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Title: Boswell the Biographer
Author: Mallory, George Herbert Leigh
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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  +_April 27^{th}. 1753_+       +_Emery Walker Ph. So._+

+_James Boswell_+

+_from a drawing by George Dance R.A._+]




With a Portrait by George Dance, R.A.

Smith, Elder & Co., 15 Waterloo Place

[All rights reserved]


The responsibility for upwards of 300 pages in print is a burden which
my unaccustomed conscience cannot easily bear, and by accepting it I
lose for ever the unassailable dignity of private criticism. In these
circumstances I approach my readers in an apologetic frame of mind.
I shall not apologise for writing a dull book by explaining in what
manner it is interesting. I had thought of doing something of the
sort, but at the present moment that course presents insuperable
difficulties. An explanation, if not apology, is however necessary;
for this volume is in one sense a compromise. It is less than a
biography and more than an essay. It aims at being not a complete Life
of Boswell, but an explanation of his character. This purpose may not
seem to require so long a treatment as mine. Certainly it would have
been easier to say, and easier to read, all that I have said about
Boswell's psychology in far fewer words. But my design was to prove my
case. Boswell has been so much a subject of controversy that, were
I merely to state my views, I should convince, if anyone is to
be convinced by me, only those who had observed the same facts as
myself--the facts upon which those views are based. By bringing
forward the evidence without stint I have hoped to establish my
opinions on a firmer base.

A list of the books to which I have referred is printed at the
beginning of this volume. I am naturally indebted to the researches of
Dr. G. Birkbeck Hill, to the three biographers of Boswell--Dr. Rogers
(in 'Boswelliana'), Mr. Percy Fitzgerald, and Mr. W. K. Leask--and to
the brilliant study by Carlyle. I must also mention three essays which
have been particularly illuminating--that by W. E. Henley in 'Views
and Reviews,' by Lionel Johnson in 'Post Liminium,' and by Mr. Birrell
in his edition of Boswell's 'Life of Johnson.'

I am grateful especially to Mr. A. C. Benson, whose encouragement
promoted this enterprise, to Mr. G. L. Strachey for many valuable
suggestions, and to Mr. E. H. Marsh for correcting my proofs, which
was no mean labour.


  _July 25, 1912_.


[This is a list of books bearing directly upon Boswell which have been
used for this volume.]

  Birrell, A., Introduction to his edition of Boswell's
  Life of Johnson                                      London, 1906

  Boswell, James:
  Elegy on the Death of an Amiable Young Lady                  1761

  Ode to Tragedy                                               1761

  Collection of Original Poems, contributions to               1762

  The Cub at Newmarket                                         1762

  Critical Strictures on Mallet's Elvira, by A. Erskine and
  J. Boswell                                                   1763

  Correspondence with the Hon. Andrew Erskine                  1763

  Dorando, a Spanish Tale                                      1767

  Essence of the Douglas Cause                                 1767

  Account of Corsica, &c., 2nd edition                         1768
  (1st edition was published 1768)

  British Essays in favour of the Brave Corsicans              1769

  The Hypochondriack in the London Magazine, Oct. 1777
  to Dec. 1779

  Letter to the People of Scotland on the Present State of
  the Nation                                                   1783

  Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides. Ed. G. Birkbeck Hill      1887
  (1st edition 1785)

  Letter to the People of Scotland against the attempt to
  diminish the number of the Lords of Session                  1785

  No Abolition of Slavery, or the Universal Empire of Love     1791

  Life of Johnson. Ed. Right Hon. John Wilson Croker           1866

  Life of Samuel Johnson. Ed. G. Birkbeck Hill. 6 vols.
  Oxford, 1887[1]
  (1st edition 1791)

  Letters to Temple, reprint                           London, 1908[1]

  ---- Life of, see Rogers, Fitzgerald, and Leask.

  Boswelliana, the Commonplace Book of James Boswell,
  London, Grampian Club, 1876

  Burke, Edmund, Correspondence                        London, 1824

  Burney, Miss, _see_ D'Arblay.

  Campbell, Rev. Dr. Thomas, Diary                     London, 1854

  Carlyle, Miscellanies                                London, 1872

  Chatham, Earl of, Correspondence. 4 vols.            London, 1838

  Collection of Original Poems                      Edinburgh, 1763

  Croker, Right Hon. John Wilson, Correspondence
  and Diaries. 3 vols.                                 London, 1884

  D'Arblay, Diary of Madame. Ed. Austin Dobson.
  6 vols.                                              London, 1904

  ---- Memoirs of Dr. Burney. 3 vols.                  London, 1832

  Edinburgh, Traditions of                                     1869

  Eldon, Lord Chancellor, Life of, by Horace Twiss.
  3 vols.                                              London, 1844

  Fitzgerald, Percy, Life of Boswell                   London, 1891

  Forbes, Sir William, Life of James Beattie           London, 1806

  Gentleman's Magazine

  Goldsmith, Life by James Prior. 2 vols.              London, 1837

  Gray, Life by Mason. 2 vols.                         London, 1807

  Hawkins, Sir John, Life of Johnson                   London, 1787

  ---- Lætitia Matilda, Memoirs. 2 vols.               London, 1824

  Henley, W. E., Views and Reviews                     London, 1902

  Hill, Dr. George Birkbeck, Life of Johnson. 6 vols.  Oxford, 1887

  ---- Dr. Johnson, his Friends and Critics            London, 1878
  _See also_ Johnson Club Papers.

  Holcroft, Thomas, Memoirs. 3 vols.                   London, 1816

  Hume, David, Correspondence                          London, 1846

  Ireland, S. W. H., The Confessions of W. H.
  Ireland                                         London, 1805

  Johnson, Dr. Samuel, Dictionary                      London, 1755

  ---- Lives of the Poets                              London, 1781

  ---- Journey to the Western Islands                  London, 1775

  Johnson, Lionel, Post Liminium, Critical Essays      London, 1911

  Johnson Club Papers, by various hands                London, 1899

  Leask, W. K., James Boswell, Famous Scots Series. Edinburgh, 1896

  London Magazine

  Macaulay, Critical and Historical Essays. 3 vols.    London, 1843

  Malone, Life of, Prior                               London, 1860

  More, Hannah, Memoirs of. 4 vols.                    London, 1834

  Nichols, John, Literary Anecdotes of the XVIIIth
  Century. 9 vols.                                  London, 1812-15

  ---- Literary History of the XVIIIth Century.
  8 vols.                                           London, 1817-58

  Piozzi, Mrs., Autobiography. 2 vols.                 London, 1861

  ---- Johnson's Letters to. 2 vols.                   London, 1788

  ---- Anecdotes of the late Samuel Johnson,
  2nd edition                                          London, 1789

  Raleigh, Sir Walter, Six Essays on Johnson           Oxford, 1910

  Reynolds, Sir Joshua, Life by Leslie and Taylor.
  2 vols.                                              London, 1865

  Rogers, Rev. Charles, Memoir of Boswell, in Boswelliana

  Taylor, John, Records of My Life                     London, 1832

  Trevelyan, Sir G. O., Life of Fox                    London, 1912

  Walpole, Horace, Letters. 9 vols.                    London, 1861

    [Footnote 1: All references are to this edition.]



Boswell's 'Life of Johnson' is, as we all know, a unique biography;
it has no rival. Its unchallenged supremacy has a special significance
from the position which Johnson himself retains in literature. For as
it must be admitted that his work has been but little read since his
own day, and that by far his greatest performance, the compiling of
a dictionary, has in its nature nothing of an artistic appeal, it may
well be supposed that the literary men of this age find more to stir
the imagination in the lives of the great figures of the nineteenth
century, in the romance of Byron, Shelley, Keats, and at a later date
of the Pre-Raphaelite group, in the peculiar simplicity of Wordsworth,
the splendour of Tennyson, and the fervid passion of Browning. And yet
we have for Johnson a more intimate place which is all his own.

It is because we know him better. Subsequent biographers, Lockhart,
Froude, Trevelyan--to mention a few of the more successful--have like
Boswell written good biographies: we know much that is interesting
about Scott, Carlyle, and Macaulay. But what we know of Johnson
is more vivid, real, and true; it is the man himself. Boswell is
therefore the first of biographers. He is first beyond the jealousy of
a rival and above the common earth of imitators--as Homer is first
in epic poetry, as Molière and Racine, Shakespeare and Milton are all
first where they most excel. And he is first only for this reason,
that we know most intimately the man who was portrayed by him.

But if the mere extent of our knowledge of Johnson determines the
greatness of Boswell, there is yet some particular appeal besides,
some special charm that wins us in Boswell's 'Johnson.' When we come
to think of the nature of Boswell's value for so many people, we
shall find that it depends not altogether upon the completeness of his
method or his capacity for giving expression to it, but also upon an
interest which exists apart from any structural or artistic quality.
The 'Life of Johnson' is one of those rare books which have by
nature a certain universality. It exists not for one but for every
generation. It is not for the cultured alone nor for the uncultured,
nor yet, if he exists, for the normal person. It is everybody's book.
And this is a fact which requires explanation.

It would be easy if we were merely seeking to distinguish that which
has a special value or quality from what is merely commonplace, if
we simply wished to determine the peculiar flavour and virtue of the
work, to find a number of reasons why the book we are speaking of
should have a special value among biographies. The careful art of the
writer, the vividness of the scenes he depicts, his unrivalled humour,
the mere form of what he presents, including as it does all that he
meant by biography, the interest we feel in the distinguished men
who play, as it were, the minor parts of the drama--all these are
responsible in their several degrees for the pleasure we derive from
Boswell's 'Johnson.'

But to account for its universality we must look elsewhere--to the
simple human interest felt by everyone in two such characters as
Johnson and Boswell. A biography may be written about an interesting
man by a dull one or about a dull man by an interesting one; and
interest in either may be satisfied by reading it: even when both the
men are dull some pleasure may be obtained from a biography by one who
is interested in the psychological phenomenon of dullness. The 'Life
of Johnson' may be read with pleasure, and even with something more
than pleasure, because both Johnson and his biographer are supremely
interesting men. There may be some of Boswell's readers who have
pleasure from his _magnum opus_, for the treatment, as it is
technically called; but it is the subject, or rather one might say the
two subjects, since there is in it so much also of autobiography, that
attract the greater number of them. And there must be many to whom--of
these two historic people, Johnson and Boswell--the more interesting
because he was more interested in himself, the more attractive because
we can see in him more of ourselves, is Boswell the biographer.

       *       *       *       *       *

In presenting the literary portrait of a man there can be no greater
error than to indulge in controversy. It is an error which one may
make very readily, for we have all at heart the love of battle;
moreover, it is easy to contradict another, and difficult to give a
whole picture of one's own. And in the case of Boswell there is
matter for controversy particularly obvious and particularly inviting.
Distinguished men have formed entirely different conceptions of his
character and used the pen with more energy than wisdom to support
their views. It seems clear now that Boswell has been widely

We are confronted at the outset by a sort of popular paradox. Not only
Lord Macaulay, but most of Boswell's contemporaries and most of his
editors, have thought of him as nothing more than a fool--they have
supposed with the poet Gray, 'Any fool may write a most valuable book
by chance.' No one has ever denied that the 'Life' is a good book. No
one after his own generation, till Carlyle, ever denied that Boswell
was a bad man, just the mean, snivelling creature imagined by

Modern criticism has done much to raise the besmirched name of the
biographer, but has managed at the same time to envelop his character
in a sort of generous obscurity. 'Boswell,' Professor Raleigh has
boldly exclaimed, 'was a genius.' The Boswellian student will probably
agree: but in agreeing we must be cautious not to confuse our ideas
about Boswell's character; to say that a man is a genius is not to
say that he is unaccountable for his actions, or even of necessity to
imply that he is mad. The genius is often more complex than other men,
but not more incomprehensible. It is possible, if we like, to look
behind the veil that is drawn between humanity and a particular human
being. We can see in a genius not less than in others the meaning of
all the names which we use to describe life, of love and sympathy,
greed and egoism, hate, fear, joy, and the rest; of all the qualities
that form for better or for worse what we call character, what it is
to be kind or cruel, vain or modest, false or true. Nor, when we say
that Boswell is a genius, do we preclude the possibility of his being
a fool. Boswell was indeed a fool, as is easy enough to show; but he
was not, as was long supposed, a stupid fool.

We do, however, mean something by the term genius; and it is something
of the inward life. The soul of man is composed of combustible matter,
and the violence and quality of its conflagration depend upon the
proportions in which the ingredients are mixed. In certain cases
an abnormal quantity of one substance or another produces an
extraordinary result; and when this result can be classified neither
as criminal nor lunatic it is called by the more approved name of

Two questions therefore are to be asked especially with regard to a
genius: First, in what way was the conflagration peculiar? Secondly,
what were the substances present in abnormal quantity which caused the

It is intended that these two questions shall be answered with regard
to Boswell in the course of this general inquiry concerning his
psychology. It is held that Boswell was a genius; it must be explained
in what his genius consisted, and how, in the end, this abnormal
essence dominated the whole man and inspired the great work of his

       *       *       *       *       *

James Boswell was born in Edinburgh on October 29th, 1740. He came
of an old Scottish stock, and his ancestors, if not eminent, were at
least distinguished men and proud of being the Lairds of Auchinleck.

Of his mother we know but little; she was, however, a woman of 'almost
unexampled piety and goodness.'

Lord Auchinleck, his father, figures occasionally in the various
authorities for Boswell's 'Life,' and we can get a very good picture
of him. Scott gives the following account:

    Old Lord Auchinleck was an able lawyer, a good scholar, after
    the manner of Scotland, and highly valued his own advantages
    as a man of good estate and ancient family; and, moreover, he
    was a strict Presbyterian and Whig of the old Scottish cast.
    This did not prevent his being a terribly proud aristocrat,
    and great was the contempt he entertained and expressed for
    his son James, for the nature of his friendships and the
    character of the personages of whom he was _engoué_ one after
    another. 'There's nae hope for Jamie, mon,' he said to a
    friend. 'Jamie is gaen clean gyte.... Whose tail do you
    think he has pinned himself to now, mon?' Here the old judge
    summoned up a sneer of most sovereign contempt. 'A _dominie_,
    mon--an auld dominie; he keeped a schule and cau'd it an

The Laird, as is evident from the account in the 'Tour to the
Hebrides' of Johnson's visit to Boswell's home, held his opinions
with that conviction which admits of no discussion. A story of him
is related by Scott that when challenged by Johnson to explain the
utility of Cromwell's career, he very curtly remarked: 'God, Doctor,
he gart kings ken they had a lith[1] in their neck.'

Boswell seems to have summed up the situation at home when he wrote in
the _London Magazine_ for 1781:

    I knew a father who was a violent Whig and used to attack his
    son for being a Tory, upbraiding him with being deficient in
    noble sentiments of liberty, while at the same time he made
    this son live under his roof in such bondage as he was not
    only afraid to stir from home without leave like a child, but
    durst scarcely open his mouth in his father's presence. This
    was sad living.

The problem of youth is one of selection. Not many of us accept for
ourselves the whole of our inheritance. Of the influences of our early
years there are some which we reject; and the judgments which we make
about the problems that affected us when young, differ as a rule from
those about other questions which come upon us only in maturer years.
In youth we must either love or hate--there is no indifference; and so
in youth very often are formed the prejudices of a lifetime. Thus it
was with Boswell. It was inevitable that the inflexible, hard-headed
old judge, and the gay, clever son, should agree very ill. The latter
contrived to be in many ways the exact antithesis of his father, and
he had the courage of his opinions. It is remarkable, when we think of
the violence of the old Whig's political views, that in 1745 Boswell
'wore a white cockade and prayed for King James.' The advances of an
uncle it is true were able to purchase his political sympathies, and
for the sum of one shilling Boswell became a Whig. But it is more
decorous, at the age of five, to side with one's father without the
persuasion of a silver bribe, especially upon a question of so great
importance as the choice of a sovereign. For his tutor, Mr. Dunn,
James seems to have retained no startling degree of affection or even
of respect; for it was he who 'discovered a narrowness of information
concerning the dignitaries of the Church of England. He talked before
Dr. Johnson of fat bishops and drowsy deans, and in short seemed to
believe the illiberal and profane scoffings of professed satirists
or vulgar railers'; and so brought upon himself the admirable rebuke:
'Sir, you know no more of our Church than a Hottentot.'

In the uncongenial atmosphere of home Boswell learnt, no doubt, to
dislike instruction and to mistrust what he was told about the way to
live, about manners in the old use of the word. There is, however,
the trace of a pious mother's influence in the respect which Boswell
always showed for religion and for principles. To know what he thought
right or wrong was always of importance to him, however slight the
relation to his practice of these moral decisions. It is possible
indeed that he could never have been better than a tyro in the art of
living: but the close-fettered days of this unfortunate childhood must
be partly responsible for the fact.

When the term of his education at home was accomplished, Boswell very
properly went to school at Edinburgh. We have reason to complain, if
we may complain at all, that we can know nothing of Boswell's school
life. It is idle to conjecture what it was like. We may only suppose
that school was to him a place of comparative freedom, and that to his
schoolfellows his presence there was a valuable source of merriment,
and perhaps also an occasion of maliciousness.

From school Boswell went by a natural sequence to Edinburgh
University: he was barely seventeen years old when the change took
place. It was at Edinburgh University, at Hunter's Greek class, that
Boswell met his lifelong friend William Temple.

Temple is distinguished as the grandfather of an archbishop. Beyond
this his life has no considerable distinction; and beyond the fact
that he was Boswell's friend it has no peculiar interest. His eminence
in the immediate affairs of this world may be rightly judged from
the unembellished statement that, after his ordination in 1766, he
remained a country parson, first at Mamhead, near Exeter, and later
at St. Gluvias, in Cornwall, for his entire life. It is a curiously
undecorated career for one who obtained so large a measure not merely
of Boswell's friendship, but of his admiration.

A sad mischance has denied us at least the gratification of curiosity
by hiding from our view, and perhaps destroying, the letters of Temple
to Boswell; those qualities which attracted the youthful biographer,
and completely won his confidence, are no doubt exposed therein; but
we may not see. Boswell's own letters however reveal something of his
correspondent's character. Temple in the first place--and this perhaps
is the most important fact--was literary. He was evidently a far
better scholar than Boswell, and knew more about books. He was a
writer too in a small way. He published several unpretentious volumes.
They have no particular interest that demands our attention, but one
of them, 'An Essay on the Clergy, &c.,' 'by some divine mischance,'
as Mr. Seccombe puts it, 'materially aided his prospects.' Temple's
ability seems rather to have been that of a critic. In the letters
that he wrote to Boswell he pronounced his views about books and
authors: Boswell esteemed his opinions highly, and there was a
proposal, apparently fruitless, that these passages should be
collected into a book. It would be wrong to assume from Boswell's
optimistic remarks that Temple was really capable of writing anything
valuable. But his opinion was in one instance at least supported by
eminent men of letters. Boswell quoted in a periodical an appreciation
of Gray which Temple wrote at the time of that poet's death; Mason
thought this so good that he inserted it in his 'Life of Gray'; and
Dr. Johnson afterwards included the same passage in the 'Lives of the

Temple, as we see, is not entitled to the fame of Letters; but it is
important to realise, since he was the greatest friend both of the
young and the old Boswell, that though he had not the qualities that
deserve success, and had not the good fortune that may bring it by
chance, he had, however, a certain distinction.

There are other reasons for Boswell's preference. If neither Temple
nor Boswell was a successful man, yet they both desired success in a
quite extraordinary degree, and in the early days of their friendship
at Edinburgh this was a strong link. They perceived, no doubt, that
they were unlike the majority of students, and concluded they were
better than the rest. They looked forward to brilliant careers and
elegant fame, to the respect of princes and the friendship of the
ingenious. Boswell lived for the greater part of his life in a palace
of boyish dreams where Wishes became Destiny, and it is fair to
suppose that Temple at the Scottish University shared this luxury
of anticipation. He, too, could look back to the Edinburgh days and
consider if he were becoming 'the great man, as we used to say.' And
in later life the link held firm; for neither of them was 'the great
man' in the sense that he intended. If they were companions in hopeful
optimism when young, they were equally companions at a maturer age in
the discontent and despair of unrealised ambition.

It might be supposed that any friend of Boswell would play the part
of the strong man. He might not have the capacity of Dr. Johnson for
sweeping away cobwebs and for discouraging complaint, but one would
expect to find him upon the same platform. Temple, however, did not
take this attitude. On the contrary it was Boswell who encouraged
Temple. Not once but many times we find in the letters that Temple has
told the tale of his evil fortune in tones of despondency, and Boswell
tries to present the circumstances in a more favourable light.
Boswell perhaps did not do this very well. Neither the cheerfulness
of optimism nor the consolation of philosophy is sufficient for the
occasion; and it may be doubted whether the philosophy advocated by
Boswell was anything more than an affectation of indifference. But it
does him credit that he should have made the attempt to console,
and at the same time displays the weakness of Temple's character.
Certainly this was not the kind of man to exert a strong influence.
Boswell seems to have regarded him in the light of a father confessor
with whom a certain ceremony is to be performed, and is reproved and
forgiven by a natural sequence, which adds nothing but pleasure to
the agreeable duty of confession. Temple expostulates in the _rôle_ of
parson when the conduct of his friend is particularly damnable; it is
possible there shall be a 'blaze hereafter,' and one must at least be
on the safe side. So Boswell no doubt understood it. The mild reproofs
of his clerical friend never for a moment deterred him either from
doing or from telling of his deed. He came to expect and even to like
them. 'Admonish me, but forgive me,' he says after a particularly
detailed account of his amours; and at a later date, in an expression
which seems to epitomise the relations of the pastor and his erring
sheep, 'Your soft admonitions,' he writes, 'would at any time calm the
tempests of my soul.'

It is clear that Boswell had no moral respect for Temple; it was not
in search of guidance that he told stories of his profligacy, but
simply because he liked to tell them. Boswell, as his friend remarked,
mounted the hobby-horse of his own temperament; this was his perennial
and unfailing interest, and the irrepressible delight which he had in
his own feelings and performances found an outlet in the 'Letters to
Temple' and in many amusing passages in the 'Life of Johnson.'

Boswell no doubt was capable of self-revelation without encouragement,
and it is difficult for this reason to tell how much sympathy he had
from his friend. Temple wanted to hear from Boswell; he asked him to
write, and praised his letters. But his mild disapproval was probably
genuine. When he accuses Boswell of neglecting a friend or of
unkindness to his father, he must have thought himself a more
considerate man. He was not like Boswell, a tippler, and seems to
have been really distressed by the other's intemperate habits. In a
manuscript diary, reports Mr. Seccombe, he describes Boswell, no
doubt in a moment of irritation, as 'irregular in conduct and manners,
selfish, indelicate, no sensibility or feeling for others.' And
yet Temple himself was not above a gross fault; he talks of a 'dear
infidel,' and Boswell exclaims that he is exceeded by his friend.
Boswell no doubt made the most of any lapse on Temple's part from the
path of rectitude; he would like to feel that he had the support of a
respectable companion. His conscience was by no means complacent, and
it would become more tranquil if one whom he respected were in the
same boat with himself. It is conceivable that Temple encouraged
Boswell's confidence with the object of controlling him as much as he
could; his advice certainly was always that he should get well married
instead of carrying on a number of flirtations. But it is difficult to
believe, if we read the letters carefully, that Temple ever appeared
to be shocked by Boswell's confessions; and to the latter no doubt
that was an encouragement.

In brief, we may describe Temple as a refined and well-intentioned
creature, but hardly wise and not courageous. His marriage was so much
a failure that he sought at one time a colonial chaplaincy with the
object of living apart from his wife. He was discontented with his lot
and inclined rather to complain acrimoniously than to make the best of
it. He had apparently no staunch qualities to influence a friend; and
this friend needed a firm monitor.

       *       *       *       *       *

The date of the first of Boswell's letters to Temple is July 1758.
In 1763 he met Johnson. In the five years between these dates we see
Boswell in a number of characteristic lights. The period from
eighteen to twenty-three is commonly held to mark a special change and
development in a man's character. In Boswell's, however, we do not see
this very strongly. As he grew up he did fewer, no doubt, of the
wild things of youth. But he seems hardly to have become older in the
ordinary way, until towards the close of his life. He was always to
the world the gay, good-humoured, sociable being, with a strong vein
of fatuous buffoonery, that we see in these early years. A great
difficulty in rightly understanding Boswell's life lies in this fact.
It seems impossible at times to realise that this was a serious man;
he appears to find the world and himself such a preposterous joke.
And yet if he saw to the full the humour of living, he felt too
very keenly that it was an important matter, that there were real
standards. No one has valued more the opinion of others about
himself, and no one has experienced more miserably the bitterness of
disappointed ambition. It must be our duty, then, to mark, with all
the follies and frivolities which express the youth he retained so
long, a more serious nature within, which showed itself also from time
to time to the outer world.

The course of Boswell's life during this period of five years may be
briefly followed in chronological order. In 1758 he was at Edinburgh
University, and it is from there that his first letter to Temple is
dated. The summer vacation was spent on the Northern Circuit with his
father and Sir David Dalrymple, afterwards also a Scottish judge with
the title of Lord Hailes. In November 1759, he entered Adam Smith's
class for Moral Philosophy in Glasgow University. In 1760 he paid
his first visit to London, and in the spring of 1761 returned to
Edinburgh, where he resided until the close of 1762; he then went for
the second time to London. It was upon this second visit that he met
Dr. Johnson.

It is characteristic of these years that he did not quite know what
he was or what he wanted. He was posing now in one guise and now in
another, wondering the while what his serious purpose might be. At
Edinburgh University he seems to have wished to appear an intellectual
cynic. He writes to Temple:

    Don't be surprised if your grave, sedate, philosophic friend,
    who used to carry it so high, and talk with such composed
    indifference of the beauteous sex, and whom you used
    to admonish not to turn an old man too soon--don't be
    thunderstruck if this same fellow should all at once _subito
    furore obreptus_ commence Don Quixote for his adorable

The inference is clear; the _subito furore obreptus_ type of conduct
is a great change from a sedate indifference.

He often adopted the _rôle_ of the wise counsellor. His letters to
Temple are full of excellent advice. It is always hard to be quite
certain that Boswell is serious, but it is probable that he was
sincere enough in this. He was ready always with sympathy and kind
actions for his friend, and we may conjecture that besides wishing
to appear wise beyond his years he thought that Temple could best be
served by the commonplace advice of the old to the young.

But it is pre-eminently as the promising young _littérateur_ that we
see Boswell in these years. He became acquainted with many interesting
people, who were attracted, no doubt, by a clever young man, fond
of literature and appearing less ignorant than most young men. Lord
Hailes, Lord Kames, and Dr. Robertson were numbered among his friends.
Even Hume took notice of him: 'We talk a great deal of genius, fine
learning, improving in our style, &c., but I am afraid solid learning
is much wore out. Mr. Hume, I think, is a very proper person for a
young man to cultivate an acquaintance with.' Boswell was not eighteen
when he wrote these words. They suggest an amusing picture of a clever
and conceited young genius. He was admitted in 1761 to the Select
Society, a distinguished group of men who represented the best
learning of Edinburgh--a high compliment this, both to his brains and
to his social qualities.

Among Boswell's friends of the aristocracy of letters were several
younger men. Charles Dilly, the publisher, who was afterwards host at
the famous dinner when Dr. Johnson met Jack Wilkes, was a native of
Edinburgh; and George Dempster, who became M.P. for the burghs of Fife
and Forfar in 1762, was, like Boswell, a member of the Select
Society; it was he who afterwards appeared as the disciple of Hume and
Rousseau, and of whom Johnson said, 'I have not met with any man for a
long time who has given me such general displeasure.'

A greater friend than either of these, and one who had far more
influence in forming the literary tastes of Boswell, was the
Honourable Andrew Erskine. This lively young gentleman was both
soldier and writer. His interest in literature was not of a very
creative order: he edited, however, in 1760 and 1761, two volumes of
a 'Collection of Original Poems by the Rev. Mr. Blacklock and other
Scotch Gentlemen,' to which both he and Boswell contributed; in 1764,
he published a farce in two acts, and in 1773 he issued a poem of
twenty-two quarto pages intended 'to expose the false taste for florid
description which prevails in modern poetry.' He appears to have
had considerable discrimination; he was an early admirer of the poet
Burns, and Burns, in a letter to a friend, praises some of Erskine's
songs; an eminent publisher describes him as having 'an excellent
taste in the fine arts.' Such a man may well have had influence with
Boswell, and the two became associated in several small literary

The early tastes and tendencies of Boswell in literary matters are
connected with several influences of a different nature. There was
always a strong instinct of rebellion in Boswell, and with him it
found expression in sympathy for those whom the world rejected.
Some of his friends among those who sought favour of the Muses were
therefore less successful and less respectable than the distinguished
members of the Select Society, the learned and the grave.

Several of these friends were connected in various ways with
the stage. Acting was not supported as an art in Edinburgh, nor
countenanced as a profession, at the time when Boswell was an
undergraduate at the University. But he came in contact with a Mr.
Love who, it would seem, was the first to encourage his sympathy with
the drama. Mr. Love had been connected at one time with Drury Lane
Theatre; fortune cannot have favoured him greatly, since he left
London for Edinburgh; and there after fruitless attempts to practise
private theatricals he became a teacher of elocution. It was in this
last capacity that Boswell met him.

The lessons of Mr. Love were apparently of some use to Boswell; for
Dr. Johnson said in commendation of his English accent, 'Sir,
your pronunciation is not offensive'; and Miss Burney too speaks
approvingly. Mr. Love became the great friend of Boswell after Temple
had proceeded to the University of Cambridge. He is mentioned in
the first of the 'Letters to Temple' as the only other confidant of
Boswell in a matter of the heart; and in the next letter he is called
his 'second-best friend.' Boswell says of him: 'He has not only good
taste, genius and learning, but a good heart.' He must in any case
have been a man of singular virtue, for it was he who persuaded
Boswell to keep a diary. 'I went along with my father to the Northern
Circuit and was so happy as to be in the same chaise as Sir David
Dalrymple the whole way. I kept an exact journal, at the particular
desire of my friend Mr. Love, and sent it to him in sheets every
post.' So was the habit of 'memorandising' begun. Boswell was destined
no doubt to form that habit; it was the most vital factor in his
method of biography; and it was besides a complete expression in
itself of that inner secret which, by a magic touch, was to marshal
the soul of a glorious man before the eyes of us all. The wheel of
Fate might have turned ever so little differently for Boswell and
altered the whole course of his mortal existence; but if it were still
to be Boswell, there must still have been the tablets; and his title
to immortality would have been secured by these alone. And yet, though
the tablets are Boswell's by indubitable birthright, we may allow
ourselves a pious exclamation at the name of Mr. Love.

When Boswell went to Glasgow he made friends with another actor in
depressed circumstances. 'The merchants of Glasgow,' Dr. Rogers tells
us, 'tolerated theatrical representations, obtaining on their boards
such talent as their provincial situation could afford.' Boswell
evidently took an interest in the Glasgow theatre. One of those who
sought a livelihood there was a certain Francis Gentleman, a native
of Ireland, and originally an officer in the army. 'This amiable
gentleman sold his commission in the hope of obtaining fame and
opulence as a dramatic author.' He obtained neither, and became
an actor; and so he qualified to be the friend of Boswell, who
entertained him, and 'encouraged him to publish an edition of
Southern's "Tragedy of Oroonoco."' To Boswell it must have been a
double pleasure to play the patron and to read the dedication of the
volume addressed to himself. Mr. Gentleman thought well of the man who
had befriended him, and the dedication ends thus:

  But where, with honest pleasure, she can find
  Sense, taste, religion, and good nature joined,
  There gladly will she raise her feeble voice
  Nor fear to tell that Boswell is her choice.

On his return to Edinburgh Boswell became more than ever concerned
with the ill-favoured art of the drama. 'The popular prejudice against
theatricals,' says Dr. Rogers, 'was a sufficient cause for our author
falling into the opposite extreme; he threw his whole energies into a
movement which led, six years afterwards, to a theatre being licensed
in the capital.'

He became associated in this movement with a Mr. David Ross, the most
important save Garrick of his actor friends. Ross, too, was acquainted
with misfortune, yet not without earning some kind of celebrity. When
he made his first appearance at Drury Lane, 'he was approved by
a polite and distinguishing audience, who seemed to congratulate
themselves on seeing an actor whom they imagined capable of restoring
to the stage the long-lost character of the real fine gentleman'; and
his first success was followed by a considerable measure of popularity
at Covent Garden. He must have been a good actor, for Garrick is said
to have been jealous of his reputation. It was the 'fine gentleman'
we may suppose that Boswell particularly admired. 'Poor Ross!' he
exclaims at the time of his death; 'he was an unfortunate man in some
respects; but he was a true _bon-vivant_, a most social man, and never
was without good eating and drinking and hearty companions.' These
qualities were no doubt to Boswell the highest recommendation. And
he seems besides to have found the society of actors in general
especially congenial. In his own character there was much of the
actor: he was so often conscious of a part to be played! And he had
a way of occupying the stage when conversing in company. He may have
found, too, that actors appreciated best his lively social qualities.

Ross, though irregular habits, as we are told, may have interfered
with his advancement, was evidently a man of some talents and some
enthusiasm, and eventually he succeeded in starting a theatre in
Edinburgh. He had some respect, it would appear, for Boswell's
talents; for on the occasion of his first performance in the capital
of Scotland, he requested Boswell to write a prologue which the actor
himself was to recite. Boswell can hardly have seen much of Ross
in later years, but the friendship between them was preserved, and
Boswell was chief mourner at the actor's funeral in 1790.

One other friend of Boswell's in these early years must be mentioned
here. Actors may have had particular qualities which made them
attractive to him, but Boswell in any case had always a sympathy with
misfortune which was mere good-nature; he had at the same time an
interest in the shady walks of life, in human nature exhibited under
stress of adverse circumstances, and in an added poignancy to the
performance of intellect when spurred by poverty. These feelings may
account for his friendship with Mr. Derrick the poet. Derrick, like
Love and Gentleman and Ross, was somewhat of a failure. He had been
apprenticed to a linendraper, and deserted the concerns of trade
to seek his fortune as an actor; when Boswell met him as a man
of thirty-six he aspired to be a poet. His verses must have been
remarkably poor; Boswell refers to some of them as 'infamously bad.'
Dr. Johnson, who knew him slightly, 'reproved his muse and condemned
his levity.' But he was a writer, and that meant a great deal to
Boswell; the mark of his profession was a sign of grace. The Doctor
was probably right when he said: 'It is to his being a writer that
he owes anything he has. Sir, had not Derrick been a writer, he would
have been sweeping the crosses in the streets, and asking halfpence
from everybody that passed.' Derrick no doubt was a gay companion, and
Boswell evidently liked him, though not excessively. He was of some
importance, too, in the youth of Boswell, for he was his first tutor
in the ways of London, and these were not entirely good ways.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was as a poet that Boswell was to make his _début_ in literary
performance. Besides his contributions to the collections edited by
Erskine, he published in 1761 two longer poems, 'An Elegy on the Death
of an Amiable Young Lady' and 'An Ode to Tragedy.' The latter
was apparently a serious attempt at poetry; but it serves only
to demonstrate that poetry was quite beyond Boswell's grasp. His
productions were typical of the eighteenth century. He had no
imagination teeming with beautiful images, such as came to a later
generation; the graces and conceits of the Elizabethans, and the
appeal of Nature, were alike unknown to him; and he never acquired the
technical skill which was the merit of the best poets of the age. The
'Ode' is neither better nor worse than might be expected from a wholly
misdirected literary talent; it could have been written by almost
anyone who had read a certain quantity of English verse.

The 'Elegy' also was intended to express a serious vein. It would
be an error to suppose that Boswell meant to be satirical; but
he evidently saw that he might be laughed at as extravagant, and
published it without alteration, introducing some prefatory letters to
ridicule its sentimentality.

In 1762 he published, apparently at his own expense, 'The Cub at
Newmarket, a tale.' This, as he states in the preface, is the story
told in doggerel verse of his visit to the Jockey Club at Newmarket.
He had been taken there when in London by Lord Eglinton, and was
discovered in the coffee-room while in the act of composing. The
Cub at Newmarket is, of course, himself. Lord Eglinton afterwards
introduced him to the Duke of York, to whom Boswell, not unwillingly
we may suppose, read out his poem. It must have been a triumphant
moment for the young author, and he felt obliged to preserve the
memory of it by asking and obtaining leave to dedicate the poem to his
Royal Highness--he desired, as he explains in the preface, 'to let the
world know that this same Cub has been laughed at by the Duke of York,
has been read to his Royal Highness by the genius himself, and warmed
by the immediate beams of his kind indulgence.' The humorous poem is
not remarkably funny; one stanza which describes himself is perhaps
worthy to be quoted:

  He was not of the iron Race,
  Which sometimes Caledonia grace,
  Though he to combat could advance--
  Plumpness shone in his countenance;
  And Belly prominent declar'd
  That he for Beef and Pudding car'd;
  He had a large and pond'rous head,
  That seemed to be composed of lead;
  From which hung down such stiff, lank hair,
  As might the crows in Autumn scare.

But besides being a somewhat light-headed poet, Boswell was anxious
to appear as the 'young Buck.' 'The Epistle of a London Buck to his
Friend' is the title of one of his publications in the 'Collection of
Original Poems.' There is also a confused story of a club he formed
in Edinburgh called the 'Soaping Club,' which existed apparently for
Bacchanalian purposes; Boswell was the king of the Soapers and wrote
some verses about himself:

  Boswell is pleasant and gay,
  For frolic by nature designed;
  He heedlessly rattles away
  When the company is to his mind.
  'This maxim,' he says, 'you may see,
  We never can have corn without chaff';
  So not a bent sixpence cares he,
  Whether _with_ him, or _at_ him you laugh.

  Boswell does women adore,
  And never once means to deceive,
  He's in love with at least half a score;
  If they're serious he smiles in his sleeve.
  He has all the bright fancy of youth,
  With the judgment of forty and five;
  In short, to declare the plain truth,
  There is no better fellow alive.

Stories about 'frolic' (to use Boswell's word) are not as a rule
very laughable, and we are perhaps too apt to consider them as merely
childish and contemptible when they fail to amuse us. The exact
atmosphere of the moment which accounts for its merriment is forgotten
too often and seldom reproduced, and we are left cold after a recital
of such behaviour as we may suppose the Club of Soapers to have
indulged in. In Boswell's character there was a large vein of
buffoonery which is apt when recounted by anyone but himself to appear
stupid enough. But in reality it seems to have contained a true sense
of the incongruous, and had at least the success of making people
laugh. What an incomparable moment that must have been when Boswell,
as one of the audience at Drury Lane theatre, took upon himself to
imitate the lowing of a cow! 'I was so successful in this boyish
frolic,' he relates, 'that the universal cry of the galleries was:
"Encore the cow! Encore the cow!"'

There is nothing very brilliant about Boswell's comic verses, but it
is curious that those we have quoted should represent the facts so

  So not a bent sixpence cares he
  Whether _with_ him or _at_ him you laugh;

these lines express exactly the social principle which Boswell
adopted. He had no objection to men laughing at his oddities so long
as they laughed good-humouredly.

He wished to find gaiety in every company, and it is just to say that
he brought more than his share of mirth regardless of dignity.

There are many other instances of these self-portraits, anonymous
sometimes, but easily to be recognised. We can hardly do better than
illustrate Boswell's life by his own words about himself, because upon
this subject he found it necessary, when he had anything to say,
to say it truthfully. In another early literary venture, the
correspondence between Erskine and Boswell, which these two young
gentlemen published, there is a letter of Boswell's containing an
account of the author of the 'Ode to Tragedy,' which he had published
anonymously; he thus describes himself:

    The author of the 'Ode to Tragedy,' is a most excellent man:
    he is of an ancient family in the West of Scotland, upon which
    he values himself not a little. At his nativity there appeared
    omens of his future greatness; his parts are bright, and his
    education has been good; he has travelled in postchaises miles
    without number; he is fond of seeing much of the world; he
    eats of every good dish, especially apple-pie; he drinks
    old hock; he has a very fine temper; he is somewhat of a
    humourist, and a little tinctured with pride; he has a good,
    manly countenance, and he owns himself to be amorous; he
    has infinite vivacity, yet is observed at times to have a
    melancholy cast; he is rather fat than lean, rather short than
    tall, rather young than old; his shoes are neatly made, and he
    never wears spectacles.

The 'Letters between the Honourable Andrew Erskine and James Boswell,
Esq.' are the most remarkable in some ways of these early literary
ventures. The letters were evidently written from the first with a
view to publication. They are completely frivolous, but attempt to be
satirical and amusing. Boswell and Erskine wish to appear as two young
men of society who are budding poets and have brilliant wit. They
hoped, perhaps, to take the world by storm like the Admirable Crichton
and his friend Aldus. The result, if far from brilliant, is certainly
clever and amusing.

The _rôle_ which Boswell played in this theatrical performance may
be illustrated by some passages of his own letters. He was before
everything else the knight of chivalry--a chivalry which was occupied
exclusively with an excess of romantic attachment and an adoring
worship of female charm. Boswell in real life was extravagant enough,
we may suppose, in his homage to women; but his performance can have
hardly reached the standard set up in the letters to Erskine:

    Lady B---- entreats me to come and pass the Christmas holidays
    with her. Guess, O guess! what transport I felt at reading
    that; I did not know how to contain my elevation of spirits.
    I thought myself one of the greatest geniuses in Europe;
    I thought I could write all sorts of books and work at all
    handicraft trades; I imagined that I had fourscore millions of
    money out at interest, and, that I should actually be chosen
    Pope at the next election.

It is conceivable of course that Boswell imagined that he had
the fourscore millions; there is evidence which might suggest
a misconception of this kind. And it is even possible that he
entertained at some time the dream of becoming Pope. But that at all
events is not meant to appear. It is meant as the froth of youthful
gallantry. There is no deception. We are not expected to suppose that
Boswell was like this: we are expected merely to be amused at the

He represents himself also as the _bon-vivant_. There are allusions to
splendid feasts and there is an 'Ode to Gluttony.' The poet is always
very much to the fore, and his behaviour is supposed to be marked
occasionally by a vein of seriousness, which is to suggest the anxious
cogitation of the philosopher:

    We had a splendid ball.... I exhibited my existence in a
    minuet, and as I was dressed in a full chocolate suit and wore
    my most solemn countenance, I looked, as you used to tell me,
    like the fifth act of a deep tragedy.

Perhaps the most significant passages in these letters are where
Boswell plays the cynic:

    A light heart may bid defiance to fortune. And yet, Erskine,
    I must tell you that I have been a little pensive of late,
    amorously pensive, and disposed to read Shenstone's 'Pastoral
    on Absence,' the tendency of which I greatly admire. A man who
    is in love is like a man who has got the toothache: he feels
    in most acute pain, while nobody pities him. In that situation
    I am at present, but well do I know that I will not be long
    so. So much for inconstancy!

Boswell represented himself in the letters to Erskine very much as
he affected to be in real life--the gay young wit with a serious
background, the jolly good fellow and at the same time the budding
genius, and finally, the cynical philosopher, such as he alludes to
in the first letter to Temple. The whole picture is exaggerated and
laughed at: yet we feel very often that the laughter has a hollow
ring. It is the laughter in reality of one who wishes to protect
himself from ridicule by jesting at his own expense. The real Boswell
peeps through in many places. The remark about Shenstone's 'Pastoral
on Absence' might equally well have been made in all seriousness to

In another letter he says:

    Allow me a few more words. I live here in a remote corner
    of an old ruinous house, where my ancestors have been very
    jovial. What a solemn idea rushes on my mind! They are all
    gone: I must follow. Well, and what then? I must shift about
    to another subject. The best I can think of is a sound sleep:
    so good-night!

The sentiment about his dead ancestors is a flash of the true Boswell
as bright and real as anything in Pepys' Diary. The pleasure which the
thought gave him and the pleasure he had in imparting it to another
cannot be concealed by the forced levity of the ending.

The friendship of Boswell with Erskine was responsible for yet another
publication; these two with George Dempster collaborated to criticise
some dramatic performances in 'Critical Strictures on Mallet's
"Elvira."' This brochure[2] would seem to have been written in the
same flippant manner as the 'Letters.' Mr. Mallet's 'Elvira' came
in for plenty of abuse, but there was no serious attempt at literary
criticism. And yet this publication must rank with the letters as
the most important exhibition of Boswell's talents up to the age of

       *       *       *       *       *

In London no doubt Boswell enjoyed himself very well, and Edinburgh
seemed a dull town by comparison. In May, 1761, Boswell writes:

    A young fellow whose happiness was always centred in London,
    who had at last got there, and had begun to taste its
    delights, who had got his mind filled with the most gay
    ideas,--getting into the Guards, being about the court,
    enjoying the happiness of the _beau monde_, and the company
    of men of genius, in short everything that he could
    wish,--consider this poor fellow hauled away to the town of
    Edinburgh, obliged to conform to every Scotch custom or be
    laughed at--'Will you hae some jeel? oh fie! oh fie!'--his
    flighty imagination quite cramped, and he obliged to study
    Corpus Juris Civilis, and live in his father's strict family;
    is there any wonder, Sir, that the unlucky dog should be
    somewhat fretful?

This passage from a letter to Temple explains very well the attitude
of Boswell towards the world at the age of twenty-one. He is the gay,
frank, talkative, amusing, sociable young man, frivolous if you like
and a little unrestrained in his affections, extravagant one would
rather say in that matter as in others, but quite without malice.

The profession to which for a time he aspired was that of a soldier.
In the Guards, no doubt, he would be able to enjoy just that kind of
life which attracted him, the 'happiness of the _beau monde_,' with no
thought of what is supposed to be the serious business of soldiering,
and probably a decided preference for the gay, smart costume. But for
the army he was clearly unsuited. 'I like your son,' said the Duke
of Argyll to his father; 'that boy must not be shot at for
three-and-sixpence a day.' It was resolved accordingly that he should
study law.

We hear so much in the letters to Temple of Boswell's amusements that
it is easy to lose sight altogether of a less frivolous side to his
life. It is safe at least to conjecture that he read a good many
books at this time; in the _rôle_ of a young _littérateur_ he would
naturally keep up with the books that were coming out; we know that
he read Johnson and Hume and Harris, and, from the knowledge of
literature that he always showed, we may infer that he read much else

The law studies he took seriously at this time.

    I can assure you [he writes to Temple] the study of law here
    is a most laborious task. In return for yours, I shall give
    you an account of my studies. From nine to ten I attend the
    law class; from ten to eleven study at home, and from one to
    two attend a College upon Roman Antiquities. The afternoons
    and evenings I likewise spend in study; I never walk except on

This is hard work for one at a University! And especially for one
of Boswell's temperament. There is no great amount of diligence
associated as a rule with the youth of either the literary or the very
sociable character.

The truth is that Boswell was very far from being idle; he had great
energy, and often applied himself to something which interested him
with fervent industry; he was irregular no doubt, as are very many
people who work in this way.

An indication of the channel into which his industry was to be turned
is provided by that journal (and what pains it must have cost!), which
he began to keep while travelling with Lord Hailes and his father; and
at the same time he was made aware of the existence of Dr. Johnson as
a great writer in London, began to read his works, and also no doubt
to feel, as he afterwards said, that 'highest reverence for their
author, which had grown up with my fancy into a kind of mysterious
veneration, by figuring to myself a state of solemn elevated
abstraction, in which I supposed him to live in the immense metropolis
of London.'

Boswell also seems to have been deeply interested in religion even
during these early years. While at Glasgow University his views
underwent a violent revolution, most distressing to his parents, and
he became for a short time a Roman Catholic. There is no reason
to suppose that Boswell was in any way frivolous when he took this
decisive step. He clearly hated the Presbyterianism of his youth and
was probably in search of some creed to take its place. He cannot,
however, have gained much credit from this episode, since it was mixed
up in some way with an elopement with a Roman Catholic lady.

It is probable that Boswell was in earnest both about the young
lady and about his religion. But since, in order to be entirely
respectable, it is often necessary to give a hypocritical consistency
to our fickle inclinations, we are not thought to be serious if we do
not affect to be constant. We can assume, in the case of most people,
from a sort of faith they hold in the durability of sentiment, and
a desire which they have to prove by a time test the depth of their
emotion, that the feelings which do not appear to endure are trivial
and shallow. In Boswell's case we cannot make this assumption; though
he affected much, he yet had real and vivid feelings; but since they
could never be wholly dissociated from the pleasure which they gave
him, they were both various and contradictory; he could be grave and
sedate at one moment and gay and boyish the next, yet really feeling
something both of the gravity and the gaiety of living; he could be
almost in the same breath either the romantic lover or the indifferent
cynic, and yet feel something both of the romance of love and of the
aloofness which has tasted often enough the joys and sorrows of
life; he forgot more quickly than most men, but did not care very
often--while it was part of his inconsistency that he did sometimes
care--to conceal the fundamental elasticity of his nature.

This volatility of Boswell, exhibited especially in his sexual
inconstancy, was in itself but a phase of an innate and irrepressible
candour which, in spite of a lifelong desire and struggle for
respectability, showed itself very often to his friend Temple in the
'Letters,' and not infrequently also to the general public.

In all that he wrote we find passages of amazing frankness about
matters which most men would prefer to conceal. He was absurdly vain,
he was childishly sanguine, he was often both foolish and ridiculous,
and he tells us all about it as a matter that should interest us as
well as him. 'Why,' he says, '"out of the abundance of the heart"
should I not speak?' The light of truth led him into strange paths.
He was a formalist and yet he was sometimes known to fail in formalism
through an aversion to insincerity; when his enemy Baretti came, by
chance, into the room where he was being entertained by a friend,
Boswell refused to greet him; he could even be flagrantly rude in

To be entirely respectable and conventional, to be the man of the
world, the gentleman of society, that is what Boswell wanted most in
life; and that he never could become, because there was in his nature
a further consciousness, which was not to be subdued, and which
determined, by reason of the curious inconsistency so produced, his
whole capacity for interesting mankind, for fame, for greatness.

And so beside the sentimentality, the self-deception, the
respectability, which he so often exhibited, we see the germ of
self-knowledge, of honesty, of truth, which developed and was
ultimately expressed, almost by chance as it seems, in a supreme
biography: for it is the candour of Boswell far more than any other
single factor, the natural instinct to record what he observed both of
himself and of others, the honesty in observing and the truthfulness
which he had as an artist in recording, that distinguishes his
literary work. Herein lay the essence of his genius. The story of
Boswell's life is the story of a struggle between influences and
ambitions which led him towards the commonplace, and the rare
qualities grafted deeply within him, which bore him steadily in an
opposite direction. The triumph of the latter involved no doubt the
unhappiness of Boswell, but it also involved the production of a great
work of art; and this achievement has won for its author a unique
place among distinguished men; he is famous beyond any fame that he
dreamed of attaining and failed to attain.

    [Footnote 1: Joint.]

    [Footnote 2: I have not seen a copy; _v._ Fitzgerald, _Life of
    Boswell_ i. 37-38, and _Life of Garrick_.]


'The accident,' says Professor Raleigh,[1] 'which gave Boswell to
Johnson and Johnson to Boswell is one of the most extraordinary pieces
of good fortune in literary history.' The event of their meeting took
place on May 16th, 1763, and if in one sense it was clearly, as the
word is commonly used, an accident, it was equally the result of a
strong wish and intention, if not of deliberate design, on Boswell's
part. He had long known of Johnson, and as early as 1760 had hoped for
an introduction from 'Mr. Derrick, the poet,' 'an honour,' he says,
'of which I was very ambitious.' This honour bestowed eventually upon
a vain and extravagant youth (a circumstance which must be highly
esteemed among the good gifts of the Lady Fortune to humanity) was to
be attained through a humble agent. Among those of Boswell's friends
who were not of the higher strata in society was one Tom Davies. He
was at this time a bookseller, but as he had been formerly an actor
and then dramatic critic, there was something uncommon and adventurous
about his career. He had in fact in some degree the equivalent of what
has been known at a later date as Bohemianism. It seems particularly
appropriate that Boswell should have forgotten the pride of birth
to meet so, in humble circumstances, the object of his devotion. The
scene which took place in Tom Davies' back-parlour has the essence of
true comedy. Two of the actors are light-heartedly unconscious that
the moment has the least importance; the third is painfully and
anxiously aware that it is important to him, and naturally unaware
that it can have a value to anyone else. And it has, too, that
dramatic quality of great events taking place by accident, as it
seems, among incongruous circumstances. It is a scene which must
kindle always, for one who feels a serious value in humour, an emotion
beyond mere pleasure.

