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ItemID: #125436
Cost: $27,000.00

Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.

James Boswell


BOSWELL, James. The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. Comprehending an Account of His Studies and Numerous Works… London: Printed by Henry Baldwin, for Charles Dilly, 1791. Two volumes. Quarto, contemporary full mottled calf sympathetically rebacked, gilt-decorated spines, red and brown morocco spine labels endpapers. $27,000.

First edition, first state of "the most famous biography in any language, one of Western literature's most germinal achievements." The copy of politician, traveler, and writer John Cam Hobhouse, the Baron Broughton, most famous for his long-running and very close friendship with Lord Byron, with his engraved armorial bookplate.

"The Shakespeare of biographers" (Macaulay), James Boswell "excelled in insight into human nature and in ability to dramatize a situation. For such purposes [Dr. Samuel] Johnson was God's plenty… Boswell was not merely a conscientious preserver of detail; he was also an inspired shaping artist. He knew, and transmits, the sound of his subject's voice to a degree unparalleled in other biographers… Completeness of portrayal was certainly Boswell's aim—and his accomplishment" (Baugh et al., 1065-66). "If there had been no Boswell, Johnson would have been one of the most famous names in English literature; but that he has become a household name… is due to the chance that brought Boswell into his company… Boswell is the sniffing bloodhound who will follow the scent of individuality into whatever territory it leads him. The fascination of their dialogue, that dialogue of mind, heart and voice round which Boswell organized his great Life, is that it is not merely between two very different men but between two epochs. In its pages, Romantic Europe speaks to Renaissance Europe, and is answered" (Wain, 229). "Sales exceeded all expectations. Of a total of 1750 sets printed, 800 were sold in the first two weeks, 1200 by the end of August, 1400 by December and 1600 by August 1792… Boswell's Life of Johnson remains the most famous biography in any language, one of Western literature's most germinal achievements" (DNB). Volume I is first state , with "gve" uncorrected on page 135, line 10 (a change made before publication). Cancels present at Volume I, leaf [2M4] (pages 271-72); Volume II, [E3] (pages 29-30), [2O4] (pages 287-88), [2Q3] (pages 301-02), [2Z1] (pages 353-54) and [3E2] (pages 395-96). Vol. II without blank A1, as often. With engraved frontispiece portrait of Johnson by James Heath after Sir Joshua Reynolds in Volume I and two engraved plates in Volume II. With the table of contents bound in Volume I, as often.
Rothschild 463. Grolier 100.

Engraved armorial bookplate of John Cam Hobhouse (Baron Broughton), radical politician, traveler, writer, and long-standing close friend and confidante of Lord Byron, and the eventual executor of Byron's estate. In many ways, Hobhouse was Boswell to Byron's Johnson: his 1813 book A Journey through Albania chronicles the trip he and Byron took together through Albania and Turkey. "In the autumn of 1816, with Scrope Davies, [Hobhouse] visited [Byron] at the Villa Diodati near Geneva, arriving on the day Shelley left. He and Byron dined often with Madame De Staël at Coppet, and made two alpine tours… In Austrian-occupied Milan, Byron and Hobhouse found that their politics created an appreciative audience for them such as they had never experienced in England. They then visited Venice and Rome together. During late 1817 and early 1818 Hobhouse wrote some of the notes for canto iv of Childe Harold; the poem was afterwards dedicated to him by Byron" (ODNB). However, after Byron's death, Hobhouse made a decidedly un-Boswell-like decision: he demanded the destruction of the manuscript memoirs that Byron had left behind, fearful of the scandal that their publication might cause. Engraved armorial bookplate of Hobhouse's father, Sir Benjamin Hobhouse, first baronet Broughton, in Volume II (with John Cam Hobhouse's bookplate on rear pastedown). Occasional marginalia, in pencil and in ink.

Some foxing to text. Binding extremities lightly rubbed. An exceptionally good copy, handsomely rebacked, with an excellent provenance.

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