chapter  75
37 Pages

BOSWELL, The Life of Samuel Johnson LL.D., 1791

Extracts from the Life, third edition, 1799 (see edition by G. Birkbeck Hill and L.F.Powell, 1934, i. 25-6, 192-204, 208-9, 213-24, 255, 291-6, 340-2, 496-8; ii. 111-3, 300-8, 311-7; iv. 34-9, 63-5, 424-30). Boswell undoubtedly exercised the major formative influence on Johnson’s posthumous reputation. 1,200 copies of the Life were sold in three months; a second edition was published in 1793; others followed in 1799, 1804, 1807 and 1811. Many were alarmed and shocked by the avid desire shown by Boswell and scores of others to record the minutiae of Johnson’s career. Burke’s remark vividly registers their view: ‘How many maggots have crawled out of that great body’ (W.Roberts, Memoirs of Hannah More, 1834, ii. 101). But Burke also expressed what was to become the dominant nineteenth-century attitude: that Boswell’s Life ‘was a greater monument to Johnson’s fame, than all his writings put together’ (Life, i. 10 n.1). The extracts direct attention almost exclusively to Boswell’s comments on Johnson’s writings; they thus provide only a partial view of the influence he exerted on Johnson’s reputation. It was his presentation of the man ‘equalled by few in any age’ which mainly caught the interest of later generations. See Introduction, pp. 8, 32-5.