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James Boswell (1) (1740–1795)

Author of The Life of Samuel Johnson

For other authors named James Boswell, see the disambiguation page.

307+ Works 9,492 Members 104 Reviews 31 Favorited

About the Author

James Boswell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1740 of an old and honored family. As a young man, Boswell was ambitious to have a literary career but reluctantly obeying the wishes of his father, a Scottish Judge, he followed a career in the law. He was admitted to the Scottish bar in 1766. show more However, his legal practice did not prevent him from writing a series of periodical essays, The Hypochondriac (1777-83), and his Journal of a Tour of the Hebrides (1785), was an account of the journey to the outer islands of Scotland undertaken with Samuel Johnson in 1773. In addition, Boswell wrote the impulsively frank Journals, private papers lost to history until they were discovered by modern scholars and issued in a multivolume set. Known during much of his life as Corsican Boswell for his authorship of An Account of Corsica in 1768, his first considerable work, Boswell now bears a name that is synonymous with biographer. The reason rests in the achievement of his Life of Samuel Johnson published in 1791, seven years after the death of Johnson. Boswell recorded in his diary the anxiety of the long-awaited encounter with Johnson, on May 16, 1763, in the back parlor of a London bookstore, and upon their first meeting he began collecting Johnson's conversations and opinions. Johnson was a daunting subject for a biographer, in part because of his extraordinary, outsized presence and, in part because Johnson himself was a pioneer in the art of literary biography. Boswell met the challenge by taking an anecdotal, year-by-year approach to the wealth of biographical material he gathered. show less
Image credit: Boswell reedited


Works by James Boswell

The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 3,892 copies
Meeting Dr. Johnson (1996) 110 copies
Everybody's Boswell (1930) 68 copies
Life of Johnson - Vol. 1 (1914) 61 copies
Life of Johnson - Vol. 2 (1791) 55 copies
Boswell's Column 1777-1783 (1951) 28 copies
Life of Johnson - Vol. 5 (2003) 12 copies
Life of Johnson - Vol. 6 (2011) 11 copies
Life of Johnson, Volume 2 (1949) 9 copies
Boswell on the Grand Tour (1993) 9 copies
Dorando : a Spanish tale (1974) 8 copies
Letters of James Boswell (1924) 7 copies
Corsica. ( Korsika) (1989) 4 copies
LETTERS OF JAMES BOSWELL (2013) — Author — 3 copies
The Hypochondriack (1928) 2 copies
Arte de la biografía — Contributor — 2 copies
Boswell's London (1978) 1 copy
Journals 1 copy

Associated Works

The Assassin's Cloak: An Anthology of the World's Greatest Diarists (2000) — Contributor, some editions — 551 copies
The Literary Cat (1977) — Contributor — 241 copies
Eighteenth-Century English Literature (1969) — Author — 187 copies
Candide [Norton Critical Edition, 1st ed.] (1966) — Contributor — 153 copies
Major British Writers, Volumes I and II (1954) — Contributor — 122 copies
The Norton Book of Travel (1987) — Contributor — 110 copies
The Norton Book of Friendship (1991) — Contributor — 96 copies


18th century (638) 18th century literature (61) anthology (194) autobiography (156) biography (1,585) Boswell (218) Boswell/Johnson (37) Britain (47) British (122) British history (55) British literature (119) cats (76) classic (66) classics (126) diary (422) England (167) English (99) English literature (295) essays (56) fiction (106) Folio Society (110) hardcover (52) Hebrides (54) history (440) James Boswell (151) Johnson (123) journal (192) letters (53) literary biography (51) literature (412) London (143) memoir (201) non-fiction (553) poetry (49) read (36) Samuel Johnson (267) Scotland (237) to-read (257) travel (355) unread (69)

Common Knowledge

Other names
Laird of Auchinleck
Date of death
Burial location
Auchinleck Church, Auchinleck, Ayrshire, Scotland, UK
Country (for map)
Scotland, UK
Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
Place of death
London, England, UK
Places of residence
London, England, UK
Auchinleck, Scotland, UK
University of Edinburgh
University of Glasgow
University of Utrecht
Edinburgh High School
Johnson, Samuel (friend)
Boswell, Alexander (son)
The Literary Club
Short biography
James Boswell's fame and accomplishments are such that his name has become synonymous with a close friend and biographer. Although many of his great works and correspondence were lost to scholars for many years, they were fortunately discovered in the 1920s and later published.



