalents of as 
many words as possible, and thus practically to pro- 
vide a Latin Dictionary for the use of Englishmen 1 . 
Learning and literature, science and art, had attained 
to fair proportions in England, and in the Old English 
tongue, when their progress was arrested by the 
Norman Conquest. The Norman Conquest brought to 
England law and organization, and welded the country 
into a political unity; but it overthrew Old English 
learning and literary culture. In literary culture the 
Normans were about as far behind the people whom 
they conquered as the Romans were when they made 
themselves masters of Greece ; and it was not till 
some two generations after the Conquest, that learning 
and literature regained in England somewhat of the 
position which they had occupied two centuries earlier. 
And this new literary culture was naturally confined to 
the French dialect of the conquerors, which had become 
the language of court and castle, of church and law, of 
chivalry and the chase ; while the rich and cultured 
tongue of Alfred and iElfric was left for generations 
without literary employment, during which time it lost 
nearly all its poetical, philosophical, scientific, and 
artistic vocabulary, retaining only the words of common 

1 An important collection of these early beginnings of lexi- 
cography in England was made so long ago as 1857, by the late 
distinguished antiquary Thomas Wright, and published as the 
first volume of a Library of National Antiquities. A new edition 
of this with sundry emendations and additions was prepared 
and published in 1884 by Professor R. F. Wulcker of Leipzig, and 
the collection is now generally referred to by scholars in German 
fashion under the designation of Wright- Wulcker. 

The Evolution of English Lexicography 15 

life and everyday use 1 . And for more than 300 years 
after the Conquest English lexicography stood still. 
Between 1066 and 1400, Wright- Wtilcker shows only 
two meagre vocabularies, occupying some twenty-four 
columns of his volume. One of these, of the twelfth 
century, is only an echo of the earlier literary age, 
a copy of a pre-Conquest glossary, which some scribe 
who could still read the classical tongue of the old 
West Saxon Court, transliterated into the corrupted 
forms of his own generation. The other is a short 
vocabulary of the Latin and vernacular names of 
plants, a species of class-vocabulary of which there 
exist several of rather early date. 

But when we reach the end of the fourteenth century, 
English is once more in the ascendant. Robert of 
Gloucester, Robert Mannyng of Brunne, Dan Michel 
of Canterbury, and Richard Rolle of Hampole, William 
Langland and John Wyclif, John Gower and Geoffrey 
Chaucer, and many other authors of less known or 
entirely unknown name, have written in the tongue 
of the people ; English has been sanctioned for use 
in the courts of law; and, as John of Trevisa tells 
us, has, since the ' furste moreyn ' or Great Pestilence 
of 1349 (which Mrs. Markham has taught nineteenth- 

1 This is the primary reason why in Middle and Modern 
English, unlike what is found in German and Dutch, the terms 
of culture, art, science, and philosophy, are of French or, through 
French, of Latin origin. The corresponding Old English terms 
were forgotten during the age of illiteracy, and when, generations 
later, the speaker of English came again to deal with such subjects, 
he had to do like Layamon, when he knew no longer tungol-crceft, 
and could refer to it only as ' the craft ihote astronomie in other 
kunnes speche.' 

1 6 The Romanes Lecture 1900 

century historians to call the 'Black Death'), been 
introduced into the grammar schools in the transla- 
tion of Latin exercises, which boys formerly rendered 
into French. And under these new conditions lexico- 
graphical activity at once bursts forth with vigour. 
Six important vocabularies of the fifteenth century are 
printed by Wright- Wiilcker, most of them arranged, 
like the Old English one of iElfric, under subject- 
headings ; but one large one, extending to 2,500 words, 
entirely alphabetical. About the middle of the century, 
also, was compiled the famous Medulla Grammatices \ 
designated, with some propriety, ' the first Latin- 
English Dictionary,' the popularity of which is shown 
by the many manuscript copies that still survive; 
while it formed the basis of the Ortus (i.e. Hortus) 
Vocabulorum or first printed Latin-English Dictionary, 
which issued from the press of Wynkyn de Worde 
in 1500, and in many subsequent editions down to 
1533, as well as in an edition by Pynson in 1509. 

But all the glossaries and vocabularies as yet 
mentioned were Latin-English ; their primary object 
was not English, but the elucidation of Latin. A 
momentous advance was made about 1440, when 
Brother Galfridus Grammaticus — Geoffrey the Gram- 
marian — a Dominican friar of Lynn Episcopi in 
Norfolk, produced the English-Latin vocabulary, to 
which he gave the name of Prtmptuarium or Promp- 
torium Parvulorum, the Children's Store-room or 

The Promptorium, the name of which has now 
1 Also Medulla GrammaKcae, or usually Grammatics. 

The Evolution of English Lexicography 17 

become a household word to students of the history 
of English, is a vocabulary containing some 10,000 
words — substantives, adjectives, and verbs— with their 
Latin equivalents, which, as edited by Mr. Albert 
Way for the Camden Society in 1865, makes a goodly 
volume. Many manuscript copies of it were made and 
circulated, of which six or seven are known to be still 
in existence, and after the introduction of printing it 
passed through many editions in the presses of Pynson, 
Wynkyn de Worde, and Julian Notary. 

Later in the same century, the year 1483 saw the 
compilation of a similar, but quite independent work, 
which its author named the Catholicon Anglicum, 
that is, the English Catholicon or Universal treatise, 
after the name of the celebrated Latin dictionary of 
the Middle Ages, the Catholicon or Summa of Johannes 
de Balbis, or John of Genoa, made in 1286. The 
English Catholicon was in itself a work almost equally 
valuable with the Promptorium ; but it appears never 
to have attained to the currency of the Promptorium, 
which appeared as a printed book in 1499, while 
the Catholicon remained in two MSS. till printed for 
the Early English Text Society in 1881. 

The Renascence of Ancient Learning had now 
reached England, and during the sixteenth century 
there were compiled and published many important 
Latin-English and English-Latin vocabularies and 
dictionaries. Among these special mention must be 
made of the Dictionary of Sir Thomas Elyot, Knight, 
the first work, so far as I know, which took to itself 
in English what was destined to be the famous name 


18 The Romanes Lecture igoo 

of Dictionary, in mediaeval Latin, Dictionarius liber, 
or Dictionarium, literally a repertory of dictiones, a 
word originally meaning 'sayings,' but already by 
the later Latin grammarians used in the sense of 
verba or vocabula 'words.' The early vocabularies 
and dictionaries had many names, often quaint and 
striking ; thus one of c 1420 is entitled the Nominate, 
or Name-book ; mention has already been made of the 
Medulla Grammatices, or Marrow of Grammar, the 
Ortus Vocabulorum, or Garden of Words, the Promp- 
torium Parvulorum, and the Catholicon Anglicum ; later 
we find the Manipulus Vocabulorum, or Handful of Voc- 
ables, the Alvearie or Beehive, the Abecedarium, the 
Bibliotheca, or Library, the Thesaurus, or Treasury of 
Words — what Old English times would have called 
the Word-hord, the World of Words, the Table Alpha- 
betical, the English Expositor, the Ductor in Linguas, 
or Guide to the Tongues, the Ghssographia, the New 
World of Words, the Etymologkum, the Gazophylacium ; 
and it would have been impossible to predict in the 
year 1538, when Sir Thomas Elyot published his 
' Dictionary,' that this name would supplant all the 
others, and even take the place of the older and 
better- descended word Vocabulary; much less that 
Dictionary should become so much a name to conjure 
with, as to be applied to works which are not word- 
books at all, but reference-books on all manner of 
subjects, as Chronology, Geography, Music, Com- 
merce, Manufactures, Chemistry, or National Bio- 
graphy, arranged in Alphabetical or ' Dictionary order.' 
The very phrase, 'Dictionary order,' would in the 

