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On this day in history in 1869, died Peter Roget.

Roget was a physician and philologist, famous for his Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases.

Peter Mark Roget was born on 18th January 1779 at Soho, London, the son of a Swiss clergyman, pastor to the French Protestant church in Threadneedle Street, and his French wife, Catherine née Romilly. In 1781, it was discovered that the Reverend Roget had consumption and so he returned with his family to his native Geneva in the hope of recovery, but sad to say, he died in 1783. Mrs Roget moved back to London and then spent the next few years moving to various seaside and spa towns, ensuring that her son received an adequate yet diverse education. The young boy picked up French words from his extended family and taught himself German, Latin and Italian. In 1793, the family moved to Edinburgh and, at the age of 14, Roget entered Edinburgh University to read medicine, and graduated in 1798.

In 1798, Roget left for London, where he introduced himself to the leading figures in medicine and science. He met Humphry Davy and, at his request, conducted experiments on the effects of nitrous oxide, and sent his observations to Davy for inclusion in his research papers. He met Jeremy Bentham who consulted him about a proposition for utilizing London's sewage, and a project to invent a frigidarium, a container to preserve food, an idea originally conceived by Francis Bacon.

In 1802, Roget travelled to Geneva during an interval in the Napoleonic Wars, but his travel arrangements were interrupted when hostilities broke out once more. At Geneva, he was able to convince the French authorities, who were in control of that city, that he had Swiss ancestry and therefore was not an enemy alien. He managed to gain passage to Germany, where he took a circuitous route through Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Leipzig, Wittenberg, Potsdam, and Berlin, arriving at Harwich, in November 1803. After this experience, he developed a loathing of the French, and vowed never to venture abroad again.

Roget then established himself as a physician. He helped found the medical school at Manchester although the foundation of his practice was in London. In 1814, he invented a log-log slide rule which calculated the roots and powers of numbers. In 1823, he acted for the Millbank penitentiary during an epidemic of dysentery. His solution was to add mercury and chalk to the prisoners’ diet, but when this failed, he ordered the prisoners moved to the hulks of ships until they either died or recovered. After a varied career in medicine, he retired in 1840.

In order to beguile the vacant time of retirement, Roget began to compile his now famous Thesaurus, a comprehensive classification of synonyms or verbal equivalents. He had first conceived the idea in 1805, when he began a notebook of verbal classification, purely for his own use, and had added to the notebook throughout his career. He now began in earnest to compile the treasury of words, and worked steadily for 12 years, until its completion in 1852. Roget’s Thesaurus was first published in 1852, and has never been out of print. Roget lived to be 91, cared for by his daughter Kate. In 1869, when on his annual holiday in West Malvern, he suffered an attack of heat stroke, and died on 12th September 1869, and was buried in the local parish church. [St James's Church, West Malvern Road, West Malvern, Worcestershire, WR14 4BB]

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