Lives of the fellows

Peter Mark Roget

b.18 January 1779 d.12 September 1869
MD Edin(1798) FRS(1814) LRCP(1820) FRCP(1821)

Peter Mark Roget, M.D., was born in London, at Broad-street, Soho, 18th January, 1779, and was the son of the Rev. John Roget, a native of Geneva, who had settled in this country, and was minister of the French church in Threadneedle-street, by his wife Catherine, a sister of Sir Samuel Romilly. He was educated at Kensington, and then at Edinburgh, whither his widowed mother and an only sister accompanied him in 1793. For two years he attended the general classes in the college, and then applied himself to medicine. He graduated doctor of medicine there 25th June, 1798 (D.M.I. de Chemicæ Affinitatis legibus), being then only nineteen years of age.

Soon after this he returned to London and continued his studies under Dr. Willan at the Public dispensary, and at St. George’s hospital, and by attendance on the lectures of Dr. Baillie, Mr. Cruikshank, Mr. Wilson, and others. In 1802 Dr. Roget proceeded to the continent in charge of the two sons of a wealthy Manchester merchant, and on the sudden rupture of the peace of Amiens, being at Geneva (at that time considered a part of France), was detained a prisoner there on parole. Pleading his rights as a citizen of Geneva in virtue of his descent from Genevese ancestors, he was liberated, and after a long detour reached England in November, 1802.

The following year Dr. Roget accepted the office of domestic physician to the marquis of Lansdowne, whom he attended to Harrogate and Bath. In 1804 he settled at Manchester, where a vacancy for a physician had been left by the death of Dr. Percival. Dr. Roget was immediately appointed physician to the infirmary of that town. From the first he took a prominent part in all matters of a scientific or literary character, and was an active member of the Philosophical and Literary Society, of which he was soon nominated a vice-president.

Dr. Roget, in conjunction with Mr. Gibson and Mr. Hutchinson, his colleagues at the infirmary, gave a course of lectures on anatomy and physiology, and thus laid the foundation of the medical school at Manchester. The portion of the course given by Dr. Roget comprised comparative anatomy and physiology, a subject then but little studied, and the importance of which was recognised only by a few persons. These lectures in a popular form he delivered to large and respectable audiences the following winter at the rooms of the Philosophical Society.

Dr. Roget quitted Manchester in 1808, and settled in London. He was admitted a Licentiate of the College of Physicians 27th March, 1820; a Fellow 24th June, 1831; he was Gulstonian lecturer in 1832, and Censor in 1834. Dr. Roget pursued a similar course in London to what he had done at Manchester. He delivered popular and interesting courses of lectures at the Russell, the London, and the Royal institutions, at the last-named of which he was the first appointed Fullerian professor of physiology, being nominated to that chair by the founder himself, Mr. John Fuller. He also delivered several courses of lectures on the theory and practice of medicine at the Windmill-street school, where he had as his colleagues Sir Charles Bell, Sir Benjamin Brodie, Mr. Brande, and other leading men of science.

In 1823 he was appointed by the government, in conjunction with Dr. P. M. Latham, to take charge of the medical treatment of the inmates of the general penitentiary at Millbank, then suffering severely from an epidemic scurvy and dysentery.

Dr. Roget had been elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1814, and he was selected in 1827 to succeed Sir John Herschel in the office of secretary of that distinguished body. Thenceforward his life and pursuits were rather those of a savant than of a practising physician. He wrote much, and what he wrote he did well. He contributed to the Cyclopædia of Practical Medicine the two elegant essays on Age and Asphyxia; to the Library of Useful Knowledge the series of treatises on Electricity, Galvanism, Magnetism, and Electro-magnetism; he had contributed several articles to Rees’s Cyclopædia, as he did, also, to the sixth and seventh editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and as specially deserving of mention among these, those on "Physi-ology" and "Phrenology," which were subsequently reprinted and published in Edinburgh in two volumes 12mo. 1838.

Dr. Roget was one of the eight persons selected to write the Bridgewater Treatises, and in his "Animal and Vegetable Physiology considered with reference to Natural Theology," 2 vols., 8vo., Lond., he produced a work second in value to none of the series. "It will bear comparison with any of the Bridgewater Treatises, whether in reference to the science and learning displayed, or to the acuteness and sobriety of their argument, or the tone of piety and religious feeling in which they are composed."(1)

But the work on which Dr. Roget’s fame with posterity will chiefly rest is his—
Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases, classified and arranged so as to facilitate the expression of Ideas and assist in Literary Composition. 8vo. Lond. 1852.

The Thesaurus—opus quinquaginta annorum—was intended to supply with respect to the English language a desideratum heretofore unsupplied in any language; namely, a collection of the words it contains and of the idiomatic combinations peculiar to it, arranged not in alphabetical order as they are in a dictionary, but according to the ideas which they express. The purpose of an ordinary dictionary is simply to explain the meaning of words; and the problem, of which it professes to furnish the solution, may be stated thus:— the word being given, to find its signification, or the idea it is intended to convey. The object aimed at in the Thesaurus is exactly the converse of this, namely, the idea being given, to find the word or words by which that idea may be most fitly and aptly expressed. The work was as happily conceived as it was ably executed. Its utility to the student, and especially to the writer of English, can scarcely be over-estimated. It has proved one of the most successful publications of modem times. The first edition appeared in 1852, the thirty-third edition in 1875.

Dr. Roget resigned his office of secretary to the Royal Society in 1848, and with the publication of the Thesaurus in 1852 his public career may be said to have closed. "An increasing deafness excluded him to a great extent from the pleasures of social intercourse. This infirmity, which was almost the only sign of his great age, he bore with patience and resignation. He had survived all the friends of his youth and most of those of his manhood, but he was happy in the possession of mental resources, which enabled him to indulge, even to his last day, the habits of constant industry which he had acquired when a boy. As with increasing age he became less inclined for, and at last less capable of deep study or long sustained thought, his employments partook more of the nature of pastimes; but both in his selection and pursuit of these there might still be traced the scientific turn of thought and philosophical love of method which had characterised the main achievements of his life. The engines he had forged to store his mind were now employed to entertain his leisure."(2)

Dr. Roget died, after a few days’ illness, at West Malvern, on the 12th September, 1869, in the ninety-first year of his age.

William Munk

[(1) Edinburgh Review.
(2) Proceedings of Roy. Soc. Of Lond., vol. xviii, p. 38.]

(Volume III, page 71)

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