I have always owned a dictionary, from the little alphabet beginner books as a very young child right through to the Oxford tomes of my university years.
I also like to collect dictionaries and so I have my son’s huge German dictionary and my Harraps shorter French which took me through a year in France, The Oxford Dictionary of new words which my brother bought me for my 40th, as well as Spanish and modern Hebrew dictionaries, etc. etc.
I take it for granted that I can find any word, in any language, somewhere in a book. And in these so modern of times, somewhere on the Net too. But of course it wasn't always like that.
Until Samuel Johnson’s English dictionary, which was the first to contain definitions - albeit rather whimsical at times – words floated around unhinged, unboundaried, unrecorded in an accessible and agreed manner.
I just can’t imagine going through life without a dictionary. But even more remarkable, I now cannot understand why it took me until this summer to visit the home of the man who taught us how to preserve the very foundation of the writer – words.
If you haven’t visited Samuel Johnson’s house http://www.drjohnsonshouse.org/ you are in for a veritable treat. Situated behind Fleet Street, in a beautifully preserved 18th century square, the first thing you see is the statue of Hodge, Johnson’s beloved cat. Take a good camera (which I didn’t, so my photos are from my phone) because you will want to snap and snap.
Entering Johnson’s house is like entering another world. It is so homely, so beautifully preserved, with so many amazing features. Like this custom made chain for the front door to prevent London rioters breaking in. Sound familiar?
I went with the writer Sue Hyams, who writes historical children's fiction and is also Membership Secretary for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
Sue is so knowledgeable and enthusiastic about this period in history. She even googled a complete Johnson dictionary and suggested we bought it between us - for around £1500.00. (Crikey!)
Here are some original copies of the dictionary - talk about massive undertaking!!
The whole house has such a warm, lived in atmosphere and of course Johnson had a reputation of mixing with all sorts and bringing people to live with him. But for writers and all lovers of words, the greatest joy is to go up to the room where Johnson wrote his dictionary. Here I am sitting at the actual table he worked at. Apparantly he had a whole row of tables at the other end of the room where scribes stood and laboriously copied out the dictionary for him. And everyone used quill pens!! Put that in your laptop and grind it!
Johnson's house is now top of my list to take visitors to London to see and I do hope you get round to visiting one day.
What is your earliest memory of a dictionary?