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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.

London : 1791 Stock Code: 122700
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First edition. "Boswell's Life of Johnson remains the most famous biography in any language, one of Western literature's most germinal achievements: unprecedented in its time in its depth of research and its extensive use of private correspondence and recorded conversation, it sought to dramatize its subject in his authorial greatness and formidable social presence, and at the same time treat him with a profound sympathy and inhabit his inner life" (ODNB).
This copy has p. 135, vol. 1, in the first, uncorrected state, reading "gve". This is not an issue point for the whole book; the correction was made in the press, and 1,750 copies with either state were available on publication day, 16 May 1791, the 28th anniversary of Boswell's first meeting with Johnson. Of the first printing, 800 copies were sold in the first two weeks.
The survival of such large, heavy quarto volumes in the relatively flimsy paper-backed boards is unusual, yet the paper spines show signs of both volumes having been read, indicating that this copy was not a freak, lying around disregarded for years. It supports the point made by Jonathan E. Hill in his article "From Provisional to Permanent: Books in Boards 1790-1840" (The Library, vol. s6-21, issue 3, Sept. 1999) that books in boards from this period were increasingly kept by readers in this state, without being rebound in some more durable material, typically leather. Keeping the book uncut in boards ensures the preservation of the attractive mise-en-page, the leaves in their untrimmed state showing the widest possible margins.

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2 volumes, quarto (295 x 225 mm). Uncut in original blue-grey paper boards, cream paper spines lettered in ink at a later date. Housed in later red morocco-backed chemises and morocco-tipped slipcase.


Portrait frontispiece engraved by James Heath after Sir Joshua Reynolds.


From the libraries of F. E. Smith, 1st Earl of Birkenhead (1872-1930), British politician and barrister, Winston Churchill's greatest personal and political friend, notorious for his biting wit, his bookplates to front pastedowns; and of Victor Rothschild, 3rd Baron Rothschild (1910-1990), his bookplates to front free endpapers. Boards a little soiled and worn at edges, spines rubbed and with superficial vertical cracks, front joint of vol. I imperceptibly repaired, repaired marginal tear in frontispiece, minor localised marginal worming in vol. I, without initial blank in vol. II, occasional light spotting or soiling, a fine copy.


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