First edition this epochal work, described by Noah Webster as having accomplished "in philology, the effect which Newton's discoveries had in mathematics" (quoted in PMM).
A DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
LEXICO'GRAPHER [...] A writer of dictioanries; a harmless drudge, that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of words.
When Johnson begun work on the dictionary, he was at one of the lowest points of his career: a friend called him "a great genius – quite lost to both himself and the world" (Gilbert Walmesly, letter to David Garrick, November 1746). The work was initially suggested to him by the printer Robert Dodsley: "a monumental project that great authors such as Pope and Joseph Addison had contemplated and given up almost before they really got going and lesser men had trembled to think of compiling even as they grumbled and protests about the dire need Britain had for a dictionary" (Martin, 221). Johnson biographer Peter Martin calls the idea "brave, even reckless" because it was such an immense proposal – the French equivalent took over 40 people 55 years to complete – and without precedent in English in scale and depth of research. While it was not the first dictionary of the English language, it was by far the most complex, containing multiple definitions of words, etymological and orthographic notes, and examples of usage from major writers like Shakespeare (which in turn buttressed the Bard's own hallowed reputation). The task revealed some of Johnson's hubris – it took 7 years to complete, rather than the 3 Johnson had planned – but ultimately landed like a meteor, with a far-reaching impact felt even today. Since then, cooler heads have followed the example of the French and pursued crowd-sourced solutions when tackling this kind of scale, from the Oxford English Dictionary to Wikipedia. A gorgeous copy, collated and complete.
Read more: Martin, Samuel Johnson: A Biography; Printing and the Mind of Man (PMM), 201.
London: Printed by W. Strahan, for J. and P. Knapton; T. and T. Longman; C. Hitch and L. Hawes; A. Millar; and R. and J. Dodsley, 1755. Full title: A dictionary of the English language: in which the words are deduced from their originals, and illustrated in their different significations by examples from the best writers. To which are prefixed, a history of the language, and an English grammar. Two folio volumes, 16.5'' x 10.25'' each. Contemporary full speckled calf sympathetically rebacked with elaborately gilt-stamped spine in period style, raised bands, red and black goatskin spine labels. Red speckled edges, new marbled endpapers and fly leaves. Engraved armorial bookplates of the House of Abercairny in Scotland on front pastedowns. Contemporary calf boards with moderate rubbing, light expert restoration to corners and edges. A few short marginal paper repairs. A bit of browning and faint foxing to some gatherings, minor wormholing to volume I, overall very clean.
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