How do I catalogue a book which contains 2 works in Talk about LibraryThing (July 2011)


Long, entertaining and anecdotal.
sfj2 | 41 other reviews | Apr 3, 2024 |
Readable, engrossing, sometimes amusing - a classic read.
sfj2 | 9 other reviews | Mar 29, 2024 |
Fascinating, for several reasons: that Johnson is an extraordinary character, that London in the 1760s was an exciting place, that Boswell’s anecdotal voice is pleasurable to read - not least because of the cross-currents of ideas (current today) that were being tested as they flowed through and around what is quite an intimate relationship between the two men.

On the one hand, Boswell, when invited to dinner at Johnson’s house had low expectations:
I supposed we scarcely have knives and forks…but the fact was we had very good soup, a boiled leg of lamb and spinach, a veal pie. and a rice pudding. (p.164)
and on the other the pervasive influences of Rousseau (dismissed by Johnson as nonsense)
…the happiness of a savage life;…’Here I am free and unrestrained, amidst the rude magnificence of Nature, with this Indian woman by my side, and this gun with which I can procure food when I want it: what more can be desired for human happiness?’…Johnson. …gross absurdity. It is sad stuff; it is brutish…(p.166)
Johnson has a tendency to make assertions with little foundation or evidence other than the weight of a turn of phrase or contrarian obstinance.
…he loved to display his ingenuity in argument; and therefore would sometimes in conversation maintain opinions which he was sensible were wrong, but in supporting which, his reasoning and wit would be most conspicuous. (p. 209)
I found myself noting many passages. One I thought applied to me and I'll note is here for reference
'Sir, a man may be so much of every thing, that he is nothing of any thing'. (p.288)

Perhaps it’s that the anecdotes include so many notable encounters amidst the daily routines of eating and visiting that this ‘Life’ can't help but be consumed, not just as an intellectual journey but where tangible remnants in the physical world prompt other depths: I've been fortunate to have visited Dr Johnson's house in London at 17 Gough Square, my sister once gave me a William Hogarth illustration from [b:The Analysis of Beauty|23672505|The Analysis of Beauty (Dover Books of Fine Art)|William Hogarth|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1429097330l/23672505._SY75_.jpg|916332], and from my maternal grandfather, I have a complete 1805 set of The Plays of William Shakespeare which includes Dr Johnson's Preface.

I'll now exhume my memories of Gough Square, explore Hogarth's The Analysis of Beauty, and read Dr Johnson's Preface to Shakespeare. The danger is that I'll become obsessed with 18th Century London.
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simonpockley | 41 other reviews | Feb 25, 2024 |
James Boswell was chiefly known asthe biographer of Samuel Johnson, and his journal of the rip to the Hebrides and life of Johnson were often reprinted in the noneteenth and early twentieth centuries. Boswell's other papers, including his masses of journals were consigned to the libraries of his descendants, who were a good deal less impressed by the memories of the private man, as oppposed to the monumental biographer. These respectable Prebyterians regarded James B, as a very poor specimen of humanity. Here the papers moldered until 1948, when the journals were gifted to Yale University in the USA. Frederick Pottle idly encuntered them in the catalogue, and read with increasing enthusiasm, the mass. It was the equivalent of Samuel Pepys' diary, so far as evoking the image and spirit and rhythmn of the 18th century British upper class. By 1950, the first volume chronicling Boswell's descent upon London, where he was trying to get himself a commission in the Guards' Regiments, allowing himself complete access to London literary and theatrical life, while enjoying a healthy allowance from his father, a pillar of the Scottish Bar. James B, inevitably clashed with that man, who much wished for his son to follow in his own respectable and financially remunerative footsteps. But, while Boswell was in London, he was in what he would have called the thick of the social whirl, in a bubbling of private culture. At this time, Boswell was writing everything down that he could remember before turning in for the night, and it creates a rich portrait of this cultural period. It reads extremely well, and Pottle provides a competent critical framework for appreciating the journal
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DinadansFriend | 16 other reviews | Dec 22, 2023 |



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