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Peter Mark Roget

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Peter Mark Roget
Print of a portrait of Peter Mark Roget, from Medical Portrait Gallery by Thomas Pettigrew
Roget c. 1865
Born(1779-01-18)18 January 1779
Soho, London, England
Died12 September 1869(1869-09-12) (aged 90)
West Malvern, England
Alma materUniversity of Edinburgh
Known forThesaurus of English Words and Phrases
Mary Taylor Hobson
(m. 1824; died 1833)

Peter Mark Roget LRCP FRS FRCP FGS FRAS (UK: /ˈrɒʒ/ US: /rˈʒ/;[1][2] 18 January 1779 – 12 September 1869) was a British physician, natural theologian, lexicographer, and founding secretary of The Portico Library.[3] He is best known for publishing, in 1852, the Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases, a classified collection of related words (thesaurus). He also read a paper to the Royal Society about a peculiar optical illusion in 1824, which is often regarded as the origin of the persistence of vision theory that was later commonly used to explain apparent motion in film and animation.[4]

Early life[edit]

Roget plaque, George Square, Edinburgh

Peter Mark Roget was born in Broad Street, Soho, London, the son of Jean (John) Roget (1751–1783), a Genevan cleric, and Catherine Romilly, the sister of British politician, abolitionist, and legal reformer Sir Samuel Romilly.[5][6] Following his father's death, the family moved to Edinburgh in 1783 where Roget later studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, graduating in 1798.[5] Samuel Romilly, who took on the role of surrogate father to Roget and supported his nephew's education, also introduced him into Whig social circles.[7]

Roget then attended lectures at London medical schools.[5] Living in Clifton, Bristol, from 1798 to 1799, he knew Thomas Beddoes and Humphry Davy and frequented the Pneumatic Institute.[8]

Not making a quick start to a medical career, in 1802 Roget took a position as a tutor to the sons of John Leigh Philips, with whom he began a Grand Tour during the Peace of Amiens, travelling with a friend, Lovell Edgeworth, son of Richard Lovell Edgeworth. When the Peace abruptly ended he was detained as a prisoner in Geneva. He was able to bring his pupils back to England in late 1803, but Edgeworth was held in captivity until Napoleon fell on 6 April 1814.[5]

Medical career[edit]

With the help of Samuel Romilly, Roget became a private physician to William Petty, 1st Marquess of Lansdowne, who died in 1805. He then succeeded Thomas Percival at Manchester Infirmary and began to lecture on physiology. He moved to London in 1808 and in 1809 became a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians. After an extended period of dispensary work and lecturing, in particular, at the Russell Institution and Royal Institution, he was taken onto the staff of the Queen Charlotte Hospital in 1817.[5][7] He also lectured at the London Institution and the Windmill Street School.[9]

In 1823 Roget and Peter Mere Latham were brought in to investigate disease at Millbank Penitentiary.[9] In 1828 Roget, with William Thomas Brande and Thomas Telford, submitted a report on London's water supply. In 1834 he became the first Fullerian Professor of Physiology at the Royal Institution. One of those who helped found the University of London in 1837, he was an examiner in physiology there. He gave up medical practice in 1840.[5]


Roget retired from professional life in 1840, and by 1846 was working on the book that perpetuates his memory today.[5] It has been claimed that Roget struggled with depression for most of his life, and that the thesaurus arose partly from an effort to battle it.[10] A biographer stated that his obsession with list-making as a coping mechanism was well established by the time Roget was eight years old.[11] In 1805, he began to maintain a notebook classification scheme for words, organized by meaning.[5] During this period he also moved to Manchester, where he became the first secretary of the Portico Library.[12]

The catalogue of words was first printed in 1852, titled Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and Arranged so as to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition. During Roget's lifetime, the work had twenty-eight printings. After his death, it was revised and expanded by his son, John Lewis Roget (1828–1908), and later by John's son, the engineer Samuel Romilly Roget (1875–1953).[5][13] Roget's private library was put up for auction in 1870 at Sotheby's and its catalogue has been analyzed.[14]

