A Life of James Boswell by Peter Martin
For almost one hundred and fifty years after his death, James Boswell (1740-1795) was known chiefly as the author of one of the supreme achievements in biography, The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791). During that time 'Bozzy' was also denigrated as a moral reprobate and his great biography grudgingly allowed to be an accidental work of genius written by a buffoon and fool. Then in the 1920s and '30s in Ireland and Scotland came sensational discoveries of masses of his papers, including the copious personal journals he kept for most of his life, long thought to have been destroyed. With their publication, he has emerged as not only one of the most knowable human beings but also a writer of the highest order. They reveal him as the rarest and most complex of human beings: a man of eternal boyhood, loved and admired for his geniality and high spirits, yet also mocked and chastened by people who could or would not understand him. His life traced violent conflicts and grotesque juxtapositions; he was a study in volatility, a loose cannon to be kept at arm's length, a 'singular' man who could both endear and repel. In this moving biography, Peter Martin assesses Boswell's literary achievements and uncovers the pulsating and dynamic world he thrived in, from the royal courts and the drawing rooms of fashionable ladies and gentlemen to the fleshpots of London's unsavoury underworld and the chambers of the insane. He also poignantly reveals a man in agony, easily misunderstood, relentlessly plagued by hypochondria or melancholia, buffeted like a straw in the wind by a multitude of anxieties and 'horrible imaginings'.