Son of James Boswell (ca. 1672-1749) and Elizabeth Bruce. Brother of Alexander and James Boswell. Father of Robert Boswell. According to Pottle, John Boswell was "an able physician, but [...]decidedly eccentric. He forsook the Kirk for the more "primitive" society of the Glassites, [...] demonstrated his antinomianism practically by frequenting bawdy houses, and was excommunicated by his sect".1
Boswell described him as "[having] been almost dead for more than a year" when his body finally died on May 15, 1780.
Boswell's Court, on Castlehill a few hundred yards from Edinburgh Castle, was named after John Boswell, although he might today seem quite a minor character compared to the namesakes of most other courts and closes off the Royal Mile. A plaque is on the present-day building (now a combined hotel and restaurant called The Witchery) reading "James Boswell (1740-1795) and Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) are reputed to have met and dined in this building Circa 1770", see below for a possible explanation.
The incense known as Boswellia is also named after Dr John Boswell. It was discovered by botanist William Roxburgh (1751-1815), who had lived with Dr Boswell and his family in Edinburgh during his medical studies in the early 1770s. In 1800, Roxburgh married Mary Boswell (1774-1859), a granddaugher of Dr Boswell's.
- 1The Glassites were a Christian sect founded in Scotland about 1730 by John Glas (1695-1773). It later spread to America, where the members were known as Sandemanians, after Glas' son-in-law Robert Sandeman. The sect is now considered extinct, the last Elder of the Church in Edinburgh having died in 1999. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glasite - See also (James Boswell: The Earlier Years 1740-1769, p. 21)
John Boswell was probably that of Boswell's relatives who understood him the best, and there are some identical traits in the two. They met occasionally and were always happy in each other's company. On October 26, 1762, James visited the doctor in Edinburgh, describing him as "a worthy affectionate man, a good physician, an agreeable companion and a great virtuoso." This was also the occasion when James first got news that his brother John had suffered the first of many fits of insanity, which would haunt him for the rest of his life.
On October 31, 1763, James Boswell (then at Utrecht) received a most affectionate letter from his uncle, referring back to their last meeting on London (July 26, 1763). John Boswell wrote "the whole of one unexpected (to me lucky) meeting at London will ever be remembered as one of the most agreeable incidents of my life, as it was then I had confirmed to me the former opinions I had conceived very early of you. I hope however the friendship that is begun will increase; and although never could Mason say more heartily than you and I, "Happy to meet, happy to part," yet above all, happy on the thought to meet again..."
When James returned to Edinburgh and got established as an advocate, he and John occasionally met for social events or just for good company. On February 7, 1767, Boswell reports walking to Sir Alexander Dick's with John Boswell and a Doctor Livingston.
In 1785 James Boswell wrote in his Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides that Dr Johnson "spent one forenoon at my uncle Dr Boswell's, who shewed him his curious museum; and, as he was an elegant scholar, and a physician bred in the school of Boerhaave, Dr Johnson was pleased with his company". This meeting took place at some time between November 11 and 21, 1773, when Boswell and Johnson stayed in Edinburgh after their journey to the Hebrides, and before Johnson returned to London on the 22nd.