PETER ROGET – LATE BLOOMER AT AGE 73

Welcome hons, to my 2012 Advent Series! This year I will focus on the late bloomer. I’m not talking about someone who forgets to put on their underpants until after arriving at the party. No! I’m talking about the success story that happened long after reaching so-called adulthood. My hope is that all of you will be inspired to be daring and bold and try that long harbored secret endeavor, no matter what it is (assuming it is legal and doesn’t involve harming others, animals, the planet or yourself, hon!).

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My first subject is Peter Mark Roget. Yes, THAT Roget. Of Thesaurus fame. Most of us have used one in our time, searching for that perfect word to use that isn’t profane or that will be a smidge more hoity toity than “dirtbag.” I don’t know about you, but I have just the hardest time even saying “the thesaurus.” It usually comes out “The Thethaurus.” But I digress. Again.

Anyway, back to Pete. He was born in 1779. Before creating the Thesaurus, his claim to fame, he was a British physician. No, he didn’t treat people with a British condition. He was British and a physician. (I want to be as careful with my words as he was with his!).

In 1824, at the age of 25, he presented a paper entitled “Explanation of an optical deception in the appearance of the spokes of a wheel when seen through vertical apertures.” You can see why he might have needed his own thesaurus back then! Film historians, who obviously did not use a thesaurus, or used it incorrectly, refer to this paper as “On the Persistence of Vision with Regard to Human Motion or Persistence of Vision with regard to Moving Objects.” Why the heck do I care about this? Well, hons, Pete’s paper is probably what influenced the creation of the zoetrope, and other such trope like things, which ended up giving us cartoons and movies and a bunch of ne’er-do-well actors very lucrative careers! And still….he had not bloomed, so to speak.

He helped set up the University of London, he wrote lots of health articles, he was really good at chess and invented the slide-rule and a pocket chess game. And STILL he hadn’t bloomed.

Sometimes our greatest achievements are born from our worst pain. Such is the case with Dr. Roget. He suffered from terrible bouts of depression all his life. The Pharmaceutical Drug pushers had not risen to power yet to ply his brain chemistry with chemical dopamine, norepinephrine or serotonin. He had to resort to other strategies to avoid running off, screaming, to the hills, or going after friends and family with the holiday meal carving knife.

His sadness was exacerbated by his father and wife dying young, and his beloved Uncle Samuel committing suicide in his presence. It makes me wonder, hons, what great and wondrous inventions and developments we’re missing out on today because sad people are not having to find other ways than simply popping a pill to stay on this side of the ground or out of jail.

Dr. Roget retired at the age of 61, and took his depression distracting hobby of obsessively writing down lists of words to a new level by beginning to organize them into categories of various meanings. I can just see him at his desk, with his gas lamp burning away, scribbling madly. Slips of paper flying about his head, as he places them in various piles of labels with “VERB” “NOUN” “PREPOSITION” “DANGLING PARTICIPLES” and the like as signs for each pile. With a zoetrope sitting at the ready to distract him the same way our iPhone Facebook accounts distract us…n……..(sorry my phone beeped) …ow.

The first published edition, from 1852, was called “Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and Arranged so as to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition.” Dr. Roget, like me, obviously believed in the tenet “why use 3 words when 87 will do?” The next 17 years, before he died at age 90, there were 28 revisions of his work (and I certainly hope they shrank the title each time!!)

After his death, his son John and then later John’s son, Samuel, were kept employed with re-printings.

Today my Thesaurus sits on my computer desktop, 164 years later, in byte-sized form. It took Dr. Roget, from the age of 69 to the age of 73 to compile, organize and publish his life’s work that was informed and inspired by his lifelong strategy of managing his depression. All this management being performed while cooking all kinds of word soups in articles, papers and medical pursuits.

This is a wonderful lesson to all of us that when God closes a door on us, we can still sneak back in through a broken window!!

Please share with us your lifetime bumps, bloopers and bummers that might turn into your own late-blooming success in the comments.

Happy Advent, hons! Another late bloomer story tomorrow!

IB Crabby

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