The Life of Samuel Johnson

The Life of Samuel Johnson

Poet, lexicographer, critic, moralist and Great Cham, Dr. Johnson had in his friend Boswell the ideal biographer.Notoriously and self-confessedly intemperate, Boswell shared with Johnson a huge appetite for life and threw equal energy into recording its every aspect in minute but telling detail. This irrepressible Scotsman was 'always studying human nature and making exper...

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Title:The Life of Samuel Johnson
Author:James Boswell
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Edition Language:English

The Life of Samuel Johnson Reviews

  • Paul Bryant

    This is a book which is not

    a thing but is

    . I think there’s a complicated German philosophical term for that.

    In the history books they will tell you Samuel Johnson is dead these 200 years, but I say No Sir. He’s alive, here, right here. He’s walking and talking and wringing the necks of fools right here.

    In this book’s oceanic vastness of pages Boswell the drunk, the fool, the butt of japes, the ignoble toady, creates the reality tv of 18th century London. There are verbat

    This is a book which is not

    a thing but is

    . I think there’s a complicated German philosophical term for that.

    In the history books they will tell you Samuel Johnson is dead these 200 years, but I say No Sir. He’s alive, here, right here. He’s walking and talking and wringing the necks of fools right here.

    In this book’s oceanic vastness of pages Boswell the drunk, the fool, the butt of japes, the ignoble toady, creates the reality tv of 18th century London. There are verbatim conversations, many of them, whole eveningsworths of them. If Bozzy had had a camcorder he’d have done that but he didn’t so he invented his own version of shorthand and made excuses every half an hour or so during the boisterous hours of high-powered debate with SJ & his pals and nipped off to the lavatory where he scribbled his hieroglyphs on his cuff or on a napkin. Like any reality tv show you get sucked into that world, so that even the boring bits are interesting. It helps that the language is so thrillingly grandiloquent and the people so piquant, so flavoursome.

    Oh yes, even thought this biography is as long as Lord of the Rings, there are various bits that Bozzy didn’t dare include, but that.s okay, he wrote them all down in his journals, which 150 years later were all published for our delectation, so you can get hold of everything. Such as the question of Samuel Johnson’s sex life :

    Excerpt from Boswell’s journal published as “The Applause of the Jury”

    In Life of Johnson, this is rendered into more acceptable language:

    When Johnson was alive, he was something of a one-man industry all by himself (Dictionary, Shakespeare, Rasselas, Idler, Rambler, Lives of Poets) and after he was dead it seems every other person in literary London wrote a book about him. There were two biographies before Boswell's, and his publishers were kind of anxious - "Come on Bozzy, you're being scooped here, let's get your book out and cash in while people still aren't sick of the name of the great Doctor" But Boswell was supremely confident in what he'd got, which was this book. He waited seven years to publish this Life, and when he did, everyone knew what it was : a masterpiece of world literature.

    But : this may be a little distressing, but when you have finished Boswell’s 1350 pages, you will probably then need to read an actual biography of Samuel Johnson, which, remarkably, this book really isn’t. Because it’s so Boz-centric, because Boswell knew what he had (the goods) and it made him a lazy arse who couldn’t be bothered to find stuff out if he had to work for it. Because what had happened was that Boswell was a major SJ fan and wangled a meeting with SJ when he was 22 and SJ was 54. He got SJ to like him, he was a real groupie, but he lived in Scotland. So from age 54 until SJ died, i.e. another 20 years, Bozzy would use his two weeks of holidays to visit London and be with SJ. And those are the days and evenings we get in minute detail in this book. The first 54 years are written about with verve but with an obvious desire to crack on to the bit where Boswell himself enters the story. Boswell finds

    very interesting too.

    You could really go mental if you want with all this stuff. You could read this vast thing, then you could read all of Boswell's journals - about twelve volumes. then you could read Johnson's account of A Journey to the Western isles of Scotland, then Boswell's version of the same trip, called Journal of a Tour of the Hebrides. Then as a corrective to all that, you could read Young Samuel Johnson by James Clifford, which is brilliant, and wind up with John Wain's magnificent actual biography of SJ.

    You could also throw in Mrs Thrale's memoir too, which contains lots of gems, such as

    ON SCOTLAND

    ON THE POOR

    Note : this question is still brilliantly contemporary, people say it every time they pass a modern day beggar except gin or tobacco has become Diamond White and drugs. I myself have said this.

