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Full name
Frederick Albert Pottle
Born August 03, 1897
Died May 16, 1987

Pottle was born in Lovell in Maine, USA on Aug. 3, 1897. In 1917, he graduated from Colby College, on whose Board of Trustees he lager sat for many years (1932-1959). As an orderly with Evacuation Hospital No. 8, he participated in World War I in 1917-18. In 1929 he published his war memoirs called Stretchers.  In 1925, Pottle received his PhD from Yale University, where he had been a student of Professor Tinker, who no doubt played an instrumental part in kindling Pottle's interest in Boswell. Pottle himself taught at Yale from 1925 until his retirement in 1966, from 1930 as Professor of English. From 1944 he was Sterling Professor of English at the university.

For decades, Pottle was a well-liked and much-respected authority on Boswell. Frank Brady wrote, in September 1964 in the preface to his book Boswell's Political Career, that "Any account of how much I owe to Frederick A. Pottle could only sound fulsome. I will merely paraphrase what a colleague once said: 'Working with Fred Pottle is the finest education in scholarship a man could possibly have.' There are still giants in the earth."

Some years after his death, in the acknowledgements of General Correspondence of James Boswell 1766-67, published in 1993, the editors wrote that "[u]ppermost in the minds of the editors who have worked on this edition is the image of Frederick A. Pottle wearing his green eye-shade, working long hours in 'the Boswell factory' in Sterling Library, always willing to halt his own work and answer a question or suggest a solution for at student in difficulties".

Pottle died on May 16, 1987, the 224th anniversary of Boswell's chance meeting with Dr. Johnson in Thomas Davies' bookshop.

Boswellian impact

Few will disagree that Pottle is the greatest Boswellian scholar in history. He wrote his first book about Boswell, The Literary Career of James Boswell, Esq. in 1929, he took over the editorship of Colonel Isham's private print of the Boswell papers following Geoffrey Scott's sudden death in August 1929, and he was for several years the chairman of the editorial committee of the Yale editions of the Boswell papers until his retirement due to ill health in 1983.

There is no doubt, that Frederick A. Pottle in his long life did more than anyone else to introduce the real James Boswell to the public, and he proved once and for all, that there is much more to Boswell than what has earlier been called his accidental masterpiece, Life of Johnson.


Pottle wrote a lot of books and articles, most, but not all, about Boswell. As early as 1929 his book The Literary Career of James Boswell was published (reissued in 1967). In 1931 he wrote the preface to Margaret Ashmun's The Singing Swan: An Account of Anna Seward and her Acquaintance with Dr. Johnson, Boswell & Others of Their Time. In 1966 he published one of the best biographies about James Boswell, James Boswell: The Earlier Years 1740-1769. The second half of Boswell's life was dealt with by Frank Brady in James Boswell: The Later Years 1769-1795, published in 1984. All but the last of the Yale Trade editions of Boswell's journals were edited by Pottle.

All of these books are available from AbeBooks.

{Complete list of books by Pottle is forthcoming}