William Chester Minor, also known as W. C. Minor (June 22, 1834 – March 26, 1920) was an American army surgeon and one of the largest contributors of quotations to the Oxford English Dictionary.
During the 1870s, the Philological Society was concerned with the process of publishing a dictionary with such an immense scope. They had pages printed by publishers, but no publication agreement was reached; both the Cambridge University Press and the Oxford University Press were approached. The OUP finally agreed in 1879 (after two years of negotiating by Sweet, Furnivall, and Murray) to publish the dictionary and to pay Murray, who was both the editor and the Philological Society president. The dictionary was to be published as interval fascicles, with the final form in four 6,400-page volumes. They hoped to finish the project in ten years.:1
Murray started the project, working in a corrugated iron outbuilding called the “Scriptorium” which was lined with wooden planks, book shelves, and 1,029 pigeon-holes for the quotation slips.:xiii He tracked and regathered Furnivall’s collection of quotation slips, which were found to concentrate on rare, interesting words rather than common usages. For instance, there were ten times as many quotations for abusion as for abuse. He appealed, through newspapers distributed to bookshops and libraries, for readers who would report “as many quotations as you can for ordinary words” and for words that were “rare, obsolete, old-fashioned, new, peculiar or used in a peculiar way”. Murray had American philologist and liberal arts college professor Francis March manage the collection in North America; 1,000 quotation slips arrived daily to the Scriptorium and, by 1880, there were 2,500,000.:15
The first dictionary fascicle was published on 1 February 1884—twenty-three years after Coleridge’s sample pages. The full title was A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles; Founded Mainly on the Materials Collected by The Philological Society; the 352-page volume, words from A to Ant, cost 12s 6d.:251 (or about $668.24 in 2013) The total sales were a disappointing 4,000 copies.:169
The OUP saw that it would take too long to complete the work with unrevised editorial arrangements. Accordingly, new assistants were hired and two new demands were made on Murray.:32–33 The first was that he move from Mill Hill to Oxford, which he did in 1885. Murray had his Scriptorium re-erected on his new property.
Murray resisted the second demand: that if he could not meet schedule, he must hire a second, senior editor to work in parallel to him, outside his supervision, on words from elsewhere in the alphabet. Murray did not want to share the work, feeling that he would accelerate his work pace with experience. That turned out not to be so, and Philip Gell of the OUP forced the promotion of Murray’s assistant Henry Bradley (hired by Murray in 1884), who worked independently in the British Museum in London beginning in 1888. In 1896, Bradley moved to Oxford University.
Gell continued harassing Murray and Bradley with his business concerns—containing costs and speeding production—to the point where the project’s collapse seemed likely. Newspapers reported the harassment, particularly the Saturday Review, and public opinion backed the editors.:182–83 Gell was fired, and the university reversed his cost policies. If the editors felt that the dictionary would have to grow larger, it would; it was an important work, and worth the time and money to properly finish.