I knew little about Clarence Barnhart beyond his name (and that primarily as part of the collocation Thorndike-Barnhart), so I was considerably enlightened by Rulon-Miller Books’ sales catalog page for the Barnhart Dictionary Archive, with its full biography and history of his lexicographical work. My attention was grabbed by the first two paragraphs:
Clarence L. Barnhart was arguably the most talented of all American lexicographers working in the 20th century. Like many brilliant men, he was a figure of contrasts. He could be formidably charming; he could also be arrogant, opinionated, self-interested, a perfectionist, and difficult to work with. That the Barnhart dictionaries did not attain the name recognition granted by the general public to the likes of a Merriam-Webster or a Random House dictionary was due in part to Barnhart’s personality, but even more importantly to his desire to remain independent of corporate structures. Throughout his career he chose to make dictionaries as he conceived them rather than be dictated to, a choice which changed the face of American lexicography, but which denied him, perhaps, the wealth and fame he might otherwise have achieved. Due to the changed nature of dictionary-making in the 21st century (with the new focus on corpus work, and the technologies which allow for that focus), Clarence Barnhart is likely to have been the last independent lexicographer working with the English language as a whole. Interestingly, it was his work, his innovation and foresight, which paved the way for the changes which are now rendering the old ways obsolete.
Barnhart’s enduring friendship with the noted linguist Leonard Bloomfield must be recognized as one of the most important relationships in American education, as it was Barnhart who introduced Bloomfield’s theories to the dictionary world, and who subsequently merged modern linguistic theory with lexicography. The rise of modern linguistics fostered a scientific approach to the study of language in general, which resulted in better observation of both the oral and written language. Consequently, and largely due to Barnhart’s dogged pursuits, lexicography is now recognized as a subject field within linguistics itself.
I’m sure it’s overstated (it is, after all, part of a marketing pitch), but the relationship with Bloomfield by itself would be worth an article—he was, after all, the Great American Linguist before Chomsky came along and usurped the title. The page is well worth the read; thanks for the link, Michael!