The Evolution of English Lexicography 19 

first half of the sixteenth century have been unmean- 
ing, for all dictionaries were not yet alphabetical. 
There is indeed no other connexion between a dic- 
tionary and alphabetical order, than that of a balance 
of convenience. Experience has shown that though 
an alphabetical order makes the matter of a dictionary 
very disjointed, scattering the terminology of a par- 
ticular art, science, or subject, all over the book, and 
even when related words come together, often putting 
the unimportant derivative in front of the important 
primitive word, it is yet that by which a word or 
heading can be found, with least trouble and exercise 
of thought. But this experience has been only gradu- 
ally acquired; even now the native dictionaries of 
some Oriental languages are often not in alphabetical 
order; in such a language as Chinese, indeed, there 
is no alphabetical order in which to place the words, 
and they follow each other in the dictionary in a 
purely arbitrary and conventional fashion. In English, 
as we have seen, many of the vocabularies from the 
eleventh to the fifteenth century, were arranged under 
class-headings according to subject ; and, although Sir 
Thomas Elyot's Dictionary was actually in alphabetical 
order, that of J. Withals, published in 1554, under the 
title 'A short dictionarie for young beginners,' and 
with the colophon 'Thus endeth this Dictionary very 
useful for Children, compiled by J. Withals,' reverts 
to the older arrangement of subject-classes, as Names 
of things in the Aether or skie, the xii Signes, the 
vii Planets, Tymes, Seasons, Other times in the yere, 
the daies of the weeke, the Ayre, the viij windes, the 

b 2 

20 The Romanes Lecture 1900 

iiii partes of the worlde, Byrdes, Bees, Flies, and 
other, the Water, the Sea, Fishes, a Shippe with other 
water vessels, the earth, Mettales, Serpents, woorms 
and creepinge beastes, Foure-footed beastes, &C. 1 

It is unnecessary in this lecture to recount even 
the names of the Latin-English and English-Latin 
dictionaries of the sixteenth century. It need only be 
mentioned that there were six successive and succes- 
sively enlarged editions of Sir Thomas Elyot; that 
the last three of these were edited by Thomas Cooper, 
' Schole-Maister of Maudlens in Oxford ' (the son of 
an Oxford tradesman, and educated as a chorister in 
Magdalen College School, who rose to be Dean of 
Christ Church and Vice-Chancellor of the University, 
and to hold successively the episcopal sees of Lincoln 
and Winchester), and that Cooper, in 1565, published 
his great Thesaurus Linguae Romance et Britannicce, 
'opera et industria Thomse Cooperi Magdalenensis,' 
founded upon the great French work of Robert 
Stephens (Estienne), the learned French scholar and 
printer. Of this work Martin Marprelate says in his 
Epistle (Arber, p. 42), 'His Lordship of Winchester 
is a great Clarke, for he hath translated his Dictionarie, 
called Cooper's Dictionarie, verbatim out of Robert 
Stephanus his Thesaurus, and ill-favoured too, they 
say ! ' This was, however, the criticism of an adversary ; 
Cooper had added to Stephens's work many accessions 
from his editions of Sir Thomas Elyot, and other 
sources; his Thesaurus was the basis of later Latin- 

1 At the end is an alphabetical list of adjectives ; extending 
from If. 79a, col. a, to 83a, foot. 

The Evolution of English Lexicography 21 

English dictionaries, and traces of it may still be dis- 
covered in the Latin-English dictionaries of to-day. 

O/f printed English-Latin works, after the Promp- 
torium, one of the earliest was the Vulgaria of William 
Horman, Headmaster and Provost of Eton, printed by 
Pynson in 1519. This is a Dictionarium or liber dic- 
tionarius in the older sense, for it consists of short 
dictiones or sayings, maxims, and remarks, arranged 
under subject-headings, such as De Pietate, De Impietate, 
De corporis dotibus, De Valetudinis cura, De Hortensibus, 
De Bellicis, and finally a heading Promiscua. It may 
therefore be conceived that it is not easy to find 
any particular didio. Horman was originally a Cam- 
bridge man ; but, according to Wood, he was elected 
a Fellow of New College, Oxford, in 1477, the 
very year in which Caxton printed his first book 
in England, and in this connexion it is interesting to 
find among the illustrative sentences in the Vulgaria, 
this reference to the new art (sign. Oij) : ' The prynters 
haue founde a crafte to make bokes by brasen letters 
sette in ordre by a frame,' which is thus latinized : 
'Chalcographi artem excogitauerunt imprimendi libros 
qua literse formis sereis excudunt.' Of later English- 
Latin dictionaries two deserve passing mention: the 
Abecedarium of Richard Huloet or Howlet, a native 
of Wisbech, which appeared in the reign of Edward VI, 
in 1552, and the Alvearie of John Baret, Fellow of 
Trinity College, Cambridge, published under Elizabeth 
in 1573. The Abecedarium, although it gives the 
Latin equivalents, may be looked upon to some extent 
as an English dictionary, for many of the words have 

22 The Romanes Lecture 1900 

an English explanation, as well as a Latin rendering ; 

thus Almesse, or gift of dryncke, meate, or money, 

distributed to the poore, sporta, sportula ; Amyable, 

pleasante, or hauing a good grace, amabilis ; Ana- 

baptistes, a sorte of heretyques of late tyme in Germanye 

about the yere of our Lorde God .1524. . . . Anabaptistce. 

Baret's Alvearie of 1573 has been justly styled ' one 

of the most quaint and charming of all the early 

Dictionaries.' In his 'Prefatory Address to the Reader' 

the author tells, in fine Elizabethan prose, both how 

his book came into existence, and why he gave it 

its curious name : — 

' About eighteene yeeres agone, hauing pupils at Cambridge 
studious of the Latine tongue, I vsed them often to write Epistles 
and Theames together, and dailie to translate some peece of 
English into Latine, for the more speedie attaining of the same. 
And after we had a little begun, perceiuing what great trouble 
it was to come running to me for euerie worde they missed, 
knowing then of no other Dictionarie to helpe vs, but Sir Thomas 
Eliots Librarie, which was come out a little before ; I appointed 
them certaine leaues of the same booke euerie daie to write the 
english before the Latin, & likewise to gather a number of fine 
phrases out of Cicero, Terence, Caesar, Liuie, &c. & to set them 
vnder seuerall titles, for the more readie finding them againe at 
their neede. Thus, within a yeere or two, they had gathered 
together a great volume, which (for the apt similitude betweene 
the good Scholers and diligent Bees in gathering their waxe and 
honie into their Hiue) I called then their Aluearie, both for 
a memoriall by whom it was made, and also by this name to 
incourage other to the like diligence, for that they should not see 
their worthie praise for the same, vnworthilie drowned in obliuion. 
Not long after, diuers of our friends borrowing this our worke 
which we had thus contriued & wrought onelie for our owne 
priuate vse, often and many waies moued me to put it in print for 
the common profet of others, and the publike propagation of the 
Latine tongue.' 