The comedy opens by Tom Davies announcing the eventful news in
farcical manner.

    At last, on Monday the 16th of May, when I was sitting in Mr.
    Davies's back-parlour, after having drunk tea with him and
    Mrs. Davies, Johnson unexpectedly came into the shop; and Mr.
    Davies having perceived him, through the glass-door in the
    room in which we were sitting, advancing towards us,--he
    announced his aweful approach to me, somewhat in the manner of
    an actor in the part of Horatio, when he addresses Hamlet
    on the appearance of his father's ghost, 'Look, my Lord, it

Boswell, who at once became nervous, had only time to give a warning
to Davies, and the latter maliciously said the one thing he had been
asked not to say. 'Mr. Davies mentioned my name, and respectfully
introduced me to him. I was much agitated; and recollecting his
prejudice against the Scotch, of which I had heard much, I said to
Davies, "Don't tell where I come from."--"From Scotland," cried Davies
roguishly.' This was apparently a disastrous beginning, and something
must be done to retrieve the position. '"Mr. Johnson," said I, "I do
indeed come from Scotland, but I cannot help it."' It was rash indeed
to originate the conversation and not less typical of Boswell for
that. But a more pleasing remark could hardly be imagined, at
once courteous and frank and full of humour.[2] Johnson no doubt
appreciated it very well, and the more because he was able to find
an excellent repartee. For the moment, however, Boswell seemed to be
involved in fresh calamity. 'This speech was somewhat unlucky; for
with that quickness of wit for which he was so remarkable, he seized
the expression, "come from Scotland," which I used in the sense of
being of that country; and, as if I had said that I had come away from
it, or left it, retorted, "That, Sir, I find, is what a great many of
your countrymen cannot help."' Boswell for the moment was completely
crushed: 'This stroke stunned me a good deal,' and he now found
himself left out of the conversation, in which situation he felt
that he was unlikely to make a very favourable impression. 'He then
addressed himself to Davies: "What do you think of Garrick? He has
refused me an order for the play for Miss Williams, because he knows
that the house will be full, and that an order would be worth three
shillings."' No opportunity must be missed, and youth is prompted by
enthusiasm. 'Eager to take any opening to get into conversation with
him, I ventured to say, "O, Sir, I cannot think Mr. Garrick would
grudge such a trifle to you!"' If this was bold it was at least both
genuine and polite, and the reproof was severe though Boswell admits
its justice. '"Sir," (said he, with a stern look) "I have known David
Garrick longer than you have done: and I know no right you have to
talk to me on the subject."' 'Perhaps' Boswell continues, 'I deserved
this check; for it was rather presumptuous in me, an entire stranger,
to express any doubt of the justice of his animadversion upon his old
acquaintance and pupil. I now felt myself much mortified, and began
to think that the hope which I had long indulged of obtaining his
acquaintance was blasted. And, in truth, had not my ardour been
uncommonly strong, and my resolution uncommonly persevering, so rough
a reception might have deterred me for ever from making any further
attempts. Fortunately, however, I remained upon the field not
wholly discomfited; and was soon rewarded by hearing some of his

Eventually, when he went away, Davies made some encouraging remarks:
'Tom Davies followed me to the door; and when I complained to him a
little of the hard blows which the great man had given me, he kindly
took upon him to console me by saying, "Don't be uneasy. I can see he
likes you very well!"' The evidence that Johnson liked him very well
was not very convincing, we may suppose, to Boswell. But he called
upon Johnson a week later.

In the account of Boswell's first visit to Dr. Johnson's house there
is one instructive passage:

    He told me that he generally went abroad at four in the
    afternoon, and seldom came home till ten in the morning. I
    took the liberty to ask if he did not think it wrong to live
    thus, and not make more use of his great talents. He owned it
    was a bad habit. On reviewing, at the distance of many years,
    my journal of this period, I wonder how, at my first visit, I
    ventured to talk to him so freely, and that he bore it with so
    much indulgence.

Clearly Boswell was good at saying what he thought--the remark about
Garrick and the question as to the morality of Johnson's habits, so
early in their acquaintance, show this; he is himself amazed, at a
later date, 'how I ventured to talk so freely.' It is this candour,
in fact, which particularly attracted Johnson. His fame for brilliant
argument and crushing repartee, and his unbending dogmatic manner in
conversation, prevented very often the course of free and fearless
expression in his presence. The young, too, from their supposed
ignorance, have still something of the privilege of childhood in
saying what they think without offending. It is refreshing to
older men to hear the frank opinions of youth; and it was very
characteristic of Johnson that he liked people to speak quite openly
upon serious subjects, so long as they were sincere.

It is easy enough indeed to see why the two became friends. Boswell
was attractive to Johnson in more ways than one. His outspokenness was
happily blended with more gentle softening qualities, which made it
modest and appealing rather than over-confident and repelling. He
expressed, by his 'light pleasantry to soothe and conciliate him'--and
also, we may suppose, by something respectful in his manner--a
frank admiration for Johnson. And though some may say that this
attitude--flattery one might almost call it (for it is something very
near to that)--is repulsive to them, there are very few people in
practice who, when it is managed with sufficient dexterity, do not
find in it something peculiarly pleasant. Johnson certainly liked to
have admirers, and it was Boswell's nature to admire--but not in a
mean or servile fashion. He managed, one may suppose, to make Johnson
feel pleased with himself, but without lying and without compromising
his own opinions. We may see the attitude which he adopted from his
own words upon the subject of flattery:

    [3]But there may be honest as well as dishonest flattery.
    There may be flattery from a sincere admiration, and a desire
    to please. It is benevolent to indulge this: and a man of
    good disposition may find frequent opportunities for it, by
    directly or obliquely bringing under the view of those with
    whom he associates, such circumstances in their situations and
    characters as are agreeable.

There is nothing unpleasant about this attitude: on the contrary it is
a very desirable civility.

It must be remembered, too, that Boswell with all his good-humoured
gaiety and pleasant social qualities could be, and often wanted to
be serious. And the conversation of Johnson was very often, at least
during the latter end of his life, of a serious nature. Morality,
human beings, literature, these were his great subjects; religion and
politics were discussed, but less often. Boswell was interested in the
same things; if with him more than with most men his own case was the
mainspring of all interests, this made him not less, but rather
more, attentive to all questions dealing with right and wrong and the
motives of men; and in literature, as we shall have occasion to show
later, he had a strong natural interest.

But there is another reason which made him an extremely suitable
companion for Johnson. What Johnson loved best in conversation was
to 'buffet' his adversary; this mode of proceeding has, however, the
obvious disadvantage that it prevents people talking, and also may
possibly offend them, a result which Johnson himself held to be
inexpedient. Boswell, fortunately, was little affected in either way.
Nothing, it is evident, could prevent him talking, and it took a great
deal to offend or even to hurt him. He was so divinely good-humoured!
For the moment, sometimes, he might be annoyed; but it very soon blew
over, and there was no malice in his nature to irritate a wound. The
consequence of this was that Johnson was often rude, which pleased
him, and sometimes went too far, which made him really sorry, so that
his kind-hearted nature liked the object of his brutality the better
for having injured it.

Of the attraction of Dr. Johnson for Boswell we need hardly speak. The
little that has been said already about Boswell's strange personality
and desires is almost sufficient explanation. We must not think
that he attached himself to Johnson with any particular object. 'To
suppose,' said Malone '(as some of his detractors have suggested),
that he attached himself to Dr. Johnson for the purpose of writing his
life, is to know nothing of the author and nothing of human nature.'
Malone, who knew Boswell very well at the end of his life, was
probably a good judge; and it is not difficult to account for
Johnson's attraction for Boswell without making a supposition of this
kind. Apart from the unique position which he had among literary men,
Johnson was a very striking figure and a very lovable man, and one who
would readily appeal to the imagination of the young; the honour of
receiving the attentions of Johnson would be pleasant in every way;
and Boswell's character was eminently capable of devotion.

The friendship which grew up between these two men, who were so
different, was not wholly without the shadow of romance. The relations
between them were of the kind that parents would wish to exist
between father and son. A great deal of affection on both sides there
certainly was. The journey together which they took to Harwich on the
occasion of Boswell's departure for the Continent[4] is significant
enough of Johnson's feelings, and Boswell's account of their parting
may speak for his:

    My revered friend walked down with me to the beach, where we
    embraced and parted with tenderness and engaged to correspond
    by letters. I said, 'I hope, Sir, you will not forget me in
    my absence.' Johnson, 'Nay, Sir, it is more likely you should
    forget me, than that I should forget you.' As the vessel put
    out to sea I kept my eyes upon him for a considerable time,
    while he remained rolling his majestic frame in his usual
    manner: and at last I perceived him walk back into the town,
    and he disappeared.

There is a note of regret in the paragraph, which, as anyone can see,
is perfectly genuine.

But Boswell's attitude was much more complicated than one of mere
affection. The friendship was of that complementary order where each
person contributes something which the other lacks, so that they have
a natural need each of the other. Johnson liked Boswell for his
youth and freshness; Boswell worshipped Johnson for his strength.[5]
Worship! it was no less than that; he admitted it, he was proud of
it. His own mind was of the indecisive kind which sees many things and
finds it difficult to choose among them; he turned very readily to the
strong, definite view of life, the expression of an intelligence not
smaller, as convinced people are often fundamentally smaller, but
clearly larger than his own; Johnson's overwhelming personality was
able to support their common prejudices, usually by argument, but, if
not so, by sheer force of conviction. It was not so much that Boswell
approved of everything in Johnson's mind as that he could depend upon
finding there a certain attitude expressive, as he thought, of his own
better self, or of what he would like to have become had he been able
to forgo a part of his own nature.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dr. Johnson, if he was by far the most important, was by no means
the only great man who was to become Boswell's friend. The paternal
graciousness admitted of two years to be spent on the Continent,
years that were to be devoted to diligent study in the University of
Utrecht. Boswell turned them to the best advantage. The parting was
propitious; his friend of the past few months accompanied him to the
quay-side and Boswell was launched for the Continent by the great
literary dictator. That the excellent advice of the moralist and
the command of a father were neglected made little difference to the
success of the lively young man. Utrecht was frankly a dull place,
and there were several gay spots to be visited. Boswell fulfilled
his destiny by amusing the best society, and made acquaintances among
distinguished men. The capital of Prussia was visited, and the English
ambassador Sir Andrew Mitchell was assailed and surrendered. The
courts of Saxe-Gotha and Baden were the sphere of the young Scotsman's
wit. Philosophers were among his honoured objects of attachment. The
youthful Bozzy called upon Voltaire at Ferney, and became almost the
friend of Rousseau. Lord Mount Stuart desired him for a travelling
companion. The greatest achievement, perhaps, and the most
characteristic was the capture of the notorious Wilkes; and intimacy
with him was not unfitting, for the two were much alike in their
irresponsible levity.

But all this was no more than the tinkling of a cymbal before the
booming of an heroic drum. Boswell determined to visit the Island of

Corsica was at this time the scene of a romantic struggle. Tired of
the heavy yoke of the Genoese republic, the islanders were in a state
of rebellion and were fighting under the flag of Liberty. Their
leader was an admirable figurehead, one General Paoli, a zealous and
disinterested patriot, a capable soldier and a wise politician. The
Byronic furore of a later date for an oppressed people would have
found a suitable object in the Corsicans and their national idol. For
the mind of Boswell in search of the heroic they had a special appeal.
A letter of introduction to Paoli was solicited from Rousseau, and
with this the light-hearted young man stepped bravely forth with the
bravery of ignorance, to be the first Englishman of his generation to
visit those distant and uncivilised shores.

The event was properly considered to be worthy of notice in the
English Press, and the requisite information as to Mr. Boswell's
movements was supplied from time to time by the pen of Mr. Boswell

The visit of Boswell to Corsica was a complete success. He travelled
in the _rôle_ of explorer, but was treated as an unknown political
force. Men of many wiles sought behind an ingenuous and good-natured
simplicity a deeper significance when there was none such to be
found; Paoli, who hoped for English assistance, was glad to treat with
especial favour the one English subject whom he had the opportunity of
knowing. And Boswell, if he disclaimed an embassy, was not unwilling
to be seen with an escort of Corsicans as he rode upon the general's
horse, and to be entertained with diplomatic courtesy.

His own social qualities were perhaps of even greater service to him.
He exercised to the full his invaluable talent for bringing good cheer
to his companions. In the journal which he afterwards published, the
'Tour to Corsica,' there is an admirable account of an evening spent
with the Corsican peasants which shows what an acceptable guest the
good-humoured and lively Boswell must have been.

    The Corsican peasants and soldiers were quite free and easy
    with me. Numbers of them used to come and see me of a morning,
    and just go out and in as they pleased. I did everything in my
    power to make them fond of the British, and bid them hope for
    an alliance with us. They asked me a thousand questions about
    my country, all which I cheerfully answered as well as I
    could. One day they would needs hear me play upon my German
    flute. To have told my honest natural visitants, 'Really,
    gentlemen, I play very ill,' and put on such airs as we do in
    our genteel companies, would have been highly ridiculous. I
    therefore immediately complied with their request. I gave them
    one or two Italian airs, and then some of our beautiful old
    Scotch tunes, 'Gilderoy,' 'The Lass of Patie's Mill,' 'Corn
    Riggs are Bonny.' The pathetick simplicity and pastoral gaiety
    of the Scots musick will always please those who have the
    genuine feelings of nature. The Corsicans were charmed with
    the specimens I gave them, though I may now say that they were
    very indifferently performed.

    My good friends insisted also to have an English song from me.
    I endeavoured to please them in this too, and was very lucky
    in that which occurred to me. I sung them, 'Hearts of oak are
    our ships, Hearts of oak are our men.' I translated it into
    Italian for them, and never did I see men so delighted with
    a song as the Corsicans were with 'Hearts of Oak.' 'Cuori di
    querco,' cried they, 'bravo Inglese.' It was quite a joyous
    riot. I fancied myself to be a recruiting sea-officer.
    I fancied all my chorus of Corsicans aboard the British

There is a natural good fellowship or social instinct, a splendid
enjoyment in the company of others, revealed in this story: it is a
quality that pleases everybody. To Paoli he was agreeable besides
for other reasons. He had a real enthusiasm and taste for literature,
which the intellectual world understood and appreciated readily
enough. Hume writes of Boswell's return from Paris, in the company
of Thérèse Le Vasseur. He calls him, 'a young gentleman, very
good-humoured, very agreeable, and very mad'; and afterwards refers to
his literary tastes: 'He has such a rage for literature that I dread
some event fatal to our friend's honour. You remember the story of
Terentia, who was first married to Cicero, then to Sallust, and at
last, in her old age, married a young nobleman, who imagined that
she must possess some secret which would convey to him eloquence and

There is a certain extravagance suggested by this which is very
characteristic of Boswell. He produced almost the expectation that
he would do something odd. This in itself is not to every one an
attractive quality; but it is one which combined with others may bring
an added charm. Boswell had great generosity of a certain kind which
was more than sufficient to excuse anything that might be tiresome
about him; he had an unabashed admiration and real respect for great
men. He was also able and was not unwilling to capture the hearts of
men by repeating things that would please them; as he relates that
he did upon his visit to Voltaire, by repeating the dictum of Johnson
about Frederick the Great: 'He writes just as you might suppose
Voltaire's footboy to do, who has been his amanuensis. He has such
parts as the valet might have, and about as much of the colouring of
his style as might be got by transcribing his works.' 'When I was at
Ferney,' Boswell records, 'I repeated this to Voltaire, in order to
reconcile him somewhat to Johnson, whom he, in affecting the English
mode of expression, had previously characterised as 'a superstitious
dog'; but after hearing such a criticism on Frederick the Great, with
whom he was then on bad terms, he exclaimed, 'An honest fellow!'

With such pleasant qualities Boswell won the esteem of the General of
the Corsicans. Paoli not only treated him with the courtesy due to a
distinguished and possibly a useful stranger but entertained him with
the spontaneous enjoyment of friendship.

The intimate relations which sprang up between Boswell and Paoli were,
as we may judge from Boswell's own account, very similar to those
already in existence between himself and Johnson.

The taste for the heroic may be satisfied easily. Even about the scamp
Wilkes in exile there was a glamour which appealed to the imaginative
young Bozzy. But for the real Boswellian admiration something more
was required--the portentous possession of the 'solid virtues.' The
probity of Paoli could never be in question. He appears to have been a
simple character with a noble disinterestedness and the honesty of the
Mediterranean sun. His interest was Corsica, and, if we may believe
Boswell, there was hardly a thought of self in the matter. In this he
was perhaps not different from the greater part of his countrymen;
but he had besides enthusiasm a wise moderation and self-control, a
knowledge of men and a military ability which gave him an authority
of the most absolute kind over the Corsicans. His power rested solely
upon the weight of his personal influence. It was an impressive figure
no doubt--a man to be admired; and Boswell was good at admiring: but a
man also to be loved, direct, kind-hearted and sympathetic. He had
too what we should scarcely expect in the patriot general--a wide
knowledge of literature and considerable culture. General Paoli was
in fact entirely suitable to be Boswellised, more suitable it might
almost seem than Doctor Sam himself; but the latter was a man of far
greater intelligence.

The opinions of Boswell in any case are clear enough, and we may read
a few specimens from the 'Tour in Corsica.'

    The contemplation of such a character really existing was
    of more service to me than all I had been able to draw from
    books, from conversation or from the exertions of my own mind.
    I had often enough formed the idea of a man continually such
    as I could conceive in my best moments. But this idea appeared
    like the ideas we are taught in the schools to form of things
    which may exist, but do not; of seas of milk, and ships of
    amber. But I saw my highest idea realised in Paoli. It was
    impossible for me, speculate as I pleased, to have a little
    opinion of human nature in him.

    One morning, I remember, I came in upon him without ceremony,
    while he was dressing. I was glad to have an opportunity of
    seeing him in those teasing moments, when, according to
    the Duke of Rochefoucault, no man is a hero to his valet de
    chambre. The lively nobleman who has a malicious pleasure
    in endeavouring to divest human nature of its dignity, by
    exhibiting partial views, and exaggerating faults, would have
    owned that Paoli was every moment of his life a hero.

Here is a candid unpretending hero-worship. If it eludes the virtue of
moderation it escapes the vice of mediocrity. In this is its capacity
for greatness. For the moment there is nothing very great about it,
but it has a most desirable effect for good in Boswell:

    Never was I so thoroughly sensible of my own defects as while
    I was in Corsica. I felt how small were my abilities, and how
    little I knew.

The example made for a genuine modesty in the admirer (though it is
doubtful if Boswell was ever suspected of being modest); the Boswell
who was 'ambitious to be the companion of Paoli' was willing to
deserve the honour of that companionship:

    From having known intimately so exalted a character my
    sentiments of human nature were raised, while, by a sort of
    contagion, I felt an honest ardour to distinguish myself, and
    be useful, as far as my situation and abilities would allow;
    and I was, for the rest of my life, set free from a slavish
    timidity in the presence of great men, for where shall I find
    a man greater than Paoli?

The expedition to Corsica was, as we have said, a complete success. To
visit the island, to observe the manners of the heroic peasants, and
to become the friend of Paoli were admirable undertakings at that
time, and under those circumstances. But it was in England that
Boswell was to triumph. He was launched upon society with the _éclat_
of an interesting personage; he returned from his adventures over seas
to exact without reluctance the homage due to a brave traveller.

The early fame of Boswell came not from Johnson, but from Paoli and
Corsica. It is a fact worth remarking, because Boswell's connection
with Johnson is so much the more important for us, that we are apt to
forget that he can have had another title to renown. He was 'Corsica'
Boswell and 'Paoli' Boswell, as Dr. Birkbeck Hill remarks, long before
he became famous as 'Johnson' Boswell.

Boswell himself fully appreciated the situation. He felt that he had
accomplished something of which he could be justly proud. He knew
himself to be in the public eye. 'No apology shall be made,' he writes
in the preface to his book, 'for presenting the world with "An Account
of Corsica." It has been for some time expected from me; and I own
that the ardour of publick opinion has both encouraged and intimidated
me.' Johnson wrote him a letter which he quoted without permission in
the 'Tour to Corsica'--'Come home and expect such a welcome as is due
to him whom a wise and noble curiosity has led where perhaps no native
of this country ever was before.' He said no doubt what he really

When Boswell returned to England in 1766 he became therefore, quite
naturally, the champion of Corsican liberty. But this was only one
phase of the fame to which he aspired; there was still, and there
was always, the desire to shine in the great and elevated sphere of
literature, and the opportunity had now arrived to write a book of
universal interest.

It was in 1768 that the first literary work of any magnitude which
Boswell produced, 'An Account of Corsica, the journal of a tour to
that island; and memoirs of Pascal Paoli,' was published. The title
explains exactly the scope of the book. The account of Corsica is
historical; the journal is in its method much like other books of
travel, except for the biographical part which deals with Paoli. Of
the historical part of the book there is nothing particular to be
said: it is, as Johnson remarked, 'like other histories.' 'Your
History,' he told him, 'was copied from books; your Journal rose out
of your own experience and observation.' The chief interest of the
book is that it is the earliest example of Boswell's biographical
method. The memoirs that we have here of Paoli aim at giving a picture
of a man in much the same way as does the 'Life of Johnson.' The
question as to what exactly was Boswell's method will be discussed
later; but we are reminded here that the man who preserved the
conversations of Paoli and 'came in upon him without ceremony while
he was dressing,' in order to see how he conducted himself before his
_valet de chambre_, was becoming an adept in his own peculiar art.

A great charm of the Journal, also prophetic of the future, lies in
the perfect frankness with which Boswell discusses his own feelings.
'We retired to another room to drink coffee. My timidity wore off. I
no longer anxiously thought of myself; my whole attention was employed
in listening to the illustrious commander of a nation.' Or again, 'I
enjoyed a luxury of noble sentiment. Paoli became more affable with
me. I made myself known to him. I forgot the great distance between
us and had every day some hours of private conversation with him.'
Boswell realised that a Journal is delightful only if it is quite
informal. We have a pleasing sense of inconsequent freedom when we
read in the Journal several pages quoted from the 'First Book of the
Maccabees.' But it is not irrelevant to Boswell's purpose. It occurred
to his thoughts; and that is a sufficient justification, whether it
seem ludicrous or incongruous or ponderous, for its inclusion. There
is no scene in the 'Tour in Corsica' which comes up to the best in the
'Life of Johnson,' but there are several descriptions, such as that
quoted above, when Boswell played the pipe and sang 'Hearts of Oak,'
which are really artistic and pleasing.

The book, at all events, had the effect of amusing people and it gave
them an interest in Corsica too. Boswell had good accounts of it on
all sides. 'My book,' he writes to Temple, 'has amazing celebrity:[8]
Lord Lyttelton, Mr. Walpole, Mrs. Macaulay, Mr. Garrick, have all
written me noble letters about it.' The sale must have been very
rapid. The dedication to the first edition is dated October 29, 1767,
and the preface to the third edition on the same day of October, his
birthday, in the following year. In this preface he explains that he
has acquired that literary fame which he desired:

    May I be permitted to say that the success of this book has
    exceeded my warmest hopes. When I first ventured to send it
    into the world, I fairly owned an ardent desire for literary
    fame. I have obtained my desire; and whatever clouds may
    overcast my days, I can now walk here among the rocks and
    woods of my ancestors, with an agreeable consciousness that I
    have done something worthy.

There is nothing deserving particular remark in an author's desire for
literary fame. But it is remarkable that a man should proclaim it to
the world as Boswell did. The common ideal of an artist supposes that
his work should be, in the first place, the expression of his own
personality; an expression because to him it is necessary to reproduce
in some form what he sees and feels: it is for himself and himself
alone, and the world without is allowed to share, partly that the
artist may earn a living, partly perhaps that he may have some
justification for his self-absorption; and in greater part no doubt,
in some cases more than in others, but in every case a little, that
he may win the applause that we all like at bottom. None of these
reasons, and, least of all, the desire for fame, is held to be a
motive for producing art. There may be various impulses with varying
circumstances; but there can be but one motive.

The ambition which Boswell had, and which he expressed so freely, is
peculiar in some ways for the end desired, but it is not essentially
different from that of other artists.

    He who publishes a book, affecting not to be an 'authour',[9]
    and professing an indifference for literary fame, may possibly
    impose upon many people such an idea of his consequence as he
    wishes may be received. For my part, I should be proud to be
    known as an authour and I have an ardent ambition for literary
    fame; for of all possessions I should imagine literary fame
    to be the most valuable. A man who has been able to furnish
    a book which has been approved by the world, has established
    himself as a respectable character in distant society,
    without any danger of having that character lessened by the
    observation of his weaknesses. To preserve an uniform dignity
    among those who see us every day is hardly possible; and
    to aim at it must put us under the fetters of a perpetual
    restraint. The authour of an approved book may allow his
    natural disposition an easy play, and yet indulge the pride of
    superiour genius when he considers that, by those who know him
    only as an authour, he never ceases to be respected. Such
    an authour, when in his hours of discontent, may have the
    consolation to think that his writings are at that very time
    giving pleasure to numbers; and such an authour may cherish
    the hope of being remembered after death, which has been a
    great object to the noblest minds in all ages.

The nature of the desire for fame which he had is revealed to us by
Boswell in this curious passage. It does not compromise his character
as an artist.[10] He wished to obtain the public esteem, to have
the reputation of an ingenious and worthy man; and literature was
considered as a means to this end. But we cannot argue that he
must therefore have pandered to the public taste: he wrote, as he
proclaimed at a later date in a contribution to a periodical, 'from
the primary motive of pleasing himself.' This ambition is not in
its nature an attitude towards art but towards the world. In all his
writings, even in the frivolous publications of his youth, Boswell has
expressed his own person in a peculiar degree. We must not suppose,
when we see an eagerness for literary fame, which, from the frankness
of his expression, may appear extravagant, that he lacked a literary
conscience, for he had an excellent one; nor indeed that it mattered
at all to him whether opinion in general should care about his book,
except in so far as it approved of him, of the real Boswell, which it
could not but find there.

Boswell's ideal of the literary man's position is well expressed in
one of the letters to Temple:

    Temple, I wish to be at last an uniform, pretty man. I am
    astonishingly so already, but I wish to be a man who
    deserves Miss B.... I am always for fixing some period for my
    perfection as far as possible. Let it be when my account of
    Corsica is published; I shall then have a character which
    I must support. I will swear, like an ancient disciple of
    Pythagoras, to observe silence; I will be grave and reserved,
    though cheerful and communicative of what is _verum atque
    decens_. One great fault of mine is talking at random; I will
    guard against it.

It is amusing to think of Boswell in this _rôle_. Already we may see
the great contest in his life between natural candour and commonplace
ambition--the charm of the 'Tour to Corsica' was the charm of candour,
and it was dangerous to dreams of future greatness in the sphere of
public affairs. Boswell understood that to gain respect he must be
more serious. But this he never was able to be; it was his nature
to be extravagant. He had a mind which in some respects was wholly
unconventional, and though he tried sometimes, he could never entirely
repress his feelings: the consequence was that though there were many
things about which he cared very much, it was never possible to take
him quite seriously; if a man plays the buffoon sometimes we are in
danger of being fooled if we give him credit for being in earnest; and
so, if we are to preserve our _amour propre_, which is what everybody
wants to do, we must laugh at a buffoon whatever he does.

A most notable piece of Boswell's buffoonery was in connection with
the Shakespeare Jubilee at Stratford-on-Avon in 1769. He attended
this festival dressed as an armed Corsican chief. This perhaps was not
particularly odd; the form of rejoicing which the company indulged in
was a 'Mask.' It is dangerous even so, and hardly decent, to blow the
personal trumpet so loudly. Boswell, however, was not content merely
with the public advertisement of his connexion with Corsica; he wrote
to the _London Magazine_[11] an elaborate unsigned account of himself
and his costume: it was entitled 'Account of the Armed Corsican Chief
at the Masquerade at Shakespeare's Jubilee, with a fine whole-length
portrait of James Boswell, Esq., in the dress of an armed Corsican
chief, as he appeared at the Jubilee Mask.' There is no need to give
here the text of this document: it has been quoted at length a number
of times, and it suffices to say that there can be no possible doubt
that Boswell wrote it and that he wrote it to exhibit himself in a
favourable light. The incident is characteristic of Boswell. It is not
the mad whim that may occur once in a lifetime, the event which stands
as it were by itself apart from the man; it is not an experiment
miscarried, that has taken him away from his usual self and so must
remain unexplained or be put to the long account of genius: rather it
is the sort of oddity that we come to expect of Boswell.

Frolics of this kind naturally deprived Boswell of the respect which
he desired for himself as a man of letters. The 'Tour to Corsica' was
an admirable beginning to a literary career; he had then the chance of
founding the reputation he wanted as a person of weight, a man whose
judgment must be accounted of some importance by the world at large.
His writings about Corsica had been widely read and his views had
found general sympathy. Moreover the popular poetess, Mrs. Barbauld,
had paid homage in verse to his fame as an explorer. But by such
behaviour as this at Stratford these hopes were frustrated. And to
him, though perhaps not to us, this was the tragedy of his life.

    [Footnote 1: _Samuel Johnson_, by Walter Raleigh, 1907.]

    [Footnote 2: This remark we may suppose was deliberately
    misinterpreted by some of Boswell's contemporaries and he
    finds it necessary to introduce a defence of it: 'I am willing
    to believe that I meant this as light pleasantry to soothe
    and conciliate him, and not as humiliating abasement at the
    expense of my country.' It was of course an apology for coming
    from Scotland, but an absurd apology of which he saw the
    absurdity, as though a man were to apologise for being six
    feet high.]

    [Footnote 3: _London Magazine_, vol. li., p. 359.]

    [Footnote 4: In August 1763.]

    [Footnote 5: _Life of Johnson_, iii., 331.]

    [Footnote 6: _Tour to Corsica_, pp. 320-1.]

    [Footnote 7: _Private Correspondence of David Hume_, 1820.]

    [Footnote 8: It is an interesting fact that it was translated
    into German, Dutch, Italian, and French (_Gentleman's
    Magazine_, June 1795--Letter from J. B. R.) The _Life_, I
    believe, has never been translated. The same correspondent
    says, 'It was received with extraordinary approbation.']

    [Footnote 9: For Boswell's views on spelling see this same

    [Footnote 10: Mr. Malone, speaking of the _Life_, said, 'That
    in this work he had not both fame and profit in view, would be
    idle to assert; but to suppose that these were his principal
    objects is to know nothing of the author, and nothing of human
    nature.' _Gentleman's Magazine_, June 1795.]

    [Footnote 11: September 1769.]


The portion of Boswell's career which we have been relating up to this
point gives rise by natural sequence to the discussion of one or two
interesting questions about his personality. We must know the part
played in the main theme by his peculiar qualities. We must notice how
they seem to assist or to impede his particular faculty for biography.

Allusion has already been made to the reasons for which Boswell was
attracted by two great men, Dr. Johnson and General Paoli. We must
see now in general the reason of that intimacy which he took care to
cultivate with a large number of distinguished men.

Boswell, there can be no doubt, liked men in some way because they
were distinguished. We must remember that the judgments of the world
were always very real standards to him. If a man were great, he must
be somehow good; and to be the friend of such a man, that was good
too. It is not that Boswell judged of characters wholly by success.
We may see that as he grew older he judged them more and more by
the Johnsonian morality. He grew less tolerant of heresy under the
influence of his moral guide. Hence the dislike of Gibbon:--'He is an
ugly, affected, disgusting fellow, and poisons our Literary Club to
me.' Johnson probably shared this feeling and undoubtedly shared the
reasons for it, which Boswell expresses in Johnsonian phrases: 'I
think it is right that as fast as infidel wasps or venomous insects,
whether creeping or flying, are hatched, they should be crushed.' This
was said in reference to Gibbon's book; the sentiments were extended
to Adam Smith. 'Murphy says that he has read thirty pages of Smith's
"Wealth," but says that he shall read no more: Smith too is now of
our Club. It has lost its select merit.' Personal antipathy in the one
case and ignorance of economics in the other need not surprise us. But
it comes as a shock, nevertheless, to discover Boswell's views upon
the two men who were, intellectually, the most distinguished of his
contemporaries. The Doctor's prejudices may have much to do with it.
Boswell records a similar judgment in the 'Tour to the Hebrides':
'Infidelity in a Highland gentleman appeared to me peculiarly
offensive. I was sorry for him as he had otherwise a good character.'

And yet he was probably always as he was in the early years far more
tolerant than Johnson. There is an instructive passage also in the
'Tour to the Hebrides' about Hume. Johnson was talking about Hume's
infidelity: 'He added something much too rough, both as to Mr. Hume's
head and heart, which I suppress. Violence is, in my opinion, not
suitable to the Christian cause. Besides I always lived on good terms
with Mr. Hume, though I have frankly told him I was not clear that it
was right in me to keep company with him.' That he did not condemn the
infidel Hume, shows that Boswell's prejudices were weaker, at least,
than friendship. Boswell, besides, throughout his life gave a
very high value to mere intellectual power. He complained of 'dull
provinciality' in Scotland, because the people of Edinburgh were less
intelligent than the Londoners. His love of London was founded upon
the need he felt of conversing with clever people; and this need
became in him with maturity, not weaker, as in most cases, but

In these early years Boswell was glad to make a friend of any
particularly intelligent person, and his acquaintances included
characters widely differing--Hume and Rousseau, Johnson and Lord
Hailes, Wilkes and Paoli. Boswell clearly had pleasure in the society
of them all; he did not, like Johnson, condemn them to a place beyond
the range of his acquaintance; these men were specimens of human
nature worthy to be studied; he saw some good in all of them. There
is a characteristic passage in the 'Life' about the meeting of Johnson
and Wilkes which illustrates the attitude:

    My desire of being acquainted with celebrated men of every
    description had made me, much about the same time, obtain an
    introduction to Dr. Samuel Johnson and to John Wilkes, Esq.
    Two men more different could perhaps not be selected out of
    all mankind. They have even attacked one another with
    some asperity in their writings; yet I lived in habits of
    friendship with both. I could fully relish the excellence of
    each; for I have ever delighted in that intellectual chymistry
    which can separate good qualities from evil in the same

He looked upon men much as we look upon works of art, distinguishing
that which, as art, has merit, and crediting with a certain value
every design or idea which has been executed well, but attaching
ourselves more particularly to a few rare objects which have some
special significance or appeal for our own nature. Johnson and Paoli
had this appeal for Boswell. Wilkes and Hume attracted him more
because they were interesting individuals for whom, though he really
disapproved of them, he might retain some slight affection because
they were representative men. He might dislike the things they
represented, but like them in spite of this: like them, one might
almost say, for representing something.

With Hume, for instance, he had a considerable friendship at one time.
He was of course, an individual to be studied; to Temple, Boswell
related his conversations much as he recorded those of Johnson and
Paoli. But he did not see him merely because he was interested; he
liked him too: 'David is really amiable; I always regret to him his
unlucky principles and he smiles at my faith.' It is probable that as
he grew older Boswell grew less tolerant. He was always somewhat of an
experimentalist, interested in various sides of life and fitting one
or another to his own case; but though he became with maturity more
definitely attached to the conventional Christianity, to 'belief,'
as he termed it, as opposed to 'infidelity,' and less tolerant of the
people who held different views, he never hated a man for being a Whig
or an atheist as Johnson did.

Interest and affection: these, then, are real motives with Boswell
for seeking as he did the company of distinguished men. The question,
however, of a further motive--of the snobbishness in Boswell's
nature--still remains.

Boswell himself was well aware of a certain 'propensity in his
disposition,' of a particular pleasure from the society of the great
and a desire which he had to form friendships among them; he knew too
that his behaviour was condemned by many of his contemporaries. In the
'Tour to the Hebrides'[1] he has given his own account and explanation
of his conduct:

    My fellow-traveller and I talked of going to Sweden; and,
    while we were settling our plan, I expressed a pleasure in
    the prospect of seeing the king. Johnson: 'I doubt, Sir, if
    he would speak to us.' Colonel McLeod said, 'I am sure
    Mr. Boswell would speak to _him_.' But, seeing me a little
    disconcerted by his remark, he politely added, 'and with
    great propriety.' Here let me offer a short defence of that
    propensity in my disposition, to which this gentleman alluded.
    It has procured me much happiness. I hope it does not deserve
    so hard a name as either forwardness or impudence. If I know
    myself, it is nothing more than an eagerness to enjoy the
    society of men distinguished either by their rank or their
    talents, and a diligence to attain what I desire. If a man is
    praised for seeking knowledge, though mountains and seas are
    in his way, may he not be pardoned, whose ardour, in pursuit
    of the same object, leads him to encounter difficulties as
    great, though of a different kind?

This defence is characteristic of the manner in which Boswell
consistently treated the world. 'Curiosity,' said Mrs. Thrale,
'carried Boswell farther than it ever carried any mortal breathing. He
cared not what he provoked so as he said what _such a one_ would say
or do.'[2] But the basis of social conventions is a desire to consider
the feelings of others. A person's 'forwardness' and 'impudence' are
judged not so much by his own sentiments as by the effect he produces
upon other people. Boswell pressed an acquaintanceship entirely
because he thought it might be good for himself; he never considered
the views of the acquaintance: 'It has procured me much happiness.'
He did not understand the consequences of this attitude. He was an
intellectual parasite upon society, determined at any cost to feed
upon the good qualities of others, taking where he would, without
caring if he gave. It may possibly be well for the individual that
he should consider himself alone; but society, just because it is
society, must object to the egoist. This Boswell never was able to
understand. His own point of view was concerned with what he could get
from others; and though he was by nature in many ways excellent as
the member of a community, he had no conception of himself in this
capacity. He cared a great deal about his importance, but very little
about his value. He took systematically, he gave at random. Interest
in human beings simply for his own sake because it pleased him[3]:
that is one prime motive which impelled him to seek the acquaintance
of distinguished men.

Boswell, besides this, was essentially a snob. To have pleasure in
the company of distinguished men, not only from a sense of the good
qualities they have, but from a feeling that their greatness adds to
one's position in the esteem of mankind, that is to be a snob. Boswell
had this feeling; he freely admitted it. 'Now, Temple,' he writes,
'can I help indulging my vanity? Sir David Dalrymple says to me in
his last letter, "It gives me much pleasure to think that you have
obtained the friendship of Mr. Samuel Johnson...."' And again:

    I am really the great man now. I have had David Hume, in the
    forenoon, and Mr. Johnson, in the afternoon, of the same day,
    visiting me. Sir John Pringle, Dr. Franklin, and some more
    company dined with me to-day; and Mr. Johnson and General
    Oglethorpe one day, Mr. Garrick alone another, and David Hume
    and some more literati another, dine with me next week. I give
    admirable dinners and good claret; and the moment I go abroad
    again, which will be in a day or two, I set up my chariot.
    This is enjoying the fruit of my labours, and appearing like
    the friend of Paoli. By the bye, the Earl of Pembroke and
    Captain Meadows are just setting out for Corsica, and I have
    the honour of introducing them by a letter to the General.
    David Hume came on purpose, the other day, to tell me that the
    Duke of Bedford was very fond of my book, and had recommended
    it to the Duchess.

'The great man' because he kept the company of great men--that is
what he says, and it is snobbish. His enjoyment of 'the society of
men distinguished by their rank or their talents' depended partly upon
that. He considered this to be a legitimate way of acquiring fame.

The absurdity of Boswell's behaviour in this respect seems all
the more ridiculous from the fact that it was unnecessary. When
he returned from Corsica he had obtained, as we remarked above, a
position of considerable distinction for a young man. He had only
to wait discreetly and carefully and he was certain to obtain the
patronage of the great. But he courted them, on the contrary, with
unheard-of fervour. The climax was reached in a letter to Chatham,
with whom he had an opportunity of corresponding about Corsica.
He writes from the pinnacle of pomposity to descend to the pit
of adulation: 'I only wish that circumstances were such that your
Lordship could have an opportunity of showing the interest you take in
the fate of a people who well deserve the favour of so illustrious a
patron of liberty as your Lordship.' He proceeds by quoting, as the
mediator between the General and Lord Chatham, a letter from Paoli.
There is then an immortal passage in which the underlying egoism, too
little concealed, is yoked with a flattery which could scarcely be
tolerated in Olympia:

    Your Lordship applauds my 'generous warmth for so striking
    a character as the able chief.' Indeed, my Lord, I have the
    happiness of being capable to contemplate with supreme delight
    those distinguished spirits by whom God is sometimes pleased
    to honour humanity; and as I have no personal favour to ask of
    your Lordship, I will tell you with the confidence of one who
    does not fear to be thought a flatterer, that your character,
    my Lord, has filled many of my best hours with that noble
    admiration which a disinterested soul can enjoy in the bower
    of philosophy.

Then follows an account of Boswell's plan for his book about Corsica;
and finally his personal vanity leaps over every barrier.

    As for myself, to please a worthy and respected father, one of
    our Scotch judges, I studied law, and am now fairly entered to
    the bar. I begin to like it. I can labour hard; I feel myself
    coming forward, and I hope to be useful to my country. Could
    your Lordship find time to honour me now and then with a
    letter? I have been told how favourably your Lordship has
    spoken of me. To correspond with a Paoli and a Chatham is
    enough to keep a young man ever ardent in the pursuit of
    virtuous fame.

This letter illustrates much of Boswell's attitude towards the great,
and it will be necessary to refer to it again in that connection; it
shows, at least, how earnestly Boswell desired the friendship of the
great man, and what a thrill of pleasure those letters from Chatham
must have given him.

However much we may dislike this propensity of Boswell's disposition,
while admitting that it is unpleasant in itself, although we would not
and could not have Boswell without it, there is no reason to see in
much of it a blacker vice than merely the ignorance of how to behave.
And it was connected as we have shown with feelings not entirely
selfish. But of the flagrant self-advertisement to which we have
referred above no such agreeable things may be said. It is condemnable
without compensation as an obtrusive egoism and foolish vanity. It
must be written down frankly on the debit side of Boswell's peculiar
genius, and it was as much opposed to the proper exercise of his
biographical talents as to his more practical career.

       *       *       *       *       *

We are forced to wonder, and it is important that we should decide,
whether in spite of his immoderate self-centredness Boswell was
capable of acting without considering his own advantage in the
interest of others. Had he, in the first place, any real care for the
cause of Corsican liberty?

It is often far from easy to discover what Boswell's feelings were,
because the balance between sentiment and expression was with him very
ill-adjusted. By prolonged study of the Boswellian extravagances we
may come to perceive, as we think, how much Boswell really felt;
but even so it is hardly possible to explain any valid reason for
judgments of this nature. Boswell was often guilty of extravagance;
but it would be as false to believe that he felt none of the zeal he
talks about so easily, as to believe that he felt as much as he says.
He undoubtedly exaggerated, but he probably never made an absolute

There is a passage of great enthusiasm for the Corsicans in a letter
to Johnson:[4] 'Shall they not rise in the great cause of liberty, and
break the galling yoke? And shall not every liberal soul be warm for
them?' Boswell's heart must have been warm when he wrote that: but we
are unfortunately still left in doubt by an anti-climax: 'No! while I
live, Corsica and the cause of the brave islanders shall ever employ
much of my attention, shall ever interest me in the sincerest manner.'
The letter in which these quotations occur is dated April 26, 1768; it
is possible that Boswell's ardour had begun to cool by that time
and that the cause of liberty, though it might 'employ much of his
attention' was less vital to him than he imagined. The 'Tour to
Corsica,' however, gives an impression of genuine interest and
sympathy with the Corsicans. Boswell seems to have liked very well
these simple folk, who appreciated more readily than his countrymen
the natural gaiety and good humour of his spirits.[5] How different is
his attitude in the 'Tour to the Hebrides' towards the Scots! We must
remember too that Boswell, whatever may have been his motives, did
much in England and Scotland to help the Corsicans. Besides publishing
his book, which was of value to their cause, he raised a subscription
and sent out £700 worth of ordnance.[6] He also collected and
published a volume of 'British Essays in favour of the Brave
Corsicans,' some of which he himself wrote.

Boswell had in fact a real generosity of character; he hated anything
mean, and expressed himself as anxious to cure his own 'narrowness.'
He could be kind to his friends and was willing to lend money. He
was interested as a lawyer in the decisions of the courts and readily
bestowed his sympathy. On behalf of a certain Dr. Dodd, a divine who
was under sentence of death for forgery, he wrote to Dr. Johnson: 'If
for ten righteous men the Almighty would have spared Sodom, shall
not a thousand acts of goodness done by Dr. Dodd counterbalance one
crime?' And Dr. Johnson afterwards used his pen in Dr. Dodd's service.
On another occasion he appealed for his friend's assistance in the
case of a Scotch schoolmaster--a client of Boswell's, who had been
'deprived of his office for being somewhat severe in the chastisement
of his scholars': Boswell in his letter to Johnson seems to have at
heart both the interests of the schoolmaster and the principle of
corporal punishment. For his friend Temple he more than once went
out of his way to obtain some favour. He treated his tenants with the
greatest consideration, and even made special provisions in his will
for their future welfare.[7] But Boswell was not one of those who
continually exercise these amiable qualities. It is probable
indeed that, had he tried, he would have met with more rebuffs than
encouragement. To be flagrantly kind with any success requires a good
deal of cunning, and of that useful quality Boswell had extremely
little: he was likely to appear in any good work more meddlesome than
great-hearted. But if with him care for the happiness of others
was not the first consideration, he was at bottom a sympathetic,
kind-hearted man, and capable of generous actions.

It is very important that we should bear this in mind about Boswell.
Those who are gifted with powers of expression are often in one sense
primarily egoists--more so than other men because they are apt to
become more completely absorbed--and Boswell, as we have shown, was
not without his portion of egoism; but there may be a place in the
lives of such men for unselfish feelings, and if we may think that
Boswell had his due share of them we may judge less harshly in him the
egoism which we cannot admire.

       *       *       *       *       *

Boswell, as we have seen, had already at the age of twenty-seven made
a bid for renown. He was anxious to shine in more lights than one. It
was not mere social success or literary fame that he wanted: he had
an ardent desire to be successful in his profession. The sphere of
employment which had been chosen for him by his father with his own
sanction was the Scotch Bar, to which he was formally 'called' in
1766.[8] His work seems to have engrossed at once a great deal of his
time. He writes on March 4th, 1767, to Temple:

    I am surprised at myself, I already speak with so much ease
    and boldness, and have already the language of the bar so much
    at command. I have now cleared eighty guineas. My clerk comes
    to me every morning at six, and I have dictated to him forty
    folio pages in one day. It is impossible to give you an idea
    of my present life. I send you one of my law papers, and a
    copy of my thesis. I am doing nobly; but I have not leisure
    for learning. I can hardly ever answer the letters of my

This is the letter of a man who finds himself engrossed as well as
busy. The truth is that Boswell was extremely anxious to make a mark
in his profession. Here, as always, he must win approval; he must
become a person to be considered. To this end he succeeded in mixing
himself up with the Douglas Cause, a case concerned with a Scotch
title which was commanding much attention in the summer of 1767.
He seems to have acted as a voluntary counsel to Mr. Douglas the
plaintiff, and was most diligent, even perhaps to excess, in his
interest. In connection with this trial, two small publications
appeared from Boswell's hand. The first of them, 'The Essence of the
Douglas Cause,' is a _précis_ of the whole affair, well arranged and
clearly expressed; it was written with a view to aiding Boswell's
own side in the case,[9] in reply to a pleading from the other side,
'Considerations on the Douglas Cause.' The labour of compiling
this summary must have been very great. Boswell tells us in the
introduction that he was present during the whole deliberation of the
Cause before the Court of Session and took very full notes. It shows,
as Mr. Fitzgerald has remarked, how industrious Boswell could be when
his enthusiasm was aroused.

The other publication, 'Dorando: A Spanish Tale'[10] affects to be
a story about a trial in Spain, but reproduces the characters in
the Douglas case. Under this thin veil approbation and criticism are
distributed to the two parties, and the cause decided. The publication
of 'Dorando,'[11] extracts of which appeared in several of the Scotch
newspapers and were held by some of the Scotch judges to be contempt
of court, was wholly characteristic of Boswell. Whether or no it would
be possible to find in his conduct anything which amounted to a breach
of etiquette, it is clear that a publication of this sort might well
injure his position at the Bar. It is true that the author's name did
not appear, but it was not to be supposed that it would always remain
a secret, and the precaution was probably taken with a view to being
on the right side rather of the law than of the lawyers. Boswell, with
all his wish to win the esteem of men, never understood how easily
the opposite is earned and how harshly a tiny cosmos will punish an
offence against itself. And when the humorous side of things struck
him forcibly he was unable to repress his feelings.

Boswell's behaviour during the Douglas Cause is said to have been
decidedly extravagant. His father was heard to say that 'James had
taken a tout on a new horn,'[12] and a story got about which, though
it may have been false, must have had some relation to the common
conception of Boswell, that when he heard that the House of Lords had
reversed the decision of the Court of Session, he placed himself at
the head of an uproarious mob who broke his father's windows.

There are other indications than the Douglas Cause to show that
Boswell was anxious to be successful in his legal career. It is not to
be thought that he always displayed the energy which he showed at this
time. But he clearly took the trouble, on several occasions recorded
in the 'Life,' to prepare the best arguments he could to support his
case; and if we must suppose that he was as anxious as he represents
himself to be that justice should be done, it is still quite evident
that he hoped to gain some advantage to himself from the assistance
which he solicited and obtained from Johnson, and was glad that the
right should triumph, in part no doubt because it was supported by
James Boswell. In fact it is probable that Johnson's assistance was
of little value. As Boswell says on one occasion, having presented
the written arguments of Johnson without success, 'their Lordships in
general, though they were pleased to call this, "a well-drawn paper,"
preferred the former very inferior petition which I had written; thus
confirming the truth of an observation made to me by one of their
number in a merry mood: "My dear Sir, give yourself no trouble in the
composition of the paper you present to us; for, indeed, it is casting
pearls before swine."'

We shall have to consider when we come to the last years of Boswell's
life the various reasons for his failure at the Bar. But one reason
may be mentioned here because it is so essential a part of his
character that we should do wrong not to have it in mind as we go over
the spectacle of his whole life. Boswell, it must be remembered,
was called to the Scotch Bar; but the society of the Scotch, and
particularly of the Scotch lawyers, was never congenial to him. As
early as March 1767 he writes to Temple: 'It must be confessed that
our Court of Session is not so favourable to eloquence as the English
Courts.' By 1775 he was apparently quite tired of his work; 'On my
arrival here [Edinburgh] I had the pleasure to find my wife and
two little daughters as well as I could wish; but indeed, my worthy
priest, it required some philosophy to bear the change from England
to Scotland. The unpleasing tone, the rude familiarity, the barren
conversation of those whom I found here, in comparison with what I had
left, really hurt my feelings.'

It is probable that Boswell's opinions about the Scotch lawyers were
not entirely concealed from them. And they knew, no doubt, that he had
friends among the Edinburgh players, and may have resented the
fact. 'The Scottish Themis,' says Scott, speaking of his own early
experience, 'is peculiarly jealous of any flirtation with the Muses
on the part of those who have ranged themselves under her banners.' We
may suppose that Boswell's flirtations, with the Muses at all events,
injured his position in legal circles.

    The General Assembly [Boswell continues] is sitting, and I
    practise at its Bar. There is _de facto_ something low and
    coarse in such employment, though on paper it is a Court of
    _Supreme Judicature_; but guineas must be had.... To speak
    well, when I despise both the cause and the judges, is
    difficult; but I believe I shall do wonderfully. I look
    forward with aversion to the little, dull, labours of the
    Court of Session.

Boswell himself was quite unlike most Scotchmen, and he relates in the
'Life' the remarks upon this subject made by Johnson at various times:

    _Johnson_: 'I never say, I do not value Boswell more for being
    born to an estate, because I do not care.' _Boswell_: 'Nor for
    being a Scotchman.' _Johnson_: 'Nay, Sir, I do value you more
    for being a Scotchman. You are a Scotchman without the faults
    of a Scotchman. You would not have been so valuable as you
    are, had you not been a Scotchman.' And again, when talking of
    the Scotch nation, _Johnson_: '_You_ are an exception, though.
    Come, gentlemen, let us candidly admit that there is one
    Scotchman who is cheerful.' _Beauclerk_: 'But he is a very
    unnatural Scotchman.'

