James Murray 1837-1915
(Born James Augustus Henry Murray) Scottish linguist, philologist and lexicographer.
Murray holds a unique place in the history of the English language. He was the principal editor of a vast dictionary recording historical usage of English words dating back to the mid-twelfth century and beyond. This work became the Oxford English Dictionary, the most authoritative text extant on the English language. In addition to this decades-long project, which he had not yet completed on his death, Murray published several works exploring the development and different dialects within English. Himself holding only honorary university degrees, Murray was primarily responsible for the acceptance of modern language studies as part of the university curriculum.
Murray was born on February 7, 1837, in Denholm, Scotland. The son of a linen manufacturer, Murray was largely self-educated. Adept at learning various languages, Murray had become headmaster of a local academy by the age of twenty-one. He later moved to London on account of his wife's health and took work in a bank. There he met members of the London Philological Society, which had for years been engaged in compiling a new English dictionary. Since the previous editor had died, Murray put forth a new plan for the project, seeking to ground the work in strict principles of historical precedent and accuracy. The project continued to languish for some years. Meanwhile Murray published several works on English usage, development, and dialect, including a famous article for the Encyclopedia Britannica. In 1879, Murray, now president of the Philological Society and master at the Mill Hill private school, was asked to take over as chief editor of A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles. In 1884, the first installment appeared. In 1885, having been awarded a pension, Murray moved to Oxford to devote all his energies to the dictionary. He continued this work for the rest of his life, seeing about half the original project (slated to include six volumes of 1400 pages each but still continuing in various supplements) to publication. He was knighted in 1908. Murray died on July 26, 1915.
Early in his career Murray wrote a number of short works, which at the time were considered to be important contributions to the scientific study of modern languages and dialects. Once in London Murray turned to the history of languages, editing works for the Early English Text Society. Despite the importance attached to these works at the time by students of the English language, it was as editor of A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles that Murray made his lasting contribution to the study of English and other modern languages. The dictionary sought to provide authoritative definitions that were not merely supplemented by, but rather grew out of historical examples drawn from literature. Millions of quotations were compiled and organized to show changes in words' usage over time. The result was an exhaustive history of every word known to have been in use after the year 1150; a compilation that became, on its publication, the standard reference work for all students and scholars of the English language.
Murray's contributions to the creation of The Oxford English Dictionary are considered to be astounding. He established the standards and editorial models used in the dictionary for years to come. Murray's method of reading quotations to obtain meaning is still used today as one of the principal methods of assembling material for revising the dictionary.
The Complaynt of Scotlande [editor] (nonfiction) 1549
Dialect of the Southern Counties of Scotland (nonfiction) 1868
Synopsis of Paley's Horae Paulinae (nonfiction) 1872
*A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles [editor] (nonfiction) 1884-1915
*In 1933 the dictionary was officially renamed The Oxford English Dictionary.
(The entire section is 40 words.)
SOURCE: A review of A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles, in American Journal of Philology, Vol. 5, 1884, pp. 359-66.
[In the following review, Garnett compares and contrasts Murray's A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles to An Anglo-Saxon Dicitonary, finding Murray's work the more valuable.]
English lexicography is at last beginning to receive the attention it deserves and requires. The publication of the works above mentioned [An Anglo-Saxon Dicitonary and A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles], of the second especially, will carry beyond the narrow circle of scholars the much-needed public information that the English language has a history, a history which every English-speaking man and woman should know; and that the English language did not begin with Shakspere, nor even with Chaucer—an old story, but one hitherto much neglected. Prof. Toller has done well to re-edit Bosworth's Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, first published in 1838,—how well, critics are still engaged in discussing. That the work needed re-editing no one will deny. Every Anglo-Saxon scholar has long felt the want of such a dictionary. The original work has been long out of print, and even if accessible, could not answer the demands of modern scholarship. Bosworth's Compendious Anglo-Saxon and English Dictionary (1860) is too meagre to serve...
(The entire section is 4005 words.)
SOURCE: “The Philological Society's New English Dictionary,” in The Dial, Vol. IV, No. 48, April, 1884, pp. 301-304.
[In the following review of A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles, Wells praises the breadth of Murray's endeavor, but finds that Murray sometimes sacrifices accuracy in favor of originality.]
