James Boswell. 1791. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co.. Inc. 1949.
10-second review: Boswell gathered every scrap of Johnson’s conversation in order to re-create the great lexicographer’s life in London’s pubs, homes and society. Never has there been a more thorough biography.
Sample Quotes: Boswell: “And he will be seen as he really was; for I profess to write, not his panegyric, which must be all praise, but his life; which great and good as he was, must not be supposed to be entirely perfect.” p. 8. .......... “What I consider as the peculiar value of the following work is the quantity it contains of Johnson’s conversation; which is universally acknowledged to have been eminently instructive and entertaining.” p. 8. .......... “In following so very eminent a man from the cradle to his grave, every minute particular, which can throw light on the progress of his mind, is interesting.” p. 14. ........... Johnson on Mr. Hunter, the headmaster: “He used…to beat us unmercifully, and he did not distinguish between ignorance and negligence, for he would beat a boy equally for not knowing a thing, as for neglecting to know it.” p. 18.
“The ‘morbid melancholy,’ which was lurking in his constitution…an horrible hypochondria, with perpetual irritation, fretfulness and impatience; and with a dejection, gloom and despair which made existence misery.” p. 30. .......... “He had a peculiar facility in seizing at once what was valuable in any book, without submitting to the labor of perusing it from beginning to end.” p. 34. .......... Johnson: “Sure, of all blockheads, scholars are the worst.” p. 35. .......... Johnson: “…as it has been said, that Tories are Whigs when out of place, and Whigs Tories when in place.” p. 71. .......... “The great business of his life (he said) was to escape from himself…which nothing cured but company.” p. 82.
“Sir Joshua Reynolds once asked him by what means he had attained his extraordinary accuracy and flow of language…had early laid it down as a fixed rule to do his best on every occasion and in every company to impart whatever he knew in the most forcible language he could put it in; and that by constant practice, and never suffering any careless expressions to escape him, or attempting to deliver his thoughts without arranging them in the clearest manner, it became habitual to him.” p. 119.
As detailed as it is, Boswell’s biography of Johnson is fascinating to read. RayS.