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JAMA Revisited
October 8, 2019

Peter Mark Roget (1779-1869): Roget’s Thesaurus

Author Affiliations

October 6, 1969

JAMA. 1969;210(1):128- 129.

JAMA. 2019;322(14):1422. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.15550

Peter M. Roget, physician, educator, and scholar, was born in London, son of John Roget, native of Geneva and at the time pastor of the French Protestant Church, a Swiss parish. Peter received his early education in Kensington where he was partial to mathematical studies. He completed his higher education at Edinburgh, obtaining the degree of doctor of medicine before his 20th year. He returned to London to study under Baillie, Cruikshank, Willan, Heberden, Abernethy, and others. After a series of varied professional activities on the Continent and in England, in his 26th year he was appointed physician to the infirmary at Manchester, successor to Thomas Percival. He gave a course of lectures and demonstrations on anatomy and physiology and became one of the founders of the Manchester Medical School, a successful venture.

Four years after his appointment Roget left Manchester and established himself in London. He was admitted a licentiate of the College of Physicians and gave a popular course on animal physiology at the Russell Institution. Later he lectured on the practice of physic at the anatomical school on Great Windmill Street and for several years was responsible for the teaching of comparative physiology at the Royal Institution. Meanwhile, Roget was chosen one of the secretaries of the Medico-Chirurgical Society of London and for a dozen years edited their Transactions. His design of a new slide rule led to Fellowship in the Royal Society.

After the establishment of the school of medicine in Aldersgate Street in 1826, Roget undertook an extended course of lectures on physiology which were published subsequently. In 1827, he was appointed senior secretary of the Royal Society and in 1831 Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of London. His Gulstonian lectures to the College discussed “The Laws of Sensation and Perception.” In 1834, Roget was nominated to the new chair of physiology in the Royal Institution and for three years delivered the Fullerian lectures. An even greater contemporary honor was the selection of Roget as one of the contributors to the Bridgewater Treatises. These were established “to enforce the great truths of Natural Theology, by adducing those evidences of the power, wisdom, and goodness of God which are manifested in the living creation.” Roget advanced his evidence in support of natural theology a generation before Charles Darwin published his Origin of Species and later The Descent of Man. He speculated that the changes and modifications of living creatures from the common type are found usually to be exquisitely adapted to their various destinations and circumstances. The recognition of a common type was proposed as an argument in favor of the existence of a Creator. The modifications for the adaption of the archtype to new conditions was as clear a proof of design as could be afforded by an entirely new structure for each class of living creatures. Nature appeared to Roget to have kept in view a type or standard in spite of innumerable modifications rendered necessary for survival of each species.…

Roget’s boldness of conception, simple exposition of natural phenomena, and purity of style made this, with but one exception, his most famous composition. Other works included monographs on medical subjects, sections in encyclopedias, medical and general, and contributions on natural philosophy to the Edinburgh Review, the Philosophical Transactions, the Annals of Philosophy, and the Parliamentary Review.

Roget held the office of censor of the Royal College of Physicians, was a member of the Senate of the University of London, chairman of the Medical Faculty, examiner in comparative anatomy and physiology at the University of London, a Fellow of several scientific bodies, and a member of literary and philosophical societies in Europe and America.

Roget retired from practice in the beginning of his seventh decade and united his efforts in compiling his Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and Arranged so as to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition. The value of such a volume entered his thoughts as a young physician in Manchester, half a century earlier.…

The success and popularity of the volume is attested to by the knowledge that Roget was engaged in preparing the 20th edition of the work at the time of his death, while a remarkable number of editions, revisions, and translations have appeared in the intervening century.

Section Editor: Jennifer Reiling, Assistant Editor.
Editor’s Note: JAMA Revisited is transcribed verbatim from articles published previously, unless otherwise noted.