(London: Printed for J. and P. Knapton, et al. 1747). 240 x 197 mm. (9 1/2 x 7 3/4"). 1 p.l., 34 pp. FIRST EDITION, so-called "non-Chesterfield" issue (normally called the second state, but importance of priority disputed, as discussed below), corrected state of E1v, without repeated "the."
Polished calf by Francis Bedford (stamp-signed on verso of front free endpaper), covers with gilt French fillet border, rebacked to style in matching tan morocco, raised bands, spine gilt in compartments with stars at center, brown morocco label, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. Fleeman 47.8PD/1b, variant (b); Courtney & Smith, p. 20; Chapman & Hazen p. 130; Rothschild 1228-30; ESTC T42414. One corner rubbed to boards, a little crackling to leather near head edge of boards, scattered tiny, inoffensive scratches, but the carefully rebacked binding sturdy and not without appeal, and a fine copy internally, quite clean and fresh.
This is one of the most important prospectuses ever printed, both because of the light it sheds on Johnson's understanding of the immense task before him and because of its place in the history of patronage: Chesterfield ignored Johnson's implicit request for assistance, an omission that prompted Johnson's famous rhetorical demolition of his would-be benefactor when an offer of support, no longer needed, finally came. In this prospectus, Johnson clarifies the task that lay ahead of him as he began work on what was to become the most important dictionary in English, and perhaps the most monumental undertaking by a single individual in the history of English literature. Carrying out his Herculean task without underwriters and without much in the way of clerical assistants, Johnson produced a work of enormous import and considerable charm because of his apt and sometimes droll expressions, as well as his vast knowledge of the language and of the English literary classics from which he drew his abundant supporting quotations. He shows in his "Plan" that he knew what needed to be done to produce an English dictionary to rival the great lexicons of France and Italy. Departing from English tradition, he did not want to produce a series of equivalents for "hard" words, but rather to give the meanings of "words and phrases used in the general intercourse of life, or found in the works of . . . polite writers." His overriding objectives were to produce "a dictionary by which the pronunciation of our language may be fixed, and its attainment facilitated; by which its purity may be preserved, its use ascertained [i.e., established], and its duration lengthened." In terms of its significance in the history of patronage, the fact that the plan was couched in terms of a letter to Chesterfield clearly indicated that it was meant to elicit support for the project from the august personage in the salutation. Unfortunately, Chesterfield did not respond to the implicit entreaty, and the sting of this slight was not soon forgotten. When the dictionary appeared after almost nine years of labor, and when Chesterfield only then wrote two commendatory notices of it, Johnson addressed to Chesterfield the famous letter in which he bitterly repudiated such tardy support. Of Chesterfield's praise, Johnson says, "had it been early, [it] had been kind; but it has been delayed till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it; till I am solitary and cannot impart it; till I am known, and do not want it." This volume has two settings of signature "A": the first has Chesterfield's name (as it appears on the title) repeated on the first page of text; the second (as in the present copy) does not. According to R. W. Chapman (writing in RES, April, 1926) and R. F. Metzdorf (in "Library," 1938), the copies with Chesterfield's name repeated were apparently printed first. However, there are at least three known copies of the "non-Chesterfield" setting that were clearly intended by Johnson for presentation, strongly suggesting that the priority of the settings is not of great significance. Some "non-Chesterfield" copies have the word "the" repeated after the first line of E1v, while others, likely later issues, have the superfluous "the" removed, as is the case here. (ST16340)
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PJP Catalog: ABA1stNov20.017