Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

first rudiments of education in that city. He afterwards studied Civil Law in the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. During his residence in these cities, he acquired, by the society of the English gentlemen who were students in the English colleges, that remarkable predilection for their manners, which neither the force of education, nor the dulcedo of his natale solum, could ever eradicate. But his most intimate acquaintance at this period was the Rev. Mr. Temple, a worthy, learned, and pious divine, whose well-written character of Gray was inserted in Johnson's Life of that poet. Mr. Boswell imbibed early the ambition of distinguishing himself by his literary talents, and had the good fortune to obtain the patronage of the late Lord Somerville. This nobleman treated him with the most flattering kindness; and Mr. Boswell ever remembered with gratitude the friendship he so long enjoyed with this worthy peer. Having always entertained an exalted idea of the felicity of London, in the year 1760 he visited that capital; in the manners and amusements of which he found so much that was congenial to his own taste and feelings, that it became ever after his favourite residence, whither he always returned from his estate in Scotland, and from his various rambles in various parts of Europe, with increasing eagerness and delight; and we find him, nearly twenty years afterwards, condemning Scotland as too narrow a sphere, and wishing to make his chief residence in London, which he calls the great scene of ambition, instruction, and, comparatively, making his heaven upon earth. He was, doubtless, confirmed in this attachment to the metropolis by the strong predilection entertained towards it by his friend Dr. Johnson, whose sentiments on this subject Mr. Boswell details in various parts of his Life of that great man; and which are corroborated by every one, in pursuit of literary and intellectual attainments, who has enjoyed but a taste of the rich feast which that city spreads before him.

The politeness, affability, and insinuating urbanity of manners, which distinguished Mr. Boswell, introduced him into the company of many eminent and learned men, whose acquaintance and friendship he cultivated with the greatest assiduity. In truth, the esteem and approbation of learned men seems to have been one chief object of his literary ambition; and we find him so successful in pursuing his end, that he enumerated some of the greatest men in Scotland among his friends even before he left it for the first time. Notwithstanding Mr. Boswell by his education was intended for the bar, yet he was himself earnestly bent at this period upon obtaining a commission in the Guards, and solicited Lord Auchinleck's acquiescence; but returned, however, by his desire, into Scotland, where he received a regular course of instruction in the Law, and passed his trials as a civilian at Edinburgh. Still, however, ambitious of displaying himself as one of "the manly heart who guard the fair," he revisited London a second time in 1762; and, various occurrences delaying the purchase of a commission, he was at length persuaded by Lord Auchinleck to relinquish his pursuit, and become an advocate at the Scotch bar. In compliance, therefore, with his father's wishes, he consented to go to Utrecht the ensuing winter, to hear the lectures of an excellent civilian in that university; after which he had permission to make his grand tour of Europe.

In 1762 Mr. Boswell published the little poem, entitled "The Club at Newmarket, a Tale," and the next year may be considered the most important epocha in his life, as he had the singular felicity to be introduced to Dr. Johnson. This event, so auspicious for Mr. Boswell, and so fortunate for the literary world, happened on May 16. 1763. Having afterwards continued one winter at Utrecht, during which time he visited several parts of the Netherlands, he commenced his projected travels. Passing from Utrecht into Germany, he pur

sued his route through Switzerland to Geneva; whence he crossed the Alps into Italy: having visited on his journey Voltaire at Ferney, and Rousseau in the wilds of Neufchatel. Mr. Boswell continued some time in Italy, where he met and associated with Lord Mount stuart, to whom he afterwards dedicated his Theses Juridicæ.

Having visited the most remarkable cities in Italy, Mr. Boswell sailed to Corsica, travelled over every part of that island, and obtained the friendship of the illustrious Pasquale de Paoli, in whose palace he resided during his stay at Corsica. He afterwards went to Paris, whence he returned to Scotland in 1766, and soon after became an advocate at the Scotch bar. The celebrated Douglas cause was at that time a subject of general discussion. Mr. Boswell published the "Essence of the Douglas Cause; " a pamphlet which contributed to procure Mr. Douglas the popularity which he at that time possessed.

