A Dictionary of the English Language
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Bibliography of Johnson

  Plan of the Dictionary.
1747
Boswell,
i. 182.
et. seq.
The Plan of a Dictionary of the English Language; Addressed to the Right Honourable Philip Dormer, Earl of Chesterfield; One of His Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State. London: Printed for J. and P. Knapton, T. Longman and T. Shewell, C. Hitch, A. Millar, and R. Dodsley. MDCCXLVII. 4°.

Collation:— Title, with erratum on verso; the letter, pp. [1]-34.

The Plan was also issued in the same year in 8°, 37 pages. [There is no difference in the wording or punctuation of the title. The erratum is corrected. Ed.]

The scheme of the Dictionary was first mentioned to Johnson by Robert Dodsley, on whose suggestion the Plan was addressed to Lord Chesterfield. It apparently passed through several hands before reaching Lord Chesterfield. Mr. Croker had seen the draft which contained the remarks of his lordship and of another person: 'Johnson adopted all these suggestions.' The price stipulated was £1,575, but Johnson received £100 and upwards more than his due.

Johnson, in a conversation with Boswell (March 1772), mentioned that on the publication of the Plan 'Lord Chesterfield told me that the word great should be pronounced so as to rhyme to state; and Sir William Yonge sent me word that it should be pronounced so as to rhyme to seat, and that none but an Irishman would pronounce it grait.' (Boswell, ii. 161). The only person drawn by the Plan into helping Johnson was Zachary Pearce, afterwards Bishop of Rochester, who sent him twenty etymologies.

The Plan is reproduced in Harrison's edition of the Dictionary, 1786. The original draft of it fetched £57 at the sale (Sotheby, May 1875) of the collection of Lewis Pocock.

  The Dictionary.
  In the second paragraph of his preface Johnson speaks of the dictionary-maker as the 'humble drudge that facilitates' the progress 'of Learning and Genius'. He accumulated in time his materials and then reduced them to method. In the domain of Orthography he found that 'caprice has long wantoned without control and vanity sought praise by petty reformation'. Our 'primitives' are derived from the Roman and Teutonic. Under the Roman he comprehended 'the French and provincial tongues, and under the Teutonick range the Saxon, German, and all their kindred dialects'. For the Teutonic etymologies he was 'commonly indebted to Junius and Skinner', to whose aid he rendered 'one general acknowledgment'.

The words which Johnson included in his Dictionary were mostly obtained from the dictionaries of his predecessors. Others were added 'by fortuitious and unguided excursions into books, and gleaned as industry should find, or chance should offer it, in the boundless chaos of a living speech'. Many words 'stand supported only by the name of Bailey, Ainsworth, Philips, or the contracted Dict.'. But he omitted a great number of words given in these dictionaries and never found by him in any book. Others he inserted upon his own attestation, claiming the same privilege with his predecessors 'of being sometimes credited without proof'.

Johnson expected that 'malignity would most frequently fasten' on his Explanations, for he could not hope 'to satisfy those who are perhaps not inclined to be pleased, since I have not always been able to satisfy myself'. His purpose was to exclude the testimony of living authors, and he had omitted them save when 'some performance of uncommon excellence excited my veneration, when my memory supplied me from late books with an example that was wanting, or when my heart, in the tenderness of friendship, solicited admission for a favourite name'. He had studiously endeavoured to collect his examples from writers before the Restoration, as after that date the 'original Teutonick character' had been 'deviating towards a Gallick structure and phraseology'. Sidney's work was his boundary, and he had made few excursions into the works of remoter writers. 'From the authours which rose in the time of Elizabeth, a speech might be formed adequate to all the purposes of use and elegance. If the language of theology were extracted from Hooker and the translation of the Bible; the terms of natural knowledge from Bacon; the phrases of policy, war, and navigation from Raleigh; the dialect of poetry and fiction from Spenser and Sidney; and the diction of common life from Shakespeare, few ideas would be lost to mankind, for want of English words, in which they might be expressed.'

He had devoted 'this book, the labour of years, to the honour of my country, that we may no longer yield the palm of philology to the nations of the continent. THe chief glory of every people arises from its authours: whether I shall add anything by my own writings to the reputation of English literature, must be left to time: much of my life has been lost under the pressures of disease; much has been trifled away; and much has always been spent in provision for the day that was passing over me; but I shall not think my employment useless or ignoble, if by my assistance foreign nations, and distant ages, gain access to the propagators of knowledge, and understand the teachers of truth; if my labours afford light to the repositories of science, and add celebrity to Bacon, to Hooker, to Milton, to Boyle.'

