Cover image for The professor and the madman : a tale of murder, insanity, and the making of the Oxford English dictionary
Title:
The professor and the madman : a tale of murder, insanity, and the making of the Oxford English dictionary
Author:
Winchester, Simon.
Personal Author:
Edition:
[Large print edition].
Publication Information:
Thorndike, Me. : G.K. Hall, 1999, 1998b.
Physical Description:
308 pages (large print) : illustrations ; 25 cm
General Note:
"G.K. Hall large print core series"--T.p. verso.
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780783885001
Format :
Book

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Orchard Park Library PE1617.O94 W56 1998B Adult Large Print Large Print
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Summary

Summary

The Professor and the Madman, masterfully researched and eloquently written, is an extraordinary tale of madness, genius, and the incredible obsessions of two remarkable men that led to the making of the Oxford English Dictionary -- and literary history. The compilation of the OED, begun in 1857, was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee, led by Professor James Murray, discovered that one man, Dr. W.C. Minor, had submitted more than ten thousand. When the committee insisted on honoring him, a shocking truth came to light: Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was also an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane. This audio also includes a conversation between Simon Winchester and John Simpson, editor of the Oxford English Dictionary


Author Notes

Simon Winchester was born in London, England on September 28, 1944. He read geology at St. Catherine's College, Oxford. After graduation in 1966, he joined a Canadian mining company and worked as field geologist in Uganda. The following year he decided to become a journalist. His first reporting job was for The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne. In 1969, he joined The Guardian and was named Britain's Journalist of the Year in 1971. He also worked for the Daily Mail and the Sunday Times before becoming a freelancer.

He is the author of numerous books including In Holy Terror, The River at the Center of the World, The Alice Behind Wonderland, and The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary. In 2006, he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to journalism and literature.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

The Oxford English Dictionary used 1,827,306 quotations to help define its 414,825 words. Tens of thousands of those used in the first edition came from the erudite, moneyed American Civil War veteran Dr. W.C. Minor‘all from a cell at the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. Vanity Fair contributor Winchester (River at the Center of the World) has told his story in an imaginative if somewhat superficial work of historical journalism. Sketching Minor's childhood as a missionary's son and his travails as a young field surgeon, Winchester speculates on what may have triggered the prodigious paranoia that led Minor to seek respite in England in 1871 and, once there, to kill an innocent man. Pronounced insane and confined at Broadmoor with his collection of rare books, Minor happened upon a call for OED volunteers in the early 1880s. Here on more solid ground, Winchester enthusiastically chronicles Minor's subsequent correspondence with editor Dr. J.A.H. Murray, who, as Winchester shows, understood that Minor's endless scavenging for the first or best uses of words became his saving raison d'être, and looked out for the increasingly frail man's well-being. Winchester fills out the story with a well-researched mini-history of the OED, a wonderful demonstration of the lexicography of the word "art" and a sympathetic account of Victorian attitudes toward insanity. With his cheeky way with a tale ("It is a brave and foolhardy and desperate man who will perform an autopeotomy" he writes of Minor's self-mutilation), Winchester celebrates a gloomy life brightened by devotion to a quietly noble, nearly anonymous task. Photos not seen by PW. Agent, Peter Matson. BOMC selection. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Booklist Review

Distinguished journalist Winchester tells a marvelous, true story that few readers will have heard about. His narrative is based on official government files locked away for more than a century. As everyone knows, the Oxford English Dictionary is an essential library reference tool. The 12-volume OED took more than 70 years to produce, and one of its most distinguishing features is the copious quotations from published works to illustrate every shade of word usage. By the late 1890s the huge project was nearly half done, and the editor at the time, Professor James Murray, felt the need to meet and personally thank Dr. William Minor, with whom he had been in lengthy contact and who had contributed a lion's share of the quotations. As it turned out, Dr. Minor was an American surgeon who many years before had been found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity but had been incarcerated in an English asylum ever since. The tale of their affiliation and friendship reads like a creatively conceived novel. --Brad Hooper