But when Baret at length resolved to comply with 

The Evolution of English Lexicography 23 

this suggestion, there were many difficulties to be 
overcome, the expense of the work being not the 
least : — 

' And surelie, had not the right honourable Sir Thomas Smith 
knight, principall Secretarie to the Queenes Maiestie, that noble 
Theseus of learning, and comfortable Patrone to all Students, and 
the right Worshipfull M. Nowell, Deane of Pawles, manie waies 
encouraged me in this wearie worke (the charges were so great, 
and the losse of my time so much grieued me) I had neuer bene 
able alone to haue wrestled against so manie troubles, but long ere 
this had cleane broken off our worke begun, and cast it by for 

Between the dates of the Abecedarium and the 
Alvearie, Peter Levins, Fellow of Magdalen College, 
Oxford, published, in 1570, the first essay at an 
English Riming Dictionary, the Manipulus Vocabulorum, 
or Handful of Vocables, an original copy of which is 
in the Bodleian Library ; it was reprinted for the 
Early English Text Society in 1867 by Mr. H. B. 
Wheatley. The English words are arranged in order 
of their terminations, and each is furnished with a 
Latin equivalent. 

Of all the works which we have yet considered, 
Latin was an essential element: whether the object 
was, as in the glossaries and vocabularies before the 
fifteenth century, to explain the Latin words themselves, 
or as in the Promptorium and Catholicon, the Abece- 
darium and the Alvearie, and other works of the 
sixteenth century, to render English words into Latin. 
But a new stage of development was marked by the 
appearance of dictionaries of English with another, 
modern language. In 1521, the ' Introductory to write 

24 The Romanes Lecture igoo 

and to pronounce Frenche,' by Alexander Barclay, 
author of the ' Ship of Fooles,' was issued from the 
press of Robert Coplande ; and about 1527 Giles du 
Guez or du Wes (anglicized Dewes), French teacher 
to the Lady Mary, afterwards Queen Mary, published 
his ' Introductorie for to lerne to rede, to pronounce 
and to speke French trewly.' In addition to grammatical 
rules and dialogues, it contains a select vocabulary 
English and French. In 1514, Mary Tudor, younger 
sister of Henry VIII, became the unwilling bride of 
Louis XII of France. To initiate the princess in her 
husband's tongue, John Palsgrave, a native of London 
and graduate of Cambridge, who had subsequently 
studied in Paris, was chosen as her tutor, and accom- 
panied her to France. For her use Palsgrave prepared 
his celebrated Esclarcissement de la Langue Francqyse, 
which he subsequently revised and published in 1530, 
after his return to England, where he was incorporated 
M.A. at Oxford. The Esclarcissement is a famous 
book, at once grammar and vocabulary, and may be 
considered as the earliest dictionary of a modern 
language, in French as well as in English. It was 
reprinted in 1852 at the expense of the French 
Government in the series of publications entitled 
'Collection de documents inedits sur 1'histoire de 
France, publies par les soins du Ministre de 1' In- 
struction Publique, Deuxieme Serie — Histoire des 
Lettres et des Sciences.' It is a trite saying that 
' they do these things better in France ' ; but it is, 
nevertheless, sometimes true. Amid all the changes 
of government which France has seen in modern 

The Evolution of English Lexicography 25 

times, it has never been forgotten that the history 
of the French language, and of French letters and 
French science, is part of the history of France ; the 
British government has not even now attained to 
the standpoint of recognizing this : among the his- 
torical documents published under the direction of 
the authorities of the Record Office, there is no series 
illustrating the history of the language, the literature, 
or the science of England. 

Next to French, the continental languages most 
important to Englishmen in the sixteenth century, 
were Italian and Spanish, of both of which, accord- 
ingly, dictionaries were published before the end 
of the century 1 . In 1599 Richard Percevall, Gent., 
published his dictionary in Spanish and English ; and 
in the same year ' resolute John Florio ' (who in his 
youth resided in Worcester Place, Oxford, and was 
matriculated at Magdalen College in 1581) brought out 
his Italian-English Dictionary, the World of Words, 
which he re-published in a much enlarged form in 
1611, with dedication to the Queen of James I, as 
Queen Anna's New World of Words. This year, 
also, Randall Cotgrave published his famous French- 
English Dictionary, which afterwards passed through 

1 It must however be mentioned that the second dictionary of 
English and another modern tongue was appropriately ' A Dic- 
tionary in Englyshe and Welshe, moche necessary to all suche 
Welshemen aswil spedlye learne the englyshe tongue, thought vnto 
the kynges maiestie very mete to be sette forth to the vse of his 
graces subiectes in Wales, ... by Wyllyam Salesbury.' The 
colophon is ' Imprynted at London in Foster Lane, by me John 
Waley. 1547.' 

26 The Romanes Lecture 1900 

so many editions. In the absence as yet of any 
merely English dictionary, the racy English vocabulary 
of Florio and Cotgrave is of exceeding value, and 
has been successfully employed in illustrating the 
contemporary language of Shakspere, to whom Florio, 
patronized as he was by the Earls of Southampton and 
Pembroke, was probably personally known. Thus, the 
same year which saw England provided with the version 
of the Bible which was to be so intimately identified 
with the language of the next three centuries, saw her 
also furnished with adequate dictionaries of French, 
Italian, and Spanish; and, in 1617, a still more am- 
bitious work was accomplished by John Minsheu 
in the production of a polyglot dictionary of English 
with ten other languages, British or Welsh, Low 
Dutch, High Dutch, French, Italian, Spanish, Portu- 
guese, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, which he entitled 
''Hye/uaw els ras yk<&(r<ras, id est Ductor in Linguas, the 
Guide into Tongues.' 

But though in these works there is necessarily 
contained much of the material of an English dic- 
tionary, so that we can from them recover most of 
the current vocabulary, no one appears before the 
end of the sixteenth century to have felt that English- 
men could want a dictionary to help them to the 
knowledge and correct use of their own language. 
That language was either an in-born faculty, or it 
was inhaled with their native air, or imbibed with 
their mothers' milk; how could they need a book 
to teach them to speak their mother-tongue ? To 
the scholars of the Renascence the notion would 

The Evolution of English Lexicography 27 

have seemed absurd — as absurd as it has seemed to 
some of their descendants in the nineteenth century, 
that an English grammar-school or an English uni- 
versity should trouble itself about such aboriginal 
products of the English skull, as English language 
and literature. But by the end of the sixteenth 
century, as by the end of the nineteenth, there was 
a moving of the waters: the Renascence of ancient 
learning had itself brought into English use thousands 
of learned words, from Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, 
and other languages, 'ink-horn terms,' as they were 
called by Bale and by Puttenham, unknown to, and 
not to be imbibed from, mother or grandmother. A 
work exhibiting the spelling, and explaining the 
meaning, of these new-fangje ' hard words ' was the 
felt want of the day ; and the first attempt to supply 
it marks, on the whole, the most important point in 
the evolution of the modern English Dictionary. 

