A Boswell Taster

While The Life of Samuel Johnson has never been out of print since its publication in 1791, Boswell’s numerous other writings have been less accessible and indeed Yale University where the archive is held are still engaged in a monumental campaign to publish the complete Boswell papers. One of their greatest triumphs was the publication in 1950 of Boswell’s youthful London Journal 1762-1763 which became an international bestseller.

Below is a selection for those who would like a taste of the glorious joy that is to be found in Boswell’s writings.

To listen to a recording of Boswell’s favourite songs scroll to the bottom of the page.

How easily & cleverly do I write just now! I am really pleased with myself; Words come skipping to me like lambs upon Moffat hill. There’s fancy! There’s Simile! In short, I am at present a Genius.

Journal in London, 9 Feb. 1763

I sat up all last night, writing letters, and bringing up my lagging Journal, which, like a stone to be rolled up a hill, must be kept constantly going.

Journal in London, 28 July 1763

Death makes as little impression upon the minds of those who are occupied in the profession of the Law as it does in an army.

Journal in Edinburgh, 11 Aug. 1774

Scotch reels make me melancholy, though they be brisk. But I have heard them at the time of life when I was very low-spirited, and used to think of Highlanders going abroad as soldiers and never returning.

Journal at Ashbourne, 23 Sept. 1777

No man has been more successful in making acquaintance easily than I have been…. I even bring people quickly on to a degree of cordiality. I am a quick fire; but I know not if I last sufficiently…. With many people I have compared myself to a taper, which can light up a great & lasting fire, though itself is soon extinguished.

Letter to William Johnson Temple, 18 March 1775

I teized him [Dr Johnson] with fanciful impressions of unhappiness. A moth having fluttered round the candle, and burnt itself, he laid hold of this little incident to admonish me; saying, with a sly look, and in a solemn but quiet tone, ‘That creature was its own tormentor, and I believe its name was Boswell.’

Life of Johnson, at Colchester, 5 Aug. 1763

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.

Life of Johnson [1791], 19 Sept. 1777

We should be careful never to imagine that the wedding-day is the burial of love, but that in reality love then begins its best life.

“The Hypochondriack”, Essay XLII, “On Marriage”, April 1781

I am by no means a disciple of those philosophers who pretend that poverty is not an evil.

“The Hypochondriack”, Essay IV, “On Excess”, Jan. 1778

One who is to leap across a pit, or ride through deep water, ought not to look into it, but beyond it.

“The Hypochondriack”, Essay XVI, “On Death”, Jan. 1779

The love of pleasure is not inconsistent with the love of GOD; nor the love of liberty with the love of government.

“The Hypochondriack”, Essay XIX, “On Subordination in Government”, April 1779

We are not to think it strange that the greatest proportion of all writing is but new workmanship of old bullion.

“The Hypochondriack”, Essay XXI, “On Quotations”, June 1779

Sometimes it has occurred to me that a man should not live more than he can record, as a farmer should not have a larger crop than he can gather in.

“The Hypochondriack”, Essay LXVI, “On Diaries”, March 1783