AN AMERICAN DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE.
(New York: Published by S. Converse, Printed by Hezekiah Howe, New Haven, 1828). 290 x 235 mm. (11 1/2 x 9 1/4"). Including the terminal leaf of "Additions" (not infrequently missing) in the second volume. Two volumes. FIRST EDITION.
Convincing period-style modern sprinkled calf, flat spines divided into panels with gilt lozenge centerpiece by decorative gilt rolls, one brown and one green morocco label, marbled endpapers. Engraved frontispiece portrait of the author by A. B. Durand from the painting by Samuel F. B. Morse in volume I. Title page of vol. II with ink ownership signature of S. Alexanderson. PMM 291; Skeel 583; Grolier "American Books" 36; Sabin 102335. Penultimate leaf of volume II a bit dust-soiled, final "Additions" leaf a little browned and slightly frayed at tail of fore edge, other very trivial imperfections (intermittent faint foxing, occasional mild browning or small marginal stains, isolated corner creases or printer's smudges), but A FINE COPY of a book seldom found this way--the text clean and very fresh, and the sympathetic bindings unworn.
This is an unusually fine copy of perhaps the all-time greatest American bestseller, one of the most famous and best-loved books ever to originate in the United States. Its publication signified that America had come of age in the linguistic field and had developed its own legitimate variety of English speech. Published in a press run of 2,500 copies, our first edition contains more than 70,000 entries, compiled entirely by Webster himself. According to PMM, the dictionary "marked a definite advance in modern lexicography, as it included many non-literary terms and paid great attention to the language actually spoken. Moreover, [Webster's] definitions of the meaning of words were accurate and concise and have for the greater part stood the test of time superbly well. In fact, Webster succeeded in breaking the fetters imposed upon American English by Dr. Johnson . . . to the ultimate benefit of the living languages of both countries." The book sold rather poorly at first, but its authority was gradually established, and its updated versions have remained a staple of American reference libraries ever since. Noah Webster (1758-1843) was born in West Hartford, Connecticut, and attended Yale University during the period of the Revolutionary War. Trained as a lawyer, he decided to become a schoolteacher and journalist. The first literary fruit of his teaching career was a spelling book published in 1782. Grammatical works followed, and on a visit to Philadelphia, he discussed with Ben Franklin the need for establishing an American standard spelling. Webster published a small "Compendious Dictionary of the English Language" in 1806, an appetizer to his great work, which was in gestation for almost 20 years. These two decades of preparation involved Webster's becoming conversant in no fewer than 26 languages, including Sanskrit, and the fruits of his study can be seen not only in the main body of the dictionary, but also in the 80-page prefatory section in volume I, the most important part of which is the author's dissertation "On the Origin, History and Connection of the Languages of Western Asia and of Europe." (ST17220)