British Synonymy; or, an Attempt at regulating the Choice of Words in familiar Conversation. Inscribed, with Sentiments of Gratitude and Respect, to such of her foreign Friends as have made English Literature their peculiar Study … In two Volumes …

London: Printed for G. G. and J. Robinson … 1794.

2 vols., 8vo., with a half-title in each volume; a very good, crisp copy in contemporary calf, gilt, covers scraped, spine labels defective; contemporary ownership signature.

£950

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British Synonymy; or, an Attempt at regulating the Choice of Words in familiar Conversation. Inscribed, with Sentiments of Gratitude and Respect, to such of her foreign Friends as have made English Literature their peculiar Study … In two Volumes …

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First edition of a fascinating collection of short essays on synonyms, intended as a help to her husband and his foreign friends. Mrs. Piozzi began work on her Synonymy in early 1792, and by August was hard at the grindstone: ‘ten pages o’ Day copying, besides a little Composition now and then to stretch and swell … I should like to make it two thin Octavos like Brown’s Estimate and sell it like Merlin as dear as I can’ (letter to Queeney of 22 August). Through her friend Arthur Murphy, the Robinsons eventually offered £300 for the manuscript, requiring 400 pages per volume, and the work, delayed by Mr. Piozzi’s gout, appeared in April 1794 (and was devoured by Horace Walpole by the 16th of that month – Hazen 3254).

The work is engaging if not erudite, ‘intended chiefly for a parlour window, and acknowledging itself unworthy of a place on a library shelf’, but its greatest interest lies in the wealth of anecdotal material with which Mrs. Piozzi illustrates elegant, proper usage. Johnson is mentioned some fifty times – his Dictionary and his witty conversation both being obvious reference points – and a passage on ‘coming of age’ features the first full printing of his verses to Sir John Lade, written in 1780.

Alston, III, 524; Fleeman, 94.4PBS/1a.

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