“Lexicographer: A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of words.”
—Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language
With so many tourists queuing up at the marquee sites here in London for Easter weekend, my husband and I decided to pay a visit to a more off-the-beaten-path attraction: the 17th century house where famed lexicographer Samuel Johnson toiled for nearly a decade compiling the first comprehensive English-language dictionary. Published in 1755, the 2,300 page tome contained some 42,773 words accompanied by 114,000 illustrative quotations (you can peruse a copy, as I did, while visiting his home). By custom, the devoutly religious Johnson set aside each Easter Eve for meditation, weighing up his achievements and failures over the past year, so Saturday seemed a fitting day to pay him homage.
Johnson’s birthplace in Lichfield, Staffordshire, has also been preserved as a museum, and both houses are gearing up for special events and exhibitions to mark Johnson’s tercentenary in 2009. Next to Shakespeare, Johnson is said to be the most quoted of English writers, known for such witticisms as, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” As a Londoner myself, I couldn’t agree more.