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Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson, a unique insight into Johnson's personality and habits

The Life of Samuel Johnson

James Boswell

Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson, a unique insight into Johnson's personality and habits

Q. Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson enables us to love Johnson ‘as we only can love a human being, and never a mere wise man or great writer’. Give answer with reference from Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson

Answer: This quote is actually from Virginia Woolf's essay "The Art of Biography" and refers to Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson as an example of a biography that transcends the mere retelling of facts and achievements to create a vivid and compelling portrait of the subject as a complex and flawed human being.

Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson is widely regarded as one of the greatest biographies in the English language, and it is praised for its rich and vivid portrayal of Johnson's character and life. Boswell's own relationship with Johnson, which began in 1763 and lasted until Johnson's death in 1784, provided him with a unique insight into Johnson's personality and habits.

In Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson, the author strives to present a complete and accurate picture of Johnson's personality, including his eccentricities, insecurities, and contradictions, as well as his intellectual brilliance and achievements. Boswell portrays Johnson as a larger-than-life figure, but also as someone who struggled with depression, physical ailments, and loneliness.

Boswell's descriptions of Johnson's mannerisms, such as his tendency to roll his head and body when he was speaking, or his habit of talking to himself in Latin, bring Johnson to life in a way that makes him feel like a real person, rather than a distant historical figure.

In addition, Boswell's extensive use of Johnson's own words, both in conversation and in writing, helps to create a sense of intimacy between the reader and Johnson. By including Johnson's witty sayings, his pithy aphorisms, and his insightful comments on a wide range of topics, Boswell invites the reader to engage with Johnson's ideas and to appreciate his intellectual and literary achievements.

By focusing on Johnson's personal life and relationships, as well as his literary works and opinions, Boswell creates a multi-dimensional portrait that invites the reader to empathize with and relate to Johnson as a fellow human being. As Woolf notes, "Boswell's hero becomes our friend. We love Johnson as we only can love a human being, and never a mere wise man or great writer."

However, Boswell does not shy away from depicting Johnson's less attractive traits, such as his tendency towards melancholy and his frequent outbursts of anger. By presenting Johnson as a flawed but ultimately sympathetic figure, Boswell creates a sense of empathy and connection between the reader and his subject.

In fact, Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson is a masterful work of biography that transcends its genre to offer a profound and moving portrait of one of the most complex and fascinating figures in English literary history. Overall, Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson is a testament to the power of biography to not only inform and educate but also to move and inspire readers on a deeply emotional level.


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