29th October 1740

Biographer and travel writer James Boswell is born

James Boswell was a prolific writer who travelled widely and produced The Journal of a Tour to the Outer Hebrides.

However, the work for which he is best remembered is the Life of Samuel Johnson. Johnson is the essayist, poet and playwright who is remembered for compiling a dictionary of the English language. Johnson was also portrayed by Lanarkshire-born Robbie Coltrane in an episode of the BBC comedy series, Blackadder.

Early life and education

Boswell was born in Edinburgh in 1740 and attended university in both Edinburgh and Glasgow. After qualifying, he moved to London, which is where he first met Johnson, and the two quickly became firm friends. However, their friendship wasn’t enough to keep him in the city: Boswell moved to Utrecht to continue his studies, before spending a further two years travelling around Europe.

Upon his return to Britain, he settled in Scotland and conducted an unremarkable career in law, during which he travelled to London frequently to spend time with his friend, Samuel Johnson.
There was a considerable age gap between the two men. Johnson was 31 years older than James Boswell, and his death in 1784 was to prove the catalyst that at last brought Boswell the public attention he deserved as a writer and biographer.

Biography of Samuel Johnson

Seven years after Johnson’s death, Boswell’s biography of the man was published, drawing heavily on Boswell’s own diary entries and personal records to produce an intimate portrait of the wordsmith. It has since been called one of the greatest biographies ever written.

The Scots Magazine of 1 May 1797 wrote that “in 1791 he published what he called his magnum opus, ‘The Life of Dr Samuel Johnson’, in two vols. Quarto, which had a rapid sale, and has since been reprinted in three vols. 8vo. With all the objections that have been made to the plan of this work, and some of them are not so easily answered, it is not possible to mention a work of equal entertainment.”
James Boswell’s health began to fall later in life, and he died on 19 June 1795.



Other events that occured in October

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