Professor Raleigh has emphasised this point in his delightful manner:

    If I had to find a paradox in Boswell, I should find it in
    this, that he was a Scot. His character was destitute of all
    the vices, and all the virtues, which are popularly, and in
    the main rightly, attributed to the Scottish people. The
    young Scot is commonly shy, reserved, and self-conscious;
    independent in temper, sensible to affront, slow to make
    friends, and wary in society. Boswell was the opposite of all
    these things. He made himself at home in all societies, and
    charmed others into a like ease and confidence. Under
    the spell of his effervescent good-humour the melancholy
    Highlanders were willing to tell stories of the supernatural.
    'Mr. Boswell's frankness and gayety,' says Johnson, 'made
    everybody communicative.'

And Boswell himself took no trouble to conceal, but rather published
this truth. He saw very clearly certain qualities in the Scotch
character which he disliked.

It must be remembered, however, that Boswell professed to be in one
sense, perhaps the only right sense, patriotic. He may have hated the
Scotch, but he loved Scotland and loved in particular the home of his
ancestors. If he preferred to live in England, it was a preference
only for the society he found there. During those memorable months
when the great Doctor made his tour in Scotland, Boswell had a real
anxiety that Johnson should get rid of his prejudices and appreciate
the country. He takes the trouble to defend at length Johnson's
'Journey to the Western Islands' from the anger of Scotchmen, but he
does so by asserting that Johnson saw both the good and the bad.

    'And let me add' [he says in an extravagant vein] 'that,
    citizen of the world as I hold myself to be, I have that just
    sense of the merit of an ancient nation, which has been ever
    renowned for its valour, which in former times maintained its
    independence against a powerful neighbour, and in modern times
    has been equally distinguished for its ingenuity and
    industry in civilised life, that I should have felt a genuine
    indignation at any injustice done to it. Johnson treated
    Scotland no worse than he did even his best friends, whose
    characters he used to give as they appeared to him, both in
    light and shade.'

However Boswell may have had 'that just sense of the merit of an
ancient nation,' it is clear, as we have said, that he disliked very
much his legal work in Scotland. But it must not be thought that he
rapidly became grave and soured by constant irritation. That process
was a slow one in his case. His disposition was too sanguine to feel
very much, as a young man, his disappointments. He did without doubt,
as he grew older, become less frivolous, and more sedate; with this we
must suppose that his marriage in 1769 was in some way connected.

       *       *       *       *       *

Before we come to discuss the domesticity of Boswell we must consider
for a time those affairs of the heart in which he had such a plentiful

About these he was as frank as he was about all the subjects which
he discusses in his letters to Temple. We have detailed accounts
(detailed enough, apparently, to offend, unfortunately for our
purpose, the delicate ear of the first editor of the letters) which
describe in several cases the precise nature of Boswell's love or
passion or whatever be the appropriate expression. These accounts
were intentionally complete. The eye of Boswell is fixed upon the
thermometer of his affections to observe and indicate its rise and
fall. Nothing could illustrate the man so well as the attitude which
he here so nakedly revealed, typical entirely of Boswell because it is
so completely self-centred. He lived for his own pleasure and says as
much: 'That pleasure is not the aim but the end of our being, seems to
be philosophically demonstrable. Therefore all the labour and all the
serious business of life should first be considered as means to that
end.'[13] In love he was not less governed by this system than he was
in every other phase of life.

It was at the early age of eighteen when Boswell was still at the
University that the son of Venus came to him upon the first of many
visits. The lady, a Miss W----t, is described as a most desirable
companion; and Cupid in one sense was kind to Boswell--for though his
hope of an ideal future in the company of the beloved, the heiress to
a fortune of thirty thousand pounds, was not destined to be realised,
he was able, if the lady were disinclined to adorn his life, to 'bear
it _æquo animo_, and retire into the calm regions of philosophy.'

The subject of matrimony seems often to have occupied the thoughts
of Boswell. At times the appeal of unmarried life was strong. 'The
bachelor has a carelessness of disposition which pleases everybody,
and everybody thinks him a sort of common good--a feather which flies
about and lights now here, now there.' But the ideal of a winged good
which was to float about thus amiably gave way at times to a more
sedate view of living. 'If you think of the comforts of a home, where
you are a sort of sovereign, the kind endearments of an amiable woman,
who has no wish but to make you happy, the amusement of seeing your
children grow up from infancy to manhood, and the pleasing pride
of being the father of brave and learned men, all which may be the
case--then marriage is truly the condition in which true felicity is
to be found.' In the absence, however, of a felicity which could add
so much comfort and pleasure and so small a burden of responsibility
to his life, Boswell was happy enough, he proceeds to relate, to have
a '_dear infidel_.' That there was no infidelity on the part of this
'charmer' Boswell is able to affirm, while he does not deny that she
has a husband; but though, as he says, 'imagination represented it
just as being fond of a pretty, lively, black little lady, who,
to oblige me, stayed in Edinburgh, and I very genteelly paid her
expenses,' he was glad no doubt that circumstances permitted him to
arrange his pleasures without hypocrisy.

The course of his amour was not destined to run very smoothly. The
ardour of Boswell for the deserted or deserting lady was intermittent
and expensive; it was difficult to be rid of her because the
tendernesses of a farewell upset the unstable balance of Boswell's
susceptibility; 'I was sometimes resolved to let her go, and sometimes
my heart was like to burst within me. I took her dear hand; her eyes
were full of passion, I took her in my arms.' The dramatic moment is
too much for the best-laid plans, and Boswell was grateful, as he
well might be, to find himself free after two months. 'I am totally
emancipated from my charmer, as much as from the gardener's daughter
who now puts on my fire and performs menial offices like any other
wench.' The affair with the gardener's daughter is unfortunately not
related. She is mentioned only this once where Boswell tells us that a
year before this date (March 30, 1767), he had been 'so madly in love
as to think of marrying her.' Two other ladies are mentioned in the
same letter, Miss Bosville and Miss Blair. He thought of the former,
who was his cousin, as a convenient match, but the suit does not
appear to have been prosecuted with much vigour. She was kept, as it
were, in the second line of battle to fill up a gap when an object of
devotion was required. There is another name of the same kind, Zelide,
a Dutch lady whom he met at Utrecht and who appears upon the scene
periodically. Boswell several times threatened to marry her. How many
affairs there were of this class it is difficult to estimate. Exact
information on the subject would be valuable as enabling us to adjust
the proportion of these matters. From isolated remarks referring to
women not elsewhere mentioned, such as 'My Italian angel is constant,'
we might suppose that Boswell conducted his amours on the magnificent
scale of Solomon. But this can hardly have been the case.

Miss Blair was a Scotch heiress whose estate was not far from
Auchinleck. Boswell's father was in favour of the match, which would
have been in every way desirable, particularly so if it be considered
appropriate that the young lady was in love with Boswell. The
initial stages were highly propitious. Miss Blair with her mother
was persuaded, without great difficulties we may suppose, to stay at
Auchinleck, where Boswell in the 'romantic groves' of his ancestors
'adored her like a divinity.' The heir whose 'grand object is the
ancient family of Auchinleck--a venerable and noble principle' intends
to carry off the 'neighbouring princess' by assault rather than siege,
and in the pursuit of romance allows no time for love to languish. An
emissary[14] is despatched, no other than the faithful Temple, who is
at once to blow the trumpet as a herald, and as a spy to observe the
enemy's fortifications. 'Praise me for my good qualities--you know
them.' These are the instructions. Romance is to be fed by mystery and
the chase encouraged by the elusiveness of the quarry. 'But talk also
how odd, how inconstant, how impetuous, how much accustomed to women
of intrigue. Ask gravely, Pray don't you imagine there is something of
madness in that family?' A tinge of insanity may be a pleasing dash
of colour in the hero; or the suggestion may draw the attention of the
fair one to extravagances which are to be noted as the fantasies of
genius. The ultimate halo, the crown of glory, is reserved for the
explorer of distant lands and the friend of men distinguished in a
continent. 'Talk of my various travels, German princes--Voltaire and
Rousseau.' The effect upon the audience of this elaborate comedy is to
be duly registered in order that the manager may arrange the sequence
appropriately and the principal actor appear in splendour at the
dramatic moment. 'Observe her well. See how amiable! Judge if she
would be happy with your friend. Think of me as the great man at
Adamtown--quite classical too; study the mother. Remember well what
passes.... Consider what a romantic expedition you are on; take
notes.' By the final injunction, the biographer's own peculiar weapon
is to be directed at the prize and the lady captured by a sheet of

An accident, however, occurs and trivial circumstance is swollen
to importance by the fever of impatience. The fervour of a suitor's
letter demands immediate reply; but the letter remains for some days
in the post. Letter follows letter, and the perturbation increases
when jealousy summons the image of a yellow nabob. The actor doubts if
he has chosen the proper _rôle_, and fears the effect of his
'Spanish stateliness.' But the ardent lover is able to exclaim, 'I am
entertained with this dilemma like another chapter in my adventures,'
and consolation comes in a letter from the Signora 'written with all
the warmth of Italian affection.' Finally the matter is explained and
there is the pleasure of restoring harmony. Lucky that these
matters run never smoothly, for there will be further opportunity of
experiencing the tortured joy of a quarrel and the supreme delight of
reconciliation. An uninteresting interval is amused by a renewal of
intimacy with the 'dear infidel' before another coolness is arranged.
The self-possession of the lady now provokes 'a strange sultanish
letter, very cold and very formal,' and after an absence of three
weeks the suitor pays an eminently agreeable visit to the prospective
bride, though still apparently in a rather sultanish mood: 'I am
dressed in green and gold. I have my chaise in which I sit alone with
Mr. Gray, and Thomas rides by me in a claret-coloured suit with a
silver-laced hat.' The final joy was however withheld. 'The princess
and I have not yet made up our quarrel, she talks lightly of it.'
The adorer is prepared conditionally to soar to the last heights of
adoration. 'If she feels as I wish her to do, I shall adore her while
my blood is warm': but the philosopher is determined to escape the
inconvenience of a wounded heart: 'I shall just bring myself, I hope,
to a good, easy tranquillity.' The 'princess' by this time has ceased
to be a dupe; she may have seen that the courtship was arranged to
give the colouring of romance to conventional matrimony, and alter the
pompous comedy of surrender to a serious farce for one party and for
the other probably to a serious tragedy. Her manner in any case became
more reserved: 'She refused sending me a lock ... and she says very
cool things upon that head.' The burning lover begins to congratulate
himself upon escape from so unsatisfying a mate, and the beautiful
princess is discovered to be a jilt. 'Wish me joy, my good friend, of
having discovered the snake before it was too late.... After this I
shall be upon my guard against ever indulging the least fondness for
a Scot lass; I am a soul of a more Southern frame. I may perhaps be
fortunate enough to find an Englishwoman who will be sensible of my
merits and will study to please my singular humour.' Zelide and Miss
Bosville are mentioned in the same letter, the former to illustrate
the truth that 'an old flame is easily rekindled' and the latter as a
possibility to be kept in mind.

But a volatility amazing even in Boswell produces on the following day
a letter which is full of the charms of Miss Blair. The more violent
the quarrel the more pleasing the peace-making. A meeting is arranged
at Edinburgh; a declaration is made and the now enthusiastic suitor
reports, 'I ventured to seize her hand. She is really the finest woman
I ever saw.' The 'princess' however is still reserved, and determined
efforts have to be made at the theatre.

    Next evening I was at the play with them; it was 'Othello.'
    I sat close behind the princess, and at the most affecting
    scenes I pressed my hand upon her waist; she was in tears and
    rather leaned to me. The jealous Moor described my very soul.
    I often spake to her of the torment she saw before her.

But even after this touching scene there is cause for disquiet.
'Still,' he says, 'I thought her distant, and still I felt uneasy.'

The encouragement however was sufficient to give confidence to the
attack, and there follows a _tête-à-tête_ in which 'pleasure from
the intimacy of often squeezing and kissing her fine hand, while she
looked at me with those beautiful black eyes,' was somewhat darkened
by a disconcerting surprise. 'I then asked her to tell me if she had
any particular liking for me. What think you, Temple, was her answer?
"No; I really have no particular liking for you; I like many people as
well as you--I like Jeany Maxwell better than you."' Consolation must
now be sought where love is denied. _Boswell_: 'If you should happen
to love another, will you tell me immediately and help me to make
myself easy?' _Princess_: 'Yes, I will.' But the lady's sympathy shows
a want of imagination which is highly unsatisfying. _Boswell_: 'I
must, if possible, endeavour to forget you. What would you have me
do?' _Princess_: 'I really don't know what you should do.'

It would appear that honour had no escape from such a defeat but in
renewing the encounter. The history of the last period of this wooing,
of the nadir of the wooer's fortunes and his cheerfulness in spite of
repulses, is told to Temple six weeks later. A new rival appears upon
the scene, and there is rumour of an engagement. The rejected suitor
writes to ascertain the truth of this alarming story. But his appeal
is neglected. Dignity now demands that disappointment shall be
concealed, and an alliance is formed with the presumably successful
rival, Sir Alexander Gilmour. 'I endeavoured to laugh off my passion,
and I got Sir Alexander Gilmour to frank a letter to her, which I
wrote in a pleasant strain, and amused myself with the whim.' The lady
now appears in London and at the same moment the Nabob. He too is to
be an ally, and a final scene is arranged. 'We gave our words as men
of honour that we would be honest to each other so that neither should
suffer needlessly; and to satisfy ourselves of our real situation, we
gave our words of honour that we should both ask her this morning, and
I should go first.' The result can hardly have been doubtful. Boswell
tells his adorable princess, 'I have great animal spirits, and bear it
wonderfully well,' and proceeds to write 'A Crambo Song on Losing my

      Although I be an honest laird,
        In person rather strong and brawny,
      For me the heiress never cared,
        For she would have the knight, Sir Sawney.

      And when, with ardent vows, I swore,
        Loud as Sir Jonathan Trelawney,
      The heiress showed me to the door,
        And said, she'd have the knight, Sir Sawney.

      She told me with a scornful look,
        I was as ugly as a tawney;
      For she a better fish could hook,
        The rich and gallant knight, Sir Sawney.

We might suppose that Boswell in spite of his cheerfulness would
have been at heart rather dejected by these events; but he writes
to Temple, 'My mind is now twice as enlarged as it has been for some
months. You cannot say how fine a woman I may marry; perhaps a Howard
or some other of the noblest in the kingdom.'

The realities were hardly so elevated as these dreams, for in the
following spring (1768), it is Zelide again, and not she alone.
'Zelide may have had her faults but is she always to have them? May
not time have altered her for the better as it has altered me? But you
will tell me that I am not so greatly altered, as I have still many
unruly passions. To confess to you at once Temple, I have, since my
last coming to town been as wild as ever.' But flowers were to be
fresh at last in the month of August. 'I am exceedingly lucky in
having escaped the insensible Miss Bosville and the furious Zelide,
for I have now seen the finest creature that ever was formed, _la
belle Irlandaise_. Figure to yourself, Temple, a young lady just
sixteen, formed like a Grecian nymph, with the sweetest countenance
full of sensibility....' Everything was favourable. 'Here every flower
is united.' The diplomat who had been fatigued before by the restraint
of a wise cautiousness is resolved that this time there shall be
no reserve. 'Ah, my friend, I am now as I ought to be; no reserved
prudent conduct as with Miss Bosville. No! all youthful, warm,
natural, in short, all genuine love.' And the ardent hunter seems to
have been more successful than the wily angler. 'I repeated my fervent
passion to her again and again; she was pleased and I could swear
that her little heart beat. I carved the first letter of her name on a
tree; I cut off a lock of her hair, _male pertinax_. She promised
not to forget me, nor to marry a lord before March.' Moreover, the
unspoilt joy of advance without contest was more pleasant than the
doubts and hopes of expectation, while a puritanical idealism and
the solemnity of an oath were a welcome change for less spiritual

    This is the most agreeable passion I ever felt; sixteen,
    innocence, and gaiety make me quite a Sicilian swain. Before I
    left London I made a vow in St. Paul's Church that I would
    not allow myself in licentious connections of any kind for six
    months, I am hitherto firm to my vow, and already feel myself
    a superior being ... in short, Maria has me without any rival;
    I do hope the period of my perfect felicity, as far as this
    state can afford, is now in view.

Whether this 'perfect felicity' was attained and how long it lasted we
do not know. Maria no doubt had her day like the others; the sequel to
the vow in St. Paul's we may conjecture. Boswell, if his name endured
for no other talents, would remain with us for ever as an incomparable
genius for reviving affection. In December we learn: 'Miss Blair is
Miss Blair still,'--still a fit subject for this curious pastime. 'I
was two or three times at Adamtown, and, upon my word, the old flame
was kindled.' Miss Blair apparently had been piqued because her suitor
had made such a joke of his love for the heiress in every company.
'Temple, to a man again in love, this was engaging. I walked whole
hours with the princess; I kneeled; I became truly amorous.' These
brief sentences adequately describe the last recorded love-scene. If
Boswell corresponded with Temple between December 1768 and May
1770 the letters have been lost; and so the outrageous story ends
abruptly--and it is fortunate perhaps for the readers of this book,
for it is a story so fascinating and so absurd and so richly human
that no part of it can be omitted.

Boswell in fact was destined to be married to his cousin, Miss
Montgomerie. The Montgomeries were an aristocratic family related to
Lord Eglinton, and Boswell was proud of the connection: he speaks in
a published pamphlet of 'having the honour and happiness to be married
to his Lordship's relation, a true Montgomerie.' We know very little
about Mrs. Boswell. Johnson's curt judgment in a letter to Mrs. Thrale
is probably right in placing her with the great bulk of mediocre
humanity: 'Mrs. B---- has the mien and manners of a gentlewoman; and
such a person and mind as would not be in any place either admired
or contemned. She is in a proper degree inferior to her husband:
she cannot rival him, nor can he ever be ashamed of her.' But if
undistinguished, as in Johnson's view a good wife should be, the lady
had some excellent qualities; and Johnson himself would have been the
first to praise them. If he urged Boswell on more than one occasion to
be considerate of his home, it was because he knew that the home was
both pleasant and valuable to his friend: 'I need not tell you what
regard you owe to Mrs. Boswell's entreaties; or how much you ought to
study the happiness of her who studies yours with so much diligence,
and of whose kindness you enjoy such good effects.' Boswell, too,
loudly sings the praise of his wife: 'I am fully sensible,' he writes
to Temple, 'of my happiness in being married to so excellent a woman,
so sensible a mistress of a family, so agreeable a companion, so
affectionate and peculiarly proper helpmate for me.' After her death
he writes: 'I had no occasion almost to think concerning my family,
and every particular was thought of by her better than I could'; and
he refers to her in the 'Life of Johnson' as 'my very valuable wife,
and the very affectionate mother of my children, who, if they inherit
her good qualities, will have no reason to complain of their lot.'

That Mrs. Boswell had in abundance the matronly virtues is
sufficiently clear. She had besides considerable intellectual gifts.
Boswell calls her, 'A lady of admirable good sense and quickness of
understanding'; he kept a common-place book, 'Uxoriana,' to preserve
her witty sayings, and after her death regretted her 'admirable
conversation.' From her own expressed opinion of her husband's
friendship with Dr. Johnson we are obliged to think well of her
intelligence: it was a female opinion, as Boswell remarks, with
something of resentment for the intrusion of this uncomfortable guest:
'His irregular hours and uncouth habits, such as turning the candles
with their heads downwards, when they did not burn bright enough, and
letting the wax drop upon the carpet, could not but be disagreeable to
a lady.' And no doubt she failed to appreciate the devotion of Boswell
to this ungainly and unpleasing animal. But her observation, in the
manner of the times, is admirably pointed: 'I have seen many a bear
led by a man, but I never before saw a man led by a bear.'

The marriage took place in the autumn of 1769; Boswell was then
twenty-nine years of age. The situation is summed up in his own
remarks in the _London Magazine_ for April 1781:

    After having for many years cherished a system of marrying
    for money, I at last totally departed from it, and married for
    love. But the truth was that I had not been careful enough to
    weed my mind; for while I cultivated the plant of interest,
    love all the time grew up along with it and fairly got the
    better. Naturally somewhat singular, independent of any
    additions which affectation and vanity may perhaps have made,
    I resolved to have a more pleasing species of marriage than
    common, and bargained with my bride that I should not be
    bound to live with her longer than I really inclined; and
    that whenever I tired of her domestic society, I should be at
    liberty to give it up.

That Boswell was always fond of his wife is clear enough. 'Eleven
years have elapsed and I have never yet wanted to take advantage of my
stipulated privilege.' He never speaks of her without affection,
and was deeply distressed by her death in 1789. But for how long he
continued to love her fervently it is difficult to tell; not, one
would suppose, for a great length of time, or he could hardly have
written in the _London Magazine_: 'Whatever respect I may have for the
institution of marriage, and however much I am convinced that it upon
the whole produces rational happiness, I cannot but be of the opinion
that the passion of love has been improperly feigned as continuing
long after the conjugal knot has been tied.' Nor, if Boswell had
continued to love his wife passionately, would he have found it
disagreeable to return to Edinburgh, after visits to London.

But Boswell no doubt wanted to be a faithful husband: 'I can unite
little fondnesses with perfect conjugal love.'[15] His idea of
fidelity would seem to involve no kind of restriction upon his natural
inclinations except in so far as that he should appear to be a good
husband in the eyes of the world and particularly of his wife. However
sensible this view may have been, it was not such as commonly finds
favour among the female sex. But he was undoubtedly in his own view a
faithful husband and he had really at heart the welfare of his wife.
'Upon the whole I do believe,' he says, 'I make her very happy.'[16]

    [Footnote 1: _Tour to the Hebrides_, September 17.]

    [Footnote 2: _Autobiography, Letters, &c., of Mrs. Piozzi_,
    ii, 124.]

    [Footnote 3: Perhaps the best evidence of all for this quality
    is Boswell's habit of attending executions (mentioned several
    times in the _Life_ and also in the _Life of Reynolds_, by
    Leslie and Taylor), and his acquaintance with Mrs. Rudd, a
    notorious criminal.]

    [Footnote 4: _Life of Johnson_, ii, 59. This letter is an
    admirable instance of Boswell's affected manner of expressing
    real feelings.]

    [Footnote 5: _Life of Johnson_, ii, 3, note 1.]

    [Footnote 6: _Letters to Temple_, p. 126.]

    [Footnote 7: _Boswelliana_, p. 186.]

    [Footnote 8: _Life of Johnson_, ii, 20.]

    [Footnote 9: Fitzgerald's _Life of Boswell_, i, 111.]

    [Footnote 10: Boswell's authorship proved by _Letters to
    Temple_, p. 89.]

    [Footnote 11: Fitzgerald's _Life of Boswell_, i, 113.]

    [Footnote 12: Fitzgerald's _Life of Boswell_, i, 116.]

    [Footnote 13: _London Magazine_, 1, 40.]

    [Footnote 14: Temple, it appears, was promised payment for
    his services: 'You shall have consultation guineas, as an
    ambassador has his appointments.' This seems to imply more
    than the mere travelling expenses which Dr. Rogers suggests as
    an explanation.]

    [Footnote 15: _Letters to Temple_, p. 159.]

    [Footnote 16: _Ib._ p. 137.]


A biography of Boswell, though it might profess to be complete, could
say little about his domestic life. If he has told us very little
about it, there is, however, no reason that we should seek to know
more. It was a very essential part of Boswell that he should have
a wife and family: a wife, because she adds a certain flavour of
respectability and is a definite asset to the social position of a
man, still more perhaps because she increases responsibility and so
intensifies the sensation of importance; a family, because to the man
of estate there must be born an heir. But the mere fact of his being
married was, in a sense, of far less consequence to him than to most

There were two aspects of his life which were dissociated in a
peculiar degree from each other--the life in Scotland, where he
laboured at the Law and was eventually to be Laird of Auchinleck, and
where his home was the basis of operations; and the life in London,
which he visited as often as he was able, to live the gay life he
loved, and to talk to his literary friends, especially to Dr. Johnson.
The pleasure he had in the society of his English friends was far more
to him than another man's recreation or hobby. It occupied more time,
and it was time spent away from his domestic circle and, for the most
part, away from his work. He is never tired of telling of his love of

    I had long complained to him [Johnson] that I felt myself
    discontented in Scotland, as too narrow a sphere, and that I
    wished to make my chief residence in London, the great scene
    of ambition, instruction, amusement: a scene which was to me,
    comparatively speaking, a heaven upon earth! _Johnson_: 'Why,
    Sir, I never knew anyone who had such a gust for London as you

It must be our business then to follow for a little the life of
Boswell among his London friends, to see the relations in which he
stood to them and the progress of his intimacy with Dr. Johnson.

In the 'Life' there are recorded the consecutive visits of Boswell
to England with relation always to Dr. Johnson in particular, but
referring also to other celebrities whom he met, and to his own
pleasures and amusements. The group of men who were in the first
place the friends and admirers of Dr. Johnson, and with whom Boswell
naturally associated so far as he was able, were for the most part
distinguished men in the best literary society, and members of that
club which was started by Johnson and Reynolds in 1762 or 1763. Burke,
Beauclerk, Langton, Goldsmith, Hawkins, were original members; Garrick
was elected in 1773, as was Boswell himself. Malone, whose wise help
was invaluable to Boswell in preparing for the press his _magnum
opus_, and who was its first editor, became a member later.

The pleasure which it gave Boswell to belong to this club of
distinguished men is revealed in his own account of his election. 'The
gentlemen went away to their club, and I was left at Beauclerk's till
the fate of my election should be announced to me. I sat in a state
of anxiety which even the charming conversation of Lady Di Beauclerk
could not entirely dissipate. In a short time I received the agreeable
intelligence that I was chosen. I hastened to the place of meeting,
and was introduced to such a society as can seldom be found.'

From a conversation reported in the 'Tour to the Hebrides' it would
appear that Boswell was not elected without some difficulty. 'He
[Johnson] told me, "Sir, you got into our club by doing what a man can

    (Boswell's note on this is: 'This I find is considered as
    obscure. I suppose Dr. Johnson meant that I assiduously and
    earnestly recommended myself to some of the members, as in a
    canvass for an election into Parliament.')

'Several of the members wished to keep you out. Burke told me he
doubted if you were fit for it....' _Boswell_: 'They were afraid of
you, Sir, as it was you who proposed me.' _Johnson_: 'Sir, they knew
that if they refused you, they'd probably have never got in another.
I'd have kept them all out.'

Boswell, of course, did not get on equally well with all of Johnson's
friends. Goldsmith especially he seems to have disliked, and at a
later date Mrs. Thrale, Miss Burney and Baretti; we may suppose that
the feeling was mutual, especially after the appearance of the 'Life
of Johnson,' in which Boswell made little attempt to conceal his
feelings. With Hawkins, who was chosen to write the official biography
of Johnson, he was eventually to quarrel. But he had strong supporters
in the club. 'Now you are in,' Johnson told him, 'none of them are
sorry. Burke says you have so much good humour naturally, it is scarce
a virtue.' Beauclerk too appreciated him. 'Beauclerk was very earnest
for you.' His greatest friend of this _coterie_ besides Dr. Johnson
was Sir Joshua Reynolds. Sir Joshua seems always to have understood
and insisted upon the value of Boswell. He was prepared to take up
the cudgels. 'He thaws reserve wherever he comes and sets the ball of
conversation rolling.'[1] The club, whatever else it might think about
Boswell, was obliged to admit that he was excellent company.

There were some, no doubt, who had a high opinion of Boswell's
abilities; it was admitted by everyone that he had written a good
book, and not all, like Gray and Walpole,[2] can have thought that he
wrote it by chance. And Boswell too, if not a good literary critic,
was interested in books and able to talk about them. The opinions to
which he gave expression in the 'Life of Johnson' about various books
which came under discussion are often more appreciative and better
supported by reason than the dicta of Johnson, and he sometimes
shows considerable sagacity. His views about Johnson's own books, and
especially his criticism of Johnson's style and the high estimate he
formed of the 'Lives of the Poets,' are excellent.

But it was far more for his social than for his literary qualities
that Boswell was valued. In the circle of Johnson's admirers he was
in a sense the most important figure; he had a greater admiration
than any other and was rewarded by Johnson with a greater degree of
affection. He came to understand Johnson. Hannah More relates that she
was on one occasion made umpire in a trial of skill between Garrick
and Boswell, which could most nearly imitate Dr. Johnson's manner.[3]
'I remember I gave it for Boswell in familiar conversation, and
for Garrick in reciting poetry.' To have beaten Garrick was a great
performance and shows how Boswell must have studied Johnson. He was,
as it were, his chief exploiter. It was he above all the rest who
could make Johnson talk.[4] He knew what would provoke a discussion,
and was so reckless of appearing foolish that he would introduce any
subject. He made opportunities for Johnson to exhibit his powers. The
description of how he arranged the meeting with Wilkes, though more
famous almost than any other passage of the 'Life,' is too important
as illustrating the whole attitude of Boswell to be omitted here.
It is not inappropriate to say that the very name of Wilkes was to
Johnson like a red rag to a bull. He hated what he considered to be a
pretentious notoriety, and what he no doubt talked about as 'this cant
of liberty' was the signal for an outburst of violence in his best
manner. Boswell conceived the idea of bringing these two together, and
probably hoped to witness an incomparable contest. But how was this
to be done? 'I was persuaded that if I had come upon him with a direct
proposal, "Sir, will you dine in company with Jack Wilkes?" he would
have flown into a passion and would probably have answered, "Dine with
Jack Wilkes, Sir! I'd as soon dine with Jack Ketch."' But it was easy
to see the weak point in the Doctor's armour. 'Notwithstanding the
high veneration which I entertained for Dr. Johnson, I was sensible
that he was a little actuated sometimes by contradiction, and by means
of that I hoped I should gain my point.' Boswell, who knows exactly
what will provoke his friend, has thought out beforehand precisely
what he shall say, and opens with a proposal which Johnson is sure
to accept. 'Mr. Dilly, Sir, sends me his respectful compliments, and
would be happy if you would do him the honour to dine with him
on Wednesday next along with me, as I must soon go to Scotland.'
_Johnson_: 'Sir, I am obliged to Mr. Dilly. I will wait upon him.' The
dictator is in a gracious mood, and the moment favourable to excite a
rebuke in defence of that formal courtesy which he loved to practise.
'Provided, Sir, I suppose,' adds Boswell, 'that the company which
he is to have is agreeable to you.' The apparent artlessness of the
remark in the true Boswellian fashion, with the exaggerated respect
that so often irritated Johnson, took effect at once. _Johnson_:
'What do you mean, Sir? What do you take me for? Do you think I am
so ignorant of the world as to imagine that I am to prescribe to a
gentleman what company he is to have at his table?' An excuse must
now be made which is certain to meet with sledge-hammer reasoning
or piercing sarcasm, and it will then be safe to lead up to the
disagreeable intelligence. 'I beg your pardon, Sir, for wishing to
prevent you from meeting people whom you might not like. Perhaps
he may have some of what he calls his patriotic friends with him.'
_Johnson_: 'Well, Sir, what then? What care _I_ for his _patriotic
friends_? Poh!' _Boswell_: 'I should not be surprised to find Jack
Wilkes there.' The possibility may have been disconcerting, but
retreat was now out of the question. _Johnson_: 'And if Jack Wilkes
should be there, what is that to me, Sir? My dear friend, let me have
no more of this. I am sorry to be angry with you, but really it is
treating me strangely to talk to me as if I could not meet any company
whatever, occasionally.' So the matter was settled. Boswell asks
forgiveness and clinches the matter: 'Pray forgive me, Sir; I meant
well. But you shall meet whoever comes.' 'Thus,' he tells the reader,
with evident satisfaction, 'I secured him.'

The man who could do this was clearly of importance to those who were
interested, even though in a less degree than himself, in Dr. Johnson.
We may suppose that the circle of Johnson's literary friends welcomed
Boswell as much for his peculiar homage to the Doctor as for his own
social talents.

       *       *       *       *       *

We must now more nearly examine that friendship, which is as much
the concern of our own age as it was of Boswell's. We have considered
already what it was that caused these two men to be friends; but the
meanest picture of Boswell must include some account of his behaviour
towards Johnson; we must review the progress of their friendship and
remark the more characteristic attitudes of the biographer.

In the pages of the 'Life of Johnson' is recorded in detail, and
almost without reserve, the story of the relations between these
two friends. It is a story full of humour, telling of all the little
peculiarities of a great man, of all the whims and foibles which we
are accustomed to observe in old age and which we both like and laugh
at; but it is the story also of a deep and anxious affection.

If the course of friendship ran smoothly on the whole for Johnson and
Boswell, as might be expected when one of the two was so well balanced
and so practically wise as the older man, yet, as must always be the
case with people who are not either quite perfect or quite colourless,
there were rough places here and there; and these, if responsible for
no great misery, were, however, the cause of some unhappiness to both.
Boswell, at all events, realised very keenly the great gulf between
them; between his own sensitive, uncertain nature and Johnson's rude
strength. He, probably more than most men, wanted sympathy, wanted to
be understood. With what relief he speaks from his heart to Temple: 'I
have not had such a relief as this for I don't know how long. I have
broke the trammels of business, and am roving unconfined with my
Temple.' It is unfortunate for Boswell that he expressed himself so
extravagantly. We sympathise with those who are self-contained about
sentiment and particularly about their own sorrows, but we have few
kind feelings for those who exaggerate. And Boswell, because he was
difficult to understand, was more than usually isolated: to Johnson,
at all events, there must have been many matters about which he could
not talk, and he was nettled sometimes by the other's blunt advice.
It was unpleasant to be told by one whom he so much respected, at the
moment of his first serious publication, 'The Corsican Journal,' to
'empty his head of Corsica which had filled it too long.' It must have
been more than annoying when he had written to Johnson in a despondent
mood (there is no reason to doubt that he was genuine in despondency)
to receive his answer: 'I had hoped you had got rid of all this
hypocrisy of misery. What have you to do with Liberty and Necessity?
Or what more than to hold your tongue about it? Do not doubt that I
shall be most heartily glad to see you here again, for I love every
part about you but your affectation of distress.'

Much as we must admire the honest wrath of Johnson, and the desire
which he had to cure the affectation of Boswell, we cannot but regret
sometimes that he was not more discriminating. It was much, no doubt,
to be assured of affection, but affection alone could not take the
place of an understanding sympathy; and if this had come from one whom
he so much respected, it would have been invaluable to Boswell. As it
was, he realised that Johnson must partially disapprove of him, and
it was because he knew, and felt this disapproval, as much as from any
inherent quality of his temperament, that he so often wanted a proof
of affection.

Whatever may have been their cause--it may have been no more than
the mere need for friendship coupled with the peculiar unreserve of
Boswell's character--the result of these demands was sometimes to
irritate Johnson.

    I said to him: 'My dear Sir, we must meet every year, if you
    don't quarrel with me.' _Johnson_: 'Nay, Sir, you are more
    likely to quarrel with me than I with you. My regard for you
    is greater almost than I have words to express; but I do not
    choose to be always repeating it; write it down in the first
    leaf of your pocket-book, and never doubt of it again.'

On one occasion Johnson was really angry. Boswell conceived the idea
of making an experiment to test his affection. It was apparently his
custom to write to Johnson upon his return to his family. He wanted
to see what the Doctor would do if he neglected the usual civility.
Johnson, of course, was eventually the first to write; and Boswell,
thus gratified, answered him by a letter which frankly explained his

    I was willing ... to try whether your affection for me would,
    after an unusual silence on my part, make you write first.
    This afternoon I have had very high satisfaction by receiving
    your kind letter of inquiry, for which I most gratefully thank
    you. I am doubtful if it was right to make the experiment,
    though I have gained by it.

We may forgive Johnson for being annoyed by this letter.

Those who make very large demands upon their friends for a display of
affection are, as a rule, rather tiresome companions; it may possibly
be good to be sensitive, but it is bad to be easily offended, which is
often the case with such people. But if Boswell, like many who take a
decided lead in friendship, required many proofs to make him believe
that it was more than a one-sided affair, he of all men was the most
difficult to offend. We cannot do better than read his own accounts
of his quarrels with Johnson. There is that famous one, in the first
place, of the dinner at Sir Joshua's.

    On Saturday, May 2, I dined with him at Sir Joshua Reynolds',
    where there was a very large company, and a great deal of
    conversation; but owing to some circumstance which I cannot
    now recollect, I have no record of any part of it, except that
    there were several people there by no means of the Johnsonian
    school; so that less attention was paid to him than usual,
    which put him out of humour; and upon some imaginary offence
    from me he attacked me with such rudeness, that I was vexed
    and angry, because it gave those persons an opportunity of
    enlarging upon his supposed ferocity and ill-treatment of his

We may doubt whether Boswell gives the true reason for his vexation.
He was able to stand a great deal of 'buffeting' at Dr. Johnson's
hands; but it was probably necessary for him to feel that the company
were good-natured in their merriment. We do not resent that men should
laugh _at_ us if they laugh _with_ us at the same time. It was no
doubt the contemptuous and half-concealed mirth of strangers which
Boswell felt to be unbearable. And if he felt like this we may
sympathise with a short period of sulking. 'I was so much hurt, and
had my pride so much roused, that I kept away from him for a week;
and, perhaps, might have kept away much longer, nay, gone to Scotland
without seeing him again, had not we fortunately met and been
reconciled. To such unhappy chances are human friendships liable.'

The oddest thing of all about Boswell, when we reflect upon the scenes
of his humiliation, is his pride. It is not the least unlikely that,
as he suggests, if circumstances had not ordained otherwise he would
have waited, and waited for a long time, for Johnson to make advances.
It was not merely the pride of the worm in the proverb which may be
roused at the last. The worm would not consciously go out of his way
to incur insulting anger as Boswell did when he arranged the dinner
with Wilkes and on many other occasions. Boswell's was a pride
which was constantly giving him pain and was capable, when goaded to
obstinacy, of going to considerable lengths.

At Sir Joshua Reynolds' dinner he must have suffered acutely. Croker
tells the story of Boswell's discomfiture as it was told to him at
fourth-hand by the Marquess of Wellesley. 'The wits of Queen Anne's
reign were talked of, when Boswell exclaimed, "How delightful it must
have been to have lived in the society of Pope, Swift, Arbuthnot,
Gay, and Bolingbroke! We have no such society in our days." Sir Joshua
answered, "I think, Mr. Boswell, you might be satisfied with your
great friend's conversation." "Nay, Sir, Mr. Boswell is right," said
Johnson, "every man wishes for preferment, and if Boswell had lived
in those days, he would have obtained promotion." "How so, Sir?" asked
Sir Joshua. "Why, Sir," said Johnson, "he would have had a high place
in the Dunciad."' It was a hard blow. How deep was the wound we cannot
tell, because we do not know how it was said or how received. It is
curious at first sight that Boswell should have been more sulky about
this than about many a rough retort recorded in the 'Life.' It is
even more remarkable that he should have concealed this story of his
humiliation while he told others with perfect frankness. To do so was
entirely contrary to his principle and practice. The idea that 'the
several people there by no means of the Johnsonian school' should read
the story, recall the circumstances and laugh, not good-naturedly but
with contempt and malice, must have overcome for once the biographer's
'sacred love of truth.' From these facts, in any case, we may fairly
argue that Boswell suffered from his pride as a proud man must have
suffered from the Doctor's rude snubs. It is to Boswell's credit that
he was willing to run the gauntlet and even to bare his breast for the
wound, not only because if he was to have the honour he must endure
the pain, but at least as much because he knew that it was his
vocation to goad the giant into action, to strike and fan the spark
that would ignite the powder. It is to Boswell's credit that he had
a part in the fray: he bled from honourable wounds. But since men had
been so ill-natured as to despise them it was difficult to display the
gashes and the scars; and because from a noble motive he did what was
most difficult and most valuable we must praise Boswell exceedingly.

It is further to Boswell's credit that, if he winced for a moment
under the sledge-hammer and pouted at the executioner, his natural
good-humour and generosity made reconciliation easy.

    On Friday, May 8, I dined with him at Mr. Langton's. I was
    reserved and silent, which I suppose he perceived and might
    recollect the cause. After dinner, while Mr. Langton was
    called out of the room, and we were by ourselves, he drew
    his chair near to mine, and said, in a tone of conciliating
    courtesy, 'Well, how have you done?' _Boswell_: 'Sir, you have
    made me very uneasy by your behaviour to me when we were last
    at Sir Joshua Reynolds'. You know, my dear Sir, no man has a
    greater respect and affection for you, or would sooner go to
    the end of the world to serve you. Now to treat me so----.' He
    insisted that I had interrupted him, which I assured him was
    not the case and proceeded--'But why treat me so before people
    who neither love you nor me?' _Johnson_: 'Well, I am sorry
    for it. I'll make it up to you i' twenty different ways as you

Johnson certainly seems to have made himself most agreeable on this
occasion, and it would have been churlish of Boswell to have resisted
these advances; but nothing could be more truly generous than the way
in which he reminded Johnson of his affection and respect. Boswell
now proceeds to appease his pride by using the occasion to make a _bon
mot_. 'I said to-day to Sir Joshua, when he observed that you _tossed_
me sometimes--"I don't care how often or how high he tosses me, when
only friends are present, for then I fall upon soft ground: but I
do not like falling on stones, which is the case when enemies are
present." I think this is a pretty good image, Sir.' Johnson assents,
with unusual courtesy, 'Sir it is one of the happiest I have ever
heard.' And Boswell is now completely satisfied. The account proceeds
by giving Johnson a testimonial for good-nature and assuring its
readers that the best of relations were at once re-established. 'The
truth is, there was no venom in the wounds he inflicted at any time,
unless they were irritated by some malignant infusion from other
hands. We were instantly as cordial again as ever, and joined in
hearty laugh at some ludicrous but innocent peculiarities of one of
our friends.'

The story of this quarrel, if there were no other evidence, would show
that Boswell endured not a few rebuffs. The fact indeed has never been
challenged. Johnson's method of talking for victory often took the
form of mere rudeness, and Boswell was frequently the subject of
his rough wit. For Boswell it was a question whether the fun and the
interest of making Johnson angry were worth the sacrifice of dignity
involved. In retrospect it always was so, and, at the moment too, very
often. He tells us how, on one occasion, he had quoted Shakespeare
in the course of discussion, and Johnson, who was angry, had made the
characteristic reply, 'Nay, if you are to bring in gabble I'll talk
no more'; it is evident that this was regarded by him as a successful
issue to the argument. Johnson had become angrier and angrier, and
Boswell, far from trying to appease him, was glad to bring him to a
state of entire unreasonableness. He was conscious of this when he
commented with evident pleasure, 'My readers will decide upon this

There is something of the same spirit in the tale which Boswell tells
of the quarrel on the moor during the Tour in the Hebrides. Boswell
towards the end of a day had the not unnatural intention of going on
ahead to make preparations at the inn.

    It grew dusky; and we had a very tedious ride for what was
    called five miles; but I am sure would measure ten. We had no
    conversation. I was riding forward to the inn at Glenelg, on
    the opposite shore to Skye, that I might take proper measures,
    before Dr. Johnson, who was now advancing in dreary silence,
    Hay leading his horse, should arrive. Vass also walked by the
    side of his horse, and Joseph followed behind: as therefore
    he was thus attended, and seemed to be in deep meditation,
    I thought there could be no harm in leaving him for a little

Boswell indeed seems to have been particularly thoughtful and even
shows some delicacy in not interrupting Johnson's meditations to tell
him his plan. The sequel must have surprised him very much. 'He called
me back with a tremendous shout, and was really in a passion with me
for leaving him. I told him my intentions, but he was not satisfied,
and said, "Do you know I should as soon have thought of picking a
pocket as doing so?"' This did not annoy Boswell in the least, though
it took place in the presence of their servants; he was accustomed by
this time to the Doctor's moods, and could only be amused. He replied
with a composure which he must have known would irritate Johnson
exceedingly; 'I am diverted with you, Sir.' The force of the desired
explosion may have been underestimated. '_Johnson_: "Sir, I could
never be diverted with incivility...." His extraordinary warmth
confounded me so much, that I justified myself but lamely to him.
Matters in fact were rather more serious than Boswell had supposed,
and he must now make an effort to pacify his companion--but without
effect. 'I resumed the subject of my leaving him on the road, and
endeavoured to defend it better. He still was violent on that head,
and said, "Sir, had you gone on, I was thinking that I should have
returned with you to Edinburgh, and then have parted from you, and
never spoken to you more."' The storm was indeed a bad one that did
not clear up entirely by bedtime. Boswell felt distinctly uneasy
in the volcanic atmosphere; but he easily effected a complete

    Thursday, September 2. I had slept ill. Dr. Johnson's anger
    had affected me much. I considered that, without any bad
    intention, I might suddenly forfeit his friendship; and was
    impatient to see him this morning. I told him how uneasy he
    had made me by what he had said, and reminded him of his own
    remark at Aberdeen upon old friendships being hastily broken
    off. He owned he had spoken in a passion ...; and he added,
    'Let's think no more on't.' _Boswell_: 'Well then, Sir, I
    shall be easy. Remember I am to have fair warning in case of
    any quarrel. You are never to spring a mine upon me. It was
    absurd in me to believe you.' _Johnson_: 'You deserved about
    as much as to believe me from night to morning.'

The mixture of amusement and anxiety in Boswell's conduct and the
affectionate and good-humoured reconciliation are all extremely
typical of the relations between these two friends. Johnson indeed had
far too much sense of Boswell's good qualities and value ever to fall
out with him seriously, and it would have been hard to do so. There
was never one real misunderstanding between them up to the end. Their
intercourse, consisting of the visits of Boswell to London and a
number of letters on both sides, had but one break, from November 1769
to April 1771. Boswell had just been married, and omitted in 1770 to
pay his usual visit to London; he tells us that there was no coldness
on either side, no reason for not writing beyond the common one of

The correspondence of Boswell and Johnson is on the whole of an
irregular nature; there is more than one interval, longer than we
might expect, between two men who were such active friends as they,
in an age when letter-writing was cultivated for its own sake. Arguing
from this fact and considering that he was not present at Johnson's
death-bed, Boswell has been accused of neglecting his friend at the
end of his life. But from the state of mind which he described much
earlier in the _London Magazine_, we can otherwise account for these

    To pay a visit or write a letter to a friend does not surely
    require much activity. Yet such small exertions have appeared
    so laborious to a Hypochondriack, that he has delayed from
    hour to hour, so that friendship has grown cold for want
    of having its heat continued, for which repeated renewals,
    however slight, are necessary; or, perhaps, till death has
    carried his friend beyond the reach of any token of his
    kindness, and the regrets which pained him in the course of
    his neglect are accumulated and press upon his mind with a
    weight of sorrow.[5]

We may suppose that whenever Boswell for a short time failed in his
careful attention it was through no lack of affection, but rather
through a kind of indolence and want of purpose in the manner of it,
which is far from being uncommon.

The greatest event in this long friendship, and the time which has
left us the fullest record, is the 'Tour to the Hebrides,' in 1773.
In Boswell's journal we see more nearly than elsewhere the relations
between the two friends and the nature of their companionship. In the
foreground is the extreme amiability of Boswell--it was by this that
he was fitted to perform that most difficult office of friendship,
to travel with Dr. Johnson. We may read his own account of himself at
this time:

    Think then, of a gentleman of ancient blood, the pride
    of which was his predominant passion. He was then in his
    thirty-third year, and had been about four years happily
    married. His inclination was to be a soldier; but his father,
    a respectable judge, had pressed him into the profession of
    the law. He had travelled a good deal, and seen many varieties
    of human life. He had thought more than anybody supposed, and
    had a pretty good stock of general learning and knowledge.
    He had all Dr. Johnson's principles, with some degree of
    relaxation. He had rather too little, than too much prudence;
    and, his imagination being lively, he often said things of
    which the effect was very different from the intention. He
    resembled sometimes

      'The best good man, with the worst natur'd muse.'

He cannot deny himself the vanity of finishing with the encomium of
Dr. Johnson, whose friendly partiality to the companion of his 'Tour'
represents him as one 'whose acuteness would help my enquiry, and
whose gaiety of conversation, and civility of manners, are sufficient
to counteract the inconveniences of travel, in countries less
hospitable than we have passed.' Dr. Johnson in a letter to Mrs.
Thrale wrote of him in terms of the highest esteem: 'Boswell will
praise my resolution and perseverance, and I shall in return celebrate
his good humour and perpetual cheerfulness.... It is very convenient
to travel with him, for there is no house where he is not received
with kindness and respect.'[6]

No one certainly could have been more attentive than Boswell was: he
had a sense of responsibility in being in charge of the great writer,
which made him anxious not only that Johnson should be welcomed in
a fitting manner, but that he himself should appear as a worthy
companion. His deep sense of respect, his desire for approval and
dread of reproof are constantly obvious. This attitude is well
illustrated by the account of his carouse in Corrichatachin:

    We were cordial and merry to a high degree, but of what passed
    I have no recollection, with any accuracy....

    Sunday, September 26. I awaked at noon with a severe headache.
    I was much vexed that I should have been guilty of such a
    riot, and afraid of a reproof from Dr. Johnson. I thought it
    very inconsistent with that conduct which I ought to maintain
    as the companion of the Rambler.

The interview, however, was a very pleasant one. Boswell found 'the
Rambler' in his most agreeable mood and was glad to escape the reproof
he had anticipated. 'About one he came into my room and accosted
me, "What, drunk yet?"' His tone of voice was not that of severe
upbraiding; so I was relieved a little. 'Sir,' said I, 'they kept me
up.' He answered, 'No, you kept them up, you drunken dog:' This he
said with a good-humoured _English_ pleasantry.

Boswell, it need hardly be said, was very proud of introducing Johnson
to the men of Scotland: it raised him, as he no doubt understood, in
their esteem, and he took trouble that Johnson should appear to them
in the most favourable light. He had also a further gratification. He
was more than a mere showman. He came to have proprietary rights in
Dr. Johnson. Boswell's joy was the joy of possession: and he even
became jealous. There is a story told by Miss Burney, of a later
date, when Boswell, it must be admitted, behaved rather badly. A party
gathered at Streatham where Johnson was staying. Boswell arrived to
spend the morning. The Doctor's intimacy with Miss Burney was new to
Boswell and the latter now found that his rights were being infringed.
'A collation was ordered.'

    Mr. Boswell [it is related] was preparing to take a seat that
    he seemed, by prescription, to consider as his own, next to
    Dr. Johnson; but Mr. Seward, who was present, waved his hand
    for Mr. Boswell to move farther on, saying, with a smile, 'Mr.
    Boswell, that seat is Miss Burney's.'

    He stared, amazed: the asserted claimant was new and unknown
    to him, and he appeared by no means pleased to resign his
    prior rights. But, after looking round for a minute or
    two with an important air of demanding the meaning of this
    innovation, and receiving no satisfaction, he reluctantly,
    also resentfully, got another chair, and placed it at the back
    of the shoulder of Dr. Johnson, while this new and unheard-of
    rival quietly seated herself as if not hearing what was
    passing, for she shrunk from the explanation that she
    feared might ensue, as she saw a smile stealing over every
    countenance, that of Dr. Johnson himself not excepted, at the
    discomfiture and surprise of Mr. Boswell.

We must not forget that Boswell, before everything else, was the
biographer, looking ever with inquisitive eye upon the great man's
movements, marking with zealous care any detail that might be
significant, and appreciating very keenly the humour of every scene.
The furthest point one may suppose that his curiosity reached, or
indeed was able to reach, is recorded in an account of breakfast at
Lochbuy. The comedy arose from an unusual proposal on the part of Lady
Lochbuy as to the provision to be made for Johnson's entertainment;
Boswell encouraged it to see what the Doctor would do, deriving at
the same time much pleasure from the dispute between the lady and her

    She proposed that he should have some cold sheep's head
    for breakfast. Sir Allan seemed displeased at his sister's
    vulgarity, and wondered how such a thought should come into
    her head. From a mischievous love of sport, I took the lady's
    part; and very gravely said, 'I think it is but fair to give
    him an offer of it. If he does not choose it, he may let it
    alone.' 'I think so,' said the lady, looking at her brother
    with an air of victory. Sir Allan, finding the matter
    desperate, strutted about the room and took snuff. When Dr.
    Johnson came in she called to him, 'Do you choose any cold
    sheep's head, Sir?' 'No, Madam,' said he, with a tone of
    surprise and anger. 'It is here, Sir,' said she, supposing
    he had refused it to save the trouble of bringing it in. They
    thus went on at cross purposes till he confirmed his refusal
    in a manner not to be misunderstood.

The malicious experiment of Boswell had the desired conclusion. 'I,'
he says, 'sat quietly by, and enjoyed my success.'

