Webster never stopped writing. At the age of 66, he began to show signs of exhaustion. He wrote to his daughter Emily Ellsworth that his labors were severe enough to produce constant pain and soreness. He kept writing in spite of all. At age 71, according to biographer Richard Rollins, he told his son William that "the physical aspects of writing hundreds of thousands of words often brought great physical discomfort.


Still he could not stop. For addicts, the pain of withdrawal is often worse than the affliction, and Noah Webster was "hooked" on words. The addiction finally killed him fourteen years later, at age 85. By that time, his Speller had gone through more than 400 editions -- and still going. The first before Washington's presidency, the last during Theodore Roosevelt's.


Scholar Ervin C. Shoemaker tells us that one of the important influences of Webster's speller on American life in the nineteenth century and early twentieth was the social influence. The spelling bee "came not only to rival but surpass the singing school and the horse race as a popular pastime," one of the recreations of life.


The spectacle of a school trustee standing with a blue backed Webster open in his hands while gray haired men and women, one row being captained by the schoolmaster and the rival team by the minister, spelled each other down is one that would be hard to reproduce.


Something like it, however, had been reproduced very well in 187l by a Methodist clergyman, Edward Eggleston (HoF elector,1900). One of the most delightful and touching episodes of his humorous novel The Hoosier Schoolmaster describes the defeat of a champion who falls in love with an indentured servant as she outspells him.


"What a full dress party is to Fifth Avenue, a spelling school is to Hoopole County," wrote Eggleston:


As there are some in society who love dancing for its own sake, so in Flat Creek district there were those who loved spelling for its own sake, and who, smelling the battle from afar, had come to try their skill in the tournament, hoping to freshen the laurels they had won in their school days.


The spelling master opened his remarks with praise of Noah Webster while mistaking him for Daniel, as we often do today:


I put the spellin' book prepared by the great Daniel Webster alongside the Bible. I do, raley. I think I may put it ahead of the Bible. For if it wurn't for spellin' books and sich occasions as these, where would the Bible be? I should like to know. The man who got up, who compounded this work of inextricable valoo was a benufactor to the whole human race or any other.


At this writing facsimiles of the original Webster speller are in print.


His dictionary continues to this day, "having outsold through 28 various editions every book in the English language except the Bible," writes Webster authority J.S. Morgan. The word Webster suggests not only Daniel but also a dictionary by Noah. Above all, however, is his contribution toward unifying and standardizing American English. "He literally helped invent America," says Morgan. That he did. Even so, who is to say that his name would be a household word today if the Great Dictionary had been allowed to go out print. Periodically, a dictionary must have new life pumped into it.


Shortly after Webster's death in 1843, his heirs sold the rights of the 1841 edition to another publisher who, unable to proceed, sold the rights to two honest Yankee peddlers -- the Merriam brothers, G & C. The Merriams were just in time; an able man named Joseph Worcester, who had earlier worked for Webster, brought out his own dictionary in 1846. The Merriams followed the next year with another edition of the American Dictionary of the English Language. It went well because Webster and his speller were still famous, and the Merriams good at their job. But Worcester was tough competition. Thus began what is called The Dictionary War, familiar to all readers of the time as a relief, sometimes comic, from the distressful Civil War -- for example, in the nineteenth century, the city of Worcester, Massachusetts, was a railroad exchange for nearby towns, and passengers for the town of Webster would laugh or shake their heads at hearing conductors call: "Worcester! Change for Webster!" Harvard rooted for Worcester; Yale, for Webster.


The Dictionary War was finally won by the Merriams, even though there was strong praise for Worscester, especially for his spelling and punctuation. Webster's definitions -- nobody came close to him in this regard -- and his fame, and Merriam aggressiveness, brought the victory to their side.


Thereafter, the company tried to copyright the name Webster as its private property, but was unsuccessful. "Webster's" dictionaries began to appear with disclaimers of "any relationship to the original publishers or their successors." They may be had in chain stores everywhere, in paperback, from different publishing houses, for a dollar or two and up. Definitions, however, may be copyrighted, puzzling as it seems. It takes a lot of doing, but apparently it can be done.


But whoever is fascinated with the definition game, and in moments of self-approbation sees himself as another Webster taking on the world solo, can save himself a lot of grief by hiring a roomful of associates, including a very good lawyer.


Noah Webster's fame at the Hall of Fame, in addition to his unblemished record of failure at the polls, is in his sitting to Samuel F.B. Morse (HoF, Class of 1900) for this portrait, and his resting for all time next to Eli Whitney (also HoF, '00) and not far from Josiah Gibbs ('50) in Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven.



But Why Not to the Colonnade?