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James Boswell
Sir Joshua ReynoldsPortrait of James Boswell1785
Sir Joshua Reynolds
Portrait of James Boswell
Born (1740-10-29)29 October 1740
Edinburgh, Scotland
Died 19 May 1795(1795-05-19) (aged 54)
London, England
Occupation Lawyer, diarist, biographer
Language English
Nationality Scottish
Citizenship Great Britain
Alma mater University of Edinburgh
University of Glasgow
Utrecht University
Notable works Life of Johnson
Spouse Margaret Montgomerie
Children Alexander Boswell (1775–1822)
James Boswell (1778–1822)
Veronica (1773–1795)
Euphemia (1774 – c. 1834)
Elizabeth (1780–1814)
Charles Boswell
(extramarital) (1762–1764)
Sally (extramarital) (1767–1768?)

James Boswell, 9th Laird of Auchinleck 29 October 1740 – 19 May 1795), was a Scottish biographer and diarist, born in Edinburgh. He is best known for the biography he wrote of one of his contemporaries, the English literary figure Samuel Johnson, which is commonly said to be the greatest biography written in the English language.

Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson

James Boswell and Samuel Johnson plaque, Edinburgh
James Boswell and Samuel Johnson plaque, Edinburgh

When the Life of Samuel Johnson was published in 1791 it at once received the admiration that Boswell had sought for so long. Its style was unique in that, unlike other biographies of that era, it directly incorporated conversations that Boswell had noted down at the time for his journals. He also included far more personal and human details than those to which contemporary readers were used to. Instead of writing a respectful and dry record of Johnson's public life in the style of the time, he painted a vivid portrait of the complete man, brought to life through a 'dramatic' style of dialogue. It has often been described as the greatest biography ever written.

Discovery of papers

In the 1920s a great part of Boswell's private papers, including intimate journals for much of his life, were discovered. These provide a huge insight into the life and thoughts of the man. They were sold an American collector and have since passed to Yale University, which has published many of his journals and correspondence. These detailed and frank journals include voluminous notes on the Grand Tour of Europe that he took as a young man and, subsequently, of his tour of Scotland with Johnson.

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