Richardson referred to his quotations as ‘treasures’, apologizing for their length and describing them as ‘the choicest sentiments of English wisdom, poetry, and eloquence’ (vol. 1, Preliminary Essay: 52, 61). These comments, and the length at which he quotes from his chosen authors, make clear the function of his book as a store of literary and philosophical treasures (cf. Pleasure and Instruction). For similar reasons, the OED has also been described as a treasure-house: see OED as treasure-house in our page on Writers and dictionaries.
Fowler 2004: 56ff. has discussed examples of the interplay of quotations in Richardson’s dictionary to trace a further element in his work, the way that ‘the quotations entice us forward to look at the creatively developing meanings and associations of words in use through time’ (cf. ‘Genealogy of sentiments’).
For more on Richardson see Aarsleff 1983: 249-52, who gives an account of the origin of this dictionary (Richardson took over the project from S. T. Coleridge) and explains its intellectual context, also Fowler 2004, Dolezal 2000, Zgusta 2006: 19-26, Reddick 2009.
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