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James Boswell

Born October 29, 1740(1740-10-29)
Edinburgh, Scotland
Died May 19, 1795 (aged 54)
London, England
Occupation Lawyer, Diarist, Author

James Boswell, 9th Laird of Auchinleck (October 29, 1740 – May 19, 1795) was a lawyer, diarist, and author born in Edinburgh, Scotland; he is best known for his biography of Samuel Johnson. His name has passed into the English language as a term (Boswell, Boswellian, Boswellism) for a constant companion and observer.

Boswell is also known for the detailed and frank journals that he wrote for long periods of his life, which remained undiscovered until the 1920s. These included voluminous notes on the grand tour of Europe that he took as a young man and, subsequently, of his tour of Scotland with Johnson. His journals also record meetings and conversations with eminent individuals belonging to The Club, including Lord Monboddo, David Garrick, Edmund Burke, Joshua Reynolds and Oliver Goldsmith. His written works focus chiefly on others, but he was admitted as a good companion and accomplished conversationalist in his own right.


Early life

Boswell was born near St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh on 29 October 1740. He was the eldest son of a judge, Alexander Boswell, 8th Laird of Auchinleck and his wife Euphemia Erskine; he inherited his father’s estate Auchinleck in Ayrshire. Boswell's mother was a strict Calvinist, and he felt that his father was cold to him. As a child, he was delicate and suffered from some type of nervous ailment which appeared to be inherent[1] and would afflict him sporadically all through his life. At the age of five, he was sent to James Mundell's academy, an advanced institution by the standards of the time, where he was instructed in English, Latin, writing and arithmetic. Boswell was unhappy there, and his sickliness began to manifest itself in the physical indicants associated with night fears and extreme shyness.

In view of this, the now-eight-year-old was removed from the academy and educated by a string of private tutors who included John Dunn and a Mr Fergusson. The former had rather more success than his successor: he versed his charge in the joys of literature (not least of all the Spectator essays) and opened his eyes to the pleasances of religion. Dunn was also present during, if not directly involved in, Boswell's serious affliction of 1752, when he was rusticated to the hamlet of Moffat in northern Dumfriesshire. This afforded him his first experience of genuine society, and his recovery was rapid and complete. It may, however, have inculcated the notion that travel and entertainment were his best sedatives.

At thirteen, Boswell was enrolled into the arts course at the University of Edinburgh, studying there from 1753 to 1758. Midway through his studies, he suffered a serious depression and nervous illness, but, when he recovered, he had thrown off all signs of delicacy and attained robust health. Boswell had swarthy skin, black hair and dark eyes; he was of average height, and he tended to plumpness. His appearance was alert and masculine, and he had an ingratiating sense of good humour.

Upon turning nineteen, he was sent to continue his studies at the University of Glasgow, where he was taught by Adam Smith. While at Glasgow, Boswell decided to convert to Catholicism and become a monk. Upon learning of this, his father ordered him home. Instead of obeying, though, Boswell ran away to London, where he spent three months, living the life of a libertine, before he was taken back to Scotland by his father. Upon returning, he was re-enrolled at Edinburgh University and forced by his father to sign away most of his inheritance in return for an allowance of £100 a year.

On July 30, 1762, Boswell took his oral law exam, which he passed with some skill. Upon this success, Lord Auchinleck decided to raise his son's allowance to £200 a year and allowed him to return to London. It was during his second spell there that Boswell wrote his London Journal and, on May 16, 1763, met Johnson for the first time. The pair became friends almost immediately. Johnson eventually nicknamed him "Bozzy".

The first conversation between Johnson and Boswell is quoted in The Life of Samuel Johnson as follows:

[Boswell:] "Mr. Johnson, I do indeed come from Scotland, but I cannot help it."

:[Johnson:] "That, Sir, I find, is what a very great many of your countrymen cannot help."[2]

It is widely believed that Johnson despised the Scots; however, on being specifically asked the question, he admitted that this prejudice was without basis.

