Books: The Compleat Boswell

"Servile and impertinent," Lord Macaulay had called him, "shallow and pedantic, a bigot and a sot, bloated with family pride, a talebearer, an eavesdropper, a common butt in the taverns of London." That, for several generations of scholars, was the final verdict on James Boswell. The 18th Century Scotsman was regarded as little more than a toady and a drunken rogue, whose one claim to fame was his great and somehow accidental Life of Samuel Johnson. And many credited the book's virtues to the subject rather than the biographer.

Over the past 20 years,...

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