James Boswell 1740–95

  • Ian McGowan
Part of the St. Martin’s Anthologies of English Literature book series (AEL)


Boswell was the eldest son of the Scottish judge, Lord Auchinleck, a Whig and stern Presbyterian, who opposed his romantic military ambitions and made him follow the family legal tradition. In a period of high life and debauchery in London, Boswell met Samuel Johnson (1763), then left for his Grand Tour on the Continent, during which his pursuit of famous men netted Voltaire and Rousseau. Through Rousseau, he visited Corsica, and attempted to stampede Britain to the cause of its independence: his Account of Corsica (1768) won a European reputation. In Scotland, he practised as an advocate, but never attained high office there or in the political career he sought in England. He regularly visited London for its social and intellectual pleasures, and was elected to The Club. His professional career, his drinking, whoring and melancholy, as well as his encounters with Johnson, were recorded for thirty years in journals of great frankness, vividness and dramatic skill in recording conversations. They have only been published in this century; but in them he had found the materials and the method for his two great books, which are innovations in the art of biography: his Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides (1785) recorded the clash in 1773 between Johnson and Scotland; his Life of Samuel Johnson (1791), a huge work of unprecedented detail, seemed to many a violation of decency and privacy.


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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Nature America Inc. 1989

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  • Ian McGowan

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