James Boswell

29th October 1740 to 19th May 1795
James Boswell

James Boswell was an Edinburgh lawyer, diarist, and author but it his friendship with and biography of Samuel Johnson for which he is best known.

Born in Edinburgh in 1740, Boswell was sent to Edinburgh University at the age of 13 and then to Glasgow University where he was taught by Adam Smith, found religion and became a monk before heading to London for a short-lived career as a rake. I twas on his second trip to London in 1763 he met Samuel Johnson, beginning a friendship which would result in his Life of Johnson considered by some the greatest biography ever written.

In the same year as he met Johnson, Boswell travelled to Utrecht to continue his legal training. For the next two years he would travel around Europe, recording his experiences such as meeting Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Corsican independence leader Pasquale Paoli in diaries which would eventually form Boswell in Holland and Boswell on the Grand Tour.

Despite passing his legal exams and becoming an Advocate in Edinburgh, Boswell’s life was not entirely happy. He was only moderately successful as a lawyer, drank and gambled heavily and was repeatedly unfaithful to his wife. His main joy was his annual trips to London where he could mix with his literary friends. He died there in 1795.

Many of Boswell’s private papers and notes for his writing are held by Yale University.