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Mr. Boswell and Mr. Johnson

250 years ago today, a chance meeting in a London parlor introduced one of England’s greatest literary heavyweights to his biggest fan. On May 16, 1763, 22 year old James Boswell met the middle-aged author Samuel Johnson. Though Johnson famously snubbed young Boswell for his Scottish origins (Boswell: “Mr. Johnson, I do indeed come from Scotland, but I cannot help it.” Johnson: “That, Sir, I find, is what a very great many of your countrymen cannot help.”), the two became friends. Boswell later achieved literary fame as Johnson’s biographer. Boswell’s book Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides (1785) recounts his travels with Johnson in the highlands and western islands of Scotland in the 1773 and was published shortly after Johnson’s death. The work stands as a sort of prequel to Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson (1791), which has been hailed as one of the best biographies in the English language. Boswell based both books on his personal journal as well as secondary sources and Johnson’s own writings.

Special Collections has several early editions of works by both Boswell and Johnson, including a 2nd edition of The Life of Samuel Johnson and a first edition of Johnson’s dictionary!

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