Book: The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary

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Polymath (), sb. (a.) Also 7 polumathe. [ad. Gr.   having learnt much, f.   much + , stem of   to learn. So F. polymathe.] A person of much or varied learning; one acquainted with various subjects of study.
1621 BURTON Anat. Mel. Democr. to Rdr. (1676) 4/2 To be thought and held Polumathes and Polyhistors. a 1840 MOORE Devil among Schol. 7 The Polymaths and Polyhistors, Polyglots and all their sisters. 1855 M. PATTISON Ess. I. 290 He belongs to the class which German writers…have denominated ‘Polymaths’. 1897 O. Smeaton Smollett ii. 30 One of the last of the mighty Scots polymaths.


Philology (). [In Chaucer, ad. L. philologia; in 17th c. prob. a. F. philologie, ad. L. philologia, a. Gr. , abstr. sb. from   fond of speech, talkative; fond of discussion or argument; studious of words; fond of learning and literature, literary; f.   PHILO- +   word, speech, etc.]
1. Love of learning and literature; the study of literature, in a wide sense, including grammar, literary criticism and interpretation, the relation of literature and written records to history, etc.; literary or classical scholarship; polite learning.


It took more than seventy years to create the twelve tombstonesize volumes that made up the first edition of what was to become the great Oxford English Dictionary. This heroic, royally dedicated literary masterpiece—which was first called the New English Dictionary, but eventually became the Oxford ditto, and thenceforward was known familiarly by its initials as the OED—was completed in 1928; over the following years there were five supplements and then, half a century later, a second edition that integrated the first and all the subsequent supplementary volumes into one new twenty-volume whole. The book remains in all senses a truly monumental work—and with very little serious argument is still regarded as a paragon, the most definitive of all guides to the language that, for good or ill, has become the lingua franca of the civilized modern world.

Just as English is a very large and complex language, so the OED is a very large and complex book. It defines well over half a million words. It contains scores of millions of characters, and, at least in its early versions, many miles of hand-set type. Its enormous—and enormously heavy—volumes are bound in dark blue cloth: Printers and designers and bookbinders worldwide see it as an apotheosis of their art, a handsome and elegant creation that looks and feels more than amply suited to its lexical thoroughness and accuracy.

The OED’s guiding principle, the one that has set it apart from most other dictionaries, is its rigorous dependence on gathering quotations from published or otherwise recorded uses of English and using them to illustrate the use of the sense of every single word in the language. The reason behind this unusual and tremendously labor-intensive style of editing and compiling was both bold and simple: By gathering and publishing selected quotations, the dictionary could demonstrate the full range of characteristics of each and every word with a very great degree of precision. Quotations could show exactly how a word has been employed over the centuries; how it has undergone subtle changes of shades of meaning, or spelling, or pronunciation; and, perhaps most important of all, how and more exactly when each word slipped into the language in the first place. No other means of dictionary compilation could do such a thing: Only by finding and showing examples could the full range of a word’s past possibilities be explored.

The aims of those who began the project, back in the 1850s, were bold and laudable, but there were distinct commercial disadvantages to their methods: It took an immense amount of time to construct a dictionary on this basis, it was too time-consuming to keep up with the evolution of the language it sought to catalog, the work that finally resulted was uncommonly vast and needed to be kept updated with almost equally vast additions, and it remains to this day for all of these reasons a hugely expensive book both to produce and to buy.

But withal it is widely accepted that the OED has a value far beyond its price; it remains in print, and it still sells well. It is the unrivaled cornerstone of any good library, an essential work for any reference collection. And it is still cited as a matter of course—“the OED says”—in parliaments, courtrooms, schools, and lecture halls in every corner of the English-speaking world, and probably in countless others beyond.

It wears its status with a magisterial self-assurance, not least by giving its half million definitions a robustly Victorian certitude of tone. Some call the language of the dictionary old-fashioned, high-flown, even arrogant. Note well, they say by way of example, how infuriatingly prissy the compilers remain when dealing with even so modest an oath as “bloody”: Though the modern editors place the original NED definition between quotation marks—it is a word “now constantly in the mouths of the lowest classes, but by respectable people considered ‘a horrid word’, on a par with obscene or profane language, and usually printed in the newspapers (in police reports, etc.) ‘b——y’”—even the modern definition is too lamely self-regarding for most: “There is no ground for the notion,” the entry reassures us, “that ‘bloody’, offensive as from associations it now is to ears polite, contains any profane allusion….”

