Boswell's own publications

Life of Johnson (1791)

Long title: 

The Life of Samuel Johnson LL.D.

Book description: 

This is Boswell's magnum opus which has secured both his and Samuel Johnson's fame for posterity.

Boswell began work on the Life shortly after Johnson's death in 1784, but it wasn't completed until almost 7 years later.

The first edition, dedicated to Joshua Reynolds, was published in two volumes on May 16, 1791. An additional volume was published in 1794 and shortly thereafter a partly revised 2nd edition of the whole work. Boswell died in 1795, and so it was a friend of his and Johnson's - the Shakesperean scholar Edmond Malone - who edited some additional hitherto unpublished material into what is today known as the standard editions published in 1799 and 1804.

In 1831 was published a revised edition by John Croker, which was much ridiculed in a review by Thomas Macaulay. Macaulay's review is considered to have been chiefly responsible for Boswell's poor reputation from the 1830s until the discovery of his personal papers in the 1920s and 1930s. (Click here for a discussion of Boswell's reputation and Macauley's influence)

 

Editions: 

Life of Johnson is available in numerous editions, some heavily annotated, some plain paperbacks, some illustrated, some heavily edited. In recent years Yale has published the Life in their impressively annotated Research series.

Availability: 

An enormous number of copies in various editions ranging from very rare to cheap paperback are always available via AbeBooks.com - occassionally even 1791 first editions can be bought from there.

Literature: 

Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides (1785)

Long title: 

Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL. D. (1785)

Year of 1st publication: 

1785

Book description: 

Based on the personal journal of James Boswell, for which he became so famous almost two centuries later, this volume details the journey to the Hebrides in the late summer and autumn of 1773 of Boswell and his friend (Dr.) Samuel Johnson.

Following some initial remarks by Boswell about the setup and the preparations for the journey, the story begins on August 14, 1773 with Dr. Johnson's arrival at Boyd's Inn, Edinburgh, and ends with their taking leave of each other at the inn at Blackshiels about 15 miles south-east of Edinburgh on November 22, 1773.

Johnson published his own account of the journey as "A Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland" as early as 1775 - no mention of Boswell in the title - and it is interesting to compare the very different accounts the travelling companions gave of the same journey. Not that they contradict each other to any significant extent, but rather because it tells us a lot about the authors themselves. Johnson's account is in the style of the travellers' accounts so popular in those days, detailing historical facts and descriptions of the environment of the places visited. Boswell's account, on the other hand, is in the style of a journal - a personal account, detailing his thoughts and the social events and conservations he and Johnson had during the three months they spend together in Scotland. As such the two books complement each other beautifully.

Boswell narrowly avoided fighting a duel with Sir Alexander Macdonald, Bt. because of the account he gave of his and Johnson's reception at Armadale on Skye, and his personal observations on Sir Alexander and Lady Macdonald. His reputation was also somewhat tarnished because of the indiscretion he showed by printing sometimes verbatim accounts of personal conversations by or about people still living at the time of publication.

Editions: 

This is probably Boswell's most widely available work second only to his Life of Johnson. It has been reprinted numerous times since its initial publication in 1785.

Most useful to Boswell enthusiasts are probably the two William Heinemann editions published in 1936 and 1961 respectively. The 1936 was the first edition of a Boswell text based on the discovery of his manuscript notes discovered in the 1920s and 1930s which was made available to a wider audience. The 1961 edition is a reprint of the 1936 edition with a new introduction and numerous endnotes added to fully take advantage of the huge progress in research that had taken place since 1936. The first edition was edited by Charles Bennett and Frederick Pottle, while the last was completed by Pottle alone following Bennett's death in 1957.

Availability: 

Literally hundreds of copies, new and old, are available from AbeBooks.com.

Literature: 

The Hypochondriack (1777-1783)

Long title: 

The Hypochondriack

Book description: 

Originally published by Boswell under the pseudonym The Hypochondriack as a series of seventy essays in The London Magazine between 1777-1783.

Today, the Hypochondriack essays are among the least known of those works by Boswell that were originally published in his own life time. The collected essays were published in two editions in the 20th century, but in the words of R. G. Walker, "[e]ven the most rabid Boswellian [...] would admit that neither the two-volume edition nor the condensed version has sparked a revival of interest in these essays." 1

  • 1. Walker, Robert G. (2010) 'Addenda and Corrigenda to the Annotations of the Bailey Edition of Boswell's "Hypochondriack"'; English Studies, 91:3, 274 - 288.

Editions: 

The Hypochondriack essays have been published twice by Margery Bailey"The Hypochondriack" (1928) was a heavily annotated two volume work, about which one reviewer (R. S. Crane in Modern Philology) wrote that "in her zeal to leave nothing undone she has done too much. We could certainly spare some of her notes." The later one volume "Boswell's Column" (1951) contained all the original essays, but the introduction as well as the notes had been heavily reduced compared to the 1928 edition. 1

  • 1. Walker, Robert G. (2010) 'Addenda and Corrigenda to the Annotations of the Bailey Edition of Boswell's "Hypochondriack"'; English Studies, 91:3, 274 - 288.

