So let’s skip the cake and presents, and celebrate Noah Webster’s birthday (Oct .16th) with words from the past:
A Philadelphia paper has ascertained that Noah Webster used to play euchre and steal eggs.
Nevada State Journal (Reno, Nevada) Jan 31, 1874
The ghost of Noah Webster came to a spiritual medium in Alabama not long since, and wrote on a slip of paper: “It is tite times.” Noah is right, but we are sorry to see he has gone back on his dictionary.
Nevada State Journal (Reno, Nevada) Apr 17, 1875
THE HARM THAT WEBSTER HAS DONE THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE.
In the estimation of many, the next book in the world to the Bible is Webster’s unabridged Dictionary! It is found everywhere, and has done much good and we think much evil. It is not generally known that Dr. Webster‘s great work was in its inception a conspiracy against the English language.
The first issue of his system, more than half a century since, was received with hoots and laughter. But the Doctor, having the capital of great learning, industry and obstinacy to back him, kept hammering on the public until his revised and less offensive later editions were received with favor. all this can be abundantly proved. Webster started out with the idea to spell by sound as nearly as possible, as h-a-z for has and w-o-o-d for would, and was only induced to withdraw such radical changes, because he perceived that they never would be received. He then compromised with the difficulty and made all the changes he dared in the orthography and orthoepy of the language.
His dictionaries, even as thus revised called forth immediate and persistent denunciation from the most able scholars in the Union and the jeers of the English people.
But the Doctor subsidized a power which is more powerful than learning orthodoxy and pride of race — he advertised largely in the newspapers, and canvassed the entire Union by well paid and able agents.
He succeeded. By degrees familiarity with the unauthorized liberties he had taken with the language grew into the usages of life and the education of the young, and now we find ourselves face to face with the strange anomaly of professing to speak and write the English language, and chiefly using as a standard a work which is utterly repudiated by the entire English people and the best portion of our own scholars, as subversive of etymology, as revolutionary, as partisan and unauthorized by the masters of the English tongue. Webster’s dictionary was a bold and clever commercial adventure, and a successful one; but that should not blind every lover of the integrity and history of his language to its arrogant mutilation of that which we should most carefully conserve.
Again, we have been depended so long upon the North for our books and our literature that it took all the terrible lessons of “the war” to open our eyes to the criminal supineness, and to inaugurate measures looking to a purer, truer and more local publication of educational works.
And just here we affirm that we are under shackles to Noah Webster and his successes, in so far as we receive the palpable alterations his later editions give in the meaning of important words bearing on politics and governmental relations.
The dictionary as left by Dr. Webster, was bad enough, but since his death it has been deliberately “doctored” by his literary executors until now it stands forth as radicalized, not only in literature, but in politics. This can easily be proved.
Why, then, do we submit to this imposition?
Is it because there is no peer of Webster to be found in our book stores?
By no means. In the official declaration of Harvard University; of the University of Virginia, of Washington and Lee College, and and many other first-class institutions, Dr. Worcester’s dictionary is preferred, and is stated to be equal in every respect, and superior in its adhesion to English purity, and in its entire freedom from sectarian bias.
With this opinion thousands of our most enlightened and influential scholars coinside, and we hope soon to see the day when we will find a Worcester in the place of the Webster now so common on the editor’s table, the merchant’s desk, by the teacher’s elbow and in the hands of our children.
Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) Mar 30, 1873
Noah Webster made a voyage to England, before the days of steam in ocean navigation, to hear how the best educated men in that country pronounced their own language; but found neither greater uniformity nor perfection on the other side of the water than on this, and so gave up the idea of a pronouncing dictionary. He found it equally hard, though he made the attempt, to introduce uniformity in spelling. The Dictionary which he spent a long life in preparing, gives a list of more than a thousand words, in the pronunciation of which such high authorities as Perry, Walker, Knowles, Smart, Worcester, Cooley, and Cull differ, in some cases to such a degree as would scarcely enable the hearer to recognize the identity of the same word pronounced by the different standards. In a free country like this, every man is supposed to have the right to spell and pronounce according to his own notions. The principal trouble is to keep the peace between the ambitious young sophmore, when he begins to write for the press, the intelligent printer, the methodical proof reader, and that scapegoat of the whole, the printer’s devil.
Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) Mar 16, 1877
Franklin as a Writer.
