Did Boswell sup on 'devilled bones'?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/25/2017 - 13:33

Dear Boswell experts,

I am an editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. Whilst revising the word 'devilled', I have come across a mysterious reference to a comment made by James Boswell that we can't find in his writings. I was wondering if any of you reading this forum could help us find this 'missing' passage from Boswell's writings.

According to Theodora Fitzgibbon, in The Art of British Cooking (1965) and Food of the Western World (1976), Boswell 'frequently refers to partaking of a dish of "devilled bones" for supper'. This assertion has been repeated in various popular recipe books, newspaper articles, blogs, etc. Sometimes Boswell is said to have written about 'devilled bones' in The Life of Samuel Johnson, but Fitzgibbon herself doesn't actually say that.

Here at the OED, we haven't been able to find a reference to 'devilled bones' in a digital edition of any of Boswell's works, including Life of Johnson. Neither could blogger Jane-Anne Hobbs (http://whatsforsupper-juno.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/devilled-mushrooms-on…): 'After an exhaustive search of Boswell's books - at least the ones that have been digitised - I couldn't find a single reference to the writer gnawing on spicy bones. I did discover with relief, though, that 'bone' in this context meant a devilled joint of meat, not a dry rib or femur or the like.' Sadly Theodora Fitzgibbon has passed away, so we can't ask her for help.

Has any reader of this forum come across a reference to 'devilled bones' in any of Boswell’s writings? At the moment, our earliest example of the adjective 'devilled' applied to a food is from 1796. Since James Boswell died in 1795, if he did write about 'devilled bones', it would be the earliest known evidence. If anyone can help, we would greatly appreciate it!

Clifford Sofield
Assistant Editor, Oxford English Dictionary

Steve L (not verified)

Wed, 01/25/2017 - 19:06

But have you tried the Boswell Archive at the Beinecke Collection at Yale?

Thanks Steve. No, we have looked in digitally searchable texts, but not in manuscripts (digital or hard copy). So the reference(s) to 'devilled bones' could be in the Beinecke Collection.

I have posted your question on a Johnsonian mailing list, whose members own various editions of the Life of Johnson, but until now, no one has replied back with an idea as to the source of the Devilled Bones. One did reply, however, that he himself enjoys deviled ham sandwiches with a mix from The Underwood Company...

I'll have a look through my library of Boswell's journals and correspondence over the next few days. As Theodora Fitzgibbon wrote about it in 1965, I would assume it may have been mentioned in one of those journals that were published by Yale before that year i.e. no later volume than The Omnious Years 1774-1776 (publ. 1963). Unless she has her information from Colonel Isham's private and limited printing of the Boswell papers in the 1930s - unless it was printed in one of Boswell's own publications, but I would imagine that they are all searchable on the internet.

Best wishes,
Thomas, webmaster at jamesboswell.info