Literature: 

An Account of Corsica (1768)

Long title: 

An Account of Corsica, The Journal of a Tour to That Island; and Memoirs of Pascal Paoli

Book description: 

After having travelled around Germany, Switzerland and Italy for a year, Boswell decided to go to the mediterranean island of Corsica in the fall of 1765. The island was at the time the scene of sporadic skirmishes between occupational forces from Genoa and France on the one side and a Corsican independence movement led by General Paoli on the other. Boswell gained passage from Italy to Corsica on an English ship, and joined only by his man-servant travelled to the interior of the island and the stronghold of the rebel forces. Here he met and befriended the rebel general, and took extensive notes of his visit, before he left again for the European mainland.

In 1768 Boswell published his account of the visit and of his meeting with Paoli, who had by then gone into exile in London and who was to be a lifelong friend of Boswell's.

The "Account of Corsica" secured Boswell's fame 23 years before the publication of his magnum opus the Life of Johnson, and he was known in wide circles as Corsica Boswell until his death.

Editions: 

The first and second editions were both published in 1768.

A complete an thoroughly annotated edition of Boswell's original work was published by Oxford University Press in 2006, edited by James T. Boulton and T. O. McLoughlin.

Availability: 

It is possible to acquire an original 1768 first edition of the book today, although they sell for about £400. Be aware that both the first and second editions of the book were published in 1768. These and later editions in all price ranges are available via AbeBooks.com.

Literature: 

Dorando, A Spanish Tale (1767)

Long title: 

Dorando, A Spanish Tale

Book description: 

A fictional tale published anonymously by Boswell in 1767 as a thinly disguised comment to the ongoing legal battle between AJE Stewart and the Duke of Hamilton over the Douglas estates.

Availability

Dorando has been reprinted in 1930, 1974 and 1977 by Elkin Mathews & Marrot, Puckerbrush Press and R. West respectively. Numerous copies are available via AbeBooks.com.

Literature: 

Letters Between Andrew Erskine and James Boswell (1763)

Long title: 

Letters Between the Honourable Andrew Erskine and James Boswell, Esq.

Book description: 

 

This work consists of most of the correspondence (edited) between Andrew Erskine and James Boswell from their first meeting in 1761 until November, 1762. It was printed by Chandler and published by William Flexney on April 12, 1763, described by Boswell as "the greatest day that Erskine and I ever saw" (LJ120463).

Their joy soon turned into some regret as the letters were being ridiculed (LJ140263) and criticized by some of their friends such as Lord Eglinton (LJ, p. 241, n. 1) for being too personal (crossing the boundaries between the private and the public). His father, Lord Auchinleck, did not like them either, complaining that "though it might pass between two intimate young lads in the same way that people over a bottle will be vastly entertained with one another's rant, it was extremely odd to send such a piece to the press to be perused by all and sundry" (Letter to JB from Lord Auchinleck, May 30, 1763). On June 1, 1763 their letters were critically reviewed by the Critical Review. The review wasn't positive, but it still surprised Boswell by not being all that abusive.

Some reviews were rather positive, though, among them one published (anonymously) in The London Chronicle on April 29, 1763 - when Boswell's papers were discovered in the 1920s it turned out that Boswell had actually written the review himself! (LJ, p. 249, n.2). Bonnell Thornton praised the correspondence in The Public Advertiser, and on May 24, 1763 Boswell went to see him for the first time. He was also introduced to John Wilkes and Charles Churchill (editors of The North Briton) at Thornton's on this day. Even the June edition of The Monthly Review apparently gave the letters a rather good critique. (LJ, p. 286, n. 3)

The work is hard to find today, but the letters themselves are all included in the recently published volume of Boswell's correspondence for the years 1757-1763. Both editions may be available via AbeBooks.com.

Literature: 

Critical Strictures (1763)

Long title: 

Critical Strictures on the New Tragedy of 'Elvira', written by Mr. David Malloch

Book description: 

Published anonymously in January 1763 by publisher William Flexney. Authored by Boswell, Andrew Erskine and George Dempster following their attendance of the opening night of David Mallet's tragedy Elvira on Drury Lane on 19/1-63. None of them liked the Scottish born playwright David Mallet who had changed his original Scottish name Malloch to the English Mallet.