European travels

It was around three months after this first encounter with Johnson that Boswell departed for Europe with the initial goal of continuing his law studies at Utrecht University. He spent a year there and although desperately unhappy the first few months, eventually quite enjoyed his time in Utrecht. He befriended and fell in love with Belle van Zuiylen, a vivacious young Dutchwoman of unorthodox opinions, his social and intellectual superior. Boswell admired the young widow Geelvinck who refused to marry him. After this, Boswell spent most of the next two years travelling around the continent. During this time he met Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau and made a pilgrimage to Rome. Boswell also travelled to Corsica to meet one of his heroes, the independence leader Pasquale Paoli. His well observed diaries of this time have been compiled into two books Boswell in Holland and Boswell and the Grand Tour.

Mature life

Boswell returned to London in February 1766 accompanied by Rousseau's mistress, with whom he may have had a brief affair on the journey home.[3] After spending a few weeks in the capital, he returned to Scotland to take his final law exam. He passed the exam and became an advocate. He practised for over a decade, during which time he spent no more than a month every year with Johnson. Nevertheless, he returned to London annually to mingle with Johnson and the rest of the London literary crowd, and to escape his mundane existence in Scotland. He found enjoyment in playing the intellectual rhyming game crambo with his peers.

Some of his journal entries and letters from this period describe his amatory exploits. Thus, in 1767, in a letter to W.J.Temple, he wrote, "I got myself quite intoxicated, went to a Bawdy-house and past a whole night in the arms of a Whore. She indeed was a fine strong spirited Girl, a Whore worthy of Boswell if Boswell must have a whore"[4] A few years earlier, he wrote that during a night with an actress named Louisa "five times was I fairly lost in supreme rapture. Louisa was madly fond of me; she declared I was a prodigy and asked me if this was not extraordinary for human nature."[5] Though he sometimes used a condom for protection[6], he contracted venereal disease at least seventeen times[7]

Boswell married his cousin, Margaret Montgomerie, in November 1769. She remained faithful to Boswell, despite his frequent liaisons with prostitutes, until her death of tuberculosis in 1789. After his infidelities he would deliver tearful apologies to her and beg her forgiveness, before again promising her, and himself, that he would reform. James and Margaret had four sons and three daughters. Two sons died in infancy; the other two were Alexander (1775-1822) and James (1778-1822). Their daughters were Veronica (1773-1795), Euphemia (1774-ca. 1834) and Elizabeth (1780-1814). Boswell also had at least two illegitimate children, Charles (1762-1764) and Sally (1767-1768?).

Despite his relative literary success with accounts of his European travels, Boswell was an unsuccessful advocate. By the late 1770s he descended further and further into alcoholism and gambling addiction. Throughout his life, from childhood until death, he was beset by severe swings of mood. His depressions frequently encouraged, and were exacerbated by, his various vices. His happier periods usually saw him relatively vice-free. His character mixed a superficial Enlightenment sensibility for reason and taste with a genuine and somewhat Romantic love of the sublime and a propensity for occasionally puerile whimsy. The latter, along with his tendency for drink and other vices, caused many contemporaries and later observers to regard him as being too lightweight to be an equal in the literary crowd that he wanted to be a part of. However, his humour and innocent good nature won him many lifelong friends.

Boswell was a frequent guest of Lord Monboddo at Monboddo House, a setting where he gathered significant observations for his writings by association with Samuel Johnson, Robert Burns, Lord Kames, Lord Monboddo and other luminaries.

After Johnson's death in 1784, Boswell moved to London to try his luck at the English Bar, which proved even more unsuccessful than his career in Scotland. He also offered to stand for Parliament but failed to get the necessary support, and he spent the final years of his life writing his Life of Johnson. During this time his health began to fail due to venereal disease and his years of drinking. Boswell died in London in 1795.

Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson

Dr Johnson - Dictionary writer Boswell - Biographer Sir Joshua Reynolds - Host David Garrick - actor Edmund Burke - statesman Pasqual Paoli - Corsican independent Charles Burney - music historian Thomas Warton - poet laureate Oliver Goldsmith - writer prob.The Infant Academy 1782 unknown painting An unknown portrait servant - poss. Dr Johnson's hier Use button to enlarge or use hyperlinks
A literary party at Sir Joshua Reynolds - 1781. The painting shows the friends of Reynolds including Boswell at left - use cursor to identify others.

When the Life of Johnson was published in 1791 it at once commanded the admiration that Boswell had sought for so long, and it has suffered no diminution since. Its style was revolutionary — unlike other biographies of that era it directly incorporated conversations that Boswell had noted down at the time for his journals. He also included far more personal and human details than contemporary readers were accustomed to. Instead of writing a respectful and dry record of Johnson's public life, in the style of the time, he painted a vivid portrait of the complete man. It is still often said to be the greatest biography yet written, and the longevity of Dr Johnson's fame perhaps owes much to the work.

It has often been asked how a man such as Boswell could have produced so remarkable a work as the Life of Johnson. Among those who attempted an answer were Macaulay and Carlyle: the former argued that Boswell's uninhibited folly and triviality were his greatest qualifications; the latter replied that beneath such traits were a mind to discern excellence and a heart to appreciate it, aided by the power of accurate observation and considerable dramatic ability. (Macaulay's venomous condemnation of Boswell's personality may have had a political foundation: Boswell was a Tory, and as such a target for Whig historian Macaulay's attacks. In addition, Macaulay's grandfather was the victim of one of Johnson's sharpest rebukes: "Sir, are you so grossly ignorant of human nature, as not to know that a man may be very sincere in good principles, without having good practice?").[8]


Boswell was present at the meeting of the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in May 1787 set up to persuade William Wilberforce to lead the abolition movement in Parliament. However, the abolitionist Thomas Clarkson records that by 1788 Boswell "after having supported the cause... became inimical to it."

Boswell's most prominent display of support for the slavery movement was his 1791 poem 'No Abolition of Slavery; or the Universal Empire of Love,' which lampooned Clarkson, Wilberforce and Pitt. The poem also supports the common suggestion of the pro-slavery movement, that the slaves actually enjoyed their lot: "The cheerful gang! - the negroes see / Perform the task of industry."

Discovery of papers

In the 1920s a great part of Boswell's private papers, including intimate journals for much of his life, were discovered at Malahide Castle, north of Dublin. These provide a hugely revealing insight into the life and thoughts of the man. They were sold to the American collector Ralph H. Isham and have since passed to Yale University, which has published general and scholarly editions of his journals and correspondence. A second cache was discovered soon after and also purchased by Isham. A substantially longer edition of A Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides was published in 1936 based on his original manuscript. His London Journal 1762-63, the first of the Yale journal publications, appeared in 1950. The last, The Great Biographer, 1789-1795, was published in 1989.


  1. ^ It is true that two uncles and a younger brother had been driven to the brink of madness.
  2. ^ James Boswell The Life of Samuel Johnson, [1992] Everyman ed, p247
  3. ^ Correspondence of James Boswell and William Johnson Temple, Edinburgh 1997, page 140 footnote 4[1]
  4. ^ Boswell Correspondence, letter of June 26, 1767
  5. ^ Tis Nature's Fault: Unauthorized Sexuality during the Enlightenment by R.P.Macubbin, page 64
  6. ^ Privacy: concealing the eithteenth-century self by P Spacks page 141
  7. ^ Glimpses of Glory by R. L Greaves page 381
  8. ^ A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature by John W. Cousin - Full Text Free Book (Part 2/13)


  • The Cub at Newmarket (1762, published by James Dodsley)
  • Dorando, a Spanish Tale (1767, anonymously)
  • Account of Corsica (1768)
  • The Hypochondriack (1777-1783, a monthly series in the London Magazine)
  • A Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides (1785)
  • The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791, reprinted in Everyman's Library)
  • No Abolition of Slavery (1791) (poem)
  • The Life of Samuel Johnson, Facsimile Reprint of First Issue of the First Edition, bound with The Principal Corrections and Additions to the First Edition, 2 volumes (ISBN 978-4-901481-69-4)

