Although the work is important in being the first collection of its kind, it was never deemed a particularly useful work. At only 120 pages, it listed 2,543 words along with very brief (often single-word) definitions. In most cases, it was little more than a list of synonyms. Its claimed purpose was "for the benefit and helpe of Ladies, Gentlewomen, or other unskillful persons". The words chosen were quite arbitrary and often obscure. Within a few decades, many other English dictionaries followed.
The full title of A Table Alphabeticall is "A table alphabeticall conteyning and teaching the true writing, and vnderstanding of hard vsuall English wordes, borrowed from the Hebrew, Greeke, Latine, or French, &c. With the interpretation thereof by plaine English words, gathered for the benefit & helpe of ladies, gentlewomen, or any other vnskilfull persons. Whereby they may the more easilie and better vnderstand many hard English wordes, vvhich they shall heare or read in scriptures, sermons, or elswhere, and also be made able to vse the same aptly themselues."
A Table Alphabeticall was published in London. The 1604 edition was printed by "I. R." (I. Roberts) for Edmund Weaver (listed as "Edmund Weauer"). The books are marked with a note that they "are to be sold at his shop at the great North dore of Paules Church, 1604".
A Table Alphabeticall proved fairly popular. There was a second edition in 1609, a third edition in 1613, and a fourth edition in 1617. The second and third editions were printed by "T. S." in London for Edmund Weaver. The third edition was "Set forth by R.c. and newly corrected, and much inlarged with many words now in use" and includes the inscription:
- Legere, et non intelligere, neglegere est.
- As good not [to] read, as not to understand.
As before, these newer editions were "to be sold at his shop at the great North doore of Paules Church."
The first edition listed 2,543 headwords. The dictionary increased in size with every succeeding edition, until the fourth edition in 1617 defined 3,264 words. The only surviving copy is found at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
- The Acorn of the Oak: A Stylistic Approach to Lexicographical Method in Cawdrey's A Table Alphabeticall, Raymond G. Siemens, CCH Working Papers, vol. 4 (1994) and in Dictionnairique et lexicographie, Paris, Didier Érudition, vol. 3: Informatique et dictionnaires anciens (1995).
- A description of Robert Cawdrey from the University of Toronto library