Bibliophile and his words, Part 1

(Dr. Rocke Robertson collected more than 600 dictionaries and many other books; a true dictionary bibliophile)

Sitting in his study, Dr. Rocke Robertson has a history of the English language for the past 400 years surrounding him.

It started out as an interest in 18th century books of all kinds. At first he collected any and all books from that period, including novels, atlases, and dictionaries.

One of the first books he purchased was one of Johnston's dictionaries. It intrigued him, and the hobby started from there.

This happened prior to World War II. During the war he served in a surgical unit then moved to Vancouver, Canada, where he helped establish the University of British Columbia's medical school.

Over several years, he was working as head of the surgical department of McGill University and serving as "principal" of the university, until he stepped down in 1970.

During all of those years, he continued collecting dictionaries. In every city he traveled to, he would hunt out bookstores specializing in old books and search out centuries old volumes.

For several years, Dr. Robertson collected dictionaries in many cities and bookstores specializing in old books so he could search out centuries of old volumes.

He also kept in touch with many collectors and also bought a number of books he found in catalogs. In the last few years (early 1980s), his purchases were greatly diminished, because the sources for the books had dried up.

"Once a book gets into a university or public library it goes out of circulation," he pointed out.

While he called it a hobby, Dr. Robertson admitted that 90 per cent of the time he spent reading was spent poring over dictionaries. Most mornings when he went home, he worked on the latest part of his hobby; a history of the development of the English dictionary. In effect, it was a history of his collection.

His book was divided into several categories, including a physical description of each book, a history of the authors and how they compiled their lists of words, the methods of production, which subjects each dictionary covered, pronunciations, origins of words (etymologies), and illustrations.

The first English language dictionary was A Table Alphabetical, compiled by Robert Cawdrey. It was published in 1604 and consisted of about 50 pages. Dr. Robertson had a copy of it, with one of the few originals in existence at the Bodlein Library in Oxford, England.

—Compiled from excerpts of a newspaper article titled,
"Hallville (Canada) bibliophile has a way with words" by Tom Workman, Press Staff Reporter of
The Winchester Press; Winchester, Ontario, Canada; April 9, 1981; page B-7.

Dr. H. Rocke Robertson (1912-1998), age 86; his last residence was in Hallville, Canada.

You may go on to Part 2 of 4, now.