Published journals

  • Boswell's London Journal, 1762-1763
  • Boswell in Holland, 1763-1764, including his correspondence with Belle de Zuylen (ZeÌlide)
  • Boswell on the Grand Tour: Germany and Switzerland, 1764
  • Boswell on the Grand Tour: Italy, Corsica, and France, 1765-1766
  • Boswell in Search of a Wife, 1766-1769
  • Boswell for the Defence, 1769-1774
  • Boswell: the Ominous Years, 1774-1776
  • Boswell in Extremes, 1776-1778
  • Boswell: Laird of Auchinleck 1778-1782
  • Boswell, the Applause of the Jury, 1782-1785
  • Boswell, the English Experiment, 1785-1789
  • Boswell: The Great Biographer, 1789-1795
  • Purdie, D.W. (2002). The Maladies of James Boswell, Advocate. Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh 32, 197-202.
  • Clarkson, Thomas (1808). The History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade by the British Parliament.
  • Boswell, James (1791). No Abolition of Slavery; or the Universal Empire of Love
  • A Short Biographical Dictionary of English [2]

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over.

James Boswell (29 October 174019 May 1795) was a lawyer, diarist, and author born in Edinburgh, Scotland.



He who has provoked the lash of wit, cannot complain that he smarts from it.
  • Boswell is pleasant and gay,
    For frolic by nature designed;
    He heedlessly rattles away
    When company is to his mind.
    • In a poem about himself, in "Biographic Sketches" in Chambers's Edinburgh Journal Vol. IV (1836). p. 341

The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (1785)

  • 'Sir,' said Mr Johnson, 'a lawyer has no business with the justice or injustice of the cause which he undertakes, unless his client asks his opinion, and then he is bound to give it honestly. The justice or injustice of the cause is to be decided by the judge.'
    • (15 August 1773)
  • I fancy mankind may come, in time, to write all aphoristically.
  • Influence must ever be in proportion to property; and it is right it should.
    • Quoting Samuel Johnson (18 August 1773)
  • In every place, where there is any thing worthy of observation, there should be a short printed directory for strangers.
    • (19 August 1773)
  • As all who come into the country must obey the King, so all who come into an university must be of the Church.
    • Quoting Samuel Johnson (19 August 1773)
  • I regretted I was not the head of a clan; however, though not possessed of such an hereditary advantage, I would always endeavour to make my tenants follow me.
    • (31 August 1773
  • Such groundless fears will arise in the mind, before it has resumed its vigour after sleep!
    • (1 September 1773)

The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (1791)

  • When I called upon Dr. Johnson next morning, I found him highly satisfied with his colloquial prowess the preceding evening. "Well, (said he,) we had good talk." BOSWELL: "Yes, Sir, you tossed and gored several persons."
    • 1768
  • He who has provoked the lash of wit, cannot complain that he smarts from it.
  • His mind resembled the vast ampitheatre, the Colisæum at Rome. In the centre stood his judgement, which like a mighty gladiator, combated those apprehensions that, like the wild beasts of the Arena, were all around in cells, ready to be let out upon him. After a conflict, he drives them back into their dens; but not killing them, they were still assailing him.
    • Referring to Johnson (26 October 1769)
  • We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over.
    • (19 September 1777)
  • You are a philosopher, Dr. Johnson. I have tried too in my time to be a philosopher; but, I don't know how, cheerfulness was always breaking in.
    • Quoting Edwards, an old schoolmate of Johnson's (17 April 1778)
  • Then, all censure of a man's self is oblique praise.
    • (25 April 1778)
  • What can he mean by coming among us? He is not only dull himself, but the cause of dullness in others.
    • Spoken by Samuel Foote about a "law-Lord" (1783)
  • [...] for the Doctor observed, that no man takes upon himself small blemishes without supposing that great abilities are attributed to him; and that, in short, this affectation of candour or modesty was but another kind of indirect self-praise, and had its foundation in vanity.
    • (30 November 1784)
  • Johnson is dead. Let us go to the next best — there is nobody; no man can be said to put you in mind of Johnson.
    • Quoting William Gerard Hamilton (1784)


