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James Boswell is a unique figure in English literature: a classic by virtue of the three masterpieces he published, he is also, in one sense, a contemporary (Collins 7). Much of his best work has been published only in the last thirty years, and some still awaits publication, so that our ideas of the man and his art are still being continuously modified (Collins 7). James Boswell was born in Edinburgh on October 29, 1740 (Collins 6). He is the son of Alexander Boswell, Lord Auchinleck, who was a judge in the Scotland supreme courts (James Boswell (1740 - 1795) ). Boswell's mother, Euphemia Erskine, was descended from a minor branch of Scottish royalty (James Boswell (1740 - 1795) ).
James was the eldest child in the family (James Boswell: Biographer, Diarist & Travel Writer 1740 - 1795). Boswell attended the University of Edinburgh where he studied arts and law. He was already keeping a journal at age 18 (James Boswell (1740 - 1795) ). In 1759, Boswell's father sent him to the University of Glasgow to separate his son from an actress (James Boswell (1740 - 1795) ). James ran away to London in 1759 and embraced Roman Catholicism, planning to become a monk (James Boswell (1740 - 1795) ). In 1762, Boswell was permitted another trip to London, where he made full use of his freedom, overindulging in drink and sex (James Boswell: Biographer, Diarist & Travel Writer 1740 - 1795).
In 1763, he was sent to study law at Utrecht and then traveled widely over the continent (James Boswell: Biographer, Diarist & Travel Writer 1740 - 1795). In Daviess Bookshop in May 1763, Boswell met the man who was to become the central figure in his life, Dr. Samuel Jackson (James Boswell: Biographer, Diarist & Travel Writer 1740 - 1795). Moving back to Scotland in 1766, James was admitted to the bar and he practiced law in Edinburgh for 20 years (James Boswell (1740 - 1795) ). Then he visited Corsica, meeting the Corsica leader General Paoli and in 1768 he published An Account of Corsica, which won him an international reputation (James Boswell: Biographer, Diarist & Travel Writer 1740 - 1795). In 1769, Boswell married Margaret Montgomerie, his cousin; and they had 7 children together (James Boswell (1740 - 1795) ).
Though his visits to London were restricted to the vacations of the Court of Session, Boswell kept his contacts to Johnson, and was elected to the Literary Club in 1773 (James Boswell (1740 - 1795) ). In 1773, Boswell and Johnson made an extensive tour of the Scottish Highlands. Both men wrote account of this journey, Boswell's Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides appearing in 1784 (James Boswell: Biographer, Diarist & Travel Writer 1740 - 1795). In 1791, Boswell published his masterpiece- the Life of Samuel Johnson- generally considered as the greatest English-language biography (James Boswell: Biographer, Diarist & Travel Writer 1740 - 1795). Much of his life Boswell was plagued by his mothers suffocating Calvinism and his fathers coldness (James Boswell (1740 - 1795) ).
Boswell and his father were different in every way; in politics and religion, in tastes and conduct, and in temperament (Collins 9). James father intended for him to be an advocate, although his own ambitions were for a literary or military career (James Boswell: Biographer, Diarist & Travel Writer 1740 - 1795). James was always seeking for the approval and support his father had refused him (Collins 9). Boswell's difficult relationship with his father probably resulted in Johnson becoming a father figure (James Boswell: Biographer & Travel Writer 1740 - 1795). Few men had lived as fully, and to the extent that an obituary column might profile a life, Boswell's had been successful, and distinguished (Zach's 1). James biographical labor was inspired by the same desperate resistance to the flux of things which caused him to preserve each most insignificant relic of his own life, in order to re-live it (Boswell's Life of Johnson 29).
Boswell's portrayal of Johnson in the Tour and the Life is well rounded and objective. He was conscious of art of biography, how habitually aware he was that the ideal biography had never been written, or even attempted (Boswell's Life of Johnson 29). Boswell had claimed that his Life of Johnson would exhibit Johnson more completely than any man who has ever yet lived; can now be seen, as his editor notes, to have surpassed his own achievement (Collins 7). The Boswell papers offer documentary history in its broadest sense-literacy, political, legal, philosophical, agricultural, and social at a pivotal period in modern history (Zach's 1).