The age of Elizabeth has been called the Golden Age of English Literature, and that of Queen Anne the Augustan Age. In the absence of other special characteristics to distinguish the present period in Great Britain, we may apply a less euphonious title and call it the Age of Dictionaries. We have had dictionary periods before, but the immediate present is prolific beyond all precedent. The new edition of The Imperial, enlarged by Annandale, was completed a little more than a year ago; the Encyclopædic Dictionary, now in course of publication, is cast in a still larger mould; and Stormonth's Library Dictionary, also in course of publication, is another aspirant in the same field. And now the Philological Society of London, after twenty-seven years of encouragement and discouragement, of progress and delay, has given us the First Part of the New [English] Dictionary on Historical Principles, [hereafter abbreviated as New Dictionary] a work that in its plan and scope distances every other dictionary of the language hitherto attempted....
(The entire section is 3129 words.)
SOURCE: “Scotch Dialect,” in The Nation, London, Vol. 102, No. 2653, May 4, 1916, p. 495.
[In the following essay, the critic unfavorably compares James Wilson's Lowland Scotch to what the critic considers the superior work, Murray's Account of the Dialect of the Southern Counties of Scotland.]
It is now more than a generation since Sir James A. H. Murray, in his Account of the Dialect of the Southern Counties of Scotland, laid the foundation for the scientific study of the Scottish dialects. He hoped that similar studies would be made of at least the seven or eight main dialects, and that thus material would be collected for a new and complete Scots dictionary. Something has indeed been done since, and the Scottish Branch of the English Association has set about preparing the dictionary; but until the appearance of Sir James Wilson's volume, Lowland Scotch, as spoken in the Lower Strathearn District of Perthshire, no worthy second in the series so admirably started by Murray had been published. It is none too soon; for, while workers are slowly being equipped, the dialects are degenerating and many of their most interesting features are passing away. The special dialect studied by Sir James Wilson is spoken on that part of the Highland border which lies along the valley of the Earn, with its centre in the town of Dunning. For the recording of the speech of this locality, the...
(The entire section is 436 words.)
SOURCE: “Murray and His Monument,” in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 3940, September 30, 1977, pp. 1094-95.
[In the following review of K. M. Elisabeth Murray's Caught in the Web of Words: James Murray and the Oxford English Dictionary, Burgess expresses an appreciation for James Murray's modern approach to language.]
When Becky Sharp threw away her copy of Johnson's Dictionary—Miss Pinkerton's invariable gift to her departing students—it was not the least of her gestures in the direction of modernity. That book was a dog walking on its hind legs and, moreover, walking backwards. It tried to fix standards of usage in terms of the undefiled wells from which writers from Sir Philip Sidney to the Restoration drank; it wanted to make a closed garden of the English lexis; it prescribed as well as described. It was also more of an autobiography than a work of lexicography. It was decidedly not a dictionary for the scientific age that would start to bloom after Waterloo. Noah Webster in America (starting in 1828), Charles Richardson in England (1836-37), Joseph Worcester (1846 and 1860) again in America—all learned from Johnson what not to be, namely subjective and quirky, but they learnt too that no scholarly dictionary—as opposed to the pocket word-list you bought for a penny—could do its work without ample citation. This was Johnson's real achievement, the provision of...
(The entire section is 3137 words.)
SOURCE: “The Making of a Dictionary: James A H Murray,” in The Indexer, Vol. 20, No. 2, October, 1996, pp. 78-80.
[In the following essay, Bell recounts Murray's efforts to compile and publish the Oxford English Dictionary.]
Caught in the web of words: James Murray and the Oxford English dictionary, K M Elisabeth Murray's biography of her grandfather (Murray 1977), was reviewed by The Times as describing ‘how a largely self-educated boy from a small village in Scotland entered the world of scholarship and became the first editor of the Oxford English dictionary, and a lexicographer greater by far than Dr Johnson’. It makes fascinating reading, especially for indexers, who likewise deal with lists of words alphabetically ordered and glossed—but individually on so much smaller a scale, and with so much latter-day technological assistance. ‘A magnificent story of a magnificent man', Anthony Burgess called it.
Murray was born in 1837 in Denholm, in the Scottish Teviot Valley, a son of of the village tailor. He was brought up strictly in the Congregationalist church, and sent at the age of seven to the first of three local schools. He left the last school at fourteen for a period of odd jobs and study. His self-teaching was intensive, particularly in languages.
‘Before he was seven James had begun to hunt out strange...
(The entire section is 2321 words.)
Murray, Katharine Maud Elisabeth. Caught in the Web of Words: James A. H. Murray and the Oxford English Dictionary. New Haven: Yale, 1977, 386 p.
Account of Murray's life focusing on his efforts in organizing the definitive historical dictionary of the English language.
Additional coverage of Murray's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Contemporary Authors, Vol. 49-52; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 1; and Literature Resource Center.
(The entire section is 74 words.)