    You could go on, and indeed, I would urge that you do, because, all disclaimers aside, I think you'll have a great time.

  • Smiley

    I walked to visit Dr. Johnson's House at 17 Gough Square, London in England on July 5, 1997 in the evening alone. I also bought this great biography there (10.99 pounds) and had since kept reading off and on till I reached its final page on November 5, 2001. I had known this book since my early teens and thus I have my own respect for Dr. Johnson for his humility with his literary brilliance as well as his fame and recognition from the Universities of Dublin and Oxford with the two honorary doct

    I walked to visit Dr. Johnson's House at 17 Gough Square, London in England on July 5, 1997 in the evening alone. I also bought this great biography there (10.99 pounds) and had since kept reading off and on till I reached its final page on November 5, 2001. I had known this book since my early teens and thus I have my own respect for Dr. Johnson for his humility with his literary brilliance as well as his fame and recognition from the Universities of Dublin and Oxford with the two honorary doctorates . This book is unabridged, therefore, it is a bit formidable to you with its 1,492 pages. You can learn a lot from his witty quotes and his various anecdotes witnessed by Boswell and his friends. I would like to recommend this ground-breaking biography to any serious reader curious of his wit, wisdom and character.

    There was of course an episode, whenever I read it I can't help admiring and respecting him more as a true scholar I'm happy to know and be familiar with this biography, depicting his first encounter with young James Boswell who had longed to meet Dr. Johnson since he was one of the literary celebrities in London. And we can see how kind, humorous and formidable he was to a young stranger he had never met before from the following excerpt:

    Interestingly, there is a footnote informing its readers on his humility regarding one of the most prestigious titles in the academia and beyond, as we can see from this excerpt:

    In retrospect as my humble, respectful tribute to such a great man of letters, I can't help wondering why its original title has not been retained, that is, 'Life of Johnson,' instead of 'The Life of Johnson' as seen in most recent reprints nowadays since, I'm quite sure that James Boswell himself has since then decidedly opted for this unique 'Life of Johnson' (without 'The'); therefore, the literary posterity should safely follow suit and, hopefully, a growing number of Johnsonians could find the original title more aesthetically nostalgic, penetrating and professional than the transformed one (When was the definite article first added?).

  • Justin Evans

    I might be too exhausted from reading the thing to write a proper review. Just holding it takes a toll on my sub-ganymedic upper body.

    The first thing to note is that I'd much rather read more Boswell than read more of Johnson's letters. Boswell's writing is like that of eighteenth century philosophers: totally unselfconscious, they simply say what they mean. Later theoreticians will undermine a lot of it, and try to find latent contradictions and so on, but the fact is that most people are a pl

    I might be too exhausted from reading the thing to write a proper review. Just holding it takes a toll on my sub-ganymedic upper body.

    The first thing to note is that I'd much rather read more Boswell than read more of Johnson's letters. Boswell's writing is like that of eighteenth century philosophers: totally unselfconscious, they simply say what they mean. Later theoreticians will undermine a lot of it, and try to find latent contradictions and so on, but the fact is that most people are a pleasant enough mixture of pious fool and slatternly knave, and Boswell (and Johnson) aren't interested in dissimulating about it.

    The sheer volume of anecdote here means that you'll come away with a reasonable understanding of the important men and women of the time. Goldsmith comes off wonderfully well; I'll be much more interested in seeing Gainsborough portraits than before I read it; Gibbon lurks on the fringes; Burke was glorious; Fanny Burney and Elizabeth Montagu receive nothing but praise from all of these presumably misogynistic men; Richardson was, as you'd expect, kind of a dick; Smollett kind of a dick in a way I find far more entertaining; Fielding barely gets a look it.

    For all that, I admit to skimming much of the final quarter, which was more about Johnson alone than about the Age of Johnson. The anecdotes get tiresome, the letters ever duller, and Boswell effaces himself more and more.

    So if you're considering reading this, do not do it the way I did: "THIS IS THE WINTER OF BOSWELL! I WILL READ IT OVER WINTER BREAK!" Because, unless you're superhuman, you won't. I finished it over Spring break instead, and even that was a bad idea. Instead, keep the book next to your bed and dip into it each night, living with Bos and Sam and co., for a year. And absolutely read this, the Womersley edited Penguin edition. It's a weightlifting session, yes, but it's also a mini-dictionary of the eighteenth century unto itself. The biographical index alone is a lifetime's scholarly work.

