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A short account of what one British  Prime Minister called ‘the greatest achievement of its kind in history’.

A Concise History of the Oxford English Dictionary

Oxford University Press and the Dictionary

James Murray was not Furnivall’s first choice as successor editor of the dictionary. That man was Henry Sweet, sometime President of the Philological Society, former student at Balliol College, Oxford, and a man whose name did not reflect his nature. He flatly rejected the offer. Rumoured to be the model for Professor Higgins in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, he did, however, perform a great service to the dictionary by suggesting to Bartholomew Price that the Oxford University Press take it on. Perhaps I should say selling rather than suggesting. Sweet told Price that half of the dictionary was sub-edited and ready for publication and paraded the number of sales apparently achieved by the equivalent French publication - 40,000 copies - before the Secretary.  And so in June of 1877 the proposal was considered by the Delegates, and deferred.

There followed a period of dissent in which one of the Delegates, having seen samples, proposed cuts and changes which were so abhorrent to Murray that he was inclined to withdraw entirely. This is the point at which Henry Liddell, another Delegate enters the scene. Like Bartholomew Price, Liddell had a connection with Alice in Wonderland, though a very much more intimate one – he was Alice’s father and also Dean of Christ Church at the time that the books were written. He was approached by Furnivall, undiminished by his failure as editor and still a dedicated supporter of the dictionary, who showed him a list of 393 readers who had thus far supplied quotation slips – a list that he subsequently lost! And Furnivall assured Murray that the changes demanded by the Delegates would be forgotten as soon as the project commenced.


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