The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 17. Lesser work
The publication of the Dictionary in eight years was a remarkable achievement of industry, and the more remarkable in that he had been doing much other work. Apart from his duties to his own Rambler, he held himself ready to assist his friends. He contributed a paper about once a fortnight, from March, 1753, to Hawkesworth’s Adventurer. He helped Lauder, unsuspectingly, with a preface and postscript to his Miltonic hoax, and dictated his confession (1750–1); and he wrote the dedication for Mrs. Lennox’s Female Quixote (1752) and Shakespear Illustrated (1753). He contributed the life of Cheynel to The Student (1751), and the life of Cave to The Gentleman’s Magazine (1754). He composed Zachariah Williams’s Account of an Attempt to ascertain the Longitude at Sea, (1755). And he furnished the Dictionary with a “History of the English Language” and a “Grammar of the English Tongue,” including a section on prosody, as well as with its noble preface. And all this had been accomplished “amidst inconvenience and distraction, in sickness and in sorrow.” He had so great a capacity for work, and when he had once started moved with so much ease, that he did not recognise his rapidity to be uncommon. The extreme concentration compelled periods of relaxation which he allowed to weigh on his conscience. He, too, was subject to the common delusion that his best was his normal. As he was, in all matters, a man of the most sensitive morality, it became a habit with him to be distressed at his idleness; and it has become a habit with us to speak of his constitutional indolence. He certainly had to make an effort to begin. But to the activity of the eight years from his thirty-eighth to his forty-sixth, it is not easy to find a parallel.