Jonathan Swift’s Word-Book: A Vocabulary Compiled for Esther Johnson and Copied in Her Own Hand

Edited by Panthea ReidA.C. Elias, Jr.John Irwin Fischer

Hardback • 2017 • $95.00
ISBN: 978-1611496550

Order Book

E-Book Available


This Word-Book is presumably the only work of Jonathan Swift’s not in print, until now. Since the 1690s, Swift had been formulating a list of words and definitions for his protégé Esther Johnson, beginning with terms from the Book of Common Prayer. His was apparently an ongoing list, kept rather haphazardly, with open spaces for adding new words. About 1710, when Swift was in London, Johnson, in Dublin, set out to formalize the dictionary, copying out Swift’s words and definitions to make an orderly and careful book with no blank spaces. Probably in 1713, when Swift returned to Ireland, Johnson presented her Word-Book to him, but his school-masterly corrections of her work may have offended her. After Johnson’s death in 1728, Swift gave the Word-Book to their mutual friend, Elizabeth Sican. It was passed down over generations, until in 1976, the young American Swiftian A. C. Elias, Jr., bought it, intending to edit it in his old age. Before his early death in 2008, Elias asked John Fischer to assume the challenge of bringing the book into print. Fischer took on the task until 2015, when he too passed away, after which his wife Panthea Reid completed the task. This volume includes illustrations from the original book, a transcript of it with schematic indications of Swift’s corrections, as well as essays and appendices by Fischer and Elias tracing provenance, exploring the social and psychological milieu in which the book was written, and tracking Swift’s work as a lexicographer.

About the Editors
The late A.C. Elias Jr. was an independent scholar based in Philadelphia.

The late John Irwin Fischer taught at Louisiana State University Baton-Rouge.

Panthea Reid is professor of English emerita at Louisiana State University.