His pen was as ready as his purse in the service of all human kindness. And what a pen it was! It could discourse metaphysics so clearly and lucidly as to make them seem plain moralizing. It could tear a sophism to pieces by a mere query. It could make a simple tale read like a subtle argument. He could be grave and he could be gay in a breath. He could spend as much wit and humor on a “Craven Street Gazette” — which was meant only to amuse an old landlady, away from home, and probably out of joint before her return from Rochester — as on a State paper designed to fire America and sting England. In another tone, he translates into human language, for the amusement of a court lady, the reflections, in the garden of her house, of a gray-headed ephemera, full seven hours old, on the vanity of all things.
His “Petition of the Left Hand,” might have been composed by Addison. In it, the left hand bewails the partiality which educated the right hand exclusively. Some of Franklin’s fables and tales have been so absorbed into the thought of the world that their source is absolutely forgotten. Only in this way can we account for what was doubtless an unconscious plagiarism by an eminent sanitary authority, last year, of Franklin’s “Economical project for Diminishing the cost of Light.”
The economy consisted simply in rising at six o’clock instead of nine or ten. Ideas such as Franklin’s never become superanuated. Not every one who uses the expression, “to pay dear for one’s whistle,” knows that the dear whistle was a purchase made by Franklin, when seven years old, with a pocketful of pence. Franklin’s store was too abundant for him to mind, though some of his fame went astray. “You know,” he tells his daughter, “everything makes me recollect some story.”
But it was not recollection so much as fancy. His fancy clothed every idea in circumstances. When the illustration had served its turn, he was indifferent what became of it. Franklin did injustice to himself when he fancied he wanted any such mechanical aid. His English had been learned from the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” and the “Spectator.” It had the force of Bunyon without his ruggedness. It had the serene light of Addison with tenfold his raciness and vigor. It sparkled with sarcasms as cutting as Voltaire’s, but all sweetened with humanity. Many of his inventions or adaptions — such as “colonize” — have been stamped, long since, as current English. But he did not covet the fame of an inventor, whether in language, in morals, or in politics. In language, he was even declared a foe to innovation.
Writing to Noah Webster, in 1789, he protests against the new verbs “notice,” “advocate,” and “progress.” He had as little ambition to be classic as to be an innovator in English. He wrote because he had something at the moment to say, with a view to procuring that something should at that moment be done. —Edinburgh Review.
The Daily News (Frederick, Maryland) Nov 20, 1883
The Thorp Springs Christian is a critic. It says:
In a primer, which is common in the schools of our country, is a picture of a sow and six pigs, and under it is this reading: “A big pig and six little pigs.” What language is this? It is not good English, and yet it is in a school book. As well say of a woman and children, a big child and six little children; of a goose and goslings, a big gosling and six little goslings; of a large fish and minnows, a big minnow and six little minnows.
The Christian knows more than Noah Webster. He says: “Pig, the young of swine, a hog.” The former is regarded as the more elegant term. The writer once heard a little boy say “give me some hog,” when he wanted to be helped to roast pig. It did not sound well.
Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) Sep 14, 1887
RIDPATH ON FREE COINAGE.
John Clark Ridpath, the historian, in an interview on the financial question says:
“According to my way of thinking our Government has been steadily drifting away from the people and getting into the power of special interests. The circle of government has narrowed and narrowed until it appears to me the height of absurdity to call it any longer a Government of the people, for the people and by the people. I want to see this process completely reversed. I want to see the Government restored to the people. I believe precisely what Webster and Theodore Parker and Lincoln said, viz” ‘That our republic is, or ought to be, a government of the people, for the people and by them.’
RIGHT TO GOVERN THEMSELVES.
“How can there be any harm in such a doctrine? In the name of common sense has it come to pass that patriotic citizens of the United States of American cannot advocate the right of the people to govern themselves? Has it come to that when we have, sure enough, a lot of self-constituted masters who shall tell us what is good for us and how to obtain it? Are we Americans a lot of younglings who are unable to lead ourselves, but must be led rather with a string and fed on porridge as with a spoon?
“Among the methods as it seems to me by which the Government is to be recovered by the people is, first of all, as the matter now stands, the restoration of our currency. We want our currency system put back precisely where it was under the statutes and constitution for the first eighty-one years of our existence as a nation. Our statutory bimetallic system of currency was taken from us [in 1873] by a process which I do not care to characterize in fitting terms. Now we propose to have it back again. The restoration of our silver money to the place it held before is the people’s cause, and the people in this contest are going to triumph.
They are going to triumph in the open light of day in the clear gleam of light and truth.
