The Dictionary of the English Language.

Johnson (Samuel)

The Dictionary of the English Language.

Description: first edition, first issue, titles in red and black, decorated ornaments, few leaves very lightly yellowed or slightly toned, a handful of gatherings minimally foxed at margins, the odd very short clean tear from edges, 2 vols, I: ff. [580]; II: ff. [580], double column, tall folio, (415 x 255mm), contemporary sprinkled calf, expertly and sympathetically rebacked, original endpapers preserved, double gilt ruled, raised bands, spine gilt, gilt-lettered morocco label, minor expert repair to corners and lower edges, handful of small scratches to boards, alphabet sequence inked to fore-edges (18thC), 19thC autograph Champion Branfill to ffeps, late 18thC armorial bookplate of Joseph Cator (pasted over earlier Cator bookplate) to front pastedowns, one late 18thC marginal annotation to vol.2. An excellent, clean, tall copy of the first edition (first issue) of the most influential, first systematic dictionary of the English language – with a very interesting, contemporary Johnson-related provenance. Dr Johnson (1709-84) – 'the most distinguished man of letters in English history' (ODNB) – worked on his magnum opus from 1745 to 1755. The first edition was issued in 2000 copies, each volume set being sold for £4.10s. The Dictionary was the concerted effort of several booksellers, publishers and the printer William Strahan. 'They recognized that the time was ripe to bring to fruition the idea of a standard English dictionary which the Royal Society had entertained as far back as 1664' (PMM). This monumental feat was inspired by similar 'national' dictionaries produced in Italy and France, as well as by the complex cataloguing of the Harleian collection which Johnson carried out with William Oldys in the 1710s. Then he had the chance to consult all the major European dictionaries of Latin, Greek and the vernaculars, in which he identified the most important, and often innovative for England, features which a good and helpful dictionary should possess. For instance, 'Johnson's particular use of illustrative quotations represents a clear break with the most "polite" wishes for lexicography by giving examples, generally, rather than prescription from the chief linguistic authority. In addition, the illustrative quotations give Johnson's book its encyclopaedic quality' (Demaria, p.87). Divided into four parts, the Dictionary begins with a preface discussing lexicography, its purpose and main problems. There follow a grammar and a history of the English language which, though not innovative, most interestingly provides several long excerpts from the Old English Gospels, printed using Anglo-Saxon type. The remainder of the two volumes comprises the dictionary itself. Johnson's work rested on innovative theories of lexicography, known in Europe but not as much in England: '[h]e codified the spelling of English words; he gave full and lucid definitions of their meanings […]; and he adduced extensive and apt illustrations from a wide range of authoritative writers' (PMM). The late 18th-century annotator of this copy added a marginal reference to Shakespeare's Winter's Tale, Act V, next to the word 'loyalty'. The present copy features, as very rarely happens, both issue points for setting (a) on leaves 19D (found very infrequently) and 24O, as described by W. Todd.

Publication Details: London: Printed by W. Strahan, 1755

Notes: This copy has an intriguing, Johnson-related provenance. In the late 18th century, it was in the library of Joseph Cator (1733-1818) of Beckenham. He was the son of the timber merchant John Cator (1728-1806), resident at Beckenham since c.1773; John was a close acquaintance of Dr Johnson, and an important member of his close circle, including Henry and Hester Thrale, and John Hawkesworth. In 1784, Johnson described John Cator as having 'a rough, manly, independent understanding and does not spoil it by complaisance. He never speaks merely to please and seldom is mistaken in things, which he ha...more

Bibliography: ESTC T117231; Alston V, 177; O'Neill, Cordell, J-40; PMM 201; Fleeman 55.4D/1a.

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Price: £25,000

Subject: Literature

Published Date: 1755

Stock Number: 69599

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