It is those with “ears polite,” one supposes, who see in the dictionary something quite different: They worship it as a last bastion of cultured Englishness, a final echo of value from the greatest of all modern empires.

But even they will admit of a number of amusing eccentricities about the book, both in its selections and in the editors’ choice of spellings; a small but veritable academic industry has recently developed in which modern scholars grumble about what they see as the sexism and racism of the work, its fussily and outdated imperial attitude. (And to Oxford’s undying shame there is even one word—though only one—that all admit was actually lost during the seven decades of the OED’s preparation—though the word was added in a supplement, five years after the first edition appeared.)

There are many such critics, and with the book being such a large and immobile target there will no doubt be many more. And yet most of those who come to use it, no matter how doctrinally critical they may be of its shortcomings, seem duly and inevitably, in the end, to admire it as a work of literature, as well as to marvel at its lexicographical scholarship. It is a book that inspires real and lasting affection: It is an awe-inspiring work, the most important reference book ever made, and, given the unending importance of the English language, probably the most important that is ever likely to be.

The story that follows can fairly be said to have two protagonists. One of them is Doctor Minor, the murdering soldier from the United States, and there is one other. To say that a story has two protagonists, or three, or ten, is a perfectly acceptable, unremarkable modern from of speech. It happens, however, that a furious lexicographical controversy once raged over the use of the word—a dispute that helps illustrate the singular and peculiar way in which the Oxford English Dictionary has been constructed and how, when it flexes its muscles, it has a witheringly intimidating authority.

The word protagonist itself—when used in its general sense of meaning the leading figure in the plot of a story, or in a competition, or as the champion of some cause—is common enough. It is, as might be expected of a familiar word, defined fully and properly in the dictionary’s first edition of 1928.

The entry begins with the customary headings that show its spelling, its pronunciation, and its etymology (it comes from the Greek   meaning “first” and   meaning “actor” or, literally, the leading character to appear in a drama). Following this comes the distinguishing additional feature of the OED—the editors’ selection of a string of six supporting quotations—which is about the average number for any one OED word, though some merit many more. The editors have divided the quotations under two headings.

The first heading, with three sources quoted, shows how the word has been used to mean, literally, “the chief personage in a drama”; the next three quotations demonstrate a subtle difference, in which the word means “the leading personage in any contest,” or “a prominent supporter…of any cause.” By general consent this second meaning is the more modern; the first is the older and now somewhat archaic version.

The oldest quotation used to illustrate the first of these two meanings was that tracked down by the dictionary’s lexical detectives from the writings of John Dryden in 1671. “’Tis charg’d upon me,” the quotation reads, “that I make debauch’d Persons…my protagonists, or the chief persons of the drama.”

This, from a lexicographical point of view, seems to be the English word’s mother lode, a fair clue that the word may well have been introduced into the written language in that year, and possibly not before. (But the OED offers no guarantee. German scholars in particular are constantly deriving much pleasure from winning an informal lexicographic contest that aims at finding quotations that antedate those in the OED: At last count the Germans alone had found thirty-five thousand instances in which the OED quotation was not the first; others, less stridently, chalk up their own small triumphs of lexical sleuthing, all of which Oxford’s editors accept with disdainful equanimity, professing neither infallibility nor monopoly.)

This single quotation for protagonist is peculiarly neat, moreover, in that Dryden explicitly states the newly minted word’s meaning within the sentence. So from the dictionary editors’ point of view there is a double benefit, of having the word’s origin dated and its meaning explained, and both by a single English author.

Finding and publishing quotations of usage is an imperfect way of making pronouncements about origins and meanings, of course—but to nineteenth-century lexicographers it was the best method that had yet been devised—and it has not yet been bettered. From time to time experts succeed in challenging specific findings like this, and on occasions the dictionary is forced to recant, is obliged to accept a new and earlier quotation and give to a particular word a longer history than the Oxford editors first allowed. Happily protagonist itself has not so far been successfully challenged on chronological grounds. So far as the OED is concerned, 1671 still stands: The word has for three hundred odd years been a member of that giant corpus known as the English vocabulary.

