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1768 dictionary
Posted: 03 December 2011 02:12 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Can anyone tell me anything useful about the 1768 dictionary “A General Dictionary of the English Language” by “A Society of Gentlemen”, published in London by J. and R. Fuller?  It turned up on an early baseball discussion with an early citation for the game.  I don’t know anything about this dictionary other than it is obscure, presumably because it was in failed competition with Johnson’s.  Do we know who the Society of Gentlemen were?

Thanks,
Richard Hershberger

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Posted: 03 December 2011 02:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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It’s not mentioned in the Oxford History of English Lexicography, which is suspicious, nor is it in Google Books, which is more so.  There is Sheridan’s General Dictionary of the English Language (Dodsley, 1780), but that’s it.  How sure are you that this book exists?

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Posted: 03 December 2011 03:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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For what it’s worth, WorldCat has multiple listings of an ebook version:

http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/510713745

(The British Library has one of the originals in its holdings.  And now I see that my own institution has a copy of the ebook.  There’s no information on the title page about the Society of Gentlemen.)

[ Edited: 03 December 2011 03:27 PM by Bonnie ]
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Posted: 03 December 2011 03:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Huh.  OK, it exists; why hasn’t anybody digitized it?

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Posted: 03 December 2011 03:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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It appears to be offered as part of Gale’s Eighteenth Century Collections Online.

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Posted: 03 December 2011 03:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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It’s in Eighteenth Century Collections Online. The entry is:

BA´SEBALL, s. (From base and ball) A rural game in which the person striking the ball must run to his base or goal.

A General dictionary of the English language, compiled with the greatest care from the best authors and dictionaries now extant. By a society of gentlemen. London : Printed for J. and R. Fuller, in Ave-Maria-Lane; and sold by all other booksellers in Great-Britain, MDCCLXVIII. [1768].

The source library for this book in the database is the British Library. Since it’s not in Google Books, I would suspect that it had a very small print run and is quite rare.

I would also guess that since its “By a SOCIETY of GENTLEMEN” on the title page, that it is not a formal organization, but rather an ad hoc, anonymous group.

It is certainly one of the earliest citations of the word. The earliest I’m aware of is from 1760.

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Posted: 03 December 2011 03:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Is there still some debate about whether Newberry’s A Little Pretty Pocket-Book (1744) is depicting baseball or its ancestor?  It certainly mentions “base-ball,” but I recall there being some discussion about what the illustration is showing (it’s the posts, I think).

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Posted: 03 December 2011 03:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Bonnie - 03 December 2011 03:44 PM

Is there still some debate about whether Newberry’s A Little Pretty Pocket-Book (1744) is depicting baseball or its ancestor?  It certainly mentions “base-ball,” but I recall there being some discussion about what the illustration is showing (it’s the posts, I think).

There might be a few holdouts for the proposition that the game in Newberry is unrelated, but most of the (tiny) early baseball history fraternity accepts it.  The posts are not a problem.  Many pre-modern forms of baseball used posts or stakes for bases.

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Posted: 03 December 2011 04:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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The dictionary’s entry for “base” includes a sense of a country game and cites Shakespeare.  So far this is unsurprising.  Johnson did the same thing, though he used the word “rustick”.  More surprising is that the 1768 dictionary also explicitly equates this “base” with baseball.  The usual interpretation is that it refers to Prisoner’s Base, which is an unrelated game more like tag.  This has caused more excitement than I think it deserves, as the conventional interpretation is almost certainly correct and the 1768 dictionary simply in error.  But it is an unexpected error, and interesting in its own right.

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Posted: 03 December 2011 05:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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The dictionary’s entry for “base” includes a sense of a country game and cites Shakespeare.

What dictionary is this? It’s not the 1768 dictionary, which has an entry for baseball and does not include a definition of base that corresponds to the game. The baseball entry does not cite Shakespeare or anyone else, although there are citations from Shakespeare for other definitions of base.

And the 1744 citation is actually from 1760. No copies of the 1744 edition of Newberry survive. The earliest extant edition is from 1760. So we can’t date the term with any certainty prior to that date. Whether or not the game depicted by Newberry is a progenitor of the modern game, it is the earliest known use of the word.

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Posted: 03 December 2011 05:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Ah, thanks for the clarification on that date, Dave.

ECCO also shows what appears to be a sighting of “Base-Ball” in John Kidgell’s The Card (Dublin; 1755).  Being a novice to “baseball” etymology, I’m sure this 1755 sighting is old news to experts, but what has been made of “and the younger Part of the Family, perceiving Papa not inclined to enlarge upon the Matter, retired to an interrupted Party at Base-Ball, (an infant Game, which as it advances into its Teens, improves into Fives, and in its State of Manhood, is called Tennis.)”