    Now, if only Womersley would put out an abridged edition that I could carry on a bus...

  • Brad

    The best way to read Boswell's Life of Johnson is this way: via a somewhat cheesy, "classic library" volume of a Great Classics type of series. The book looks like one of those books you would find in the movie set of a lawyer's office, trying to look distinguished and old, although it feels plasticy.

    We learn from other sources (outside of Boswell) that Boswell himself was something of an annoying 18th century star f__ker, but thank God he was - because reading this book is like being a part of

    The best way to read Boswell's Life of Johnson is this way: via a somewhat cheesy, "classic library" volume of a Great Classics type of series. The book looks like one of those books you would find in the movie set of a lawyer's office, trying to look distinguished and old, although it feels plasticy.

    We learn from other sources (outside of Boswell) that Boswell himself was something of an annoying 18th century star f__ker, but thank God he was - because reading this book is like being a part of a hundred dinner and parlour conversations with the wits and men of power in 18th century England. Funny bastards some of them were, too.

    Skill in the art of conversation was the most highly prized talent, and Johnson was considered king of them all. This is a world steeped in The Classics, post Renaissance but pre Industrial/Scientific Revolution - that sweet spot where men were expected to venture to come up with a theory and interpretation about anything: how to talk, the way to cook a meal, where to travel, you name it. And Johnson always had an interesting and strong Theory of Anything.

    Somehow it seems like nobody worked, they were just able to go to each other's houses, eat too much, drink hard, and talk smack about each other full time. Good times.

    Today, Johnson would be considered a blowhard; narrow minded, reactionary, pompous, and egotistical. But that's why he's actually interesting.

    This was a cool era because you would address your best friend as "Sir".

    Ironically, Boswell's writing holds up better than Johnson's himself, but who cares about that history of literature crap.

    If each book had a smell, this book would smell like really good roast beef, with some hard licks thrown in.

    Sir, I am,

    Your most humble reviewer,

    &tc &tc

  • Ellie

    Actually, I dip in and out of this one (over 30 years!) and I find it delightful & very funny.

  • Roy Lotz

    is many things: charming, witty, vivacious, absorbing, edifying, beautiful; part philosophy and part history, with some politics and religion on the side. It is ironic, then, that one of the few things it most definitely is not is a biography.

    James Boswell was not interested in creating a record of Johnson’s life, but a portrait of his personality. As a result, Boswell rapidly plowed through the time of Johnson’s life that the two weren’t acquainted—the first fifty yea

    is many things: charming, witty, vivacious, absorbing, edifying, beautiful; part philosophy and part history, with some politics and religion on the side. It is ironic, then, that one of the few things it most definitely is not is a biography.

    James Boswell was not interested in creating a record of Johnson’s life, but a portrait of his personality. As a result, Boswell rapidly plowed through the time of Johnson’s life that the two weren’t acquainted—the first fifty years—and dedicated the bulk of the book to the time that the two were friends—the last twenty years of Johnson’s life. The book is less a narrative than a collection of quotes and anecdotes. In fact, a much more accurate title of this book would be

    .

    If a book of this format had been written by almost any other person in the history of the world, I’m sure it would be unreadable. But Boswell has such a fine knack for suggestive details, for memorable quotes, for personality quirks—in short, for all the subtle and charming details of daily life—that the book is not only readable, but compulsively readable. Boswell’s

    is a testament to the fact that the idle talk of a drawing room can be just as momentous as the ebb and flow of human history, or the thoughts of the greatest philosophers. It is a celebration of the epic in the everyday, the magnificent in the mundane.

    Not to say that Johnson is either everyday or mundane. Quite the opposite: he is as great a character as any in literature. Nay, more so. Because this book was so obviously the product of a fan-boy mentality, I have no idea what Johnson the man was actually like. But Boswell’s characterization of him couldn’t be surpassed, or even equaled, by the most skillful of novelists. Accurate or not, it is damned fine writing.

    What really gives fire to this otherwise mundane collection of anecdotes is Boswell’s near-insane hero worship. Every mild opinion, every offhand quip, every casual remark uttered by Johnson is treated by Boswell as gospel. His reverence for the man is boundless; and his idolatry comes through in every sentence. It’s endearing at first; almost overpowering by the end. Boswell makes the man into a myth, and the myth into a man.