“The silver dollar was of old the unit of money and account in the United States. That dollar to this hour has never been altered by the fraction of a grain in the quantity of pure metal composing it. Every other coin, whether of gold or silver, has been altered time and time again, but the silver unit never. The silver dollar was the dollar of the law and the contract. It is to this day the dollar of the law and the contract. To the silver unit all the rest, both gold and silver, have been conformed from our first statutes of 1792 to that ill-starred date when the conspiracy against our old constitution order first declared itself. The gold eagle of the original statute, and of all subsequent statutes, was not made to the $10, but to be of the value of $10. The half-eagle was not made to be $5, but of the value of $5. The quarter-eagle was of the value of $2.50, and the double-eagle was of the value of $20. Even the gold dollar of 1849, marvelous to relate, was not $1, but was made to be of the value of $1. The subsidiary coins were all fractions of the dollar and the dollar was of silver.
NEW MEANING FOR “DOLLAR.”
“Not a single dictionary or encyclopedia in the English language before 1878 ever defined dollar in any terms other than of silver. In that year the administrators of the estate of Noah Webster, deceased, cut the plates of our standard lexicon and inserted a new definition that had become necessary in order to throw a penumbra of rationality around the international gold conspiracy.
“The way to obviate the further disastrous effects of this international gold conspiracy is to stop it. We want the system of bimetallism restored in this country. Bimetallism means the option of the debtor to pay in either of two statutory coins, according to the contract. This option freely granted, the commercial parity of the two money metals will be speedily reached, nor can such parity ever be seriously disturbed again as long as the unimpeded option of the debtor to pay in one metal or the other shall be conceded by law and the terms of the contract. The present commercial disparity of the two metals has been produced by the pernicious legislation which began twenty-three years ago and which has not yet satisfied itself with the monstrous results that have flamed therefrom.
“What do we propose to accomplish by free coinage? We propose to do just this thing — viz: to break the corner on gold and reduce the exaggerated purchasing power of that metal to its normal standard. Be assured there will be no further talk of a 50-cent dollar when the commercial parity of the two money metals shall have been reached. Every well-informed person must know that the present disparity of the two money metals is bu the index of the extent to which gold has been bulled in the markets of the world. It is not an index to the extent to which raw silver has declined in its purchasing power as compared with the average of other commodities in any civilized market place of the whole globe. No man shall say the contrary and speak the truth. This question is hot upon us. It can be kept back no longer. It is a tremendous economic question that ought to be decided in court of right, reason and of fact. My judgement is that the American people, in spite of all opposition, are going to reclaim the right of transacting their business, and in particular of paying their debts according to a standard unit worth 100 cents to the dollar, neither more nor less, and that they will not accept the intolerable program which declares in fact if not in words that they shall henceforth transact their business and in particular discharge their debts with a cornered gold dollar worth almost two for one.”
Nevada State Journal (Reno, Nevada) Aug 8, 1896
Title: The American Spelling Book: containing the rudiments of the English language : for use of schools in the United States
Author: Noah Webster
Publisher: Johnson & Warner, 1816
A Great Book.
There is in Utica an old man of unusual intelligence who is known to have graduated from no college, and yet whose perfect English, including syntax, orthography and pronunciation, would stamp him as an educated man in any company. One night this old man was seated in the rooms of the Cogburn club, when he consented to be interviewed as follows:
“From whom did you get the foundation of your education?”
“No, but Noah Webster, through his spelling book. When I was 12, I could spell every word in that book correctly. I had learned all the reading lessons it contains, including that one about the old man who found some rude boys in his fruit trees one day, and who, after trying kind words and grass, finally pelted them with stones, until the young scapegraces were glad to come down and bet the old man’s pardon.”
“Webster‘s spelling book must have been wonderfully popular.”
“Yes.” And a genial smile lighted up the ancient face. “There were more copies of it sold than of any other work ever written in America. Twenty-four millions is the number up to 1847, and that had increased to 36,000,000 in 1860, since which time I have seen no account of its sale. Yes, I owe my education to the spelling book.” — Utica Observer.
Lima News (Lima, Ohio) May 27, 1898
From his website:
Pictorial Webster’s features over four hundred original woodcut and copper engravings from 19th century editions of the Merriam-Webster dictionary. The fine press edition features a letterpress interior, leather binding and a hand-tooled cover. A trade edition of the book is now available from Chronicle Books.
This video offers a behind-the-scenes peek at the making of the book. You get a good sense of what’s involved with production and the amount of effort that goes into it.
NOTE: I provided definition links to a few words in the articles above, and would have used the Merriam-Webster dictionary website as the link source, but their site seems to take forever to load.