Antoine Furetière

1619 (Paris) – 1688 (Paris)

Furetière is known for the breadth of his writing, but renowned for compiling the first dictionary of the French language, regarded as the greatest encyclopaedic dictionary of the 17thC. Close to the greatest writers of the age, Molière and La Fontaine were friends, Racine and Boileau literary colleagues. The Académie française charged Furetière, a member, with lexicographic plagiarism; he lost La Fontaine’s long friendship as a result. Bayle, already exiled, persuaded Furetière to have his dictionary published in Holland and wrote a preface. Published posthumously, it stood the test of time and influence notably better than the Académie’s own effort.

Antoine Furetière knew…

Samuel Johnson

Dr. Johnson

1709 (Lichfield, England) – 1784 (London)

Garrick (Johnson’s former pupil and lifelong friend), Goldsmith (whom he helped when in trouble), Reynolds (his closest friend), Gibbon, Charles Burney (another close friend) and Sheridan were all members of his literary club. Johnson persuaded Smollett to intervene over his runaway servant, and had Boswell as his staunch disciple and biographer. He breakfasted with Blacklock (drinking 19 cups of tea), met Franklin and Boulton, astonished Hogarth, and took virulently against Smith (who still thought him the best-read man he’d met). Richardson published some of Johnson’s essays, befriended him, and lent him money to get him out of trouble.

Peter Mark Roget

1779 (London) – 1869 (West Malvern, England)

Roget, a polymath and depressive, did much more than invent the thesaurus. He participated in his friend Davy’s laughing-gas experiments though was less than bowled over. Bentham invited him to undertake practical research towards his experimental ice-house, the Frigidarium, though Bentham’s unconventional life proved too much for him. Roget worked with Faraday on experiments that led to his pioneering paper on the persistence of vision. He corresponded with Airy and clashed with Panizzi. Babbage had been a good friend, but they argued endlessly. Talbot invited Roget, along with Wheatstone, Babbage and others, to stay before an important meeting.

Noah Webster

1758 (Hartford, Conn.) – 1843 (New Haven, Conn.)

Webster was a neighbour of the Morse family in the Boston region: Morse painted the lexicographer’s portrait (did they also discuss ways words might be transcribed?). Franklin and Webster had a lengthy correspondence about rationalised spelling, a subject close to each man’s heart. The poet Trumbull feared Webster would “dine upon dissertations, and go to bed supperless.”