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Samuel Johnson: The Lexicographer Essay

1939 words - 8 pages

Samuel Johnson the biographer, essayist, critic, poet, prose writer, parliamentary writer, dramatist and conversationalist, has been an extraordinary lexicographer too. He published his two- volume Dictionary on 15 April 1755,
“The Dictionary of the English Language”.
This Dictionary has also been at times published as Johnson’s Dictionary.
Robert Burchfield the modern lexicographer commented on Johnson’s Dictionary:

In the whole tradition of English Language and literature the only dictionary compiled by a writer of the first rank is that of Dr. Johnson

Samuel Johnson the premier literary figure of mid-eighteenth century was born to Sarah and Michael Johnson on 18th Sep, 1709. Though his father was once sheriff of the town yet, he had to face financial troubles right from birth to his education at Oxford and even later in his literary career. He had caught tuberculosis from his wet nurse and had contracted scrofula too. He could barely see from one eye. Yet the laurels attached to Johnson’s name are immense. Though he had to bear physical, financial hardship he rose to great heights. Had it been any other person it would not have been possible for him to attain so much in the literary field as Johnson. His father when died left him penniless with an inheritance of twenty pounds. Next thirty years for him was a long struggle with poverty. He became incurable hypochondriac. A deep melancholy undertook him. It was under these circumstances that his literary career began with Gentleman’s magazine. In 1738 came his poem ‘London’ with this he became an unknown but notable poet. Slowly he earned a name for himself and it was in these circumstances that Warburton praised him which was no light thing then. It was in this state of reputation that Johnson was approached by group of eminent booksellers to publish a Dictionary in two folio volumes.
In the 18th century with people becoming more focused and turning to literature there was an urgent need for a proper dictionary which could satisfy the rising intellectual needs of the people. Thus Johnson undertook the massive assignment with a promise to fulfill it in three years but eventually it turned to be nine years before he could finish it. Since Johnson did the work singlehandedly with virtually no physical or monetary help, to be precise (except clerical help which consumed the partly sum of 1500 guineas) it was a remarkable achievement. In his lifetime Johnson produced several revised editions.
When Johnson began this project he was not totally free. In 1749 he published the Vanity of Human Wishes an imitation of Tenth Satire of Juvenal. Besides he was already engaged in Shakespearean work and it was only that, he left it, to do work on this Dictionary. Therefore one finds so much borrowing from works of Shakespeare in his Dictionary too. When one analyses the Shakespearean works the influence is discernible. In fact it is vice...

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