John Opie, Samuel Johnson, National Portrait Gallery, London

“Languages are the pedigree of nations.” Samuel Johnson’s thought is noble. The more authoritatively so, in that the profound pronouncement about language is issued by the greatest of dictionary-makers. Not—it has at once to be added—the maker of the greatest dictionary, for he was a lesser great man than Johnson (not quite the same as a less great man than Johnson), being the man who gave himself and us the New, later the Oxford, English Dictionary: the indispensable James A. H. Murray. His teamwork comprehended that a...

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