Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Madman / Union officer--Part 5

Now that Dr. Minor had a lot of time on his hands, he decided to catch up on his reading. With no yet (the horror!) he had to order his books from various bookshops in London. With one order came a flyer from a group of philologists. They had decided to follow through with the creation of a dictionary of all the words in the English language.

Several false starts had been made before 1878-ish, but this time it looked as though the right leadership (James Murray) and the right plan (very complicated--google it up) had come together. One thing necessary to the completion of the great work was a lot of volunteer time, and time was what our Dr. Minor had plenty of.

The flyer had gone out all over the United Kingdom and beyond, asking for volunteers to read specific sources and look for certain words, then write down references and sentences. These were to be sent to the team headed by Murray for fact-checking and organization. Dr. Minor immediately volunteered. His contribution to the OED was tremendous. He was responsible for hundreds of thousands of notations, often doing work on certain words under the direction of James Murray himself.

Minor's contributions arrived at Murray's Oxford offices in envelopes with no more return address than Minor's name, and the name of the place where he lived: Dr. W. C. Minor / Broadmoor / Berkshire. James Murray had no idea for years that one of his most loyal and trusted volunteers was incarcerated in Broadmoor Lunatic Asylum for the Criminally Insane.

When he did find out, he did the right thing--he didn't care. He visited Dr. Minor regularly for years, bringing him books and news of the outside world. He met Minor's doctors, and discussed Minor's case with them. As years went by, Minor got older, more frail, and crazier. Sometimes it was necessary for Murray to inquire of Broadmoor if it would be a "good day" to visit. Sometimes the answer was "no."

Minor worked on the OED for over 20 years. He was one of its most prolific contributors, and had a great deal to do with its success. The picture at the top of this article is one of Minor's meticulously hand-written cards, an example of the painstaking work he did for so long.

But Minor's story has one more chapter.

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