Animated by this wish, he looked with pleasure on his book. 'A few wild blunders, and risible absurdities... may for a time furnish folly with laughter, and harden ignorance in contempt; but useful diligence will at last prevail.' He wished the world to know 'that the English Dictionary was written with little assistance of the learned, and without any patronage of the great; not in the soft obscurities of retirement, or under the shelter of academick bowers, but amidst inconvenience and distraction, in sickness and in sorrow'. Horne Tooke could never read this part of the preface without tears.

When Johnson regarded the fate of previous dictionaries in ancient or foreign languages, 'I may surely be contented,' he says, 'without the praise of perfection, which, if I could obtain, in this gloom of solitude, what would it avail me? I have protracted my work till most of those whom I wished to please, have sunk into the grave, and success and miscarriage are empty sounds: I therfore dismiss it with frigid tranquillity, having little to fear or hope from censure or from praise.'

It was in the Grammar of the English Tongue that Johnson embodied the sentence, 'H seldom, perhaps never, begins any but the first syllable', which Wilkes fastened on with eagerness. In an essay (said by Boswell to have been inserted in the Public Advertiser, but I have not been able to find it) his sarcastic pen wrote the remark that 'the authour of this observation must be a man of quick appre-hension and of a most compre-hensive genius'. Johnson must have felt the force of the sneer, but he took no public notice of the ribald wit. In the third edition of the Dictionary, which came out in 1765, he inserted after 'never' the limitation 'except in compounded words', and in the fourth edition (1773) he omitted the words 'perhaps never except in compounded words', and added the sentence: 'It sometimes begins middle or final syllables in words compounded, as blockhead; or derived from the Latin, as comprehended.'

The Dictionary was reviewed with high praise by Adam Smith in the Edinburgh Review, No. 1, 1755, appendix, Article III, pp. 61-73. This review is reprinted in the European Magazine, xli. (1802), pp. 249-54. The title-page of the 'abridgement' (1758, 2 vols, 8°), by Mr. [N.] Thomas, of Ainsworth's Dictionary of the Latin Tongue stated that in order to make the work more useful 'care has been taken to compare the English part with Mr. Johnson's celebrated Dictionary of the English Language'. The Rev. John Whitaker gave in his History of Manchester, Book II (1775), pp. 240-326, 'a specimen of an English-British dictionary', inserting in it between crotchets quotations which he described as 'the property of Dr. Johnson or his authour'. Garrick's verses on the Dictionary are printed in the Public Advertiser, April 22, 1755, p. 2. col. i; in the London Magazine, April, 1755, p. 187. [Cf. the Gentleman's Magazine, April 1755, p. 190. Ed.]

The history of English dictionaries is contained in Henry B. Wheatley's 'Chronological Notices of the Dictionaries of the English Language' (Trans. of the Philological Soc., 1865, pp. 218-93); Sir James A. H. Murray's Evolution of English Lexicography (Romanes Lecture, 1900); History of English Lexicography and a Catalogue of English Dictionaries, prefixed to The Dictionary of the English Language, by Joseph E. Worcester, 1863, pp. liii-lxv; and in 'English Dictionaries before Webster', by Percy W. Long, 1910 (reprinted from Bibliog. Soc. of America, Papers, vol. iv). The three dictionaries specified by Johnson are by Nathaniel Bailey (1721: numerous later editions), for whose dictionary see the volumes of N. and Q. from 1874 to 1877, and the paper of Mr. W. E. Axon (English Dialect Soc. 1883); Robert Ainsworth (Latin Dictionary, 1736; numerous editions); and Edward Phillips, Milton's nephew (1658; seventh edition, 1720); of all of whom memoirs are in the D. N. B. An interleaved copy of Bailey was used by Johnson as the repository for his articles. He marked his books with a black-lead pencil to show his amanuenses the quotations which he wished to make; they then transcribed each sentence on a separate slip of paper and arranged them in order. There was on view in the Exhibition of Printing at Stationers' Hall, in June 1912, a copy of the first volume of The Works of the most celebrated Minor Poets (1749). It was from Dr. Johnson's library, and contained his marginal notes throughout the works of the Earl of Dorset, Earl of Halifax, and Sir Samuel Garth, particularizing the quotations to be made for the Dictionary.

