Peter Washington

Literary Taxonomania

Lives of the Novelists: A History of Fiction in 294 Lives

By

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The English have a gift for reference books: they suit our mundane genius. While the French built monuments, we compiled them: Encyclopaedia Britannica, the DNB and the OED, Grove’s dictionary, the Victoria County History. Before that, encyclopaedists and lexicographers were usually solitaries, eccentric antiquaries such as Camden, Aubrey and, most famously, Johnson, who produced his dictionary and Lives of the Poets largely unaided. Not surprisingly, Johnson was more or less mad.

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