Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.

James BOSWELL   |   Samuel JOHNSON

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“THAT DIALOGUE OF MIND, HEART AND VOICE”: FIRST EDITION OF BOSWELL’S LIFE OF JOHNSON, 1791

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, period-style full tree calf gilt, red and green morocco spine labels, raised bands, elaborately gilt-decorated spines, marbled endpapers.

First edition, first state of "the most famous biography in any language, one of Western literature's most germinal achievements."

"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. Two 20th-Century dealer descriptions laid in.

Interior quite clean, much nicer than often seen; beautifully rebound to period-style.

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