James Boswell, the biographer of Samuel Johnson, born in Edinburgh, Oct. 29, 1740, died in London, June 19, 1795. His father, as judge of the court' of session, bore the title of Lord Auchinleck, after the family estate in Ayrshire. James studied at the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, and early in life became a high churchman and a tory, although his father was a rigid Presbyterian and a whig. His early ambition for intimate relations with distinguished persons was strengthened on his first visit to London in 1760, and it was with difficulty that his father prevailed upon him to give up the notion of going into the guards, and to resume the study of law. After remaining for a short time at the university of Utrecht, he travelled extensively, visiting Voltaire, Rousseau, and other men of note. In 1766 he became a member of the faculty of advocates, but never practised, and soon afterward published a pamphlet concerning the celebrated Douglas .cause, and one in 1774 containing a report of the decisions of the court of session on literary property.
He was much ridiculed on account of his enthusiasm for Paoli, whom he had visited in Corsica; hut his "Account of Corsica, with Memoirs of General Pasquale di Paoli" (Glasgow, 1768; 3d ed., London, 1769), was praised by Hume, Johnson, Gray, and Walpole, translated into several languages, and was in a great measure the means of obtaining for Gen. Paoli marked attention and a pension of £1,200 on coming to England. In 1769 Bos well, after numerous love adventures, married a cousin, Miss Margaret Montgomery, an accomplished lady, with whom he lived very happily, and who died in 1789, leaving him two sons and three daughters. The great event of his life was his acquaintance with Johnson, formed in 1763, which ripened into intimacy. Through Johnson's influence he became in 1773 a member of the famous Literary club, where he met Burke, Garrick, Goldsmith, Reynolds, and other eminent persons. He went with Johnson to the Hebrides, and his narrative of this journey appeared in 1785, soon after his idol's decease; it contains valuable records of Johnson's conversation, and is exceedingly entertaining.
Between 1773 and 1785 Boswell only enjoyed such snatches of Johnson's company and conversation as were afforded by occasional visits to London. These visits were but a dozen in all, and, added to the time spent in the northern journey, make the whole period during which the biographer enjoyed intercourse with his subject only 276 days. But the "Life of Johnson," which was published in 1791, is universally conceded to be the most entertaining biography ever written, and Macaulay declares it to be the best in universal literature. John Wilson Croker's famous edition of this work, including the "Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides," with numerous additions and notes, appeared in 1831 (5 vols.), and has frequently been reprinted. Boswell succeeded to his father's estate in 1782, and removed to London in 1786. In 1790 he stood for parliament, but was defeated. In addition to the works already mentioned, he published several political pamphlets and a series of papers in the "London Magazine," entitled "The Hypochondriac," expressive of the feelings of a man subject to a depression of spirits, such as was common to himself and to Dr. Johnson. A posthumous volume of "Letters of James Boswell, addressed to the Rev. W. J. Temple," was first published from the original MS. in London in 1856. In his letters published in 1785, Boswell says: "Egotism and vanity are the indigenous plants of my mind." This frank avowal of his foibles and his eccentricities only served to enhance the popularity which he acquired by his amiability and accomplishments, and by his generous appreciation of real merit. - His eldest son, Sir Alexander, born Oct. 9, 1775, an intimate friend of Sir Walter Scott and a member of the Roxburghe club, was a contributor to "The Beacon," a bitterly personal tory journal of Edinburgh, and to its successor, "The Sentinel " of Glasgow. Having in the latter insult ed Mr. James Stuart, a leading whig of Edinburgh, by an imputation of cowardice, he was challenged to a duel, in which he was mortally wounded, March 26, 1822, and died the next day.
Mr. Stuart was tried for murder and acquitted. Sir Alexander was the author of a volume of "Songs, chiefly in the Scottish Dialect" (1803), "Clan Alpine's Vow "(1811), etc. - The second son, James, was the author of a "Memoir of Edmund Malone" (1814) and editor of Malone's edition of Shakespeare, and also of several publications of the Roxburghe club. He died in London in 1822, in his 43d year; and it was immediately after returning from his funeral that Sir Alexander fought his fatal duel.