Six amanuenses were employed, five of them being 'natives of North-Britain'. 'There were two Messieurs Macbean; Mr. Shiels who... partly wrote the Lives of the Poets to which the name of Cibber is affixed; Mr. Stewart... and a Mr. Maitland. The sixth... was Mr. Peyton, who, I believe, taught French and published some elementary tracts' (Boswell, sub anno 1748.) He may have been the V. J. Peyton entered into the Catalogue of the British Museum Library as the author of some works of this nature. The fate of all of them was sad; they had no resource save the sympathy of Johnson. The elder Macbean, Alexander Macbean, became librarian to the third Duke of Argyll, on whose death he was left without a shilling. After struggling for his living by literature and receiving frequent guineas from Johnson and his friends, Macbean, through Johnson's influence with Lord Thurlow, was admitted into the Charterhouse on April 11, 1781. There he died on June 25, 1784, and was buried three days later. Robert Shiels died of consumption in May's Buildings (on teh east side of St. Martin's Lane, London) on Dec. 27, 1753. Some particulars of 'Frank' Stewart, son of George Stewart, the Edinburgh bookseller, are given in Hone's Year Book, pp. 1043-7, but his authority for the notice is not specified. Stewart furnished the specimens of slang and the explanations of the words used in card-playing, and helped in the business part of the undertaking. Of Maitland, I know nothing. Peyton was steeped in poverty for many years. He died on April 1, 1776, a few days after his wife, and both were buried at Johnson's expense. The burial baretti called him 'a fool and a drunkard'.

The work was begun in Holborn, and ended in No. 17 Gough Square, on the north side of Fleet Street, the amanuenses working at their desks in 'an upper-room fitted up like a counting-house'. A description of a visit to it made more than eighty years ago (1832), 'not without labour and risk', is given by Thomas Carlyle in his essay on Croker's edition of Boswell (Miscellanies, iv. 82-3). Articles describing the house appeared in The Times, Oct. 15 and 17, 1887, the Daily News, Oct. 21, and the Pall Mall Gazette, Oct. 21. 'A Garret in Gough Square' is the title of an article in Mr. Austin Dobson's first series of Eighteenth-cenfury Vignettes (1892), pp. 93-103.

When the Dictionary was upon the eve of publication, Dodsley informed Lord Chesterfield of its approaching appearance after many years of toil, and no doubt reminded him of the fact that the Plan of the work had been addressed to him. The scheming peer may have hoped that the Dictionary itself would be dedicated to him. At all events he sent to the fashionable paper of the day, The World, two essays (Nov. 28 and Dec. 5, 1754), lauding the enterprise and flattering the compiler, whom he had neglected for seven years. Johnson was not to be cajoled : he answered on Feb. 7, 1755, 'the honeyed words' with that terrible letter which was known to the town as soon as it was composed, but was not formally communicated to the world in print until it appeared in 1790, priced half a guinea, as 'The celebrated Letter from Samuel Johnson, LL.D., to Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield; now first published, with notes, by James Boswell, Esq. London: Printed by Henry Baldwin; for Charles Dilly in the Poultry.'

An entertaining volume entitled 'Leisure Moments in Gough Square, on the beauties and quaint conceits of Johnson's Dictionary, by the author of Shakspere's Draughts from the Living Water' (i. e. George Alfred Stringer), was published at Buffalo, N.Y., by Ulbrick and Kingsley in 1886. An article by Mr. Henry B. Wheatley on 'The Story of Johnson's Dictionary' is in The Antiquary, xi (1885), pp. 11-17. I have made an independent study of its volumes.

Johnson utilized the labours of many of his predecessors. Not infrequently he gives as his authority nothing but the abbreviation Dict., which more often than not conceals the identity of Bailey. He quotes from the dictionary of Ephraim Chambers, the freethinker, and from that compiled by the Jesuit priests at Trevoux; from the English translation of the Universal Dictionary of Trade and Commerce which was begun by Jacques Savary des Bruslons and augmented by Philémon Louis Savary, and from the Mathematical Dictionary of Edmund Stone. For special words he goes to the Farrier's Dictionary, the Builder's Dictionary, the Military Dictionary, Kane's Campaigns, and the Lexicon Technicum of John Harris. The definition of Becafico, 'a bird like a nightingale, feeding on figs and grapes: a fig-pecker', a word to be found in the poems of Pope, he cites from the Spanish-English Dictionary (1740) of Pedro Pineda.


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This text is transcribed from the Google Books copy available at http://www.google.com/books?id=_-jQAAAAMAAJ.

Cite this page: "Bibliography of Johnson." A Dictionary of the English Language: A Digital Edition of the 1755 Classic by Samuel Johnson. Edited by Brandi Besalke. Last modified: December 6, 2012. http://johnsonsdictionaryonline.com/?page_id=5325.


  1. Mention is made of Edmund Stone’s New Mathematical Dictionary, but not which edition (1726 or 1743). Are there any scholarly articles or books on Johnson’s use of Stone?
    Thanks

  2. John Valdimir Price on November 11th, 2013 at 10:17 am

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