The word appears again, and with a new supporting quotation, in the 1933 Supplement—a volume that had to be added because of the sheer weight of new words and new evidence of new meanings that had accumulated during the decades when the original dictionary was being compiled. By now another shade of meaning had been found for it—that of “a leading player in some game or sport.” A sentence supporting this, from a 1908 issue of The Complete Lawn Tennis Player, is produced in evidence.

But then comes the controversy. The other great book on the English language, Henry Fowler’s hugely popular Modern English Usage, which was first published in 1926, insisted—contrary to what Dryden had been quoted as saying in the OED—that protagonist is a word that can only ever be used in the singular.

Any use suggesting the contrary would be grammatically utterly wrong. And not just wrong, Fowler declares, but absurd. It would be nonsense to suggest that there could ever be two characters in a play, both of whom could be described as the most important. One either is the most important person, or one is not.

It took more than half a century before the OED decided to settle the matter. The 1981 Supplement, in the classically magisterial way of the dictionary, tries to counter the excitable (and now, as it happens, late, Mr. Fowler). It offers a new quotation, reinforcing the view that the word can be used plurally or singularly as the need arises. George Bernard Shaw, it says, wrote in 1950: “Living actors have to learn that they too must be invisible while the protagonists are conversing, and therefore must not move a muscle nor change their expression.” Perhaps Fowler’s great linguistic authority was technically correct but, the dictionary explains in an expanded version of its 1928 definition, perhaps only in the specific terms of classical Greek theater for which the word was first devised.

In the commonsense world of modern English—the world that, after all, the great dictionary was designed to reify and define—to fix, in dictionary-speak—it is surely quite reasonable to have two or more leading players in any story. Many dramas have room for more than one hero, and both or all may be equally heroic. If the ancient Greeks were one-hero dramatists, then so be it. In the rest of the world, there could be as many as the dramatists cared to write parts for.

Now there is a twenty-volume second edition of the dictionary, with all the material from the supplements fully integrated with the original work, and new words and forms that have emerged in the years since inserted as needs be. In that edition protagonist appears in what is currently considered to be its true fixity: with three main meanings and nineteen supporting quotations. Dryden’s remains unaltered, the first appearance of the word, and in the plural; and to give even greater weight to the notion that the plural is a perfectly acceptable form, both The Times and the thriller writer and medievalist Dorothy L. Sayers are quoted in addition to Shaw. The word is thus now properly lexically set for all time, and is stated by the almost unchallengeable authority of the OED to be available for use in either the singular or the multiple.

Which happens to be just as well, considering—and to reiterate the point—the existence of two protagonists in this story.

The first one, as is already clear, is Dr. William Chester Minor, the admitted and insane American murderer. The other is a man whose lifetime was more or less coincident with Minor’s, but who was different in almost all its other respects: He was named James Augustus Henry Murray. The lives of the two men were over the years to become inextricably and most curiously entwined.

And, moreover, both were to be entwined with the Oxford English Dictionary, since the second of the two men, James Murray, was to become for the last forty years of his life its greatest and most justly famous editor.


James Murray was born in February 1837, the eldest son of a tailor and linen draper in Hawick, a pretty little market town in the valley of the Teviot River, in the Scottish Borders. And that was about all that he really wished the world to know about himself. “I am a nobody,” he would write toward the end of the century, when fame had begun to creep up on him. “Treat me as a solar myth, or an echo, or an irrational quantity, or ignore me altogether.”

But it has long since proved impossible to ignore him, as he was to become a towering figure in British scholarship. Honors were showered on him during his lifetime, and he has achieved the standing of a mythic hero since his death. Murray’s childhood alone, which was uncovered twenty years ago by his granddaughter Elisabeth, who opened his trunk of papers, hints temptingly that he was destined—despite his unpromising, unmoneyed, unsophisticated beginnings—for extraordinary things.

He was a precocious, very serious little boy; he turned steadily into an astonishingly learned teenager, tall, well built, with long hair and an early, bright red beard that added to his grave and forbidding appearance. “Knowledge is power,” he declared on the flyleaf of his school exercise book, and added—for as well as having a working knowledge by the time he was fifteen of French, Italian, German, and Greek, he, like all educated children then, knew Latin—“Nihil est melius quam vita diligentissima” (Nothing is better than a most diligent life).

