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James Boswell ( 1740-1795)
James Boswell was an English writer who lived in the 18th century. Actually there were two James Boswell’s. The first was the grandfather of the other one. The grandfather attended university, studied law in Holland and was admitted advocate. He brought the Auchinleck estate back to reasonable financial stability and order. His eldest son also became lawyer and was appointed to the highest civil and criminal court in Scotland. He build in 1762 the fine, neo-classical Auchinleck House and improved the family estate. Alexander married Euphemia Erskine. Her ancestors were descendents of the 16th century Earl of Mar, so her son James could clame kinship with both Bonnie Prince Charlie and George the third, as well as with Robert the Bruce. In 1740 she gave birth to our James in the family house in Edinburgh.
When James was 5 years old he attended Mundell’s private school, learning English, writing and arithmetic, as well as Latin. He disliked his time there and began to show signs of depression and exhaustion, so from the age of 8 he was privately tutored, until he went to University. First by John Dunn, later by Fergusson. They introduced him into the delights of literature, including Spectator essays. James entered the University of Edinburgh at the age of 13 and maintained his studies for the next year, including Latin, Greek, Logic and Natural and Moral Philosophy.Here he met Addison and Locke, his first friends. Later on he writes with his 2 close friends Johnston and Temple. Thanks to this letters we know something of the man behind the Great Life of Johnson.
In 1759 he fell in love with a catholic widow, called Mrs. Cowper, who influenced him a lot. When his protestant father found out, he sent James to Glasgow. Here he met Adam Smith, writer of inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of Nations. James wrote his first book: A view of the Edinburg Theatre during the summer season ( 1759). Then he went to London, where he moved in with Montgomerie, tenth earl of Eglington.He became engaged in 4 relationships at the same time, and was living a rather extravagant life. He went to Utrecht to study law and back in Scotland he wrote: An account of Corsica, a study of the struggle for independence of the island.
In 1763 he had met Dr. Samuel Johnson, and from the first moment they talked, Boswell made notes of Johnson’s conversation, with Johnson encouraging him to do so. They went together on a trip to the Hebrides, on which James wrote his book Journal of a tour to the Hebrides, but only published it in 1786, a year after Johnson’s death. In 1769 James married Margaret Montgomerie, a sensible woman and extraordinary patient with her husband and his friendship with Johnson. But she disliked him so much, she moved back to Scotland a couple of years later. When in 1791 James published his masterpiece: Life of Samuel Johnson, he was alone and unhappy. He died on May 19th, 1795. The Life of Samuel Johnson is considered the masterpiece of British biography. Boswell still lives in for instance the dutch university: James Boswellinstitute.