Library Journal Review

William C. Minor (1834-1920) was a Civil War surgeon whose war experience caused his personality to change. He became paranoid and was eventually diagnosed as schizophrenic. After three years in an asylum, he went to Europe in 1871 in pursuit of rest, getting as far as London before his paranoia caught up with him and he killed George Merritt. An English court found him not guilty on the ground of insanity, and Minor was sent to Broadmoor. Coming across a leaflet for volunteers to help compile a history of the English language, Minor offered his services, remaining vague about his background. After 17 years of correspondence, the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary came to meet Minor, who had submitted 10,000 definitions to the project, and was surprised that the genius was a patient at the Broadmoor Asylum. Finally released in 1910, Minor returned to the United States. Winchester's (The River at the Center of the World, LJ 10/15/96) delightful, simply written book tells how a murderer made a huge contribution to what became a major reference source in the Western world. Highly recommended.‘Michael Sawyer, Northwestern Regional Lib., Elkin, NC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


School Library Journal Review

YA-This unusual and exciting account centers on two men involved in the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary-Professor James Murray, its editor, and Dr. William Chester Minor, a true Connecticut Yankee who was one of the resource's most prolific contributors. The most surprising aspect of this long and productive partnership was that Dr. Minor, probably a schizophrenic, was incarcerated in England's most notorious insane asylum during the whole of their working relationship. He was a scholar and medical doctor whose fragile mental condition was probably exacerbated by duty as a surgeon during the American Civil War. His imprisonment was not harsh and his devotion to the cause of the dictionary and his precise and prolific contributions probably helped him hold on to some sense of reality. Winchester's descriptions of Civil War battlefields and the search for definitions of words such as aardvark or elephant are intriguing and compelling. This is a fine tale for both word lovers and history buffs. The momentum of the beginning scenes of warfare and murder are followed, not disappointingly, by descriptions of the trials and tribulations of dictionary crafting. Readers will meet some extraordinary men and an unusual woman, and find themselves well and truly ensconced in the late 19th century.-Susan H. Woodcock, Kings Park Library, Burke, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

