The Johnson Dictionary Project
Johnson was first commissioned to compile a dictionary in 1746 on the suggestion of his friend, the bookseller Robert Dodsley.
Dodsley had suggested it long before, but Johnson had at that time rejected the proposal, saying 'I believe I shall not undertake it'.
However, pressure for an instrument to regulate the language had grown steadily during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries through campaigns dating back to the formation of the Royal Society to establish an English academy on the model of the Académie Française, through publications such as Swift's A Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue (1712), and through successive abortive attempts to engage leading writers of the day, such as Addison and Pope, to compile an authoritative dictionary.
The fact that the French and Italian academies had recently compiled dictionaries of their own tongues merely added a sense of international competition to a desire which was already strongly felt and widely shared that the English language should be not only corrected and improved, as Swift's title suggests, but ascertained.