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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
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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: W. Strahan for J. and P. Knapton, T. and T. Longman, C. Hitch and L. Hawes, A. Millar, and R. and J. Dodsley, 1755.\n\n2 volumes, 2° (441 x 270mm). Titles in red and black, woodcut tail-pieces. (Occasional light browning and spotting, some light creasing, title to vol. I browned at corners and with inconspicuous holes at inner margin, 6D2 with marginal repair, 23B1 and 29G1 with closed tear touching on text, occasional marginal waterstains in vol. II, mainly affecting 30R1-2 and subsequent leaves.) ORIGINAL HALF SHEEP AND COMB-MARBLED BOARDS, UNCUT, spines in seven panels with raised bands, second panel with black calf lettering-piece, the third directly lettered with volume number and division of the alphabet (board corners and edges worn, spines rubbed at extremities, vol. I with slight splitting along joints and one corner heavily bumped); folding brown morocco-backed boxes by Sangorski and Sutcliffe. Provenance: Samuel Stephens Esq. (bookplate) -- Fletcher (name pencilled on margin of Stephens' bookplate) -- [House of El Dieff, New York, 40th anniversary catalogue (1975), no. 8, $9000] -- Haven O'More (sold Sotheby's New York, the Garden Collection, 9-10 November 1989, lot 148, $60,000).\n\nTHE SUPERB, UNCUT GARDEN COPY OF THE FIRST EDITION IN ORIGINAL BOARDS. Though half of the 2000 copies printed survive in Fleeman's estimation, he adds: 'few copies survive in booksellers' boards, and all such have restored spines, for when standing upright, the contents are too heavy for the binding cords'. The unrestored state of the binding on the Garden copy therefore makes it a key exception. It is also unusual in having both sheets 19D and 24O in the first setting. Of 13 copies examined by Todd, only one had both settings; 19D, which 'occurs very infrequently' in the first setting, has 58 textual variants in the second. The creation of the dictionary was Johnson's greatest literary labour. Helped by a succession of needy amanuenses who worked in the surprisingly spacious garret of his house in Gough Square, he experienced the death of his mother and underwent agonies of procrastination before finally completing the task in his 46th year. Boswell called it a work of 'superior excellence' and 'much greater mental labour, than mere Lexicons, or Word Books as the Dutch call them' (Life of Johnson: An Edition of the Original Manuscript. Vol I: 1709-1765, ed. Marshall Waingrow, Edinburgh, 1994, p. 213). As his use of 114,000 illustrative quotations shows, Johnson clearly intended to combine lexicography with entertainment and instruction; this was the only work he called 'my Book' (Letters I: 71). Since it was now owned by the booksellers who had paid him £1575 in advance, publication by no means saved him from poverty. Yet it was always to be called 'Johnson's Dictionary' -- and was as much his greatest monument as St. Paul's was Christopher Wren's. The national pride taken in the dictionary was expressed by the poet Christopher Smart when he wrote in the Universel Visitor: 'I look upon [it] with equal amazement, as I do upon St. Paul's Cathedral; each the work of one man, each the work of an Englishman' (quoted by Henry Hitchings, Dr. Johnson's Dictionary, London, 2005, pp. 199-200). Alston V, 177; Courtney and Smith p. 54; Chapman and Hazen p. 137; Fleeman I, p. 410; Grolier/English 50; PMM 201; Rothschild 1237; Todd, 'Variants in Johnson's Dictionary 1755', The Book Collector, XIV (1965), pp. 212-214. (2)
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18th Century, Books & Manuscripts, England, literary

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Books & Manuscripts


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