The Professor and the Madman Chapter One In Victorian London, even in a place as louche and notoriously crime-ridden as Lambeth Marsh, the sound of gunshots was a rare event indeed. The marsh was a sinister place, a jumble of slums and sin that crouched, dark and ogrelike, on the bank of the Thames just across from Westminster; few respectable Londoners would ever admit to venturing there. It was a robustly violent part of town as well--the footpad lurked in Lambeth, there had once been an outbreak of garroting, and in every crowded alley were the roughest kinds of pickpocket. Fagin, Bill Sikes, and Oliver Twist would have all seemed quite at home in Victorian Lambeth: This was Dickensian London writ large. But it was not a place for men with guns. The armed criminal was a phenomenon little known in the Lambeth of Prime Minister Gladstone's day, and even less known in the entire metropolitan vastness of London. Guns were costly, cumbersome, difficult to use, hard to conceal. Then, as still today, the use of a firearm in the commission of a crime was thought of as somehow a very un-British act--and as something to be written about and recorded as a rarity. "Happily," proclaimed a smug editorial in Lambeth's weekly newspaper, "we in this country have no experience of the crime of 'shooting down,' so common in the United States." So when a brief fusillade of three revolver shots rang out shortly after two o'clock on the moonlit Saturday morning of February 17, 1872, the sound was unimagined, unprecedented, and shocking. The three cracks--perhaps there were four--were loud, very loud, and they echoed through the cold and smokily damp night air. They were heard--and, considering their rarity, just by chance instantly recognized--by a keen young police constable named Henry Tarrant, then attached to the Southwark Constabulary's L Division. The clocks had only recently struck two, his notes said later; he was performing with routine languor the duties of the graveyard shift, walking slowly beneath the viaduct arches beside Waterloo Railway Station, rattling the locks of the shops and cursing the bone-numbing chill. When he heard the shots, Tarrant blew his whistle to alert any colleagues who (he hoped) might be on patrol nearby, and he began to run. Within seconds he had raced through the warren of mean and slippery lanes that made up what in those days was still called a village, and had emerged into the wide riverside swath of Belvedere Road, from whence he was certain the sounds had come. Another policeman, Henry Burton, who had heard the piercing whistle, as had a third, William Ward, rushed to the scene. According to Burton's notes, he dashed toward the echoing sound and came across his colleague Tarrant, who was by then holding a man, as if arresting him. "Quick!" cried Tarrant. "Go to the road--a man has been shot!" Burton and Ward raced toward Belvedere Road and within seconds found the unmoving body of a dying man. They fell to their knees, and onlookers noted they had cast off their helmets and gloves and were hunched over the victim. There was blood gushing onto the pavement--blood staining a spot that would for many months afterward be described in London's more dramatically minded papers as the location of A HEINOUS CRIME, A TERRIBLE EVENT, AN ATROCIOUS OCCURRENCE, A VILE MURDER. The Lambeth Tragedy, the papers eventually settled upon calling it--as if the simple existence of Lambeth itself were not something of a tragedy. Yet this was a most unusual event, even by the diminished standards of the marsh dwellers. For though the place where the killing occurred had over the years been witness to many strange events, the kind eagerly chronicled in the penny dreadfuls, this particular drama was to trigger a chain of consequences that was quite without precedent. And while some aspects of this crime and its aftermath would turn out to be sad and barely believable, not all of them, as this account will show, were to be wholly tragic. Far from it, indeed. Even today Lambeth is a singularly unlovely part of the British capital, jammed anonymously between the great fan of roads and railway lines that take commuters in and out of the city center from the southern counties. These days the Royal Festival Hall and the South Bank Centre stand there, built on the site of the 1951 fairgrounds where an entertainment was staged to help cheer up the rationed and threadbare Londoners. Otherwise it is an unlovely, characterless sort of place--rows of prisonlike buildings that house lesser government ministries, the headquarters of an oil company around which winter winds whip bitterly, a few unmemorable pubs and newspaper shops, and the lowering presence of Waterloo Station--lately expanded with the terminal for the Channel Tunnel express trains--which exerts its dull magnetic pull over the neighborhood. The railway chiefs of old never bothered to build a grand station hotel at Waterloo--though they did build monster structures of great luxury at the other London stations, like Victoria and Paddington, and even St. Pancras and King's Cross. Lambeth has long been one of the nastier parts of London; until very recently, with the further development of the Festival Hall site, no one of any style and consequence has ever wanted to linger there, neither a passenger back in the days of the Victorian boat trains, nor anyone for any reason at all today. It is slowly improving; but its reputation dogs it. A hundred years ago it was positively vile. It was still then low, marshy, and undrained, a swampy gyre of pathways where a sad little stream called the Neckinger seeped into the Thames. The land was jointly owned by the archbishop of Canterbury and the duke of Cornwall, landlords who, rich enough in their own right, never bothered to develop it in the manner of the great... The Professor and the Madman . Copyright © by Simon Winchester. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. xi
1. The Dead of Night in Lambeth Marshp. 1
2. The Man Who Taught Latin to Cattlep. 23
3. The Madness of Warp. 43
4. Gathering Earth's Daughtersp. 75
5. The Big Dictionary Conceivedp. 101
6. The Scholar in Cell Block Twop. 115
7. Entering the Listsp. 131
8. Annulated, Art, Brick-Tea, Buckwheatp. 145
9. The Meeting of Mindsp. 163
10. The Unkindest Cutp. 189
11. Then Only the Monumentsp. 205
Postscriptp. 223
Author's Notep. 227
Acknowledgmentsp. 231
Suggestions for Further Readingp. 239

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