James Boswell

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James Boswell, 9th Laird of Auchinleck (29 October 1740 – 19 May 1795) was a lawyer, diarist, and author born in Edinburgh, Scotland; he is best known for his biography of Samuel Johnson.

Boswell's surname has passed into the English language as a term (Boswell, Boswellian, Boswellism) for a constant companion and observer, especially one who records those observations in print. In A Scandal in Bohemia, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's character Sherlock Holmes affectionately says of Dr. Watson, who narrates the tales, "I am lost without my Boswell." [1]


Early life

Boswell was born near St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh on 29 October 1740. He was the eldest son of a judge, Alexander Boswell, 8th Laird of Auchinleck and his wife Euphemia Erskine; he inherited his father’s estate Auchinleck in Ayrshire. Boswell's mother was a strict Calvinist, and he felt that his father was cold to him. As a child, he was delicate and suffered from some type of nervous ailment which appeared to be inherent[2] and would afflict him sporadically all through his life. At the age of five, he was sent to James Mundell's academy, an advanced institution by the standards of the time, where he was instructed in English, Latin, writing and arithmetic. Boswell was unhappy there, and his sickliness began to manifest itself in the physical indicants associated with night fears and extreme shyness.

In view of this, the now-eight-year-old was removed from the academy and educated by a string of private tutors who included John Dunn and a Mr Fergusson. The former had rather more success than his successor: he versed his charge in the joys of literature (not least of all the Spectator essays) and opened his eyes to the pleasances of religion. Dunn was also present during, if not directly involved in, Boswell's serious affliction of 1752, when he was rusticated to the hamlet of Moffat in northern Dumfriesshire. This afforded him his first experience of genuine society, and his recovery was rapid and complete. It may, however, have inculcated the notion that travel and entertainment were his best sedatives.

At thirteen, Boswell was enrolled into the arts course at the University of Edinburgh, studying there from 1753 to 1758. Midway through his studies, he suffered a serious depression and nervous illness, but, when he recovered, he had thrown off all signs of delicacy and attained robust health. Boswell had swarthy skin, black hair and dark eyes; he was of average height, and he tended to plumpness. His appearance was alert and masculine, and he had an ingratiating sense of good humour.

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