Dr. Johnson was irritated sometimes by Boswell's curiosity. Dr.
Campbell even records that Johnson on one occasion was driven away
by Boswell's continual questions.[7] But it would seem that far more
often Johnson found means of protecting himself. Miss Burney gives
an enlightening summary of the prospect in case Johnson should notice
Boswell imitating him.

    Dr. Burney thought that Dr. Johnson, who generally treated Mr.
    Boswell like a schoolboy, whom, without the smallest ceremony,
    he pardoned or rebuked alternately, would so indignantly have
    been provoked as to have instantaneously inflicted upon him
    some mark of his displeasure. And equally he was persuaded
    that Mr. Boswell, however shocked and even inflamed in
    receiving it, would soon, from his deep veneration, have
    thought it justly incurred, and after a day or two of pouting
    and sullenness would have compromised the matter by one of
    his customary simple apologies of 'Pray, Sir, forgive me.' Dr.
    Johnson though often irritated by the officious importunity of
    Mr. Boswell, was really touched by his attachment.

It was presumably in some degree because he realised that Johnson was
fond of him that Boswell was able to endure his rudeness. It must be
remembered, however, that it was deliberately in most cases brought
upon himself, and there was then no real cause to take offence.
You cannot complain if by your own fault you have made a man angry,
whatever he may say--especially if he is thirty years older than
yourself. It is one of Boswell's chief merits that he was able to see
this. He may have been often annoyed, but he came afterwards to
see that it was but the natural result of his method of treating
Johnson--the method which enabled him to write in the end the immortal

Boswell in the _rôle_ of biographer will claim a more detailed
attention later in this book. It will suffice to say here that the
attitude which he presented in the scene at Lochbuy, and on all those
occasions when he led Johnson to talk or arranged some situation for
the sake of observing his behaviour, is that which is most typical
of Boswell, that by which he was famous, or, as some might have said,
notorious among his contemporaries.

The relations between these two friends which we see so pleasantly
revealed in Boswell's journal of the 'Tour to the Hebrides,' in 1773,
containing as they did all that is best between the old and the young,
remained unimpaired to the death of Johnson in 1784: Boswell never
neglected to pay at least one visit in the year to England, and
preserved to the end his affection, his careful and kind attention,
his pride and respect, and above all his humour and curiosity. It
would be idle to suggest, though it may be difficult to understand
or explain the fact, that his absence from Johnson's death-bed is
significant in any way of a declining interest and affection.

Boswell himself was feeling ill and melancholy during a considerable
part of the year, and was much upset by Johnson's charges of
affectation: it is easily conceivable that he shrank from the pain of
being present at the death-bed of his friend, and believed too that
his own distress could only irritate the other.[8] But, whatever may
have been the cause of his absence, it is impossible, if we consider
his own words about the final parting, to doubt the sincerity of his

    He asked me whether I would not go with him to his house; I
    declined it, from an apprehension that my spirits would sink.
    We bade adieu to each other affectionately in the carriage.
    When he had got down upon the foot-pavement, he called out,
    'Fare you well,' and without looking back, sprung away with a
    kind of pathetic briskness, if I may use the expression,
    which seemed to indicate a struggle to conceal uneasiness,
    and impressed me with a foreboding of our long, long

Johnson in one of his last letters said: 'I consider your fidelity and
tenderness as a great part of the comforts which are yet left me'; and
Boswell, speaking of his death, says enough when he says no more than
this: 'I trust I shall not be accused of affectation when I declare
that I find myself unable to express all that I felt upon the loss of
such a Guide, Philosopher, and Friend.'

The loss was indeed a severe one for Boswell. He made a friend of
Johnson at the age of twenty-two and was forty-four at the date of
Johnson's death. For more than twenty years he had been accustomed
implicitly to trust the judgment of the older man.

Its mere duration in time is some testimony to the value of the
friendship, the more so when we remember that Boswell when he died
himself was but fifty-five years old. The friend who was the hero of
Boswell's youth, and his constant adviser, saw within the space of a
few years the beginning of his professional life at the Scotch
Bar, the publication of his first serious book, his marriage to an
admirable lady, and his election to the Literary Club; he died but two
years after Boswell had become the Laird of Auchinleck, at a time when
he was showing an increased activity, and before the political and
legal hopes that he indulged had brought about by their failure the
disappointment of his later life.

From the few facts which have been related here something may be
gleaned, if not a complete conception of the part which Johnson played
in Boswell's life. Boswell has revealed himself as a friend and in
particular as the friend of Johnson. So great a devotion is a real
asset in life. Whatever its definite value may be as regards events,
and it is often small, it serves to fix more clearly and fuse together
the intricate moving forms of a land of dreams into a simple mundane
shape. It may be an end in itself. And devotion in Boswell's case
belonged to the essence of his genius. It was an important part
of that abnormal ingredient in him which was to blaze forth in an
imperishable flame.

What Johnson accomplished for Boswell was primarily in the realm
of ideals. The aspirations of Boswell were concentrated by his
admiration. But what was the final result? When Johnson died, the ship
that carried that heavy load of Boswell's hopes was sailing steadily
towards a definite harbour, though not the harbour he intended to
reach: what had Johnson to do with this? Was his the hand at the
helm?--the breath in the sails?

    [Footnote 1: _Life of Reynolds_, ii, p. 12.]

    [Footnote 2: _Letters of Horace Walpole_, v, p. 85.]

    [Footnote 3: _Memoirs of Hannah More_, i, p. 213.]

    [Footnote 4: The evidence for what is stated in this sentence
    and the next is discussed later under Boswell's biographical

    [Footnote 5: _London Magazine_, xlvii, 106.]

    [Footnote 6: _Piozzi Letters_, i, 198.]

    [Footnote 7: _Campbell's Diary_, p. 70.]

    [Footnote 8: _Life of Johnson_, iv, pp. 378-80.]

    [Footnote 9: It must be remembered that Boswell spent nearly
    two months with Johnson in this last year. In March he wrote
    to Dr. Percy about going to London, 'chiefly to attend upon
    Dr. Johnson with respectful attention.' (Nichols, _Literary
    History_, vii, p. 302.])

    [Footnote 10: _Life of Johnson_, iv, p. 339.]


Biography is by its nature historical and suited to an historical
method. The history of an institution is written in respect of its
functions. The Christian Church, for instance, played a certain part
in the life of society at the end of the fourth century, and another
part when Clement proclaimed a Crusade to all Western Europe. The
historian of the Church may well be expected to hold in view the later
development during the whole course of his inquiry before that climax;
he must analyse the primitive organism, having regard to its future
growth, and explain how it was that those organs grew. The biographer
has similar duties. We commonly consider the lives of men with
reference to a few conspicuous events or remarkable achievements; and
we want to know what were the essential qualities of the man and how
they grew to those results. In Boswell's case the central theme
is single, for he accomplished one thing of overwhelmingly greater
importance than anything else in his life. But the growth which came
to this glorious end was by no means a simple and serene development.
It is concerned with an amazing war between the conventional and the
real, the false and the true. We have now to investigate more closely
the details of that struggle, and incidentally the effect on Johnson.

Boswell, in the first place, had a number of what may be called
conventional prejudices; he had the common prejudices of the landed
gentleman in the eighteenth century. He was brought up to believe that
he would one day become the Laird of Auchinleck. He was proud of
his family name and ancient lineage; he believed altogether the
conventional idea, that a man was not only in a higher position and
a greater person, but, in some indefinable way, better from the
possession of land. Soil and mansion were not merely the insignia of
the governing class or the boast of blood, but, further, the supreme
expression of an ideal--the commonest practical ideal of the British
people, 'to be as our fathers.' 'Holding an estate,' says Boswell,
in the first of the political letters which he addressed to his
compatriots,[1] 'transmitted to me through my ancestors, by charters
from a series of kings, the importance of a charter, the prerogative
of a king, impresses my mind with seriousness and duty; and while
animated, I hope, as much as any man, with genuine feelings of
liberty, I shall ever adhere to our excellent Monarchy, that venerable
institution under which liberty is best enjoyed.' The truth expressed
by these extravagant words is that Boswell accepted, as a consequence
of having inherited an estate, a certain outfit of principles and
practical objects which was to be worn in the same way that a parson
wears a black coat or a coachman a livery. In politics, therefore, he
was a Monarchist and Tory. Property and the Constitution, these were
his interests.

In the second political letter he shows that he strongly disapproved
of innovation and of change in general; disapproved because he
disliked and mistrusted them as by convention a man of property ought
to do. Reform, however necessary, is never respectable. Boswell liked
an order and formality which should go on for ever exactly as he knew
it. It was for this reason and not from any æsthetic pleasure that he
delighted in the ceremonial of the dinners in the Inner Temple and in
the services which he was wont to attend in St. Paul's Cathedral each
year, if he were able, upon Easter Day.

The same views found expression in a series of essays which Boswell
wrote for the _London Magazine_. It is in fact in these essays rather
than in his biographical writings that we should look for Boswell's
opinions on general subjects. Comprehensive though the 'Life of
Johnson' is, it necessarily refrains from giving the author's view
on many occasions, and when Boswell speaks for himself he does so
incidentally, and not directly. In the _London Magazine_ he is free,
and consequently the range is wider and the matter more diffuse.

'The Hypochondriack'--for such is the title under which Boswell
wrote--appeared in twenty-seven numbers of the _London Magazine_
from October, 1777, to December, 1779. The articles are not very
long--three pages of close double-columns is the average length; but
altogether they must contain enough printed matter to fill one volume
of a moderate size in our day. The title explains the attitude of the
writer in the whole series; Boswell wrote as a hypochondriac to others
who suffered as he did from periodical depression, to divert them, as
he said, by good-humour. 'I may, without ever offending them by excess
of gaiety, insensibly communicate to them that good-humour which, if
it does not make life rise to felicity, at least preserves it from

It is remarkable that Boswell formed the plan of writing these papers
at an earlier stage of his existence, during the years which he spent
abroad from 1763-5. The tenth of the series was actually written then
and was intended, so he tells us, to be published, in the _London
Magazine_ as Number X of 'The Hypochondriack.' The fact that it
fulfilled its destiny, and that, though written in a rather more
frivolous style, it is in no way out of place, is a testimony, if any
further were needed besides the _magnum opus_, to the capacity that
Boswell had for carrying a literary project to its due accomplishment.

The qualities required of a biographer, which Boswell had in so
supreme a measure, are not those which necessarily make a good
essayist. But Boswell was by no means contemptible as a writer of
essays. A great thinker he never professed to be, and never could have
become; he had, however, what for his purpose was even more valuable
than profound thought or comprehensive originality--the art of
self-expression. We are obliged to read anything that Boswell wrote
because, by some enchanter's magic, he is there talking to us. This is
not the place to probe the mystery of Orpheus with his lute; perhaps,
in any case, it is better that the mystery should remain for ever
dark; for the charm of Orpheus might be perceptibly less if we knew
its mechanism. And it may be no more than an accomplishment which,
when exercised with particular grace, gives, in the common way, the
capricious illusion of facility. Whatever it be in the art of letters,
Boswell had it. He inevitably produced his effect; and it is himself.
We are made to feel good-humoured and agreeable; and we wish to leave
it at that and trouble our heads no further. A less easy style will
draw our attention to the technique of words. With Boswell, it is
clear midday on the dial, and we have no desire to bother with the
wheels inside.

'The Hypochondriack,' however, is scarcely so gay as one might expect.
Truly this is not the serious business of life; he is out for a spree.
'The pleasure of writing a short essay,' says the lively physician
of melancholy, 'is like taking a pleasant airing that enlivens and
invigorates by the exercise which it yields, while the design is
gratified in its completion.' Boswell the essayist has not the solemn
responsibility of showing a great example to the world; and he has no
need to be the grave judge. Yet there is a very serious background to
the thoughts of this jolly author. When he chooses a theme he searches
in the depths. Religion, Death and Conscience, Fear, Truth, Pleasure
and Pride, Matrimony and Offspring, Youth and Age, Pity and Prudence,
Excess, Drinking, Flattery, and Hypochondria itself--such are the
subjects with which he sets forth to divert his fellow-sufferers.
And having chosen thus, Boswell naturally, on many occasions, says
earnestly what he sincerely thinks. He faithfully describes in one
place the discomfort of his own depression:

    To be overpowered with languor must make a man very unhappy.
    He is tantalized with a thousand ineffectual wishes which
    he cannot realise. For as Tantalus is fabled to have been
    tormented by the objects of his desire being ever in his near
    view, yet ever receding from his touch as he endeavoured
    to approach them, the languid Hypochondriack has the sad
    mystification of being disappointed of realising every wish,
    by the wretched defect of his own activity. While in that
    situation time passes over him only to be loaded with regrets.
    The important duties of life, the benevolent offices of
    friendship are neglected, though he is sensible that he shall
    upbraid himself for that neglect till he is glad to take
    shelter under cover of disease.

In this account there is no ill-placed levity and no extravagance such
as we might fear to find. It is a simple and effective account of an
unpleasant experience. The advice which he gives to hypochondriacs
from time to time is similarly grave and sympathetic, and concerned
with defeating the dangers of their state of mind; his view is that
the disease is nearly always curable; he unwillingly admits that there
are cases beyond hope, and condemns pessimistic fatalism:

    We should guard against imagining that there is a volcano
    within us, a melancholy so dreadful that we can do nothing in
    opposition to it.

It would be a mistake to suppose when we read such grave advice that
Boswell had a serious view of himself as the spiritual adviser of
hypochondriacs. His object, as he tells us, was to divert them; and
in that frame of mind no doubt he began to write. He became grave and
even earnest because he had a very strong vein of seriousness. In the
ordinary way of life he was light-hearted enough, and easily dispensed
with his thoughts when they began to be uncomfortable: but when he
had set himself to write from a text he persevered with his
serious reflections and they found expression. He was able to reach
considerable heights; a famous epitaph, when he is writing upon a
motto from Cicero about the duties of Conscience, stirs him to a noble

    The epitaph upon Sir Christopher Wren in St. Paul's Church,
    of which he was the architect, has been justly admired as
    sublime: 'Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice';
    'Reader, if you would see his monument, cast your eyes around
    you,' so that the whole Church is made his Mausoleum. In my
    opinion there is a similar sublimity about this sentiment,
    by which a man, upon the ancient principle of [Greek: tima
    seauton], 'reverence thyself,' is taught to expand his mind
    into a grand theatre of self-observation.

Occasionally Boswell, on account of this same seriousness, has an
outburst of Johnsonian anger. He tells of a French writer that he
published a book, 'Réflexions sur ceux qui sont morts en plaisantant,'
that he succeeded in collecting a good number of instances both
ancient and modern: 'But I,' says Boswell 'hold all such extraordinary
appearances to be unnatural, affected, and thoughtless.'

However, when all is said about the gravity of the Hypochondriack, he
is essentially the easy, good-humoured companion he set out to be. He
is often dignified, never indecorous; rarely is he even light-hearted,
for while he supports the cares of this world with smiling equanimity
he leaves the impression that they matter; still more rarely is he
flippant. The effect is never depressing. He is for the most part a
soothing optimist; and if that seem scant praise, be it remembered
that one may resist the optimist's persuasion and yet fall a victim
to the cheerful manners that accompany it. Such is the attitude of
Boswell as an essayist; and, when we consider what he chose to write
about, it is a remarkable performance.

The lightness of touch which was necessary for Boswell's purpose was
obtained partly by anecdote and image. A wide acquaintance with books
evidently supplied Boswell with a store of anecdotes; and he both
selected them well and used them relevantly. One instance, where
Boswell, in an essay about Excess, is speaking of the dangers of
wealth, will suffice to illustrate his method:

    The Dutch, who have much sagacity of contrivance in many
    respects, have in what they call a 'verbeetering huys' (that
    is to say, a correcting and amending house, a house for making
    people better) an admirable method of curing laziness. A
    fellow who will not work is put into a large reservoir, which
    takes him up to the chin; a cock is then turned so as to let
    more water run in upon him, and he is then shown a pump. If
    he exerts himself with active force he prevents the water from
    rising, and breathes freely; but if he does not ply the pump,
    the water soon gets up upon him and he is suffocated.
    An inundation of wealth will be equally fatal to a man's
    happiness, if he does not throw it off by vigorous exertion.
    _Aurum potabile_ will choak him; and, when drowning in
    Pactolus's streams, it will be no consolation to him to know
    that they have golden sands.

Boswell's images, sometimes employed in imitation of Dr. Johnson's
manner, if they are apt to be slightly extravagant, are generally
pointed and help the sense. 'A Dogmatist,' he says, 'is a man that has
got a pair of shoes that fit him exactly well, and therefore he thinks
them so very good that he flies in a passion against those who cannot
wear them.' An image is often used far more gracefully to bring the
argument to a head as in the following admirable passage:

    But old men forget in a wonderful degree their own feelings in
    the early part of life, are angry because the young are not as
    sedate in the season of effervescence as they are, would have
    the fruit where in the course of nature there should be only
    the blossom, and complain because another generation has not
    been able to ascend the steep of prudence in a fourth part of
    the time which they themselves have taken.

These few quotations may suffice to show that Boswell's essays are
worthy of some attention. They can be read with pleasure because
Boswell was both a capable writer and an agreeable man. And, moreover,
Boswell was a good man. It is a somewhat ridiculous exclamation,
because the fact is so striking and so indisputable. One might dispute
the proposition that to write an unrivalled biography a man must be
good: it would probably be a foolish discussion, for the common sense
of mortals refuses to believe that one who has done a supremely good
thing is not himself essentially good. But to dispute it in the case
of Boswell--when we consider how many hearts he has won, and with
how excellent a wooing, surely that would be preposterous! He was not
wholly good more than other men, nor less than the majority; but he
possessed a quantity of good that might be envied of the best. And
this is true, not of the man only, but of the writer. The test is
a very simple one: the plain fact is that it is impossible to
read Boswell without feeling better. Boswell does not edify in the
spiritual fashion of Michael Angelo or Milton; but he edifies just
as truly. With Boswell we never want to leave the world for something
better, but we want to live in it and enjoy life to the full; and we
want especially to love other men. It is not a small matter that we
should feel this: and as we may feel it in the 'Life of Johnson,' we
may feel it also, though in a less degree, in the essays.

But 'The Hypochondriack' is not to be read for the sake of the
author's opinions, nor even for the arguments by which he supports
them. For Boswell writes from a conventional point of view. His
conclusions are not his very own. He has never been tossed in the
great void and fought long doubtful battles for a sure place to stand
on. His children have not been begotten with pangs, but adopted for

And here we return to the main battle. Boswell was conventional.
But this is by no means a sufficient explanation. Clearly, in some
respects, it is not even true. What then is the range of Boswell's
conventionality and what are its limits?

Beliefs are the result, as a rule, either of tradition, or of
emotional experience, or of mere desire. In a few rare spirits they
may be determined in more intellectual fashion; but Reason is seldom
mistress, and very often she is servant and nurse. By reason, we seek
to justify our prejudices and convictions. With varying degrees
of intellectual dishonesty we make use of reason to reject what we
dislike and nourish what we prefer.

Boswell's case was somewhat uncommon. He was clearly not very
critical. Having once adopted an attitude he marched through life
without looking back. We have seen something of the outlook he adopted
conventionally. He deceived himself, however, far less than most men
of those opinions. And in the effort to believe what he wished to
believe, Boswell used reason in a curiously deliberate fashion. He
accepted the conventional beliefs and standards in an unconventional
manner--not chaotically and aimlessly, but perceiving what the
conventional aim essentially was, and approving it as a mode of

Boswell's philosophy of life, as far as he had a philosophy, was to
have in all (including, that is, the future life of happiness which he
flattered himself that he would be able to enjoy) the maximum amount
of pleasure. Pleasure and happiness, these are ends in themselves;
and except in so far as pleasure must be restrained for the sake of
happiness either in this state of being or in another--and Boswell
can hardly be said to have practised restraint in any remarkable
degree--they are not distinguished. Pleasure he speaks of as 'not only
the aim but the end of our being.' 'To be happy,' he says, 'as far as
mortality and human imperfection allow, is the wisest study of men.'

In the 'Hypochondriack' essays we see how entirely Boswell's
philosophy of life is a philosophy of comfort. With regard, for
instance, to Love--a subject which, since three papers of 'The
Hypochondriack' are devoted to it, must have been considered
important--though too logical to be entirely conventional, his
doctrine is frankly based upon his view of happiness:

    As no disorder of the imagination has produced more evils than
    the passion of love, it behoves us to guard ourselves with
    caution against its first appearance.

    However coldness or indifference is unpleasant, yet excess of
    love or fondness is bad, not only as it is not lasting, but
    also because it is disagreeable at the time.

It is in his religious views that we see best this attitude
of Boswell. While his opinions were on the one hand completely
conventional, they yet depended quite consciously upon this doctrine
of happiness.

    The religious fear which I mean to inculcate, is that
    reverential awe for the Most High Ruler of the Universe, mixed
    with affectionate gratitude and hope, by which our minds
    are kept steady, calm, and placid, at once exalted by the
    contemplation of greatness, and warmed by the contemplation
    of goodness, while both are contemplated with a reference to

However 'romantic' Boswell may have been in other matters, there is
no shadow of romance in his conception of a Deity. His admiration
for what seems to be merely a superior human being admitted of no
spiritual disquiet. Rather the 'steady, calm, and placid' temper so
produced was to serve as an antidote to hypochondria.

    In order to have these comforts which not only relieve but
    'delight the soul,' the Hypochondriack must take care to have
    the principles of our holy religion firmly established in
    his mind, when it is sound and clear, and by the habit and
    exercise of piety to strengthen it, so that the flame may live
    even in the damp and foul vapour of melancholy.[3]

Further instructions as to how these comforts are to be enjoyed are
given in the 'Life' where his final view is expressed:

    This I have learned from a pretty hard course of experience,
    and would, from sincere benevolence, impress upon all
    who honour this book with a perusal, that until a steady
    conviction is obtained that the present life is an imperfect
    state, and only a passage to a better, if we comply with the
    divine scheme of progressive improvement; and also that it is
    part of the mysterious plan of Providence that intellectual
    beings must be 'made perfect through suffering'; there will be
    a continual recurrence of disappointment and uneasiness. But
    if we walk with hope in 'the mid-day sun of revelation' our
    temper and disposition will be such that the comforts and
    enjoyments in our way will be relished, while we patiently
    support the inconveniences and pains.

The argument is clear: we must choose the path where 'uneasiness' is
avoided and 'comforts and enjoyments' are in store for us. The part to
be played by the intellect is not doubtful. The power of reasoning may
be valuable up to a certain point; beyond that point it is unsafe for
it to pass:

    After much speculation and various reasonings, I acknowledge
    myself convinced of the truth of Voltaire's conclusion,
    '_Après tout, c'est un monde passable._' But we must not think
    too deeply;

      Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise
    is, in many respects, more than poetically just. Let us
    cultivate, under the command of good principles, '_la théorie
    des sensations agréables_'; and, as Mr. Burke once counselled
    a grave and anxious gentleman, 'live pleasant.'

'We must not think too deeply'--because it is not pleasant. 'I most
willingly admit,' he says elsewhere, 'that of all kinds of misery, the
misery of thought is the severest.' He wished to escape from thought,
and found his religion a very pleasant substitute. It enabled him to
believe all that he found most pleasant in beliefs, and to reject what
he found disquieting. The fear of death, he discovered, could best
be alleviated by believing in the divine revelation; accordingly he
proceeded to adopt this belief.

But the pleasure which Boswell obtained in this way was not merely the
pleasure of a mind lulled to tranquillity, it was the pleasure also of
possessing a point of view. He wanted to be entirely respectable.
And respectability was to be achieved by adopting wholesale the
respectable beliefs. Boswell perhaps could never have been otherwise
than conventional in his ethical and religious thought; but he did
at one time think, and he deliberately ceased to think; with the
consequence that all those views which he might or might not have
arrived at by thought and experience, instead of being deeply founded
within him, were only an ill-balanced superstructure.

       *       *       *       *       *

The effect of Johnson upon this development was a very remarkable one.
Johnson himself was pre-eminently a conformist, and it was partly,
no doubt, from his example that Boswell derived his desire to be
respectable--to be, as he expressed it, 'an uniform pretty man.'

Boswell's own words show us that he was influenced in this way.
A meeting had been arranged between Johnson and one of Boswell's
friends, George Dempster, who held the sceptical views of Hume and
Rousseau; a discussion took place in which Johnson, whether by
force of argument or power of lungs, was victorious. 'I had infinite
satisfaction,' says Boswell, 'in hearing solid truth confuting vain
subtilty. I thank God that I have got acquainted with Mr. Johnson. He
has done me infinite service. He has assisted me to obtain peace of
mind, he has assisted me to become a rational Christian.'

How much are we to assume from this? How much of Boswell's
respectability came directly from Johnson?

There could be nothing more unreasonable than to dogmatise about the
extent of a personal influence. How subtle and intricate it is in
the thousand chances of a mind's development, of acquiescence and
rebellion, of mere time and place! how difficult to see the beginning
and the end, to know even approximately the value of any one force
in a number of causes! The distinction alone between a conscious or
unconscious acceptance, what a difference it makes!

That which determines individuality in men more than any other factor
is the freedom of choice. But there is more than one way of choosing.
There are some who choose to march upon the high road where tall
fences on either side prevent the possibility of wandering astray; and
there are others who select the by-paths deliberately. All who choose
are in search of treasure. Those who have rejected the high roads
hardly know what they so urgently desire; but when they come upon a
rare flower in the wilderness which pleases them particularly they
cull it; they are then refreshed and go forward with more certain
step, and there hangs about them something of the fragrance they
inhaled, so that other men when they meet them are reminded of that
flower which they too have seen and smelt. The rest press forward more
directly; when they have chosen the way there is no deviation; they
will pause for nothing unless it be of precious metal. And when their
quest is rewarded they surround themselves with a cloud of gold-dust,
as it seems to them, and cannot be seen except through this strange

Boswell, it would seem, was among these last. He chose freely, but
did not wander far afield. He was one of those in pursuit of ideal
treasure; and when he found in Dr. Johnson all that he desired, and
the ideal was satisfied, he impregnated himself with the priceless
essence. But, inasmuch as it was the essence he had chosen to seek,
even this exterior atmosphere was entirely of himself.

We expect, indeed, to see in Boswell beyond his own real nature the
marks of a stronger personality. But we may admit the Johnsonian
flavour without impugning the originality of Boswell or degrading him
to the level of a mere imitator. All the conventional prejudices,
the strong conformity which was so pronounced in Johnson, existed
in Boswell independently. The 'old Tory sentiments' inasmuch as they
exceeded the sentiments of Johnson (which they occasionally did,
_e.g._ on the subject of slavery), were definitely a part of the true
Boswell. It is remarkable that in the 'Letters to Temple' the opinions
of Johnson are very rarely mentioned; Boswell on one occasion was
'confirmed in his Toryism'; and Johnson is quoted two or three times:
but his name appears far less often than we should expect. It is
clear, indeed, when we read the 'Life of Johnson,' that Boswell,
however he might be a worshipper, was far from being a slave: his
passion for truth would not allow him to pass lightly by an opinion
he disapproved, and his conviction that Johnson was wrong, or at least
that his own opinions remained unaltered, is frankly if respectfully
stated more than once.

He knew that Johnson's opinions might be formed only to refute an
adversary: 'But it is not improbable that if one had taken the other
side he might have reasoned differently.' Not infrequently Boswell
ventures to criticise his philosopher's argument. On one occasion,
when predestination had been discussed, he even goes so far as to
excuse Johnson's prejudices:

    He avoided the question which has excruciated philosophers and
    divines beyond any other. I did not press it further, when
    I perceived that he was displeased, and shrunk from any
    abridgment of an attribute usually ascribed to the divinity,
    however irreconcilable in its full extent with the grand
    system of moral government. His supposed orthodoxy here
    cramped the vigorous powers of his understanding. He was
    confined by a chain, which early imagination and long habit
    made him think massy and strong, but which, had he ventured to
    try, he could at once have snapped asunder.

Boswell's attitude in this passage is very far from being
intellectually dependent on Johnson or on anyone else. And it is
not an unusual attitude. We sometimes see another side--Boswell,
apparently in fetters, a prisoner in the citadel of respectability.
But it cannot be asserted too often that Boswell was essentially an
independent individual, one who was capable of pursuing his own true
vision, inflexible and careless of the consequences.

There is no need to infer from this that the influence of Johnson
was negligible, or even small. We cannot suppose that the guide,
philosopher and friend of Boswell, for whom he had a 'mysterious
veneration,' whose 'just frown' he so greatly dreaded, whom upon so
many occasions he eagerly consulted, can have been of small account.
Boswell himself was far from thinking so; he knew the value of Johnson
to him when, reflecting that death must soon rob him of his friend,
he wrote to Temple, in Johnsonian words: 'it will be like a limb

If influence is to be defined it may be said perhaps that it is a
quality which makes us see what we should not have seen without it. We
cannot doubt that Boswell learnt many things by his intercourse with
Dr. Johnson. The influence of Johnson was in the first place, as we
remarked above, an influence for truth, for honesty. It helped
Boswell in his early life to see the self which he came in the end to
understand so well. He must long have remembered the letter which he
received from Johnson at Utrecht.

Boswell, in his desire to make an impression as the young genius, then
regarded himself as a peculiar mortal who had no need to regulate his
conduct by the ordinary standards. Johnson begins by describing this
state of mind:

    There lurks, perhaps, in every human heart a desire of
    distinction, which inclines every man first to hope, and then
    to believe, that Nature has given him something peculiar to
    himself.... You know a gentleman who, when first he set his
    foot in the gay world, as he prepared himself to whirl in
    the vortex of pleasure, imagined a total indifference and
    universal negligence to be the most agreeable concomitants of
    youth, and the strongest indication of an airy temper and a
    quick apprehension.

The result which he particularly deplored was Boswell's idleness:

    Vacant to every object, and sensible of every impulse,
    he thought that all appearance of diligence would deduct
    something from the reputation of genius; and hoped that he
    should appear to attain, amidst all the ease of carelessness,
    and all the tumults of diversion, that knowledge and those
    accomplishments which mortals of the common fabrick obtain
    only by mute abstraction and solitary drudgery.

He then alludes to the wrong conclusions which might be drawn by one
in Boswell's mental condition from the difficulties which attend a
return to a normal course of life:

    He tried this scheme of life awhile; was made weary of it
    by his sense and his virtue; he then wished to return to his
    studies; and finding long habits of idleness and pleasure
    harder to be cured than he expected, still willing to retain
    his claim to some extraordinary prerogatives, resolved the
    common consequences of irregularity into an unalterable decree
    of destiny, and concluded that Nature had originally formed
    him incapable of rational employment.

And finally he gives some very solemn advice:

    Let all such fancies, illusive and destructive, be banished
    henceforward from your thoughts for ever. Resolution will
    sometimes relax, and diligence will sometimes be interrupted;
    but let no accidental surprise or deviation, whether short or
    long, dispose you to despondency. Consider these failings as
    incident to all mankind.

Boswell was too honest not to realise the truth of what Johnson said,
and we cannot but think of this letter when we read a number of years
later, in the _London Magazine_ of 1778, an attack written by Boswell
upon the association by Aristotle of melancholy with genius; for this
essay seems to aim at undermining the same kind of affectation as that
which Johnson had seen in him.

Similarly the effect of Johnson in making Boswell more respectable was
produced less by example than by dislike of affectation. Johnson was
pre-eminently a conformist; and Boswell desired the same happy state
for himself. But Johnson was honest in his conformity, and he cared
less for the conformity than for the honesty. And so he was able, when
he saw Boswell affecting sentiments which he did not wholly feel, to
reprove him. It was not that the sentiments in themselves were not
good sentiments, for they often were, but that in Boswell they were

    _Boswell_: 'Perhaps, Sir, I should be the less happy for being
    in Parliament. I never would sell my vote, and I should be
    vexed if things went wrong.' _Johnson_: 'That's cant, Sir.
    It would not vex you more in the House than in the Gallery:
    publick affairs vex no man.'

Boswell was probably annoyed at this retort; it is very annoying to be
told the truth about oneself. He now tries to make Johnson admit that
he has been vexed himself 'by all the turbulence of this reign.'

    _Johnson_: 'Sir, I have never slept an hour less, nor ate an
    ounce less meat. I would have knocked the factious dogs on the
    head, to be sure; but I was not _vexed_.'

The argument is too strong:

    _Boswell_: 'I declare, Sir, upon my honour, I did imagine
    I was vexed, and took a pride in it; but it _was_, perhaps,
    cant; for I own I neither ate less, nor slept less.'
    _Johnson_: 'My dear friend, clear your _mind_ of cant. You may
    _talk_ as other people do; you may say to a man, "Sir, I am
    your most humble servant." ... You may _talk_ in this manner;
    it is a mode of talking in society: but don't _think_

The result of Johnson's honesty acting upon Boswell's conventional
affectations was not to make him less but rather more conventional. It
gave him a surer foundation. An affectation does not as a rule become
less affected but rather the reverse. But Boswell's affectations
tended rather to become the substantial and real expression of a mind
as he came to understand that they were affectations. He saw that the
manners and opinions which he affected because they pleased him had
a value in life and a value for him. The lessons which he learnt
from Johnson in this way were, for the most part, moral; they were
concerned with the piety and goodness which were so much a part of
Johnson himself. Boswell was able to reinforce a set of religious
beliefs with a little real piety, and a set of moral axioms with a
little real goodness. If it were necessary to point to one definite
quality in the Johnsonian atmosphere which we might suppose to be of
special value to Boswell, it would be the genuine kind-heartedness
and benevolent interest, the 'tenderness' which we find so carefully
recorded in the 'Life.' It was to some purpose that the naturally
egotistical Boswell was reminded of a duty towards other men, was told
more than once without compromise that he must be kind to his father
and kind to his wife.

But it is not so much in any minute particular that Johnson was
reflected by his biographer, but rather in a more general way, in a
whole attitude towards life, in the one significant fact that Boswell
himself as we see him, not only in the biographical writings but in
his own letters too, is essentially a moralist. The one difficulty
which his conscience found in writing the 'Life' was that he might, by
showing the failings of so great a man, give support to those who were
inclined to the same faults so that they should conceive themselves to
be justified by that example. And so he points out with zealous
care that, where the 'practice' of Johnson does not agree with his
'principle,' it is not because the principle is not good but that even
so great a man was not quite perfect; _humanum est errare_.

Undoubtedly the influence of Johnson was a moral influence; this in
itself may be considered as one aspect of its complete respectability.
Johnson wanted Boswell to be a sober, honest, contented citizen, a
hard-working, successful lawyer, a good son, a good husband, a good
friend and a religious man. 'I have always loved and valued you,' he
wrote in 1769, 'and shall love you and value you still more, as you
become more regular and useful.' And again, in 1771:

    I never was so much pleased as now with your account of
    yourself; and sincerely hope, that between publick business,
    improving studies, and domestick pleasures, neither melancholy
    nor caprice will find any place for entrance. Whatever
    philosophy may determine of material nature, it is certainly
    true of intellectual nature that it 'abhors a vacuum'; our
    minds cannot be empty; and evil will break in upon them,
    if they are not preoccupied by good. My dear Sir, mind your
    studies, mind your business, make your lady happy, and be a
    good Christian.

There was no place for any intellectual unquiet--and herein it was
essentially respectable--in Johnson's scheme of life as he presented
it to others. If a subject were unpleasant to think of, it were better
not to heed it. He wished himself to walk through life in a calm,
majestic, and dignified way, with firm knowledge of good and a
resolute purpose to follow it. He never, if we may judge from Boswell,
was in any serious doubt as to the right course, and he seems to
have thought the matter as easy for Boswell as it was for him. It is
because he himself desired to be like this that Boswell found Johnson
such a valuable friend. But it was unfortunate, as it turned out, that
he attached so much importance to mere success in the world, in his
profession, in politics; in these, with the encouragement of Johnson,
he so completely believed, that when he discovered that he had failed,
or had at least fallen far short of his ambitions, he was bitterly

    [Footnote 1: For Boswell's political career see pp. 174-182.
    He published this letter in 1783, and a second two years

    [Footnote 2: _London Magazine_, vol. xlvi, pp. 492-3.]

    [Footnote 3: _Ibid._, vol. xlix, p. 542.]


Lord Auchinleck died in 1782. His relations with Boswell are of some
interest in this place, because they exhibit Boswell in the _rôle_ of
son and incidentally raise an important question. The two never agreed
very well. Was this the fault of the son? Was he deliberately unkind,
or negligent, or disagreeable?

There is no reason to suppose that Boswell was culpable in any such
way: indiscretion on the one hand and intolerance on the other are
sufficient to account for all the friction. Lord Auchinleck had
evidently a very rigid view of the career fitting for his eldest son.
His ideal of progeniture seems to have assumed with a not uncommon
complacency that the ego was worthy of a second edition. James
Boswell must be after the pattern of his father--a Scotch lawyer,
a hard-headed, practical man of affairs, a wise man of business
successful in his profession.

James, however, was not made like that: and if he had practical
ability he hated the Scotch law and lawyers far too much ever to use
it with success. He had a taste for extravagant behaviour and liked
to exhibit his high spirits. Johnson might condone this, though he
disapproved of it, and love Boswell the more, because 'he was a boy
longer than others.' Lord Auchinleck regarded it with alarm while
Boswell was young, and with contempt when he was of a mature age.
Conduct that would have been regrettable to a milder father, was to
him intolerable.

It is not surprising, then, that Boswell found the company of his
father extremely irksome:

    We divaricate so much (he writes to Temple) that I am often
    hurt when I dare say he means no harm; and he has a method of
    treating me which makes me feel like a timid boy, which to
    me (comprehending all that my character does in my own
    imagination, and in that of a wonderful number of mankind) is
    intolerable. I have appeared good-humoured; but it has cost
    me drinking a considerable quantity of strong beer to dull my

The stern father had undoubtedly some good reasons for disapproving
of the irresponsible James. Besides the habitual lack of restraint in
Boswell's behaviour, money was a continual source of irritation. The
heir to Auchinleck, it is clear, considered that he had a sort of
natural right to his father's money. He found an allowance of £300 a
year insufficient. He wrote to Temple in a complaining tone about his
financial difficulties and his father:

    He allows me £300 a year. But I find that what I gain by
    practice and that sum together will not support my family. I
    have now two sons and three daughters. I am in hopes that my
    father will augment my allowance to £400.

He admits, however, that 'his paying £1000 of my debt some years
ago was a large bounty.' Lord Auchinleck, no doubt with justice,
considered Boswell to be extravagant; and he did not approve of his
marriage. 'I understand,' writes Boswell, 'he fancies that if I had
married another woman, I might not only have had a better portion with
her, but might have been kept from what he thinks idle and extravagant

The indiscretion of Boswell in his correspondence and conversation
with his father must have continually aggravated the pronounced
prejudices and preferences of the ill-tempered old lawyer. It was
a wanton imprudence to express his extreme aversion to his father's
second marriage; we can hardly doubt that he was equally imprudent
with regard to the Scotch law and Scotch legal circles. Boswell
intended that his father should appreciate him for what he was rather
than tolerate him for what he was not. In 1767 he writes to Temple:

    How unaccountable it is that my father and I should be so ill
    together! He is a man of sense and a man of worth; but from
    some unhappy turn in his disposition, he is much dissatisfied
    with a son whom you know. I write to him with warmth, with an
    honest pride, wishing that he should think of me as I am;
    but my letters shock him, and every expression in them is
    interpreted unfavourably.

Boswell did not understand that the temperaments of his father
and himself were in some degree incompatible, and he succeeded in
emphasising their points of disagreement rather than cultivating what
they had in common. He was very slow to realise how much his father
disapproved of his literary friends in London, and of Dr. Johnson in
particular: to Temple he exclaims, with horrified surprise, 'he
harps on my going over Scotland with a brute (think how shockingly
erroneous) and wandering (or some such phrase) to London.' Johnson was
actually taken to visit Auchinleck--a most hazardous experiment!

Boswell must certainly be blamed, if blame can be distributed in this
sort, for indiscretion, but not for unkindness. From no passage in the
'Letters to Temple' can it be inferred that he disliked his father,
or wished to displease him; on several occasions he speaks of him with
affection. Moreover the obligation to be deliberately kind to one
who cannot occupy the position of a friend is based upon a supposed
affection on his part. Boswell clearly was not cruel in any positive
or malevolent sense; he can only be condemned as unkind if it be
proved that he was inconsiderate to a man who displayed a substantial
affection towards him. But Lord Auchinleck cannot be said to have done
this--if we may accept as true the dictum of Dr. Johnson to Boswell on
the occasion of his father's death: 'His disposition towards you was
undoubtedly that of a kind, though not of a fond father.' And so we
may say that Boswell was a disappointing, though not a bad son.

       *       *       *       *       *

In 1782 Boswell, on his father's death, became Laird of Auchinleck.
The new position was a matter of importance to him. Not only were the
duties it involved such duties as he liked to perform, but it was
a considerable advance in the right direction. He was the man of
property. A part of his dream was come true; and he could now invest
himself with a fresh halo of respect and respectability derived
from his new station. Local and public affairs were more intimately
connected in the eighteenth century than in our own day; and, when the
men of estate had a monopoly of governing, it was not unnatural for
one who inherited land to cast his eyes beyond the fences of his
patrimony. At the age of forty-two Boswell was by no means too old to
look forward. The event of inheriting quickened his aspirations, and
the prospect of becoming 'the great man' seemed nearer.

The ambitions of Boswell were not destined to be realised in any high

His hopes were of a double nature; they were both legal and political.
Of his early life at the Bar we have already spoken, and we must
now briefly trace out the course of his legal career to its dismal

It was hardly to be expected that a man who disliked and despised so
much the whole Scotch atmosphere of his work should persevere with it.
Boswell was so discontented with his lot that he began to hope for a
change which should bring him into a more congenial situation. In
1775 he entered at the Inner Temple with the intention of being called
eventually to the English Bar.

There was much to recommend this plan; for it would enable him to
spend far more time in his beloved London. Boswell no doubt considered
this a very important reason. In London he was happier and better than
elsewhere. 'I own, Sir, the spirits which I have in London make me do
everything with more readiness and vigour. I can talk twice as much
in London as anywhere else'; and he considered, no doubt with equal
justice, that it had some effects of a different nature: 'In reality
it is highly improving to me, considering the company which I enjoy';
and he goes on to say, 'I think it is also for my interest, as in time
I may get something.'[1]

Ambition was one motive which prompted Boswell to seek a different
sphere; he seems to have thought the abilities which were cramped in
Scotland and were not appreciated by the Scotch would grow in London
to their full stature and be handsomely recognised. In 1777 he talked
to Johnson upon the subject of the English Bar:

    I had long complained to him that I felt myself discontented
    in Scotland as too narrow a sphere, and that I wished to make
    my chief residence in London, the great scene of ambition,
    instruction and amusement: a scene which was to me,
    comparatively speaking, a heaven upon earth.

There were, however, a number of reasons which prevented Boswell
from making his home in London till long after this conversation. The
possibility of his father's death, which would probably make him
the Laird of Auchinleck, was always present to him, and it would be
inconvenient as well as expensive to have a separate establishment in
London. It was by no means certain, moreover, as Boswell seems to have
realised, that there would be much financial gain by the change, and
he could not afford to fail at the English Bar; his father as well
as Johnson opposed the step, a consideration which would probably in
itself have prevented it, from interested motives on Boswell's part if
from no others.

Boswell, in fact, remained at the Scotch Bar until 1786, when he
determined finally, in spite of his position as a Scotch laird, which
he had occupied for four years, to try his fortune at Westminster
Hall. He had been disappointed of promotion[2] for so long in Scotland
that it was time to exercise his talents in a different sphere.

The English lawyers, however, seem to have been no more congenial than
the Scotchmen, for he speaks of the 'rough scene of the roaring and
bantering society of lawyers,' which he is compelled to be with on the
Northern Circuit.[3] There is an amusing story recounted by Lord
Eldon in his 'Anecdotes' about Boswell at the Lancaster Assizes, which
belongs to a period between the years '86 and '88:

    We found Jemmy Boswell lying upon the pavement--inebriated. We
    subscribed at supper a guinea for him and half-a-crown for his
    clerk, and sent him next morning a brief with instructions to
    move for the writ _Quare adhæsit pavimento_, with observations
    calculated to induce him to think that it required great
    learning to explain the necessity of granting it. He sent all
    round the town to attornies for books, but in vain. He moved,
    however, for the writ, making the best use he could of the
    observations in the brief. The judge was astonished and the
    audience amazed. The judge said, 'I never heard of such a
    writ--what can it be that adheres pavimento? Are any of you
    gentlemen at the Bar able to explain this?' The Bar laughed.
    At last one of them said, 'My Lord, Mr. Boswell last night
    _adhæsit pavimento_. There was no moving him for some time.
    At last he was carried to bed, and he has been dreaming about
    himself and the pavement.'

Boswell himself pours out to Temple in plaintive accents the tangled
story of a wig lost at Carlisle in 1789, from which we may suspect, as
he did himself, another practical joke. 'I suspected a wanton trick,
which some people think witty, but I thought it very ill-timed to one
in my situation.'

We might judge from the manner in which he was treated by his
fellow-lawyers that Boswell was not wholly successful at the English
Bar. No one can have realised this more keenly than himself.

'I am sadly discouraged,' he writes, 'by having no practice, nor
probable prospect of it.... Yet the delusion of Westminster Hall, of
brilliant reputation and splendid fortune as a barrister, still weighs
upon my imagination. I must be seen in the courts, and must hope for
some happy openings in causes of importance. The Chancellor, as you
observe, has not done as I expected; but why did I expect it?' Later
in the same year, 1789, he exclaims: 'O Temple! Temple! is this
realising any of the towering hopes which have so often been the
subject of our conversations and letters?' It is pathetic to see him
clinging still to the old hopes and ideals, when his real title to
fame lay near at hand in his Johnsonian stores, so much thought of,
and yet so little valued beside the great world of practical affairs.

There were no doubt some special reasons, connected with his attitude
towards the law itself, which may account in a large degree for
Boswell's failure at the Bar. We have mentioned already the aversion
which Boswell had for the society of lawyers. This in itself was
likely to be a hindrance in his legal career; but it is only the
result of the general unfittedness of Boswell for the Bar. He was not
unwilling, when his plan of being a soldier had been abandoned, to
enter upon a legal career; it would offer the kind of opportunities
for distinction which he wanted. Possibly he was attracted too by the
formalism of the Courts; one may suppose that the mere wearing of
a wig and gown would give him pleasure. But the mind of Boswell was
entirely unlegal. He had no capacity for estimating the value of
evidence, and was readily convinced by a plausible story. He applied
to his work rather the common sense of the layman (being actually
advised very often by Johnson, who knew nothing of Scotch law) than
the exact reasoning required by his profession. And though Boswell
could apply himself at times with continued effort to any work which
he particularly wanted to do, the dislike which he had for his legal
studies made him tire of them so soon that he never knew very much
about any body of laws. 'Mr. Boswell,' says Malone, 'professed the
Scotch and the English Law; but had never taken very great pains on
the subject. His father, Lord Auchinleck, told him one day that it
would cost him more trouble to hide his ignorance in these professions
than to show his knowledge. This Boswell owned he had found to be
true.'[4] Boswell himself wrote to Temple on the subject of his
chances of success at the English Bar: 'To confess fairly to you, my
friend, I am afraid that, were I to be tried, I should be found so
deficient in the forms, the _quirks_ and _quiddities_ which early
habit acquires, that I should expose myself.'

Boswell, moreover, had never the reputation which is suitable for a
legal man. The sober citizen does not choose either the adventurer or
the _littérateur_ to plead his cause before a jury. His connections
with actors, who were disapproved as a class by the respectable
community, told against Boswell in legal circles. And worst of all was
the tour in the Hebrides with the avowed enemy of Scotland.

Boswell, besides, acquired a reputation for eccentricity which must
have been fatal to the chances of a barrister.

One habit, that of attending executions, deserves a closer
examination; by this behaviour Boswell made himself conspicuous in
a wholly unprofessional attitude, which must have been extremely
damaging to his position as a lawyer. 'I must confess,' he writes,
'that I myself am never absent from a public execution.... When I
first attended them I was shocked to the greatest degree. I was in
a manner convulsed with pity and terror, and for several days, but
especially nights after, I was in a very dismal situation.' The object
in the first place seems then to have been the mere indulgence
of morbid sentiment; but later he continued the habit more out of
curiosity and as an inherent part of his whole study of Man.

    I can now see one with great composure. I can account for
    this curiosity in a philosophical manner, when I consider
    that death is the most awful object before every man who ever
    directs his thoughts seriously towards futurity. Therefore it
    is that I feel an irresistible impulse to be present at every
    execution, as I there behold the various effects of the near
    approach of death.

In accordance with this practice Boswell accompanied a celebrated
criminal, Hackman, in the prison coach to the gibbet; and he made the
acquaintance of the murderess Mrs. Rudd. The latter apparently was an
interesting woman. Johnson entirely approved Boswell's conduct, and
said he would have done the same himself if he had not been afraid
that his presence would be reported in the newspapers. It is
interesting to note that Boswell had scruples, and wrote to Temple:
'Perhaps the adventure with Mrs. Rudd is very foolish notwithstanding
the approbation of Dr. Johnson.'

On one occasion Boswell persuaded Sir Joshua Reynolds to go with
him, and evidently won him over to his view about the question of
propriety: 'I am obliged to you,' wrote Sir Joshua, 'for carrying me
yesterday to see the execution at Newgate of the five malefactors.
I am convinced it is a vulgar error in the opinion that it is so
terrible a spectacle, or that it in any way implies a hardness of
heart or cruelty of disposition.'

Sir Walter Scott gives a kinder motive on Boswell's part than mere

    He used to visit the prisoners on the day before execution,
    with the singular wish to make the condemned wretches laugh by
    dint of buffoonery, in which he not infrequently succeeded.

The satisfaction which Boswell had from these strange interviews was
no doubt in part the commendable satisfaction of being kind and good;
and his piety as well as his jesting may have been a comfort to many
of these criminals in their last hours. It was also a pleasure to
Boswell to read his name in the newspaper on the day following an
execution. But probably this conduct did not earn the praises of the
Scotch lawyers nor inspire the confidence of the litigating public.

       *       *       *       *       *

The failure which attended Boswell's legal career included also his
political schemes.

It is clear that Boswell had an idea of some kind of Parliamentary
career. His ambition was to be a Minister:

    He [Hume] says there will in all probability be a change of
    the Ministry soon, which he regrets. Oh Temple, while they
    change so often, how does one feel an ambition to have a share
    in that great department; but I fear my wish to be a man of
    consequence in the State is much like some of your ambitious

Boswell, if he was ambitious in 1775 of some high office in the State,
can certainly have had little chance, as he evidently realised, of
being immediately satisfied. His financial difficulties alone
would have prevented this. But when in 1782 he became the Laird of
Auchinleck the increase of his importance seemed to warrant some more
definite plan. 'I wish much to be in Parliament, Sir,' he said to
Johnson; and though the latter discouraged him he applied himself with
energy to his political schemes.

Boswell had two plans by which he hoped to become a member of
Parliament. He hoped in the first place that the influence of Lord
Lonsdale[5] would procure him a seat. This patron seems to have shown
a disposition to be friendly. In the summer of 1786, Boswell received
from Bishop Percy, who had formerly been at Carlisle and knew Lord
Lonsdale, a most encouraging letter:

    You are now connected with a nobleman [Lord Lonsdale] who
    serves his friends with a zeal and spirit which I hope will be
    attended with the happiest consequences to your establishment
    in England. I also anticipate his bringing you into the House
    of Commons, as an event no less certain and splendid to your

Early in 1788[6] Lord Lonsdale appointed Boswell Recorder of Carlisle.
This was not an important post, but it was doubtless a sign of favour.
Bishop Percy wrote warm congratulations; and Boswell was no doubt
encouraged to hope for more. Lord Lonsdale, however, would appear to
have lost interest in Boswell: he procured no seat in Parliament for
his friend, and some years later behaved so insolently that Boswell
broke the connection.[7]

Boswell's second plan was to represent his county. Even in Ayrshire he
was not altogether independent of Lord Lonsdale, but he relied chiefly
upon his own position as head of an old county family. With this
project in view, he engaged himself in various activities. The most
remarkable of these were his 'Letters to the People of Scotland,' the
first dated 1783 and the second 1785. In these two pamphlets Boswell
displayed abundantly to his countrymen his ardent patriotism and
zealous Tory principles. In 1784 he took part in a Tory demonstration
at York; and in his county he issued 'An Address to the Real
Freeholders of the County of Ayr,' stating his willingness to be their
representative, and his qualifications for that position.[8] He also
carried an address to his Majesty--'it was most graciously received,
and Mr. Boswell had afterwards the honour to kiss his Majesty's
hand.'[9] In 1789 he was again very busy electioneering, though he
seems to have realised that his chance of success was very small.[10]
He carried an address to the Prince of Wales.