In 1604, Robert Gawdrey, who had been a school- 
master at Okeham, and afterwards at Coventry, pub- 
lished a modest octavo of 120 pages, 5J inches by 3I, 
calling itself The Table Alphabetical of Hard Words, 
in which he set forth the proper spelling and meaning 
of some 3,000 of these learned terms; his work 
reached a third edition in 1612 1 . In 1616, Dr. John 
Bullokar, then resident in Chichester, followed with 
a work of the same kind and size, named by him 
An English Expositor, of which numerous editions 

1 In the Dedication he says, 'Which worke, long ago for the 
most part, was gathered by me, but lately augmented by my sonne 
Thomas, who now is Schoolemaister in London.' 


28 The Romanes Lecture 1900 

came out, one as late as 1684. And in 1623 appeared 
the work which first assumed the title of ' The 
English Dictionarie,' by H. C, Gent. H. C, we learn 
from the dedication, was Henry Cockeram, to whom 
John Ford the dramatist addressed the following con- 
gratulatory lines: — 

To my industrious friend, the Author of this English Dictionarie, 
Mr. Henry Cockram of Exeter. 
Borne in the West ? liue there ? so far from Court ? 
From Oxford, Cambridge, London? yet report 
(Now in these daies of Eloquence) such change 
Of words ? vnknown ? vntaught ? tis new and strange. 
Let Gallants therefore skip no more from hence 
To Italie, France, Spaine, and with expence 
Waste time and faire estates, to learne new fashions 
Of complementall phrases, soft temptations 
To glorious beggary: Here let them hand 
This Booke ; here studie, reade, and vnderstand : 
Then shall they find varietie at Home, 
As curious as at Paris, or at Rome. 
For my part I confesse, hadst not thou writ, 
I had not beene acquainted with more wit 
Than our old English taught ; but now I can 
Be proud to know I have a Countryman 
Hath strugled for a fame, and what is more, 
Gain'd it by paths of Art, vntrod before. 
The benefit is generall ; the crowne 
Of praise particular, and thats thine owne. 
What should I say ? thine owne deserts inspire thee, 
Twere base to enuie, I must then admire thee. 

A friend and louer of thy paines, 

Iohn Ford. 
And a deeply interesting little book is this diminutive 
ancestor of the modern English Dictionary, to describe 
which adequately would take far more time than the 
limits of this lecture afford. It is divided into three 
parts : Part I contains the hard words with their 

The Evolution of English Lexicography 29 

explanation in ordinary language ; and instructive it is 
to see what words were then considered hard and 
unknown. Many of them certainly would be so still : 
as, for example, abgregate, ' to lead out of the flock ' ; 
acersecomick, 'one whose hair was never cut'; adcor- 
porated, 'married'; adecastick, 'one that will do just 
howsoever ' ; bubulcitate, ' to cry like a cow-boy ' ; collo- 
cuplicate, ' to enrich ' — concerning which we wonder who 
used them, or where Cockeram found them; but we 
are surprised to find among these hard words abandon, 
abhorre, abrupt, absurd, action, activitie, and actresse, ex- 
plained as 'a woman doer,' for the stage actress had 
not yet appeared. Blunder, ' to bestir oneself/ and 
Garble, 'to dense things from dust/ remind us that 
the meanings of words are subject to change. The 
Second Part contains the ordinary words 'explained' 
by their hard equivalents, and is intended to teach 
a learned style. The plain man or gentlewoman may 
write a letter in his or her natural language, and then 
by turning up the simple words in the dictionary alter 
them into their learned equivalents. Thus 'abound' 
may be altered into exuperate, 'too great plenty' into 
uberty, ' he and I are of one age ' into we are coetaneous, 
'youthful babbling' into juvenile inaniloquence — a useful 
expression to hurl at an opponent in the Oxford 

The last part is the most entertaining of all : it is 
headed 'The Third Part, treating of Gods and God- 
desses, Men and Women, Boyes and Maides, Giants 
and Diuels, Birds and Beasts, Monsters and Serpents, 
Wells and Riuers, Herbes, Stones, Trees, Dogges, 

30 The Romanes Lecture 1900 

Fishes, and the like'; it is a key to the allusions 
to classical, historical, mythological, and other mar- 
vellous persons, animals, and things, to be met with 
in polite literature. A good example of its contents 
is the well-known article on the Crocodile: — 

' Crocodile, a beast hatched of an egge, yet some of them grow to 
a great bignesse, as 10. 20. or 30. foot in length : it hath cruell teeth 
and scaly back, with very sharpe clawes on his feete : if it see 
a man afraid of him, it will eagerly pursue him, but on the 
contrary, if he be assaulted he wil shun him. Hauing eaten 
the body of a man, it will weepe ouer the head, but in fine eate the 
head also : thence came the Prouerb, he shed Crocodile teares, 
viz., fayned teares.' 

Appreciation of Cockeram's ' Dictionarie ' was marked 
by the numerous editions through which it passed 
down as late as 1659. Meanwhile Thomas Blount, 
Barrister of the Inner Temple, and correspondent of 
Anthony a Wood, was devoting the leisure hours 
of twenty years to his ' Glossographia : or a Dictionary 
interpreting all such hard words, whether Hebrew, 
Greek, Latin,' etc., 'as are now used in our refined 
English Tongue,' of which the first edition saw the 
light in 1656. 

I suppose it is a truism, that the higher position 
now taken by English studies, is intimately interwoven 
with the advances which have been made during the 
last quarter of a century in the higher education of 
women, and that but for the movement to let women 
share in the advantages of a university education, 
it is doubtful whether the nineteenth century would 
have witnessed the establishment of a School of 
English Language and Literature at Oxford. In con- 

The Evolution of English Lexicography 31 

nexion with this it is a noteworthy fact, that the 
preparation of these early seventeenth century English 
dictionaries was also largely due to a consideration 
of the educational wants of women. The 'Table 
Alphabeticall' of Robert Cawdrey, which was dedicated 
to five 'right honourable, Worshipfull, vertuous, and 
godlie Ladies 1 / the sisters of his former pupil, Sir 
James Harrington, Knight, bears on its title-page that it 
is 'gathered for the benefit and help of Ladies, Gentle- 
women, or any other vnskilfull persons.' Bullokar's 
Expositor was dedicated ' to the Right Honorable and 
Vertvovs his Singvlar Good Ladie, the Ladie Jane 
Viscountesse Mountague,' under whose patronage he 
hoped to see the work 'perhaps gracefully admitted 
among greatest Ladies and studious Gentlewomen, 
to whose reading (I am made belieue) it will not prooue 
altogether vngratefull.' In similar words, the title- 
page of Cockeram's Dictionary proclaims its purpose 
of ' Enabling as well Ladies and Gentlewomen ... as 
also Strangers of any Nation to the vnderstanding 
of the more difficult Authors already printed in our 
Language, and the more speedy attaining of an elegant 
perfection of the English tongue, both in reading, 
speaking, and writing.' And Thomas Blount, setting 
forth the purpose of his Glossographia, says, in words 
of which one seems to have heard an echo in reference 

1 'To the right honourable, worshipfull, vertuous, & godlie 
Ladies, the Lady Hastings, the Lady Dudley, the Lady Mountague, 
the Ladie Wingfield, and the Lady Leigh, his christian friends, 
R. C. wisheth great prosperitie in this life, with increase of grace, 
and peace from God our Father, through Iesus Christ our Lord 
and onely Sauiour.' (A a.) 

