John Boswell - brother of the great biographer

John Boswell

Born 1743
Died 1798

Biography: 

Son of Alexander Boswell and Euphemia Erskine, and the older of James Boswell's two younger brother.In 1760 he joined the Earl of Loudoun's 30th Regiment of Foot as an ensign. In 1762 he was listed as lieutenant. He retired from active duty in 1764, but received half an officer's salary for the rest of his life.

John Boswell suffered from a mental disorder since his teens, which affected him periodically.  In some periods of his life, he was treated by Dr. John Hall (1733-1793), and also stayed at Dr. Hall's private asylum, Saint Luke's House, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.1

A fictional version of John Boswell is the main character in Philip Baruth's 2009 novel "The Brothers Boswell".

  • 1. See f.ex. Howells & Osborn (1984). A Reference Companion to the History of Abnormal Psychology, A-L. Greenwood Press. p. 398.

Life with Boswell: 

John paid James a surprise visit on January 1, 1763. In his journal, Boswell describes how John had had a terrible time in the preceding months, but seemed to be rather well again. They also had breakfast together on January 6 and 7, 1763 (with William Maxwell) and had tea together on February 5 and 9, 1763. John left London again on Feb. 10, 1763.1

James, then in Berlin, received a letter from John on September 2, 1764 informing him of his choice to quit the army. Boswell was "vexed and angry[, b]ut recollecting his hypochondriac disposition, I resolved to make the best of it and be as kind to him as possible."

Following his confinement in Newcastle, Boswell saw only little of John. On April 9, 1777, he visited him together with Robert Boswell, writing afterwards that

[H]e was much better than I had seen seen him since he was confined. He talked quite sensibly of many little matters, asked how his father was, and if he was just oging on in the old way, and how David was when I heard from him, and when I heard [...]There was however a weakness about him, for he seemed to be much pleased with some oranges and snaps which I gave him, and asked me to send him a mutton pie and a whig (a kind of bread) from Newcastle. [etc.]

After the visit to his brother, Dr. Hall supped with Boswell at the inn, in which he stayed, telling him that "if [John] continued six months as he was at this time, he might go out; but that he should never be trusted by himself, but have always a discreet servant to attend him."2