Chester Vermont Rotary Club
Working to Benefit the Chester Area, Service Above Self 

 
 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 

Richard Marek - The Tale of a Curmudgeonly Wordsmith

 

Richard Marek

On July 7 Richard J. Marek spoke to the Chester Rotary at the Fullerton Inn. Marek is the president of the Vermont Historical Society and was a six-term member of the Vermont legislature. He commented on both these roles, but his main purpose was to present Dr. Samuel Johnson, The Tale of a Curmudgeonly Wordsmith. Displayed were two of Johnson's 1755 dictionaries that Marek owns. These are the fourth edition, the most complete containing over 42,000 definitions. Johnson's was the first English dictionary ever published. Marek's books were probably first purchased by one or more of the more wealthy pre-Revolutionary families in the United States. They are exceedingly rare.
 
Samuel Johnson is considered to be the pre-eminent literary figure of his era and is memorialized in a classic  work, The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell, and in references by other literati. Among his pithy quotations is, "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel."
 
Marek gave a brief summary of Johnson's life of poverty, politics, brilliance in the coffee houses and print, self-education (honorary degrees only) and quoted numerous amusing definitions of words found in use among the people by him and his six transcribers. Mentioned was the fact that the French had been working with 40 scholars for 40 years to produce a dictionary. Johnson's took seven and a fee of 1600 pounds.
 
As for Vermont history, Marek mentioned work to restore the Newfane railroad station, the excellence of the Vermont History Museum in Montpelier and the archives in the Vermont History Center in Barre.
 
Vermont's special lack of political partisanship was explained in terms of its open process, mixed seating, and small districts averaging 4,000 constituents. In this climate, Marek pointed out, one person has the satisfaction of knowing he can make a difference.
 
It was rewarding to hear fascinating details about the brilliant curmudgeon Samuel Johnson from this active, exemplary member of our Vermont community.