Appeal for American readers

Welcome to the facsimile text of the first ever request for contributions to the OED from American scholars by George Perkins Marsh in August 1859.

George Perkins Marsh (1801-82) was an American politician and man of letters. He is best known today because of his pioneering environmentalist text Man and Nature; and he was also an influential diplomat, serving for over 25 years as United States minister (representative) in Turkey and later Italy. In a full and active life he also found time to sub-edit H for the Dictionary, help establish the Smithsonian Institution, and to campaign (successfully) for the introduction of camels into the United States!

Marsh’s connection with the OED began, and largely ended, long before the Dictionary even began to be published. In 1859 the Philological Society issued their “Proposal for the Publication of a New English Dictionary” – the first public announcement of plans to compile what later became the OED – in which they mentioned that, as part of the huge programme of reading that would be necessary before the Dictionary could be written, Marsh had agreed to co-ordinate the work done by American readers. In fact Marsh was disappointed by the poor response to the Philological Society’s appeal from his fellow Americans, and not much material was collected; a similar appeal had to be launched twenty years later by James Murray.