    I am carrying it up, to be presented by the Earl of Eglintoun,
    accompanied by such Justices of us as may be in London. This
    will add something to my 'conspicuousness.' Will that word

The word seems to do very well. Boswell writes later:

    The Prince of Wales has received our Address most graciously,
    and I am to be presented to his Royal Highness, who desired it
    might be signified that he regretted Mr. Boswell was gone from

But this would seem to be the final achievement of Boswell's political
career, for he was not successful in the General Election, and we hear
no more in the 'Letters' of political schemes.

Beyond any special reasons which there may be for the failure of
Boswell in his legal career, there is a more general cause for all his
disappointment. We must remember that Boswell throughout his life was,
like many men in the eighteenth century less gifted than himself, a
thorough-going place-hunter. He hoped even in his early life for some
advantages through his great patrons, Lord Somerville,[13] Sir David
Dalrymple,[14] Lord Eglintoun,[13] Lord Mount Stuart,[15] Sir
Andrew Mitchell[16]; he had obtained by their means a number of
introductions. The ardour with which he pursued the acquaintance of
the great must have been prompted in some degree by an interested
expectation, and we may suppose that from the friendship of Chatham,
which he was so eager to cultivate, he had flattered himself with a
hope of political advancement, a hope of fulfilling the dreams that
he had dreamt, with Temple, in University days, of their future
greatness. They were but vague hopes in those early years, since he
could hardly have expected an immediate recognition of his particular
services. But Boswell when he grew older attached himself more
definitely to particular patrons. There are a number of names--Lord
Pembroke, Lord Lisburne, Lord Lonsdale, Burke, Dundas.[17] To these
in turn he seems to have pinned his faith and almost to have expected
some promotion to have fallen upon him. And from all his great
acquaintances he was to get but one poor post, the Recordership of

We can hardly be surprised from what we have seen already of Boswell's
methods of approaching his patrons that he had no great success in
these schemes of advancement. We have quoted already a letter to
Chatham, which was designed to impress that Minister with the fact
that he was a rising young man, and to solicit his favour. There
is another letter of a later date[18] intended to further his
acquaintance with Burke. The great orator might have one day at his
disposal some Government posts; his memory must not be allowed to

    Dear Sir,--Upon my honour I began a letter to you some time
    ago, and did not finish it, because I imagined you were then
    near your apotheosis--as poor Goldsmith said upon a former
    occasion, when he thought your party was coming into
    administration; and being one of your old barons of Scotland,
    my pride could not brook the appearance of paying my court to
    a Minister, amongst the crowd of interested expectants on his

Certainly if one wishes to obtain a post it is better to avoid the
'crowd of interested expectants.' The 'old baron' too is an excellent
card to play to one who is not of the aristocratic circles; few men
are free from the taint of snobbishness, and patronage may be courted
by cultivating disinterested friendship. It is well at the same time
to remember _Qui s'excuse s'accuse_. 'At present,' Boswell continues,
'I take it for granted that I need be under no such apprehension, and,
therefore, I resume the indulgence of my inclination.' Only one who
was really interested and wished to conceal the fact could be so
careful. Boswell realises that there is something rather odd about
the explanation. It may not after all be entirely wise. It is possible
that men rather like it to be thought that they have much patronage,
and find some pleasure in being asked for favours. 'This may be,
perhaps, a singular method of beginning a correspondence; and, in one
sense may not be very complimentative. But I can sincerely assure you,
my dear Sir, that it is a genuine compliment to Mr. Burke himself.'
The explanation of how it is a compliment is now to follow, but the
desire for self-excuse obtrudes itself again: 'It is generally thought
no meanness to solicit the notice and favour of a man in power, and,
surely, it is much less a meanness to endeavour, by honest means, to
have the honour and pleasure of being on an agreeable footing with a
superior man of knowledge, abilities and genius.' A further excuse
is furnished by the favours shown to Boswell in the past by Mr. Burke

    I have to thank you for the obligation which you have already
    conferred upon me, by the welcome which I have, upon repeated
    occasions, experienced under your roof.

    When I was last in London, you gave me a general invitation,
    which I value more than a treasury warrant: an invitation to
    the 'feast of reason'; and what I like still more, the 'flow
    of the soul,' which you dispense with liberal and elegant
    abundance, is, in my estimation, a privilege of enjoying
    certain felicity.

The comparison between the places that come of courting a patron
and this sublime 'felicity' that comes of friendship must still be
maintained--'and we know that riches and honour are desirable only as
a means of felicity, and that they often fail of the end.'

It is necessary now to give an account of his political opinions, so
that Mr. Burke may be assured that Mr. Boswell is his supporter:

    Most heartily do I rejoice that our present Ministers have, at
    last, yielded to conciliation. For amidst all the sanguinary
    zeal of my countrymen I have professed myself a friend to our
    fellow-subjects in America, so far as they claim an exemption
    from being taxed by the representatives of the King's British
    subjects. I do not perfectly agree with you; for I deny
    the Declaratory Act; and I am a warm Tory, in its true
    constitutional sense.

It will be noticed that the assertion of independence adds to this
declaration a considerable degree of importance. After so careful a
preparation the real point of the letter may be disclosed:

    I wish I were a Commissioner, or one of the Secretaries of the
    Commission, for the grand treaty. I am to be in London this
    spring, and if His Majesty should ask me what I would choose,
    my answer will be, to assist at the compact between Britain
    and America.

The letter to Burke is only less absurd than the letter to Chatham,
which was quoted above. What most surprises us is not the vanity of
the young man who confided to Chatham his hopes and prospects, nor
his impudence in asking a Minister to favour him with a letter and in
bothering Burke with his political opinions, but the entire ignorance
displayed by a man of intelligence about the kind of impression that
letters such as these would produce upon their recipients.

Boswell indeed as we have said--and it is a sufficient reason to
account for his failure--was a fool. It is this ignorance of the
minds of others about oneself, a certain simplicity of character, an
unquestioning, childlike self-confidence, that makes fools of men.
No fool would wish to be thought foolish, and if a fool were to
understand what was thought about him he would soon alter his
behaviour. His foolishness depends upon the fact that in this respect
he has no imagination. The ignorance of Boswell about the effect
of his behaviour is the more remarkable because he was in many ways
intelligent, sagacious, and extremely observant. It was not a quality
which vanished with maturity, though it was slightly modified in later
years: he was nearly fifty when he wrote to Temple an account of his
attempts to enlist the patronage of Pitt (the younger), which shows
how completely he misunderstood the whole situation:

    It is utter folly in Pitt not to reward and attach to his
    administration a man of my popular and pleasant talents, whose
    merit he has acknowledged in a letter under his own hand. He
    did not answer several letters, which I wrote at intervals,
    requesting to wait upon him; I lately wrote to him that such
    behaviour to me was certainly not generous. 'I think it is not
    just, and (forgive the freedom) I doubt if it be wise. If I do
    not hear from you in ten days, I shall conclude that you
    are resolved to have no farther communication with me; for
    I assure you, Sir, I am extremely unwilling to give you, or
    indeed myself, unnecessary trouble.' About two months have
    elapsed, and he has made no sign.

And it was an ignorance which included even his own father:

    I have answered him in my own style: I will be myself....
    Would you not be pleased to see your son happy in
    independence, cultivating his little farm and ornamenting
    his nuptial villa, and filling himself one day, as well as
    possible, the place of a much greater man? Temple, would you
    not like such a son? Would you not feel a glow of parental
    joy? I know you would; and yet my worthy father writes to me
    in the manner you see, with that Scots strength of sarcasm
    which is peculiar to a North Briton. But he is offended with
    that fire which you and I cherish as the essence of our soul;
    and how can I make him happy?[19]

But if all fools are alike in so far as they have this common
foundation upon which the flimsy fabric of folly is erected, yet they
differ widely in the manner of their foolishness. To say that a man is
a fool is to say but little of all that is meant by the expression in
his individual case. Boswell was a fool in a number of ways which we
shall now have to consider.

The extract of Boswell's letter to his father which we have quoted
above in his letter to Temple is typical of one phase of all his
foolishness. The impulse which made him write in this place about
'cultivating his little farm and ornamenting his nuptial villa' is one
which he frequently had. It is difficult to find a name which exactly
fits it. It is the melodramatic instinct applied to real life. The
words which he uses in this case contain a sentiment beyond the mere
facts they represent; and it is a false sentiment--false not because
he did not feel it, but because there was no occasion for it;
sentiment is wasted. In Boswell there was a sentimental side to the
affectation that we have already spoken of as having been partially
cured by Johnson. It is not meant, by this expression, that Boswell
consciously assumed sentiment which he did not feel: we cannot
always tell whether he was conscious or not; and it does not matter.
Affectation implies only the presence of what is unreal; it is
concerned as much with the feeling of what is false as with falsely
pretending to feel.

Perhaps the most remarkable of Boswell's extravagant utterances are
those to Temple on the subject of their friendship. He idealises this
to suit his conception of the most perfect of human relationships, and
frequently alludes to it. 'May indulgent Heaven grant a continuance
of our friendship! As our minds improve in knowledge, may the sacred
flame still increase, until at last we reach the glorious world above,
when we shall never be separated, but enjoy an everlasting society
of bliss!' He was able to enjoy the 'luxury of philosophy and
friendship,' and 'invaluable hours of elegant friendship and classical
sociality,' and 'calmly smile' in consequence 'at the attacks of envy
or of malevolence.' Temple, 'whose kind and amiable counsel never
failed to soothe my dejected mind,' was told to 'reflect, my friend,
that you have sure comfort, you have true friends--you have Nichols
and Boswell, whom you may look upon as parts of yourself. Consider
this as an exalted comfort which few enjoy, although they have many
of the shining gifts of fortune.' He seems at one moment to have
suspected that he might grow cold in his affection:

    I am a quick fire, but I know not if I last sufficiently,
    though, surely, my dear Temple, there is always a warm place
    for you. With many people I have compared myself to a taper,
    which can light up a great and lasting fire though itself is
    soon extinguished.

The friendship, indeed, was of the greatest value to Boswell; as we
see, behind his absurd manner of expressing it, it must have been a
comfort to him in many disappointments:

    When harassed and fretted with Court of Sessions business,
    when vexed to think myself a coarse labourer in an obscure
    corner, I get into good humour again by recollecting that I am
    Temple's most intimate friend.[20]

His friendship with Mrs. Stuart is treated in the same manner:

    We talked with unreserved freedom, as we had nothing to fear;
    we were philosophical, upon honour,--not deep, but feeling; we
    were pious, we drank tea and bid each other adieu as finely
    as romance paints. She is my wife's dearest friend, so you see
    how beautiful our intimacy is.[21]

The romantic sphere into which Boswell elevated these friendships
contrasts very strangely with his acute analysis to Johnson of his
true sentiments: 'The feeling of friendship is like that of being
comfortably filled with roast beef.' One would suspect that the
feeling of friendship with him was, as he might have expressed it
himself, like a balloon, which rises higher and higher as it is more
blown out with gas.

In the same fashion he believed that his life was, 'one of the most
romantic' he knew of;[22] that Temple's 'soft admonitions would at
any time calm the tempests of his soul,'[23] and that he could 'retire
into the calm regions of philosophy' and contemplate the 'heroism'
which he was able to see in his conduct towards his father.[24]
Philosophy, indeed, had a great attraction for him. It was in the
bower of philosophy that many of his best hours were filled with that
noble admiration which his disinterested soul was able to enjoy
for the character of Lord Chatham. In early years he was Temple's
philosophic friend, and Paoli is told that 'with a mind naturally
inclined to melancholy and a deep desire of inquiry, I have intensely
applied myself to metaphysical researches.'

The affectation or extravagance of Boswell appears also from time to
time in his pious and moral remarks.

    Being in a frame of mind which I hope, for the felicity of
    human nature, many experience--in fine weather--at the country
    house of a friend--consoled and elevated by pious exercises--I
    expressed myself with an unrestrained fervour to my 'Guide,
    Philosopher and Friend': 'My dear Sir, I could fain be a good
    man; and I am very good now. I fear God and honour the king, I
    wish to do no ill, and to be benevolent to all mankind.'[25]

Boswell was very impressionable, by his own account, to good
influences. He rose from reading a dialogue of Hume's 'happier and
more disposed to follow virtue.'[26] Relating how Mr. Edward
Dilly repeated on his death-bed a passage from Young's 'Night
Thoughts'--'Death, a subterraneous road to bliss,' or some such
words--Boswell remarks: 'I am edified here.'[27] The greatest triumph,
one would suppose, of this nature was when, as he says, speaking of
his 'moral fences,' 'Reason, that steady builder and overseer, has set
them firm.'[28] Boswell was excellent too at giving moral advice: 'It
is certainly true philosophy to submit to the will of Heaven, and to
fulfil the amiable duties of morality.'[29] 'Read Epictetus,'[30] he
writes to Temple; on another occasion, 'Read Johnson. Let a manly and
firm philosophy brace your mind.'

Boswell, however, though he was continually posing, posed not for
others but for himself. He had an insatiable greed of sensation. He
derived prodigious pleasure from the view of himself in a situation.
'I cannot resist,' he says, 'the serious pleasure of writing to Mr.
Johnson from the tomb of Melancthon. My paper rests upon the tomb of
that great and good man.' While he wrote the letter he admired the
scene he had arranged. He admired himself playing every kind of
_rôle_; he could be the grave author, or the romantic lover, the
scholar of 'solid learning' or the elegant man of the world, the sage
counsellor or the jolly good fellow, the enthusiast for liberty who
talked heroics with Paoli and politics with Chatham, explorer and
diplomat, the feudal lord or the humble paterfamilias of a rustic
domesticity; he could be literary, theological, pious, philosophical,
legal, or political, as occasion suited, with profound enjoyment of
the part he was acting. He delighted in the solemnity of a vow,
and even had a taste for the solitude of a hermit: 'Sometimes,'
he exclaims, 'I have been in the humour of wishing to retire to a
desert.' His gust for London was the same gust for sensation; and his
pursuit of distinguished men was partly for the sake of an added zest
and excitement from their company.

'You can almost see him,' says Lionel Johnson, 'reckoning up, as it
were, on his plump fingers, his eminent acquaintances, the cities and
courts he has visited, his writings and flirtations and experiences in
general: they are his treasures and his triumphs. The acquisition of
Johnson was but the greatest of them all, his crowning achievement;
all his life was devoted to social _coups d'état_. To hear service in
an Anglican cathedral, to attend an exceptionally choice murderer to
the gallows; to contrive a meeting between Johnson and Wilkes;... to
pray among the ruins of Iona, and to run away for fear of ghosts; to
turn Roman Catholic, and immediately to run away with an actress: each
and all of these performances were to him sensational, enlivening,

Boswell was not unaware of this extravagance in his temperament. He
alludes to his 'warm imagination.' In 'Boswelliana,' pleased at having
found 'a good image,' he records:

    There have been many people who built castles in the air; but,
    I believe, I am the first who ever attempted to live in them.

By castles in the air, he means not only glorious plans for the
future, but the sensational and emotional in common incidents. A
moment during the 'Tour to the Hebrides' reveals the whole of what he

    I can never forget the impression made upon my fancy by some
    of the ladies' maids tripping about in neat morning dresses.
    After seeing for a long time little but rusticity, their
    lively appearance pleased me so much that I thought for a
    moment I could have been a knight-errant for them.

A knight-errant for a couple of Scotch maids! A preposterous fancy!
But none the less it is Boswell.

It would be too large a task to deal here with all the recorded
affectation or extravagance of Boswell. But we must not omit to
mention one particular phase of it. Consciously or unconsciously,
Boswell in some degree imitated Dr. Johnson--precisely in what degree
it is difficult to determine.

The influence which Johnson had upon his faithful follower has been
discussed already. This must be carefully distinguished from the
imitation in question now; for an influence is something acquired from
the manner and mind of another, assimilated and reproduced, not as
original but as genuine; an imitation is, as it were, a garment put
on, an adornment of the outward person, reflecting no true sentiment

Though Johnson had a real moral influence upon Boswell, some of his
remarks, and especially some of the pious exclamations, such as those
we have quoted, were of the latter kind. We find passages in the
'Life' when Boswell makes truly Johnsonian remarks; as on the occasion
when, in a discussion about the freedom of the will, Dr. Mayo alluded
to the distinction between moral and physical necessity, and Boswell
replied: 'Alas! Sir, they come both to the same thing. You may be
bound as hard by chains when covered by leather, as when the iron
appears'; or when he said in answer to Dr. Johnson's remark that he
had _downed_ Dr. Robertson with the King of Prussia, 'Yes, Sir, you
threw a _bottle_ at his head.'

When actually in his presence, it is clear from Fanny Burney's account
that Boswell imitated Dr. Johnson:

    He had an odd mock-solemnity of tone and manner that he
    had acquired imperceptibly from constantly thinking of and
    imitating Dr. Johnson, whose own solemnity, nevertheless, far
    from mock, was the result of pensive rumination. There was,
    also, something slouching in the gait and dress of Mr. Boswell
    that wore an air, ridiculously enough, of purporting to
    personify the same model. His clothes were always too large
    for him; his hair, or wig, was constantly in a state of
    negligence; and he never for a moment sat still or upright
    upon a chair. Every look and movement displayed either
    intentional or voluntary imitation. Yet certainly it was not
    meant for caricature, for his heart, almost even to idolatry,
    was in his reverence for Dr. Johnson.[31]

It is a curious and striking picture, and we may gather that there was
always something odd and laughable, and yet rather lamentable, about
Boswell's appearance. The effect of imitation he seems sometimes
half-conscious of producing, from the care with which he accentuates
in the 'Life' and the 'Tour' any point of difference between Dr.
Johnson and himself. But it must be remembered that Miss Burney's
account is an account of particular circumstances--the company was a
large one, and not an inner circle of more intimate friends of Boswell
and Johnson. We have no reason to suppose that Boswell's behaviour,
particularly his behaviour apart from Dr. Johnson, was greatly
affected by this strange homage to his friend.

It is clear in any case that affectation, however much it may have
taken a Johnsonian form, was fundamental in Boswell's character;
for we can see it plainly before the date of that eventful meeting.
Johnson indeed had a marked aversion from the kind of sentimentality
which Boswell frequently indulged in, and there is in it something
which could not possibly have been the effect of imitating Dr.
Johnson. How very far removed from anything which Johnson could have
done is the absurd conduct of Boswell (the best instance, perhaps, of
this kind of affectation in him) when he visited Mr. Ireland and saw
the fraudulent Shakespeare papers:

    On the arrival of Mr. Boswell, the papers were as usual placed
    before him, when he commenced his examination of them; and
    being satisfied as to their antiquity, as far as the external
    appearance would attest, he proceeded to examine the style of
    the language from the fair transcripts made from the disguised
    handwriting. In this research Mr. Boswell continued for a
    considerable length of time, constantly speaking in favour of
    the internal as well as external proofs of the validity of
    the manuscripts. At length, finding himself rather thirsty,
    he requested a tumbler of warm brandy and water; which
    having nearly finished, he then redoubled his praises of the
    manuscripts; and at length, arising from his chair, he made
    use of the following expression: 'Well, I shall now die
    contented, since I have lived to witness the present day.'
    Mr. Boswell then, kneeling down before the volume containing
    a portion of the papers, continued, 'I now kiss the invaluable
    relics of our bard: and thanks to God that I have lived to see
    them!' Having kissed the volume with every token of reverence,
    Mr. Boswell shortly after quitted Mr. Ireland's house.[32]

However absurd the behaviour of Boswell in the _rôle_ of a man of
letters may seem to us when we understand the feelings which prompted
it, it is doubtful whether it would have been sufficient alone to give
him the reputation of a fool. Extravagance of this kind is not very
commonly condemned if it is not seen to be insincere, and though it
is easy enough for us who are in possession of all the records of his
life to see the imposture, it must have been more difficult for those
who knew Boswell to have a real interest in literature, and to be
already a man of letters, to understand that he was posing as the
literary man. His acquaintance would more readily have called him a
fool on account of his vanity.

We have all at bottom in some degree the love of self, and vanity is
the expression we apply to it when it causes us in some way to
lose our sense of proportion, to see things, as it were, in a
false perspective. Self-love becomes vanity when we love ourselves
undeservedly, or when it makes necessary to us the approbation of
others. Usually when it has one effect it has also the other.

But Boswell was vain, not, like many people, of qualities which he
did not possess, or which, if he did possess them, were no cause for
self-congratulation, but because he had an uncontrollable desire that
everyone else should know about his success and share his wonder and
admiration. It was not so much that he exaggerated his importance,
though he did that sometimes, as that he exaggerated the importance to
other people of his importance. He not only desired their applause as
well as his own, but assumed, with his curious ignorance of the mind
of others in matters which concerned himself, that what interested him
would naturally interest them.

It was vanity of this kind which, more than anything else, made a fool
of Boswell. The insatiable desire to be conspicuous which made him as
a young man publish what he must have known to be worthless, appear at
the Shakespeare Jubilee as Corsican Boswell, and insert notices of his
movements in the papers,[33] did not diminish as one might expect with
maturity, but rather grew with his years. There is nothing which he
wrote so egotistical and vain as some passages in those most serious
documents which he addressed to the 'People of Scotland upon the State
of the Nation' and to which were pinned his hopes of political honour.
In the letter of 1783 he says of himself:

    'For my own part, I should claim no credit, did I not flatter
    myself that I practise what I now presume to recommend. I have
    mentioned former circumstances, perhaps of too much egotism,
    to show that I am no time server; and at this moment, friends
    to whom I am attached by affection, gratitude, and interest,
    are zealous for the measure which I deem so alarming. Let
    me add that a dismission of the Portland administration will
    probably disappoint an object which I have most ardently at

The second letter alludes to the former one as though it had almost
created a revolution, and manages in the same sentence to remind his
readers that he had the approval of Pitt and was himself descended
from an old Scotch family:

    I had the happiness to find my letter received not only with
    indulgence, but with a generous warmth of heart I can never
    forget, but to the latest moment of my life shall most
    gratefully remember. The fire of loyalty was kindled. It flew
    through our counties and our boroughs. The King was addressed:
    the Constitution was saved. I was proud to have been able thus
    _ciere viros_; prouder still than of receiving the applause of
    the _Minister of the Crown_, which he was pleased to convey
    to me in a very handsome letter; upon which, however, I set
    a high value, considering not only the Minister, but the man;
    and accordingly it shall be preserved in the archives of my

In the same pamphlet Boswell refers to his wife's aristocratic
connections, and intrudes an assertion of his domestic felicity which
could have no bearing on the political theme. He wishes to appear as
'the friend of Lord Eglintoun':

    Amongst those friends I myself am one of the warmest, both as
    an enthusiast for ancient feudal attachments, and as having
    the honour and happiness to be married to his Lordship's
    relation, a true Montgomerie, whom I esteem, after fifteen
    years, as on the day when she gave me her hand.

This declaration satisfied in some strange manner a personal vanity,
and was also no doubt intended to enlist the support of his Lordship.

But by far the most remarkable story of Boswell's absurdities is one
told by John Taylor, editor of the _Sun_, about his behaviour at a
public dinner:

    I remember dining with him at Guildhall in 1785, when Alderman
    Boydell gave his grand civic festival on being raised to the
    mayoralty. Mr. Pitt honoured the table on that occasion with
    his presence, and, when the company removed to a room, in a
    short time Mr. Boswell contrived to be asked to favour the
    company with a song. He declared his readiness to comply, but
    first delivered a short preface, in which he observed that it
    had been his good fortune to be introduced to several of the
    potentates and most of the great characters of Europe, but
    with all his endeavours he had never been successful in
    obtaining an introduction to a gentleman who was an honour to
    his country, and whose talents he held in the highest esteem
    and admiration. It was evident to all the company that Mr.
    Boswell alluded to Mr. Pitt, who sat with all the dignified
    silence of a marble statue, though, indeed, in such a
    situation he could not but take the reference to himself. Mr.
    Boswell then sang a song of his own composition, which was a
    parody on Dibdin's 'Sweet Little Cherub,' under the title of
    'A Grocer of London,' which rendered the reference to Mr. Pitt
    too evident to be mistaken, as the great minister was then a
    member of the Grocers' Company. This song Mr. Boswell, partly
    volunteering and partly pressed by the company, sang at least
    six times, insomuch that Mr. Pitt was obliged to relax from
    his gravity and join in the general laugh at the oddity of Mr.
    Boswell's character.[34]

The value of this tale as evidence of Boswell's behaviour and
character depends in some degree upon the extent of his potations.
Though he may have had the audacity to do such things when in a normal
condition, it must have been easier to do them when tipsy. It may be
judged, from the continuation of Dr. Taylor's story, that a part
of Boswell's confidence in the presence of Mr. Pitt was due to the
festivity of the occasion:

    Boswell and I came away together, both in so convivial a mood
    that we roared out all the way 'The Grocer of London,' till we
    reached Hatton Garden, where I then resided, to the annoyance
    of many watchmen whom we roused from their peaceful slumbers,
    without, however, being taken into custody for disturbing
    their repose.... I met him the next day about twelve o'clock
    near St. Dunstan's Church, as fresh as a rose.

Fitzgerald, after quoting this account of the mayoralty dinner,

    This ludicrous exhibition was much talked of and laughed at.
    To heighten the absurdity, his Liberal friends affected to be
    shocked at his want of principle, in singing praises of the
    'Grocer,' whom he had been heard to abuse. They were enchanted
    to find him rise to the bait, and thus vindicate himself:
    'Pray let them know that I am vain of a hasty composition
    which has procured me large draughts of the popular applause
    in which I delight. Let me add that there was certainly no
    servility on my part, for I publicly declared in Guildhall,
    between the encores, "that this same Grocer had treated me
    arrogantly and ungratefully, but that, from his great merit
    as a minister, I was compelled to support him." The time will
    come when I shall have a riper opportunity to show, that in
    one instance, at least, the man has wanted wisdom.'

He goes on to explain that Boswell gained a good deal of notoriety
from the escapade, which was alluded to in a popular satirical poem of
the time.

It is easy indeed to understand the motives of Boswell. His childish
and unrestrained love of merriment, his insatiable desire to be the
wag and the buffoon, enabled him to give vent in the most mirthful
fashion to his passion for self-advertisement, to explain how he had
been honoured by the attention of kings and how he intended to have
an introduction to the great Minister; and with all this he retained a
certain fundamental honesty about himself, so that he was compelled
to exclaim between the encores 'that this same Minister had treated
me arrogantly and ungratefully.' He understood so little what was the
opinion of the company about him that he seems to have believed that
he was recommending himself to a patron, and he was so vain that he
was undoubtedly proud of what must have been an absurd composition.

Boswell indeed was very fond of writing humorous verse.[35] The
instinct in him was the natural result of his animal spirits; the need
to be laughing, which he felt so strongly at most times when he was
not depressed and melancholy, fixed upon the smallest objects as
suitable for his wit, and he was satisfied only by some form of
expression. The reason that he collected in his commonplace-book a
number of 'good things,' as he would call them, is not so much that he
was proud of his own sayings (for those of others are also treasured)
or that he wished to preserve them for posterity, though both these
feelings were present, as that his huge enjoyment of anything witty
must be recorded to be satisfied.

It is remarkable, when we recollect what a large sense of humour he
had, that many of his verses and of his jokes should be so dull and
colourless. But the faculty for appreciating what is amusing is very
different from the capacity for originating it. It is the difference
between humour and wit. The latter involves the power of expression;
and a man may as easily be full of humour, without making a joke, as
he may be by nature a poet without ever writing a line of good poetry.
Boswell had some wit, but not very much--far less than anyone would
imagine merely from reading the 'Life' or the 'Tour.' His position
perhaps is not unlike that of several poets who have written some
stanzas and stray lines of a rare beauty, and are none the less poets
because they have written also much that seems quite unpoetical.

A specimen of Boswell's humorous verse is printed in the 'Life.' He
had dined one evening at Lord Montrose's and afterwards went to Miss
Monckton's, where 'a great number of persons of the first rank' were
assembled, in a state of improper elevation. 'Next day,' says Boswell,
'I endeavoured to give what had happened the most ingenious turn I
could, by the following verses:

  Not that with th' excellent Montrose
    I had the happiness to dine;
  Not that I late from table rose,
    From Graham's wit, from generous wine.

  It was not these alone which led
    On sacred manners to encroach;
  And made me feel what most I dread,
    Johnson's just frown, and self-reproach.

  But when I entered, not abash'd,
    From your bright eyes were shot such rays,
  At once intoxication flash'd,
    And all my frame was in a blaze:

  But not a brilliant blaze I own,
    Of the dull smoke I'm yet asham'd;
  I was a dreary ruin grown,
    And not enlighten'd though enflam'd.

  Victim at once to wine and love,
    I hope, Maria, you'll forgive;
  While I invoke the powers above,
    That henceforth I may wiser live.

Certainly this is amusing in some degree, and amusing too in an
original way; but much of it is mere rhyming without any sort of wit.
Boswell could be as banal as anyone. An ode ('Horatian Ode,' he calls
it) to Charles Dilly, which is chiefly concerned with one Dr. Lettsom,
frequently the host of both Boswell and Dilly, exhibits the author of
humorous verse at his worst; it will be enough to quote one stanza:

  And guests has he in ev'ry degree
    Of decent estimation.
  His liberal mind holds all mankind,
    As an extended nation.

Boswell's _mots_ are of a common eighteenth-century type. The turn
of phrase admired by both Johnson and Boswell and most of their
contemporaries was the image. In 'Boswelliana' is a story of Boswell's
introduction to Scotch lawyers: 'Boswell had a great aversion to the
law, but forced himself to enter upon that laborious profession in
compliance with the anxious desire of his father, for whom he had the
greatest regard. After putting on the gown he said with great good
humour to his brother advocates, 'Gentlemen, I am prest into the
service here; but I have observed that a prest man, either by sea or
land, after a little time does just as well as a volunteer.'

That is Boswell at his best.

Here is another specimen of Boswell's wit: 'A modern man of taste
found fault with the avenues at Auchinleck, and said he wished to
see straggling trees. 'I wish,' said Boswell, 'I could see straggling
fools in this world.'

That is Boswell at his worst.

Why a man who had so much natural humour as Boswell had should have
failed so completely to discriminate when his own wit was in question
must remain as much a problem to us as is the failure of many a poet
to criticise his own writings--the explanation may be perhaps that it
requires some special effort of the mind which can but rarely be
made and which is impossible after the moment of composition. Boswell
certainly seems to have had a high opinion of his efforts to be witty;
his verses to Miss Monckton are inserted in the 'Life' with evident
pride, and without any excuse of some connection with Johnson such as
he usually makes when alluding to his own performances, and he seems
frequently to have sung the songs which he composed, obtaining, no
doubt, in this way the 'conspicuousness' which he desired.[36]

The enjoyment which Boswell had in public at Stratford and at the
mayoralty dinner and in private, no doubt, on many occasions of which
unfortunately we have no account, is perhaps best illustrated and best
understood from a single sentence of his own in one of the 'Letters to

    I was the great man (as we used to say) at the late
    Drawing-Room, in a suit of imperial blue lined with
    rose-coloured silk, and ornamented with rich gold-wrought

For the eagerness which Boswell had to reveal to others anything about
himself which he was proud of, and a sort of inevitable obtrusiveness
in him, Johnson with his usual shrewdness found an excellent parallel
which is faithfully recounted in the 'Life':

    Once when checking my boasting too frequently of myself in
    company, he said to me, 'Boswell, you often vaunt so much
    as to provoke ridicule. You put me in mind of a man who was
    standing in the kitchen of an inn with his back to the fire,
    and thus accosted the person next him, "Do you know, sir,
    who I am?" "No, sir," said the other, "I have not that
    advantage." "Sir," said he, "I am the _great Twalmley_, who
    invented the New Floodgate Iron."'

Endowed with these qualities of unsuspecting simplicity and
open-mouthed vanity, Boswell naturally became, as we have seen, an
object of mirth to his fellow-lawyers. When they took away his wig he
did indeed half suspect a trick; but how confident and innocent
and entirely unsuspicious he is when he boldly pleads for the writ,
'_Quare adhaesit pavimento_.' His own story of the storm during the
sail to Mull, told in the 'Tour to the Hebrides,' illustrates perhaps
better than any other the childish confidence of his conduct. Boswell,
though filled with undisguised terror, still ardently wished to play
the man and be the hero, and he thought, no doubt, as he stood holding
the rope in expectation of the captain's command, that the post
assigned to him was one of vital importance.

    As I saw them all busy doing something, I asked Col, with much
    earnestness, what I could do. He, with a happy readiness, put
    into my hand a rope, which was fixed to the top of one of the
    masts, and told me to hold it till he bade me pull. If I had
    considered the matter, I might have seen that this could not
    be of the least service; but his object was to keep me out of
    the way of those who were busy working the vessel, and at
    the same time to divert my fear by employing me and making
    me think that I was of use. Thus did I stand firm to my post,
    while the wind and rain beat upon me, always expecting a call
    to pull my rope.'

The vanity and simplicity of Boswell no doubt obtruded themselves very
frequently in his behaviour; and they caused a certain expansiveness
and recklessness of conversation which would be interpreted at once as
thoughtless and foolish. We have an admirable glimpse into the kind of
atmosphere produced by his talk in a story which he tells of a snub he
received from Colman:

    I was then so impressed with the truth of many of the stories
    of which I had been told, that I avowed my conviction, saying,
    'He is only _willing_ to believe; I _do_ believe. The evidence
    is enough for me, though not for his great mind. What will not
    fill a quart bottle will fill a pint bottle. I am filled with
    belief.' 'Are you?' said Colman, 'then cork it up.'[37]

'His social propensities,' says Sir J. Prior, 'were well known ...
he opens his mind so freely that we discover much of what is passing
there, even when the disclosure is not meant.'[38] Boswell, indeed,
talked very readily even upon the most serious subjects. About morals
and religion he was continually questioning Dr. Johnson, and most of
all about what to the other was a peculiarly sacred and awful thing,
the fear of death. The topics were introduced apparently without any
particular reason or fitness, but just as it occurred to Boswell that
he might elicit some response from Johnson upon questions about which
it was essential to his purpose that he should hear the doctor's
views: and they were introduced too not merely in private converse but
when a number of people were present.

It seems clear that Boswell was sometimes very tactless in leading
Johnson to talk; he did not understand that not every company nor
every occasion is suitable for the discussion of the most serious
matters. He had, too, an unfortunate habit of saying things which were
extremely injudicious. He did not even understand altogether what was
likely to annoy Dr. Johnson--as on the occasion when he referred to
him in company by the name 'Gargantua,' which Johnson had spoken of as
having been applied to himself, or when he made what must have been an
obvious reference to Johnson's curious clothes: 'Would not _you_, sir,
be the better for velvet embroidery?' These remarks were made, it is
evident, without any malevolent intention. It would seem that even
when he meant to be rude he did not realise all the harm he was doing:
Hume was with some justice annoyed when Boswell quoted the phrase of
Temple, 'their infidel pensioner, Hume';[39] and it was introduced
just as a child might say in some personal argument, 'I know what
someone said of _you_'; and Foote can never have felt much friendship
for Johnson after he heard that the latter had compared his infidelity
to that of a dog.[40] The company in both cases may have been glad
to see Boswell defend his friend, but they must have thought him a
considerable fool and hardly a harmless one.

Nor was it merely from his disregard of what was appropriate that his
conversation might be thought foolish, but rather because a man who
is very ready to talk of his most intimate thoughts and feelings is
usually supposed to be a fool.

Boswell certainly had far more candour than most men, and he had also
a far greater curiosity and interest in mankind, which made him ready
to talk like a child of things about which many men prefer to be
silent. But it would seem, too, that though far from incapable of
feeling deep emotion he was unaffected where most of us would be
touched. 'He was a boy longer than others,' and this perhaps is the

    [Footnote 1: _Letters to Temple_, pp. 146-7.]

    [Footnote 2: _Letters to Temple_, p. 157.]

    [Footnote 3: _Letters to Temple_, p. 250.]

    [Footnote 4: _European Magazine_, 1798, p. 376.]

    [Footnote 5: For an account of Lord Lonsdale _v._ Sir George
    Trevelyan's _Life of Fox_.]

    [Footnote 6: Or possibly at the end of 1787--_v._ Nichols'
    _Illustrations_, vii. 310. The _Dictionary of National
    Biography_ gives 1790, and Dr. Rogers 1789. But Bishop Percy's
    letter of congratulation (printed in Nichols) was dated 1788.
    The year is undoubtedly correct, for it refers to a letter
    of Boswell's dated Feb. 9, 1788, and in this letter Boswell
    speaks of the forthcoming publication of Johnson's letters to
    Mrs. Piozzi, which were published actually in 1788.]

    [Footnote 7: _Letters to Temple_, pp. 268-9.]

    [Footnote 8: _Life of Johnson_, iv. 265.]

    [Footnote 9: Fitzgerald's _Life of Boswell_, II, 16.]

    [Footnote 10: _Letters to Temple_, p. 244.]

    [Footnote 11: _Ib._, p. 244.]

    [Footnote 12: _Ib._, p. 249.]

    [Footnote 13: _Gentleman's Magazine_, June 1795, and _Nichols'
    Literary Anecdotes_, ii, pp. 400-2.]

    [Footnote 14: _Letters to Temple_, p. 29.]

    [Footnote 15: _Ib._, p. 43.]

    [Footnote 16: _Ib._, p. 190, and _Tour to Corsica_.]

    [Footnote 17: _Letters to Temple._]

    [Footnote 18: March 3, 1778.]

    [Footnote 19: _Letters to Temple_, p. 88.]

    [Footnote 20: _Letters to Temple_, p. 162.]

    [Footnote 21: _Ib._, p. 158.]

    [Footnote 22: _Ib._, p. 63.]

    [Footnote 23: _Letters to Temple_, p. 148.]

    [Footnote 24: _Ib._, p. 4.]

    [Footnote 25: _Life of Johnson_, iv, 122.]

    [Footnote 26: _Letters to Temple_, p. 20.]

    [Footnote 27: _Ib._, p. 195.]

    [Footnote 28: _Ib._, p. 148.]

    [Footnote 29: _Ib._, p. 24.]

    [Footnote 30: _Ib._, p. 127.]

    [Footnote 31: _Diary of Madame D'Arblay_, i, p. 509.]

    [Footnote 32: _Ireland's Confessions_, pp. 95-6.]

    [Footnote 33: Prior's _Life of Goldsmith_, i, 449-50.]

    [Footnote 34: _Taylor's Records_, vol. i, 89, 90.]

    [Footnote 35: Fitzgerald's _Life of Boswell_, ii, 73-8.]

    [Footnote 36: Fitzgerald's _Life of Boswell_, ii, 76.]

    [Footnote 37: _Life of Johnson_, ii, 318.]

    [Footnote 38: Prior's _Life of Goldsmith_, i, 452-3.]

    [Footnote 39: _Letters to Temple_, p. 165.]

    [Footnote 40: _Life of Johnson_, ii, 95.]


Nothing in Boswell's life became him so well as his second important
publication, 'The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides.' The event took
place in 1785, not many months after Johnson's death, and less than
twelve years after the eventful journey when Johnson was displayed
to his biographer's countrymen. The 'Tour' has already been mentioned
here as an episode in Boswell's remarkable friendship. It was an
episode, besides, in Boswell's life; it decided his destiny.

In the year 1785 Boswell was in the midst of his political schemes and
ambitions. It was exactly in this period of his life that it was most
important for him to win respect. Yet the 'Journal' revealed the
whole severity of Johnson's criticisms upon Scotland and the Scotch;
Boswell's position among his countrymen was certain to suffer, and
did suffer very much by its publication. His candour triumphed by the
event. His real self was expressed without compromise, at the expense
of the respectable self which he cherished and cultivated. It matters
very little how much Boswell foresaw the consequence. Probably he was
not altogether unsuspicious, for Malone was at his side, and Malone
was a man of the world.[1] In any case he did publish this amazing
book, and he published it at a critical time. Just when he seemed
to be deserting his genius and drifting into a world that was never
intended for him, the vital truth of Boswell proved that it was
irrepressible and saved him for Johnson, for himself, and for

       *       *       *       *       *

Johnson and Boswell were typical travellers of the eighteenth century.
They went in no romantic spirit to see the beauties of Nature in
remote corners of the earth. 'He always said,' reports Boswell of the
Doctor, 'that he was not come to Scotland to see fine places, of which
there were enough in England, but wild objects, mountains, waterfalls,
peculiar manners--in short, things which he had not seen before.
I have a notion that he at no time has had much taste for rural
beauties. I have myself very little.' This is a clear statement.
They looked at 'wild objects' because they were unusual, and eschewed
almost entirely scenery of a tamer spirit. They were interested in
'manners.' The Journal bears out this statement. Observations about
the people of the country are part of the traveller's stock-in-trade,
and they seem even to be one of the _raisons d'être_ of Boswell's
book. In the same way the Journal is filled with archæological and
historical speculations. Johnson's journey to the Western Islands is
far more so, and seems to have been written almost entirely from this
point of view. These were the absorbing interests of educated men, and
travel was expected to furnish the occasion for 'an ordered series of
learned observations.' To be convinced of the paramount importance of
these interests in the eighteenth century one has only to glance at
the periodicals of the time.

But both Johnson and Boswell, especially the latter, had, though they
may have been scarcely conscious of the fact, a far more important
interest in human nature. The Tour was admirably arranged for its
gratification. It consisted for the most part in visits to the
gentlemen of the country: the travellers occasionally put up at
an inn; but for the most part they took advantage of Highland
hospitality. Their conversation therefore would naturally be concerned
very much with the qualities of their various hosts. Now Boswell kept
an elaborate and strictly diurnal diary of which the most important
item was professedly the record of Dr. Johnson's talk. The briefest
reflection on the Doctor's manner and the nature of his remarks must
therefore reveal at once the character of Boswell's Journal.

Assuredly it is an amazing fact that this Journal was published within
twelve years of the Tour itself! As we should expect, it is full of
observations, many of them condemnatory, about men and women who were
still living. 'Nowadays,' says Mr. Percy Fitzgerald, 'we have been
regularly trained to personality by what are called the "Society
papers," in which the names of private persons as well as their doings
are recorded; still it would cause a commotion if the conversation of
some leading personage were reported, in which persons still living
were described in such fashion as this: "A---- is a poor creature;
_he has no bottom_." "B---- is a thorough donkey, talks a good deal of
what he _thinks_ to be sense," &c.'

One instance will serve to illustrate the tone of Boswell's Journal;
it shows perhaps the ultimate point of indiscretion which he reached,
but is a fair indication of his manner. One of the gentlemen who
entertained the two travellers was Sir Alexander Macdonald: he had
not, it appears, a reputation for generosity.

    The penurious gentleman of our acquaintance, formerly alluded
    to, afforded us a topick of conversation to-night. Dr. Johnson
    said I ought to write down a recollection of the instances of
    his narrowness as they almost exceeded belief.

Boswell proceeds to relate a story to the effect that the Highlander
gave to an Irish harper a valuable harp-key, because 'he could not
find it in his heart to give him any money.' Later, he discovered its
value and wished to have it back.

    _Johnson_: 'I like to see how avarice defeats itself; how when
    avoiding to part with money the miser gives something more
    valuable.' Col said the gentleman's relations were angry at
    his giving away the harp-key, for it had been long in the
    family. _Johnson_: 'Sir, he values a new guinea more than an
    old friend.'

One can hardly imagine anything more offensive--unless it were the
story which follows it:

    Col also told us that the same person having come up with a
    serjeant and twenty men, working on the high road, he entered
    into discourse with the serjeant and then gave him sixpence
    for the men to drink. The serjeant asked, 'Who is this
    fellow?' Upon being informed, he said, 'If I had known who it
    was I should have thrown it in his face.' _Johnson_: '...
    he has not learnt to be a miser; I believe we must take him
    apprentice.' _Boswell_: 'He would grudge giving half a guinea
    to be taught.' _Johnson_: 'Nay, sir, you must teach him

If the 'Tour to the Hebrides' is uniquely indiscreet, it is only the
more typical of Boswell. He loved to be in the public eye and he was
now notorious beyond measure. The wags laughed, the injured Scotsmen
were angry, and the more respectable parts of the community were
profoundly shocked. A sheaf of cartoons did justice to the humour of
the situation. Lord Macdonald was represented with uplifted stick, and
the threatened author on his knees before him.[2] 'Johnson's
Ghost' was depicted as appearing to the terror-stricken Boswell and
mournfully reproaching him. In a series of twenty large caricatures
the biographer was represented in twenty absurd situations, and each
sketch had a quotation from his book. Boswell at all events was the
first in the field of all who intended to write about Johnson, and no
doubt he was glad that all the world was aware of the fact.

But Boswell did not mean to be notorious in this fashion. He may have
expected some ridicule, but not ill-feeling; he was too good-humoured
himself. Possibly he satisfied his malice on more than one occasion;
but as a rule he had no intention of giving pain. The admirable Dr.
Beattie calls him 'a very good-natured man,' and says he was convinced
that Bozzy meant no harm. Sir William Forbes said that he seemed sorry
for 'some parts,' and Boswell published his own apology and defence in
one of the notes of a later edition:

    Having found, on a revision of the first edition of this work,
    that, notwithstanding my best care, a few observations had
    escaped me, which arose from the instant impression, the
    publication of which might perhaps be considered as passing
    the bounds of strict decorum, I immediately ordered that they
    should be omitted in subsequent editions. I was pleased to
    find that they did not amount in the whole to a page. If any
    of the same kind are yet left, it is owing to inadvertence
    alone, no man being more unwilling to give pain to others than
    I am.

When Boswell says that he is unwilling to give pain we may believe
him unreservedly; there may have been particular cases when he lowered
himself to the satisfaction of a grudge, but as a general statement
it is true. That Boswell was good-natured is incontestable: it is
admitted on all hands. 'Good-nature,' wrote Mr. Courtenay, 'was highly
predominant in his character. He appeared to entertain sentiments of
benevolence to all mankind, and it does not appear to me that he ever
did, or could, injure any human being _intentionally_.' Mr. Malone
wrote a letter for the _Gentleman's Magazine_ vindicating Boswell's
character after his death. 'He had not only an inexhaustible fund
of good-humour and good-nature, but was extremely warm in his
attachments, and as ready to exert himself for his friends as any
man.' His untiring kindness to Johnson might perhaps be refused as
evidence that he was 'ready to exert himself for his friends.' Towards
Temple and his wife also, from whom he had nothing to gain, 'he always
played,' as Mr. Seccombe remarks, 'a very friendly part'; 'he made
Johnson known to them, for instance; he took Paoli down to Mamhead,
he had Temple up to town and took him and his daughter to Westminster
Hall to see the trial of Warren Hastings. He took them more than once
to Sir Joshua's studio in Leicester Square, he acted as godfather to
one of the sons, and tipped another who was at Eton.' But the most
remarkable testimony that Boswell had, as the French say, _le c[oe]ur
bon_ is his will. We shall have to pay some attention to this
document in a later chapter: it shows that Boswell could be remarkably

Boswell wrote and published the 'Tour' with a greedy enjoyment
and uncontained expansiveness entirely typical of him, and in
amazing ignorance of some of the strongest human feelings--of the
proprietorship that men feel with respect to their own lives which
surrounds them with a sacred halo of privacy, and of their inordinate
desire to appear more virtuous and more successful than they are. He
babbled of himself as he babbled of others, not unconscious of the
folly that he committed and revealed, but not suspecting that he would
be called a fool for admitting his folly. Truth, as these pages have
already remarked, was of supreme importance to Boswell, and was not to
be suppressed. He could hardly understand that plain fact could hurt
anyone. A pamphleteer who wished to make Boswell ridiculous has
suggested his attitude in a picturesque manner: Lord Macdonald is
supposed to be threatening personal violence; Walcot writes:

  Treat with contempt the menace of this Lord.
  'Tis Hist'ry's province, Bozzy, to record.

There was fundamentally in Boswell's nature a desire to record
observations--a desire which overrode his conventional aims and
ambitions and, while decreasing the possibility of his being a
successful man, made it certain that he would be a great one.

All that Boswell meant by truth will be examined later in connection
with his biographical method. 'The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides'
must be criticised as a book along with the 'Life of Johnson' and not
apart from it. It is, in a sense, but a portion of the larger work.
The same genius, the same art, has made two incomparable books. The
later is more discreet. 'I have been more reserved,' says Boswell. But
it is not less vividly life-like: 'I have managed so as to occasion
no diminution of the pleasure my book should afford.' The 'Tour,'
however--and this is the one important difference--is concerned with
Johnson in an extraordinary phase of his life, and one which is not
treated in the larger work. Johnson is on a holiday. The journey is
called a 'jaunt.' And the atmosphere of the 'jaunt' is reflected on
every page of the Journal. The freedom, the expectancy and the high
spirits of a travelling holiday to those who very rarely enjoy
one, the increased opportunities to Boswell for observation and his
unflagging interest and pleasure in his great experiment--all these
account, and are sufficient to account, for the different effect we
feel in reading the 'Tour to the Hebrides': and most of those who
perceive this difference will agree that it is an additional charm.

       *       *       *       *       *

During the eight years of Boswell's life between the ages of forty-two
and fifty, several important events happened beside the publication of
the 'Tour to the Hebrides.'

It is unfortunate that for the greater part of this period we have
no letters from Boswell to Temple. If there was any correspondence
between them, none has been preserved between the dates November 3rd,
1780, and January 5th, 1787. And so we hear no private utterances
about the death of Boswell's father, by which he became Laird of
Auchinleck, or about the death of Johnson.

It is not difficult to imagine the feelings of Boswell about the first
event. There can have been no great sorrow as there had been no great
affection; and there must have been no little pleasure in becoming the
head of an ancient family and a man of property. It is a sad thing if
the records of this period have indeed been lost, for they ought to
have been peculiarly rich in extravagant and pompous sayings.

Of Johnson's value to Boswell we have already spoken. It would be
impossible to suppose that Boswell did not realise his loss. He must
have felt when he visited London, as he continued to do in spite of
his Scotch inheritance, that the central figure was gone, and with it
much of the zest of life in his London circle. There was no doubt
a yearning sometimes for that rude strength, which had so much of
tenderness besides, and a lasting grief.

Of Boswell's sorrows in later life, of his failure to realise those
'towering hopes,' and consequent disappointment, something has been
said already in these pages. It was not apparently until the autumn of
1789 that Boswell began to see that he was not destined to succeed in
the manner he wished--in politics and in the law. The letters at
this time were more frequent than usual, and we are able to see how,
earlier in the year, he was quite hopeful about the future, but later
became despondent.

A further reason depressed Boswell's spirits at this time: in the
summer of 1789 he lost his wife.[3] It is greatly to the credit of
Boswell that he was very deeply affected by her death--to his credit,
not because as a husband he was able to retain affection for his wife
(for affections are not completely under our control), but because
he was able to appreciate a woman who from his own accounts must have
been a sensible, kind woman, and one who treated him with a patient

Boswell was not a good husband, because he never became in the
ordinary sense domesticated; his home was never to him the predominant
interest. During her last illness he seems to have realised that he
might have behaved better towards his wife, and to have felt a true

    No man ever had a higher esteem or a warmer love for a wife
    than I have for her. You will recollect, my Temple, how our
    marriage was the result of an attachment truly romantic; yet
    how painful is it to me to recollect a thousand instances of
    inconsistent conduct. I can justify my removing to the great
    sphere of England, upon a principle of laudable ambition; but
    the frequent scenes of what I must call dissolute conduct are
    inexcusable; and often and often when she was very ill, in
    London have I been indulging in festivity with Sir Joshua
    Reynolds, Courtenay, Malone, &c., and have come home late, and
    disturbed her repose. Nay, when I was last at Auchinleck,
    on purpose to soothe and console her, I repeatedly went from
    home; and both on those occasions, and when neighbours visited
    me, drank a great deal too much wine.[4]

He was remorseful too after the death of his wife that he had not been
present to comfort her at the end. And there was good reason. She, as
he remarked, would not have treated him so. But Boswell must not be
blamed too severely for this serious omission. His wife was suffering
with a disease from which, though it was certain she would not
recover, there was no immediate prospect of release. Boswell seems to
have expected from the medical opinion that her life would linger on
longer than actually it did: and, if it was not for pressing duties
that he left his wife, it was not for pleasure, but for the kind of
activity incident to the career he had chosen.

