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 N. Longman, C. Hitch and L. Hawes, A. Millar, and R. and J. Dodsley, 1755.
2 volumes, 2o (423 x 257 mm). Titles in red and black, woodcut tailpieces. (Some spotting, particularly to titles, one or two marginal pale stains and rust holes). Contemporary speckled calf (rebacked to style preserving contemporary lettering pieces, corners and edges repaired, a bit rubbed).
"THE MOST AMAZING, ENDURING AND ENDEARING ONE-MAN FEAT IN THE FIELD OF LEXICOGRAPHY" (PMM).
FIRST EDITION. Johnson and his successive amanuenses took nine years to complete the Dictionary published on 15 April, 1755, in an edition of 2000 copies. The final delay was so that the letters 'A.M.' could appear beside his name on the title-page. As his preface made clear, the difficulties in production were many for it "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. For it was "the first in England to combine in one reliable work the various functions we now demand of a dictionary" (James Clifford, Dictionary Johnson, 1979, p. 145). Johnson's methodology was vastly superior, and his use of illustrative quotations was something altogether new in an English dictionary, though his view of the language was in fact deeply conservative, with Teutonic words preferred to Gallic. Together the two volumes contain over 116,000 quotations largely drawn, as he said, "from the writers before the restoration, whose works I regard as the wells of English undefiled, as the pure sources of genuine diction." Courtney and Smith p. 54; Chapman & Hazen p. 137; Fleeman 55.4D/1a; PMM 201; Rothschild 1237. (2)