His name first came before the public in 1683, when a prospectus was published in Edinburgh entitled An Account of the Scottish Atlas, stating that "the Privy Council of Scotland has appointed John Adair, mathematician and skilfull mechanick, to survey the shires."
In 1747 Johnson sent Chesterfield, who was then secretary of state, a prospectus of his Dictionary, which was acknowledged by a subscription of X10.
Shortly afterwards (1860) he sent out the prospectus of a systematic exposition of his Synthetic Philosophy, of which the first volume, First Principles, appeared in 1862.
The prospectus promised to give an account of the chief books published throughout Europe, obituary notices, a review of the progress of science, besides legal and ecclesiastical information and other matters of interest to cultivated persons.
The original idea was conceived by a Jesuit father, Heribert Rosweyde (see Hagiology), and was explained by him in a sort of prospectus, which he issued in 1607 under the title of Fasti sanctorum quorum vitae in Belgicis Bibliothecis manuscriptae.