JOHNSON, Samuel.

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.

London: 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 Stock Code: 149262
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A superior copy in entirely unrestored contemporary panelled calf

First edition, in entirely unrestored contemporary condition. Finding a Johnson's Dictionary that has not even been rebacked has become something of an impossible quest in the last two decades; a superior copy, this set also has sheets 19D and 24O both in the first state, which Todd notes is highly uncommon.

The creation of the dictionary was Johnson's greatest literary labour. Helped by a succession of needy amanuenses who worked in the surprisingly spacious garret of his house in Gough Square, he experienced the death of his wife and underwent agonies of procrastination before finally completing the task in his 46th year. Boswell called it a work of "superior excellence" and "much greater mental labour, than mere Lexicons, or Word Books as the Dutch call them" (Life of Johnson: An Edition of the Original Manuscript. Vol I: 1709-1765, ed. Marshall Waingrow, Edinburgh, 1994, p. 213). As his use of 114,000 illustrative quotations shows, Johnson clearly intended to combine lexicography with entertainment and instruction; this was the only work he called "my Book" (Letters I: 71). Since it was now owned by the booksellers who had paid him 1,575 in advance, publication by no means saved him from poverty. Yet it was always to be called "Johnson's Dictionary" - and was as much his greatest monument as St. Paul's was Christopher Wren's. The national pride taken in the dictionary was expressed by the poet Christopher Smart when he wrote in the Universel Visitor: "I look upon it with equal amazement, as I do upon St. Paul's Cathedral; each the work of one man, each the work of an Englishman" (quoted by Henry Hitchings, Dr. Johnson's Dictionary, London, 2005, pp. 199-200).

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2 volumes, folio (415 x 270 mm). Contemporary panelled calf, spines in compartments with raised bands, dark red morocco labels, gilt rules and volume numbers, sides panelled with blind tooling, red speckled edges. Each volume individually housed in a red cloth folding case.


Titles in red and black.


Contemporary bookplates of Newark Hudson (presumably the gentleman of that name of Fatfield, Co. Durham) and modern morocco bookplate of Michael Sharpe to both volumes. Front joints cracked (less so in vol. 2) but holding at the cords, surface cracking to rear joints, light rubbing to the extremities, some minor scratches and light surface wear, but otherwise an exceptionally well preserved contemporary binding; internally with vol. 1 front free endpaper loose and minor worming in upper blank margin of some rear leaves, vol. 2 with light creasing and faint staining to first two leaves, but otherwise exceedingly clean and fresh. A superb copy, entirely unrestored, and in very good contemporary condition.


Alston V 177; Courtney and Smith p. 54; Chapman & Hazen p. 137; Fleeman 55.4D/1a; Printing and the Mind of Man 201; Rothschild 1237; Todd, "Variants in Johnson's Dictionary, 1755", The Book Collector, vol. 14, no. 2, summer 1965, pp. 212-13.


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