Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Spiers, Alexander

SPIERS, ALEXANDER (1807–1869), lexicographer, was born at Gosport in Hampshire in 1807. He studied in England, in Germany, and in Paris and graduated doctor of philosophy at Leipzig. Acting under the advice of Andrieux, the well-known poet, he settled in Paris as a professor of English, and found employment at L'École de Commerce, at L'École des Ponts et Chaussées, at L'École des Mines, and at the Lycée Bonaparte. For fourteen years he devoted himself largely to compiling a new English-French and French-English dictionary. It appeared in 1846 as ‘General English and French Dictionary, newly composed from the English dictionaries of Johnson, Webster, Richardson, &c., and from the French dictionaries of the French Academy, of Laveaux, Boiste,’ &c. (London, 1846). It proved superior to anything which had preceded it, and was at once ‘autorisé par le conseil de l'instruction publique,’ 3 July 1846. The twenty-ninth edition, in two volumes, appeared in 1884 (remodelled by H. Witcomb, Spiers's successor at the École des Ponts et Chaussées), and it remains the standard dictionary. An abridgment, under the title of ‘Dictionnaire abrégé Anglais-Français et Français-Anglais, abrégé du Dictionnaire Général de M. Spiers,’ was brought out in 1851 and supplied to almost every school and lycée in France. In November 1857 he brought an action against Léon Contanseau and his publishers, Longmans & Co., for pirating his dictionaries in a work entitled ‘A Practical Dictionary of the French and English Languages,’ but Vice-chancellor Sir William Page Wood (afterwards Lord Hatherley) [q. v.], in his decision on 25 Feb. 1858, said that, although great use of Spiers's books had been made without due acknowledgment, yet in regard to such publications, which were not entirely original, a charge of piracy could not be sustained (Weekly Reporter, 1857–8, pp. 352–4; Times, 26 Feb. 1858, p. 10).

Spiers was nominated an Agrégé de l'Université, an Officier de l'Instruction Publique, Examinateur à la Sorbonne, and Inspecteur Général de l'Université. He received the cross of the Legion of Honour from Napoleon III. He died at Passy, near Paris, on 26 Aug. 1869. He married in 1853 Victoire Dawes Newman, by whom he left five sons.

Besides his ‘Dictionary,’ Spiers's chief publications were: 1. ‘Manual of Commercial Terms in English and French,’ 1846. 2. ‘Study of the English Prose Writers, Sacred and Profane,’ 1852. 3. ‘Treatise on English Versification,’ 1852. 4. ‘The English Letter-Writer,’ 1853. 5. ‘Study of English Poetry, a choice collection of the finest pieces of the poets of Great Britain,’ 1855. All these works were issued in both English and French editions in London, Paris, and America (New York or Philadelphia). Spiers also printed and edited for French students Sheridan's ‘School for Scandal’ and ‘The Essays of F. Bacon, Viscount St. Albans’ (1851).

[Larousse's Grand Dictionnaire, 1875, xiv. 1009; American Annual Cyclopædia, 1869, iv. 542; Cooper's Register and Magazine of Biography (1869–70), ii. 106; M. Spiers et MM. Dramard-Baudry et Cie, appelants, MM. Hingray, Smith et Hamilton, intimes, Paris, 1860; private information.]

G. C. B.