Peter Mark Roget

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Peter Mark Roget - line drawingPeter Mark Roget FRS (18 January 1779 – 12 September 1869) was a British doctor, writer, and inventor but also most famous nowadays as a lexicographer and author of Roget’s Thesaurus.

Background to Roget’s Thesaurus

Although he had no lexicographic training or experience, in 1805, aged 26, he began to catalog words and organize them according to their meaning rather than their spelling as in traditional dictionaries‏‎. To do this he kept hundreds of index cards, cross referenced with words, ideas and concepts.

When he was 60 he retired from his professional life in medicine and began serious work on this index, finally publishing it in 1852, when he was 73, under the title, Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and Arranged so as to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition.

The book was an immediate success and went through 28 printings during his lifetime. It was then revised and expanded by his son, John Lewis Roget (1828–1908), and later by his grandson, Samuel Romilly Roget.

Since the initial publication it has never been out of print.

Biography of Peter Mark Roget

Roget was born in London to the Rev. John Roget, a Swiss clergyman. His father died in Switzerland when Roget was four and he was raised by his mother. At age 14 Roget enrolled in the University of Edinburgh after showing great interest in mathematics and science.

In 1798 he graduated from Edinburgh university as a doctor. With help from his mother’s brother, Sir Samuel Romilly, Roget entered professional life.

Although he spent time with the philosopher Jeremy Bentham, in general he found life a little dull until his uncle secured him a position as personal tutor to the children of the Philips, a rich Manchester family. He was engaged to take the children on a grand tour of Europe where he would organize tuition for them and make sure they attended the great museums, galleries and theaters of Europe.

The party ended up in Geneva which was annexed by Napoleon shortly afterwards. The French authorities then attempted to intern Roget (the Philips boys were not arrested as they were under 18) and send him with other prisoners to Verdun. However Roget claimed Swiss citizenship (through his father) and was released. However he was not allowed to leave the country.

Risking conscription into Napoleon’s army, Roget decided to flee and with the children dressed as peasants they crossed into Germany, then Denmark and thence back to England unscathed.

Blue Plaque commemorating RogetBack in Manchester and with the support of the Philips family, Roget began to become more involved in medicine, helping establish the reputation of the local hospital which grew into the renowned School of Medicine in Manchester.

It was at this time he was noted as being particularly interested in the classification, organisation and relationships between various aspects of medicine. However, as a doctor Roget was never particularly successful. He was a much better teacher and so he moved to London where he lectured in medicine.

He also put his mind to inventing and in 1814 became a member of the Royal Society on the basis of a paper he wrote describing the forerunner of the slide-rule. During this period he also contributed a number of articles to the Encyclopedia Britannica. Once again, in preparing a paper on physiology, he demonstrated a great ability to order and analyse the relationship between entities.

Roget lived in a time of intellectual giants and there is a suggestion that although he was good, he was not quite among the best. A petty dispute over the running of the running of the library of the Royal Society saw him eased out of public life and pushed into retirement.

And it was following this that Roget had the chance to fully develop his idea of a different type of classification for words which made his name.

Personal Life

In 1824 Dr. Roget married Miss Hobson, daughter of a Liverpool merchant. He was left a widower with two children in 1833. 

Roget suffered from depression all his life. His father died when he was just 4 and his mother when he was still young. Later his beloved uncle committed suicide in front of him, slitting his own throat whilst Roget tried to stop him.

Useful Links

Roget Biography in Detail 

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