"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. Tall thick folio (10-1/2 by 16 inches), contemporary full calf expertly rebacked in period style, raised bands, red and black morocco spine labels. Each volume housed in custom cloth slipcase. $27,500.
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."
"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. The introductory material in this copy appears to have been assembled from a galley or working proof of some kind—both the "Preface" and the "History of the English Language" contain a total of about 65 contemporary ink annotations, mostly marginal, which appear to be proofreader's or printer's marks. In addition, the "History" has been cut between the double columns and subsequently reassembled.
Volume I title page rehinged, two closed tears to Volume I title page with early repair. Light spotting; faint vertical crease marks to "History" along center margin, some folds repaired. Expert restoration to corners. A handsome copy in near-fine condition of this rare and important lexical landmark.