Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Lexicographic Seduction

Thou strong seducer, opportunity!
John Dryden
The Conquest of Granada (1670) pt. 2, act 4, sc. 3

I have, this very evening, been seduced. Not only that, the event has taken place in the presence of my wife and with her wholehearted assent.

It was a matter of lust at first sight. No other word can describe the shear, unadulterated desire that surged, like an electrifying pulse, through my entire being the very moment I gazed upon the countenance before me. Oh, how I longed to hold this most beautiful of creations in my hands; to caress the layers that clothed the delights within; to inhale the heady perfume that is common to all of this nature. As soon as I held the photograph in my hands, I knew this beautiful thing had to be made mine.

Thus, I ordered a copy of the Folio Society’s exact facsimile of the first edition of Johnson’s Dictionary and now await its arrival with eager anticipation.

Readers of the past postings on this blog will know the power that such books hold over me (see The Noble Sport of Book Hunting, February 2006). This one is an absolute treasure. If you have not been fortunate enough to be offered the chance to buy one of the limited edition of 1,000 copies, then let me take a few moments to describe it to you:

Containing the definitions of 40,000 words, along with examples (amounting to 120,000 quotations) of their usage, the Dictionary is in two volumes, measuring 16¼" x 10¼" with 1,164 pages to each. One third bound in calf leather, the spine has raised leather bands and gold-blocked titles on separate leather labels. An exquisite marbling adorns the paper edges and front and back boards. With the addition of two ribbon markers per volume, the completed works are encased in a buckram-bound box with scalloped edges and a volume divider. What a feast! Those who share the passions of the noble sport of book hunting will immediately know why I have been so readily seduced.

Dr Samuel Johnson wrote his Dictionary over a period of nine years, with the first edition being published in 1775. Even today, the Oxford English Dictionary contains definitions that were first suggested by Johnson. Some of his original work gives an insight to his personal beliefs and politics, as well as the attitudes of the day. Examples such as those that follow are particularly memorable:

Oats. A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland, supports the people.

Pension. An allowance made to any one without an equivalent. In England, it is generally understood to mean pay given to a state hireling for treason to his country.

Curtain-lecture. A reproof given by a wife to her husband in bed.

Nappiness. The quality of having a nap.

Tory. A cant term, derived, I suppose, from an Irish word signifying a savage.

At just under £600, the dictionary is not cheap. However, great works of art never are. Besides, someone must patronise such endeavours for the edification of future generations (making the assumption that these books will long outlive me). As I said to my wife, I feel I have a duty to my country to add this great work to our library!

The postman cannot arrive too soon.

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