  • I do not recollect having had any other valuable principle impressed upon me by my father except a strict regard for truth, which he impressed upon my mind by a hearty beating at an early age when I lied, and then talking of the dishonour of lying.
  • My heart warmed to my countrymen, and my Scotch blood boiled with indignation. I jumped from the benches, roared out 'Damn you, you rascals!', hissed and was in the greatest rage ... I hated the English; I wished from my soul that the Union was broke and that we might give them another battle of Bannockburn.
    • Recounting a situation where Londoners had been openly mocking two Highland officers and he had jumped to their defence.[1]
  • For my own part I think no innocent species of wit or pleasantry should be suppressed: and that a good pun may be admitted among the smaller excellencies of lively conversation.
  • We bade adieu to each other affectionately in the carriage. When he had got down upon the foot pavement he called out 'Fare you well'; and without looking back, sprung away with a kind of pathetic briskness, if I may use that expression, which seemed to indicate a struggle to conceal uneasiness, and impressed me with a foreboding of our long, long separation.
    • On his last meeting with Johnson.
  • Samuel Johnson: In England we wouldn't think of eating oats. We only feed them to Horses.
    Boswell: "Well, maybe that's why in England you have better horses, and in Scotland we have better men".
    • Conversation in response to Johnson criticising Boswell for the latter's Scottish habit of eating oats for breakfast.


  1. Ruaridh Nicoll: As a Scot, I hate this idea of a neutered nation, The Observer]

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

JAMES BOSWELL (1740-1795), Scottish man of letters, the biographer of Samuel Johnson, was born at Edinburgh on the 29th of October 1740. His grandfather was in good practice at the Scottish bar, and his father, Alexander Boswell of Auchinleck, was also a noted advocate, who, on his elevation to the supreme court in 1754, took the name of his Ayrshire property as Lord Auchinleck. A Thomas Boswell (said upon doubtful evidence to have been a minstrel in the household of James IV.) was killed at Flodden, and since 1513 the family had greatly improved its position in the world by intermarriage with the first Scots nobility. In contradiction to his father, a rigid Presbyterian Whig, James was "a fine boy, wore a white cockade, and prayed for King James until his uncle Cochrane gave him a shilling to pray for King George, which he accordingly did" ("Whigs of all ages are made in the same way" was Johnson's comment). He met one or two English boys, and acquired a "tincture of polite letters" at the high school in Edinburgh. Like R. L. Stevenson, he early frequented society such as that of the actors at the Edinburgh theatre, sternly disapproved of by his father. At the university, where he was constrained for a season to study civil law, he met William Johnson Temple, his future friend and correspondent. The letters of Boswell to his "Atticus" were first published by Bentley in 1857. One winter he spent at Glasgow, where he sat under Adam Smith, who was then lecturing on moral philosophy and rhetoric.

