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.
2o (417 x 252 mm). Titles in red and black, woodcut tailpieces. (Upper corner chipped on title-page in first vol. with a few minor marginal repairs, gutter margin on title adhered slightly to front free endpaper, occasional minor pale foxing, but generally very clean). Contemporary calf (rebacked preserving original spines, some restoration); quarter morocco folding cases. Provenance: Rev. William Aston (1735-1800), Jesuit professor of poetry (armorial book plate in each volume).
FIRST EDITION of "the most amazing, enduring and endearing one-man feat in the field of lexicography" (PMM). Johnson, while of phenomenal memory and able to write with great rapidity, nevertheless suffered from what is now known as "writer's block." Strahan's ledger shows that a printing charge was made to the proprietors of the Dictionary at least as early December, 1750. However, there is no further reference to charges between December, 1750, and May, 1752, and at this stage the proprietors, who were entirely dependent on Johnson's goodwill and industry, must have wondered whether he would ever complete the work. A melancholy genius, assiduously cultivating in words the elegance which his person and surroundings lacked, and relying on an association of booksellers to promote an enterprise which royal and noble patronage would not support, Johnson was engaged in a struggle with debt, disease, grief over his wife's death, and admitted laziness. By the beginning of 1753, however, his differences with the booksellers were resolved, and progress became more rapid, though he did not start the second volume until April, 1753. The Dictionary was officially published on April 15, 1755, in an edition of 2000 copies, and sold at the high price of £4-10s-0d. Fleeman estimates that "more than half" the copies survive. Courtney & Smith p. 54; Chapman & Hazen p. 137; Fleeman I, p. 410; PMM 201; Rothschild 1237; Slade & Kolb Johnson's Dictionary, pp. 105-113. (2)