Monday, May 13, 2013


a red letter day

Yesterday was one such.  A day when I almost didn't even leave the house, except, we needed groceries, and after coming back home and doing some house chores, Ryan and I looked at each other and said, Let's take a drive.  We headed east, to browse in a few antiques shops and noodle around on a rainy Sunday afternoon.  In one of those shops we went our separate ways for a time, then I looked up to see Ryan approaching me with a book in his hands.  A small fat old book, bound in calf.  Before I could even see what it was, he said, We're going to get this.  I said, worriedly, Well, what IS it?

Here, here it is, now safe at home with us, such a darling book, one to be carefully read and treasured:

The 1773 abridgment of Johnson's Dictionary, Fifth Edition, printed in London by Strahan et al, "Abstracted from the Folio Edition, by the Author."  A marketing attempt to appeal to those who may have been intimidated by the size (see my blog post from January 24, 2013) and price of the earlier folio editions.  This copy has a few condition problems, for example the top right corner of the title page has had a name ripped away from it:

And a name once printed in gilt has been scratched away from the leather covering the front board, which is also cracked along its hinge, but still attached.  Also, some foxing throughout.  Minor concerns.  The reason we could afford to buy this book at all:  the seller priced the book as if only volume one of a two-volume set was present, writing volume one only inside the front cover next to the price.  Well, I could plainly see that this was, as I said, a very fat little book, eight inches high and about three inches thick, unpaginated, but I would guess 800 pages.  And, flipping through the book, I quickly saw that the complete text was there - the dictionary ends with the letter Z, after all, and yes, there it was.  Another look through confirmed that what would have been volume two begins with the letter L (a nice printer's ornament appears at the end of the letter K, then L begins with a half-title).  In other words, this edition was made from the printed sheets of two volumes perhaps trimmed down a bit and bound as one.  Shall I tell you what we paid for it?  I'll just say, significantly less than the groceries we bought earlier in the day, and leave it at that.  I never thought I would be able to purchase a copy of the Dictionary published within Johnson's own lifetime.  But here it is.  I carefully polished up the calf last night with some leather-binding dressing, and read a little of it.  Here is a sample.  In his brief preface, Samuel Johnson explains, in his purling eighteenth-century prose, the need for this abridged edition of his famous work:

"...a small dictionary appeared yet to be wanting to common readers; and, as I may without arrogance claim to myself a longer acquaintance with the lexicography of our language than any other writer has had, I shall hope to be considered as having more experience at least than most of my predecessors, and as likely to accomodate the nation with a vocabulary of daily use.  I therefore offer to the public an abstract or epitome of my former work.... The words of this dictionary, as opposed to others, are more diligently collected, more accurately spelled, more faithfully explained, and more authentically ascertained.  Of an abstract it is not necessary to say more; and I hope, it will not be found that truth requires me to say less."

I was raised to fervently believe that no home was complete without a good dictionary, or better, several good dictionaries.  And here is the grandfather of them all, come to stay.

"I wish you joy" as Jack Aubrey might have said!

Great news.
Fantastic! Congratulations.
Thanks, I am so happy with this book it is difficult to put into words (and me, with a good dictionary right here, ha!) - I even dreamed about the book on Sunday night. It's here at my elbow right now, I've been browsing in it off and on for the last two days.
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