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Thomas Hardy, 'Liddell and Scott'

After sixteen years, our work on the Cambridge Greek Lexicon is now in its closing stages, and, as we look forward to publication, we can be encouraged by the example of our great predecessors Henry Liddell and Robert Scott, as described humorously in Thomas Hardy's poem on the completion of their Lexicon in 1843 ...

 

LIDDELL AND SCOTT: On The Completion of their Lexicon

(Thomas Hardy, Collected Poems, 1930, Macmillan)

"Well, though it seems
Beyond our dreams,"
Said Liddell to Scott,
"We've really got
To the very end,
All inked and penned
Blotless and fair
Without turning a hair,

This sultry summer day, A.D.
Eighteen hundred and forty-three.

"I've often, I own,
Belched many a moan
At undertaking it,
And dreamt forsaking it.
- Yes, on to Pi,
When the end loomed nigh,

And friends said
'You've as good as done,'
I almost wished we'd not begun.
Even now, if people only knew
My sinkings, as we slowly drew
Along through Kappa, Lambda, Mu,
They'd be concerned at my misgiving,
And how I mused on a College living

Right down to Sigma,
But feared a stigma

If I succumbed, and left old Donnegan
For weary freshmen's eyes to con again:1
And how I often, often wondered
What could have led me to have blundered
So far away from sound theology
To dialects and etymology;
Words, accents not to be breathed by men
Of any country ever again!"

"My heart most failed,
Indeed, quite quailed,"
Said Scott to Liddell,
"Long ere the middle! . . .
'Twas one wet dawn
When, slippers on,
And a cold in the head anew,

Gazing at Delta
I turned and felt a
Wish for bed anew,
And to let supersedings
Of Passow's readings
In dialects go.
'That German has read
More than we!' I said;
Yea, several times did I feel so!2

"O that first morning, smiling bland,
With sheets of foolscap, quills in hand,
To write aaatos and aagês
Followed by fifteen hundred pages,
What nerve was ours
So to back our powers,
Assured that we should reach wwdês
While there was breath left in our bodies!"

Liddell replied: "Well, that's past now;
The job's done, thank God, anyhow."

"And yet it's not,"
Considered Scott,
"For we've to get
Subscribers yet
We must remember;
Yes; by September."

"O Lord; dismiss that. We'll succeed.
Dinner is my immediate need.
I feel as hollow as a fiddle,
Working so many hours," said Liddell.


Notes:
1James Donnegan's lexicon of 1826 was (very comprehensively) entitled: A new Greek and English lexicon: principally on the plan of the Greek and German lexicon of Schneider; the words alphabetically arranged; distinguishing such as are poetical, of dialectic variety, or peculiar to certain writers and classes of writers; with examples, literally translated, selected from the classical writers.

2Liddell and Scott's first edition of 1843 was entitled: A Greek-English lexicon based on the German work of Francis Passow.

Henry Liddell was a 'Student' (the equivalent of a Fellow) of Christ Church, Oxford, and (later) the father of Alice Liddell. Robert Scott was Prebendary of Exeter, and later Master of Balliol College.

The layout here is inspired by 'The Mouse's Tale' in Alice Through the Looking Glass.

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