James Boswell

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It first appeared like a crazy idea. It turned out he had a great idea.
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We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over.

James Boswell (29 October, 1740 - 19 May, 1795) was a lawyer, diarist, and author born in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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He who has provoked the lash of wit, cannot complain that he smarts from it.
  • Boswell is pleasant and gay,
    For frolic by nature designed;
    He heedlessly rattles away
    When company is to his mind.
    • In a poem about himself, in "Biographic Sketches" in Chambers's Edinburgh Journal Vol. IV (1836). p. 341

The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (1785)

  • 'Sir,' said Mr Johnson, 'a lawyer has no business with the justice or injustice of the cause which he undertakes, unless his client asks his opinion, and then he is bound to give it honestly. The justice or injustice of the cause is to be decided by the judge.'
    • (15 August 1773)
  • I fancy mankind may come, in time, to write all aphoristically.
  • Influence must ever be in proportion to property; and it is right it should.
    • Quoting Samuel Johnson (18 August 1773)
  • In every place, where there is any thing worthy of observation, there should be a short printed directory for strangers.
    • (19 August 1773)
  • As all who come into the country must obey the King, so all who come into an university must be of the Church.
    • Quoting Samuel Johnson (19 August 1773)
  • I regretted I was not the head of a clan; however, though not possessed of such an hereditary advantage, I would always endeavour to make my tenants follow me.
    • (31 August 1773
  • Such groundless fears will arise in the mind, before it has resumed its vigour after sleep!
    • (1 September 1773)

The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (1791)

  • When I called upon Dr. Johnson next morning, I found him highly satisfied with his colloquial prowess the preceding evening. "Well, (said he,) we had good talk." BOSWELL: "Yes, Sir, you tossed and gored several persons."
    • 1768
  • He who has provoked the lash of wit, cannot complain that he smarts from it.
  • His mind resembled the vast ampitheatre, the Colisæum at Rome. In the centre stood his judgement, which like a mighty gladiator, combated those apprehensions that, like the wild beasts of the Arena, were all around in cells, ready to be let out upon him. After a conflict, he drives them back into their dens; but not killing them, they were still assailing him.
    • Referring to Johnson (26 October 1769)
  • We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over.
    • (19 September 1777)
  • You are a philosopher, Dr. Johnson. I have tried too in my time to be a philosopher; but, I don't know how, cheerfulness was always breaking in.
    • Quoting Edwards, an old schoolmate of Johnson's (17 April 1778)
  • Then, all censure of a man's self is oblique praise.
    • (25 April 1778)
  • What can he mean by coming among us? He is not only dull himself, but the cause of dullness in others.
    • Spoken by Samuel Foote about a "law-Lord" (1783)
  • [...] for the Doctor observed, that no man takes upon himself small blemishes without supposing that great abilities are attributed to him; and that, in short, this affectation of candour or modesty was but another kind of indirect self-praise, and had its foundation in vanity.
    • (30 November 1784)
  • Johnson is dead. Let us go to the next best — there is nobody; no man can be said to put you in mind of Johnson.
    • Quoting William Gerard Hamilton (1784)

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  • I do not recollect having had any other valuable principle impressed upon me by my father except a strict regard for truth, which he impressed upon my mind by a hearty beating at an early age when I lied, and then talking of the dishonour of lying.
  • My heart warmed to my countrymen, and my Scotch blood boiled with indignation. I jumped from the benches, roared out 'Damn you, you rascals!', hissed and was in the greatest rage ... I hated the English; I wished from my soul that the Union was broke and that we might give them another battle of Bannockburn.
    • Recounting a situation where Londoners had been openly mocking two Highland officers and he had jumped to their defence.[1]
  • For my own part I think no innocent species of wit or pleasantry should be suppressed: and that a good pun may be admitted among the smaller excellencies of lively conversation.
  • We bade adieu to each other affectionately in the carriage. When he had got down upon the foot pavement he called out 'Fare you well'; and without looking back, sprung away with a kind of pathetic briskness, if I may use that expression, which seemed to indicate a struggle to conceal uneasiness, and impressed me with a foreboding of our long, long separation.
    • On his last meeting with Johnson.
  • Samuel Johnson: In England we wouldn't think of eating oats. We only feed them to Horses.
    Boswell: "Well, maybe that's why in England you have better horses, and in Scotland we have better men".
    • Conversation in response to Johnson criticising Boswell for the latter's Scottish habit of eating oats for breakfast.

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