Who is Roget? And what is a thesaurus anyway?

Who is Roget? And what is a thesaurus anyway?
I have used the tome religiously through the years, but I didn't know who Roget was until I came across his biography written by the late Harry C. Bauer, the dapper little librarian I knew in Seattle.

I have special memories of Bauer because he once said (and I have repeated it often): "I find myself wanting to be a member of a minority. The rich!"

Sometimes I believe I share his philosophy, although I feel rich in so many, many ways. But I digress.

According to Bauer's paper (printed in Library Review), Peter Mark Roget was born in London on January 18, 1779, shortly after America achieved her independence from England. He � like Bauer said � became a member of a minority. The rich.

His father, a Huguenot minister, had died when Peter was five years old, but the youngster � who showed signs of genius at an early age � had generous relatives (among them his uncle, Sir Samuel Romilly) who saw to it that he was well educated.

At 14 he enrolled at the University of Edinburgh. At 19 he was awarded his M.D, but he was interested in lots of other things besides medicine.

For instance, the 21-year-old physician wrote a treatise describing his sensations on sniffing laughing gas. No telling what he would have done if he were alive today.

Among his accomplishments, he invented a slide rule; wrote scholarly papers reviewing books on ants and bees; offered changes for the toy kaleidoscope invented by another man in 1817; penned articles on chess; and, in general, felt compelled to augment each provocative finding of his day with thoughts of his own. Apparently he couldn't leave well enough alone.

He was an effective public lecturer, research fellow, methodical organizer, an exacting editor, a health-care consultant, a popular companion of all ages, and, of course, a prolific writer.

As Bauer explained: he was a jack of all trades � and master of them all!

It was in his role as a writer that he became enamored by words. These he compiled and classified for his own use � and, in the end, the thesaurus (from a Greek word defined as a treasury or a storehouse) was born.

At first Roget discounted his collection of words, thinking it would not "catch on" as a commercial venture � like his slide rule which had become a mere curiosity. However, when he retired as a physician at 73, he began to upgrade his accumulation which had been published in 1852. In all, he completed 28 revisions before his death at age 90 on September 12, 1869. He wasn't satisfied with the work when he passed it on to his son � John Lewis Roget � who edited it until 1908.

It did indeed "catch on," and today Roget's International Thesaurus � uncounted millions of them � are used by writers everywhere. But very few knew who Peter Mark Roget was.

Now, thanks to Harry Bauer, they do!

� 2005 Robert F. Karolevitz

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