He had a voracious appetite, indeed an impassioned thirst for all kinds of learning. He taught himself about the local geology and botany; he found a globe from which he could learn geography and foster a love for maps; he unearthed scores of textbooks from which he could take on the enormous burden of history; he observed and took pains to remember all the natural phenomena about him. His younger brothers would tell how he once awakened them late one night to show them the rising of Sirius, the Dog Star, whose orbit and appearance over the horizon he had calculated and that proved, to the family’s sleepy exultation, to be perfectly correct.

He particularly cherished encountering and interrogating people he met who proved to be living links with history: He once found an ancient who had known someone who was present when Parliament proclaimed William and Mary joint sovereigns in 1689; then again, his mother would recount over and over how she had heard tell of the victory at Waterloo; and when he had children himself he would allow them to be dandled on the knees of an elderly naval officer who was present when Napoleon agreed to surrender.

He left school at fourteen, as did most of the poorer children of the British Isles. There was no money for him to go on to the fee-paying grammar school in nearby Melrose, and in any case his parents enjoyed some confidence in the lad’s ability to teach himself—by pursuing, as he had vowed, the vita diligentissima. Their hopes proved well founded: James continued to amass more and more knowledge, if only (as he would admit) for the sake of knowledge itself, and often in the most eccentric of ways.

He engaged in furious digs at a multitude of archaeological sites all over the Borders (which, being close to Hadrian’s Wall, was a treasure trove of buried antiquities); he made attempts to teach the local cows to respond to calls in Latin; he would read out loud, by the light of a minute oil lamp, the works of a Frenchman with the grand name of Théodore Agrippa d’Aubigné, and translating for his family, who gathered about him, fascinated.

Once, trying to invent water wings made from bundles of pond iris, he tied them to his arms but was turned upside down by more buoyancy than he calculated, and would have drowned (he was a nonswimmer) had not his friends rescued him by pulling him from the lake with his five-foot-long bow tie. He memorized hundreds of phrases in Romany, the language of the passing Gypsies; he learned bookbinding; he taught himself to embellish his own writings with elegant little drawings, flourishes, and curlicues, rather like the monkish illuminators of the Middle Ages.

By seventeen this “argumentative, earnest, naïve” young Scot was employed in his hometown, as an assistant headmaster, eagerly passing on the knowledge that he had so keenly amassed; by twenty he was a full-fledged headmaster of the local subscription academy (“ages ten to sixteen, fees one guinea a term”); and with his brother Alexander he became a leading member of that most Victorian and Scottish of bodies, the Hawick branch of the Mutual Improvement Institute. He gave his first lecture—“Reading, Its Pleasures and Advantages”—and went on to present learned papers to the town’s Literary and Philosophical Society on his new passion of phonetics, on the origins of the pronunciation and the foundations of the Scottish tongue, and—once he had discovered its delights—on the magic of Anglo-Saxon.

And yet all this early promise seemed suddenly doomed, first by the onset of love and then by the upset of tragedy. For in 1861, when he was just twenty-four, James met and the following year married a handsome but delicate infant-school music teacher named Maggie Scott. Their wedding picture shows James a strangely tall, vaguely simian figure in his ill-fitting frock coat and baggy trousers; a man with hugely long, knee-brushing arms; an unkempt beard; hair already thinning near the peak; eyes narrow and intense: neither happy nor unhappy, but full of thought, his mind seemingly filled with a kind of distracted foreboding.

Two years later they had a baby girl they christened Anna. But, as was wretchedly commonplace at the time, she died in infancy. Maggie Murray herself then fell gravely ill with consumption and was said by the Hawick doctors to be unlikely to withstand the rigors of another long Scottish winter. The recommended treatment was to sojourn in the South of France but that, given James’s tiny schoolmastering wage, was quite out of the question.

Instead the forlorn couple took off for London and modest lodgings in Peckham. James Murray, now twenty-seven, had to his bitter disappointment been forced by his domestic circumstances to abandon all his current intellectual pursuits, all his digging and delving and his pronouncements on linguistics, phonetics, and the origins of words—on which topic he was then enjoying a lively correspondence with the notable scholar Alexander Melville Bell, father of the infinitely more famous Alexander Graham Bell.

