A Dictionary of the English Language (2 Vols) by Samuel Johnson - review by Alan Bell

Alan Bell

Earned His Pension

A Dictionary of the English Language (2 Vols)


Longman 2328pp £195 order from our bookshop

Longman, now part of the Pearson empire but a firm in direct descent from two members of the consortium of publishers who put up the money for Samuel Johnson’s celebrated Dictionary of the English Language, have commemorated their connection with it by issuing a serviceable facsimile of the first edition of 1755. It compares very favourably with a Times Books facsimile of 1980, and should give much pleasure: the creamy paper used has a good feel to it, the printing is satisfactory if a little grey in places, but one must fault the repro binding (or rather casing) which is far too weak for the weight of the paper it has to carry. The two volumes are accompanied by a slim explanatory pamphlet in which David Fleeman, the most learned of Johnson’s bibliographers, has joined forces with the head of Longman’s dictionaries department to provide a useful account of the publication of the book and its lexicographical significance. This booklet supplies some of the printing and other technical information missing from the facsimile itself.

Those who know their Johnson mainly from Boswell will need to correct their views in several ways. Boswell was wrong about the compilation of the Dictionary, which he believed Johnson started by making out a long list of words that were then pursued in his literary reading to provide examples

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