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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: 90616
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Johnson's Dictionary, the first great endeavour of its kind

First edition. 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 mother 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 (407 x 252 mm). Contemporary calf, skilfully rebacked to style with full gilt spines, red and green morocco labels, by Aquarius.


Titles in red and black.


Contemporary Scottish armorial bookplates of Charles Craigie ("Honeste vivo": Fairbairn, Crests, pl. 91, no. 4). Titles a little browned, a few trivial marks internally, but an excellent copy.


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