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What is James Boswell famous for?


Since the late 18th century James Boswell has been famous for writing "The Life of Johnson", an epic biography of his friend Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). The biography, published in 1791, set new standards for biography writing and drew heavily on Boswell's own amazing memory and notes, benefiting from his long habit of keeping a detailed journal, as well as on meticulous research, collection of material, correspondence with Johnson's friends and acquaintances, etc.

During the 1920s and 1930s, researchers discovered large amounts of Boswell's own letters, journals and notes otherwise thought to have been destroyed within a few decades of Boswell's death in 1795. Most of these papers found their way to Yale University, which began publishing these them in 1950 under the general editorship of Frederick Pottle. This led to Boswell becoming famous for something other than the biography of his friend, namely his frank and detailed journals. The most famous of these is the journal of his 9-month long stay in London at the age of 22, published in 1950 as "Boswell's London Journal". Most of his journal has since then been published in 12 volumes, with the last one, covering the years 1789-1795, being published in 1989.

Less known to most people today is it, that Boswell became a well-known name as early as 1768, when he wrote his "Account of Corsica", a description of the island and a journal of his visit there in 1765, at a time when few Englishmen had been there, let alone travelled to the mountainous interior of the island. Boswell had travelled to the island as a part of his grand tour, and he there met and befriended the rebel general Paoli who was to become his life-long friend.