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The Life of Samuel Johnson,
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(JOHNSON, Samuel.) BOSWELL, James.

The Life of Samuel Johnson,

Comprehending an Account of His Studies and Numerous Works, in Chronological Order... The Whole Exhibiting a View of Literature and Literary Men in Great Britain for Near a Century During Which He Flourished. In Two Volumes.

Published: London: by Henry Baldwin for Charles Dilly, 1791

Stock code: 80526

Price: £4,500

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First edition of the most famous biography in any language. The immense task of compiling the thousands of notes Boswell had recorded on “the great man’s talk, habits and opinions” was begun after Johnson’s death in 1784. Made up of trifling incidents as well as the significant events in Johnson’s life, the work remains a masterpiece of portraiture. “Homer is not more decidedly the first of heroic poets, Shakespeare is not more decidedly the first of dramatists, Demosthenes is not more decidedly the first of orators, than Boswell is the first of biographers” (Macaulay). Boswell’s reputation was further enhanced by the discovery in the early part of the 20th century of the Boswell Papers, which were stored in the Malahide Castle of Ireland for generations. What resulted from this discovery was the revelation of Boswell as an extraordinary personality in his own right; a far more complex, eccentric genius than the mere recorder of Johnson’s conversations. This copy has p. 135, vol. 1, in the corrected state, reading “give”. This is not an issue point for the whole book; some copies read “gve”, but the correction was made in the press, and 1,750 copies with either state were available on publication day, 16 May 1791 (800 were sold in the first two weeks).

2 volumes, quarto (274 × 211 mm). Contemporary sprinkled calf rebacked to style, spines gilt in compartments, red and blue morocco labels, double line rules to boards gilt. Housed in a tan cloth slipcase with marbled sides. Portrait frontispiece engraved by James Heath after Sir Joshua Reynolds, 2 engraved facsimile plates by H. Shepherd. 19th-century ownership inscription to front free endpaper of volume I, bookplate to volume II. Occasional light spotting to contents, corners carefully restored. An excellent copy, handsomely rebacked.

Bibliography: Courtney 172; Grolier, English 54; Rothschild 463; Pottle 79; Tinker 338.

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