Friday, March 12, 2010

Nathaniel Bailey's dictionary

In the course of reviewing two recent biographies of Samuel Johnson, Jack Lynch notes an error in one of them:
Meyers writes that Johnson's Dictionary "gathered more words than anyone had ever done before," but Nathan Bailey, Johnson's most important predecessor, defined almost 50% more words.
Nathan Bailey was, of course, Nathaniel Bailey [16_-1742], a Seventh Day Baptist. A copy of his dictionary resides in the museum of the Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society.

A 19th Century book, English Dialect Words of the Eighteenth Century as shown in the "Universal Etymological Dictionary" of Nathaniel Bailey [1883], contains some information about Bailey's Seventh Day Baptist connection. The author, E.A. Axon notes that:
Chalmers rather doubtingly states that: Bailey was believed to have been a Sabbatarian. The meaning of this word has rather changed, and, as used by Chalmers, it meant a member of the sect of Seventh Day Baptists, or Sabbath-keepers, who, like the Jews, observe Saturday as the day of rest. It occurred to me that if so he must probably have been a member of the Mill Yard Church in Whitechapel. The Rev. W. Mead Jones, the Minister of the Seventh Day Baptist Congregation, immediately confirmed my conjecture. The name of Nathaniel Bailey is on the church books, and there is a tradition identifying this name with the lexicographer. [p. xiii]
Axon continues with this about the Mill Yard Seventh Day Baptist Church [which has existed continuously since well before Bailey's day]:
The Seventh Day Church in Mill Yard has a strange and interesting history. .... The members of this struggling, isolated sect—an oasis of "Sabbath-keepers" in the midst of the desert of "Sabbath-breaking" London—have included Dr. Peter Chainberlayn, Thos. Bampfleld, the Speaker of the House of Commons, the two Stennets, William Tempest, F.R.S., and that late accomplished antiquary, the Rev. W. H. Black, F.S.A. The present minister, the Rev. W. M. Jones, is the editor of the 'Sabbath Memorial,' and is reprinting the rare seventeenth century tract which records the judicial murder of the Rev. John James, "a Sabbath-keeper," whose death is one of the many blots upon the reign of Charles II. Mill Yard Chapel is in pleasing contrast to the squalor by which it is surrounded, and with its other memories we may now associate the name of Nathaniel Bailey, the author of a Dictionary, of which the weakest parts are those in which he avowedly depended upon others, whilst the excellence of the plan and the spirit and industry with which it is executed are his alone. [p. xv]
The Claremont Institute - Lives of Johnson, English Dialect Words of the Eighteenth Century as shown in the "Universal Etymological Dictionary" of Nathaniel Bailey