Three Dictionaries; Three Lexicographers

A Dictionary of the English Language, 1755. Samuel Johnson's prayer, 25 July 1776: "O God, who hast ordained that whatever is to be desired should be sought by labour, and who, by thy blessing, bringest honest labour to good effect, look with mercy upon my studies and endeavors. Grant me, O Lord, to design only what is lawful and right; and afford me calmness of mind, and steadiness of purpose, that I may so do thy will in this short life, as to obtain happiness in the world to come, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen" (Boswell, James. Life of Johnson. London: Oxford University Press, 1924, 64-65).


An American Dictionary of the English Language, 1828. Conclusion to Noah Webster's preface: "To that great and benevolent Being, who, during the preparation of this Work, has sustained a feeble constitution, amidst obstacles and toils, disappointments, infirmities and depression;--who has borne me and my manuscripts in safety across the Atlantic, and given me strength and resolution to bring the Work to a close, I would present the tribute of my most grateful acknowledgments. And if the talent which he intrusted to my care, has not been put to the most profitable use in his service, I hope it has not been `kept laid up in a napkin', and that any misapplication of it may be graciously forgiven" (Webster, Noah. An American Dictionary of the English Language. New Haven, 1841, viii).


The Oxford English Dictionary, 1933. Testimony of James A. H. Murray, 1 August 1891: "I never could have stood the work that I have done at the Dictionary, and the special difficulties which threatened at times to overwhelm me without earnest prayer every morning for help to do my work . . . And many a time, unknown to anybody, . . . when absolutely at the end of my own resources in dealing with entangled & difficult words, when all alone in the Scriptorium, I have shut the door, and thrown myself upon the floor absolutely on God's help, and asked him to use me as an instrument to do what He knew to be right; and I believe I have never asked in vain. There are many articles in the Dictionary which could never have been done by me without this earnest and sometimes agonized appeal to higher wisdom to inspire me with fresh effort" (Murray, K. M. Elisabeth. Caught in the Web of Words: James Murray and the Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1977, 308-09).

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Last Updated: Monday, September 6, 1999