The strictures weren't exactly critically acclaimed, and the publication of the pamphlet even caused some problems between Boswell and David Hume, due to Boswell's referring to a private conversation he'd had with Hume (about Mallet) shortly before leaving Scotland in november 1762. Thomas Sheridan called the strictures laughable (LJ080263), and in a letter to David Hume of March 1, 1763, Boswell himself wrote, that "the Reviews on our performance [held us] forth as both ... fools and as knaves". Nevertheless, the famous actor seemed to like the strictures, however. (LJ220363)

The work has been hard to come by, until in May 2005, Project Gutenberg published a free e-version of the book, based on a facsimile edition of the original which was made in 1952 by the Augustan Reprint Society. That same edition was reprinted in the the 1967 publication Prefaces to Fiction, also published by the Augustan Reprint Society. They are sometimes available from AbeBooks.com.

Click here to download Critical Strictures on the New Tragedy of 'Elvira' from Project Gutenberg.

Literature: 

The Cub at Newmarket (1762)

Long title: 

The Cub at Newmarket (1762)

Book description: 

Published by Dodsley in 1762, paid for by the author. The poem celebrated Boswell's first visit to London in 1760 and his introduction to London's social life and the Duke of York, to whom the work was dedicated (without permission). The Cub in mention was Boswell himself.

The poem was rather bad, and The Monthly Review said of it "From the sprightly Preface we expected very high entertainment in reading the Poem; but the humour of the piece being chiefly confined to the occasion and the place, we were much disappointed, as the meaning was scarce intelligible to us." (C. E. Vulliamy's James Boswell (1932), p. 9)

Having read Boswell's journals and later biographies we understand the poem clearly, but his contemporaries didn't have that advantage. (Of course, Lord Eglinton's name was deleted in the published edition, and it was published anonymously, so it would be very hard to learn anything from the poem)

The poem was dedicated to Edward Augustus, Duke of York (d. 1767). Early biographies (and even a later biography such as Vulliamy's James Boswell from 1932) thought Boswell had got the Duke's permission, but LJ 27/11-62 makes it clear, that this was not the case and the the Duke was not at all pleased. The actual dedication goes like this:

Dedication from the Cub at Newmarket (1762) 

TO

His ROYAL HIGHNESS

EDWARD

Duke of YORK

Sir,

PERMIT me to take this method of thanking your Royal Highness, for condescending to like the following Sketch. Or, in other Words, permit me to let the World know that this fame Cub has been laughed at by the Duke of YORK;---- has been read to your Royal Highness by the Genius himself, and warmed by the immediate beams of your kind Indulgence.

HAD I been able to conceal this, I should have imagined that I had not the least Spark of the Enthusiasm of Parnassus in my Composition.---- To be so deficient in Vanity, which, if I am not mistaken, may be reckoned an inseparable Characteristic of a Poet.

THIS Trifle, SIR, would not presume to interrupt you, when engaged in matters of Consequence. It only begs leave to pay it's Respects in an hour devoted to chearful Festivity.

I wish your Royal Highness a long, a merry, and a happy Life; and am,

Your obliged

Devoted Servant.

Literature: 

Ode to Tragedy (1761)

Long title: 

Ode to Tragedy by a Gentleman of Scotland

Book description: 

Authored by Boswell, it was printed and published (anonymously) by Alexander Donaldson and J. Reid, Edinburgh, in November, 1761. The poem consists of sixteen Spenserian stanzas, and was dedicated "To James BOSWELL, Esq." (i.e. by the author to the author).

The epistle dedicatory went as follows:

"The following ode which courts your acceptance is on a subject grave and solemn, and therefore may be considered by many people as not so well suited to your volatile disposition. But I, sir, who enjoy the pleasure of your intimate acquaintance, know that many of your hours of retirement are devoted to thought, and that you can as strongly relish the productions of a serious muse as the most brilliant sallies of sportive fancy.

(Source: Boswelliana, p. 19)

Ode to Tragedy by a Gentleman of Scotland can be ordered through AbeBooks.com as a print-on-demand copy of the original. (search for Ode to Tragedy)

Literature: 

Elegy on the Death of an Amiable Young Lady

Long title: 

Elegy on the Death of an Amiable Young Lady, with an Epistle from Menalcas to Lycidas (1761)

Book description: 

Published anonymously as a six-penny pamphlet in 1761 by Boswell. The poems are introduced by Three Critical Recommendatory Letters, "which mark the beginning of the correspondence with Andrew Erskine". (C. E. Vulliamy's James Boswell (1932), p. 6)

Not much (if anything) is known about the contemporary reception of the work - a fact that probably speaks for itself.

Until the early 20th century, the work was thought to be written by a John Bell, with one of the recommendatory letters being written by a George Dunbar. Today most scholars agree, that the initials of the authors of the recommendatory letters, AE and GD, belongs to Andrew Erskine and George Dempster, and that the author, JB, is in fact James Boswell. Convincing evidence exists to substantiate this identification.

This work is very difficult to come by today. The British Library holds one or two copies, and a few copies may be available at other research or national libraries.

Literature: 

Pages

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