Monday, 16 May 2011

Boswell anniversary

From The Writer's Almanac: On this day in 1763, Samuel Johnson met his future biographer, James Boswell, in a London bookshop.Boswell was an aimless 23-year-old wannabe writer, but the only subject he could think to write about was himself. Johnson was 53 at the time and a highly regarded writer and scholar.
Their first meeting was not auspicious. They quarreled about a mutual friend and didn't part on good terms. But Boswell attended one of Johnson's parties a few weeks later and Johnson warmed up to the ambitious young man. They talked at length at the party and went on to become close friends. Boswell began to record everything Johnson said and did for the biography of Johnson's life that would consume him for almost three decades.
Johnson died in 1784. Boswell's The Life of Samuel Johnson was published in 1791, and it quickly became a best-seller. But Boswell's later years were by my most accounts unhappy. He felt like a literary failure, despite the success of the book, and he spent his free time drinking. He was a garrulous drunk and people were afraid to confide in him lest he spill their secrets while he was sloshed. He died in 1795 while at work on the third edition of Life.
Today, the word Boswell is used as a synonym for 'constant companion'; of Watson, Sherlock Holmes says, 'I am lost without my Boswell'.

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