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Book Details
Long title
The Life of Samuel Johnson LL.D.
Year of 1st publication
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so it was a friend of his and Johnson's - the Shakespearean scholar Edmond Malone - who edited some additional hitherto unpublished material into what is today known as the standard editions published in 1799 and 1804.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 Macaulay's influence)



Boswell's 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 impressively annotated editions of the Life of Johnson in their Research Editions of Boswell's works and correspondence.


New and used copies of the Life of Johnson, ranging from very rare to cheap paperbacks, are available in large numbers via AbeBooks. Occasionally it is even possible to acquire a 1791 first edition of Boswell's Life.

Anonymous (not verified) Sat, 10/30/2010 - 12:47

Good day to all of you Boswellians -


after a serious celebration of James' 270th birthday last night, using some of the best intoxicating beverages that might have accompanied his all too short life, I came across your "did you know" box where you explain that in 1764 J.B. "stayed at the house of one Mr. Kircheisen, the City President of Berlin. Well, this might have been the case but Kircheisen had died in 1746 and hence, our friend will not have met him, as your inset suggests.


Best regards from Berlin

Peter R. Ackermann

thf1977 Sun, 10/31/2010 - 23:12

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Thank you for your comment - good to hear that the 270th birthday of James Boswell has been properly celebrated  :)

However, I have to insist, that not only did JB stay at the house of Karl David Kircheisen in 1764, but Mr. Kircheisen was also still very much alive at the time: Boswell described Kircheisen and his family on numerous occasions in his journal and his memos, and all my available sources give his year of death as 1770.

According to the German Wikipedia, which is not, of course, infallible, Karl David Kircheisen was mayor of Berlin from 1733 until 1746 (which may be the source of confusion regarding the time of his death), at which point he became city president.

Best wishes,

Thomas (webmaster,