In 1760 he was first brought into contact with "the elegance, the refinement and the liberality" of London society, for which he had long sighed. The young earl of Eglintoun took him to Newmarket and introduced him into the society of "the great, the gay and the ingenious." He wrote a poem called "The Cub at Newmarket," published by Dodsley in 1762, and had visions of entering the Guards. Reclaimed with some difficulty by his father from his rakish companions in the metropolis, he contrived to alleviate the irksomeness of law study in Edinburgh by forcing his acquaintance upon the celebrities then assembled in the northern capital, among them Kames, Blair, Robertson, Hume and Sir David Dalrymple (Lord Hailes), of whose sayings on the Northern Circuit he kept a brief journal. Boswell had already realized his vocation, the exercise of which was to give a new word to the language. He had begun to Boswellize. He was already on the track of bigger game - the biggest available in the Britain of that day. In the spring of 1763 Boswell came to a composition with his father. He consented to give up his pursuit of a guidon in the Guards and three and sixpence a day on condition that his father would allow him to study civil law on the continent. He set out in April 1763 by "the best road in Scotland" with a servant, on horseback like himself, in "a cocked hat, a brown wig, brown coat made in the court fashion, red vest,. corduroy small clothes and long military boots." On Monday, the 16th of May 1763, in the back shop of Tom Davies the bookseller, No. 8 Russell Street, Covent Garden, James Boswell first met "Dictionary Johnson," the great man of his dreams, and was severely buffeted by him. Eight days later, on Tuesday, the 24th of May, Boswell boldly called on Mr Johnson at his chambers on the first floor of No. 1 Inner Temple Lane. On this occasion Johnson pressed him to stay; on the 13th of June he said, "Come to me as often as you can"; on the 25th of June Boswell gave the great man a little sketch of his own life, and Johnson exclaimed with warmth, "Give me your hand; I have taken a liking to you." Boswell experienced a variety of sensations, among which exultation was predominant. Some one asked, "Who is this Scotch cur at Johnson's heels?" "He is not a cur," replied Goldsmith, "he is only a bur. Tom Davies flung him at Johnson in sport, and he has the faculty of sticking." Johnson was fifty-four at this time and Boswell twenty-three. After June 1763 they met on something like 270 subsequent days. These meetings formed the memorable part of Boswell's life, and they are told inimitably in his famous biography of his friend.

The friendship, consecrated by the most delightful of biographies, and one of the most gorgeous feasts in the whole banquet of letters, was not so ill-assorted as has been inconsiderately maintained. Boswell's freshness at the table of conversation gave a new zest to every maxim that Johnson enunciated, while Boswell developed a perfect genius for interpreting the kind of worldly philosophy at which Johnson was so unapproachable. Both men welcomed an excuse for avoiding the task-work of life. Johnson's favourite indulgence was to talk; Boswell's great idea of success to elicit memorable conversation. Boswell is almost equally admirable as a reporter and as an interviewer, as a collector and as a researcher. He prepared meetings for Johnson, he prepared topics for him, he drew him out on questions of the day, he secured a copy of his famous letter to Lord Chesterfield, he obtained an almost verbatim report of Johnson's interview with the king, he frequented the tea-table of Miss Williams, he attended the testy old scholar on lengthy peregrinations in the Highlands and in the midlands. "Sir," said Johnson to his follower, "you appear to have only two subjects, yourself and me, and I am sick of both." Yet thorough as the scheme was from the outset, and admirable as was the devotedness of the biographer, Boswell was far too volatile a man to confine himself to any one ambition in life that was not consistent with a large amount of present fame and notoriety. He would have liked to Boswellize the popular idol Wilkes, or Chatham, or Voltaire, or even the great Frederick himself. As it was, during his continental tour he managed in the autumn of 1765 to get on terms with Pasquale di Paoli, the leader of the Corsican insurgents in their unwise struggle against Genoa. After a few weeks in Corsica he returned to London in February 1766, and was received by Johnson with the utmost cordiality. In accordance with the family compact referred to he was now admitted advocate at Edinburgh, and signalized his return to the law by an enthusiastic pamphlet entitled The Essence of the Douglas Cause (November 1767), in which he vigorously repelled the charge of imposture from the youthful claimant. In the same year he issued a little book called Dorando, containing a history of the Douglas cause in the guise of a Spanish tale, and bringing the story to a conclusion by the triumph of Archibald Douglas in the law courts.. Editors who published extracts while the case was still sub judice were censured severely by the court of session; but though his identity was notorious the author himself escaped censure. In the spring of 1768 Boswell published through the Foulis brothers of Glasgow his Account of Corsica, Journal of a Tour to that Island, and Memoirs of Pascal Paoli. The liveliness of personal impression which he managed to communicate to all his books gained for this one a deserved success, and the Tour was promptly translated into French, German, Italian and Dutch. Walpole and others, jeered, but Boswell was talked about everywhere, as Paoli Boswell or Paoli's Englishman, and to aid the mob in the task of identifying him at the Shakespeare jubilee of 1769 he took the trouble to insert a placard in his hat bearing the legend "Corsica Boswell." The amazing costume of "a Corsican chief" which he wore on this occasion was described at length in the magazines.

