HAPPY BIRTHDAY – James Boswell, born 29 October 1740
“I hate mankind, for I think myself one of the best of them, and I know how bad I am.”
I’m very fond of Bozzy, as James Boswell was known among his friends, although I’ve have hated to be married to him, or to have been a woman he fancied (and he fancied just about every woman that moved!). My fondness comes not from his personality, which was pretty ghastly (vain, sex-mad, difficult, over-flattering to the great and rich), but just from his power with words.
Boswell wrote one of the great biographies of all time in his The Life of Dr Johnson and this book set the standard for all modern biographies. His London Journal is hilarious – you have to keep reading just to find out what happens with the actress Louisa whom he wants to take to bed – and his travel writing and letters all make for excellent reading. There is a wonderful book by Adam Sisman called Boswell’s Presumptuous Task about Boswell’s writing of the Johnson biography, and Peter Martin has done a very good biography of Boswell. I have tried to visit his ancestral home in Scotland, Auchinleck House, but it belongs to the Landmark Trust so is hard to visit unless you have booked to stay there. In Dr Johnson’s home town of Lichfield there is a fine statue of Boswell at one end of the marketplace, with another fine statue of Johnson at the other end. Nice to think the two friends are still linked by statues in that way.
James Boswell died on 19 May 1795, aged 54.
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