Economic necessity and marital duty—though he was devoted to Maggie and never complained—had pressed him to become instead, and with a dreary predictability, a clerk in a London bank. With his employment, in starched cuffs and green eyeshade, perched on a high stool at the back of the head office of the Chartered Bank of India, it seemed as though the story might have come to an ignominious end.

Not so. Within just a matter of months he was back in the traces. He had renewed his eccentric pursuit of learning—studying Hindustani and Achaemenid Persian on his daily commute, trying to determine by their accents from which region of Scotland various London policemen came, lecturing on “The Body and its Architecture” before the Camberwell Congregational Church (where, as a confirmed and lifelong teetotaler, he was a keen member of the Temperance League), and even noting with amused detachment, while his still-sickly and well-loved Maggie was dying, that in her nightly delirium she lapsed into the broad Scots dialect of her childhood, abandoning the more refined tones of a schoolteacher. That small discovery, that marginal addition to his learning, went some way to helping him through the misery of her subsequent death.

A year later James was engaged to another young woman and a year later still, married. While he had clearly loved and admired Maggie Scott, it was soon abundantly clear that in Ada Ruthven, whose father worked for the Great Indian Peninsular Railway and was an admirer of Alexander von Humboldt, and whose mother claimed to have been at school with Charlotte Brontë, here was a woman who was far more his social and intellectual equal. They were to remain devoted, and to have eleven children together, the first nine, according to the wishes of James’s father-in-law, bearing the middle name Ruthven.

A letter that James Murray wrote in 1867, his thirtieth year, applying for a position with the British Museum, offers some of the flavor of his barely believable range of knowledge (as well as his unabashed candor in telling people about it):

I have to state that Philology, both Comparative and special, has been my favourite pursuit during the whole of my life, and that I possess a general acquaintance with the languages & literature of the Aryan and Syro-Arabic classes—not indeed to say that I am familiar with all or nearly all of these, but that I possess that general lexical and structural knowledge which makes the intimate knowledge only a matter of a little application. With several I have a more intimate acquaintance as with the Romance tongues, Italian, French, Catalan, Spanish, Latin & in a less degree Portuguese, Vaudois, Provençal and various dialects. In the Teutonic branch, I am tolerably familiar with Dutch (having at my place of business correspondence to read in Dutch, German, French & occasionally other languages), Flemish, German, Danish. In Anglo-Saxon and Moeso-Gothic my studies have been much closer, I having prepared some works for publication upon these languages. I know a little of the Celtic, and am at present engaged with the Sclavonic, having obtained a useful knowledge of the Russian. In the Persian, Achaemenian Cuneiform, & Sanscrit branches, I know for the purposes of Comparative Philology. I have sufficient knowledge of Hebrew and Syriac to read at sight the Old Testament and Peshito; to a less degree I know Aramaic Arabic, Coptic and Phoenician to the point where it was left by Genesius.

It somewhat beggars belief that the museum turned his job application down. Murray was initially crushed but soon recovered. Before long he was consoling himself in a characteristic way—by comparing, in lexical terms, the sheep-counting numerology of the Wowenoc Indians of Maine with that of the moorland farmers of Yorkshire.

Murray’s interest in philology might have remained that of an enthusiastic amateur had it not been for his friendship with two men. One was a Trinity College, Cambridge, mathematician named Alexander Ellis, and the other a notoriously pigheaded, colossally rude phonetician named Henry Sweet—the figure on whom Bernard Shaw would later base his character Professor Henry Higgins in Pygmalion, which was transmuted later into the eternally popular My Fair Lady (in which Higgins was played, in the film, by the similarly rude and pigheaded actor Rex Harrison).

These men swiftly turned the amateur dabbler and dilettante into a serious philological scholar. Murray was introduced into membership of the august and exclusive Philological Society—no mean achievement for a young man who, it must be recalled, had left school at fourteen and had not thus far attended a university. By 1869 he was on the society’s council. In 1873—having left the bank and gone back to teaching (at Mill Hill School)—he published The Dialect of the Southern Counties of Scotland: It was a work that was to gild and solidify his reputation to the point of wide admiration (and to win him the invitation to contribute an essay on the history of the English language for the ninth edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica). It also brought him into contact with one of the most amazing men of Victorian England—the half-mad scholar-gypsy who was secretary of the Philological Society, Frederick Furnivall.

