Noah Webster, an American philologist, born in that part of Hartford, Conn., now forming the town of West Hartford, Oct. 16, 1758, died in New Haven, May 28,1843. He entered Yale college in 1774, served under his father, a captain in the militia, during the campaign of 1777, and graduated in 1778. He taught school in Hartford, and was admitted to the bar in 1781. In 1782 he opened a classical school at Goshen, Orange Co., N. Y. Having determined to engage in the preparation of school books, and received encouragement from Mr. Madison and others on a visit to Philadelphia, he returned to Hartford, and in 1783 published his "First Part of a Grammatical Institute of the English Language," which was followed in the course of the next two years by the second and third parts. This "First Part" was the basis of the spelling books which he afterward published. About the same time he undertook the publication of "Governor Winthrop's Journal." He also wrote newspaper articles upon questions of national policy. In 1785 he published a pamphlet entitled "Sketches of American Policy," in which he foreshadowed the character of a new constitution of the United States. The same year he visited the southern states, to procure the enactment of state copyright laws.
In 1786 he delivered a course of lectures in the principal American cities on the English language, which were published in 1789, under the title of " Dissertations on the English Language." In 1787 he became principal of an academy in Philadelphia; and when the labors of the constitutional convention were closed, he wrote a pamphlet entitled "Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution." In 1788 he established in New York, and published for one year at a heavy loss, the " American- Magazine." He returned to Hartford in 1789, and began the practice of law. For some years his business was large and profitable; but in the autumn of 1793, at the solicitation of friends of the administration, he established for its support a daily newspaper in New York, " The Minerva," to which he added soon after a semi-weekly edition, called " The Herald." These names were subsequently changed for those of the " Commercial Advertiser" and "New York Spectator," which are still retained (1876). In 1795 he contributed to his journal papers under the signature of " Curtius," in defence of Jay's treaty with Great Britain, concluded in the preceding year, which did much to allay the violent opposition to that treaty.
In 1799 he published " A Brief History of Epidemics and Pestilential Diseases" (2 vols. 8vo, Hartford), which he had been led to investigate by the prevalence of yellow fever. He had removed to New Haven in 1798, having resigned the editorial charge of his journal, though he retained the proprietorship for some time. In 1802 he published a work on the rights of neutral nations in time of war, and a compilation of "Historical Notices of the Origin and State of Banking Institutions and Insurance Offices;" and in 1807 his "Philosophical and Practical Grammar of the English Language." He had published in 1806 a "Compendious Dictionary," and in 1807 he began the preparation of the " American Dictionary of the English Language." He soon found himself seriously embarrassed for want of a knowledge of the origin of words, and therefore laid aside his work, and spent ten years in an inquiry into the origin of our language and its connection with those of other countries. He then commenced anew his dictionary, brought it nearly to a close in seven years, and sailed for Europe in June, 1824. After spending two months in Paris, examining rare works in the royal library, he went to England, and, in a residence of eight months at the university of Cambridge, completed the dictionary.
At the close of the year 1828 an edition of 2,500 copies was published in the United States, in 2 vols. 4to, followed by one of 3,000 in England. In 1840 a second edition of 3,000 copies was published, in 2 vols, royal 8vo. In the interval several editions of the dictionary, abridged to a greater or less degree, had been prepared either by Mr. Webster or members of his family. While preparing his great work, he removed his residence to Amherst, Mass., and was one of the founders of Amherst college, and for several years president of its board of trustees. He also represented the town for several years in the legislature. In New Haven he had been repeatedly a member of the legislature of the state, and judge of one of the state courts. He returned to New Haven in 1822, and in 1823 received from Yale college the degree of LL. D. In the beginning of 1843 he published "A Collection of Papers on Political, Literary, and Moral Subjects," and an elaborate treatise " On the supposed Change in the Temperature of Winter," which he had read before the Connecticut academy of sciences 44 years before.
His last literary labor was the revision of the appendix to his dictionary, which he completed only a few days before his death. (See Dictionary, vol. vi., p. 95.) Of his "Elementary Spelling Book," in its various editions and revisions, more than 70,000,000 copies had been sold down to January, 1876. The annual sale of the dictionaries has been for some years over 300,000 copies. Besides the works named above, Dr. Webster published in early life a " History of the United States," which he revised about 1838; " Letters to a Young Gentleman commencing his Education" (8vo, New Haven, 1823); "Manual of Useful Studies" (New Haven, 1832); "The Prompter;" and a "History of Animals".