Serving Scholarly Study

A review of James Boswell’s biography The Life of Samuel Johnson.

This paper examines James Boswell’s interpretation of the life and works of Dr. Samuel Johnson, one of the most important figures in 18th-century British literature. It attempts to show how Boswell not only provides an accurate portrayal of the literary giant’s life, but also serves scholarly study on Johnson as a legitimate record of his scholarly thought and philosophy. This is done through different genres of first-hand knowledge, from correspondence, to conversation, to secondary information gathered from Johnson’s colleagues, family and friends.
“As to the first proposed question, Does the biography accurately portray its subject in a fair and impartial light? Boswell’s account seems to suggest the answer is an unquestionable Yes. While the biography seemingly fails in being impartial, as Boswell was a member of Johnson’s Literary Club and regarded his subject in the highest esteem, his record of Johnson’s life most definitely appears fair. Impartiality can perhaps be disregarded in this case as Boswell was privileged with first-hand knowledge of his topic: I had the honor and happiness of enjoying his friendship for upwards of twenty years; as I had the scheme of writing his life constantly in view; as he was well apprised of this circumstance, and from time to time obligingly satisfied my inquiries, by communicating to me the incidents of his early years (Boswell 13).”