JOHNSON, Samuel (1709-1784). 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. London: W. Strahan for J. and P. Knapton, T. and T. Longman, C. Hitch and L. Hawes, A. Millar, and R. and J. Dodsley, 1755.
2 volumes, folio (412 x 254 mm). Titles printed in red and black, woodcut tail-pieces. (Title-pages neatly reinserted, a few pale spots, otherwise fine.) Contemporary sprinkled calf, edges sprinkled red (rebacked preserving original spines, endpapers renewed, corners repaired, some light scuffing). FIRST EDITION OF JOHNSON’S GREATEST LITERARY ACHIEVEMENT, and “the most amazing, enduring and endearing one-man feat in the field of lexicography" (PMM). Johnson included “the entire sweep of words from the crude and demotic to ... recent fanciful forms imported from other languages" (DNB). “The preface ranks among Johnson’s finest writings… It is the dictionary itself which justifies Noah Webster’s statement that ‘Johnson’s writings had, in philology, the effect which Newton’s discoveries had in mathematics'” (PMM). Johnson’s work was the first in the English language to combine into one text what we now expect from a dictionary: he codified the spelling of English words and provided clear definitions of their meanings. As he notes in the preface, he encountered many difficulties during production, as the dictionary "was written with little assistance of the learned, and without any patronage of the great; not in the soft obscurities of retirement, or under the shelter of academick bowers, but amidst inconvenience and distraction, in sickness and in sorrow." Its success as a dictionary was unprecedented. Alston V, 177; Courtney and Smith p. 54; Chapman and Hazen p. 137; Fleeman I, p. 410; Grolier English 50; PMM 201; Rothschild 1237.
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