In 1768, Mr. Boswell obliged the world by his "Account of Corsica, with Memoirs of General Paoli." Of this printed performance Dr. Johnson thus expresses himself: "Your Journal is curious and delightful. I know not whether I could name any narrative by which curiosity is better excited or better gratified." This book was received with extraordinary approbation, and has been translated into the German, Dutch, Italian, and French languages. In the following winter, the theatre-royal at Edinburgh, hitherto restrained by partyspirit, was opened. On this occasion Mr. Boswell was solicited by David Ross, Esq. to write a prologue. The effect of this prologue upon the audience was highly flattering to the author, and beneficial to the manager, as it secured to the latter, by the annihilation of the opposition which had been till that time too successfully exerted against him, the uninterrupted possession of his patent, which he enjoyed till his death,

which happened in September, 1790. Mr. Boswell attended his funeral as chief mourner, and paid the last honours to a man with whom he had spent many a pleasant hour. In 1769, was celebrated at Stratfordon-Avon the Jubilee in honour of Shakspeare. Mr. Boswell, an enthusiastic admirer of the writings of our immortal bard, and ever ready to partake of "the feast of reason and the flow of soul," repaired thither, and appeared at the masquerade as an armed Corsican chief; a character he was eminently qualified to support.

[ocr errors]

This year Mr. Boswell was married to Miss Margaret Montgomery, a lady who, to the advantages of a polite education, united admirable good sense and a brilliant understanding. She was daughter of David Montgomery, Esq. related to the illustrious family of Eglintoune, and representative of the ancient peerage of Lyle. The death of this amiable woman is recorded in the Gentleman's Magazine for June, 1790; and Mr. Boswell honoured her memory with an affectionate tribute. She left him two sons and three daughters; who, to use Mr. Boswell's own words, "if they inherit her good qualities, will have no reason to complain of their lot." Dos magna parentûm virtus. In 1782, Lord Auchinleck died. In 1783, Mr. Boswell published his celebrated" Letter to the People of Scotland:" which is thus praised by Johnson in a letter to the author: "I am very much of your opinion ****; your paper contains very considerable knowledge of history and the constitution, very properly produced and applied." Mr. Pitt, to whom Mr. Boswell communicated the pamphlet, honoured it with his approbation. This first Letter was followed by a second, in which Mr. Boswell displayed his usual energy and political abilities. In 1785, Mr. Boswell published "A Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides" with Dr. Johnson; which met a similar success to his entertaining account of Corsica.

[ocr errors]

This year Mr. Boswell removed to London, and was soon after called to the English bar.

But Mr. Boswell's professional business was interrupted by preparing his most celebrated work. "The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D." This was published in 1791, and was received by the world with most extraordinary avidity. It is a faithful history of Johnson's life, and exhibits a most interesting picture of the character of that illustrious moralist, delineated with a masterly hand. The preparation of a second edition of this work was almost the last literary performance of Mr. Boswell; though he was at the same time preparing a general answer to a letter from Dr. Samuel Parr, in Gent. Mag. vol. lxv. p. 179; in which he proposed also briefly to notice the attacks of his more puny antagonists. He had also a design, which was in some forwardness, of publishing a quarto volume, to be embellished with fine plates, on the subject of the controversy occasioned by the Beggar's Opera; and it is to be regretted, that the public were not gratified with a perusal of what so good a judge of human nature would say on so curious a subject. With this particular view he had paid frequent visits to the then truly humane "Governor of Newgate," as he ordinarily styled Mr. Kirby. His death, unexpected by his friends, was a subject of universal regret; and his remains were carried to Auchinleck; and the following inscription is engraved on his coffin-plate:

JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.,

died 19th May, 1795,

aged 55 years.

« AnteriorContinua »