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Famous Names

Pierre Larousse - lexicographer and publisher

Born Toucy, 1817-1875, his aim: 'to educate everyone about everything'

Pierre Larousse If you buy a French dictionary, it will quite possibly be the Petit Larousse. The works from this French publishing house which began in 1852 with its encyclopaedias and dictionaries, have certainly stood the test of time and many are still regularly updated. The founder, Pierre Larousse’s aim: ‘to educate everyone about everything.’

Pierre Larousse was born in Toucy in the Puisaye region of Burgundy. A brilliant scholar, he went on to become a teacher in his native town but quickly became frustrated by the archaic teaching methods.

He left to go and live in the Latin Quarter in Paris and having a thirst for knowledge, went to as many free courses and lectures as he could find at the best institutions such as the Sorbonne and the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers and studied subjects including Latin, Greek, Linguistics, Sanskrit, Chinese, French and foreign literature, history, philosophy, mechanics and astronomy. As he worked as a private tutor, the idea developed of writing a dictionary – a popular encyclopaedia. Together with Suzanne Caubel who checked and read his work, and whom he eventually married in 1872, three years before his death, he produced La Lexicologie des écoles primaires.

With his native Burgundy never far from his thoughts, Larousse bought a property back in Toucy where he wanted to have a vineyard. There he met another Burgundian, Augustin Boyer in 1851 and with him, Larousse founded the publishing company, the Librarie Larousse et Boyer the following year. A host of very successful educational publications followed illustrating his forward thinking principles. The Nouveau Dictionnaire de la langue française was followed by their great success, the Larousse Petit Dictionnaire Francais, a dictionary in two parts separated with flimsy pink pages in the centre.

But Larousse was pondering over a major work The Great Universal Dictionary of the 19thC aimed to ‘educate everyone about everything’. The marketing ideas sound quite revolutionary for the age, a part works comprising of 15 booklets with offers and promotions to encourage the purchaser. But it seems that Larousse became bogged down with the size of the work and in 1869 he separated from Boyer. His health began to deteriorate and when he died at the age of 57, the work was still unfinished. His nephew carried on with the task and the business.

The dictionaries have been revised and updated and the New Larousse Gastronomique , the world's classic culinary reference book which bears his name lives on. It has recently been republished yet again for the umpteenth time in English.