JOHNSON, SAMUEL. 1709-1784.
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. London: printed by W. Strahan, for Knapton, Longman, Hitch, et al.
2 volumes. Folio (410 x 240 mm). Double column. Title-pages in red and black. Period blind-ruled speckled calf, rebacked to style with spine gilt in compartments, green morocco lettering pieces. Volume 2 with some very pale foxing to title, like very pale foxing to last several leaves, leaf 16B1 with small tear from margin, minor scrapes to binding, corners just showing.
Provenance: G.A. Sanford (ownership inscription dated 1857); anonymous owner, Christie's New York, June 8, 1990, lot 294.
FIRST EDITION OF JOHNSON'S DICTIONARY, one of the most influential books in the history of the English language. "Dr Johnson performed with his Dictionary the most amazing, enduring and endearing one-man feat in the field of lexicography ... 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'. 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 ... but despite the progress made during the past two centuries in historical and comparative philology, Johnson's book may still be consulted for instruction as well as pleasure" (PMM). Indeed, the labor and genius of Johnson's production still awes us today. Over a period of eight years, "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 Samuel Johnson NY: 1977, p 247). The first edition was published in April 1755 in a printing of 2000 copies. Courtney & Smith p 54; PMM 201; Rothschild 1237.
- The date of these volumes is 1755.