Boswell was not unlike many people inasmuch as he found out rather
late in life the true value of his wife, and was more sorry than could
have been expected when he no longer had her help and companionship;
he found perhaps that he had rated too highly by comparison the
greater intellectual stimulus of his literary circle. His sorrow in
any case, at her death, whatever the proportion of remorse to the
sense of loss, is pleasant to see. There was so much affectation in
his character, that whenever he shows that he had simple, genuine
feelings--and he had them more often than might be supposed--we must
have some regard for them, however commonplace they may be.

Boswell was evidently quite miserable at his loss; he was unrestrained
in grief as he was in enjoyment, and the tale of his woe was poured
out to Temple in the same fervid manner as the love affairs of earlier

    I am amazed when I look back. Though I often and often dreaded
    this loss, I had no conception how distressing it would be.
    May God have mercy on me! I am quite restless and feeble and
    desponding.... I have an avidity for death; I eagerly wish to
    be laid by my dear wife; years of life seem insupportable.

    I cannot express to you, Temple [he writes in a later letter],
    'what I suffer from the loss of my valuable wife and the
    mother of my children. While she lived, I had no occasion to
    think concerning my family; every particular was thought of
    by her, better than I could. I am the most helpless of human
    beings; I am in a state very much that of one in despair.'

It must not be thought that Boswell faced the world in the sad and
sometimes complaining vein in which he wrote to Temple. There was no
whining self-pity, and no pride of the grievance, as might perhaps
have been expected, in his public attitude. 'It is astonishing what
force I have put upon myself since her death, how I have entertained
company, &c., &c.'[5] He no doubt tried to be cheerful in company, and
probably he succeeded.

The weakness of Boswell was shown in a different way, by an increase
of those vices which he had been encouraged to resist by Johnson, and
also, we may suppose, by his wife. Johnson had said, long before the
bereavement: 'In losing her you would lose your sheet-anchor, and be
tost, without stability, by the waves of life.' This prediction was

Boswell had always been a self-indulgent man. Before his marriage he
was, as may be seen from the letters, sexually self-indulgent. Whether
he was so in later years, or in what degree, it is difficult to
determine; he may have been alluding to this when he talks of 'little
fondnesses,' and of being 'dissipated';[6] and the fact that he says
on one occasion that he had no 'confessions' to make rather suggests
the possibility that this may not always have been the case, though he
never actually confesses.

But the particular form of his self-indulgence was drunkenness.
Besides frequent references to his habit of drinking, there are,
altogether, some half-dozen recorded instances of Boswell being drunk
or intoxicated, and as they are referred to only because they had some
curious results they suggest that this was far from being unusual.
In the letters, Boswell records on several occasions that he has been
drinking too much lately, or that he was becoming a drunkard.

His mode of resisting what he quite well saw to be an evil habit was
to take a series of vows. It is a method which seems to have had a
curious appeal for Boswell's nature. There was something to his mind
rather romantic about a vow: something heroic in taking that great
resolve, made so quickly to endure for so long, something of the
saintly penance; and there was something of the martyr about one who
had bound himself in this way. In Boswell's drunkenness, however,
there was nothing romantic; it was rather sordid; and he was neither
saint, nor hero, nor martyr, for the vows, even if they could have
made him all these, were too frequently broken. There was no doubt
some serious effort on Boswell's part; but the impulse of the moment
was always too strong for him, and the efforts which lasted too short
a time were apparently followed by grave relapses.

Boswell's drinking habits had ill effects. Johnson, when reminded of
the headache which his companion was wont to feel after sitting up
with him, exclaimed: 'Nay, Sir, it was not the _wine_ that made your
head ache, but the sense that I put into it.' But though the nature of
Johnson's sense and of Boswell's head may fortify the explanation, it
was not the common case; excess of alcohol was injurious to Boswell's

It has been pointed out with justice that Boswell's melancholy was to
some extent the result of this excess. How much of it was affectation
we cannot easily tell. When Boswell first made his appearance to the
world as the young _littérateur_, he may have hoped to increase the
appearance of genius by assuming hereditary hypochondria. But it must
be remarked that he seems, as far as we can judge, to have given very
little impression of ever being morose; it is on the contrary his
gaiety and good spirits that are always emphasised. And we may at
least suppose when, as has been mentioned above, he entirely denies,
in a number of the 'Hypochondriack,' that genius and melancholy have
any particular connection, that he had by that time outgrown any
affectation there may originally have been. That one of Boswell's
great vivacity should sometimes be dejected, is really very natural,
and when we add to this his self-indulgent habits, it is not hard
to account for occasional attacks of low spirits. Sir Walter Scott

    There was a variation of spirits about James Boswell which
    indicated some slight touch of insanity. His melancholy which
    he so often complained of to Johnson was not affected but
    constitutional, though doubtless he thought it a mark of high
    distinction to be afflicted with hypochondria like his moral

Malone too denies altogether 'that he caught from Johnson a portion
of his constitutional melancholy.' 'This was not the fact,' writes
Malone. 'He had a considerable share of melancholy in his own
temperament; and though the general tenour of his life was gay and
active, he frequently experienced an unaccountable depression of
spirits.'[7] It was natural that Boswell's malady of depression should
have become worse towards the end of his life; not only because habits
of excess take their revenge upon the constitution, but because these
too are likely to grow with the disease. The result of Boswell's
sorrows when his wife had died and his ambitions were being thwarted
was that he was driven still more to drink.

    I have drunk too much wine for some time past. I fly to every
    mode of agitation.[8]

    With grief continually at my heart, I have been endeavouring
    to seek relief in dissipation and in wine, so that my life for
    some time past has been unworthy of myself, of you, and of all
    that is valuable in my character and connections.[9]

It is a pitiable picture this, of a man's decay; grief and
self-indulgence reacted upon each other, each of them adding something
to the causes of disappointment.

    [Footnote 1: Malone saw a sheet of the _Tour to the Hebrides_
    at the printer's and was so much impressed that he obtained
    an introduction to Boswell; he helped him in the final stage,
    both of this book and the _Life_, and was eventually Boswell's
    first editor.]

    [Footnote 2: Sir Alexander became Lord Macdonald in 1776
    (_Boswelliana_, p. 140).]

    [Footnote 3: _Letters to Temple_, p. 246 _et seq._]

    [Footnote 4: _Letters to Temple_, p. 242.]

    [Footnote 5: _Letters to Temple_, p. 253.]

    [Footnote 6: _Letters to Temple_, p. 231.]

    [Footnote 7: 'In a subsequent number of the _Gentleman's
    Magazine_,' says Dr. Rogers in his _Memoir of J. B._, 'Mr.
    Temple, under the signature of "Biographicus," denied a
    statement by Mr. Malone that Boswell was of a melancholy
    temperament; he maintained that he was quite otherwise
    prior to his attachment to Dr. Johnson.' It may be remarked,
    however, that Boswell might have a constitutional melancholy
    without showing many signs of it before the age of
    twenty-three; and that Temple after 1763 saw Boswell very
    seldom. Malone's view, therefore, based upon an intimate
    connection with Boswell for some years at the end of his life,
    apart from the fact that it was likely to be a wiser view,
    should carry more weight than that of Temple.]

    [Footnote 8: _Letters to Temple_, p. 255.]

    [Footnote 9: _Ib._, p. 257.]


There is one redeeming feature, the most important feature of all, in
the last years of Boswell's life.

The biographer had gradually during the life of Johnson relaxed his
efforts in collecting material for the _magnum opus_; we can see in
the 'Life' how he grew less industrious in recording conversations;
for though even in the later part many are preserved at great length,
he neglected to write up his journal more often than in the early
years of the friendship. This was due no doubt in part to his drinking
habits. Conviviality of that kind has a curious effect upon the
memory. But Boswell had still very firmly the purpose of writing the
'Life,' after Johnson had died, though he was not the person chosen to
do so by the literary executors.[1]

The 'Life of Johnson' was published about six years later than the
'Tour to the Hebrides,' in the spring of 1791. The latter, it is clear
from its nature, required far less labour from the author than his
_magnum opus_: the whole scope of the book is infinitely smaller, and
there was none of the endless trouble of collecting and verifying the
materials of others as in the great biography; for the 'Tour' deals
only with Johnson as observed by Boswell himself during their journey
in the Hebrides. Boswell, moreover, had wanted to publish his journal
during Johnson's lifetime, and we cannot doubt that he had written
up a good deal. It would be quite unjust therefore to say that the
biographer became more idle, as he was more dissipated, after
1785. The reverse is nearer the truth. It is remarkable and it is
praiseworthy that Boswell, in spite of his political schemes, the
depression which followed the death of his wife, and the illness which
was the consequence of his unhealthy habits of life and in particular
the habit of drink, should still have worked hard at the 'Life.' He
may have become less regular, but he retained the energy of earlier

There was, in fact, in him the need to satisfy somehow those better
qualities. His intense belief in the merit of his work and the almost
endless trouble he took to verify the accuracy of the smallest fact
and to discover the minutest information about Johnson--to satisfy,
in a word, his 'sacred love of truth'--are the expression of this need
within him. Sometimes, indeed, he is despondent about his book: 'Many
a time have I thought of giving it up.' 'I am in such bad spirits that
I have every fear concerning it.' Sometimes he feels the immensity of
the labour without the enthusiasm which has urged him on: 'Though I am
now in woeful indifference, I trust that before it is finished a taste
or relish shall return.' The vastness of the task seems almost to
weigh him down. In November 1789 he writes to Temple explaining that
he cannot pay him a visit because he must stay in London to receive
Malone's help, Malone who is 'Johnsonianissimus,' in revising the

    You cannot imagine what labour, what perplexity, what vexation
    I have endured in arranging a prodigious multiplicity of
    materials, in supplying omissions, in searching for papers,
    buried in different masses, and all this besides the exertion
    of composing and polishing: many a time have I thought of
    giving it up.

And yet he has the firmest conviction that the book will be a
masterpiece; it will be an unparalleled history of a man; and for that
reason of supreme importance to the world:

    However, though I shall be uneasily sensible of its many
    deficiencies, it will certainly be to the world a very
    valuable and peculiar volume of biography, full of literary
    and characteristical anecdotes _told with authenticity and
    in a lively manner_. Would that it were in the booksellers'
    shops! Methinks if I had this _magnum opus_ launched, the
    public has no further claim upon me; for I have promised no
    more, and I may die in peace, or retire into dull obscurity,
    _reddarque tenebris_.

It is a curious mixture, this, of weariness and optimism; it shows
that there was something in Boswell which drove him on, in spite of
a good many difficulties, though he himself (as we see in the last
sentence) understood little of its nature. 'The "Life of Johnson,"'
he says in another place, 'still keeps me up; I must bring that

At times his enthusiasm breaks out and he expresses his real
conviction of the supreme merit of his work:

    The next [day] I am in Malone's study revising my 'Life of
    Johnson,' of which I have the highest expectations both as to
    fame and profit. I surely have the art of writing agreeably.
    The Lord Chancellor told me he had read every word of my
    Hebridean Journal; he could not help it; adding, 'Could you
    give a rule how to write a book that a man _must read_? I
    believe Longinus could not.'[3]

Boswell understood the scale and interest of his book:

    In truth it is a view of much of the literature, and many
    of the literary men, of Great Britain for more than half a

'I think,' he says, in the same letter to Temple, 'it will be without
exception the most entertaining book you ever read.' To Mr. Dempster
he said: 'I really think it will be the most entertaining collection
that has appeared in this age.'[5]

Boswell's belief in his own work was based not so much upon his
literary powers as upon his conception of biography:

    Mason's 'Life of Gray' is excellent, because it is
    interspersed with letters which show us the _man_. His 'Life
    of Whitehead' is not a life at all, because there is neither
    a letter nor a saying from first to last. I am absolutely
    certain that my mode of biography, which gives not only a
    _history_ of Johnson's _visible_ progress through the world,
    and of his publications, but a _view_ of his mind in his
    letters and conversations, is the most perfect that can be
    conceived, and will be more of a Life than any work that has
    ever yet appeared.[6]

To Bishop Percy he writes in February 1788:

    I do it chronologically, giving year by year his publications,
    if there were any; his letters, his conversations, and
    everything else that I can collect. It appears to me that mine
    is the best plan of biography that can be conceived; for my
    readers will, as near as may be, accompany Johnson in his
    progress, and as it were see each scene as it happened.[7]

The conviction that Boswell had that his was the best possible
conception of biography seems never to have been in doubt, though
he might be sometimes depressed or indifferent, and exactly the same
conception as that which we have seen in his letters to Temple and
Bishop Percy was expressed more fully later in the 'Life' itself.

    Instead of melting down my materials into one mass, and
    constantly speaking in my own person, by which I might have
    appeared to have more merit in the execution of the work, I
    have resolved to adopt and enlarge upon the excellent plan
    of Mr. Mason, in his Memoirs of Gray. Wherever narrative is
    necessary to explain, connect, and supply, I furnish it to
    the best of my abilities; but in the chronological series of
    Johnson's life, which I trace as distinctly as I can, year by
    year, I produce, wherever it is in my power, his own minutes,
    letters, or conversation, being convinced that this mode is
    more lively, and will make my readers better acquainted with
    him, than even most of those were, who actually knew him,
    but could know him only partially; whereas there is here an
    accumulation of intelligence from various points, by which his
    character is more fully understood and illustrated.

    Indeed I cannot conceive a more perfect mode of writing any
    man's life, than not only relating all the most important
    events of it in their order, but interweaving what he
    privately wrote, and said, and thought, by which mankind are
    enabled as it were to see him live, and to 'live o'er each
    scene' with him, as he actually advanced through the several
    stages of his life. Had his other friends been as diligent and
    ardent as I was, he might have been almost entirely preserved.
    As it is, I will venture to say that he will be seen in this
    work more completely than any man who has ever yet lived.

    And he will be seen as he really was; for I profess to write
    not his panegyrick, which must be all praise, but his Life;
    which, great and good as he was, must not be supposed to
    be entirely perfect. To be as he was, is indeed subject of
    panegyrick enough to any man in this state of being; but in
    every picture there should be shade as well as light, and
    when I delineate him without reserve, I do what he himself
    recommended, both by his precept and his example.[8]

The 'Life' then is, as Boswell intended, a complete picture of
Johnson; complete, inasmuch as it gives a picture of Johnson in every
phase of his living, as the writer, the talker, the correspondent, and
most of all simply as a man in his dealings with other men, and in
all these gives a living picture: complete especially in this, that it
gives not merely what there is to praise in Johnson, but every little
detail as it occurred, the shade as well as the light.

But Boswell had something further in his mind as he wrote the 'Life.'
He was, as we have said before, essentially the moralist. He seems to
have had a purpose as he wrote, not only of not doing moral harm, but
of doing moral good. When he talks of the faults of Dr. Johnson he
does so with a kind of apology and explanation, with quotations from
the great moralist himself, to show that to mention the vices of a
famous man may as well do good as harm:

    When I objected [evidently for the sake of argument] to the
    danger of telling that Parnell drank to excess, he said, that
    'it would produce an instructive caution to avoid drinking,
    when it was seen that even the learning and genius of Parnell
    could be debased by it.' And in the Hebrides he maintained, as
    appears from my journal, that a man's intimate friend should
    mention his faults, if he writes his life.

After saying that 'it must not be concealed, that like many other good
and pious men, among whom we may place the Apostle Paul upon his own
authority, Johnson was not free from propensities which were ever
"warring against the law of his mind," and that in his combat with
them, he was sometimes overcome,' he gives a moral lecture to his

    But let no man encourage or soothe himself in 'presumptuous
    sin,' from knowing that Johnson was sometimes hurried into
    indulgences which he thought criminal. I have exhibited this
    circumstance as a shade in so great a character, both from my
    sacred love of truth, and to shew that he was not so weakly
    scrupulous as he has been represented by those who imagine
    that the sins, of which a deep sense was on his mind, were
    merely such little venial trifles as pouring milk into his tea
    on Good Friday.

In the 'Advertisement to the Second Edition,' Boswell seems to go

    His strong, clear, and animated enforcement of religion,
    morality, loyalty, and subordination, while it delights
    and improves the wise and the good, will, I trust, prove an
    effectual antidote to that detestable sophistry which has
    been lately imported from France, under the false name of
    _Philosophy_, and with a malignant industry has been employed
    against the peace, good order, and happiness of society, in
    our free and prosperous country; but thanks be to God, without
    producing the pernicious effects which were hoped for by its

This history of the deeds and words and thoughts of his hero is
compared by Boswell to the Odyssey. He seems almost to think that the
merit of Homer's epic lies in the good behaviour of Ulysses, just as
he conceives that the value of his own work is in the excellence of

  ----Quid virtus et quid sapientia possit,
  Utile proposuit nobis exemplar Ulyssen.

It is not perhaps remarkable in itself that Boswell should have had
this attitude towards his work; it is the attitude in some degree
of most biographers, the attitude especially of the age in which he
lived, and the attitude of Johnson himself. Boswell's principles as a
biographer are indeed the same as Johnson's. We cannot suppose, when
he has revealed so clearly his supreme faculty for biography, that
there was anything of this which was not entirely his own. But he took
the trouble to find out on several occasions the opinions of his great
friend, to ask him about particular doubts which troubled him from
time to time, and obtain his approval. He had a profound respect for
Johnson's manner of estimating character. Mr. Pennant, 'a traveller
in Scotland,' is censured in the 'Life' for a book of travel which is
compared to Johnson's 'Journey to the Western Islands' and then quoted
on the subject of Johnson; the quotation speaks of 'the numerous
weaknesses and prejudices which his friends have kindly taken care to
draw from their dread abode.' Boswell's note is:

    This is the common cant against faithful biography. Does the
    worthy gentleman mean that I, who was taught discrimination of
    character by Johnson, should have omitted his frailties, and
    in short, have _bedaubed_ him, as the worthy gentleman has
    bedaubed Scotland?

It was also due in some degree to the influence of Johnson that
Boswell himself was so much a moralist: it was something of the same
influence, it was in part the honest ruggedness which exalted that
morality, by denuding it of excessive and affected sentiment, that
enabled Boswell to be a moralist without being (in the Johnsonian
phraseology) a canting moralist. Boswell, indeed, became a moralist
because he wanted to be respectable; but he was not entirely
respectable because he succeeded in being a moralist. A man who is a
moralist to the extent that Boswell and Johnson were moralists may
be too respectable to be an honest biographer. It does not become
the stainless respectability of the moralist to bring to light the
blemishes of a man in a book; in conversation that may be done; there
is no harm in a few people knowing; but it would be dangerous and
improper to reveal them in print to the public gaze; and so it was not
respectable in Boswell to say anything about the sexual temptations
of Johnson, and Miss Burney and Hannah More would no doubt be shocked.
But the love of truth which Johnson nourished was fundamental in
Boswell, and it was irrepressible; we know Johnson, chiefly for this
reason, better than any other man whose life has been recorded.

It is remarkable for other reasons besides this--that he was a
moralist--that Boswell produced an impartial biography. He was by no
means free from personal animosities. Sir John Hawkins had written
the official life at the request of Johnson's literary executors, and
Boswell, naturally, was jealous of him on this account. A matter for
greater irritation was that Boswell himself had been almost entirely
ignored,[9] the one slighting mention of his name being worse than no
mention of his connection with Johnson. And Mrs. Thrale also, who
had published her 'Anecdotes,' had alluded to Boswell only in one
contemptuous passage. Boswell therefore had the deliberate intention
of showing up the faults of these two rivals; a long paragraph is
introduced as early as possible, explaining fully why the 'Life' by
Sir John Hawkins is a bad book, and ending thus:

    There is throughout the whole of it a dark uncharitable cast,
    by which the most unfavourable construction is put upon
    almost every circumstance in the character and conduct of my
    illustrious friend; who, I trust, will, by a true and
    fair delineation, be vindicated both from the injurious
    misrepresentations of this author, and from the slighter
    aspersions of a lady who once lived in great intimacy with

The same lady was alluded to afterwards in a note of peculiar malice:

    I am obliged in so many instances to notice Mrs. Piozzi's
    incorrectness of relation, that I gladly seize this
    opportunity of acknowledging that, however often, she is not
    always inaccurate.

It was not only for his personal grievances that Boswell was anxious
to contradict Sir John Hawkins and Mrs. Piozzi, but also because he
had a different conception of Johnson, a far more loving appreciation
and veneration, which was a reason in itself that he should write
the life of his friend; to vindicate his character and express his
admiration would be some tribute to their long friendship. Boswell,
indeed, always retained something of the 'mysterious veneration'
of his early years. Johnson to him was always the hero; he was
the 'literary Colossus,' the 'Rambler,' the 'awful and majestick
Philosopher.' The thought that he might lose his reverence was a
source of anxiety to Boswell:

    In my interview with Dr. Johnson this evening, I was quite
    easy, quite as his companion; upon which I find in my journal
    the following reflection: 'So ready is my mind to suggest
    matter for dissatisfaction that I felt a sort of regret that
    I was so easy. I missed that awful reverence with which I used
    to contemplate Mr. Samuel Johnson, in the complex magnitude
    of his literary, moral, and religious character. I have a
    wonderful superstitious love of mystery.'

Boswell, as a matter of fact, as we may see from the 'Life,' preserved
his 'reverence,' and his view of Johnson as the solemn and wise writer
and moralist has tinged the biography. He records a jovial mood of
Johnson's as a most extraordinary moment in a man of his dignified

    I have known him at times exceedingly diverted at what seemed
    to others a very small sport. He now laughed immoderately,
    without any reason that we could perceive, at our friend's
    making his will; called him the _testator_, and added, 'I
    daresay, he thinks he has done a mighty thing.' ... In this
    playful manner did he run on, exulting in his own pleasantry,
    which certainly was not such as might be expected from the
    authour of The Rambler, but which is here preserved, that my
    readers may be acquainted even with the slightest occasional
    characteristicks of so eminent a man.

He goes on to tell how Dr. Johnson 'could not stop his merriment, but
continued it all the way till he got without the Temple Gate. He then
burst into such a fit of laughter that he appeared to be almost in a
convulsion; and, in order to support himself, laid hold of one of the
posts at the side of the foot pavement, and sent forth peals so loud,
that in the silence of the night his voice seemed to resound from
Temple Bar to Fleetditch.' Boswell talks of the episode as 'this most
ludicrous exhibition of the awful, melancholy, and venerable Johnson.'

    [Footnote 1: Sir John Hawkins wrote the official life.]

    [Footnote 2: _Letters to Temple_, p. 252.]

    [Footnote 3: _Ib._, p. 267.]

    [Footnote 4: _Ib._, p. 265.]

    [Footnote 5: _Letters to Temple_, p. 338.]

    [Footnote 6: _Ib._, p. 218.]

    [Footnote 7: Nichols' _Illustrations_, vii, 309.]

    [Footnote 8: _Life of Johnson_, i, 29-30.]

    [Footnote 9: _Memoirs of Sir J. Hawkins_, i, 235.]

    [Footnote 10: _Life of Johnson_, i, 28.]


It is remarkable, as we have observed, in view of his personal
animosities, and of his determination to prove Dr. Johnson to be both
a greater and a better man than would appear from previous accounts,
and to be an extremely dignified man as fitted his own conception
of him, that Boswell should have presented a complete picture of
Johnson--that he should have mentioned all the incidents from which
he might appear both a less important and a less pleasant man--all the
circumstances that might detract from his dignity.

The explanation which seems so simple and involves, when we come to
understand all that it means, not only the exact shades of what the
author said, but many things that he refrained from saying, is that
Boswell in this particular sphere, the sphere of the biographer,
was entirely truthful. And truth meant far more than that he did not
distort the facts and did not suppress them; it involved in him the
capacity for creating, the essential quality of his genius. Boswell
had in fact the scientific spirit and applied it to the greatest of
all subjects, to human nature. He was, in the first place, extremely
accurate both in observing and recording; he watched attentively and
often; and he described patiently what he had seen and heard.
The biographer's own pen has given us a short account of his
qualifications, as they appeared to him, for the task of writing the
life of Johnson:

    'As I had the honour and happiness of enjoying his friendship
    for upwards of twenty years; as I had the scheme of writing
    his life constantly in view; as he was well apprised of this
    circumstance, and from time to time obligingly satisfied my
    inquiries, by communicating to me the incidents of his early
    years; as I acquired a facility in recollecting and was
    very assiduous in recording his conversation, of which the
    extraordinary vigour and vivacity constituted one of the first
    features of his character; and as I have spared no pains in
    obtaining materials concerning him, from every quarter where
    I could discover that they were to be found, and have been
    favoured with the most liberal communications by his friends;
    I flatter myself that few biographers have entered upon such
    a work as this, with more advantages; independent of literary
    abilities, in which I am not vain enough to compare myself
    with some great names who have gone before me in this kind of

With this statement we may heartily agree; but all that it really
says is that Boswell had opportunities, and acquired a faculty, for
_recording_. He had, besides, a quite remarkable faculty of acute
observation. All that he says of Johnson's appearance, his clothes,
his walk, that truly horrible paragraph about his nails and knuckles,
is admirable, because he tells us in a few words exactly what is
most characteristic. The event of his first visit to Dr. Johnson was
naturally an occasion for Boswell to describe his hero:

    His brown suit of clothes looked very rusty; he had on a
    little old shrivelled unpowdered wig, which was too small for
    his head; his shirt-neck and knees of his breeches were loose;
    his black worsted stockings ill drawn up; and he had a pair of
    unbuckled shoes by way of slippers.

That is all! And what more or what less could anyone want? In the
'Tour to the Hebrides' it is recorded that

    He wore ... a very wide brown cloth great-coat, with pockets
    which might have almost held the two volumes of his folio
    'Dictionary'; and he carried in his hand a large English oak

What a difference it makes to our knowledge of Johnson that we know
these details! Boswell compels us to see Johnson. Plenty of men would
have noticed what he noticed, but few would have presented it so
vividly. Boswell's superiority depends upon his powers as an observer;
he saw things clear and strong, and so they are clear and strong for
his readers.

And Boswell excelled not only in painting the mere exterior; he often
alludes to the spirit that it expresses with the same dexterity.
'Generally,' he says, speaking of Johnson in the course of a dispute,
'when he had finished a period, by which time he was a good deal
exhausted by violence and vociferation, he used to blow out his breath
like a whale. This I suppose was a relief to his lungs; and seemed
in him to be a contemptuous mode of expression, as if he had made the
arguments of his opponents fly like chaff before the wind.' We are
told the physical details, but so much more! The whole attitude
of Johnson is described. Similarly all the little touches, as when
Johnson 'sprung away with a kind of pathetick briskness,' reveal his
feelings with startling fidelity. Perhaps most remarkable of all is
the account of Johnson's behaviour to his cat:

    I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated
    Hodge, his cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy
    oysters, lest the servants having that trouble should take
    a dislike to the poor creature.... I recollect him one day
    scrambling up Dr. Johnson's breast, apparently with much
    satisfaction, while my friend, smiling and half-whistling,
    rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail; and when I
    observed he was a fine cat, saying, 'Why yes, Sir, but I
    have had cats whom I liked better than this'; and then as if
    perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, 'but he is
    a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed.'

We are pleased to find that Boswell has preserved for us the motive of
Johnson, 'lest the servants having that trouble should take a dislike
to the poor creature.'[2] This is characteristic and interesting.
But how deeply satisfying it is to discover that poor Hodge, as it
appeared to Johnson, was 'out of countenance.'

It is not, however, only because he observed so accurately what was
obviously relevant, as the appearance of Johnson, or that he saw
exactly what his motives were, that Boswell was a good observer;
the range of his observation is equally remarkable. He observed
everything; no detail was too insignificant for his attention. It was
of vital importance for him to record (in the 'Tour to the Hebrides')
'I slept in the same room with Dr. Johnson. Each had a neat bed, with
Tartan curtains, in an upper chamber,' and it is well that he did
so; it is highly agreeable to imagine Johnson and Boswell in this
situation. It is also interesting to know that Boswell, on the
following morning, found upon the table in their room a slip of
paper, on which Dr. Johnson had written these words: '_Quantum
cedat virtutibus aurum_'; and that when Johnson turned his cup at
Aberbrothick, where they drank tea, he muttered '_Claudite jam rivos
pueri_.' And what an invaluable devotion it was that has preserved for
us so small a fact as this--that the book which Johnson presented to a
Highland lass was 'Cocker's Arithmetic'!

These details are ours not by the fortune of a naturally endowed
memory, but by the labour and patience and attention that trained a
mind to a point of excellence. Miss Burney has left us an admirable
account of Boswell's deportment when in the act of 'memorandising' Dr.
Johnson's conversation, and from this we may see something of what it
cost him to observe and record and remember:

    In truth, when he met with Dr. Johnson, he commonly forbore
    even answering anything that was said, or attending to
    anything that went forward, lest he should miss the smallest
    sound from that voice to which he paid such exclusive, though
    merited, homage. But the moment that voice burst forth, the
    attention which it excited in Mr. Boswell amounted almost to
    pain. His eyes goggled with eagerness; he leant his ear almost
    on the shoulder of the Doctor; and his mouth dropped open to
    catch every syllable that might be uttered; nay, he seemed not
    only to dread losing a word, but to be anxious not to miss a
    breathing, as if hoping from it, latently or mystically, some

Miss Burney had no admiration for Boswell, and the effect of this
description is merely grotesque. It is probable that Boswell was not
so wholly unconscious of self in this performance as Miss Burney
seems to have thought. His behaviour appears to have been absurd, in
a degree unnecessary alike to his curious character and his
extraordinary task. It is possible that Boswell, aware that his minute
attention to Dr. Johnson was a rather laughable affair, tried by a
sort of buffoonery to avoid the natural consequence. Boswell, when he
imitates Dr. Johnson in his presence, and when his eyes goggle
with eagerness, was perhaps attempting to divert the company by
caricaturing what was already ridiculous.

But however that may be, Miss Burney's account is no doubt faithful
enough as regards the original motive of the biographer's behaviour;
his eyes goggled with a genuine eagerness. That exclusive attention
was the attention of one who had a difficult task to perform and was
extremely anxious to perform it.

Boswell's infinite capacity for concentration in observing and
recording, and for patience in collecting and preserving the smallest
facts, is indeed an essential part of his genius; for genius, whenever
it achieves anything, implies devotion, implies the relentless pursuit
of its object, however small the actual result of the moment may seem
when compared to the trouble which has been expended upon it. And this
capacity for concentration enabled Boswell not merely to observe
and record what he saw and heard, but to seek continually for any
information, however it was to be obtained, which might be of value to

It is easy to see from many passages in the early portion of the
'Life'--the portion, that is, which deals with Johnson before Boswell
made his acquaintance, and which naturally required the greatest
labour, in collecting and investigating material, on the part of the
biographer--how much trouble Boswell took. In order to obtain a copy
of the famous letter to Lord Chesterfield he tells us:

    I for many years solicited Johnson to favour me with a copy
    of it, that so excellent a composition might not be lost to
    posterity. He delayed from time to time to give it me; till
    at last, in 1781, when we were on a visit at Mr. Dilly's, at
    Southill in Bedfordshire, he was pleased to dictate it to me
    from memory. He afterwards found among his papers a copy of
    it, which he had dictated to Mr. Baretti, with its title
    and corrections in his own handwriting. This he gave to Mr.
    Langton; adding that if it were to come into print, he wished
    it to be from that copy. By Mr. Langton's kindness, I am
    enabled to enrich my work with a perfect transcript of what
    the world has so eagerly desired to see.

It appears that, though he had at last succeeded in obtaining a copy
from Johnson, he was willing to take the further trouble of getting
Mr. Langton's copy, which was more likely to be absolutely accurate.
Still more remarkable is the manner in which he discovered the facts
about Johnson's pension:

    _Lord Bute told me_[3] that Mr. Wedderburne, now Lord
    Loughborough, was the person who first mentioned this subject
    to him. _Lord Loughborough told me_ that the pension was
    granted solely as a reward of his literary merit.... _Mr.
    Thomas Sheridan and Mr. Murphy_, who then lived a good deal
    both with him and Mr. Wedderburne, _told me_, that they
    previously talked with Johnson on this matter.... _Sir Joshua
    Reynolds told me_ that Johnson called on him.

The mere number of names consulted is sufficiently imposing. Boswell
in fact was collecting evidence for a case. He must examine all the
witnesses: also he must examine them in such a way that the truth
might be discovered.

    Mr. Murphy and the late Mr. Sheridan severally contended for
    the distinction of having been the first who mentioned to
    Mr. Wedderburne that Johnson ought to have a pension. _When
    I spoke of this to Lord Loughborough_, wishing to know if he
    recollected the prime mover in the business, _he said_: 'All
    his friends assisted,' and when I told him that Mr. Sheridan
    strenuously asserted his claim to it, his Lordship said: 'He
    rang the bell.' And it is but just to add, that _Mr. Sheridan
    told me_ that when he communicated to Dr. Johnson that a
    pension was to be granted him he replied in a fervour of
    gratitude.... _When I repeated this to Dr. Johnson he did not
    contradict it._

The profusion of information about this particular point may seem to
us unnecessary--it is of course controversial, and the controversy has
lost much of its interest. But it shows in any case not only the great
number of questions Boswell was willing to ask in order to find
out exactly what had taken place and the scale upon which his
investigations were conducted, but also the minute and detailed care
with which he preserved the truth.

Boswell has himself said something of the labour it cost him to
compile the 'Life':

    The labour and anxious attention with which I have collected
    and arranged the materials of which these volumes are
    composed, will hardly be conceived by those who read them with
    careless facility. The stretch of mind and prompt assiduity by
    which so many conversations were preserved, I myself, at
    some distance of time, contemplate with wonder; and I must
    be allowed to suggest, that the nature of the work in other
    respects, as it consists of innumerable detached particulars,
    all of which, even the most minute, I have spared no pains
    to ascertain with a scrupulous authenticity, has occasioned
    a degree of trouble far beyond that of any other species
    of composition. Were I to detail the books which I have
    consulted, and the inquiries which I have found it necessary
    to make by various channels, I should probably be thought
    ridiculously ostentatious. Let me only observe, as a specimen
    of my trouble, that I have sometimes been obliged to run half
    over London in order to fix a date correctly.[4]

Something of all that Boswell meant by this can be seen more nearly in
Dr. Birkbeck Hill's essay upon Boswell's Proof-sheets:

    A delay was sometimes caused by his desire to 'ascertain
    particulars with scrupulous authenticity.' 'Sheet 777,' he
    wrote, 'is with Mr. Wilkes to look at a note.' ... A short
    delay is caused in ascertaining the number of years the Rev.
    Mr. Vilette had been Ordinary of Newgate. A blank had been
    left in the text. On the margin Boswell wrote: 'Send my note
    to Mr. Vilette in the morning and open the answer. Or inquire
    of Mr. Akerman (the keeper of Newgate) for the number of
    years. Get it somehow.' ... On page 505 of the second volume
    Boswell writes: 'I could wish that the forme in which page 512
    is were not thrown off till I have an answer from Mr. Stone,
    the gentleman mentioned in the note, to tell me his Christian
    name, that I may call him Esq.' ... In the margin of the
    passage in which he quotes the inscription on a gold snuff-box
    given to Reynolds by Catherine II., he writes, 'Pray be very
    careful in printing the words of the Empress of _all the
    Russias_.' ... Opposite the long note where he quotes the
    anonymous editor of 'Tracts by Warburton and a Warburtonian,'
    he writes in the margin: '_This page_ must not be laid on
    till I hear from Dr. Parr whether his name may be mentioned.'
    Accordingly he wrote to him requesting 'to have by return of
    post if I may say or guess that Dr. Parr is the editor.'

The success of these inquiries was far from certain. Dr. Parr's name
does not appear.

    Boswell was more fortunate in obtaining a name for another
    entry, which had originally stood: 'He was in this like ...
    who, Mr. Daines Barrington told me, used to say: 'I hate a
    _cui bono_ man!' In the margin he filled up the blank with 'a
    respectable person'; but before the sheet was 'laid on,' he
    learnt this respectable person's name. In the published text
    he figures as 'Dr. Shaw, the great traveller.'[5]

The proof-sheets which Dr. Birkbeck Hill was so fortunate as to see
were not the first sheets, but only 'revises': in the earlier stages
there must have been many more minute facts for Boswell to find out.
But they are undoubtedly documents of great interest, and the point
which stands out most clearly from the essay we have quoted is the
extraordinary minuteness of Boswell's care and attention.

       *       *       *       *       *

The devotion of Boswell to his biographical work is illustrated not so
much by the prodigious toil it cost him--for many men have this power
of sustained labour when they have found the right object for it--as
by the reckless disregard of conventions and people to which it led

The admirable account in the 'Memoirs of Thomas Holcroft'[6] of how
Boswell obtained from Mr. Lowe a copy of one of Johnson's letters
shows how attentive he could be even to a man whom, it would seem, he
rather despised, when there was a chance of acquiring any document or
information which might be of use to him. Lowe had requested Johnson
to write him a letter, which Johnson did, and Boswell came in while
it was writing; his attention was immediately fixed. Lowe took the
letter, retired, and was followed by Boswell.

    'Nothing,' said Lowe, 'could surprise me more. Till that
    moment he had so entirely overlooked me that I did not imagine
    he knew there was such a creature in existence, and he
    now accosted me with the most overstrained and insinuating
    compliments possible. "How do you do, Mr. Lowe? I hope you are
    well, Mr. Lowe? Pardon my freedom, Mr. Lowe, but I think I saw
    my dear friend Dr. Johnson writing a letter for you." "Yes,
    sir." "I hope you will not think me rude, but if it would not
    be too great a favour, you would infinitely oblige me if you
    would just let me have a sight of it; everything from that
    hand, you know, is so inestimable." "Sir, it is on my own
    private affairs, but----." "I would not pry into a person's
    affairs, my dear Mr. Lowe, by any means. I am sure you would
    not accuse me of such a thing, only, if it were no particular
    secret----" "Sir, you are welcome to read the letter." "I
    thank you, my dear Mr. Lowe, you are very obliging. I take it
    exceedingly kind." ... (Having read): "It is nothing I believe,
    Mr. Lowe, that you would be ashamed of----" "Certainly not."
    "Why, then, my dear sir, if you would do me another favour you
    would make the obligation eternal. If you would but step to
    Peele's coffee-house with me and just suffer me to take a copy
    of it I would do anything in my power to oblige you." 'I
    was so overcome,' said Lowe, 'by this sudden familiarity and
    condescension, accompanied with bows and grimaces, I had no
    power to refuse. We went to the coffee-house. My letter was
    presently transcribed, and as soon as he had put his document
    in his pocket Mr. Boswell walked away as erect and as proud as
    half an hour before. I ever after was unnoticed. Nay, I am not
    certain,' added he sarcastically, 'whether the Scotchman did
    not leave me, poor as he knew I was, to pay for my own dish of

Miss Burney also gives an amusing account of how she was pressed to
give her recollections of Johnson.

Boswell met her at the gate of St. George's chapel, and since the
lady relates 'Mr. Turbulent brought him to me,' it would seem that the
anxious biographer sought the mediation of a friend so as to have a
better reception. Miss Burney, however, found the occasion unsuitable;
she was on the way to the 'Queen's Lodge'; a Queen's lady has to
reflect the aloofness of royalty, and a conversation with Mr. Boswell
would not add to her dignity. Her assistance is sought in most
eloquent terms:

    Yes, madam; you must give me some of your choice little notes
    of the Doctor's; we have seen him long enough upon stilts; I
    want to show him in a new light. Grave Sam, and great Sam, and
    solemn Sam, and learned Sam--all these he has appeared over
    and over. Now I want to entwine a wreath of the graces across
    his brow; I want to show him as gay Sam, agreeable Sam,
    pleasant Sam; so you must help me with some of his beautiful
    billets to yourself.

Miss Burney apparently had no wish that her 'choice little notes'
should appear in the 'Life.' Boswell did his best in vain. 'I evaded
this by declaring I had not any stores at hand. He proposed a thousand
curious expedients to get at them, but I was invincible....'

But Boswell was not easily to be dismissed; he must glean what he may
from Miss Burney; she must, at least, give judgment on the style of
the work.

    He then told me his 'Life of Dr. Johnson' was nearly printed,
    and took a proof-sheet out of his pocket to show me, with
    crowds passing and repassing, knowing me well, and staring
    well at him: for we were now at the iron rails of the Queen's

    I stopped; I could not ask him in: I saw he expected it, and
    was reduced to apologise, and tell him I must attend the Queen

    But finding he had no chance for entering, he stopped me again
    at the gate, and said he would read me a part of his work.

    There was no refusing this: and he began, with a letter of Dr.
    Johnson's to himself. He read it in strong imitation of the
    Doctor's manner, very well, and not caricature. But Mrs.
    Schwellenberg was at her window, a crowd was gathering to
    stand round the rails, and the King and Queen and Royal Family
    now approached from the Terrace.

It is a delightful scene--the enthusiastic Boswell oblivious of
Royalty as he declaims the sonorous words of the Doctor, and Miss
Burney anxious only to effect an escape. The whole account shows how
importunate Boswell could become in the cause of his art and for his
'sacred love of truth.'

    [Footnote 1: _Life of Johnson_, i, 25-6.]

    [Footnote 2: So also Mrs. Piozzi.]

    [Footnote 3: The italics throughout are of course mine.]

    [Footnote 4: _Life of Johnson_, Advertisement to First

    [Footnote 5: _Johnson Club Papers_, pp. 58-60. The
    proof-sheets were in 1893 possessed by Mr. R. B. Adam,
    Barnstaple, Cape Cod.]

    [Footnote 6: Quoted in the introduction to Mr. Birrell's
    edition of the _Life_.]

    [Footnote 7: _Memoirs of Thomas Holcroft_, iii, 29-31.]


There is an even more remarkable feature of Boswell's work--the
scientific manner in which he deliberately made experiments. Here
again we shall see his uncompromising attitude.

Dr. Johnson has been considered, and very properly considered, a great
talker. Not the least of our reasons for reading the 'Life' is that we
are interested to know what Johnson had to say; and we find there the
expressed thoughts of Johnson upon a great number of subjects. That
Boswell should have preserved so much--that, though the same topics
may more than once be discussed, yet every conversation gives a
distinct and separate impression, and each one is valuable--tells
us not only that Boswell himself must have had a high order of
intelligence to apprehend and preserve the point of Johnson's
discourse upon so many occasions, but, what is important for our
purpose at the moment, tells us (when we remember how little time
altogether he spent with Johnson and that the time most fruitful in
records, during the famous tour in the Hebrides, is not included in
the 'Life') that he himself must have had some part in finding out
the Doctor's opinion. For Johnson was not exactly what is called an
expansive person; it was an effort to him to talk seriously, and it
was usually necessary to engage him gradually in conversation before
he talked his best. Boswell has told us, 'he very often sat quite
silent for a long time.' He said of himself: 'Tom Tyers described me
the best. He once said to me, "Sir, you are like a ghost. You never
speak until you are spoken to."'

It is remarkable that Boswell should have had so much to record. The
explanation is that he made Johnson talk; he did it not by accident
but quite deliberately; this is a substantial part of his whole
biographical method. 'I also,' he says in the 'Tour to the Hebrides,'
'may be allowed to claim some merit in leading the conversation. I do
not mean leading as in an orchestra, by playing the first fiddle; but
leading as one does in examining a witness--starting topics and
making him pursue them.' And he did not find this part of his task
particularly easy:

    He appears to me like a great mill, into which a subject is
    thrown to be ground. It requires, indeed, fertile minds
    to furnish subjects for this mill--I regret when I see it
    unemployed; but sometimes I feel myself quite barren, and have
    nothing to throw in.

On most occasions, however, Boswell's mind was sufficiently fertile,
and it enabled him to say some very odd things; his ingenuity was
exercised in asking Johnson the most absurd questions, and he did
this very often in the hope of some good retort. 'If, Sir,' he once
demanded irrelevantly, 'you were shut up in a castle and a new-born
child with you, what would you do?' Johnson is said to have related
that one question was, 'Pray, Sir, can you tell why an apple is round
and a pear pointed?'[1] On one occasion Boswell, apparently without
reference to anything which had previously been said, asked 'if he had
ever been accustomed to wear a night-cap.' And such questions were apt
to produce an amusing discussion.

But Boswell's spirit of investigation did not lead him merely to
ask questions like these; it was frequently both serious and
subtle--indeed there are so many instances in the 'Life' of his
leading Johnson to talk that it is difficult to choose one for
illustration. Perhaps the most characteristic kind of method employed
is where Boswell, evidently having thought of his subject beforehand,
brings in at a convenient moment a quotation, which furnishes an
excuse for starting a discussion; as when he relates:

    Talking of divorces, I asked if Othello's doctrine were not

      He that is robbed, not wanting what is stolen,
      Let him not know't, and he's not robbed at all.[2]

Then follows a discussion about divorce, in which Boswell takes a
prominent part.

A few pages later we find Boswell re-starting a topic upon which
Johnson, on a former occasion, has no doubt exhibited some warmth of
feeling, and, having thought out his own line of argument, is able to
lead him on to one of those moments of thunder which he loves to see.

    After Mrs. Thrale was gone to bed, Johnson and I sat up late.
    We resumed Sir Joshua Reynolds' argument on the preceding
    Sunday, that a man would be virtuous though he had no other
    motive than to preserve his character.[3]

In the course of the argument Johnson exclaims ('very angry'):

    Nay, sir, what stuff is this! You had no more this opinion
    after Robertson said it than before. I know nothing more
    offensive than repeating what one knows to be foolish things,
    by way of continuing a dispute, to see what a man will
    answer--to make him your butt! (angrier still).

The scenes which illustrate perhaps better than any others Boswell's
minute interest in his friend and experimenting attitude have already
been quoted. In the account of the breakfast at Lochbuy (when Johnson
was offered the cold sheep's head) we see how great was his passion
for experiment and what a depth of enjoyment he had from it: 'I sat
quietly by and enjoyed my success'--that is the point of view. The
manner in which he arranged the meeting with Wilkes shows the trouble
he could take to form his plans for creating a situation and his
ingenuity in carrying them out. This is not the only occasion when
he made arrangements for his observation of Johnson; the whole of the
tour in the Hebrides was in a sense a great series of experiments,
and we feel as we read it that the circumstances of Johnson's riding
bespurred upon a Highland pony, of his sitting majestically in the
stern of the little boat, of his dinner with the Duke of Argyle, of
his visit to Auchinleck, are consciously arranged, in some way, for
effect by Boswell.

No less a person than Walter Scott, who knew much at first hand
from the contemporaries of Johnson and Boswell, and could remember
distinctly the tour in Scotland and the discussion it provoked, held
this view of the biographer:

    [4]After all, Bozzy, though submitting to Johnson in
    everything, had his means of indemnification. Like the
    jackanapes mounted on the bear's back he contrived now and
    then to play the more powerful animal a trick by getting him
    into situations like the meeting with Wilkes merely to see
    how he would look. The voyage to the Hebrides exhibited some
    tricks of that kind, the weather being so stormy at that late
    season that everyone thought they must have been drowned.
    Undoubtedly Bozzy wanted to see how the Doctor would look in a

Boswell himself explains the visit to Lord Monboddo: 'I knew Lord
Monboddo and Dr. Johnson did not love each other; yet ... I was
curious to see them together.' It could hardly be supposed that
Boswell adopted this attitude without encountering some opposition
from Dr. Johnson. The latter evidently wished that a good life of him
should be written, and was pleased with Boswell's journal and glad to
tell him from time to time about his early life; but there were limits
to his endurance. 'I will not be put to the _question_. Don't you
consider, Sir, that these are not the manners of a gentleman? I will
not be baited with _what_ and _why_; what is this? what is that? why
is a cow's tail long? why is a fox's tail bushy?' 'Sir,' he said on
one occasion, 'you have but two topicks, yourself and me. I am sick
of both.' Boswell indeed was continually taking risks; he compares
himself to 'the man who has put his head into the lion's mouth a great
many times:' his ordinary method of conversing with Johnson was to
push his inquiries to the furthest possible point. His courage in this
respect must have been notorious. 'I won a small bet,' he relates on
one occasion, 'from Lady Diana Beauclerk, by asking him as to one of
his particularities, which her Ladyship said I durst not do. It seems
he had been frequently observed at the Club to put into his pocket
the Seville oranges, after he had squeezed the juice of them into the
drink which he had made for himself. Beauclerk and Garrick talked of
it to me, and seemed to think he had a strange unwillingness to be
discovered. We could not divine what he did with them; and this
was the bold question to be put.' Boswell on this occasion was not
successful in his inquiries; but it is to be observed that Boswell was
deputed to inquire, and that he asked the question, and won his bet.

Occasionally Boswell remarks that Johnson was not in a good humour for
talking. He must have wondered at such times how long it would take
before his irritation would break forth, and he would make some
typical utterance. 'But I wonder, Sir,' &c., was a sort of Boswellian
formula to be met sooner or later with: 'Sir, you _may_ wonder,' or
some similar retort.

But what irritated Johnson perhaps more than the endless questions was
to be made a 'butt' as he termed it. 'On Monday, September 22, when
at breakfast, I unguardedly said to Dr. Johnson, "I wish I saw you and
Mrs. Macaulay together!" He grew very angry, and, after a pause, while
a cloud gathered on his brow, he burst out: "No, Sir, you would not
see us quarrel to make you sport."' Boswell eventually owns that he
had wished to see a contest between Mrs. Macaulay and Johnson.

It is not to be supposed that Boswell's provocations were always
intentional, though there are many occasions upon which they clearly
were so. Sometimes he was 'out of countenance,' and when Johnson
'carried the company with him,' his discomfiture perhaps was greater
than he would have wished. Not infrequently he made mistakes. On one
occasion when Johnson began: 'If I kept a seraglio,' Boswell was so
much amused that he failed to keep his countenance and was overwhelmed
with 'a variety of degrading images'! Yet he was well aware of the
general tendency of his behaviour to provoke the ridicule of Johnson,
and though there may have been moments when he did not intend it to
do so, we may say that he consciously led to his own humiliation, or
consciously at least ran the risk of it.

How much humiliation Boswell was able to support may be seen from Miss
Burney's account of a party at Streatham. Boswell, finding that
there was no place at the side of Dr. Johnson, had taken up a seat
immediately behind and between Dr. Johnson and Miss Burney. It was
not very polite, and the discovery of his position by Dr. Johnson was

    The Doctor turned angrily round upon him, and, clapping
    his hand rather loudly upon his knee, said, in a tone of
    displeasure, 'What do you do there, Sir? Go to the table,

    Mr. Boswell instantly, and with an air of affright, obeyed;
    and there was something so unusual in such humble submission
    to so imperious a command that another smile gleamed its
    way across every mouth except that of the Doctor and of Mr.
    Boswell, who now, very unwillingly, took a distant seat.

Anything more ignominious could hardly be imagined, and that Boswell
was sensitive to a rebuke from the Doctor we cannot doubt. And yet,
within a few minutes, he was to run the risk of a second. For some
reason or other he wished to leave the room while the ceremony still
demanded his presence at the table. The Doctor, calling after him
authoritatively, said: 'What are you thinking of, Sir? Why do you
get up before the cloth is removed? Come back to your place, Sir!'
'Again,' Miss Burney continues, 'and with equal obsequiousness, Mr.
Boswell did as he was bid.'

Boswell's behaviour, indeed, on this particular occasion was not
heroic. His position near Dr. Johnson cannot have been essential to
his purpose of taking notes; he was unwilling to abandon it out of a
childish feeling of dignity; he considered it his natural right to sit
near the doctor, and was obstinate about it. And it was no experiment
of his to leave the room unceremoniously with the purpose of hearing
what Dr. Johnson might have to say. But it was heroic of Boswell to
put himself continually, and often intentionally, in the way of such
rebuffs; for this he undoubtedly did. It was heroic because he had
a noble purpose. Boswell was a man of science, and his science was
concerned with nothing less than the mind and soul of Man. He was none
the less scientific because he did not deal in generalities; he was
concerned with detail rather than with deduction and with one man
rather than with all men. Science may not have been the only motive
for enduring. Boswell may have supported the harsh sayings of Dr.
Johnson and suffered for the sake of his friendship, for its honour as
well as for its value; but when we consider the humiliation of those
rebukes we know at least that he suffered not a little; and inasmuch
as he courted them, and courted them deliberately, friendship offers
no explanation. Here we are compelled to accept the scientific motive.
Boswell must be allowed the credit of having suffered as a man of
science for the sake of Biography.

