James Boswell

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Boswell, James

Boswell, James, 1740–95, Scottish author, b. Edinburgh; son of a distinguished judge. At his father's insistence the young Boswell reluctantly studied law. Admitted to the bar in 1766, he practiced throughout his life, but his true interest was in a literary career and in associating with the great men of his day. Boswell first met Samuel Johnson on a trip to London in 1763. The same year he traveled about the Continent, where he made the acquaintance of Rousseau and Voltaire. He achieved literary fame with his Account of Corsica (1768), based on his visit to that island and on his acquaintance with the Corsican patriot Pasquale Paoli. Boswell married his cousin Margaret Montgomerie in 1769.

In 1773 Boswell became a member of Johnson's club, to which Burke, Garrick, Reynolds, Goldsmith, and other 18th-century luminaries also belonged. Later that year he and Johnson toured Scotland, a visit Boswell described in The Journal of a Tour of the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (1785; complete edition from manuscript, 1936). His great work, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D., appeared in 1791. In it Boswell recorded Johnson's conversation minutely, but with a fine sense of critical judgment. So skillful was his work that Johnson is perhaps better remembered today for his sayings in the biography than for his own works. The curious combination of Boswell's own character (he was vainglorious, a heavy drinker, and a libertine) and his genius at biography have intrigued later critics, many of whom conclude that he is the greatest biographer in Western literature. Misconduct led to poverty and ill health in his final years.

In the 20th cent. great masses of Boswell manuscripts—journals, letters, and other papers—were discovered, most of them at Malahide Castle, Ireland. Lt. Col. Ralph H. Isham purchased the first in 1927 and sold these and later finds to Yale. Publication of these “Yale Editions of the Private Papers,” under the editorship of Frederick A. Pottle and others, reached many volumes. The recent findings, most particularly his voluminous journals, have enhanced Boswell's literary reputation. Always lively and, at times, even exciting, the journals portray Boswell's daily life in extraordinary detail. They are written in an easy, colloquial style, which resembles the style of many modern authors.


See F. A. Pottle, James Boswell: The Earlier Years, 1740–1769 (2d ed. 1984), F. Brady, James Boswell: The Later Years, 1769–95 (1984), and P. Martin, A Life of James Boswell (2000); studies by J. L. Clifford (1970), D. L. Passler (1971), H. Pearson (1958, repr. 1972), W. R. Siebenschuh (1972), and A. Sisman (2001); L. Damrosch, The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age (2019).

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Boswell, James

(1740–1793) Scottish author and devoted biographer of Samuel Johnson. [Br. Hist.: NCE, 341]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
James Boswell (1906-71), a native of New Zealand who had come to London to study at the RCA, recalled the happy contrast of the Second World War when it came bringing commissions and a social forum for art, compared with the 'less prosperous days; remembering the difficulty of making ends meet between the wars [...] remembering the long trudge from studio to agency to get the job that was going to pay the rent'.
On 12 February 1763, Sir David Dalrymple, 3rd Baronet of Hailes (1726-1792, soon to be raised to the Scottish judicial bench as Lord Hailes) wrote to his young friend and protege, James Boswell:
Before embarking for Corsica, the great fear that crowded on James Boswell's thoughts was not seasickness, but pirates.
James Boswell took up Mary's cause in England and the end of the story is about Mary's release from prison.
Peter Martin A Life of James Boswell. Yale University Press, 613 pages $35
Don't we return to James Boswell and Lytton Strachey largely for the urbane pleasure of their company?
IT is often called the 'Capital of the Highlands', a phrase coined by the great lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson when he toured the North of Scotland in the company of James Boswell in the late 18th Century.
Here such greats as James Boswell, Jon Juaristi, Jorge Luis Borges, Michael Crichton, Edgar Allan Poe, Kafka, Cabrera Infante, Plato, and Descartes are eulogized and/or praised.
Johnson on John Gay's Blackeyed Susan: 'Why pretend it is a poem about a tar and a wapping wench when they talk like Lord George Graham and a Lady?' (Private Papers of James Boswell, XVIII, 23).
I have to report such a discovery, a copy of the first edition of James Boswell's Lift of Samuel Johnson in two quarto volumes (1791), distinguished from others in the British Library catalogue by the description 'COPIOUS MS.
In addition, there is a chapter on James Boswell the Younger, the son of the famous biographer of Dr.