London: Printed by W. Strahan, for J. and P. Knapton…, 1755. Item #05207
“The Most Amazing, Enduring and Endearing One-Man Feat
in the Field of Lexicography”
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: Printed by W. Strahan, for J. and P. Knapton…, 1755.
First edition of “the most amazing, enduring and endearing one-man feat in the field of lexicography” (Printing and the Mind of Man).
Two large folio volumes (16 5/8 x 9 7/8 inches; 422 x 251 mm.). Unpaginated. Text in double columns. Title-pages printed in red and black. Decorative woodcut tail-pieces. Title-pages with light staining, first title-page (A1) with an early faded ink inscription at foot of page and small expert repairs to the fore and lower edge and top left-hand corner with no loss of text. Expertly repaired closed tear to left-hand margin with no loss of text. First twenty leaves of volume one have a crease to the lower corner, and the last three leaves (13B-14Z) have a stain on the top corner. The last leaf (14Z) has a small piece (2 1/4 x 1 inch) replaced in the outer margin with no loss of text and a small lower marginal repair. Marginal pencil notation on 11R2 recto. Small stains to top margins of 12R2 verso and 12T2 verso. Volume two with very small ink stain to fore-edge margins of 30Z-31C, ink stain and early ink notations to 16O verso, small piece torn away from lower corner of 19R2, small clean lower marginal tears to 24X and 29B2. The last few leaves slightly creased at lower corner, last leaf (31C2) with tiny repair to lower margin.
The last leaf of the preface (C2 verso) has a seven line early ink inscription from Boswell's Life of Johnson "The only Aid Dr. Johnson received was a Paper containing twenty etymologies from a Person then unknown, whom he afterwards found to be DR. Pearce, Bishop of Rochester. Boswell's Life of Johnson. The Author was now only in his 46th year and lived almost thirty years after the Publication of this Great Work."
Full contemporary dark brown calf, covers with double-rule blind borders, spines with six raised bands, decoratively tooled in blind in compartments, red and dark green morocco labels lettered in gilt, later endpapers, all edges sprinkled red. Expertly restored with the original spines laid down, head, tail and corners repaired.
Aside from all the aforementioned this is a very good complete and tall copy at a reasonable price.
“Begun in 1747, and printed over five years, Johnson’s Dictionary at once put to shame every other dictionary that had ever been written and set the standard for every dictionary that has been written since. Its genius was at once acknowledged by every hand, and the first edition of two thousand copies was instantly sold out…Perhaps the greatest innovation in Johnson’s work was his consistent reliance not on earlier word-lists and dictionaries, not on his own intuition, but on English literature itself—the vast, wonderful treasury of words that, well chosen and properly sorted and accurately quoted, became in itself almost a dictionary of the language. Indeed, after Johnson showed the way by quoting from English literature at every turn, it was even suggested that a great dictionary might be written without definitions at all—if the quotations were plentiful enough and well enough chosen and edited. This insistence on real examples from the real language as it has been really used has informed every serious dictionary every since—from Richardson and Webster to the new OED” (The Collection of The Garden Ltd., Sotheby’s New York, November 9 and 10, 1989, lot 148).
Courtney and Nichol Smith, pp. 54-55. Grolier, 100 English, 50. Printing and the Mind of Man 201. Rothschild 1237.