32 The Romanes Lecture igoo 

to an English School in this University, ' It is chiefly 
intended for the more-knowing Women, and less- 
knowing Men ; or indeed for all such of the unlearned, 
who can but finde in an Alphabet the word they vnder- 
stand not.' 

It is noticeable that all these references to the needs 
of women disappear from the later editions, and are 
wanting in later dictionaries after 1660; whether this 
was owing to the fact that the less-knowing women 
had now come upsides with the more-knowing men; 
or that with the Restoration, female education went 
out of fashion, and women sank back again into elegant 
illiteracy, I leave to the historian to discover; I only, 
as a lexicographer, record the fact that from the 
Restoration the dictionaries are silent about the educa- 
tion of women, till we pass the Revolution settlement 
and reach the Age of Queen Anne, when J. K. in 
1702 tells us that his dictionary is ' chiefly designed 
for the benefit of young Scholars, Tradesmen, Arti- 
ficers, and the female sex, who would learn to spell 

Blount's Glossographia went through many editions 
down to 1707 ; but two years after its appearance, 
Edward Phillips, the son of Milton's sister Anne, pub- 
lished his New World of Words, which Blount with 
some reason considered to be largely plagiarized from 
his book. He held his peace, however, until Phillips 
brought out a Law-Dictionary or Nomothetes, also largely 
copied from his own Nomo-lexicon, when he could 
refrain himself no longer, and burst upon the world 
with his indignant pamphlet, 'A World of Errors 

The Evolution of English Lexicography 33 

discovered in the New World of Words, and in 
Nomothetes or the Interpreter,' in which he exhibits 
the proofs of Phillips's cribbing, and makes wild sport 
of the cases in which his own errors and misprints 
had either been copied or muddled by his plagiarist. 
The latter did not vouchsafe a reply ; he knew a better 
plan ; he quietly corrected in his next edition the 
mistakes which Blount had so conveniently pointed 
out, and his ' New World of Words,' furnished with 
an engraved frontispiece, containing views of Oxford 
and Cambridge, and portraits of some Oxford and 
Cambridge scholars, lived on in successive editions 
as long as Blount's. 

Time and space forbid me even to recount the 
later dictionaries of this class and period; we need 
only mention that of Elisha Coles, a chorister and 
subsequently matriculated student of Magdalen College 
(of which his uncle, Elisha Coles, was steward under 
the Commonwealth), a meritorious work which passed 
through numerous editions down to 1732; and that 
of Edward Cocker, the celebrated arithmetician and 
writing-master of St. George's, Southwark, by whom 
people still sometimes asseverate ' according to Cocker.' 
This was published after his death, ' from the author's 
correct copy,' by John Hawkins, in 1704, with a por- 
trait of the redoubtable Cocker himself in flowing 
wig and gown, and the following lines: — 

' Cocker, who in fair writing did excell, 
And in Arithmetic perform'd as well, 
This necessary work took next in hand, 
That Englishmen might English understand.' v 


34 The Romanes Lecture 1900 

The last edition of Phillips' New World of Words 
was edited after his death, with numerous additions, 
by John Kersey, son of John Kersey the mathema- 
tician. Two years later Kersey threw the materials 
into another form and published it in an octavo, as 
Kersey's 'Dictionarium Anglo-Britannicum, or a General 
English Dictionary,' of which three editions appeared 
before 1721. In this work there are included a con- 
siderable number of obsolete words, chiefly from 
Spenser and his contemporaries, marked O., and in 
some cases erroneously explained. Professor Skeat 
has pointed out that this was the source of Chatter- 
ton's Elizabethan vocabulary, and that he took the 
obsolete words, which he attributed to Rowley, 
erroneous explanations and all, direct from Kersey's 

More than 100 years had now elapsed since Robert 
Cawdrey prepared his ' Table Alphabeticall,' and 
nearly a century since the work of Cockeram ; and 
all the dictionaries which had meanwhile appeared, 
although their size had steadily increased, were, in 
purpose and fact, only what these works had been — 
Vocabularies of ' Hard Words,' not of words in 
general. The notion that an English Dictionary ought 
to contain all English words had apparently as yet 
occurred to no one; at least no one had proposed 
to carry the idea into practice. But this further step 
in the evolution of the modern dictionary was now 
about to be made, and the man who made it was 
one of the most deserving in the annals of English 
lexicography. We now, looking back on the eighteenth 

The Evolution of English Lexicography 35 

century, associate it chiefly with the work of Dr. 
Johnson ; but down beyond the middle of that century, 
and to the man in the street much later, by far the 
best-known name in connexion with dictionaries was 
that of Nathanael Bailey. An advertisement ap- 
pended to the first edition of his Dictionary runs 
thus : ' Youth Boarded, and taught the Hebrew, 
Greek, and Latin languages, in a Method more Easy 
and Expedient than is common; also, other School- 
learning, by the Author of this Dictionary, to be 
heard of at Mr. Batley's, Bookseller, at the Sign of 
the Dove in Paternoster Row.' Bailey was the author 
or editor of several scholarly works ; but, for us, his 
great work was his Universal Etymological English 
Dictionary, published in 1721. In this he aimed at 
including all English words; yet not for the mere 
boast of ' completeness,' but for a practical purpose. 
The dictionary was not merely explanatory, it was 
also etymological ; and though Englishmen might not 
need to be told the meaning of man or woman, dog 
or cat^, they might want a hint as to their derivation. 
Bailey had hit the nail aright : successive editions 
were called for almost every two years during the 
century; when the author died, in 1742, the tenth 
edition was in the press. In that of 1731, Bailey 
first marked the stress-accent, a step in the direction 
of indicating pronunciation. In 1730, moreover, he 
brought out with the aid of some specialists, his folio 

1 His explanations of such words were curt enough : ' Cat, a 
Creature well known ' ; ' Horse, a Beast well known ' ; ' Man, 
a Creature endued with Reason.' 

C 2 

36 The Romanes Lecture 1900 

dictionary, the greatest lexicographical work yet under- 
taken in English, into which he also introduced 
diagrams and proverbs. This is an interesting book 
historically, for, according to Sir John Hawkins, it 
formed the working basis of Dr. Johnson 1 . 

Bailey had many imitators and rivals, nearly all of 
whom aimed, like him, at including all words ; of 
these I need only name Dyche and Pardon 1735, 
B. N. Defoe 1735, and Benjamin Martin 1749. 