Some thought Furnivall—despite his devotion to mathematics, Middle English, and philology—a total clown, an ass, a scandalous dandy, and a fool (his critics, who were legion, made much of the fact that his father maintained a private lunatic asylum in the house where the young Frederick had grown up).

He was a socialist, an agnostic, and a vegetarian, and “to alcohol and tobacco he was a stranger all his life.” He was a keen athlete, obsessed by sculling, and was particularly fond of teaching handsome young waitresses (recruited from the ABC teashop in New Oxford Street) the best way to get the most speed out of a slender racing boat he had designed. A photograph of him survives from 1901: He wears an impish smirk, not least because he is surrounded by eight pretty members of the Hammersmith Sculling Club for Girls, content and well-exercised women whose skirts may be long but whose shirts lie snug on their ample breasts. In the background stands a stern Victorian matron, clad all in tough serge weeds, scowling.

Frederick Furnivall was indeed an appalling flirt. He was condemned by many as socially reprehensible for committing the doubly unpardonable sin of marrying a lady’s maid and then abandoning her. Dozens of editors and publishers refused to work with him: he was “devoid of tact or discretion…had a boyish frankness of speech which offended many and led him into unedifying controversies…his declarations of hostility to religion and to class distinctions were often unreasonable and gave pain.”

But he was a brilliant scholar, and, like James Murray, he had an obsessive thirst for learning; among his friends and admirers he could count Alfred, Lord Tennyson; Charles Kingsley; William Morris; John Ruskin—Doctor Minor’s London mentor, it would later turn out—and the Yorkshireborn composer Frederick Delius. Kenneth Grahame, a fellow sculler who worked at the Bank of England, came duly under Furnivall’s spell, wrote The Wind in the Willows and painted Furnivall into the plot as the Water Rat. “We learned em!” says Toad. “We taught em” corrects Rat. Furnivall may have been a cunning mischief-maker, but he was also often right.

He may have been Grahame’s mentor; but he was a much more significant figure in James Murray’s life. As the latter’s biographer was to say, admiringly, Furnivall was to Murray “stimulating and persuasive, often meddlesome and exasperating, always a dynamic and powerful influence, eclipsing even James in his gusto for life.”

He was in many ways a Victorian’s Victorian, an Englishman’s Englishman—and a natural choice, as the country’s leading philologist, to take a dominant role in the making of the great new dictionary that was then in the process of being constructed.

It was Furnivall’s friendship with and sponsorship of James Murray—as well as Murray’s links with Sweet and Ellis—that were to lead, ultimately, to the most satisfactory event of all. This occurred on the afternoon of April 26, 1878, at which time James Augustus Henry Murray was invited to Oxford, to a room in Christ Church College, Oxford, and to an awesome full meeting of the grandest minds in the land, the Delegates of the Oxford University Press.

They were a formidable group—the college dean, Henry Liddell (whose daughter Alice had so captivated the Christ Church mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson that he wrote an adventure book for her, set in Wonderland); Max Müller, the Leipzig philologist, Orientalist, and Sanskrit scholar who now held Oxford’s chair of Comparative Philology; the Regius Professor of History, William Stubbs, the man who was credited in Victorian times with having made the subject worthy of respectable academic pursuit; the canon of Christ Church and classical scholar, Edwin Palmer; the warden of New College, James Sewell—and so on and so on.

High Church, high learning, high ambition: These were the Men Who Counted, the architects of the great intellectual constructions that originated during England’s haughtiest and most self-confident time. As Isambard Kingdom Brunel was to bridges and railways, as Sir Richard Burton was to Africa, and as Robert Falcon Scott was soon to be to the Antarctic, so these men were the best, the makers of indelible monuments to learning—of the books that were to be the core foundation of the great libraries all around the globe.

And they had a project, they said, in which Doctor Murray might well be very interested indeed. A project that, unwittingly on the parts of all concerned, was eventually to put James Murray on a collision course with a man whose interests and whose piety were curiously congruent with his own.


At first blush William Minor might seem to have been a man more marked by his differences from Murray than by such similarities as these. He was rich where Murray was poor. He was of high estate where Murray’s condition was irredeemably, if respectably, low. And though he was almost the same age—just three years separated them—he had been born both of a different citizenship and, as it happens, in a place that was almost as many thousands of miles away from Murray’s British Isles as it was then thought prudent and practicable for ordinary people to reach.

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