Thursday, December 24, 2009

Johnson, Samuel. A dictionary of the English language...London: 1755.

On display is a first-edition copy (one of two volumes) of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the New English Language (1755). It is considered one of the most detailed and comprehensive description of the English language ever compiled. Although it was not the first dictionary in English, it contained 42,279 entries, easily surpassing the number of entries of current rival dictionaries. It formed the foundation of other dictionaries in England and across Europe and was the leading English dictionary until 1884, with the appearance of the New English Dictionary (now the Oxford English Dictionary). In his definition of “satire,” Johnson quotes the most famous satirists of the period, including Alexander Pope, Francis Bacon, and Jonathan Swift. Of particular interest is a quote from John Dryden distinguishing “proper satire” from the emotionally charged and visceral lampoon, perhaps reflecting the new era of reason and emotional restraint that was characteristic of the period.

Gift of William M. Elkins

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