“It is the fate of those who toil at the lower employments of life, to be rather driven by the fear of evil, than attracted by the prospect of good; to be exposed to censure, without hope of praise; to be disgraced by miscarriage, or punished for neglect, where success would have been without applause, and dilligence without reward.
Among these unhappy mortals is the writer of dictionaries…”
– Johnson, from the Preface
“Johnson’s writings had, in philology, the effect which Newton’s discoveries had in mathematics."
– Noah Webster
FIRST EDITION OF JOHNSON’S LANDMARK DICTIONARY.
A monumental work by anyone’s standards, Johnson’s Dictionary took over eight years to complete. “With no real library at hand, Johnson wrote the definitions of over 40,000 words… illustrating the senses in which these words could be used by including about 114,000 quotations drawn from English writing in every field of learning during the two centuries from the middle of the Elizabethan period down to his own time”
(W. Jackson Bate).
“Johnson introduced into English lexicography principles which had already been accepted in Europe but were quite novel in mid-eighteenth-century England. He codified the spelling of English words; he gave full and lucid definitions of their meanings (often entertainingly coloured by his High Church and Tory propensities); and he adduced extensive and apt illustrations from a wide range of authoritative writers… His dictionary [is the] most amazing, enduring and endearing one-man feat in the field of lexicography”
(Printing and the Mind of Man 201).
Published on 15 April, 1755, in an edition of 2000 copies, it is estimated that slightly more than half survive.
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, an An English Grammar. London: Printed by W. Strahan for J. and P. Knapton, et al., 1755. First edition. Folio, two volumes. Vol. 1: Title-Page; Preface, [10 pp.]; The History of the English Language, [27 pp.]; A Grammar of the English Tongue [13 pp.]; Directions to the Book-Binder [1 p.]; General Dictionary (A–K inclusive), [1,285 pp.]. Vol. 2: Title-Page, [1 p.], General Dictionary (L–Z inclusive), [1,486 pp.].
Bound in early calf, expertly re-backed at some point (likely early-mid 20th century) in contemporary style, morocco spine labels with gilt lettering. Upper boards with (later) gilt stamp of the crest of English actor Frank Wyndham Godlie (1897-1957) consisting of a golden wheat sheaf (or, garb Or)) and ownership bookplate on front pastedowns of Godlie as well. On endpaper of second volume, a 1948 Sotheby’s sale tag. Inscribed in ink on Title-Page “William Boyd”, with mid-nineteenth-century annotations in like hand on 9Q1r, 10S2v, 30H2r and 30T1r.
[A2]–B1 re-hinged, wear to corners and some closed tears around edges in first and last few pages in both volumes, Title-Page has three closed tears along bottom edge, three large creases from fore-edge to bottom, toning on all edges; occasional light foxing throughout but most significant on 3M2–3P2 and 7I2, small dots of ink splatter on 7T1, tan mark on 8R2, tear to top corner on 6D1, 6F1, 7Y1 and 8Q2, some creasing on 4F1 and 10G2.
References: PMM 201. Grolier, 100 in English, 50. Rothschild 1237.
A RARE FIRST EDITION OF ONE OF THE MONUMENTS OF ENGLISH LITERATURE IN HANDSOME EARLY CALF.
Price: $16,500 .