Compassion and the Oxford English Dictonary

How murder can be turned to good.

On the 17 February 1872, William Chester Minor committed a terrible murder. A murder out of paranoid panic which threw poor George Merrett’s six children and pregnant wife further into the squalor that was the working class Dickensian life in Lambeth, London.

No public hanging for William Minor

No public hanging for William Minor

The punishment for murder in 1872  was death but with the Criminal Lunatics act of 1800 a finding of criminal insanity had W.C. Minor locked away at ‘His Majesties Pleasure’. In this case it was the rest of Minor’s life, until when elderly he was shipped back to the United States where he remained in the care at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.

As an educated surgeon and veteran of the American Civil war and with the accompanying pension Minor, was able to amuse himself in his confinement with interests in literature and study, eventually to notice in one of the many books he had purchased, a pamphlet asking for help in compiling information on the use of words in english for the ‘Great Dictionary’ being compiled by Professor James Murray.

Language Skills

Oxford English Dictionary

And so the story unfolds in Simon Winchesters book The Professor and the Madman, of a life long collaboration to help create one of literature’s greatest works.

A compassionate society.

If this story had unfolded in an earlier era when the defence of criminal insanity wasn’t in place and the order of the day for murder was capital punishment, Minor would never have had the chance to use his intellect and abundant time to help contribute to the OED.

Compassion for mental illness

Story of madness but a great mind.

The defence of criminal insanity is one of compassion saying someone is too mentally ill to function with rational abilities but isn’t this the case for all of us on a long scale from sane to insane. Aren’t we all at some time a little unbalanced from societal norms due to experiences, emotion or illness.

William Chester Minor undoubtedly had a major mental illness which contributed to the murder of Merrett but although extreme isn’t this a little like all of us. When are we 100% rational and sane for that matter? If we have to cut Minor some slack for what he did, shouldn’t we also have some compassion for those around us who do odd things because of their situation.

With W.C. Minor’s abilities and self financing and due to the compassion of his time, the great works he was able to achieve despite his illness are still of benefit to our culture today but how many people have missed the opportunity to achieve their potential due to our lack of compassion for their situation and individual insanity, instabilityeccentricities, moodiness, personality.

Giving everyone opportunity, including yourself.

There are people all around us, who are a little, ‘left of centre’ so to speak. Who only need some support in one form or another to enable them to reach their potential and add greatly to society. We’re all too ready to judge others biased on our own thoughts and attitudes but a little compassion for the idiosyncrasies which we all have, would create a more friendly, compassionate society and as is the case with W.C. Minor, create opportunities for a full life for the benefit of everyone.

Just maybe you’re the one needing some compassion to be wonderfully eccentric and give the world something special.

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