Webster, Noah

Webster, Noah (1758-1843) Lexicographer and Philologist: Born on October 16, 1758, in West Hartford, Connecticut, Webster was the son of a farmer. He began studying at Yale in 1774, but was interrupted by the Revolutionary War. Webster served in the war, in his father's company of militia. After graduating in 1778, in the same class as Joel Barlow, he became a teacher. In his free time, he studied law and, in 1781, was admitted to the bar. Nevertheless, he continued to teach, working in Goshen, New York. There he began compiling a three-part textbook, entitled A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, with a spelling book, a grammar book, and a reading book. The spelling book, published as the American Spelling Book, was called the "Blue-Back Speller." It sold over $100 million copies, becoming the bestseller in American history, next to the Christian Bible. Webster's profits from the spelling book supported him and his family for the twenty years it took him to write a dictionary. Meanwhile, he published a series of articles, under the name "Honorius," which argued that soldiers should receive pay for five years beyond their enlistment term. In 1784, he published a Federalist pamphlet entitled "Sketches of American Policy." An enthusiastic Federalist, he supported a strong central government, and supported strict copyright laws. In addition to politics and language, Webster wrote on economics, medicine, and the physical sciences. In 1828, he published An American Dictionary of the English Language, a work which, although updated continually, remains a standard reference. It reflected streamlined American spellings and pronunciations, as well as terminology that had come into use in the New World from the diverse cultures and unique needs of the new nation. Although he was reportedly difficult, vain, and argumentative, Webster made tremendous contributions to American education, politics, language, and culture. He died on May 28, 1843, at the age of eighty-four, in New Haven, Connecticut.