Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language (1785)

Volume 1 (find Volume 2 here) of the 6th edition of Samuel Johnson's epic achievement A Dictionary of the English Language, published a year after his death in 1785. Originally published 30 years previously on 15th April 1755, the mammoth tome took Johnson nearly 9 years to complete, remarkably almost completely single-handedly, and is now considered as one of the most influential dictionaries in the history of the English language.

When it came out the book was huge, not just in scope (it contained a 42,773-long word list) but also in size: its pages were 18 inches (46 cm) tall and nearly 20 inches (50 cm) wide. Johnson himself pronounced the book "Vasta mole superbus" ("Proud in its great bulk"). One of Johnson's important innovations was to illustrate the meanings of his words by literary quotation, of which there are around 114,000. The authors most frequently cited by Johnson include Shakespeare, Milton and Dryden but also included sentences taken from the popular press of his day.

An entire scan of the first edition of Johnson's book can be found at the wonderful Johnson's Dictionary Online site - and also a nearly 8% (at the time of writing this) complete transcription.