On the 25th of November 1769, after a short tour in Ireland undertaken to empty his head of Corsica (Johnson's emphatic direction), Boswell married his cousin Margaret Montgomery at Lainshaw in Ayrshire. For some years henceforth his visits to London were brief, but on the 30th of April 1773 he was present at his admission to the Literary Club, for which honour he had been proposed by Johnson himself, and in the autumn of this year in the course of his tour to the Hebrides Johnson visited the Boswells in Ayrshire. Neither Boswell's father nor his wife shared his enthusiasm for the lexicographer. Lord Auchinleck remarked that Jamie was "gave clean gyte ... And whose tail do ye think he has pinned himself to now, man? A dominie, an auld dominie, that keepit a schule and ca'd it an academy!" Housewives less prim than Mrs Boswell might have objected to Johnson's habit of turning lighted candles upside down when in the parlour to make them burn better. She called the great man a bear. Boswell's Journal of a Tour in the Hebrides was written for the most part during the journey, but was not published until the spring of 1786. The diary of Pepys was not then known to the public, and Boswell's indiscretions as to the emotions aroused in him by the neat ladies' maids at Inveraray, and the extremity of drunkenness which he exhibited at Corrichatachin, created a literary sensation and sent the Tour through three editions in one year. In the meantime his pecuniary and other difficulties at home were great; he made hardly more than £ioo a year by his profession, and his relations with his father were chronically strained. In 1775 he began to keep terms at the Inner Temple and managed to see a good deal of Johnson, between whom and John Wilkes he succeeded in bringing about a meeting at the famous dinner at Dilly's on the 15th of May 1776. On the 30th of August 1782 his father died, leaving him an estate worth £1600 a year. On the 30th of June 1784, Boswell met Johnson for the last time at a dinner at Sir Joshua Reynolds's. He accompanied him back in the coach from Leicester Square to Bolt Court. "We bade adieu to each other affectionately in the carriage. When he had got down upon the foot pavement he called out ` Fare you well'; and without looking back, sprung away with a kind of pathetic briskness, if I may use that expression, which seemed to indicate a struggle to conceal uneasiness, and impressed me with a foreboding of our long, long separation." Johnson died that year, and two years later the Boswells moved to London. In 1789 Mrs Boswell died, leaving five children. She had been an excellent mother and a good wife, despite the infidelities and drunkenness of her husband, and from her death Boswell relapsed into worse excesses, grievously aggravated by hypochondria. He died of a complication of disorders at his house in Great Poland Street on the 19th of May 1795, and was buried a fortnight later at Auchinleck.

Up to the eve of his last illness Boswell had been busy upon his magnum opus, The Life of Samuel Johnson, which was in process of crystallization to the last. The first edition was published in two quarto volumes in an edition of 1700 copies on the 16th of May 1791. He was preparing a third edition when he died; this was completed by his friend Edmund Malone, who brought out a fifth edition in 1807. That of James Boswell junior (the editor of Malone's Variorum Shakespeare, 1821) appeared in 1811.

