Before Liddell and Scott

“Sewell is reported to have met Liddell at a gathering of some Essay Club in Oxford, at which the subject of Greek Lexicography was discussed, and to have urged him to undertake the task of compiling a Greek-English Lexicon. Undoubtedly Sewell was well able to judge of the ability of Liddell and Scott to perform such a work, for he had but lately examined them both for their Degree : and the need of a new Lexicon was universally acknowledged. It is certain that Gaisford gave the writers constant encouragement : and his own example would have been a powerful incentive to the two young Students of Christ Church. In a letter to Vaughan Liddell writes :

‘Sewell thinks the Oxford mind is running too much to pure Theology : if you think so too, and also like him regret it, you will be glad to hear that some of us are in all likelihood about to close an engagement with Talboys for a Lexicon founded chiefly on Passow; indeed I dare say it will be nearly a translation. This sentence is rather arrogant, for the “some of us,” after all, is only Scott and myself. At present you need say nothing about it. The Dean encourages the project very much, and has given us a number of valuable hints.’

It is indeed a matter of surprise that such a work had not already been done. We can scarcely understand how without some such help the average student in those days was able to fight his way through Greek authors. Till a very few years previously, there had been no such book as a Greek-English Lexicon ; Greek was interpreted to the English reader only through the medium of the Latin tongue. One can still remember Schrevelius, Hederic, and Scapula as the ultimate authorities at school ; and formidable volumes they were. Some poor attempts had been recently made to provide a Greek-English Lexicon by Donnegan, Dunbar, and Giles ; but none of these books was at all adequate to the requirements of scholars : they were unscientific in the treatment of words, and suffered from lack of methodical arrangement, and redundancy of English equivalents ; or else from over-brevity.”

-Henry L. Thompson, Henry George Liddell: A Memoir (New York: Henry Holt and Co.) pp. 65-66

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