Extended range

Richardson’s example was also significant for OED in that, as Murray pointed out (see Replacing definitions), he selected his quotations from a far wider range of sources than had Johnson. By the 1830s, a major revival in medievalism was underway, hand-in-hand with a strongly historical turn in linguistic scholarship. This advocated seeking documentation of past forms of European languages in historical manuscripts rather than relying on philosophical speculation ungrounded in actual evidence (19th-century historical lexicography). Richardson’s medieval quotations reflected, and no doubt fostered, the interest in Middle and Old English writings partly responsible for the enthusiastic reception of Furnivall’s Early English Text Society, created three decades later in 1864 to provide reliable and easily available texts from which the OED could take appropriate quotations (see further Matthew 1999 and Brewer 1996).

As Murray observed, for his medieval quotations Richardson drew on Piers Plowman (recently edited by T. D. Whitaker in 1813), and on editions of Chaucer and Gower. He also excerpted works attributed to ‘Robert of Gloucester’ (a long verse chronicle written in the early 14th century, edited by Thomas Hearne in 1724 and recently re-printed in 1824), to Robert of ‘Brunne’ (Handlynne Synne, a confessional manual of around the same date also edited by Hearne and published in 1725), and to Wycliffe. Richardson extended his range forwards as well as backwards from the time-span covered by Johnson’s quotations, including authors as late as Byron (d. 1824), who (as noted by Fowler 2004: 57) is quoted from the letter F onwards.

So Richardson was quite justified in his proud claim that he had quoted ‘a host of writers, whose works have never before been ensearched,1 for the important service of lexicography: our matchless translator of the Bible, Tindale; Udal and his associates, the translators of the Commentaries of Erasmus; Berners, of Froissart; Sir Thomas More; the Chronicles of Fabyan, and the Voyages of Hackluyt….In this region of unexplored country, I have traveled with most gratifying success’ (vol. 1, Preliminary Essay: 51-2).

All these texts, along with the medieval ones, were to provide rich sources for OED too. By recording examples of usage from Old and Middle English up to their own day, Richardson’s OED successors fulfilled their aim that (as Trench and Herbert Coleridge intended) every word should be made to tell its own story’: role 2 of quotations, Historical development of a word (see Coleridge 1860: 72).

Last updated on 9 October 2019


  1. A rare use of the verb ensearch, for which OED’s latest recorded example, as of 23 April 2018, is dated 1628.