The Life of Johnson was written on a scale practically unknown to biographers before Boswell. It is a full-length with all the blotches and pimples revealed ("I will not make my tiger a cat to please anybody," wrote "Bozzy"). It may be overmuch an exhibition of oddities, but it is also, be it remembered, a pioneer application of the experimental method to the determination of human character. Its size and lack of divisions (to divide it into chapters was an original device of Croker's) are a drawback, and have prevented Boswell's Life from that assured triumph abroad which has fallen to the lot of various English classics such as Robinson Crusoe or Gulliver's Travels. But wherever English is spoken, it has become a veritable sacred book and has pervaded English life and thought in the same way, that the Bible, Shakespeare and Bunyan have done. Boswell has successfully (to use his own phrase) "Johnsonized" Britain, but has not yet Johnsonized the planet. The model originally proposed to himself by Boswell was Mason's Life of Gray, but he far surpassed that, or indeed any other, model. The fashion that Boswell adopted of giving the conversations not in the neutral tints of oratio obliqua but in full oratio recta was a stroke of genius. But he is far from being the mere mechanical transmitter of good things. He is a dramatic and descriptive artist of the first order. The extraordinary vitality of his figures postulates a certain admixture of fiction, and it is certain that Boswell exaggerates the sympathy expressed in word or deed by Johnson for some of his own tenderer foibles. But, on the whole, the best judges are of opinion that Boswell's accuracy is exceptional, as it is undoubtedly seconded by a power of observation of a singular retentiveness and intensity. The difficulty of dramatic description can only be realized, as Jowett well pointed out, by those who have attempted it, and it is not until we compare Boswell's reports with those of less skilful hearers that we can appreciate the skill with which the essence of a conversation is extracted, and the whole scene indicated by a few telling touches. The result is that Johnson, not, it is true, in the early days of his poverty, total idleness and the pride of literature, but in the fulness of fame and competence of fortune from 1763 to 1784, is better known to us than any other man in history. The old theory to explain such a marvel (originally propounded by Gray when the Tour in Corsica appeared) that "any fool may write a valuable book by chance" is now regarded as untenable. If fool is a word to describe Boswell (and his folly was at times transcendent) he wrote his great book because and not in despite of the fact that he was one. There can be no doubt, in fact, that he was a biographical genius, and that he arranged his opportunities just as he prepared his transitions and introduced those inimitable glosses by which Johnson's motives are explained, his state of mind upon particular occasions indicated, and the general feeling of his company conveyed. This remarkable literary faculty, however, was but a fraction of the total make-up requisite to produce such a masterpiece as the Life. There is a touch of genius, too, in the naïf and imperturbable good nature and persistency ("Sir, I will not be baited with ` what ' and ` why.' ` Why is a cow's tail long?' ` Why is a fox's tail bushy?'"), and even in the abnegation of all personal dignity, with which Boswell pursued his hero. As he himself said of Goldsmith, "He had sagacity enough to cultivate assiduously the acquaintance of Johnson, and his faculties were gradually enlarged." Character, the vital principle of the individual, is the ignis fatuus of the mechanical biographer. Its attainment may be secured by a variety of means - witness Xenophon, Cellini, Aubrey, Lockhart and Froude - but it has never been attained with such complete intensity as by Boswell in his Life of Johnson. The more we study Boswell, the more we compare him with other biographers, the greater his work appears.

The eleventh edition of Boswell's Johnson was brought out by John Wilson Croker in 1831; in this the original text is expanded by numerous letters and variorum anecdotes and is already kneedeep in annotation. Its blunders provoked the celebrated and mutually corrective criticisms of Macaulay and Carlyle. Its value as an unrivalled granary of Johnsoniana, stored opportunely before the last links with a Johnsonian age had disappeared, has not been adequately recognized. A new edition of the original text was issued in 1874 by Percy Fitzgerald (who has also written a useful life of James Boswell in 2 vols., London, 1891); a six-volume edition, including the Tour and Johnsoniana, was published by the Rev. Alexander Napier in 1884; the definitive edition is that by Dr Birkbeck Hill in 6 vols., 1887, with copious annotations and a model index. A generously illustrated edition was completed in 1907 in two large volumes by Roger Ingpen, and reprints of value have also been edited by R. Carruthers (with woodcuts), A. Birrell, Mowbray Morris (Globe edition) and Austin Dobson. A short biography of Boswell was written in 1896 by W. Keith Leask. Boswell's commonplace-book was published in 1876, under the title of Boswelliana, with a memoir by the Rev. C. Rogers. (T. SE.)

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Simple English

James Boswell (October 29, 1740 - May 19, 1795) was a Scottish lawyer and author. He is best known for having written the Life of Johnson, a biography of his close friend Samuel Johnson, published in 1791. In the 1920s and 1930s, a large number of his personal papers and journals were discovered. They have since then been published by Yale University.

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