A Boswell Taster - The Boswell Trust
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A Boswell Taster

Line drawing of James Boswell

While The Life of Samuel Johnson has never been out of print since it’s publication in 1791, Boswell’s numerous other writings have been less accessible and indeed Yale University where the archive is held are still engaged in a monumental publishing campaign of publishing the complete Boswell papers. One of their greatest triumphs was the publication in 1950 of Boswell’s youthful London Journal 1762-1763 which became an international bestseller.

Below is a selection for those who would like a taste of the glorious joy that is to be found in Boswell’s writings.

How easily & cleverly do I write just now! I am realy pleased with myself; Words come skipping to me like lambs upon Moffat hill; and I turn my periods smoothly and imperceptibly like a skillfull Wheelwright turning tops in a turning Loom. There’s fancy! There’s Simile! In short I am at present a Genius.

(Journal in London, 9 Feb. 1763)

Let me consider that the Heroe of a Romance or novel must not go uniformly along in bliss, but the story must be checquered with bad fortune. Æneas met with many disasters in his Voyage to Italy, and must not Boswell have his rubs?

(Journal in London, 27 Feb. 1763)

I sat up all last night, writing letters, and bringing up my lagging Journal, which, like a stone to be rolled up a hill, must be kept constantly going.

(Journal in London, 28 July 1763)

For here now in the space of a few hours, I was a dull & a miserable, a clever and a happy mortal, and all without the intervention of any external cause, except a dish of green tea, which indeed is a most kind remedy in cases of this kind. Often have I found releif from it. I am so fond of tea that I could write a whole Dissertation on its virtues. It comforts & enlivens without the risques attendant on spiritous liquors. Gentle Herb! let the florid grape yeild to thee. Thy soft influence is a more safe inspirer of social joy.

(Journal in London, 13 Feb. 1763)

I was rather too singular. Why not? I am in reality an original character. Let me moderate and cultivate my originality. God would not have formed such a diversity of men if he had intended that they should come up to a certain standard…. Let me then be Boswell and render him as fine a fellow as possible.

(Journal in Berlin, 20 July 1764)

Death makes as little impression upon the minds of those who are occupied in the profession of the Law is it does in an army.

(Journal in Edinburgh, 11 Aug. 1774)

Scotch reels make me melancholy, though they be brisk. But I have heard them at the time of life when I was very low-spirited, and used to think of Highlanders going abroad as soldiers and never returning.

(Journal at Ashbourne, 23 Sept. 1777)

No man has been more successful in making acquaintance easily than I have been…. I even bring people quickly on to a degree of cordiality. I am a quick fire; but I know not if I last sufficiently…. With many people I have compared myself to a taper, which can light up a great & lasting fire, though itself is soon extinguished.

(Letter to William Johnson Temple, 18 March 1775)

I teized him with fanciful impressions of unhappiness. A moth having fluttered round the candle, and burnt itself, he laid hold of this little incident to admonish me; saying, with a sly look, and in a solemn but quiet tone, ‘That creature was its own tormentor, and I believe its name was Boswell.’

(Life of Johnson, at Colchester, 5 Aug. 1763)

We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over.

(Life of Johnson [1791], 19 Sept. 1777)

We should be careful never to imagine that the wedding-day is the burial of love, but that in reality love then begins its best life.

(“The Hypochondriack”, Essay XLII, “On Marriage”, April 1781)

I am by no means a disciple of those philosophers who pretend that poverty is not an evil.

(“The Hypochondriack”, Essay IV, “On Excess”, Jan. 1778)

One who is to leap across a pit, or ride through deep water, ought not to look into it, but beyond it.

(“The Hypochondriack”, Essay XVI, “On Death”, Jan. 1779)

The love of pleasure is not inconsistent with the love of GOD; nor the love of liberty with the love of government.

(“The Hypochondriack”, Essay XIX, “On Subordination in Government”, April 1779)

We are not to think it strange that the greatest proportion of all writing is but new workmanship of old bullion.

(“The Hypochondriack”, Essay XXI, “On Quotations”, June 1779)

Sometimes it has occurred to me that a man should not live more than he can record, as a farmer should not have a larger crop than he can gather in.

(“The Hypochondriack”, Essay LXVI, “On Diaries”, March 1783)