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.
- Boswell is pleasant and gay,
For frolic by nature designed;
He heedlessly rattles away
When company is to his mind.
- In a poem about himself, in "Biographic Sketches" in Chambers's Edinburgh Journal Vol. IV (1836). p. 341
- I jumped up on the benches, roared out, "Damn you, you rascals!", hissed and was in the greatest rage. [...] I hated the English; I wished from my soul that the Union was broke and that we might give them another battle of Bannockburn.
- On an occasion of mocking a pair of Highland officers, circa 1672, as attributed by Ruaridh Nicoll, "As a Scot, I hate this idea of a neutered nation", The Observer, 22 April 2007
The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (1785)
- 'Sir,' said Mr Johnson, 'a lawyer has no business with the justice or injustice of the cause which he undertakes, unless his client asks his opinion, and then he is bound to give it honestly. The justice or injustice of the cause is to be decided by the judge.'
- (15 August 1773)
- I fancy mankind may come, in time, to write all aphoristically.
- Quoting Samuel Johnson (16 August 1773)
- The best good man, with the worst natur'd muse.
- Quoting John Wilmot, earl of Rochester's poem "To Lord Buckhurst", (18 August 1773)
- Influence must ever be in proportion to property; and it is right it should.
- Quoting Samuel Johnson (18 August 1773)
- In every place, where there is any thing worthy of observation, there should be a short printed directory for strangers.
- (19 August 1773)
- As all who come into the country must obey the King, so all who come into an university must be of the Church.
- Quoting Samuel Johnson (19 August 1773)
- My lord and Dr Johnson disputed a little, whether the savage or the London shopkeeper had the best existence; his lordship, as usual, preferring the savage.
- I regretted I was not the head of a clan; however, though not possessed of such an hereditary advantage, I would always endeavour to make my tenants follow me.
- (31 August 1773
- Such groundless fears will arise in the mind, before it has resumed its vigour after sleep!
- (1 September 1773)
- When I called upon Dr. Johnson next morning, I found him highly satisfied with his colloquial prowess the preceding evening. "Well, (said he,) we had good talk." BOSWELL: "Yes, Sir, you tossed and gored several persons."
- He who has provoked the lash of wit, cannot complain that he smarts from it.
- His mind resembled the vast ampitheatre, the Colisæum at Rome. In the centre stood his judgement, which like a mighty gladiator, combated those apprehensions that, like the wild beasts of the Arena, were all around in cells, ready to be let out upon him. After a conflict, he drives them back into their dens; but not killing them, they were still assailing him.
- Referring to Johnson (26 October 1769)
- 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.
- (19 September 1777)
- You are a philosopher, Dr. Johnson. I have tried too in my time to be a philosopher; but, I don't know how, cheerfulness was always breaking in.
- Quoting Edwards, an old schoolmate of Johnson's (17 April 1778)
- Then, all censure of a man's self is oblique praise.
- (25 April 1778)
- [...] I observed he [Samuel Johnson] poured a large quantity of it [wine] into a glass, and swallowed it greedily. Everything about his character and manners was forcible and violent; there never was any moderation; many a day did he fast, many a year did he refrain from wine; but when he did eat, it was voraciously; when he did drink wine, it was copiously. He could practise abstinence, but not temperance.
- (March 1781)
- What can he mean by coming among us? He is not only dull himself, but the cause of dullness in others.
- Spoken by Samuel Foote about a "law-Lord" (1783)
- [...] for the Doctor observed, that no man takes upon himself small blemishes without supposing that great abilities are attributed to him; and that, in short, this affectation of candour or modesty was but another kind of indirect self-praise, and had its foundation in vanity.
- (30 November 1784)
- Johnson is dead. Let us go to the next best — there is nobody; no man can be said to put you in mind of Johnson.
- Quoting William Gerard Hamilton (1784)
Quotes about Boswell
- Sir, you have but two topicks, yourself and me. I am sick of both.
- Samuel Johnson, Life of Johnson (1791), Vol. III, May 1776, p. 313.
- Boswell is the first of biographers. He has no second.
- Thomas Babington Macaulay, Review of Croker's Edition of Boswell's Life of Johnson in The Edinburgh Review (September 1831)
- Biographers, translators, editors, all, in short, who employ themselves in illustrating the lives or writings of others, are peculiarly exposed to the Lues Boswelliana, or disease of admiration.
- Thomas Babington Macaulay, Essays Contributed to the Edinburgh Review (1843), Vol. 2, "William Pitt, Earl of Chatham"