Wednesday, February 21, 2018

On Collecting James Boswell

     The English-speaking race is only just beginning to enter into its huge and glorious inheritance of literature.  The number of persons who have never read Boswell's Life of Johnson , and who yet are capable of enjoying it to the tips of their fingertips, is enormous, and yearly increases.  To get hold of these people, to thrust Boswell into their hands, to obtrude him upon their notice, and thus to capture their intelligence and engage their interest, is the work of the missionary of letters, who does not need to encumber himself with the commentators, but only to do all that he can to circulate the original text in the most convenient and attractive form.  It  is not laziness or indifference which prompts me to say this, but holy zeal and the most absolute conviction.                    
     After all, the book is the thing....
 Augustine Birrell, Introduction to Boswell's Life of Johnson, Archibald Constable, 1904

From an Original sketch by the late George Langton Esq.
Published by John Murray Albermarle Street 1835 
Facing P. 499 Johnsoniana; or Supplement to Boswell, Philadelphia:  Carey and Hart 1842

I didn't start collecting books until I was 38 years old and stationed in England, serving my last overseas tour in the U. S. Air Force before retiring in 1989.  Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) was the first author whose books I collected.   And when I discovered that Mary Hyde (1912-2003) collected Samuel Johnson too, I started collecting her as well.   If you collect Samuel Johnson or Mary Hyde, you're bound to acquire some books by or about James Boswell along the way, especially Boswell's Life of Johnson.   But I didn't actively start collecting James Boswell (1740-1795) until I began cataloguing his library on Library Thing in October 2008.

Boswell's Life of Johnson was first published in 1791.  Rare Book Hub's Rare Book Transaction database shows that Potter and Potter Auctions in Chicago sold a first edition already this year for $2640.  Be prepared to spend more than that if the word give on page 135 of the first volume is spelled gve.

I have more than a handful of Boswell's Life of Johnson:

Oxford:  At the Clarendon Press 1887

Westminster: Archibald Constable; Boston:  The Old Corner Book Store 1904

New York:  The Heritage Press 1963

London:  J. M. Dent; New York:  McClure, Phillips & Co. 1901

London:  J. M. Dent & Sons; New York:  E. P. Dutton 1949
Vol 1 and 2 of Everyman's Library Series, first published in 1906

Oxford & New York:  Oxford University Press 2008 (1904)

New York:  The Modern Library 1955

New York:  Macmillan 1913

New York:  Doubleday & Co. (Literary Guild) 1946

I even have a copy of Boswell's Life of Johnson in Danish that I bought in Copenhagen!

The 1887 Clarendon Press edition, published in six volumes, and edited by George Birkbeck Hill, includes not only Boswell's LOJ, but Boswell's Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides and Samuel Johnson's Diary of a Journey Into North Wales.

My oldest book by James Boswell is a copy of the 1785 first edition of Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides:

This copy was formerly owned by Fitzherbert Macdonald, Diocesan Registrar of Salisbury in the middle to late 1800s.  I also have Macdonald's copies of the 1775 First Edition of A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland by Samuel Johnson, and Remarks on Dr. Johnson's Journey to the Hebrides... by Donald McNicol, London: T. Cadell, 1779.  Both volumes require rebacking.

I  have the Johnsonian Allen T. Hazen's copy of Boswell's Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides that Charles H.Bennett presented to him in 1936.

And here's two inexpensive editions of Boswell's Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides:

Much has been written about Colonel Ralph H. Isham and the discovery of the Boswell Papers.  Here are links to my reviews of two books about Boswell's Papers that come highly recommended, the first book by Frederick A. Pottle and the second by David Buchanan.

Pride & Negligence:  The History of the Boswell Papers

The Treasure of Auchinleck:  The Story of the Boswell Papers

Of relevance to The Treasure of Auchinleck... is the email I received from David Buchanan in July 2012.  The late Gabriel Austin had forwarded a copy of my July 2012 post, A Virtual Tour of My Mary Hyde Collection to him.  And Mr. Buchanan provided information on the identity of the donor with the initials of "EOB" or "EDB," who had given Mary Hyde a copy of The Letters of George Birkbeck Hill.  That book is now in my Mary Hyde Collection.

Here is the Dedication Page of The Treasure of Auchinleck:  The Story of the Boswell Papers

In 1966, Gabriel Austin edited Four Oaks Farm and Four Oaks Library, two books about the home of Donald and Mary Hyde and their library.  And yes, they had a number of books by and about James Boswell.

Mary Hyde wrote extensively about James Boswell.  I have her copy of The Impossible Friendship:  Boswell and Mrs. Thrale, published in 1972.

Mary Hyde gave an address on Boswell's Ebony Cabinet in Canberra, Australia at the Third David Nichol Smith Memorial Seminar in 1973, which was subsequently published in 1976 in the following book:

David Nichol Smith himself talked about Johnsonians and Boswellians in his Presidential Address before the Johnson Society in Lichfield in 1949.

In 1970, the Grolier Club published Eighteenth Century Studies in Honor of Donald F. Hyde, which included three essays pertaining to James Boswell.

William Zachs included Mary Hyde's address on Boswell's Ebony Cabinet in the 2002 Grolier Club book,  Mary Hyde Eccles:  A Miscellany of Her Essays and Addresses.   

