The Battle of the Word-Books: Competition, the ‘Common Reader,’ and Johnson's <i>Dictionary</i>

Lynda Mugglestone

in Samuel Johnson

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199654345
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191745003 | DOI:
The Battle of the Word-Books: Competition, the ‘Common Reader,’ and Johnson's Dictionary

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While Johnson's Dictionary served to ‘delight the critic’ as well as ‘instruct the learner’, it met a very different response from contemporary lexicographers who, as Gwin Kolb has noted, found themselves not a little discomfited by a work heralded as stupendous and extraordinary, especially (as Adam Smith commented in his own review), when ‘compar[ed] …with other dictionaries’. This chapter examines the oppositional discourses which characterize lexicographical acts of reception in aftermath of Johnson's first edition. Rather than adopting the discourse — and passivity — of the ‘harmless drudge’, dictionary-makers engaged in individual campaigns of both active sniping and verbal attack, waged within a highly competitive marketplace. Johnson offered his own challenges to prevailing assumptions about the ‘good’ dictionary. It is the complex nature of the ensuing debate — and the battle for the ‘common reader’ which this involved — on which this chapter focusses, placing Johnson's work within an era in which the dictionary as commodity was increasingly important.

Keywords: Samuel Johnson; eighteenth-century lexicography; dictionary; dictionary-making; dictionary as commodity; Lord Chesterfield

Chapter.  6196 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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