His diaries are remarkable for their scope, self-awareness, and frankness. With enthusiasm, Boswell recorded human interaction in the every day world, among small-town politicians, lawyers, clergymen, soldiers, innkeepers, laborers, prostitutes, criminals, and many others (Zach's 1). He also had a phenomenal memory, he loved gossip, good conversation, liquor, travel, and he was a natural writer, From 1760 s onwards, he had published anonymously pamphlets and verses (James Boswell (1740 - 1795) ). The Modern publication of Boswell's diaries revealed a fascinatingly complex character and placed him among the great diarists and auto-biographers (James Boswell: Biographer & Travel Writer 1740 - 1795).
Boswell had often referred to the journals and letters in my Archives at Auchinleck, but only a few minor notebooks and manuscripts seemed to have survived (Collins 7). Colonel Isham purchased the first group of Boswell's papers in 1926 from Boswell's great-great grandson, Lord Talbot de Malahide, for about $ 150, 000 (Zach's 1). In 1949 Isham sold the bulk of his Boswell collection to Yale University for $ 450, 000 (Zach's 1). Though his rank in society as the owner of a large Scottish estate and his abilities as a lawyer might have elevated him to either position, for a man of Boswell's social standing, literary fame alone was not enough (Zach's 1).
Boswell sought out to become acquainted with some of the most remarkable men of his age and drew vivid portraits of their characters in dramatically rendered scenes (Zach's 1). He met every great man within reach: the scholars, Gronovius and Wickelmann, the philosopher Condillac, Lord Mountstuart, the Prime Ministers son, a dozen German princes, the Pope and, most important, Rousseau, Voltaire, and General Paoli (Collins 10). In 1762, he was again in London: he now added to his conquests Goldsmith, the wit and politician Wilkes, and, on the momentous day in 1763, Dr. Samuel Johnson.
Recurrent in Boswell's diaries is a morbid horror of death and destruction which seems to have been a principal element in his hypochondria (Boswell's Life of Johnson 29). His melancholy, or hypochondria, drove him sometimes to the edge of sanity and to thoughts of suicide (Collins 8). The gaiety and high spirits were the peaks, and the melancholy the troughs, of a manic-depressive curve (Collins 9). Hypochondria was the family complaint: one of James brothers was periodically insane, and one of his daughters extremely unbalanced (Collins 9). Against the end of the party Boswell retained all his life the passionate rebellion of a child (Boswell's Life of Johnson 29). He was well known among prostitutes in London's St.
James Park, his sexuality was compulsive and he copulated after watching public hangings, a favorite pastime, and after personal bereavements (James Boswell (1740 - 1795) ). Over a period of 30 years, Boswell contracted gonorrhea 17 times (James Boswell (1740 - 1795) ). Perhaps too many of Boswell's acquaintances knew him to be an intemperate liberal but he also had more true friends than most men have in a lifetime (Zach's 1). Boswell's many friends regarded him, not as a Hamlet, but as a man of good humor naturally, that it was scarcely a virtue (Collins 8). Occasionally he alludes so obscure that no amount of research will unravel its mystery (Zach's 1). On the 19 th of May 1795, Boswell died in a rented house in his beloved England (Zach's 1).
The effects of habitual drinking and some 18 hours of venereal disease had hastened his end at the age of 54 (Zach's 1). Boswell died a disappointed man. The most important people in his life, including his wife Margaret and Dr. Johnson, were all already dead (Zach's 1). He died heavily in debt and worried about the future of his 5 children. A coveted seat in parliament and one at the bench of the Scottish court had both eluded him (Zach's 1).
Boswell's reputation, until this century, was as Johnsons biographer and he is often dismissed as simply the doctors sycophantic disciple (James Boswell: Biographer & Travel Writer 1740 - 1795). James Boswell was buried at his ancestral home, Auchinleck, Ayrshire, ironically, next to his father (Collins 6). Works Cited Boswell's Life of Johnson. Ed. James L. Clifford.
Toronto: Prentice-Hall, Inc. , 1970. Collins, Phillip. James Boswell. London: Longmans, Green & Co. , 1956. James Boswell (1740 - 1795). Books and Writers.
Amazon. com. 2000 web James Boswell: Biographer, Diarist, & Travel Writer 1740 - 1795. Scottish Authors. Online. Available: web 5 May 2002.
Zach's, william. The boswell Quest. Humanities July-August 1995: ! 0 +. SIRS. 5 May 2002 web
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