The Reference Library store at Kensington Central Library is full of treasures kept for students, researchers, and anyone interested in history. But you don’t have to be interested in old battles to dig this history. What about words?
There are shelves of books about the history of language. From 1788 we have A Dictionary of the English Language to which are added An Alphabetical Account of the Heathen Deities; and a list of the Cities, Towns, Boroughs, and remarkable Villages, in England and Wales. All this in one tiny volume that would fit in your jacket pocket, published in 1788 for W. Peacock on “Fleet-Street.”
For the purists we have a copy of Samuel Johnson’s dictionary, one of the most famous dictionaries ever published. It took eight years and six helpers to compile and was hoped to stabilise the rules of the English language. Ours is from 1814 so it isn’t a first edition but it still contains all the words he allegedly made up, and other words he says are “low” such as gambler and traipse.
In A Dictionary of the Derivations of the English Language in which each word is traced to its primary root forming a Text Book Of Etymology with definitions and the pronunciation of each word, we learn that the word browse used to refer to the act of nibbling on the twigs of shrubs. What we’d really like to know is when titles stopped being an entire page long. This book was published in 1872.
There’s a 1939 copy of In A Word by Margaret S. Ernst and illustrated by celebrated New Yorker cartoonist James Thurber. This one seems to argue that a picture—or at least a drawing—really is worth 1000 words.
To keep them in usable condition for a long as possible these and many more books are only available on request and we’re thrilled when they’re requested. Search the Kensington and Chelsea library catalogue for what interests you and come in to visit some of our treasures.
Jennifer Brubacher, Senior Customer Services Assistant
Kensington Central Reference Library