Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language (London: W. Strahan, 1755) is an authorial tour de force. That one person could possibly assemble a dictionary basically on his own of such a scope is astonishing. The two densely packed volumes took nine years of his life to write.
Johnson received patronage of a sort for his work. Besides receiving money from a group of booksellers who supported the project, he also secured Lord Chesterfield’s support through his Plan of a Dictionary (London: J. and P. Knapton, 1747). Chesterfield wrote an essay in support of the project, but in so doing, offended the sensitive Johnson. Johnson held a grudge and retaliated in a backhanded way in the dictionary itself. His first definition of “Patron” reads:
1. One who countenances, supports or protects. Commonly a wretch who supports with insolence, and is paid with flattery.