Miss Burney, though she neither understood nor appreciated Boswell,
and even disliked him, has no doubt given a truthful picture. It is
clear that Boswell suffered from the rebuffs which he received from
Johnson. If he endured them on the whole willingly, yet he endured
them not without feeling some pain. He could not carry it off; Boswell
had no natural dignity; he had a 'jovial bluntness' and a comical air
about him, but these could not help him on such occasions, and he was
obliged as it were to lose prestige, to appear in fact mean-spirited
and servile.

Miss Burney tells us also that Johnson generally treated him as a
schoolboy. The difference in their ages was more than thirty years;
but even so the expression is remarkable, and shows as does the whole
account how complete was the submission of Boswell.

His behaviour, however, was not merely undignified and grotesque, it
was rude. His whole attitude towards Johnson was a rude one. Curiosity
indulged as he indulged it cannot be polite. Johnson told him
more than once that he had no manners. Langton said: 'Boswell's
conversation consists entirely in asking questions, and is extremely
offensive.' Boswell, in fact, as the biographer, was rude not only
to Johnson but to the whole company; concerned entirely with his own
purpose, he ignored the social obligation. It seems to have been
his common habit to sit down, note-book in hand, to record the
conversation. Mr. Barclay said that he had seen Boswell lay down his
knife and fork, and take out his tablets, in order to register a
good anecdote. Mrs. Thrale refers to his 'reporting' as a usual and
obnoxious practice.

    A trick which I have seen played on common occasions, of
    sitting steadily down at the other end of the room to write
    at the moment what should be said in company, either _by_ Dr.
    Johnson or _to_ him, I never practised myself, nor approved of
    in another. There is something so ill-bred, and so inclining
    to treachery in this conduct, that were it commonly adopted,
    all confidence would soon be exiled from society, and a
    conversation assembly-room would become tremendous as a court
    of justice.

    [Footnote 1: _Autobiography, Letters, &c., of Mrs. Piozzi_,
    ii, 125.]

    [Footnote 2: _Life of Johnson_, iii, 347.]

    [Footnote 3: _Life of Johnson_, iii, 349.]

    [Footnote 4: _Croker Papers_, iii, 33.]


The habit which annoyed Mrs. Thrale was necessary to Boswell's
conception of his task; it involved what he spoke of as his

To understand what he meant by this, an attitude perhaps not only
towards himself, but to the public also, since he wished very much
that those who read his book should feel that it was true in every
detail, we must examine more nearly Boswell's method of carrying out
his biographical plan.

It is remarkable that Boswell should have begun his system of
recording when quite a young man. A man of forty is more easily
forgiven some eccentricity than one of two-and-twenty. Yet we find
Boswell, during his travels on the Continent, tablets in hand on his
first visit to Paoli, who gives an amusing account of him:

    He came to my country and he fetched me some letter of
    recommending him: but I was of the belief he might be an
    impostor, and I supposed in my minte, he was an espy; for I
    look away from him and in a moment I look to him again, and I
    behold his tablets. Oh! he was to the work of writing down
    all I say! Indeed I was angry. But soon I discover he was no
    impostor and no espy; and I only find I was myself the monster
    he had come to discover. Oh--he is a very good man, I love him
    indeed; so cheerful! so gay! so pleasant! but at the first,
    oh! indeed I was angry.[1]

Boswell's method of recording conversations was not completed in
these memoranda taken down at the moment. He had, besides these,
his journal. It has been remarked already that he began to keep this
regularly as early as 1758 during his tour on the Northern Circuit in
the company of his father and Lord Hailes, and he tells us something
of it at the time of his journey to Greenwich with Johnson in 1763:

    I was the more sensible of it (the cold) from having sat up
    all the night before _recollecting and writing_ in my journal
    what I thought worthy of preservation; an exertion which,
    during the first part of my acquaintance with Johnson, I
    frequently made. I remember having sat up four nights in one
    week, without being much incommoded in the daytime.

In the 'Tour to Corsica,' also, he tells us:

    From my first setting out on this tour, I wrote down every
    night what I had observed during the day, throwing together a
    great deal, that I might afterwards select at leisure.[2]

We have then two processes mentioned by which Boswell recorded
conversation: the notes taken down at the moment, and the journal
written up at night. The relation of these two--the function which
each of them performed--is not difficult to conjecture.

Boswell's object was to get his records written up as soon as possible
after the events or conversations which he was describing:

    I found, from experience, that to collect my friend's
    conversation so as to exhibit it with any degree of its
    original flavour, it was necessary to write it down without
    delay. To record his sayings, after some distance of time,
    was like preserving or pickling long-kept or faded fruits, or
    other vegetables, which, when in that state, have little or
    nothing of their taste when fresh.[3]

It was upon the fact that he trusted, not to his memory, but to
'exact transcript of conversations,' that Boswell based his claim to
authenticity.[4] He was so absolutely truthful himself, that it never
occurred to him to think that the truth of what was actually written
down at the time could be doubted, and it was to him an entire
refutation of any adversary to confront him with his method.

    If this book should again be reprinted, I shall with the
    utmost readiness correct any errours I may have committed, in
    stating conversations, provided it can be clearly shown to me
    that I have been inaccurate. But I am slow to believe (as
    I have elsewhere observed) that any man's memory, at the
    distance of several years, can preserve facts or sayings with
    such fidelity as may be done by writing them down when they
    are recent: and I beg it may be remembered, that it is not
    upon _memory_, but upon what was _written at the time_, that
    the authenticity of my 'Journal' rests.[5]

But it is clear enough that the notes which Boswell made at the
time must have been very unlike the final form in which he wrote the
dialogue. In the course of conversations in which he himself took
part, it would have been impossible without shorthand to make so full
a record. The kind of notes which Boswell took may be gathered from
the following passage:

    I this evening boasted, that though I did not write what is
    called stenography, or short-hand, in appropriated characters
    devised for the purpose, I had a method of my own of writing
    half words, and leaving out some altogether, so as yet to keep
    the substance and language of any discourses which I had heard
    so much in view, that I could give it very completely soon
    after I had taken it down.[6]

It would seem then that what was written down during a conversation
was far from including every word which was spoken; it was rather an
aid, though a very substantial aid, to memory. We may conjecture that
the most important expressions were recorded, and the course of the
argument indicated, so as to be intelligible to Boswell, but not even
to him, perhaps, after a long interval. He was able to 'keep in view'
the 'substance and language.'

To give a full and permanent form to these rough drafts must therefore
have been a work of considerable labour; and it is this no doubt that
the journal accomplished.

We may see in the 'Life' the traces of two kinds of record. For we
have sometimes the actual words of the speakers, but at others only
the purport of their remarks. What we should naturally suppose--if
this theory of the respective functions of the notes and the journal
is correct--that the former came from the journal and the latter
from the notes taken down at the moment, or sometimes perhaps shortly
afterwards--is confirmed by the fact that, when we have only the
less complete account, Boswell very often regrets the neglect of his
journal, and talks of presenting such scraps as he has; and on one
occasion says:

    I kept very imperfect notes of his conversation, which had I
    according to my usual custom _written out at large soon after
    the time_, much might have been preserved.[7]

He was obliged in consequence of his neglect to write the text
directly from notes; with their aid he filled in what he could
remember; but he dispensed with the intermediate assistance of the
journal, and the account is therefore far less full.

The rough notes of the moment and the elaborate journal made by
writing them out at large 'soon after the time'--these, then, form the
basis of Boswell's method for preserving Johnson's talk. It is not
to be supposed that Boswell strictly adhered to this method on every
occasion. He was too much an experimentalist for that; and sometimes
it must have been very difficult to take notes. We cannot imagine that
when Boswell was alone with Johnson he pulled out 'tablets' in the
course of an argument. More probably he seized an opportunity, as soon
afterwards as possible, when Johnson was not talking, to put down
the more striking phrases and record the point of the discussion. But
there must have been some occasions when opportunities did not occur.
Johnson, no doubt, became accustomed to his companion's habits and was
often willing to help him by telling him details about his early life
or dictating the text of a letter for Boswell to write down there
and then. But sometimes he was in the mood to resent memoranda; and
sometimes the talk was too continuous for Boswell's task to be an easy
one. At such times Boswell may have written the journal as well as
he could without the notes, and as soon afterwards as possible. At
Ashbourne, for instance, in 1777, he may have done this: he was alone
with Johnson more than usual, and several discussions made Johnson
very angry; he may well have waited to record anything until he wrote
the journal, for he had no lack of time to devote to this purpose
while staying in the quiet country town, and in point of fact he
actually kept the journal more fully at this time than at any other.
He mentions that he has 'acquired a facility in recollecting his
conversation.'[8] This may refer to the effort of memory required in
recalling altogether what had been said, as well as to the effort of
reconstructing the talk from what he had written down at the moment.
In the early part of the 'Life' Boswell says:

    In progress of time, when my mind was, as it were, _strongly
    impregnated with the Johnsonian æther_, I could, with much
    more facility and exactness, _carry in my memory and commit to
    paper_ the exuberant variety of his wisdom and wit.[9]

Here again he may well have had in mind a process of writing the
journal with no notes to help him.

All the original documents from which Boswell compiled the 'Life' are
concealed from this generation. There are, however--or at least there
were--in existence two of Boswell's note-books. Mr. Fitzgerald relates
that in Mr. Pocock's 'Johnsonian Catalogue' there was

    a note-book in which Boswell jotted down from day to day the
    actual sayings and doings of the eminent lexicographer. This
    volume contains literary opinions and aphorisms peculiar to
    this great man, and of which many have never been published.
    He gives a specific account of the manner in which he compiled
    the 'Dictionary,' and relates other matters of interest,
    bearing on his long literary career and contemporaries.

This manuscript, if it were to be seen, might reveal more definitely
what Boswell's method was. The description of it can do nothing but
emphasise the use of the 'tablets'; but its value as evidence depends
upon its accuracy with regard to the sequence of the notes: if they
were really 'jotted down from day to day,' then they are the 'tablets'
without a doubt.

The other note-book is 'Boswelliana'; and it is of a different kind.

    Boswell kept in a portfolio a quantity of loose quarto sheets,
    inscribed on each page _Boswelliana_. In certain of these
    sheets the pages are denoted by numerals in the ordinary
    fashion; another portion is numbered by the folios; while a
    further portion consists of loose leaves and letter-backs.
    The greater part of the entries are made so carefully as to
    justify the belief that the author intended to embody the
    whole in a volume of literary anecdotes.[10]

Emphatically this collection was not 'tablets.' It was probably
intended for a particular purpose. Boswell may have had several
collections of a similar kind. But it is clear that the purpose
of 'Boswelliana' has no connection with the 'Life of Johnson.'[11]
Stories of Johnson it does indeed contain; but they are few, and are
unconnected by any chronological arrangement. They form only a small
part of the whole.

The journal itself was kept in quarto and octavo volumes,[12] and
Boswell on one occasion showed it to Sir William Forbes.[13] It
seems that his object in doing this was to get an opinion which might
encourage him to publish; he quotes with great pleasure in the 'Life'
the praise which this gentleman had bestowed upon it. One would
suppose that the journal displayed in this way gave the Johnsonian
conversations and anecdotes in words almost identical with the text of
the 'Life.' In the preface to the 'Corsican Journal' Boswell says of
the Paoli memoirs:

    As I have related his remarkable sayings, I declare upon my
    honour, that I have neither added nor diminished; nay, so
    scrupulous have I been, that I would not make the smallest
    variation even when my friends thought it would be an
    improvement. I know with how much pleasure we read what is
    perfectly authentick.[14]

One might easily expect that the same words would equally well apply
to the 'Life.' But this is not the case.

It is reasonable to suppose that the Johnsonian stories in
'Boswelliana' are not less polished than those in the journal; they
are themselves in a definite form; and since the journal itself is
only the second stage of Boswell's method, these stories must be in
a state at the least no less advanced. And yet the verbal differences
between these stories and those in the 'Life' are often considerable
and sometimes large. The truth is that Boswell's method must have
developed very much in one direction from the account he gave of it
in the 'Tour to Corsica.' As Dr. Birkbeck Hill has clearly proved,
he made changes in the way of 'touching up' the conversations and

One or two instances of these variations will illustrate Boswell's
treatment of his materials; the stories are given below in double
columns for purpose of comparison.

    _Boswelliana_                  _Life_

  1. Boswell asked Mr.             We talked of the education
  Samuel Johnson what was          of children; and I
  best to teach a gentleman's      asked him what he thought
  children first.                  was best to teach them
  'Why, Sir,' said he,             first. _Johnson_: 'Sir, it
  'there is no matter what         is no matter what you
  you teach them first. It         shall teach them first, any
  matters no more than             more than what leg you
  which leg you put first          shall put in your breeches
  into your bretches [_sic_].      first. Sir, you may stand
  Sir, you may stand               disputing which leg you
  disputing which leg you          shall put in first, but in
  shall put in first, but in       the meantime your breech
  the meantime your legs           is bare. Sir, while you
  are bare. No matter              are considering which of
  which you put in first           two things you shall teach
  so that you put 'em both         your child first, another
  in, and then you have            boy has learnt them both.
  your bretches on. Sir,
  while you think which of
  two things to teach a
  child first, another boy, in
  the common course has
  learnt both.'

  I was present.

    _Boswelliana_                   _Life_

  2. Boswell told Mr.              The same gentleman
  Samuel Johnson that a            maintained that there was
  gentleman of their               no distinction between
  acquaintance maintained          virtue and vice. _Johnson_:
  in public company that he        'Why, Sir, if the fellow
  could see no distinction         does not think as he
  between virtue and vice.         speaks, he is lying; and
  'Sir,' said Mr. Johnson,         I see not what honour he
  'does he intend that we          can propose to himself
  should believe that he is        from having the character
  lying, or that he is in          of a liar. But if he does
  earnest? If we think             really think that there is
  him a lyar, that is not          no distinction between
  honouring him very much.         virtue and vice, why, Sir,
  But if we think him in           when he leaves our houses
  earnest, when he leaves          let us count our spoons.'
  our houses let us count
  our spoons.'

A comparison of the two versions of No. 1 reveals at once the brevity
of the final form. It is evident, as Mr. Fitzgerald remarks, that
the text itself could not have represented the talk as it came from
Johnson's lips. 'The whole is too deliberate, too close, too well
winnowed, as it were.' Conversation is more discursive. Boswell's
method as we see it here is in the first place to compress--to give
not the whole of Johnson's words, but only the essence of them. In
the result the story in its last state preserves the most important
expressions and is more pointed for being shorter.

The second story in the table has not been cut down in the same
fashion. It illustrates very well another process. It is the process,
one may say, of Johnsonising. Not only has the argument, as in
the former case, been made clearer and more concise, but the words
themselves have been considerably altered. The result indicates the
reason of these changes. The version in the 'Life' is stronger and
more convincing; it has more of the energy of human tongues. The
assertion 'he is lying' has more force than the corresponding
question: the 'why, Sir,' introduced before the climax gives the
proper snort of war before the culminating triumph of the dilemma.
Boswell made these changes that he might retain the spirit of
Johnson's talk and the atmosphere of the moment as the listeners
felt it. He succeeded whenever he added force and directness; one may
easily be convinced of this by recalling the uncouth figure with its
suggestion of abnormal strength which uttered slowly in a very
loud voice, occasionally shaking the head, 'as if to promote the
fermentation of his wit.'

A most remarkable instance of the two processes--of compressing and
Johnsonising--is furnished by two stories in 'Boswelliana' which
become one story in the 'Life.'

    _Boswelliana_                   _Life_

  Mr. Sheridan, though a           He now added, 'Sheridan
  man of knowledge and             cannot bear me. I
  parts, was a little fanciful     bring his declamation to a
  in his projects for              point. I ask him a plain
  establishing oratory and         question, What do you
  altering the mode of British     mean to teach? Besides,
  education. 'Mr. Samuel           Sir, what influence can Mr.
  Johnson,' said Sherry,           Sheridan have upon the
  'cannot abide me, for I          language of this great
  always ask him, Pray, Sir,       country by his narrow
  what do you propose to           exertions? Sir, it is
  do?'                             burning a farthing candle
                                   at Dover to show light at
  From Mr. Johnson:                Calais!'

  Boswell was talking to
  Mr. Samuel Johnson of
  Mr. Sheridan's enthusiasm
  for the advancement
  of eloquence. 'Sir,' said
  Mr. Johnson, 'it won't do.
  He cannot carry through
  his scheme. He is like a
  man attempting to stride
  the English Channel. Sir,
  the cause bears no proportion
  to the effect. It
  is setting up a candle at
  Whitechapel to give light
  at Westminster.'

The compression and alteration are of the same character as in the two
previous stories. The argument is closer and the point clearer;
and the effect of the whole is stronger. One verbal change is
very striking. One might expect that the image with which Johnson
summarises his views would be wholly inviolate. Yet here we see Dover
and Calais substituted for Whitechapel and Westminster: probably the
reason is that Boswell regrets the phrase he has omitted, 'He is like
a man attempting to stride across the English Channel,' and tries to
combine the two images.

It must not be forgotten that the stories in 'Boswelliana' were
probably not used by Boswell in writing the 'Life.' If they were to be
written down in full once only, then why not in the proper Johnsonian
stores? Or why should this peculiar collection of 'Boswelliana'
take precedence? Some of the stories, indeed, must have been in the
journal; the record in 'Boswelliana,' for instance, of Johnson's
retort about Scotland--the first remark he made to Boswell--cannot
be the only record of the famous meeting in Tom Davies' back parlour;
clearly Boswell must have kept a more elaborate account. But though
the 'Boswelliana' manuscripts were not used, as seems most likely, it
may fairly be argued that the difference between the versions given
there and the final forms in the 'Life' are a proper indication of
Boswell's method of adapting his material. There is no reason to
suppose that Boswell was less accurate in the 'Boswelliana' than in
his journal and other Johnsonian stores; or indeed, that there was a
great difference between 'Boswelliana' versions and any others in an
unfinished state. And it is clear that two versions of a story, both
in an unfinished state, must differ from the final form more or less,
perhaps, but with the same species of difference.

It is contended, therefore, that Boswell altered his written
Johnsoniana in a way which could account for the differences we have
observed between the versions of stories in 'Boswelliana' and those
in the 'Life.' This proposition, however, casts no reflection upon his
reputation for accuracy. He preserved the 'substance and language';
and if he changed some words he preserved the colouring and made the
whole a better representation of Johnson.

Boswell himself gives some suggestion of his method when he presents a
series of Johnsoniana for which he was indebted to Mr. Langton:

    Very few articles in this collection were committed to writing
    by himself, he not having that habit....
    The authenticity of every article is unquestionable. For the
    expressions, I, who wrote them down, am partly answerable.

By 'unquestionable authenticity' it was meant, no doubt, that
the purport of what Johnson said had been correctly reported.
In 'Boswelliana' a story told by Mr. Langton is written out with
suggestions for its improvement. It may be quoted as a final
example of the manner in which Boswell was partly answerable for the

    Johnson had a sovereign contempt for Wilkes and his party,
    whom he looked upon as a mere rabble. 'Sir,' said he, 'had
    Wilkes's mob prevailed against Government, this nation would
    have died of _phthiriasis_! Mr. Langton told me this. The
    expression _morbus pediculosus_, as being better known, would
    strike more. _Lousy disease_ may be put in a parenthesis.'

    [Footnote 1: _Miss Burney's Diary_, ii, 100.]

    [Footnote 2: _Tour to Corsica_, p. 297.]

    [Footnote 3: _Life of Johnson_, iii, 183.]

    [Footnote 4: _Tour to the Hebrides_, p. 434 (Dr. Hill's

    [Footnote 5: _Tour to the Hebrides_, Appendix 1.]

    [Footnote 6: _Life of Johnson_, iii, 270.]

    [Footnote 7: _Life of Johnson_, ii, 372.]

    [Footnote 8: _Life of Johnson_, i, 26.]

    [Footnote 9: _Ib._, i, 421.]

    [Footnote 10: _Boswelliana_, Grampian Club, 1874. Preface.]

    [Footnote 11: Boswell on one occasion told a lady that her
    joke should be included in _Boswelliana_.]

    [Footnote 12: _Life of Johnson_, iv, 83.]

    [Footnote 13: _Ib._, iii, 308.]

    [Footnote 14: p. xiii.]


The method we have been examining has revealed, in a sense, a second
aspect of Boswell as the biographer, the natural complement of that
scientific spirit which inspired the acute observation, the delicate
experiments, the methodical accuracy; for he brought to the work of
recording not merely the faculty for stating truthfully what he
had seen, but the power of expressing his feelings; and it was
particularly this feeling--an interest at the same time full-blooded,
comprehensive and minute--that insisted upon expression.

The emotion which compels a man to bind himself to an ideal,
and, having determined that something must be done under certain
conditions, compels the doing of it without capitulation, is one which
enters into many kinds of work and is to be found no doubt very often
among scientists; but it is in a peculiar degree the possession of the
artist. To him indeed it seems to be essential; for his value depends
certainly not more on the quality of what he has to express than on
the completeness with which he expresses it. And so perhaps we ought
to connect the consistency, the truth, the faith of Boswell, and
his disregard for obstacles, with his artistic rather than with his
scientific qualities; so we ought to interpret Boswell's love of his
labour and his conviction that it was good, and so to understand all
the trouble that it cost to his mind and to the more sensitive part of
him. The refusal to depart from his ideal which he made to Hannah More
('I would not cut off his claws, nor make my tiger a cat, to please
anybody'),[1] and again to Bishop Percy when he declined, for the sake
of 'authenticity,' to suppress the bishop's name,[2] is an indication
of the need he had to express himself as an artist.[3]

But how was it that he came so to express himself? And what is it that
he succeeded in expressing?

Of the impulse to expression and what it meant in Boswell's case
something has been said already in these pages. We cannot understand
the engine if we forget the power that drives it, and we must
emphasise once again the force that Boswell obeyed. His passion for
truth was not comprehensive: and it was for the truth of the realist,
not the truth of the idealist. It did not include the whole of life;
it did not attempt to view the entire scene in correct perspective;
and Boswell was decidedly not a philosopher. He did not greatly need
explanations of the universe; he tended to accept such as seemed
convenient. He had no logic about abstract theories, and only a very
limited power of criticising evidence. One who cares for truth with
respect to every fact and deduction is inclined to reject his first
impressions, because experience has taught him that 'all men are
liars.' The face of things is so often false! But Boswell was content
to look no further; he sometimes deliberately disregarded the facts
of existence; he lived one half his life in a glitter of his own
creation. Nevertheless, the passion for truth was vivid and vital. It
lived apart to work out its own consummation; and it was all the more
vehement for being confined. It is perhaps for this reason--that the
truth inherent in Boswell was confined within such strict limits--that
it required expression. In these circumstances Boswell's buoyant
nature had need of a safety-valve. Truth for him was concerned
entirely with an external view of people. He was rarely analytical; he
did not care for subtle states of mind and the feelings that composed
them; he looked directly at actions and their primary motives. The
vision was so clear and strong that Boswell by its very insistence was
obliged to create an imperishable image.

The reasons that made it certain from the beginning that Johnson would
become the vehicle for this expression extend beyond those qualities
which made Boswell prefer and admire him above all other men; they
depend upon Boswell's attitude towards mankind. We have seen that
he apologises and justifies himself for relating the weaknesses and
absurdities of Johnson. And yet he sometimes seems to have a peculiar
delight in them. These shades in Johnson's character are dealt with
not as an unpleasant but necessary task, to be despatched with a light
touch as though it ill became him to speak of them, but with a full
flavour of rich and lasting enjoyment.

They were in fact to Boswell the most striking and salient qualities
of his great hero, and it was necessary therefore that they should be
well and completely related. But in the story as we read it, we do not
merely observe that the rude victories and uneven justice of Johnson
were supremely significant in the eyes of the author. To Boswell the
whole personality of Johnson was a source of the keenest pleasure.
He took an insatiable delight in it. He loved to imitate the curious
gestures and manner of the Doctor. He became, to use his own word,
'Johnsonised'; and no doubt he reached that state which he desired
his readers to attain, and both 'talked and thought' Johnson. He was
'strongly impregnated with the Johnsonian æther'; and when he had
drunk his fill and it had all soaked in, it was reproduced with a
relish of the joyous moments it had given him. The picture of Johnson,
as he saw it, was a source of deep and satisfying enjoyment to
Boswell: he overflowed with mere pleasure in the contemplation of a
man, and expressed himself, as an artist, out of the abundance of this
sympathy, in terms of 'Johnson.'

And the enjoyment, one may say, depending as it did very largely
upon a certain dramatic quality of that curious figure, was concerned
necessarily very much with the oddities and weaknesses of the man,
and particularly with that greatest weakness of all, the abuse of

When it is said that Boswell is an artist, it is not meant that the
whole of the 'Life of Johnson' was treated artistically. It exhibits,
no doubt, a certain elegance of proportion; it is a good composition,
well arranged, well spaced; and in as far as it has those qualities
we may consider that it belongs to art. But it is not chiefly because,
having recorded what happened in a perfectly straightforward manner,
he then fitted together the fragments to make as it were a complete
model of a man--it is not for the design--that we call Boswell an
artist. It is because he did not very often, as we have seen, relate
the facts quite simply, but related them in such a manner that
the whole atmosphere of the scene, all that is most human and most
humorous, strikes upon us. It is in what have been called his comedy
scenes that we see the supreme art of Boswell.

A characteristic passage relates an attempt to make fun of Johnson by
inquiring if he took dancing lessons:

    I ventured to mention a ludicrous passage in the newspapers,
    that Dr. Johnson was learning to dance of Vestris. Lord
    Charlemont, wishing to excite him to talk, proposed in a
    whisper, that he should be asked whether it was true. 'Shall I
    ask him?' said his Lordship. We were by a great majority clear
    for the experiment.

In these few words Boswell has recalled the spirit of the scene.
We have a vision of Johnson sitting terrible in the midst, and his
hearers feeling and behaving like schoolboys in the presence of some
bearish pedagogue. Some one proposes an audacious jest, and all await
with eagerness the crucial moment. You may sit upon the edge of a
volcano, or you may fire the train which shall explode a planet, but
no expectancy is so keen as this.

    His Lordship very gravely and with a courteous air said,
    'Pray, sir, is it true that you are taking lessons of
    Vestris?' ... This was risking a good deal, and required the
    boldness of a General of Irish Volunteers to make the attempt.

The explosion unerringly follows, but the rumble dies away in rippling

    Johnson was at first startled and in some heat answered, 'How
    can your Lordship ask so simple a question?' But immediately
    recovering himself, whether from unwillingness to be deceived
    or to appear deceived, or whether from real good-humour, he
    kept up the joke....

Johnson in these scenes of comedy is always the dictator; the elements
of the ridiculous are constantly present when someone who behaves with
a pompous manner is rarely willing to be laughed at, and Boswell's
sense of what was incongruous was near the surface and ready to make

The company on one occasion were greatly tickled by a word applied in
Johnson's most majestic manner to a rather laughable female character,
and the incident furnishes Boswell with material for one of his best
descriptions of this kind. Johnson had remarked 'The woman had a
bottom of good sense.'

    The word _bottom_ [says Boswell] thus introduced, was so
    ludicrous when contrasted with his gravity, that most of us
    could not forbear tittering and laughing; though I recollect
    that the Bishop of Killaloe kept his countenance with perfect
    steadiness, while Miss Hannah More slyly hid her face behind
    a lady's back who sat on the same settee with her. His pride
    could not bear that any expression of his should excite
    ridicule, when he did not intend it; he therefore resolved to
    assume and exercise despotick power, glanced sternly around,
    and called out in a strong tone, 'Where's the merriment?' Then
    collecting himself, and looking aweful, to make us feel how he
    could impose restraint, and as it were searching his mind for
    a still more ludicrous word, he slowly pronounced, 'I say
    the _woman_ was _fundamentally_ sensible'; as if he had said,
    'Hear this now, and laugh if you dare.' We all sat composed as
    at a funeral.

This, like the other scene, is extremely dramatic. Neither would have
been so had not the writer himself realised the full humour of the
situation. Perhaps the most remarkable quality of the descriptions
is the amount left out.[4] The few details which Boswell gives us
are sufficient to reveal the secret of everybody's feelings, and then
Johnson strikes in with the characteristic remark. It is difficult
to appreciate to the full the merit of these scenes without comparing
them with those supplied by less talented pens; when we read the
accounts of Mrs. Piozzi and Sir John Hawkins, and even of Miss Burney,
we realise the immeasurable superiority of Boswell's. They have the
elusive quality of all impressionist[5] art; they might be ranked with
the nocturnes of Whistler: if they were produced, as it almost seems
they were, with as little apparent care, they were produced, however,
only by the experience of a lifetime. By continually thinking
'Johnson,' Boswell was able to give the few necessary touches which
expressed the inward vision.

In the two passages we have quoted, Boswell has revealed the humour of
a situation; those supreme moments of Johnson's dictatorship were
to him a never-failing treasure-house of priceless mirth; and he has
given us a key which enables us to hear with him the magic thunder, to
see each bright flash of the lightning, and with him to laugh the rich
mellow laughter because it is so absurd, and yet so inevitable, and so
good, that men should have been fashioned so.

Boswell delights in showing us the mind of Johnson, how he was
prompted like the rest of us by all the little motives of men. He
enjoys Johnson's humanity. Sometimes he is more solemn. One great
subject is Johnson's tenderness--as in an account of an argument with
Sir Joshua about drinking:

    _Johnson_ (who from drinking only water supposed everybody who
    drank wine to be elevated): 'I won't argue any more with
    you, Sir. You are too far gone.' _Sir Joshua_: 'I should have
    thought so indeed, Sir, had I made such a speech as you have
    now done.' _Johnson_ (drawing himself in, and I really thought
    blushing): 'Nay, don't be angry. I did not mean to offend

The best instance perhaps of Johnson's compunction after rudeness is
on the occasion of Dr. Percy's defence of Dr. Mounsey:

    Mr. Davies, who sat next to Dr. Percy, having after this had
    some conversation aside with him, made a discovery which, in
    his zeal to pay court to Dr. Johnson, he eagerly proclaimed
    aloud from the foot of the table: 'O, Sir, I have found out
    a very good reason why Dr. Percy never heard Mounsey swear or
    talk bawdy; for he tells me, he never saw him but at the Duke
    of Northumberland's table.' 'And so, Sir (said Johnson loudly,
    to Dr. Percy), you would shield this man from the charge of
    swearing and talking bawdy, because he did not do so at the
    Duke of Northumberland's table....' Dr. Percy seemed to be
    displeased, and soon afterwards left the company.

Later, in the course of conversation, Johnson denied any merit to
Swift for writing 'The Conduct of the Allies'; then

    _recollecting that Mr. Davies, by acting as an informer, had
    been the occasion of his talking somewhat too harshly to
    his friend Dr. Percy, for which, probably, when the first
    ebullition was over, he felt some compunction_,[6] he took an
    opportunity to give him a hit; so added, with a preparatory
    laugh, 'Why, Sir, Tom Davies might have written "The Conduct
    of the Allies."' Poor Tom being thus suddenly dragged into
    ludicrous notice in presence of the Scottish doctors, to whom
    he was ambitious of appearing to advantage, was grievously

The compunction, however, on this occasion seems to have had a short
duration, for Boswell goes on to say:

    When I called upon Dr. Johnson next morning, I found him
    highly satisfied with his colloquial prowess the preceding
    evening: 'Well (said he), we had good talk.' _Boswell_: 'Yes,
    Sir, you tossed and gored several persons.'

Boswell seems to have had the power of picking out all that was
characteristic and important, of ruthlessly discarding unnecessary
details and presenting only the salient points, of seeing a scene as a
whole, with its more vivid colours flashing out as it were from a dull
background, so that the whole impression is complete and clear. The
smallest conversations, as we saw, were dealt with in this way. And
as he 'Johnsonised' the talk which he had himself taken down,
and 'Johnsonised' the stories given to him by Mr. Langton, he
'Johnsonised' in the same way these larger scenes. While retaining
most of the words used by Johnson himself, Boswell seems to have added
here and there a characteristic expression to make the whole more
pointed, and to have compressed it all till it preserved nothing but
the true Johnsonian flavour.

       *       *       *       *       *

In all this, the artistic part of his work, Boswell was expressing
his own conception of Johnson. But it has been doubted by some whether
this is a true view of him, or whether the whole is not overdrawn.
Dr. Birkbeck Hill says that Johnson was drawn by Boswell as 'too

It is indeed, as has been said before, the awfulness of Johnson which
Boswell had in mind when he wrote his 'comedy scenes,' and even in
relating less pungent moments. The humour of it all depended so much
upon that!

It must be remarked, at the outset, that several individuals may have
quite different impressions of one man. Not only do the observers
emphasise different qualities, so that the same person might
be described by one as kind and affectionate, and by another as
sentimental and stupid, without either account being untrue, except
in so far as it is incomplete, but a man's behaviour often varies with
the company. The truth of Boswell, since he expressed quite truthfully
his own impressions, would be in nowise confounded if it were
discovered that the majority did not share his view of Johnson; still
less if he had seen what they saw, while they had not seen what he

But the fact is that Boswell's conception of Johnson as being 'awful'
was the common one. The idea that he was not so is probably derived
from Miss Burney's 'Diary.' It will be remembered, however, that
Johnson's behaviour to Miss Burney was quite unlike his behaviour to
the great majority of people: she was chosen to be the special object
of his gallantry. It was extremely pleasant for her; she was
naturally pleased to be continually the recipient of the most charming
compliments; and her 'Diary' tells us all about it. Boswell was well
aware that to her more than to anybody else Johnson showed the gayer
side of his character, and he was anxious, as we have seen, to make
use of her 'stores':

I want to show him as gay Sam, agreeable Sam, pleasant Sam; so you
must help me with some of his beautiful billets to yourself.

Miss Burney indeed can hardly be excused for not giving her assistance
to Boswell, since she afterwards talks of vindicating Johnson to his
King and Queen,[8] which she would hardly have found necessary had she
contributed largely herself to Boswell's 'Life.' And even Miss Burney
alludes to the fear in which Johnson was held by his contemporaries,
and reports a terrible, if deserved, rebuke to Hannah More, when
Johnson, after politely bearing the lady's adulation for some little
time, exclaimed, 'Madam, before you flatter a man so grossly to his
face, you should consider whether or not your flattery is worth his
having.'[9] Mrs. Piozzi, too, in whose house it was that she met Dr.
Johnson, has, in her own account of him, emphasised very much the
other side of the picture.

It must also be remembered that Boswell, though he loves to relate the
roughness of Johnson and his imperiousness, is always at pains to show
that he was a really kind and considerate man, and even seems to
make allowance for the possibility that he has made the harshness
too prominent, and takes care to explain that it was not so common as
might be supposed:

    How very false is the notion which has gone round the world of
    the rough, and passionate, and harsh manners of this great and
    good man. That he had occasional sallies of heat of temper,
    and that he was sometimes, perhaps, too 'easily provoked' by
    absurdity and folly, and sometimes too desirous of triumph in
    colloquial contest, must be allowed. The quickness both of his
    perception and sensibility disposed him to sudden explosions
    of satire; to which his extraordinary readiness of wit was a
    strong and almost irresistible incitement. I admit that the
    beadle within him was often so eager to apply the lash, that
    the judge had not time to consider the case with sufficient

Boswell is prepared to admit, as he is obliged to do, the dogmatist
and the fighter in Johnson, but not that he was in the ordinary way

    That he was occasionally remarkable for violence of temper may
    be granted: but let us ascertain the degree, and not let it be
    supposed that he was in a perpetual rage, and never without a
    club in his hand, to knock down everyone who approached him.
    On the contrary, the truth is, that by much the greatest part
    of his time he was civil, obliging, nay, polite in the true
    sense of the word; so much so, that many gentlemen, who were
    long acquainted with him, never received, or even heard a
    strong expression from him.

It will be seen from his lengthy defence of Johnson against what he
considered a common accusation and an unjust one, and it may be seen
also from other passages, that Boswell regards his own life of Johnson
as likely to weaken the prevalent opinions about Johnson's rough
behaviour. Mrs. Piozzi is violently attacked by him for having
exaggerated and maliciously enlarged upon this part of his

It is not to be supposed that the conception of Johnson's 'awfulness'
depended entirely upon his capacity for giving rude blows to his
antagonists in conversation. There is a certain gravity of demeanour,
amounting almost to pompousness, which Boswell loves to depict. It may
seem that the Doctor is not sufficiently good-humoured. No doubt it
was Boswell's particular delight to represent the majesty of the great
man of letters, and the many occasions on which Johnson is jovial and
pleasant are, for him perhaps, the exceptions to a rule. But how many
there are! The 'Tour to the Hebrides' especially (and in considering
Boswell's presentation of Johnson we must consider always the 'Tour'
with the 'Life') is full of instances of this kind of behaviour. It
was indeed a serious departure from Boswell's ideal that the Rambler
should take upon his knee a Highland lady, but it would be difficult
to count the number of times that Johnson is reported quite naturally
to have laughed and to have been good-humoured. He is even reported to
have perverted a line of Shakespeare, with the spontaneous merrymaking
of a schoolboy, to suit his companion. Surely it could be said by no
one that his impression of Johnson after reading Boswell's 'Life' and
the 'Tour to the Hebrides' was that of a cross and grave old man.

Boswell perhaps does not give the picture of affability and even
gaiety which Miss Burney gives; but her account too is qualified.
'Dr. Johnson,' she says, 'has more fun and comical humour, and love of
nonsense about him, than almost anybody I ever saw: I mean when with
those he likes; for otherwise he can be as severe and as bitter
as report relates him.'[12] On another occasion she speaks of 'a
formality that accompanies whatever he says,' which conveys exactly
the impression of 'awfulness' that we get so often from Boswell.[13]

The criticism which could perhaps be made with most justice of the
Johnson whom we know from Boswell is that he is not playful enough.
Miss Burney's Johnson may seem a jollier man. She alludes to his 'love
of nonsense' and 'a turn for burlesque humour.'[14] But it must be
remembered that behaviour of this kind is mentioned very seldom--only
four or five times at the most, even in Miss Burney's 'Diary.' And it
would be not unnatural (from the circumstances mentioned before) that
Miss Burney would see more of this side of his character than other

Boswell, in the preface to the second edition of the 'Life,' tells us
that the book had been received with favour, that he had obtained a
great deal of spontaneous praise, and that Sir Joshua Reynolds lived
to give the strongest testimony to its fidelity. These are expressions
which he could not use, had they been untrue, in that place; for they
would invite a damaging attack from the reviewers. But a book which
upset the popular conception of a figure like Johnson, or even one
which merely overdrew the 'shades' in his character, would hardly have
been received like that. And Boswell in fact was never attacked in
print for these faults, which, considering what a number of enemies he
had, and the disputes in which he was engaged after the publication
of the 'Life,' is almost conclusive evidence that his accounts of
Johnson's 'awfulness' corresponded with the observations of other
people. Courtenay was a good judge when he wrote the following lines
about the 'Tour to the Hebrides':

  "With Reynolds' pencil, vivid, bold, and true,
  So fervent Boswell gives him to our view:
  In every trait we see his mind expand;
  The master rises by the pupil's hand.
  We love the writer, praise his happy vein,
  Grac'd with the _naïveté_ of the sage Montaigne.
  Hence not alone are brighter parts display'd,
  But e'en the specks of character pourtray'd:
  We see the Rambler with fastidious smile...."[15]

    [Footnote 1: _Autobiography, Letters, &c., of Mrs. Piozzi_,
    ii, 403.]

    [Footnote 2: Nichols' _Illustrations_, vii, 313.]

    [Footnote 3: Henley, in _Views and Reviews_, speaks of Boswell
    as an artist.]

    [Footnote 4: Fitzgerald and Birkbeck Hill both say something
    of this.]

    [Footnote 5: I use this term not in a particular technical
    sense (as applied to a school of French painters) but in a
    general sense, of all art that neglects details for the sake
    of general effect.]

    [Footnote 6: The italics are mine.]

    [Footnote 7: _Life of Johnson_, ii. 262, n. 2.]

    [Footnote 8: _Miss Burney's Diary_, iv, 478.]

    [Footnote 9: _Ib._, i, 100.]

    [Footnote 10: _Life of Johnson_, iii, 80-1.]

    [Footnote 11: _Life of Johnson_, iv, 340 _et seq._]

    [Footnote 12: _Miss Burney's Diary_, i, 211.]

    [Footnote 13: _Ib._, i, 231.]

    [Footnote 14: _Ib._, i, 102.]

    [Footnote 15: _Life of Johnson_, ii, 268.]


Four years of life remained to Boswell after the publication of the
great biography. His death came at the due moment; he was not cut off
in the midst of a great undertaking or in the course of an important
development. It is inconceivable that, had he lived, he would have
produced another biography which should be comparable to the 'Life of
Johnson.' An autobiography he might indeed have written, but there is
no sign that he was engaged upon such a work in the closing years,
or that the idea had taken definite shape in his mind; his nature was
rather that of the casual autobiographer, such as we find him in the
'Life' from time to time, and particularly in the 'Letters to Temple';
and it is doubtful whether his autobiography, if ever it had been
written, would have added much to letters and diaries which were no
doubt in existence, though not preserved for our eyes.[1] The great
labour of his life had been accomplished: and he was allowed a little
time longer to see that it was approved by his own generation.

Several questions naturally present themselves when we consider the
end of a man's life. Has he been successful? What is his position in
the world? Do men respect him? Do they love him?

Boswell, we had occasion to remark before, had not been, in the
ordinary sense, successful. He had always been ambitious; he had
wanted to be 'the great man'; he had coveted the world's honours; he
would have liked to be busy with the affairs of a nation, or, at the
least, to have been reputed a leading barrister. But the glory which
fell to the lot of those who governed this country was withheld from
Boswell; in the legal and political spheres he failed. The one post
which he obtained, as Recorder of Carlisle--and it was one of no
importance--he resigned in 1790, because he could no longer brook the
overbearing behaviour of an insolent patron.

Certainly Boswell was far from attaining such fame as he desired;
but at the same time he had a very remarkable success. What then was
Boswell's reputation among his contemporaries?

The literary world had welcomed the 'Tour to the Hebrides'; men of
discrimination had seen that it was a very remarkable book. And yet
Boswell's talents won little respect from this performance. It was
amazingly indiscreet; and censure was more readily bestowed upon the
author's indiscretion than praise upon his art. It was easy to account
for the interest of the book, as Gray and Walpole had accounted
for the charm of the 'Tour in Corsica,' by the peculiarities of the
writer; and though to many so shallow an explanation must have been
unsatisfactory, it detracted from Boswell's reputation as a man of
letters. Moreover, the caricaturists were always busy with Boswell's
oddities: the 'Tour to the Hebrides' provided ample store for the
exercise of their wit, and the persistency of their ridicule no doubt
hindered the recognition of Boswell's talents. When the 'Life of
Johnson' was published, the subject of Boswell and Johnson had been
somewhat played out. A number of 'Lives' of Johnson had already
appeared; besides Hawkins, Mrs. Thrale, and Murphy, several less known
pens had made use of so promising a subject. The public interest in
Johnson had begun to wane. The sale of Boswell's 'Life' was actually
rather less rapid than was expected. This was, on the whole,
an advantage. The work obtained a less hasty and more serious
consideration. Some who would have bought the book five years before,
when the subject was fresh, and the expectation to be amused by
Boswell was still keen, probably now refrained. Those who bought
Boswell's 'Life' bought it, one may surmise, as the best book about
Johnson; and, to anyone who read it, Boswell's work must have profited
by comparison with those who had published before him. No doubt
another reason for the graver attitude of the public towards the
'Life' was that it was less indiscreet than the 'Tour'; it provided
less capital for those whose trade it was to amuse, and--by
comparison--provoked very little ridicule.

Boswell's reputation as a serious writer certainly gained enormously
from the 'Life of Johnson.' It gained, in fact, disproportionately.
The plan and scope of the 'Life' are larger than that of the 'Tour';
but the earlier book exhibits in their maturity, and equally well, all
the qualities for which we most value Boswell.

It was the later work, however, that brought honour to Boswell. The
publication of the _magnum opus_ in April 1791 led to a distinction
which he can hardly have expected. 'In July 1791,' we read in Taylor's
'Life of Reynolds,' 'Boswell to his great delight was appointed
Secretary for Foreign Correspondence to the Academy in lieu of
Baretti. The newspapers abounded in squibs at his appointment, for
Bozzy's weaknesses were favourite game with the small wits.' The
announcement, with its double import of respect and ridicule, gives a
fair indication of Boswell's reputation among his contemporaries.

It was easy not to respect Boswell; it was difficult not to love him.
He was a 'truly social' man. 'His conversation talents were always
pleasing and often fascinating.'[2] Boswell, in his best form, must
have been irresistible. His spirits were tremendous and they
were constantly bubbling over. Such spirits are infectious and
intoxicating. They are like 'tone' in a violin; the full resonance,
the very robustness of the sound, carries one away. Boswell, it may be
said, had 'tone.' His gaiety and good humour were not self-contained,
but expanded to others. The mainspring, or whatever it be that works
the human being, was particularly powerful and active in his case; and
his companions must have felt it.

The testimony as to his radiating good humour is unanimous. Dr. Rogers
in describing his personal appearance says 'his well-set features
beamed with perpetual good humour,' and certainly the portraits bear
him out. 'It was impossible,' remarked a contemporary, 'to look upon
his face without being moved by the comicality which always reigned
upon it.'[3] 'It is no wonder,' says his friend John Taylor, 'that Mr.
Boswell was universally well received. He was full of anecdote, well
acquainted with the most distinguished characters, good-humoured, and
ready at repartee. There was a kind of jovial bluntness in his manner,
which threw off all restraint even with strangers, and immediately
kindled a social familiarity.'[4]

Malone, replying to a detractor of Boswell, wrote:

    The most important misrepresentation is, that Mr. Boswell was
    convivial without being _social or friendly_; a falsehood,
    which all who knew him intimately, can peremptorily
    contradict. He had not only an inexhaustible fund of
    good-humour and good-nature, but was extremely warm in his
    attachments, and as ready to exert himself for his friends as
    any man.

It would be tedious to discuss Boswell's character with reference to
his popularity, explaining the various qualities which were or were
not attractive in him. A good-natured and affectionate disposition,
supported by high spirits, gives the key to many hearts; and Boswell's
lack of dignity, and even his weaknesses, may have endeared him still
more, when it was considered that there was nothing low or mean about

Popular he certainly was; he had many acquaintances and also a number
of very good friends. Boswell, though he was volatile enough in some
of his relations with the opposite sex, was very constant in his real
affections. Temple was still his greatest friend at the end of his
life. His fidelity to Johnson was remarkable, and surprised his
contemporaries; and he was no less faithful to his other hero, Paoli.
The General, indeed, was always very kind to Boswell, especially when
he came to live in London after the death of his wife, and
Boswell more than once stayed in his house.[5] Reynolds, the most
distinguished among Boswell's friends of the Johnsonian circle, is
mentioned by Malone as having had 'a very warm regard' for Boswell.[6]
He left him £200 to buy a picture, to be kept for his sake.[7] Charles
Dilly was Boswell's friend only for a less time than was Temple; and
Boswell, it appears, was a second host in Dilly's house:

    If ever the strict rule of decorum was by chance infringed
    on, it was on those occasional days when, inevitable business
    preventing the master of the house from sitting so long with
    his guests as he could wish, the pleasure of entertaining them
    was deputed to his kind-hearted and pleasant friend, James

Courtenay, Dempster and Sir William Forbes were all old friends, and
friends to the last. Forbes was Boswell's literary executor in company
with Malone and Temple. Malone's acquaintance with Boswell was more
recent; but his friendship does Boswell more credit almost than any
other. Its ten years began by Malone correcting the proof-sheets
of the 'Tour to the Hebrides,' and ended by his preparing the third
edition of the 'Life.' His affection for Boswell not only survived
these labours, but grew up with them.[9] Shortly after Boswell's death
he wrote a handsome defence of Boswell, who had been attacked by
a journalist in the _Gentleman's Magazine_. Some parts of it have
already been quoted here. Malone knew Boswell at the end of his life
better perhaps than anyone, and the letter is authoritative as coming
from his pen; it not only bears testimony to his friendship, but also
gives a valuable estimate of Boswell.

He was 'extremely warm in his attachments,' Malone tells us. He
also pays a striking tribute to his devotion to Dr. Johnson and his
intellectual abilities:

    His fervent attachment to Dr. Johnson at the early age of
    three-and-twenty, when the dissipation and amusements of
    London hold out to men of such lively parts as he possessed
    irresistible attraction, reflects great credit on his memory.
    His veneration and esteem for his friend induced him, at
    a subsequent period, to go through the laborious task of
    arranging and digesting the immense mass of materials with
    which his own diligence and the kindness of his friends had
    furnished him; and of forming his history of the life of that
    excellent and extraordinary man; one of the most instructive
    and entertaining books in the English language.... Mr. Boswell
    undoubtedly possessed considerable intellectual powers, for
    which he has not had sufficient credit; many supposing him to
    be a mere relator of the sayings of others: but it is manifest
    to every reader of any discernment that he never could have
    collected such a mass of information and just observation on
    human life as his very valuable work contains, without great
    strength of mind and much various knowledge; as he never could
    have displayed his collections in so lively a manner as he has
    done, had he not possessed a very picturesque imagination, or,
    in other words, had he not had a very happy turn for poetry as
    well as for humour and for wit.

Mr. Malone ends his letter by paying a final tribute to the affection
of Boswell's friends:

    He will long be regretted by a wide circle of friends, to whom
    his good qualities and social talents always made his company
    a valuable accession; and by none more sincerely than the
    present vindicator of his fame.

       *       *       *       *       *

Life is commonly somewhat of a battle. Blows are given and received.
Flags are lost and won. Positions are captured and surrendered. Limbs
are crushed and amputated. There are many ugly wounds; some bleed and
fester; some are healed. It is natural to look back on life, as the
general surveys the battlefield and the hospitals, to count the score.
At the end of all the struggle and the horror, the strange joys and
the fantastic dreams, what has happened? What view does the fighter
take himself? Was the cause worth struggling for, after all is done?
Would he fight on the same side if he could start again? Would he
refrain from fighting? Or would he fight with a different object? Is
the essential man the same? Or have his ambitions and desires and the
vital force of the man been modified? And if so how much? Can they be
recognised as the same equipment with which he set forth, or has the
consuming fire burnt out, and the bright flame grown pale and dim?

Boswell was not an old man when he died; and apart from the
prostration caused by ill-health--for he was frequently ill towards
the close of his life--his robust vigour seems hardly to have
diminished. In July 1790, a year after Mrs. Boswell's death, he seems
already to entertain some matrimonial scheme.[10] This apparently
was the first of a fresh suite. In the spring of 1791 he is looking
forward to the pleasure of meeting a certain Miss Bagnal, 'who may
probably have six or seven hundred a year.' 'Here then I am,
my Temple,' exclaims Boswell, 'my flattering self! A scheme, an
adventure, seizes upon my fancy.' Assuredly this is the old Boswell.

In his whole outlook upon life Boswell, in fact, changed very little.
He had failed in the main battle; the ambitious dreams which pleased
him most had not come to pass. Neither as politician nor as barrister
had he won the smallest degree of fame. He was, and is, famous in a
rarer sort: yet he had esteemed literary fame at a much lower rate.
And at the end of his life he still measured distinction by the same
old standards. He felt that the struggle had gone against him: but
he never doubted of the cause for which he was fighting. As late as
August 1791, some months after the 'Life of Johnson' appeared, he
wrote to Temple as though he were on the eve of a legal career:

    I have gone the full round of the Home Circuit, to which I
    have returned, finding it much more pleasant, and, though I
    did not get a single brief, do not repent of the expense, as
    I am showing myself desirous of business and imbibing legal

He still was building castles in the air of the old type; still,
sometimes, he took an opportunity to be 'conspicuous' and made
conscious efforts to 'be the great man.' Almost simultaneously with
the 'Life,' he published a political poem, 'No Abolition of Slavery,
or The Universal Empire of Love.' It was of a semi-frivolous nature,
the argument being drawn from a premise that slavery is the most
agreeable of 'goods,' when it is enforced by the chains of loving
devotion. The name of Miss Bagnal is introduced, and it is difficult
to tell whether the whole may not be an elaborate attempt to bring off
a marriage with that lady. But it is evident from a remark to Temple,
that the main purpose is political:

    I am thinking to curtail my poem on the Slave Trade, and throw
    it into the world just before the great question comes on next

A rumour of war with Russia also rouses the public spirit of Boswell
to seek distinction, and he hesitates

    whether I should not write one of my characteristical
    pamphlets on this crisis--An Appeal to the People upon the
    threatened project of involving this country in a war with
    Russia, in order to assist the Turks.

