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Dr Samuel Johnson's Dictionary Masterpiece
TGC (16 November / Westport New Zealand)

Dr Samuel Johnson's Dictionary Masterpiece

June 1746 deeply dissatisfied
with the dictionaries of the period
London booksellers contracted

Dr Samuel Johnson to write
'A Dictionary of the English Language'
15 April 1755 finally published.

Johnson took nine years to create
an authoritative dictionary of the English language
could finish in three years he claimed?

Preposterous Académie Française employed;
in comparison over forty learned scholars
spending needing forty years to complete;

its dictionary in the French language.
Forty Frenchmen times forty years
is not nine but 1600 years to complete.

Miracle miracle Johnson 1591 years defeats.
For what princely sum did Johnson contract
with William Strahan and printer associates;

a preeminent Dictionary in English to complete?
18 June 1746 in historic morning was signed
a project prestigious contact worth 1,500 guineas?

This sum of 1,500 guineas is
in pounds £1,575 equivalent
in 2012 to about £230,000.

A consortium of London's most
successful printers including Robert
Dodsley, Thomas Longman, would

finance a dictionary none could afford;
on such scale to undertake alone, thus was
contracted to be; a meticulous feat of legend.

Twas said 'the world contemplated
with wonder so stupendous a work achieved
by one man, while other countries

had thought such undertakings
fit only for whole academies'.'
OED took writers 70 years to complete.

Johnson's Dictionary unlike all proto-dictionaries;
earlier printed painstaking care exhibited
an exact completeness in illustrations definitions.

Upon bold title page was proud acknowledged;
Oxford had awarded Johnson a Master of Arts
degree in anticipation of so great an achievement.

This titanic marvel an unprecedented;
dictionary contained pages 18 inches
46 cm tall nearly 20 inches 50 cm wide.

Paper chosen was of the finest;
quality available running to a cost
of near £1,600 more than sum paid;

to Johnson to write what he pronounced
to be 'Vasta mole superbus' 'Proud
in its great bulk' a marvelous achievement.

No book this size except a few special editions;
of the Bible had even been set to type thus
no single bookseller could this book hope to print.

With pride Dr Samuel Johnson proclaims his;
'A Dictionary of the English Language' as words
deduced from their originals illustrated;

in their different significations by examples;
from the best writers to which he had prefixed
an English Grammar a history of the language.

Revolutionary genius Johnson's important;
innovation was to illustrate the meanings
of words with famous English literary quotations;

approximately 114,000 by the best writers;
Shakespeare, Milton and Dryden were authors
by Johnson most frequently included cited.

The colossal work each copy cost £4/10/- equivalent;
to £675 in 2005, a small fortune, so exorbitant an amount,
that five editions and thirty years later only copies 6,000;

had been sold averaging 200 books a year for thirty years.
Publication universal appreciation a standing ovation heralds
honours innovative content and Johnson's efforts to create it.

Copyright © Terence George Craddock

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