Books, as Samuel Johnson stated in 1754 in his Dictionary of the English Language neared completion, always exert “a secret influence on the understanding” so that the reader is informed in both overt and covert ways. Reference works, he stressed, were no exception. As this essay explores, Johnson’s precepts prove equally illuminating for his own work, and his representations of war and conflict. On one level, his Dictionary of 1755 is a source of formal exposition in which the meaning of war is anatomized across a range of entries. On another, those who consult its pages are presented with war as an ethical or socio-moral problem, freighted with meanings of a very different kind.

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