April 07, 2006

The Professor and the Madman, Simon Winchester

The collaboration of the Professor (and first editor of the Oxford English Dictionary) and the Madman (also murderer, Civil War surgeon, and important volunteer for the OED) make a nice little story. Winchester fills in details of that little story which connect it to much else in history. I particularly like the light touch of the connections; Winchester is satisfied to point out coincidences or explain the context, the contemporaneous feeling, in historical connections, without writing as though he had found the puppet-strings of history.

One of the contexts was the interest of Irish regiments in fighting for the Union in the Civil War; on top of the crabs-in-a-bucket competition between the Irish and blacks, many in the Irish regiments were practicing warfare in order to throw the English out of Ireland.

Another was the unprovable-but-obvious connection between the English desire to make a Dictionary of their language, and the rise of science, with its new ability to define some things precisely.

Find in a Library

So wrote clew in History (19th c.).
And thus wrote others:
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