During the second quarter of the century, the feel- 
ing arose among literary men, as well as among the 
booksellers, that the time had come for the preparation 
of a 'Standard Dictionary' of the English tongue. 
The language had now attained a high degree of 
literary perfection ; a perfect prose style, always a 
characteristic of maturity, had been created ; a brilliant 
galaxy of dramatists and essayists — Dryden, Pope, 
Addison, Steele, Swift, Defoe — had demonstrated that 
English was capable of expressing clearly and ele- 
gantly everything that needed to be expressed in 
language. The age of Queen Anne was compared 
to the Ciceronian age of Latin, or the age of Aristotle 
and Plato in Greek. But in both these cases, as 
indeed in that of every known ancient people, the 
language, after reaching its acme of perfection, had 
begun to decay and become debased : the golden age 
of Latinity had passed into a silvern, and that into 
a brazen and an iron age. The fear was that a like 
fate should overtake English also; to avert which 

1 'An interleaved copy of Bailey's dictionary in folio he made the 
repository of the several articles.' Works of J., 1787, 1. 175. 

The Evolution of English Lexicography 37 

calamity the only remedy appeared to be to fix the 
language by means of a ' Standard Dictionary,' which 
should register the proper sense and use of every 
word and phrase, from which no polite writer hence- 
forth would be expected to deviate; but, even as 
generation after generation of boys and men found 
their perfection of Latinity in the imitation of Cicero, 
so all succeeding ages of Englishmen should find 
their ideal of speech and writing fixed for ever in 
this standard dictionary. To us of a later age, 
with our fuller knowledge of the history of language, ~ 
and our wider experience of its fortunes, when it has 
to be applied to entirely new fields of knowledge, 
such as have been opened to us since the birth of 
modern science, this notion seems childlike and pathetic. 
But it was eminently characteristic of the eighteenth 1 
century, an age of staid and decorous subsidence from 
the energetic restlessness of the seventeenth — an age 1 
in which men eschewed revolution and innovation, j 
and devoted themselves assiduously to conserve, con- 
solidate, polish, refine, and make the best of what 1 
they had. 

In this notion of ascertaining, purifying, refining, and 
fixing the language, England was only following in / 
the wake of some other countries. In Italy the 
Accademia delta Crusca, and in France the Academie 
frangaise, had been instituted for this very purpose, 
and the latter had, after twenty years of preparation, 
and forty more years of work, published the first edition 
of a dictionary in which the French language was 
(fondly and vainly) supposed to be thus ascertained, 

38 The Romanes Lecture 1900 

sifted, and fixed for ever. England had no Academy ; 
but it was thought that what had been done in France 
by the Forty Immortals might perhaps be done here 
by some leading man of letters. The idea had, it 
appears, been put before Alexander Pope, and approved 
by him; he is said even to have drawn up a list of 
the authors whose writings might be taken as authorities 
for such a dictionary ; but he died in 1744, before 
anything further was done. The subject seems then 
to have been pressed upon the attention of Samuel 
Johnson; but it was not till 1747 that the matter took 
definite shape, when a syndicate of five or six London 
booksellers contracted with Johnson to produce the 
desired standard dictionary in the space of three 
years for the sum of fifteen hundred guineas. Alas 
for human calculations, and especially for those of dic- 
tionary makers ! The work occupied nearly thrice the 
specified time, and, ere it was finished, the stipulated 
sum had been considerably overdrawn. At length, 
in 1755, appeared the two massive folios, each 17 inches 
long, 10 inches wide, and 3^ inches thick, entitled 
'A I Dictionary | of the | English Language | in which | 
the Words are deduced from their Originals, | and | 
illustrated in their different significations | by Examples 
from the Best Writers. | By Samuel Johnson.' The 
limits of this lecture do not permit me to say one 
tithe of what might and ought to be said of this great 
work. For the present purpose it must suffice to 
point out that the special new feature which it con- 
tributed to the evolution of the modern dictionary was 
the illustration of the use of each word by a selection of 

The Evolution of English Lexicography 39 

literary quotations, and the more delicate appreciation, 
and discrimination of senses which this involved and ,/ 
rendered possible. Only where he had no quotations 
did Johnson insert words from Bailey's folio, or other 
source, with Did. as the authority. The literary 
quotations were entirely supplied by himself from his 
capacious memory, or from books specially perused 
and marked by him for extraction. When he first 
began his work in the room in Gough Square, his 
whole time was devoted to thus reading and marking 
books, from which six clerkly assistants copied the 
marked quotations. The fact that many of the quota- 
tions were inserted from memory without verification 
(a practice facilitated by Johnson's plan of merely 
naming the author, without specifying the particular 
work quoted, or giving any reference whereby theV 
passage could be turned up) is undoubtedly the reason 
why many of the quotations are not verbally exact. 
Even so, however, they are generally adequate for the 
purpose for which they are adduced, that is, they usually 
contain the word for which they are quoted, and the 
context is more or less accurately rendered. But in some 
cases it is otherwise : Johnson's memory played him 
false, and he quotes a passage for a word that it does 
not actually contain. As an example, under Distilment 
he correctly quotes from Hamlet, 'And in the porches 
of mine ears did pour the leperous distilment.' But 
when he reached Instilment, his memory became vague, 
and forgetting that he had already quoted the passage 
under Distilment, he quoted it again as 'the leperous 
instilment ' — a reading which does not exist in any text 

40 The Romanes Lecture 1900' 

of Shakspere, and was a mere temporary hallucination 
of memory. There are some other curious mistakes, 
which must, I suppose, have crept in either in the 
course of transcription or of printing. As specimens 
I mention two, because they have unfortunately per- 
verted ordinary usage. The two words Coco and 
Cocoa — the former a Portuguese word 1 , naming the 
coco-nut, the fruit of a palm-tree; the latter a latinized 
form of Cacao, the Aztec name of a Central American 
shrub, whence we have cocoa and chocolate — were 
always distinguished down to Johnson's time, and 
were in fact distinguished by Johnson himself in 
his own writings. His account of these in the 
Dictionary is quoted from Miller's Gardener's Dic- 
tionary and Hill's Materia Medica, in which the 
former is spelt coco and the latter cacao and cocoa. 
But in Johnson's Dictionary the two words are 
by some accident run together under the heading 
cocoa, with the disastrous result that modern vulgar 
usage mixes the two up, spells the coco-nut, 'cocoa-' 
as if it were co-co-a, and on the other hand pronounces 
cocoa, the cacao-bean and the beverage, as if it were 
coco. The word dispatch, from It. dispaccio, had been 
in English use for some 250 years when Johnson's 
Dictionary appeared, and had been correctly spelt by 
everybody (that is by everybody but the illiterate) with 
dis-. This was Johnson's own spelling both before 
and after he published the dictionary, as may be seen 

1 Pg. coco, a grinning mask, applied to the coco-nut because 
of the three holes and central protuberance at its apex, suggesting 
two eyes, a mouth, and nose. 

The Evolution of English Lexicography 41 

in his Letters edited by Dr. G. Birkbeck Hill 1 . It was 
also the spelling of all the writers whom Johnson 
quoted. But by some inexplicable error, the word got 
into the dictionary as despatch, and this spelling was 
even substituted in most of the quotations. I have not 
found that a single writer followed this erroneous 
spelling in the eighteenth century : Nelson, Wellesley, 
Wellington, and all our commanders and diplomatists 
wrote Dispatches; but since about 1820, the filtering 
down of the influence of Johnson's Dictionary has 
caused this erroneous spelling despatch to become 
generally known and to be looked upon as authori- 
tative; so that at the present time about half our 
newspapers give the erroneous form, to which, more 
lamentably, the Post Office, after long retaining the 
correct official tradition, recently capitulated. 

