Posted in Know Your History

Know Your History – 29th October – James Boswell born

Oknow your history - writingn this day… 29th October 1740 – James Boswell born.

James Boswell, 9th Laird of Auchinleck (29 October 1740 – 19 May 1795), was a Scottish lawyer, diarist, and author born in Edinburgh. He is best known for the biography he wrote of one of his contemporaries, the English literary figure Samuel Johnson, which the modern Johnsonian critic Harold Bloom has claimed is the greatest biography written in the English language.

On Writing

Samuel Johnson is remembered as the absolute epitome of the distinguished “man of letters”. But the key to his continuing influence could have its roots in a meeting with a young Ayrshire lawyer and diarist exactly 250 years ago.

James Boswell did not meet Dr Johnson, compiler of the first great English Dictionary and arbiter of literary taste, by chance.

The 22-year-old Boswell was allowed by his father to travel to London after passing a law examination and sought out a meeting with the literary Samuel johnson - a writer begins a book - a reader finishescolossus Johnson through a publisher friend, which took place on 16 May 1763. It was to become a close friendship, which lasted until Johnson’s death in 1784.

On the 16 May 1791, Boswell published the Life of Johnson, a book which is widely regarded as the first modern biography. He wrote about sex, depression, drink, rows with his father, the drudgery of law, the great spectacle of life in London and in Edinburgh.

Did You Know?..

 Boswell’s surname has passed into the English language as a term (Boswell, Boswellian, Boswellism) for a constant companion and observer, especially one who records those observations in print.

In A Scandal in Bohemia, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes affectionately says of Dr. Watson, who narrates the tales, “I am lost without my Boswell.”

Posted in Know Your History

Know Your History – 18th September – Samuel Johnson born

know your history - writingOn this day… 18th September, 1709 – Samuel Johnson born

Samuel Johnson (18 September 1709 – 13 December 1784), often referred to as Dr Johnson, was an English writer who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer. Johnson was a devout Anglican and committed Tory, and has been described as “arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history”.

On Writing

After working as a teacher Johnson moved to London, where he began to write for The Gentleman’s Magazine. His early works include the biography Life of Mr Richard Savage, the poems London and The Vanity of Human Wishes, and the play Irene.

After nine years of work, Johnson’s A Dictionary of the Samuel johnson - a writer begins a book - a reader finishesEnglish Language was published in 1755. It had a far-reaching effect on Modern English and has been described as “one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship”. This work brought Johnson popularity and success. Until the completion of the Oxford English Dictionary 150 years later, Johnson’s was viewed as the pre-eminent British dictionary.

In 1763, he befriended James Boswell, with whom he later travelled to Scotland; Johnson described their travels in A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland. Towards the end of his life, he produced the massive and influential Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets, a collection of biographies and evaluations of 17th- and 18th-century poets.

 Did You Know?..

Johnson’s heir was his servant (a former slave) Francis Barber

Barber joined Johnson’s household as a servant. He lived with Johnson for more than 30 years, as did his wife and children, and became Johnson’s heir.

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