Other interests[edit]

Official portrait by Thomas Pettigrew

Roget was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1815, in recognition of a paper on a slide rule with a loglog scale. He was a secretary of the Society from 1827 to 1848.[5] On 9 December 1824, Roget presented a paper on a peculiar optical illusion to the Philosophical Transactions, which was published in 1825, as Explanation of an optical deception in the appearance of the spokes of a wheel when seen through vertical apertures.[15][16] The paper was noted by Michael Faraday and by Joseph Plateau, who both mentioned it in their articles that presented new illusions with apparent motion.[17][18] It has often been heralded as the basis for the persistence of vision theory, which has for a long time been falsely regarded as the principle causing the perception of motion in animation and film.[19] In 1834, Roget claimed to have invented "the Phantasmascope or Phenakisticope" in the spring of 1831, a few years before Plateau introduced that first stroboscopic animation device.[20]

One of the promoters of the Medical and Chirurgical Society of London, which later became the Royal Society of Medicine, Roget was also a founder of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, writing a series of popular manuals for it.[7] He wrote numerous papers on physiology and health, among them the fifth Bridgewater Treatise, Animal and Vegetable Physiology considered with reference to Natural Theology (1834), and articles for the Encyclopædia Britannica. He was hostile to phrenology, writing against it in a Britannica supplement in 1818, and devoting a two-volume work to it (1838).[21]

A chess player, in an article in the London and Edinburgh Philosophical Magazine Roget solved the general open knight's tour problem. He composed chess problems, and designed an inexpensive pocket chessboard.[5][22]

Selected publications[edit]

  • Treatises on Electricity, Galvanism, Magnetism, and Electro-magnetism. London: Baldwin and Cradock. 1832. LCCN 08007072.
  • Animal and Vegetable Physiology Considered with Reference to Natural Theology. Bridgewater Treatises. Vol. I–II. London: William Pickering. 2009 [1834]. ISBN 9781108000086. LCCN 06011266.
  • Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases (Fourth ed.). London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans. 1856.

Personal life[edit]

In 1818 Roget was called by the family to the home of Samuel Romilly following the death of his wife, Lady Romilly. Roget's uncle and surrogate father committed suicide by cutting his throat, dying in Roget's presence.[5]


In 1824 Roget married Mary Taylor (1795–1833), the daughter of Jonathan Hobson. They had a son, John Lewis (1828–1908), and a daughter, Kate.[5]

Later life[edit]

In later life Roget became deaf and was cared for by his daughter, Kate.[5] He died while on holiday in West Malvern, Worcestershire,[23][24][25] aged 90, and is buried there in the churchyard of St James' Church.[26] There is a memorial to him at his local parish church of St Mary on Paddington Green Church.

In literature[edit]

Canadian writer Keath Fraser published a story, Roget's Thesaurus, in 1982, which is narrated in Roget's voice. He has Roget speak on his wife's death, from cancer.[27]

Roget also appears in Shelagh Stephenson's An Experiment with an Air Pump, set in 1799, as the only historical character. The play is set in the fictional household of Joseph Fenwick, and Roget is one of Fenwick's assistants.[28]

A picture-book biography of Roget entitled The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus was published by Eerdmans Books in 2014. It was named a Caldecott Honor book for excellence in illustration and won the Sibert Medal for excellence in children's nonfiction.[29][30]


