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Lexicographer’s monument

31 July 2015

July 30th, 1915

SO SLOW was the rate at which, of necessity, the stupendous work of compiling the Oxford English Dictionary proceeded that its first and only editor could hardly have expected to live to see its completion. Ten goodly volumes, however, have already appeared, and at least Sir James Murray had the consolation of knowing that his great life-work would finally be accomplished by others, if not by himself. As far back as 1857 the scheme of compiling a great thesaurus of English words first took shape, but it was not until 1879 that the contract between its projectors, the Philological Society, and the delegates of the Clarendon Press was signed, and the work was definitely set on foot under the inspiring guidance and control of Dr. J. A. H. Murray. The figures relating to the mass of material and the apparatus for carrying the project through are colossal. At the outset, Dr. Furnivall delivered to the editor nearly two tons of accumulated manuscript as a first contribution. The scriptorium which was set up first at Mill Hill and was subsequently removed to Oxford, contained, it is said, one thousand and twenty-nine pigeonholes to receive the tens of thousands of slips on which entries are made. . . The Dictionary is a work of which this country may well be proud, and the University of Oxford, which did not shrink from this huge enterprise, has laid every lover of the English language under a heavy debt of gratitude. As for Sir James Murray, to whom the honour of knighthood came in 1908, he has raised for himself an imperishable monument.


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