    Nonetheless, it is, at times, hard to see what Boswell sees in Johnson. For every piece of wisdom or wit that Johnson produces, there are three pieces of folly. He hated the Scotch, the French, the Americans—basically everyone who wasn’t both an Englishman and a Tory—all for no reason whatsoever. No good reason, anyway. He was socially, religiously, and politically conservative. He was rude, overbearing, and often closed-minded. He would argue a point that even he didn't endorse, merely to command a conversation.

    And Boswell doesn’t appear very likable, either. He was servile, toadyish, and invasive. However much he may have reverenced Johnson, Boswell did not respect the man’s privacy or confidence. In fact, it sometimes felt like Boswell’s entire purpose of hanging around Johnson was to advance his own literary career; and that his idealization of Johnson was just a form of self-service, since he was connected with the deceased writer. I can’t imagine having someone like that around me, hurrying off to jot down every thing I said—not that I’m at risk for such a thing.

    Besides the unpleasantness of the two principal characters, this book has other flaws. Its most notable one is its lack of organization. Boswell just moves from one quip to the next, interspersing conversations with Johnson’s letters and diary entries. Boswell was incomparable for his attention to detail; but he apparently was unable to step back and see the forest, rather than just the trees. Even Johnson’s death is rendered as a series of disconnected pieces of information, rather than a simple narrative. In short, Boswell saw life through a magnifying glass; and it’s hard to put together a map with a magnifying glass.

    But this is not a book that attempts to conceal its flaws. Rather, it glories in its own imperfection. And, now that I think of it, the most important message of Boswell’s book might be this: that the greatest things in life are great precisely because of their imperfections. Boswell's

    certainly is.

  • Robert

    When you major in what is called "English" at college, certain inconvenient figures present themselves. One is Ben Jonson who is inconvenient because it is so much more rewarding and taxing to spend your time on Shakespeare, although Jonson also was a major dramatist during Shakespeare's day.

    Another inconvenient figure is William Blake, the poet often grouped with the "Romantics," but clearly not one of them and a study unto himself, sui generis, one of a kind. If you're going to study Blake, yo

    When you major in what is called "English" at college, certain inconvenient figures present themselves. One is Ben Jonson who is inconvenient because it is so much more rewarding and taxing to spend your time on Shakespeare, although Jonson also was a major dramatist during Shakespeare's day.

    Another inconvenient figure is William Blake, the poet often grouped with the "Romantics," but clearly not one of them and a study unto himself, sui generis, one of a kind. If you're going to study Blake, you have to take him on whole and in extenso, not side-by-side with anyone.

    An easier figure of inconvenience in some ways, but deceptively so, is the titanic figure of Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). He's inconvenient because he was protean-a poet, a lexicographer, a critic, a dramatist, an essayist, a biographer, and some things I've not doubt left out--letter-writer, for instance.

    On top of all that comes the extensive biography of Johnson written by his young friend, James Boswell, which is either the best or the worst way to get to know Johnson.

    For decades I decided it would be the worst way to get to know him. The Johnson I spent most time on in college was Johnson the critic of Shakespeare. Having just taken a look back what I then read, my recollection proves correct: he was an uncommonly astute, forthright, plain-spoken critic. He points out all the plot flaws in Hamlet the play, for example, without diminishing the enigmatic genius of Hamlet the character for whom the play is known.

    Johnson wrote to be read and had either the self-confidence or temerity to believe that by criticizing Shakespeare for his flaws, he actually built up his strengths.

    But last week I decided to take on volume 1 of Boswell on Johnson, and now I've finished it, or perhaps I should say half-finished it because, to my surprise, it ends with a huge quantity of appendices and footnotes, and I have never in my life enjoyed reading appendices, footnotes, or introductions either by some notable editor or the author himself. In one case, Nabokov's Pale Fire, I know I've cut myself out of the fun, but that's pretty much the exception. My rule is that if it's important, it's in the text; if not, not…ignore it.

    The Johnson Boswell presents--and he presents him well--is exactly the sprawling figure who doesn't fit comfortably in any multi-author syllabus. He wrote for a living for decades, never stopped writing, and when it came to producing a one-author dictionary of the English language (a task for which the French or Italians would assign forty scholars), he would do that, too.

    He was Addison and Steele, a bit of Pope, a Boswell himself to many other authors, and something of a Dostoevsky in that like Dostoevsky he produced his own newspapers from time to time, writing the copy from first word to last.

