Johnson had addressed his Plan for a new Dictionary to Chesterfield, but Chesterfield had neglected him for many years, and the only assistance he had given him was £10. When Chesterfield knew the Dictionary was near completion he flattered himself it would be dedicated to him. Johnson was disgusted at this presumption, and wrote this famous letter.

Boswell says, "That Lord Chesterfield must have been mortified by the lofty contempt, and polite, yet keen satire with which Johnson exhibited him to himself in this letter, it is impossible to doubt. He, however, with that glossy duplicity which was his constant study, affected to be quite unconcerned."

Chesterfield kept the letter on his table where anyone might see it.

Although knowledge of the letter circulated freely, Johnson was quite delicate in allowing a copy of it to be recorded, and once declined a request with a smile and "No, Sir; I have hurt the dog too much already" or words to that effect.

Boswell deposited two variant copies in the British Museum, of which one survives.