"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Noah Webster

This 1833 portrait of Noah Webster by James Herring hangs in the National Portrait Gallery  in Washington, DC.
"A new nation required a new language, or so thought the editor and writer Noah Webster, who devoted his lifetime to the idea of a specifically Amer­ican language, one 'as independent in literature as in politics.' Webster began his project to create a unified national culture with his 'blue-backed spellers' that standardized American spelling. He supplemented the speller with a grammar that relied not on abstract rules but on the observation of actual American usage. The work was an example of the pragmatism and rejection of traditional precedents that characterized American antebellum thinking in fields ranging from law to manufacturing. Webster's great task was the completion of his American Dictionary of the English Language (1828), a reference book whose title announces its intentions to create a lexicographic declaration of independence." -- National Portrait Gallery

This 1958 4-cent postage stamp uses Herring's 1833 portrait.

Robert Keith Leavitt refers to the image below as the "porcupine" portrait of Webster. It appeared in The American Spelling Book.

This engraving by A. B. Durand appears in Webster's 1828 American Dictionary.

It is based on Samuel F. S. B. Morse's painting of Noah Webster (Wikipedia).

Leavitt, in his 1947 book Noah's Ark, gives us this picture of an expressive inkblot on Webster's copy of Johnson's dictionary, where Johnson defines "Lexicographer" as "a harmless drudge..."

We should note that Noah Webster's 1828 definition of "preposterous" is, well, preposterous!

 "a republican government in the hands of females, is preposterous."

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