    I don't recommend you pick up your very own copy of Boswell on Johnson unless it's been standing unread on your shelf since undegraduate days. Then perhaps you'll find value in considering the kinds of giants who once walked the earth and are very difficult to conjure in the present day.

    From childhood on Johnson read, recalled what he read, and formed astute opinions about what he read. He was a principal figure in the Age of Reason, but not an idealist, with one exception. His preferred mode of analysis was from the specific to the general. He thought that gave a truer, if less sweet, account of reality. Where he wandered into idealism, it seems to me, was in his Christianity. Flummoxed by mortality, unable to puzzle out its ultimate purposes, he happily enough left the hard work of determining why we are here to God.

    Today we have one literary figure who idolizes Samuel Johnson. That is Harold Bloom, who considers Johnson his guide and master. Multi-talented himself, Bloom does exhibit Johnson's astonishing erudition and productivity. Reading Bloom's book on Shakespeare, I recall, was like having an extended conversation with a better literary friend than I've had in person. I also recall how much the leading Shakespeare critics of our day hated what he'd written. Why? Because Bloom focused on character, because Bloom explored Shakespeare's language and worldview…because Bloom wouldn't bow down to the recent pseudo-scientific schools of literary criticism that have, pardon the pun, bloomed and wilted one after another over the last twenty-five years.

    What I like in particular about Johnson as Boswell presents him are the following:

    --He often took the opposite side of an argument not because it was his but for the fun of it;

    --He was a lifelong depressive, given to deep fits of dark despair;

    --He was a compulsive-obsessive: he never crossed a threshold with the wrong foot, and if he was about to, he retreated and took another shot at it;

    --He had the wisdom to observe that as you grow older, your friends die off, so you better make a point of getting some new, younger friends…and quick.

    --He was a loyal, generous, talkative, discursive friend;

    --He was a giant of his age and regarded himself as a pygmy;

    --He castigated himself for his unstructured reading habits…but made up for them by reading everything;

    --He was a big, disheveled, goofy guy with tics galore who cocked his head sideways when he was making a point and upon doing so sometimes had to huff and puff to catch his breath;

    --When he made a mistake, as he did in his definition of a horse's pastern, he attributed it to "ignorance," and made nothing more of it, not defensive at all;

    --And he almost never shot back at someone who criticized him; he'd had his say, let them have theirs. (Never complain, never explain as Disraeli put it.)

    So all this is why I call Samuel Johnson inconvenient. He was a prolific genius who took literature seriously enough to give his life to it. In literary studies we won't really come upon someone like him until Coleridge in his later-life talkative mode. But when we get to Coleridge as undergraduates, as you'll recall, we group him comfortably among the "Romantics," and we tend to ignore the inconvenience of his having continued to to busy himself with the philosophical dimensions of literature for decades after his poet's pen had run dry.

    For more of my comments on literature, see Tuppence Reviews (Kindle).

  • Douglas Wilson

    I recently included a "bucket book" in my line-up of books I am reading. These are books I really ought to have read by this time in my life, but which, alas, I have not. This book, The Life of Samuel Johnson, was the first in this roster that I have completed. Having done so, it continues to strike me as a really good idea.

    Boswell mentions near the end of the book that those who took the time to read "may be considered as well acquainted with him." I think this is quite true, and gaining the ac

    I recently included a "bucket book" in my line-up of books I am reading. These are books I really ought to have read by this time in my life, but which, alas, I have not. This book, The Life of Samuel Johnson, was the first in this roster that I have completed. Having done so, it continues to strike me as a really good idea.

    Boswell mentions near the end of the book that those who took the time to read "may be considered as well acquainted with him." I think this is quite true, and gaining the acquaintance was genuinely rewarding. It was also a pleasure to run across so many of Johnson's bon mots in their original setting. Despite being such a massive book, or perhaps because of it, this was a truly rewarding read.

  • Gwern

    (

    , edited by George Birkbeck Norman Hill; 7.3MB or ~1,200,000 words, which included Boswell's account of the Hebrides but also a decent chunk of the whole was footnotes which I skipped or indices or other such incidentals. This was a major reading project which took easily a month.)

    It's a curious book. Samuel Johnson's dictionary was influential but totally obsoleted by the OED a century or two ago; his literature is little-read these days, and from what one rea

    (

    , edited by George Birkbeck Norman Hill; 7.3MB or ~1,200,000 words, which included Boswell's account of the Hebrides but also a decent chunk of the whole was footnotes which I skipped or indices or other such incidentals. This was a major reading project which took easily a month.)