At the end of his life Boswell had not deserted his ambition, and, as
far as we can tell, he had not forgotten his disappointment. There
are few 'Letters to Temple' during these last few years, and it is
difficult to form an exact idea of Boswell's state of mind. For the
year 1792 we have only one note of a few lines: it begins, 'Still I
cannot write a long letter.' These words suggest, though they do not
prove, that Boswell had been in low spirits; for such a condition was
frequently a reason for neglecting to write. For the following year
there are three letters. In the first, Boswell refers to the pain
it gives him to visit Auchinleck; in the second, he discusses with
remorse his habit of indulgence in wine; in the third, he says
'My spirits are somewhat better, but by no means right yet.' It is
probable that Boswell wrote more regularly in 1794, but only one
letter to Temple exists. This, the last letter written in his own
hand, is much more cheerful in tone, and concerned more with Temple
than with himself. But this alone is no evidence to prove that Boswell
at the end of his life was contented with his lot and satisfied with
the measure of success he had attained. The reverse is far more likely
to be the case. As late as 1791 he had time, in the very throes of
publishing the _magnum opus_, to brood over 'the disappointment of my
hopes in life.' He clearly suffered from low spirits during the next
two years, and it can hardly be supposed that his disappointment,
though only one of several causes, had nothing to do with it.

The old standards had not changed. The same weights and measures,
which were adopted early in life, still at the end of it were used to
determine the deeds of men and fix their value. And yet a change had
come. In the 'Letters to Temple' a certain difference of tone may be
distinguished after Boswell lost his wife. It was partly that he began
fully to realise the failure of his ambitious plans; and it was still
more a different attitude which that realisation involved. When a
man discovers that he cannot get what he wants, he is apt to pay more
attention to what he already has.

Though literature did not supply for Boswell the wine of life, it had
always attracted him very strongly. He had a taste for books and a
very keen desire for learning; above all, he had literary ambition.
He made a number of literary plans besides that of writing Johnson's
'Life.'[11] He was not merely, in his own conception, the biographer
of Johnson, but the man of letters in a most extended fashion, and
something of a scholar. And it was towards the end of his life, though
then concerned almost exclusively with Johnson, that Boswell was most
industrious in the literary field. Not only did he publish the _magnum
opus_ four years before his death, but he continued diligently to
collect fresh material. The second edition appeared two years later,
in July 1793. The third edition was being prepared, with Malone's
valuable help, when Boswell died. The biographer evidently did not
consider his labours ended when the 'Life of Johnson' was at last
published. Its favourable reception 'has excited,' he says in the
Advertisement to the Second Edition, 'my best exertions to render my
Book more perfect; and in this endeavour I have had the assistance not
only of some of my particular friends, but of many other learned and
ingenious men, by which I have been able to rectify some mistakes, and
to enrich the Work with many valuable additions.'

The scale of Boswell's literary efforts towards the end of his life
is the measure of his satisfaction in the performance, and this
satisfaction, though it did not take the place of the magnificent
pleasure he had imagined in being 'the great man,' and did not cure
his disappointment, must have frequently consoled, and, in some moods,
keenly delighted Boswell. In the 'Life' he expresses, with a note of
triumph, his satisfaction in the fate of the 'Tour to the Hebrides':

    To please the true, candid, warm admirers of Johnson, and in
    any degree increase the splendour of his reputation, I bid
    defiance to the shafts of ridicule, or even of malignity.
    Showers of them have been discharged at my 'Journal of a Tour
    to the Hebrides'; yet it still sails unhurt along the stream
    of time, and, as attendant upon Johnson,

      Pursues the triumph, and partakes the gale.

Boswell is equally triumphant about the 'Life':

    That I was anxious for the success of a Work which had
    employed much of my time and labour, I do not wish to conceal:
    but whatever doubts I at any time entertained, have been
    entirely removed by the very favourable reception with which
    it has been honoured.

It was not merely literary fame that so much delighted Boswell: it
was literary fame of the best sort. The most respected of Johnson's
friends and the best critics had praised his book. Boswell could
now feel secure in his own conviction that his 'Life' was beyond
comparison as a portrait of a man and as a portrait of Johnson:

    In reflecting that the illustrious subject of this Work, by
    being more extensively and more intimately known, however
    elevated before, has risen in the veneration and love of
    mankind, I feel a satisfaction beyond what fame can afford....
    It seems to me, in my moments of self-complacency, that this
    extensive biographical work, however inferior in its nature,
    may in one respect be assimilated to the Odyssey.

Boswell goes on to explain that the 'Hero,' like Ulysses, 'in the
whole course of the History, is exhibited by the authour for the best
advantage of his readers.' So certain is he of the merits of his book
that he tells his readers, in so many words, that, if they do not like
it, their own bad temper is to blame.

    Should there be any cold-blooded morose mortals who really
    dislike this Book, I will give them a story to apply. When the
    great Duke of Marlborough, accompanied by Lord Cadogan, was
    one day reconnoitering the army in Flanders, a heavy rain
    came on and they both called for their cloaks. Lord Cadogan's
    servant, a good-humoured, alert lad, brought his Lordship's
    in a minute. The Duke's servant, a lazy sulky dog, was so
    sluggish, that his Grace being wet to the skin, reproved him,
    and had for answer, with a grunt, 'I came as fast as I could,'
    upon which the Duke calmly said, 'Cadogan, I would not for a
    thousand pounds have that fellow's temper.'

Boswell's satisfaction with his literary labours was certainly
well-founded. It is fair to remind those who may condemn this attitude
that he allowed an unduly large share of the book's merits to Dr.
Johnson. Interesting and lovable as Johnson was, he had little to do
with Boswell's execution. The biographer was fortunate--peculiarly
fortunate--in his subject: so much must be allowed and no more.
Boswell's pride did not exceed his deserts. But his 'moments of
self-complacency' must have provided a considerable compensation
for despondent moods when he regretted failure in other spheres. His
'satisfaction' reached a very high pitch when he could calmly say
to an unappreciative reader--for that is what it amounts to--that he
would be sorry to have a temper like that.

It is not remarkable for an author to feel as self-satisfied as
Boswell. Many authors tell their readers, though not so frankly, that
they ought to be interested in a book, and few give so good reasons as
Boswell gave. The point has been laboured here in order to illustrate
the final stage in his paradoxical development; to show in what degree
Boswell, while realising failure in all his magnificent dreams, was
satisfied with the fame he had of another sort. Assuredly he was
pleased with what he had; the degree may be judged from this final
extract from the Advertisement to the Second Edition:

    There are some men, I believe, who have, or think they have,
    a very small share of vanity. Such may speak of their literary
    fame in a decorous style of diffidence. But I confess, that
    I am so formed by nature, and by habit, that to restrain the
    effusion of delight, on having obtained such fame, to me would
    be truly painful. Why then should I suppress it? Why 'out of
    the abundance of the heart' should I not speak? Let me then
    mention with a warm, but no insolent exultation, that I have
    been regaled with spontaneous praise of my work by many and
    various persons eminent for their rank, learning, talents and
    accomplishments; much of which praise I have under their hands
    to be reposited in my archives at Auchinleck. An honourable
    and reverend friend, speaking of the favourable reception of
    my volumes, even in the circles of fashion and elegance, said
    to me, 'You have made them all talk Johnson.'--Yes, I may add,
    I have _Johnsonised_ the land; and I trust they will not only
    _talk_ but _think_ Johnson.

Boswell, after all, had changed very little since the publication of
the 'Tour in Corsica' in his desire for literary fame, but he must
have had a very different view of what it meant. In early life this
literary ambition was but one aspect of the prevailing idea, to be
'the great man'; and he intended to win respect through literature as
a wise and honoured 'citizen of the world.' He cannot have retained
this delusion after publishing the 'Tour to the Hebrides.' It was
in the very month when the 'Life' appeared that he spoke of 'the
disappointment of my hopes of success in life.' There was no thought
that the 'Life' would redeem these hopes. It was to win praise
and bring esteem: but not in the same sphere with these 'hopes of
success.' Boswell's literary fame compensated his disappointment in
some degree, but by no means banished it. His triumphant satisfaction
was founded, as is the case with many literary men, upon the merits of
literary work and the applause of competent judges.

       *       *       *       *       *

Such changes as may be observed in Boswell towards the end of his
life arose, it must be repeated, from the failure of his political and
legal ambitions. When he ceased to pursue the adventures suggested by
his wild imagination, he paid more attention to the natural interests
of his position. He was a landlord and a father; and his children had
now no mother. Boswell not only accepted his responsibilities, but
performed something more than his duty.

When Boswell had left Auchinleck and came to live in London, his
opportunities for interesting himself in the welfare of his tenants
and dependants were naturally curtailed. With the strict view of a
landlord's obligations which is commonly held in this age, we may be
inclined to condemn Boswell simply on the ground that he did not live
upon his estate. But, though Ayrshire is a far cry from London, the
Laird of Auchinleck did not forget his position. He was willing to
travel to Scotland 'to transact business with my tenants.' On one
occasion, in 1793, he undertook the journey in order to see that the
parish was provided with a suitable parson: 'The choice of a minister
to a worthy parish is a matter of importance, and I cannot be sure
of the real wishes of the people without being present.' He went to
Auchinleck not because he enjoyed going, but because he thought
he ought to go: 'though the journey will no doubt be uncomfortable
(probably because Boswell was in bad health), and my being alone in
that house where once I was so happy, be dreary in a woeful degree,
the consciousness of duty, and being busy, will I hope support me.'
In Boswell's will special provisions were made for his tenants and

    As there are upon the estate of Auchinleck several
    tenants whose families have possessed their farms for many
    generations, I do by these presents grant leases for nineteen
    years and their respective lifetimes of their present farms
    to John Templeton etc.... And I do beseech all the succeeding
    heirs of entail to be kind to the Tenants and not turn out old
    possessors to get a little more rent.

'Seldom,' exclaims Dr. Rogers, 'has Scottish landlord evinced greater
consideration for his tenantry and domestics.'

As a father, Boswell was no less kind. He had had six children
altogether, three sons and three daughters;[12] one of the sons had
died early in 1777. His interest in his children no doubt increased
very much after their mother's death. Frequently in the 'Letters
to Temple' after that event (June, 1789) one or other of them is
mentioned, and Boswell shows anxiety both for their present happiness
and for their future welfare. Malone, in answering a detractor of
Boswell's, says:

    This writer acknowledges that he was an affectionate father;
    he was more; he was extremely liberal and indulgent to his
    children, having, for some years past, expended out of his
    moderate income, £300 a year to educate his two sons, one at
    Eton and the other at Westminster, and one of his daughters
    at a boarding-school: to effect which he confined his own
    personal expenses within the narrowest bounds.

That Boswell could stint himself in this way for his children shows a
larger degree of self-sacrifice than might be expected from one of his
extravagant tastes. It shows also a development in his character. The
old passion for being conspicuous could now be put aside for the sake
of his children.

Boswell, in fact, became less extravagant and affected towards the end
of life. He was less often carried away by his 'warm imagination.' He
lived less in his 'castles in the air,' and nearer the solid earth.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next cause of this development is not far to seek. It lies in the
result of the main struggle in Boswell's life. Truth had won the day.
The irrepressible quality of Boswell's genius had triumphed in spite
of his commonplace aims and the conventionality of his beliefs and
standards; and it had found its expression in biography. The nature
of that triumph reacted inevitably upon Boswell. The highest of his
qualifications for writing the 'Life of Johnson' was simply honesty.
He was honest about human nature. He had related without omission and
without perversion the story of a man as he had witnessed it. All his
powers of observing and of judging character had been brought to bear
upon the great work of his life. His own character had developed in
the process. It is impossible for a man to concentrate all his mind
upon the effort to understand the human being, without involving
himself in his investigations; and Boswell was no exception. He
had always been interested in his own character, though in a rather
uncritical fashion; and no doubt, as often happens, his knowledge
of others began with himself. He was himself both the primer of
psychology and the standard for comparison, upon which his whole view
of individuals was based; and it is often clear, when he is discussing
some moral question, that he has his own case in mind. The 'Life of
Johnson' was necessarily concerned with Boswell in some degree; and
so it was that the author, when he came to record his observations
of Johnson and his friends and acquaintances, found that the process
which he applied to others was being applied to himself.

Nothing in Boswell's 'Life of Johnson' is more remarkable, as nothing
is more charming, than the author's candour when his own person is
concerned. He does not obtrude himself upon the reader's notice;
he relates the events quite naturally as they occurred. And though
Boswell was not a little vain, he was able to relate what was not
to his credit. Most of the stories of Boswell's folly we know from
himself. He has recorded the sledge-hammer blows of Johnson provoked
by his own absurdity; he has told us of occasions when he lacked
in manners, even when, more than once, he was drunk in a lady's
drawing-room; he has described at length, in the 'Tour to the
Hebrides,' the story of a carouse at Corrichatachin, and has not
failed to mention how very ill he felt next morning, and how much he
dreaded Johnson's rebuke; it is in his own account that we read of
the ridiculous figure he cut in a storm at sea; it is from his own
correspondence with Johnson that we learn of all the weaknesses that
earned the Doctor's reproof.

Boswell was perfectly conscious of his folly when he allowed us to
see the absurdity of his behaviour. He was sometimes conscious, at
the moment, of provoking ridicule. Occasionally, as he takes care to
explain, he deliberately planned his own discomfiture:

    Desirous of calling Johnson forth to talk and exercise his
    wit, though I should myself be the object of it, I resolutely

This was a common attitude. It has been discussed before in these
pages with reference to Boswell's biographical method. Boswell even
mentions once that he spoke 'with an assumed air of ignorance, to
incite him to talk, for which it was often necessary to employ some
address.' He realised well enough that he made the best possible foil
to Johnson. And if he was able to understand his position in these
undignified moments, still more must he have been conscious of it
when he allowed his records to be printed many years afterwards in the
'Life.' He tells us as much himself in the Dedication to Sir Joshua

    In one respect, this Work will, in some passages, be different
    from the former. In my 'Tour,' I was almost unboundedly open
    in my communications, and from my eagerness to display the
    wonderful fertility and readiness of Johnson's wit, freely
    shewed to the world its dexterity, even when I was myself the
    object of it. I trusted that I should be liberally understood,
    as knowing very well what I was about, and by no means as
    simply unconscious of the pointed effects of the satire. I
    own, indeed, that I was arrogant enough to suppose that the
    tenour of the rest of the book would sufficiently guard me
    against such a strange imputation. But it seems I judged too
    well of the world; for, though I could scarcely believe it, I
    have been undoubtedly informed, that many persons, especially
    in distant quarters, not penetrating enough into Johnson's
    character, so as to understand his mode of treating his
    friends, have arraigned my judgement, instead of seeing that I
    was sensible of all that they could observe.

    It is related of the great Dr. Clarke, that when in one of his
    leisure hours he was unbending himself with a few friends in
    the most playful and frolicksome manner, he observed Beau Nash
    approaching; upon which he suddenly stopped. 'My boys (said
    he) let us be grave: here comes a fool.' The world, my friend,
    I have found to be a great fool, as to that particular, on
    which it has become necessary to speak very plainly. I have,
    therefore, in this Work been more reserved; and though I tell
    nothing but the truth, I have still kept in my mind that the
    whole truth is not always to be exposed. This, however, I have
    managed so as to occasion no diminution of the pleasure which
    my Book should afford; though malignity may sometimes be
    disappointed of its gratifications.

Boswell's statement speaks for itself. He realised as well as anyone
his own vanity and affectation. It had been necessary when
writing Johnson's 'Life' to apply the searching light of truth
indiscriminately. Boswell had not flinched from applying it to
himself: on the contrary it amused him to do so. He enjoyed his own
absurdities as he enjoyed those of Johnson himself and of every other
figure portrayed with good-humoured ridicule in the course of his
great book. Boswell, we may be sure, laughed wherever his readers may
laugh: indeed his readers laugh at all only because he himself laughed
so whole-heartedly.

Assuredly the laughter which comes when the searching light is turned
inwards is not without a lasting effect. The desire for dignity in
some measure is with most men almost an instinct. It is rare for a man
to perceive that he has been ridiculous without a blush, even though
he smile; and the result of such perception is almost invariably
preventive; the absurdity must not be repeated. Boswell was able to
laugh at himself more whole-heartedly than the majority. But the mere
fact of looking inwards with the seeing glance was certain to arrest
him in moments of absurdity; and the necessity, as it appeared to
him, of writing out an account of himself in the most undignified
situations made his realisation more vivid and the inevitable tendency
more sure.

And so, in the end, the truth of Boswell, his innate and unquenchable
candour, not only won a victory, but spoiled the enemy. We may
observe, if we care to, that the natural development has taken place.
Much of the old affectation has disappeared. Boswell, to the last, is
still tempted to give rein to that 'warm imagination'; but now as
a rule the impulse is checked with a smile by a moment of
self-consciousness. The development is clearly to be seen in the
'Letters to Temple,' and one instance will suffice to illustrate
his attitude. Boswell, when telling of his intention of visiting
Auchinleck, for the purpose related before in these pages of choosing
a minister for the parish, cannot refrain from exclaiming in the
old manner, 'Only think, Temple, how serious a duty I am about to
discharge!' But then comes the inward glance and Boswell laughs:

    I, James Boswell, Esq.--you know what vanity that name
    includes!--I have promised to come down on purpose, and his
    Honour's goodness is gratefully acknowledged.

Boswell was not systematic in his self-examination; but he came to
know himself with a truer judgment than most men have where self is
concerned. His principles had been ill carried out; his ideals had not
been comprehensive. He had neglected the personal discipline which we
look to see in men of power and in men who have accomplished important
matters; he had neglected to train his mind to deal with all the
problems of life. His grasp upon the whole scheme of things was
feeble, as his control of himself was limited. And yet this knowledge
of self with the good-humoured laugh--and it was not unaccompanied by
fervent regret for his weakness, and anxious piety--this knowledge,
which is the key to all right knowing, was a fitting achievement for
one whose predominant interest was Human Nature, and whose prevailing
passion was Truth.

    [Footnote 1: Boswell's literary executors were Temple, Malone,
    and Sir William Forbes. 'The three persons,' says Dr. Rogers,
    'nominated as literary executors did not meet, and the entire
    business of the trust was administered by Sir William Forbes,
    Bart., who appointed as his law-agent Robert Boswell,
    Writer to the Signet, cousin-german of the deceased. By that
    gentleman's advice Boswell's manuscripts were left to the
    disposal of his family, and it is believed that the whole were
    immediately destroyed. The Commonplace-book escaped, having
    been accidentally sold among the printed books.'

    I believe there is still at Auchinleck the manuscript of a
    diary and some letters, but I have not been permitted to see
    them. Undoubtedly Boswell must have left far more than these.]

    [Footnote 2: The quotation is from a letter, quoted before in
    these pages, which appeared in the _Gentleman's Magazine_ for
    June 1795; it is clearly written by one of Boswell's friends,
    and the signature 'C.' suggests Courtenay. Dr. Rogers accepts
    it as by him.]

    [Footnote 3: Quoted in Dr. Rogers's _Memoir_ with reference to
    _Traditions of Edinburgh_, 1869, p. 74. I have not verified.]

    [Footnote 4: _Records of my Life_, by John Taylor, Esq., 1832,
    i, 214.]

    [Footnote 5: Nichols' _Literary History_, vii, 303-13.]

    [Footnote 6: _Gentleman's Magazine_, June, 1795.]

    [Footnote 7: _Life of Reynolds_, ii, 636.]

    [Footnote 8: Nichols' _Literary Anecdotes_, iii, 192.]

    [Footnote 9: See Nichols' _Literary History_, v, 456-7.]

    [Footnote 10: _Letters to Temple_, p. 272.]

    [Footnote 11: _James Boswell_, by W. K. Leask, p. 155.]

    [Footnote 12: For an account of Boswell's family, see Dr.
    Rogers in _Boswelliana_, pp. 192-7.]



  Aberbrothick, 245

  Academy, 303

  Account of Corsica, 56-64, 114, 178^16, 268, 275, 276, 302, 317

  Adam, Mr. R. B., 251^5

  Adamtown, 93, 100

  Address to the Real Freeholders of the County of Ayr, 177

  Akerman, 251

  Aldus, 30

  America, 181

  Arbuthnot, 118

  Argyll, Duke of, 35

  Aristotle, 157

  Ashbourne, 272

  Auchinleck, 6, 91, 92, 105, 133, 136, 165, 166, 168, 301^1, 311,
              318-9, 325

  Auchlinleck, Lord, 7, 8, 9, 76, 83, 162-6, 171, 175, 218

  Ayrshire, 176, 177, 318


  Baden, 50

  Bagnal, Miss, 309, 310

  Bar, the English, 84, 137, 167-172, 310

  ----, the Scottish, 80, 82, 84, 85, 105, 133, 162, 164, 166, 168,
              171, 174, 186, 203

  Barbauld, Mrs., 66

  Barclay, Mr., 266

  Baretti, 38, 108, 248, 303

  Barrington, Mr. Daines, 251

  Beattie, Dr., 214

  Beauclerk, 86, 106, 107, 108, 262

  ----, Lady Di, 107, 261

  Bedford, Duke of, 74

  ----, Duchess of, 74

  Birrell, Rt. Hon. A., 252^6

  Blacklock, Rev. Mr., 19

  Blair, Miss, 64, 91-7, 100

  Bolingbroke, 118

  Bosville, Miss, 91, 95, 98-9

    Accent in speaking English, 21;
    accuracy, 228, 267-82;
    actor, 24;
    advertisement, 65, 76, 199;
    affectation, 103, 132, 157-8, 184-94, 221, 224, 320-1, 326;
    ambition, 12-13, 39, 59, 61-4, 74-6, 80, 160; 166-208 _passim_,
        especially 166-8, 170, 174-6; 209, 217, 226, 301, 310, 311;
    amours, 14, 88-100;
    animosities, 237-8, 241;
    artistic qualities, 2, 61-4, 283-4, 287-93;
    authenticity, 229, 267, 269-70, 282;
    autobiography, 300;
    Bachelors, views on, 89;
    biography, 1-4, 21, 59-60, 67, 77, 93, 118, 128, 135, 144, 159;
                227-99 _passim_,
        especially 231, 235-6, 247, 265-6, 267, 284^1; 313-8;
    boasting, 204-5;
    boyishness--boy longer than others, 16, 163, 208;
    buffoonery, 28, 65-6, 199, 246;
    Candour, 38-9, 60, 64, 86, 118, 208, 209, 212-13, 302, 303, 322, 325;
    castles in the air, 12, 190, 310;
    ceremonial, love of, 137, 171;
    childhood, 6-9;
    cleverness, 18-19, 30;
    collection of original poems, B. contributes, 25, 27;
    commonplace book, _see_ Boswelliana;
    consciousness of absurdity, 321-6;
    conspicuousness, 171, 204, 320;
    controversy about, 4-5;
    conventionality, 136-7, 146-50, 320,
      _see also_ respectability;
    conventions, disregard of, _see_ rudeness;
    cow, B. imitates, 29;
    criticism of literature, 109;
    curiosity, 72, 129, 131, 173-4, 208, 266;
    Death, 300;
    dedication, addressed to, 22;
    dignity, 62, 97, 121, 265, 305, 324-5;
    diligence, _see_ industry;
    disappointment, 17, 66, 133, 161, 168, 170, 219, 226, 311-2, 317;
    drinking habits, 15, 127, 220, 223-6, 227-8, 311;
    Eccentricity, 172;
    egoism, 73, 75, 77, 80, 195-6;
    essays, 139-44;
    executions, present at, 172-4;
    experiments, 129;
      of disposition, 31, 54, 64, 77, 83, 141, 184-94, 320-1,
      _see also_ affectation;
      in financial matters, 31, 163-4;
    Fame, _see_ reputation;
    family, 6, 30, 164, 218, 318-20;
    family life, 6-9, 105-6;
    father, _see_ Lord Auchinleck;
    fidelity, conjugal, 104;
    flattery, 45-6, 75;
    foolishness, 4-5, 38; 182-208 _passim_,
        especially 182, 184, 194, 206, 208; 216, 322;
    frankness, _see_ candour;
      as a young man, 10-16, 19-25:
      the Johnsonian circle, 106-12:
      at the close of life, 305-8;
    frolic, 28, 66;
    Gaiety, 16, 30-1, 52-4, 78, 138, 224, 304;
    generosity, 54, 79-80, 119, 320;
    genius, 5-6, 156-7, 210, 217, 224, 241, 247, 320;
    good-humour, 16, 47, 78, 86, 108, 119, 126, 138, 142, 304;
    good-nature, 22, 24, 79-80, 174, 214-6, 305;
    goodness, 144-5;
    'great man,' Boswell the, 74, 166, 204, 314;
    great men, admiration for and relations with, 50, 54, 55, 57, 67-77;
    Happiness, 147;
    hermit, taste for being a, 189;
    honesty, 157, 200, 321;
    human nature, Boswell's interest in, 24, 46, 69-73, 208, 211, 241,
              321, 326;
    humour, 3, 16, 30, 42, 131, 200-1, 203, 287-91, 308;
    hypochondria, _see_ melancholy;
    Ignorance of what others thought of him, 182-4, 216;
    images, 120, 144, 203;
    imagination, 26;
    inconstancy, 38, 92;
    indiscretion, _see_ candour;
    indulgence, 222-6;
    industry, 36, 82, 227-9, 247-52;
    insanity, 92, 225;
    interest in, 3-4;
    intolerance, 68, 71;
    Johnson, Dr. Samuel:
      admiration for, _see_ veneration;
      affection for, 48-9, 119, 131, 132, 153, 218-9, 306-8;
      conception of, as awful, 293-9;
      enjoyment of, 285-7, 291, 324;
      experiments with, 110-2, 257-66, 321-3;
      friendship with, 40-9, 112-34, 306-8;
      humiliated by, _see_ roughness;
      imitation of, 109, 144, 191-3;
      influenced by, 68, 150-61, 191;
      jealousy with regard to, 128;
      letters to, 48, 77-8, 79, 114, 115, 124, 188;
      letters from, 48, 58, 114, 124, 132, 155-7, 160, 166;
      loss by his death, 132-4, 218-9;
      quarrels with, 116-23;
      questions, 130, 258, 261;
      roughness to Boswell, 47, 116, 117, 118, 210-4, 259-66;
      talks freely to, 43, 44, 45, 47;
      tour in Hebrides with, 125-131, 260;
      veneration for, 36, 49, 109, 130, 238-9, 307;
      visit to Boswell's home, 7, 260;
    jokes, _see_ wit;
    journal, 21, 36, 227-8, 261, 268-76;
    Landlord, 318-9;
    law, 34-6, 76, 79, 80-5, 87, 105, 125, 133, 162, 164, 166-72,
               203, 219, 310;
    lawyers, relations with, 162, 164, 169-72, 203, 205;
      to Burke, 179-87;
      to Chatham, 75-6, 179-82;
      to Erskine, 30-3;
      to Johnson, _see_ Johnson under Boswell;
      Temple, quoted, 11, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 21, 34, 35, 70, 78^6,
              82^10, 100-1,  104^15-16, 113, 153, 155, 163, 164, 165,
              167^1, 168, 169^2-3, 170, 172, 173, 175, 177^10-12,
              178^14-17, 183-4, 185-6, 204, 207, 218, 219^3, 220, 221,
              222, 223^6, 226, 230, 231^5-6, 300, 310-12, 320, 325;
    literary executors, 300^1;
    literature, interest in, 11, 18, 20, 25, 35, 46, 53, 193-4, 230,
      B. visits, 17, 25, 124, 218;
      love of, 34, 69, 105, 167, 168, 218;
    Marriage, 88, 89-90, 100-4, 133, 164, 309-10;
    meeting with Johnson, 16, 17, 40-4;
    melancholy, 30, 124, 132, 138, 140-1, 157, 187, 224-6;
    memorandising, 21-2, 246, 266-74;
    modesty, 57;
    morality, interest in, 9, 46, 159, 188, 206, 233-7;
    mother, 6;
    Notebook, _see_ memorandising;
    Observation, powers of, 183, 217, 242-7, 257-62;
    ode to Tragedy, 25, 29, 30;
    opinions about himself, 28, 29, 30;
    optimism, 142-3, 229-30;
    Patron of the drama, 22-3;
    patrons, 175-6, 178-84, 200;
      affectation of, 13, 17, 32, 75, 94, 173;
      views of life, 88, 147-50, 187-8, 285;
    pleasure an object of life, 88, 147;
    poetry, Boswell's, 25-7, 200-2;
    politics, 133, 137, 174-82, 209, 219, 310-11;
    popularity, 304-5;
    prejudices, 136-7, 153;
    pride, 30, 116, 164, 179, 204, 253;
    profession chosen, 34-5;
    profligacy, 14-15;
    prologue, Boswell writes one for Ross, 24;
    proof-sheets, 250-1;
    property, 136-7, 166, 218;
    publications, 25-7, 29-32, 59-66, 81, 82, 133, 176, 209, 310;
      conversations, 227, 242, 266;
      observations, 217;
    religion, 9, 22, 36-7, 147-50, 188-9, 206;
    reputation, 1, 39, 58, 61, 66, 172, 199, 209, 213-4, 300-4, 314, 317;
    respectability, 37-9, 62, 105, 150-61, 166, 209, 236-7;
    rivals, 237-8;
    romantic, 31, 186;
    rudeness, 38, 252-5, 266;
    satisfaction with literary work, 229-33, 313-8;
    scholar, 189;
    school, 10;
    scientific spirit, 241, 256-66;
    selfish, 15;
    self-revelation, 14, 139;
    sentimentality, 39, 184-6,
      _see also_ affectation;
    seriousness, 140-2;
    shorthand, 270;
    simplicity, 182, 204, 206;
      to Corsican peasants, 52-3:
      at mayoralty dinner, 197-9;
      songs of his own composition, 204;
    snobbishness, 71-7,
      _see also_ under Boswell, 'great men';
    social qualities, 16, 24, 30-1, 46, 52-4, 86, 108, 126, 206, 304-5,
    solemnity, 192;
    Tablets, _see_ memorandising;
    talks very freely, 43, 44, 64, 204-8;
    taste, 22;
    tenants, 79, 318-9;
    Tory, a, 8, 137, 153, 176, 181;
    travels on the Continent, 50-8, 93, 125;
    truth, Boswell's attitude towards, 38-9, 118, 210, 216, 228, 233,
                  236-7, 241, 249, 255, 284-5, 294, 324-6;
    Vanity, 38, 73, 77, 103, 194-7, 205, 206, 316, 322, 326;
    verse, _see_ poetry;
    vows, 99, 223;
    Wife, _see_ Mrs. Boswell;
    will, 216, 318-9;
    wit, 200-3, 308

  Boswell, Mrs., 84, 100-4, 219-22, 309

  Boswell, Robert, 300^1

  'Boswelliana,' 79^7, 190, 200, 203, 214^2, 274-82, 301^1

  Boydell, Alderman, 197

  British Essays to the Brave Corsicans, 78

  Browning, 1

  Burke, Edmund, 106, 107, 108, 150, 179-182

  Burney, Miss, 21, 108, 128, 130, 191-2, 237, 246-7, 253-4, 255,
                263-5, 268^1, 290, 294-5, 298

  ----, Dr., 130

  Burns, 20

  Bute, Lord, 248

  Byron, 1


  Cadogan, Lord, 315

  Cambridge University, 21

  Campbell, Dr. Thomas, 130

  ---- diary of, 130^7

  Carlisle, 170, 175

  ---- Recorder, 176, 179, 301

  Carlyle, 2, 5

  Catherine II. of Russia, 251

  Charlemont, Lord, 288

  Chatham, Earl of, 75-6, 178, 179, 182, 187, 189

  Chesterfield, Lord, 248

  Church of England, 9

  Cicero, 53, 142

  Clarke, Dr., 323

  'Cocker's Arithmetic,' 245

  'Collection of Original Poems,' 19, 27

  College upon Roman Antiquities, 35

  Commonplace book, Boswell's, _see_ 'Boswelliana'

  Corrichatachin, 127, 322

  Corsica, 51-60, 65-6, 74-8, 114, 195

  Corsican Journal, _see_ account of Corsica

  Courtenay, 215, 220, 299, 304^2, 306

  Covent Garden, 23

  Crichton, the Admirable, 30

  Croker, 118

  Cromwell, 7

  'Cub at Newmarket,' 26, 27


  Dalrymple, Sir David, 17, 21, 73, 178

  D'Arblay, Madame, diary of, _see under_ Miss Burney

  Davies, Tom, 40-2, 44, 291-2

  Dempster, George, 19, 33, 151, 230, 306

  Derrick, 25, 40

  Dictionary, Johnson's, 1, 243, 274

  'Dictionary of National Biography,' 176^6

  Dilly, Charles, 19, 111, 202, 248, 306

  Dilly, Edward, 188

  Dodd, Dr., 79

  Douglas, Mr., 81

  Douglas Cause, 81-4

  'Dorando: a Spanish Tale,' 82

  Drury Lane Theatre, 20, 23, 29

  Dunciad, 118

  Dundas, 179

  Dunn, Mr., 9


  Edinburgh, 6, 12, 17, 19, 20, 23, 24, 27, 34, 84, 90, 95, 103, 123

  Edinburgh, traditions of, 304^3

  Edinburgh University, 10, 12, 17, 20, 35, 89

  Eglinton, Earl of, 26, 100, 177, 178, 197

  Eldon, Lord Chancellor, 169

  'Elegy on the Death of an Amiable Young Lady,' 25, 26

  England, 85, 87, 106, 210, 220

  Epictetus, 188

  'Epistle of a London Buck to his Friend,' 27

  Erskine, Honourable Andrew, 19, 20, 25, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33

  Eton, 216, 320


  Ferney, 50, 54

  Fitzgerald's 'Life of Boswell,' 81^9, 82^11, 83^12, 177^9, 199,
              200^35, 204^36, 212, 273, 278, 290^4

  Flanders, 315

  Fleet ditch, 240

  Foote, 207

  Forbes, Sir William, 214, 275, 300^1, 306

  France, 235

  Franklin, Dr., 74

  Frederick the Great, 54

  Froude, 1


  Garrick, 23, 43, 44, 61, 74, 107, 109, 262

  Gay, 118

  Gentleman, Francis, 22, 25

  'Gentleman's Magazine,' 61^8, 63^10, 178^13, 215, 225^7, 304^2,
                306^6, 307

  Gibbon, 68

  Gilmour, Sir Alexander, 97

  Glasgow, 22

  ---- University, 17, 36

  Glenelg, 122

  Goldsmith, 106, 108, 179

  Goldsmith, Prior's Life of, 195^33, 206^38

  Graham, 201

  Gray, 4, 11, 12, 94, 109, 302

  ----, Mason's Life of, 231-2

  Greenwich, 268

  Guards, 34


  Hackman, 173

  Hailes, Lord, 17, 36, 69, 268

  Hamlet, 41

  Harris, 35

  Harwich, 48

  Hawkins, Sir John, 107, 108, 227^1, 237, 290, 302

  Hebrides, 172, 211

  Henley, W. E., 'Views and Reviews,' 284^3

  Hill, Dr. George Birkbeck, 58, 250-1, 276, 290, 293

  Hodge, 244

  Holcroft, Thomas, Memoirs of, 252

  Home Circuit, 310

  Homer, 2

  Howard, 98

  Hume, David, 18, 35, 53, 68, 69, 70, 71, 74, 151, 175, 207

  Hypochondriack, the [in 'London Magazine'], 124, 137-44, 145-6, 147,
              148, 224


  Inner Temple, 137, 167

  Ireland, 22

  Ireland, Mr., 193-4


  James, King, 8

  Jockey Club, 26

  Johnson, Lionel, 189

  Johnson, Samuel:
    better known to us than other literary men, 1-2;
    interest in, 3-4;
    argument with Lord Auchinleck, 7;
    retort to Mr. Dunn, 9;
    Temple contrasted with, 13;
    condemnation of Dempster, 19;
    commends Boswell's accent, 21;
    opinion of Derrick, 25;
    great writer, 36;
    becomes friends with Boswell, 40-50;
    conversation, 45-7;
    liked admiration, 45;
    strength of personality, 49;
    Frederick the Great and Voltaire, 54;
    compared with Paoli, 56-8;
    approves Boswell's adventures in Corsica, 58;
    opinion of Boswell's account of Corsica, &c., 59;
    opinion of Gibbon and condemnation of 'infidelity,' 68 _seq._;
    talks of going to Sweden, 71;
    dines with Boswell, 74;
    writes on behalf of Mr. Dodd, 79;
    legal help to Boswell, 83-4;
    on Scotchmen, 85-7, on Mrs. Boswell, 100-1;
    Mrs. Boswell's opinion of, 102;
    the Johnsonian circle, 106 _seq._;
    meeting with Wilkes arranged, 110-12;
    friendship with Boswell, 112-34;
    lack of sympathy and blunt advice, 114;
    irritated by Boswell, 115;
    quarrels, 116-24;
    no venom in his wounds, 120;
    very angry, 121;
    in the Hebrides, 125 _seq._;
    at Streatham, 128;
    at Lochbuy, 129;
    use of images, 144;
    influence on Boswell, 150-61;
    conventional prejudices, 153 _seq._;
    talks for victory, 121, 153-4;
    truth, honesty, 155, 201;
    dislikes affectation, 157-8;
    a moralist, 159-60;
    Lord Auchinleck's opinion of, 165;
    on Lord Auchinleck as Boswell's father, 166;
    knows nothing of Scotch law, 171;
    view of Boswell's attendance at executions, 173;
    discourages Boswell's political ambitions, 175;
    Boswell's imitation of, 191-2;
    'just frown,' 155, 201;
    _mot_ about Boswell's boasting, 204;
    fear of death, 206;
    Gargantua, 207;
    records of the tour in the Hebrides, 209-14;
    little taste for rural beauties, 210;
    interest in human nature, 211;
    remarks on his host's avarice, 212-13;
    introduced to Temple, 215;
    moral support, 222;
    melancholy, 225;
    faults of the great moralist, 233-4;
    love of truth applied to biography, 235-7;
    Hawkins' Life, and Mrs. Thrale's Memoirs, 237-8;
    Boswell's conception of, 238-40;
    description of, 242;
    physical characteristics, 244;
    his cat, 244-5;
    Latin quotations, 245;
    presents a Highland lass with 'Cocker's Arithmetic,' 245;
    letter to Lord Chesterfield, 248;
    his pension, 248-9;
    gay Sam, 254, 295;
    a great talker, 256;
    not expansive, 257;
    baited by Boswell, 259;
    the subject of Boswell's experiments, 260 _seq._;
    questioned by Boswell, 261 _seq._;
    helps Boswell in his biographical work, 272;
    the Johnsonian æther, 286-7;
    the dictator, 288-93;
    dancing lessons, 288;
    the element of humour, 289;
    his humanity and tenderness, 291;
    Tom Davies put down, 292;
    his 'awfulness,' 293-8;
    Miss Burney's account, 294 _seq._;
    his gallantry, 294-5;
    his rebuke to Hannah More, 295;
    his kindness, 295;
    the dogmatist, 296;
    pompousness and playfulness, 297;
    his 'formality,' 298;
    public interest in, 302;
    his share in Boswell's great work, 315-6;
    talked about, 317;
    fertility and readiness of his wit, 323;
    _See also under_ Boswell.

  Johnson, Boswell's Life of:
    universality, 2-3;
    self-expression in, 14;
    'Tour in Corsica' compared with, 59-60;
    tells a story of friendship, 113;
    attitude towards Johnson involved, 131;
    not a complete expression of Boswell's views, 137;
    proves Boswell's ability, 138;
    an edifying book, 145;
    humour, 201;
    Malone the first editor, 210^1;
    connection of the 'Tour to the Hebrides' with, 217, 227-8;
    not the official life, 227^1;
    industry of the author, 227-9;
    Malone revises, 229-30;
    Boswell's conviction that it will be a masterpiece, 229-33;
    his conception of, 231-3;
    nature of moral purpose in, 233-7;
    Boswell's conception of Johnson's character, 238-41;
    his qualifications, 242 _seq._;
    his care, 247-5;
    the proof-sheets, 250-1;
    interest in Johnson's talk, 256;
    the author's questions and experiments, 258-66;
    his note-taking, 266 _seq._,
      _see_ Boswell;
    compiled from documents not extant, 273;
    the process of Johnsonising, 278-82;
    artistic nature of the representation, 283-93;
    the 'shades' in Johnson's character emphasised, 286;
    the comedy scenes, 288-92;
    is Boswell's Johnson in any degree his own invention? 293-9;
    Boswell's account accepted as the truth, 299;
    contains occasional autobiography, 300;
    solidifies Boswell's reputation, 303;
    Malone prepares the third edition, 307;
    Malone's opinion of, 308;
    additions and corrections, 313;
    its popularity and Boswell's triumph, 314-15;
    Dr. Johnson's share, 315-16;
    Boswell necessarily appears in, 321-2;
    the dedication, 324;
    _see also under_ Boswell, biography, &c.

  'Journey to the Western Islands,' 87, 236


  Kames, Lord, 18

  Keats, 1

  Killaloe, Bishop of, 289

  King George III., 177, 182, 196, 255, 295

  King of Prussia, 191


  Langton, 106, 119, 248, 266, 281-2, 293

  Leask, W. K., James Boswell, 313^11

  Letters between the Honourable Andrew Erskine and James Boswell, Esq.,
              30, 31, 32, 33

  Letters, Boswell's political, 136-7, 176-7, 195

  Letters to Temple, _see under_ Boswell

  Lettsom, Dr., 202

  Lisburne, 178

  Literary Club, 68, 106-7, 133

  Literature, _see under_ Boswell

  'Lives of the Poets,' 109

  Lochbuy, 129, 131, 260

  ----, Lady, 129

  Lockhart, 1

  London, 17, 20, 25, 34, 36, 97, 103, 105, 106, 124, 165, 167, 168,
                177, 182, 189, 218-19, 229, 306, 307, 318

  'London Magazine,' 8, 46^3, 65, 102, 103, 124, 137, 138,
                148^2-3, 157

  Lonsdale, Lord, 175-6, 179

  Loughborough, Lord, 248-9

  Love, Mr., 20, 21, 22

  Lowe, Mr., 252-3,


  Macaulay, Lord, 2, 4, 5

  ----, Mrs., 61, 262

  Macdonald, Sir Alexander (afterwards Lord), 212-14, 216

  Mallet's 'Elvira,' 33

  ----, critical strictures on, 33

  Malone, Edmund, 47, 48, 107, 171, 210, 215, 220, 225, 229-30, 300^1,
                305-8, 313, 320

  Mamhead, 10, 215

  Marlborough, Duke of, 315

  Mason, 11, 231-2

  Maxwell, Jeany, 96

  Mayo, Dr., 191

  McLeod, Colonel, 72

  Meadows, Captain, 74

  Melancthon, 188

  Michael Angelo, 145

  Milton, 2, 145

  Mitchell, Sir Andrew, 50, 178

  Molière, 2

  Monboddo, Lord, 261

  Monckton, Miss, 201-2, 204

  Montaigne, 299

  Montgomerie, Miss, 100, 197

  Montrose, Lord, 201

  More, Hannah, 109, 237, 284, 289, 295

  ----, Memoirs of, 109,^3

  Mounsey, Dr., 291-2

  Mountstuart, Lord, 178

  Mull, 205

  Murphy, 68, 248-9, 302


  Nash, Beau, 324

  Newgate, 174

  Newmarket, 26, 27

  Nichols, John, 185

  ----, 'Literary Anecdotes of the XVIIIth Century,' 178^13, 306^8

  ----, 'Literary History,' 132^9, 306^5, 307^9

  ----, 'Literary Illustrations of the XVIIIth Century,' 176^6, 231^7,

  Northern Circuit, 17, 21, 169, 268

  Northumberland, Duke of, 292


  'Ode to Gluttony,' 31

  'Ode to Tragedy,' 25, 29, 30

  Odyssey, 235, 315

  Oglethorpe, General, 74

  Othello, 95, 258


  Paoli, General, 51, 53, 55-60, 67, 69, 70, 74, 75, 76, 197, 189, 215,
                267-8, 275, 306

  Paris, 53

  Parnell, 234

  Parr, Dr., 251

  Paul, the Apostle, 234

  Pembroke, Earl of, 74, 178

  Pennant, Mr., 235

  Pepys' Diary, 33

  Percy, Bishop, 132^9, 175, 176^6, 231-2, 284, 291-2

  Piozzi, Mrs., _see_ Mrs. Thrale

  Pitt, William (the younger), 183, 196, 197-200

  Pocock's Johnsonian Catalogue, 273

  Pope, 118

  Presbyterian, Boswell's father a, 7

  Prince of Wales, 177

  Pringle, Sir John, 74

  Prussia, 50

  Pythagoras, 64


  Racine, 2

  Raleigh, Professor, 5, 40, 86

  Rambler, 127, 238, 297, 299

  Reynolds, Sir Joshua, 106, 108, 116, 118, 119, 173, 216, 220, 249,
                259, 291, 299, 306, 323

  ----, Life of, 73^3, 108^1, 303

  Robertson, Dr., 18, 191, 259

  Rochefoucauld, 56

  Rogers, Rev. Charles, LL.D., Memoir of James Boswell, 22, 23, 92^14,
                176^6, 225^7, 300, 304^2, 319

  Roman Catholic, Boswell a, 37

  Ross, Mr. David, 23, 24, 25

  Rousseau, 19, 50, 51, 69, 93, 151

  Rudd, Mrs., 73^3, 173

  Russia, 311


  Sallust, 53

  Saxe-Gotha, 50

  Schwellenberg, Mrs., 255

  Scotland, 24, 30, 42, 78, 85, 87, 105, 106, 111, 127, 165, 167, 168,
                169, 209, 210, 235-6

  Scott, Sir Walter, 2, 7, 85, 174, 225

  Seccombe, Mr., 11, 15, 215

  Select Society, 19, 20

  Seward, 128

  Shakespeare, 2, 65, 193, 195, 297

  Shaw, Dr., 251

  Shelley, 1

  Shenstone's 'Pastoral on Absence,' 32, 33

  Sheridan, Mr. Thomas, 248-9, 279

  Skye, 122

  'Slavery, No Abolition of,' 310

  Smith, Adam, 17, 68

  Soaping Club, 27, 28

  Somerville, Lord, 178

  Southern's 'Tragedy of Oroonoco,' 22

  Southill, 248

  St. Gluvias, 10

  Stone, Mr., 251

  St. Paul's, 100, 137, 142

  Stratford, Shakespeare Jubilee at, 65-6, 204

  Streatham, 128, 263

  Stuart, Lord Mount, 50

  Sweden, 71

  Swift, 118, 292


  Taylor, John, 197-8, 304

  ----, records of, 198^34, 305^4

  ----, Tom, 'Life of Reynolds,' 73^3, 108, 303

  Temple, William, 10-16, 61, 64, 70, 73, 79, 81, 84, 88, 92, 96, 98,
            100, 178, 183, 185-6, 187, 215, 225^7, 300^1, 306, 309-12

  ----, 'Essay on the Clergy,' 11

  Temple, William, Boswell's letters to, _see_ Boswell

  Temple Bar, 240

  Temple Gate, 240

  Templeton, John, 319

  Tennyson, 1

  Terentia, 53

  Thérèse le Vasseur, 53

  Thrale, Mrs., 72, 100, 108, 126, 237-8, 259, 266-7, 302

  ----, Anecdote of Dr. Johnson, 237

  ----, Autobiography, Letters, &c., 72^2, 258^1, 284^1

  ----, Johnson's letters to, 126, 176^6

  Tory, Boswell a, 8, 137, 153, 176, 177, 181

  Tour to the Hebrides, 7, 68, 71^1, 78, 107, 121-3, 125-7, 131, 190,
              201, 205, 209-18, 227-8, 230, 234, 245, 257, 269^4,
              270^5, 297-9, 302, 303, 307, 314, 322

  Tour in Corsica, _see_ account of Corsica

  Trelawney, Sir Jonathan, 97

  Trevelyan, Sir George, 1

  ----, 'Life of Fox,' 175^5

  Turbulent, Mr., 254

  Turks, 311

  Twalmley, 205

  Tyers, Tom, 257


  Ulysses, 315

  Utrecht, 50, 91, 155

  Uxoriana, 102


  Vestris, 288

  Vilette, Rev. Mr., 251

  Voltaire, 50, 54, 93, 149


  Walcot, 216

  Walpole, Horace, 61, 109, 302

  ----, Letters of, 109^2

  Warburton, 251

  Wedderburne, 248-9

  Wellesley, Marquess of, 118

  Westminster Hall, 168, 170, 215

  Westminster School, 320

  Whig, Boswell's father a, 7, 8

  ----, Boswell becomes a, 9

  Whitehead, Mason's Life of, 231

  Wilkes, Jack, 19, 50, 55, 69, 70, 110, 112, 117, 250, 282

  Williams, Miss, 43

  Wordsworth, 1

  Wren, Sir Christopher, 142


  York, 177

  York, Duke of, 26, 27

  Young's Night Thoughts, 188


  Zelide, 91, 95, 98

       *       *       *       *       *


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    _Daily Telegraph._--'The biography of the late King written by
    the Editor reviews the life from every standpoint, and makes
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Transcriber's note:

  The book contains some foreign words and a few old spellings, e.g.,
  'authour', 'tenour', etc., and also instances of hyphenated and
  non-hyphenated variants of some words. These have all been retained.

  Instances of both 'adhaesit' and 'adhæsit' appear in the text. Both
  have been retained.

  Punctuation is not always consistent. Some punctuation has been
  amended for conformity; sundry missing or damaged punctuation has been

  Page 28: Extraneous closing quote removed after "alive.'"

  "There is no better fellow alive."

  Page 56: 'Rochefoucault' is the spelling used by Boswell;
  Rochefoucauld appears in the Index. Both have been retained.

  Page 65: 'possble' corrected to 'possible'

  "... there can be no possible doubt that Boswell wrote it...."

  Page 108: 'Boswell:' changed to '_Boswell_:' for consistency.

    "... _Boswell_: 'They were afraid of you, Sir, as...."

  Page 200: 'compositon' corrected to 'composition'.

    "... and he was so vain that he was undoubtedly proud of what
    must have been an absurd composition."

  Page 336: 'Tory, Boswella corrected to 'Tory, Boswell a'

    "Tory, Boswell a, 8, 137, 153, 176, 177, 181"

  A few corrections have been made to page numbers in the index, some
  numbers (without a reference on the page) removed, and some added:
  The corrected number is after the name; The printed number is in

  Akerman, ... 251 (250)

    law ... (187)(204)
    lawyers ... 205 ()
      Temple, quoted ... 70 (69) ... 167^1 () ... (179)
      ... 185-186 (186)

  Eglinton, Earl of ... 197 (196)

  Graham, ... 201 (202)

  Hypochondriack, ... 145-6 (146)

  Samuel Johnson:
    talks for victory, ... 121 ()
    'just frown', ... 155 ()
    gay Sam, ... 254, 295 (246)

  Lisburne, ... 178 (179)

  Lochbuy, ... 260 (258)

  London Magazine, ... (69) (104)

  Lowe, ... (255)

  Macaulay, ... 2 (1) ... (61)

  Macaulay, Mrs., ... 61 ()

  Montgomerie, ... 100, 197 (98-9, 100)

  More, Hannah, ... 284 (283)

  Nichols, John,
  ----, 'Literary History,' ... 307^9 (308)

  Paoli, General, ... 67 (66) 187 ()

  Percy, Bishop, ... 284 (283)

  Reynolds, Sir Joshua, ... 249 (248) ... 259 (258)

  Robertson, Dr., ... 259 (258)

  Rogers, Rev. Charles, LL.D., Memoir of James Boswell, ... (216)

  Temple Gate ... 240 (229)

  Thrale, Mrs., ... (290), (295), (297)

  Turbulent, Mr., ... 254 (253)

  Tyers, Tom, ... 257 (256)

  Vilette, Rev. Mr., ... 251 (250)

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