  1. ^ Wells, John C. (2008). Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (3rd ed.). Longman. ISBN 978-1-4058-8118-0.
  2. ^ Jones, Daniel (2011). Roach, Peter; Setter, Jane; Esling, John (eds.). Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary (18th ed.). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-15255-6.
  3. ^ "THE PORTICO LIBRARY AND THE BANK PUBLIC HOUSE, Manchester - 1197930 | Historic England". historicengland.org.uk. Retrieved 17 May 2020.
  4. ^ Anderson, John; Anderson, Barbara (1993). "The Myth of Persistence of Vision Revisited". Journal of Film and Video. 45 (1): 2–12.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Murray, T. Jock. "Roget, Peter Mark". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/24008. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  6. ^ Proceedings of the Huguenot Society of London. Vol. 9. Huguenot Society of London. 1911. p. 546.
  7. ^ a b c Desmond, Adrian (1992). The Politics of Evolution: Morphology, Medicine, and Reform in Radical London. University of Chicago Press. pp. 222–3. ISBN 9780226143743.
  8. ^ Fullmer, June Z. (2000). Young Humphry Davy: The Making of an Experimental Chemist. American Philosophical Society. p. 131. ISBN 9780871692375.
  9. ^ a b "Munks Roll Details for Peter Mark Roget". munksroll.rcplondon.ac.uk.
  10. ^ Spiegelman, Arthur (28 March 2008). "The man who made lists to fend off depression". Reuters. Retrieved 4 May 2008.
  11. ^ Mallon, Thomas (16 March 2008). "Obsessed (Agog, Beset, Consumed, Driven, etc.)". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 May 2008.
  12. ^ Rennison, Nick (2015). Peter Mark Roget: The Man Who Became The Thesaurus - A Biography. Oldcastle Books. p. 30. ISBN 9781843447931.
  13. ^ Lemco, I. (August 1999). "Roget's Engineering Successor [i.e. S. R. Roget]". Engineering Science and Education Journal. 8 (4): 177–183. doi:10.1049/esej:19990409. Retrieved 18 October 2009.
  14. ^ Emblen, D.L. (1969). "The Library of Peter Mark Roget." The Book Collector 18 no 4 (winter): 449-469.
  15. ^ Roget, Peter Mark (1824). "Explanation of an optical deception in the appearance of the spokes of a wheel when seen through vertical apertures". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. 115: 131–140. doi:10.1098/rstl.1825.0007. S2CID 144913861.
  16. ^ Crary, Jonathan (1992). Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century. MIT Press. p. 106 note 19. ISBN 9780262531078.
  17. ^ Garnier, Jean Guillaume (1828). "Correspondance mathématique et physique, publ. Par mm. Garnier et Quetelet. (Royaume des Pays-bas)".
  18. ^ "Journal of the Royal Institution of Great Britain". 1831.
  19. ^ Dwyer, Tessa; Perkins, Claire; Redmond, Sean; Sita, Jodi (25 January 2018). Seeing into Screens: Eye Tracking and the Moving Image. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. ISBN 9781501328992.
  20. ^ "Bridgewater treatises on the power, wisdom, and goodness of God, as manifested in the creation". 1834.
  21. ^ Haskins, Roswell Willson (1839). History and Progress of Phrenology: (Read Before the Western Phrenological Society, at Buffalo,). Steele & Peck. pp. 181–3 note.
  22. ^ Mason, Adair Stuart (2004). 'Wasn't it Exciting!': A Compilation of the Work of A. Stuart Mason. Royal College of Physicians. p. 73. ISBN 9781860162060.
  23. ^ Deaths England and Wales 1837–1983 – lists place of death as Ledbury, and expands "The district Ledbury spans the boundaries of the counties of Herefordshire, Hereford and Worcester and Worcestershire"
  24. ^ "Obituary – Dr. Roget, F.R.S". Medical Times and Gazette. London: John Churchill and Sons: 395. 25 September 1869.
  25. ^ Kendall, J. (2008). The Man Who Made Lists. G.P. Putnam's Sons. ISBN 9780399154621.
  26. ^ "Peter Mark Roget (1779-1869) - Find A Grave..." www.findagrave.com. Retrieved 22 January 2021.
  27. ^ Metcalf, John (2007). Shut Up He Explained. Biblioasis. p. 286. ISBN 9781897231746.
  28. ^ Loxton, Howard (2011). "Theatre review: An Experiment with an Air Pump at Lion and Unicorn Theatre". British Theatre Guide.
  29. ^ "The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, Awards & Grants". www.ala.org.
  30. ^ "The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, Awards & Grants". www.ala.org.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Fullerian Professor of Physiology
Succeeded by