If you're curious about the Eccles name and about Mary Hyde herself, you should read the address I presented before the Florida Bibliophile Society in February 2006:  Mary Hyde and the Unending Pursuit.

Back in 1995, Mary Hyde teamed up with the Grolier Club for a bicentenary exhibition of books by and about James Boswell from the Hyde and Grolier Club collections.

Recently, Terry Seymour decided to sell some of the duplicates in his Johnson/Boswell Collections.  So I invited Terry to be my guest at "The Great Florida Bibliophile Society Book Swap Meet" held on Sunday, November 19. 2017.  And yes,  I added to my Johnson/Boswell Collections!

The "Boswell Factory" at the Sterling Library, Yale University churned out both research and trade editions about James Boswell.  I have a few of the Yale trade editions, and more!

Boswell's London Journal in Danish!

And Boswell in Holland in Danish!

William Wimsatt Jr. sent a copy of Boswell for the Defense to himself, and even tipped in a newspaper article about the book he wrote!

James Caudle gave me a copy of Boswell:  The Great Biographer, when I visited "The Boswell Factory" on June 7, 2010:

Mark Harris edited a book for McGraw-Hill in 1981, The Heart of Boswell, which provides highlights from six of Boswell's Journals, including Corsica Boswell and Boswell in Search of a Wife.

An amusing read is R. M. Freeman's 1923 book, The New Boswell, in which Boswell records Samuel Johnson's conversations in the afterlife about earthly matters, together with Johnson's encounters with Socrates, Shakespeare, Napoleon, and Lord Macaulay.

Lord Macaulay did a number on John Wilson Croker's 1831 edition of The Life of Samuel Johnson, calling the edition, "ill compiled, ill arranged, ill written, and ill printed."  And although he acknowledges Boswell to be "the first of biographers," he besmirches his character, calling him "the laughing-stock of the whole of that brilliant society which has owed him the greater part of its fame." Thomas Carlyle defended Croker and Boswell.  And William Strunk, of later Elements of Style fame, edited a book in 1895 containing both Macaulay's and Carlyle's essays––well worth reading, as too is Strunk's Introduction.  Strunk's book was reprinted in 1896.  I have both editions.

Twenty-five years after denouncing Croker's Life of Samuel Johnson, Lord Macaulay himself wrote a short essay on the Life of Samuel Johnson.  To this day, his essay on Croker's Life of Samuel Johnson  has more readers than his own essay on  the LOJ.  I have a 1903 edition of Macaulay's Life of Johnson.

As for Croker, I have an 1842 Philadelphia edition of Johnsoniana; or, Supplement to Boswell, which was first published in London in 1836.  The last section contains a brief memoir of Boswell by Edmond Malone.  This book, btw, was well-received in the book world.

Here are a few more books about Boswell in my library.  And I present them in no uncertain order:


Mary Hyde isn't the only Johnson/Boswell  Collector in my library.  A. Edward Newton (1864-1940) had a collection that included 28 James Boswell items, ranging from autograph letters to presentation copies of Boswell's books, including one to his son, James Boswell Jr.

And then there's my friend, the late Paul Ruxin.  Paul was one of our Auchinleck Advisers when I helped catalogue the Boswell Library on Library Thing.  And Paul permitted us to catalogue the eleven books in his library that were formerly in the Boswell Library at Auchinleck.

In 2017, Sam Ellenport and Gordon Pradl compiled and edited the subscriber's edition, The Past as Present:  Selected Thought and Essays Paul Ruxin.   There are three essays pertaining to the Boswells in this book.  Also in the book is my tribute to Paul, My Friend Paul Ruxin.

Finally, there is the book that is the veritable bible about the Boswell Library:  Boswell's Books:  Four Generations of Collecting and Collectors by my friend Terry Seymour.

Terry has bestowed the greatest of honors on me, by including me in the section of the book titled, Significant People in Boswell Book History.  I am gloriously and alphabetically sandwiched between Edmond Malone and A. Edward Newton!

I can't top that....

And that my friends, are the books I've acquired while collecting James Boswell.


In the last ten years, I've written about Mary Hyde, Samuel Johnson, James Boswell and their libraries.  Here are links to most of the posts:

Mary Hyde and the Unending Pursuit in Nov 2008,
An Unexpected Find in Umatilla, Florida in Oct 2009,
A Virtual Tour of My Mary Hyde Collection in July 2012,
A Splendid History of Ownership in Oct 2013

My Many Lives of Samuel Johnson in May 2011,
My Samuel Johnson Collection in Feb 2012,
About Samuel Johnson's Undergraduate Library in March 2015.
(I now have 255 books in my Samuel Johnson Collection; the post needs updating).

Cataloguing Dead People's Books:  Namely the Libraries of Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, and Charles Lamb in Mar 2009,
Corrections to the 1810 Catalogue of Greek & Latin Classics in the Auchinleck Library in Jul 2011,
A Statius Check in Jul 2011,
The Boswell Copy of Piozzi's Anecdotes of Doctor Johnson? in Feb 2013,
Cataloguing and Recataloguing the Boswell Library in June 2013,
Other People's Books, Dead People's Books, and Boswell's Books in Sep 2016,
Boswell's Books: Four Generations of Collectors and Collections in Oct 2016.