But despite small blemishes 2 , the dictionary was a 
marvellous piece of work to accomplish in eight and 
a half years; and it is quite certain that, if all the 
quotations had had to be verified and furnished with 

1 The following are examples of his own practice : The Rambler 
(1751), No. 153, par. 3, * I was in my eighteenth year dispatched 
to the university.' Ibid., No. 161, par. 4, ' I . . . soon dispatched 
a bargain on the usual terms.' Letter to Mrs. Thrale, May 6, 1776, 
' We dispatched our journey very peaceably.' 

3 Among such must be reckoned the treatment of words in the 
explanation of which Johnson showed political or personal animus 
or whimsical humour, as in the well-known cases of whig, tory, 
excise, pension, pensioner, oats, Grub-street, lexicographer (see Bos- 
well's Johnson, ed. Birkbeck Hill, i. 294); although it must be 
admitted that these have come to be among the famous spots 
of the Dictionary, and have given gentle amusement to thousands, 
to whom it has been a delight to see ' human nature ' too strong 
for lexicographic decorum. 


42 The Romanes Lecture 1900 

exact references, a much longer time, or the employ- 
ment of much more collaboration, would have been 
required. With much antecedent preparation, with 
( much skilled co-operation, and with strenuous effort, 
it took more than nine years to produce the first 
three letters of the alphabet of the Oxford New 
English Dictionary. 

Johnson's great work raised English lexicography 
altogether to a higher level. In his hands it became 
a department of literature. The value of the Dictionary 
was recognized from the first by men of letters ; a 
second edition was called for the same year./' But it 
hardly became a popular work, or even a "work of 
popular fame, before the present century. For forty 
years after its first publication editions of Bailey fol- 
lowed each other as rapidly as ever; numerous new 
dictionaries of the size and character of Bailey, often 
largely indebted to Johnson's definitions, appeared. 
But the only new feature introduced into lexicography 
between 1755 and the end of the century was the indi- 
cation of the Orthoepy or Pronunciation. From Bailey 
onward, and by Johnson himself, the place of the stress- 
accent had been marked, but no attempt had been 
made to show how such a group of letters, for 
example, as colonel, or enough, or phthisical, was actually 
pronounced; or, to use modern phraseology, to tell 
what the living word itself was, as distinguished 
from its written symbol. This feature, so obviously 
important in a language of which the spelling had 
ceased to be phonetic, was added by Dr. William 
Kenrick in his ' New Dictionary' of 1773, a little later in 

The Evolution of English Lexicography 43 

1775 b y William Perry, in 1780 by Thomas Sheridan, 
and especially in 1791 by John Walker, whose authority 
long remained as supreme in the domain of pro- 
nunciation as that of Dr. Johnson in definition and 
illustration; so that popular dictionaries of the first 
half of the present century commonly claimed to be 
abridgements of 'Johnson's Dictionary with the Pro- 
nunciation on the basis of Walker.' 

From the first quarter of the nineteenth century, the 
lexicographical supremacy of Johnson's Dictionary was 
undisputed, and eminent students of the language 
busied themselves in trying, not to supersede it, but 
to supplement and perfect it. Numerous supplements, 
containing additional words, senses, and quotations, 
were published; in 1818 a new edition, embracing 
many such accessions, was prepared by the learned 
Archdeacon Todd, and ' Todd's Johnson ' continues 
to be an esteemed work to our own day. But only 
two independent contributions to the development of 
lexicography were made in the earlier half of the 
nineteenth century. These were the American work 
of Noah Webster, and the English work of Dr. Charles 

Webster was a great man, a born definer of words ;y 
he was fired with the idea that America ought to 
have a dictionary of its own form of English, inde- 
pendent of British usage, and he produced a work 
of great originality and value. Unfortunately, like 
many other clever men, he had the notion that 
derivations can be elaborated from one's own con- 
sciousness as well as definitions, and he included in 

44 The Romanes Lecture 1900 

his work so-called ' etymologies ' of this sort. But 
Etymology is simply Word-history, and Word-history, 
like all other history, is a record of the facts which 
did happen, not a fabric of conjectures as to what 
may have happened. In the later editions of Webster, 
these ' derivations ' have been cleared out en masse, 
and the etymology placed in the hands of men abreast 
of the science of the time; and the last edition of 
Webster, the International, is perhaps the best of 
one-volume dictionaries. 

Richardson started on a new track altogether. Ob- 
serving how much light was shed on the meaning 
of words by Johnson's quotations, he was impressed 
with the notion that, in a dictionary, definitions are 
unnecessary, that quotations alone are sufficient ; and 
he proceeded to carry this into effect by making 
a dictionary without definitions or explanations of 
meaning, or at least with the merest rudiments of 
them, but illustrating each group of words by a large 
series of quotations. In the collection of these he 
displayed immense research. Going far beyond the 
limits of Dr. Johnson, he quoted from authors back to 
the year 1300, and probably for the first time made 
Chaucer and Gower and Piers Ploughman living 
names to many readers. And his special notion was 
quite correct in theory. Quotations will tell the full 
meaning of a word, if one has enough of them; but 
it takes a great many to be enough, and it takes 
a reader a long time to read and weigh all the 
quotations, and to deduce from them the meanings 
which might be put before him in a line or two. 

The Evolution of English Lexicography 45 

As a fact, while Richardson's notion was correct in 
theory, mundane conditions of space and time rendered 
it humanly impracticable. Nevertheless, the mass of 
quotations, most of them with exact references, col- 
lected by him, and printed under the word-groups 
which they illustrated, was a service never to be 
undervalued or forgotten, and his work, 'A New 
Dictionary of the English Language . . . Illustrated 
by Quotations from the best Authors' by Charles 
Richardson, LL.D., 1836-7, still continues to be 
a valuable repertory of illustrations. 

Such was the position of English lexicography 
in the middle of the nineteenth century, when the 
late Dr. Trench, then Dean of Westminster, who 
had already written several esteemed works on the 
English language and the history of words, read 
two papers before the Philological Society in London 
' On some Deficiencies in existing English Dictionaries,' 
in which, while speaking with much appreciation of 
the labours of Dr. Johnson and his successors, he 
declared that these labours yet fell far short of 
giving us the ideal English Dictionary. Especially, 
he pointed out that for the history of words and 
families of words, and for the changes of form and 
sense which words had historically passed through, 
they gave hardly any help whatever. No one could 
find out from all the dictionaries extant how long 
any particular word had been in the language, which 
of the many senses in which many words were used 
was the original, or how or when these many senses 
had been developed ; nor, in the case of words 

