Books: Portrait of a Genius

JAMES BOSWELL: THE EARLIER YEARS (1740-1769) by Frederick A. Pottle. 606 pages. McGraw-Hill. $12.50.

Scotland's James Boswell (1740-95) has done most of his growing in the grave. Until he died, his Life of Samuel Johnson was more esteemed as a feat of stenography than as a work of literature. In the 19th century, the book was accurately revalued as the first great biography in English, but its author was dismissed by proper Victorians as a whoremongering buffoon. "Servile and impertinent," Lord Macaulay called him, "a bigot and a sot, a talebearer, a common butt...

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