chapter  14
1 Pages

Foreign notice of the Plan, 1747

It is not surprising that few nations have reputable dictionaries of their own language. The task is as laborious as it is unglamorous, and is appropriate for a society rather than an individual. It is to their Academy that the French are indebted for all their dictionaries. Although, till now, a similar institution may have been very desirable in this city, for some time a single individual has been working on a complete dictionary, and he has just published the Plan in a Letter to Lord Chesterfield. This nobleman, accustomed to promoting useful projects and knowing better than anyone else the beauties and the hazards of the English language, has encouraged the author-by the name of Johnson-to undertake his thankless task. The writer expounds in his Letter the method and the rules which he intends to follow. We cannot improve on the discrimination revealed in his survey or the nicety of the details which he offers as examples. His work convinces us that in order to be a good critic one must be a good philosopher. The history of words is inextricably bound up with the history of ideas, and common sense is no less necessary than literary knowledge to study a language in its development and its eccentricities, which often cease to appear so when the causes are unravelled. Mr. Johnson brings to his work everything necessary for success, and even those who have not made a special study of English can profitably read a Letter written with such lucidity and unusual elegance. If the dictionary is characterised by the same qualities, Englishmen will find it a book well worth waiting for.