Johnson, Dr Samuel - Johnson's Dictionary Limited Edition - ( Item 132809 )
Published in London by Folio Society. 2006. First Thus. 2 Fine Hardbacks. No inscriptions or bookplates. Near Fine slipcase. Very slight marks to top panel of slipcase. Large 4to. Limited edition of 1000 copies and a few lettered copies of which this is number 827. Two volumes. 1,164 pages each. 16¼" x 10¼". Exact facsimile reproduced from the first edition, title page printed in two colours on Favini cream paper. Two ribbon markers per volume. Three-quarter bound in calf leather with hand-marbled paper sides. Presented in a robust buckram-bound box with scalloped edges and volume divider. A DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE: In Which the Words are Deduced From Their Originals, AND ILLUSTRATED IN THEIR DIFFERENT SIGNIFICATIONS, BY EXAMPLES FROM THE BEST WRITER. To Which are Prefixed, A History of the Language, and an English Grammar: IN TWO VOLUMES. This, the full title of the work now known as Johnson's Dictionary, exemplifies what is special about the book: no mere collection of word definitions, but a larger work, bold in aims, broad in purpose. Johnson had an appreciation for the beauties of fine language and a knowledge of literature surpassed by none. Even today, the quotations he chose read like a succinct overview of the canon of great English literature. Yet Johnson's Dictionary was also a living work; a picture of his age as well as a work of great intellectual rigour, a milestone in the development of the English language. Alongside literary language were slang terms, sudden interjections of the rough and tumble of the city amongst the measured classical lines of poetry. If language is forever changing, then a dictionary can never be finished. Nearly thirty years after its first publication, Johnson was still making revisions at the time of his death. Proof, if any were needed, of how close the Dictionary was to his heart. 'The work of a single person and composed in a period of time very inconsiderable when compared with the extent of the work' ADAM SMITH REVIEWING THE DICTIONARY IN 1755. Samuel Johnson's achievement can hardly be overstated. The great European dictionaries of societies such as the Académie Française and the Accademia della Crusca were produced by entire teams of scholars and generously funded, whereas Johnson worked practically alone. Dr Johnson's Dictionary has become part of the lexicon of Western culture. Robert Browning claimed to have read it 'in its entirety' to 'qualify' himself as a poet, while authors as diverse as Charles Darwin, Charlotte Brontë and Samuel Becket have referred to it, and indeed plundered its pages. So symbolic of authority and learning did the Dictionary become that, in Vanity Fair , Thackeray mischievously mocked the esteem in which 'The Great Lexicographer' was held, even having Becky Sharp hurl the dictionary from a carriage window. (Since the first edition weighs almost 26 pounds, Thackeray was presumably thinking of an abridged version.) Johnson's definitions are sometimes personal, revealing his prejudices and enthusiasms. His conservative politics and sincere High Church religious affiliation alongside his half-teasing, half-sincere strictures on Scotland form the basis for the famous definitions for oats, Tory and Whig. These revelations are engaging - as Johnson scholar Robert DeMaria comments, 'You get very close to the life of the mind of someone if you try to follow their reading habits.' The first edition of Johnson's Dictionary went on sale on 14 June 1755 at £4 10s. This was an impressively hefty sum. £4 was over a third of a housekeeper's salary for the year, while a maidservant was only paid £1 15s. A year. Even for a wealthy, established lawyer, the Dictionary would have represented an entire week's wages - perhaps equivalent to £3,000 in today's money. Those first editions nowadays sell at auction for around £10,000-£15,000, so perhaps the investment might eventually have seemed worthwhile. Producing Johnson's Dictionary: Copies of the original dictionary were hand-bound to order for the purchasers. Likewise, the Folio Society facsimiles are bound by hand, using processes that closely match those used in the 18th century. The paper is a rich, creamy colour, similar to the original stock but of a slightly better quality, to prevent any deterioration of print and to avoid the torn pages suffered by several extant editions of Johnson. The exquisite hand-marbling of the book edges and boards renders each copy unique. Edge marbling was a feature of some of the finest 18th-century bindings, but the skill has now all but died out. In Johnson's day, marbling was an arcane process and its secrets closely guarded. 'I always enjoy working for The Folio Society. They provide a unique opportunity for artists and craftspeople to work on such wonderful books'. Ann Muir, who runs a hand-marbling workshop, has created the marbling for the edges and the front and back boards. No mistakes can be made when marbling page edges, since any slip ruins the entire book block. After each edge or sheet of paper has been rolled, the tray must be cleared and new paints floated. The calf leather used for the binding is treated with a process which was customary in Dr Johnson's time. The mottled finish involves hand-washing the skins repeatedly in paste, salts of tartar, glare and copperas. The skins are sourced from Graham Wright Leather, a family-run business since 1929 in Northampton - the centre of the leather trade in Johnson's time. The books are bound at the small craft bindery of Smith Settle, where Ken Smith and his team of craftsmen sew the sheets and make the cases, including creating the raised leather bands and hand-blocking the spine, cover and separate leather labels in gold. Samuel Johnson always wrote in praise of effort and perfectionism and against accepting second best. These values are espoused by The Folio Society, and nowhere have we demonstrated them more clearly than in this facsimile.
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