    It's a curious book. Samuel Johnson's dictionary was influential but totally obsoleted by the OED a century or two ago; his literature is little-read these days, and from what one reads in it, one has little desire to read any of it. (In fact, I think I would pay good money to not read any of his inscriptions, dedications, or verse ever again; and I have little interest in reading his plays, although

    sounds like it may be worth reading.) Still, we are all familiar with lines drawn from it, and it's been called the greatest biography in English, and there's no time like the present to read a classic.

    The book is a complete mess, covering little of Johnson while young and too much while he was old, with Boswell throwing in, apparently willy-nilly, random letters utterly devoid of interest, anecdotes without context, sayings, etc. I felt that I was reading randomly shuffled notes towards a biography than a biography. This mess does help create a vivid impression of the London milieu of mail twice a day, anonymous reviews and essays everywhere, books routinely ghostwritten, riots on the streets, supercilious nobility playing their games, foreigners constantly coming and going, the Scottish turmoil not far behind & not forgotten, but that could have been done more compactly or by the rest.

    Johnson himself is a mixed bag: the famous quotations and quips which made him immortal in the English language are there, but so are much of less value; we like the Johnson who debunks witchcraft and correctly employs "explaining away" on a claim that "Ainnit"="Anaitis", not the Johnson who shuts off his mind and argues in all seriousness that Christianity must be true because so many people believe it or simply failing to respond to an argument & coercing the freethinker into silence; we like the Johnson making acerbic comments about politicians, not the Johnson accepting a pension from the government after writing pamphlets supporting it in bad causes and who defends at every turn the English social hierarchy & his social superiors who were in no way his superior; the Johnson praising the merits of Goldstone, not the Johnson who mocks David Hume & Adam Smith at every turn (having somehow failed to recognize two of the greatest thinkers of the age); the Johnson accurately noting details of chemistry or manufacture, not the Johnson who gives transparently fallacious economic arguments like arguing trade will decrease & land rents will increase (which could not have been more wrong) or that copyrights should be maximal; the quotable Johnson of brevity and wit, not the Johnson of bombast; the Johnson who divined the worthlessness of Ossian, not the Johnson of mindless obscurantist reverence for writing in Greek or Latin or forcing some absurd classical reference; the Johnson of The Rambler and "Meditation Upon a Pudding", not the edited Shakespeare (was

    really a good investment of years? he must have known perfectly well someone else would have come along).

    Still, among all the downsides and all the puffery like letters and editorializing by Boswell apparently intended to boast about his & Johnson's social connections and the embarrassed fumbling and excuses for things like the pension (Boswell's initial defense is rather undercut by later comments that the government

    expected him to write pamphlets for them, and he did), there's a lot I liked and which did go beyond the parts which are famous. Reading through my excerpts, I particularly liked the story about George Berkeley being fined by his university (why? to pay for the windows he would break. why would he do that? well, it's student tradition!); Johnson's quip about the halo & horns effects; noting that physicians should be sent overseas to look for new breakthroughs like cinchona bark; his argument from silence about Ossian; numeracy in how many people dine in a house in a year or take opera singers as mistresses; the suicidee who ate buttered muffins first; Boswell tricking Johnson into dinner with Wilkes; Johnson's conversation with the circumnavigators; the mystery of Johnson's oranges; one of those interesting notes which reminds one how historically recent 'silent reading' is despite its universality now or how 'giving the wall' (with its connection to street violence) slowly transitioned to the modern rule that everyone walks on the right-hand side; and Johnson's rebuke of Chesterton.

    Overall, while it's nice to have notched that book on my belt, I don't feel it was worth the time to read the full 6-volume edition. If a ruthless editor were to take it and cut out the countless letters, the social posturing by Boswell, the poorer stories, and produce a 1-volume edition, it would be a much more rewarding read.

  • Eric

    I put this down around page 600 because I didn't think I had the time or attention to devote to all 1200 pages. That said, it's not arduous reading. Exceedingly pleasant, in fact. Richard Howard, in a poem somewhere, referred to the 'glossy carapace' of 18th century diction; Boswell, on his own and aided by copious extracts from Johnson and others, forms a treasure chest of elegantly turned utterance.

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