The man who made lists to fend off depression

Fri Mar 28, 2008 8:48am EDT
 

By Arthur Spiegelman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - His mother suffered dark depressions and tried to dominate his life. His sister and daughter had severe mental problems, his father and wife died young and a beloved uncle committed suicide in his arms.

So what did Peter Mark Roget, the creator of Roget's Thesaurus, do to handle all the pain, grief, sorrow, affliction, woe, bitterness, unhappiness and misery in a life that lasted over 90 years?

He made lists.

The 19th century British scientist made lists of words, creating synonyms for all occasions that ultimately helped make life easier for term paper writers, crossword puzzle lovers and anyone looking for the answer to the age-old question: "What's another word for ..."

And according to a new biography, making his lists saved Roget's life and by keeping him from succumbing to the depression and misery of those around him.

"As a boy he stumbled upon a remarkable discovery -- that compiling lists of words could provide solace, no matter what misfortunes may befall him," says Joshua Kendall author of the just published "The Man Who Made Lists" (Putnam, $25.95), a study of Roget's life (1779 to 1869) based on diaries, letters and even an autobiography composed of lists.

Kendall, in a recent interview, said Roget cared more for words than people and that making lists on the scale that he did was obsessive-compulsive behavior that helped him fend off the demons that terrorized his distinguished British family.

Madness was a regular guest in Roget's home, Kendall said. One of his grandmothers either had schizophrenia or severe depression, Roget's mother lapsed into paranoia, often accusing the servants of plotting against her. Both his sister and his daughter suffered depression and mental problems.   Continued...

 
<p>Peter Mark Roget is shown in this 1867 photograph from the Wellcome Library in London. A new book "The Man Who Made Lists" by author Joshua Kendall, details the life and work of Roget who devised and published "Roget's Thesaurus" in 1852. Kendall's book tells of how the 19th century British scientist made lists of words and created synonyms for all occasions that ultimately helped make life easier for term paper writers and crossword puzzle lovers. According to the new biography, making his lists saved Roget's life and by keeping him from succumbing to the depression and misery of those around him. REUTERS/Ernest Edwards/Wellcome Library, London/Handout</p>