WEBSTER, Noah (1758-1853)
New York: published by S. Converse, printed by Hezekiah Howe of New Haven, 1828. 2 volumes, quarto. (11 1/16 x 9 inches). Engraved portrait frontispiece of Webster by A.B. Durand after S.F.B. Morse at the front of vol.I, "Additions and Corrections" leaf bound at the end of vol.II. Expertly bound to style in half russia over period marbled paper covered boards, spine with raised bands, lettered in the second and fourth compartments. First edition of the most important American dictionary, the "most ambitious publication ever undertaken, up to that time, upon American soil" (Grolier "American 100") and a prize to be cherished by any American who cares about their native tongue. The American Dictionary was printed in an initial edition of just 2500 copies, uncut in boards or full calf, at $20 for the two volumes. Importantly, the present copy includes the "Additions and Corrections" leaf at the end of the second volume, which is sometimes lacking. Webster's best-known work is significant for a string of reasons: according to Printing and the Mind of Man the Dictionary "at once became, and has remained, the standard English dictionary in the United States... [it also] marked a definite advance in modern lexicography, as it included many non-literary terms and paid attention to the language actually spoken ... In fact, Webster succeeded in breaking the fetters imposed upon American English by Dr. [Samuel] Johnson, ... to the ultimate benefit of the living languages of both countries". To sum up: the American Dictionary was "one of the great contributions towards mass education ... [in the United States, placing] correct spelling and usage within the reach of Everyman" (Grolier American 100 ). Noah Webster, teacher, lawyer and lexicographer, was also "an ardent nationalist and he wanted to stress the political separation from England by the cultivation of a separate American language" (PMM). Starting work on the American Dictionary in 1800, "Webster set a new standard for etymological investigation, and for accuracy of definition ('a born definer of words' - Sir James Murray), and included 70,000 words, as against the 58,000 of any previous dictionary." (Grolier American 100). This two-volume quarto dictionary represents the culmination of Webster's indefatigable dedication to providing his country with its first comprehensive modern dictionary. The valuable introductory material contains his thesis on the development of languages, and also his philosophical and practical grammar of the English language. Grolier American 100 36; Printing & the Mind of Man 291; Sabin 102335; Skeel 583.