46 The Romanes Lecture 1900 

described as obsolete, were we told when they became 
obsolete or by whom they were last used. He 
pointed out also that the obsolete and the rarer 
words of the language had never been completely 
collected; that thousands of words current in the 
literature of the past three centuries had escaped the 
diligence of Johnson and all his supplemented ; that, 
indeed, the collection of the requisite material for 
a complete dictionary could not be compassed by 
any one man, however long-lived and however diligent, 
but must be the work of many collaborators who 
would undertake systematically to read and to extract 
I English literature. He called upon the Philological 
\ Society, therefore, as the only body in England then 
interesting itself in the language, to undertake the 
collection of materials to complete the work already 
done by Bailey, Johnson, Todd, Webster, Richardson, 
and others, and to prepare a supplement to all the 
1 dictionaries, which should register all omitted words 
I and senses, and supply all the historical information 
in which these works were lacking, and, above all, 
should give quotations illustrating the first and last 
appearance, and every notable point in the life-history 
of every word. 
t From this impulse arose the movement which, 
widened and directed by much practical experience, has 
culminated in the preparation of the Oxford English 
Dictionary, 'A new English Dictionary on Historical 
Principles, founded mainly on the materials collected 
by the Philological Society.' This dictionary super- 
adds to all the features that have been successively 

The Evolution of English Lexicography 47 

evolved by the long chain of workers, the historical 
information which Dr. Trench desiderated. It seeks 
not merely to record every word that has been 
used in the language for the last 800 years, with its/ 
written form and signification, and the pronunciation 
of the current words, but to furnish a biography of 
each word, giving as nearly as possible the date of its 
birth or first known appearance, and, in the case of 
an obsolete word or sense, of its last appearance, the / 
source from which it was actually derived, the form 
and sense with which it entered the language or is 
first found in it, and the successive changes of form 1 
and developments of sense which it has since under- I 
gone. All these particulars are derived from historical ' 
research; they are an induction of facts gathered by 
the widest investigation of the written monuments of 
the language. For the purposes of this historical/ 
illustration more than five millions of extracts have 
been made, by two thousand volunteer Readers, 
from innumerable books, representing the English 
literature of all ages, and from numerous documen- 
tary records. From these, and the further researches 
for which they provide a starting-point, the history of 
each word is deduced and exhibited. 

Since the Philological Society's scheme was pro- 
pounded, several large dictionaries have been compiled, 
adopting one or more of Archbishop Trench's sug- 
gestions, and thus showing some of the minor features 
of this dictionary. They have collected some of the 
rare and obsolete words and senses of the past three 
centuries; they have attained to greater fullness and 

48 The Romanes Lecture 1900 

exactness in exhibiting the current uses of words, 
and especially of the many modern words which the 
progress of physical science has called into being. 
But they leave the history of the words themselves 
where it was when Dr. Trench pointed out the 
deficiencies of existing dictionaries. And their literary 
illustrations of the older words are, in too many cases, 
those of Dr. Johnson, copied from r dictionary to dic- 
tionary without examination or verification, and, what 
is more important, without acknowledgement, so that 
the reader has no warning that a given quotation is 
merely second- or third-hand, and, therefore, to be 
accepted with qualification 1 . The quotations in the 
New English Dictionary, on the other hand, have been 
supplied afresh by its army of volunteer Readers ; or, 
when for any reason one is adopted from a preceding 
dictionary without verification, the fact is stated, both 
as an acknowledgement of others' work, and as a 
warning to the reader that it is given on intermediate 

Original work, patient induction of facts, minute 
verification of evidence, are slow processes, and a work 
so characterized cannot be put together with scissors 
and paste, or run off with the speed of the copyist. All 
the great dictionaries of the modern languages have 
taken a long time to make ; but the speed with which 

1 In some cases, long Lists of the Authors, from whose works 
' the illustrative quotations have been selected,' are given, without 
the statement that many of those quotations have not actually been 
selected from the authors and works named, but have merely 
-been annexed from Johnson or one of his supplemented. 

The Evolution of English Lexicography 49 

the New English Dictionary has now advanced nearly 
to its half-way point can advantageously claim com- 
parison with the progress of any other great dictionary, 
even when this falls far behind in historical and 
inductive character 1 . Be the speed what it may, 
however, there is the consideration that the work 
thus done is done once for all ; the structure now 
reared will have to be added to, continued, and 
extended with time, but it will remain, it is believed, 
the great body of fact on which all future work will 
be built. It is never possible to forecast the needs 
and notions of those who shall come after us ; but with 
our present knowledge it is not easy to conceive 
what new feature can now be added to English 
Lexicography. At any rate, it can be maintained that 
in the Oxford Dictionary, permeated as it is through 
and through with the scientific method of the century, 
Lexicography has for the present reached its supreme 

1 The famous Deutsches Worterbuch of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, 
after many years of preparation, began to be printed in 1852 ; 
Jacob Grimm himself died in 1863, in the middle of the letter F ; 
the work is expected to reach the end of S by the close of the 
century. The great Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal was 
commenced in 1852 ; its first volume, A—Ajuin, was published 
in 1882, and it is not yet quite half-finished. Of the new edition 
of the Vocabolario della Crusca, which is to a certain extent on 
historical principles, Vol. I, containing A, was published in 1863, 
and Vol. VIII, completing I, in 1899 ; at least twenty-five more 
years will be required to- reach Z. None of these works em- 
braces so long a period of the language, or is so strictly historical 
in method, as the New English Dictionary. Rather are they, like 
Littre's great Dictionnaire de la Langue Frangaise, Dictionaries 
of the modern language, with the current words more or less 
historically treated. 


50 The Romanes Lecture 1900 

In the course of this lecture, it has been needful 
to give so many details as to individual works, that 
my audience may at times have failed ' to see the wood 
for the trees,' and may have lost the clue of the lexico- 
graphical evolution. Let me then in conclusion 
recapitulate the stages which have been already in- 
dicated. These are : the glossing of difficult words in 
Latin manuscripts by easier Latin, and at length by 
English words; Ihe collection of the English glosses 
into Glossaries, and the elaboration of Latin- English 
Vocabularies; xhe later formation of English -Latin 
Vocabularies ; °the production of Dictionaries of 
English and another modern language; the compila- 
tion of Glossaries and Dictionaries of 'hard' English 
words ; me extension of these by Bailey, for etymo- 
logical purposes, to include words in general ; 1 the 
idea of a Standard Dictionary, and its realization by 
Dr. Johnson with illustrative quotations; the notion 
that a Dictionary should also show the pronunciation 
of the living word; \he extension of the function of 
quotations by Richardson ; the idea that the Dictionary 
should be a biography of every word, and should set 
forth every fact connected with its origin, history, and 
use, on a strictly historical method. These stages 
coincide necessarily with stages of our national and 
literary historyjjthe first two were already reached 
before the Norman Conquest ; the third followed upon 
the recognition of English as the official language of 
the nation, and its employment by illustrious Middle 
English writers. The Dictionaries of the modern 
languages were necessitated first by the fact that 

The Evolution of English Lexicography 51 

French had at length ceased to be the living tongue 
of any class of Englishmen, and secondly by the other 
fact that the rise of the modern languages and increas- 
ing intercourse with the Continent made Latin no longer 
sufficient as a common medium of international com- 
munication. The consequences of the Renascence 
and of the New Learning of the sixteenth century 
appear in the need for the Dictionaries of Hard Words 
at the beginning of the seventeenth ; the literary polish 
of the age of Anne begat the yearning for a standard 
dictionary, and inspired the work of Johnson; the 
scientific and historical spirit of the nineteenth century 
has at once called for and rendered possible the 
Oxford English Dictionary. Thus the evolution of 
English Lexicography has followed with no faltering 
steps the evolution of English History and the de- 
velopment of English Literature.