Booth, David (DNB00)


BOOTH, DAVID (1766–1846), author of an ‘Analytical Dictionary of the English Language,’ was born at Kennetles, Forfarshire, on 9 Feb. 1766. He was almost entirely self-taught, the whole amount paid by his father for his instruction being eighteen-pence for one quarter at the parish school. In early life he was engaged in business, and for some years was occupant of a brewery at Woodside, near Newburgh, Fifeshire. Although the undertaking was not unsuccessful, his interest in intellectual matters induced him to retire from it to become schoolmaster at Newburgh. Shortly before 1820 he removed to London, where, besides being engaged in general literature, he for several years superintended for the press the publications of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. In 1818 he published ‘The Tradesman, Merchant, and Accountant's Assistant, being tables for Business in general on a new Plan of Arrangement.’ His practical knowledge of brewing he also turned to account by writing for the Useful Knowledge Society ‘The Art of Brewing,’ 1829, and ‘The Art of Wine-making in all its Branches, to which is added an Appendix concerning Cider and Perry,’ 1834. The latter volume contains a description of the brewer's saccharometer, of which he was the inventor. In 1806 he had published an ‘Introduction to an Analytical Dictionary of the English Language.’ Circumstances did not permit him the some years to proceed further with the work, but in 1831 he brought out ‘Principles of English Composition,’ the second, third, and fourth chapters of which were reprinted from the ‘Introduction to the Analytical Dictionary;’ and in 1837 he published ‘Principles of English Grammar.’ The first volume of the dictionary, the only one published, appeared in 1835. Its special characteristics he stated to be that ‘the words are explained in the order of their affinity, independent of alphabetical arrangement; and the signification of each is traced from its etymology, the present meaning accounted for when it differs from its former acceptation, the whole exhibiting in one connected narrative the origin, history, and modern usages of the existing vocabulary of the English tongue.' An idea of Booth's method of arrangement may be gathered from the following list of the first twelve words in their order of succession: Microcosm, man, wife, woman, male, female, masculine, feminine, human, baron, virility, virtue. While the work displays much ingenuity, and contains some curious information, it is marred in some respects by imperfect knowledge and hasty generalisation. The other works of Booth include ‘Observations on the English Jury Laws in Criminal Cases, with respect to the distinction between unanimous verdicts, and verdicts by a majority,’ 1833, strongly condemnatory of the ‘unanimous verdict system;’ ‘A Letter to Rev. T. R. Malthus, being an answer to his criticism of Mr. Godwin's work on population;’ and ‘Eura and Ziphya, a classical Tale, with poetical Pieces.’ He died at Balgonie Mills, Fifeshire, on 5 Dec. 1845. He received a grant of 50l. from the Royal Bounty Fund, and, it is said, was also relieved by the Literary Fund Society. Booth is thus characterised in ‘Memoirs’ of Dr. Robert Blakey: ‘One of the most extraordinary personages I have met for some time. He is not, I believe, five feet high, of very dark visage, eyes very red and watery, and presenting altogether an impish and fiendish look. He was, however, very kind.'

[Gent. Mag. new series, xxvii. 322-3; Conolly’s Dict. of Eminent Men of Fife, p, 70; Memoirs of Dr. Robert Blakey (1879), pp. 75-7.]

T. F. H.