Johnson’s Dictionary

Samuel Johnson published his Dictionary of the English Language on this date in 1755.

Frye in “Rencontre: The General Editor’s Introduction”:

The third in this trio [the other two being Dryden and Swift] of the great age of prose Samuel Johnson, who, thanks to Boswell, is even more famous as a talker than as a writer. This is evidence, if we needed it, that the association of good prose style with good conversation is a social fact, not merely an educational ideal. As we should expect from the author of a dictionary, Johnson has an enormous vocubulary, and his use of it is a further indication of the growing polysyllabic quality of English speech, already mentioned. But though a formidable social figure, and satirized in his own day as “Pomposo,” he is not at all a pompous writer: he consistently directs his reader’s attention to the subject, not to himself. (CW 10, 60-1)

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One thought on “Johnson’s Dictionary

  1. Joe Adamson

    What Frye says about Johnson applies, of course, to himself. His prose style has the pleasurable rhythm of heightened conversation. Margaret Atwood has noted this aspect of Frye’s style: that he “did not write for other critics,” but “for the intelligent general reader. . . . Pick up any of his books and what you will hear . . . is a personal voice, speaking to you directly.” And like Johnson, Frye is devoid of pomposity. He “consistently directs his reader’s attention to the subject, not to himself.”


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