I suppose it’s hard to know whether this is at all related to the game depicted in the Newberry 1760 sighting, but I was curious what members of the (tiny) early baseball history fraternity may have decided about this one.  (I’m reading that this passage holds that Base-Ball is a game for children, not that it’s a game in its infancy.)

[And now I see that’s covered in The Dickson Baseball Dictionary and elsewhere.]

[ Edited: 03 December 2011 05:39 PM by Bonnie ]
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Posted: 03 December 2011 05:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Dave Wilton - 03 December 2011 05:09 PM

What dictionary is this? It’s not the 1768 dictionary, which has an entry for baseball and does not include a definition of base that corresponds to the game. The baseball entry does not cite Shakespeare or anyone else, although there are citations from Shakespeare for other definitions of base.

I don’t have access to ECCO, but David Block, who tracked this one down, sent me a jpeg of the title page and the page with the entry.  The entries for “base” and “baseball” are on the same page.  Sense 7 for “base” is

“A rural play, called also Baseball; as,
Lads, more like to run,
The country base.  Shakesp.”

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Posted: 03 December 2011 05:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Dave Wilton - 03 December 2011 05:09 PM

And the 1744 citation is actually from 1760. No copies of the 1744 edition of Newberry survive. The earliest extant edition is from 1760. So we can’t date the term with any certainty prior to that date. Whether or not the game depicted by Newberry is a progenitor of the modern game, it is the earliest known use of the word.

This is a fair enough point.  There is an assumption that the first edition of Newberry had the same, or a similar, entry, but of course this is an assumption.  I think 1744 tends to be given as the date out of a sense of tidiness, rather than giving 1760 and including an explanatory note.  But of course 1744 requires a similar note.

This actually is par for the course.  Ask me when was the first match game of baseball, or who was the first professional baseball player, or which was the first professional team, etc., and you will get a longer answer than you wanted, because the short answers we normally hear are hopelessly inadequate.  Why should the earliest citation for the word be any different?

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Posted: 03 December 2011 06:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Bonnie - 03 December 2011 05:35 PM

Ah, thanks for the clarification on that date, Dave.

ECCO also shows what appears to be a sighting of “Base-Ball” in John Kidgell’s The Card (Dublin; 1755).  Being a novice to “baseball” etymology, I’m sure this 1755 sighting is old news to experts, but what has been made of “and the younger Part of the Family, perceiving Papa not inclined to enlarge upon the Matter, retired to an interrupted Party at Base-Ball, (an infant Game, which as it advances into its Teens, improves into Fives, and in its State of Manhood, is called Tennis.)”

I suppose it’s hard to know whether this is at all related to the game depicted in the Newberry 1760 sighting, but I was curious what members of the (tiny) early baseball history fraternity may have decided about this one.  (I’m reading that this passage holds that Base-Ball is a game for children, not that it’s a game in its infancy.)

[And now I see that’s covered in The Dickson Baseball Dictionary and elsewhere.]

Yes, the passage is saying baseball is a children’s game.  Fives is a form of handball.  Tennis in the 18th century is not the same as modern tennis, which is properly called “lawn tennis”.  Think of something along the lines of a racquet ball or squash court.

On the other hand, there are also 18th century cites which unambiguously describe baseball being played by adults.  We could interpret this as they referred to different games.  It seems more likely that what we see are differing opinions about the game.  Of course as with any pre-modern game there were no standardized rules, so the two interpretations are not entirely incompatible.  There might be versions more or less suitable or adult or juvenile play. 

As an aside, David Block has exactly ten 18th century citations.  As I recall, Seven of them are English, two American, and one German (but explicitly about English baseball).  I have several more American citations along the lines of “game of ball” which are probably (by the process of elimination) baseball, but this can’t be proved.  Then there is the discussion of how to interpret references to “base” but I think that most--and perhaps all--18th century cites of “base” refer to prisoner’s base.

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Posted: 03 December 2011 10:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Is the problem with the Shakespeare reference that it is unclear? In other words, a ball and bat could be involved, or it could be Prisoner’s Base?

It seems, in the context, to be clearly a reference to a boy’s game.

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Posted: 04 December 2011 04:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Ah, I missed that definition of base. (There are a lot of them, and for some reason searches for baseball in various forms turn up null results.) My Riverside Shakespeare glosses the cite of country base, which is from Cymbeline 5:3, as prisoner’s base. The editors of this dictionary are saying baseball is the same as prisoner’s base, which may be accurate in a seventeenth century context.

Bonnie, good find on the 1755 cite. For the record, the full citation:

The Card. Kidgell, John. Vol. 1 of 2. Dublin : re-printed for the Maker, and sold by Sam. Price, opposite Crane-lane, and Matthew Williamson, opposite Syamore-Alley, in Dame-Street, MDCCLV. [1755].

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