“THE MOST AMAZING, ENDURING AND ENDEARING ONE-MAN FEAT”: 1755 FIRST EDITION OF JOHNSON’S LANDMARK DICTIONARY
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. & P. Knapton, et al., 1755. Two volumes. Thick folio (11 by 18 inches), period-style full red morocco, elaborately gilt-decorated spines and boards, raised bands, black morocco spine labels, marbled endpapers. $36,000.
First edition of the first great dictionary of the English language, Johnson’s “audacious attempt to tame his unruly native tongue… combining huge erudition with a steely wit and remarkable clarity of thought” (Hitchings, 3)—“Johnson’s writings had, in philology, the effect which Newton’s discoveries had in mathematics.” An unusually tall, wide-margined copy, beautifully bound.
"Johnson's Dictionary made him a superstar. To be sure, there had been dictionaries before his. The difference is that, while these were compiled, Johnson's was written… The glory of the book is that it is also a compendium of English literature, reprinting fine examples of words from the masters, often Shakespeare or Sir Francis Bacon. Johnson sought to 'intersperse with verdure and flowers the dusty desarts of barren philology'" (Smithsonian Book of Books). "Dr. Johnson performed with his Dictionary the most amazing, enduring and endearing one-man feat in the field of lexicography… 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 201). Carlyle paid this tribute: "Had Johnson left nothing but his Dictionary, one might have traced there a great intellect, a genuine man" (Baugh et al., 992). Title pages printed in red and black. Courtney & Smith, 54. Grolier 100. Rothschild 1237. Early owner signature on Volume I title page.
Interior and spectacular binding in fine condition.