Boswell family. Papers of James Boswell (1740-1795)

Scope and Content

Within the Laing Collection there are letters both from and to James Boswell including: correspondence with J. Cumming, April 1785, and extracts from a letter made by J. Cumming, October 1769, at La.II.82; correspondence with Sir David Dalrymple, Lord Hailes, at La.II.180 and La.II.603; and, correspondence with Isabella Strange, 1769, at La.II.81. There is also a note with an autograph statement at La.III.619, a copy of a will of James Boswell, and an epitaph at La.II.417/23 and at Gen. 750D, f.14.

Administrative / Biographical History

James Boswell was born in Edinburgh in 1740. He was educated first privately by a tutor and then at James Mundell's school in Edinburgh, and then at the Royal High School in the city. He studied law at Edinburgh, Glasgow and Utrecht universities and although these studies were interrupted by a period in London pursuing his other interests of literature, politics and the army he was admitted to the Scottish Bar in 1766. It was in London, 16 May 1763, that Boswell first met Samuel Johnson (1709-1784).

In addition to studying in the Netherlands, Boswell toured Germany and met Rousseau and Voltaire during a visit to Geneva. In 1765, he was permitted by his father to visit Italy. After a period in Rome and Florence, he travelled to Corsica from Livorno (Leghorn) and was introduced, through Rousseau, to Pasquale Paoli, the Corsican patriot (1725-1807) responsible for ending Genoese rule of the island. Boswell returned to Britain in 1766, first staying in London and then proceeding to Scotland where he applied himself to legal work in Edinburgh and writing an account of his visit to Corsica. In 1769 he married his cousin, Margaret Montgomerie.

The attraction of London society, his friendship with Johnson, and his strong political interests frequently drew Boswell away from Edinburgh, and in 1773 he persuaded Johnson to undertake an extensive tour of Scotland and the Hebrides.

Boswell's publications includeAn account of Corsica (1768), Journal of a tour to the Hebrides (1785) and The life of Johnson (1791).

Boswell succeeded to the family estate on the death of his father in 1782 and James Boswell himself died at his home in Great Portland Street, London, on 19 May 1795.

He had two sons, Alexander and James, and three daughters, Veronica, Euphemia, and Elizabeth.

Acquisition Information

Epitaph presented August 1964, Accession no. E64.23.

Note

The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Stephen, Leslie. and Lee, Sidney (eds.). Dictionary of national biography. Vol.2. Beal-Browell. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1908. (2) Keay, John. and Keay, Julia (eds.). Collins encyclopaedia of Scotland. London: Harper Collins, 1994.

Related Material

The local Indexes show another reference to James Boswell in the form of a mention in a letter at Dk.7.52/52.

Additional Information

The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Stephen, Leslie. and Lee, Sidney (eds.). Dictionary of national biography. Vol.2. Beal-Browell. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1908. (2) Keay, John. and Keay, Julia (eds.). Collins encyclopaedia of Scotland. London: Harper Collins, 1994.