It turns out that Mr. Winchester's use of the unscholarly "it is said," etcetera, was in fact a literary device used to create drama. He later rebuffs the undocumented suppositons. While I should perhaps withdraw my criticism of the author's scholarship, I do have to question his use of the straw man approach to creating dramatic tension. Ill-educated as I am, I do not know a French word or phrase with which to embellish what I would have to call, in common vernacular, a 'cheap shot."
The story itself is fascinating, occasionally disturbing, and in many respects very sad. I do not know what aspects saddened me more: George Merritt's innocent death, Dr. Minor's madness, the idea of being confined in an institution for fifty years, the idea of living to a ripe old age while being both institutionalized and mentally ill (while people in the "outside world" lived short, nasty, brutish lives of hard work, deprivation, sickness, and misery); or the thought of the discarded pile of printing plates, a hundred years of history, toil, research, and suffering, cast aside and destined for the scrap heap. To me there was something woefully sad in that image of a worthless mound of scrap metal. Perhaps the ability to elicit an emotional response over something so decidedly inanimate offers a truer indication of author Winchester's skill as a writer than does his obscurantist vocabulary of Gallic-influenced English.
Finally, the book's dedication page, To G.M., and the author's explanation thereof in the postscript, indicate that, stylistic pretension aside, Simon Winchester is a pretty cool guy. With an annoyingly impressive vocabulary.