Writer, rake, wit, traveler, and man-about-town, James Boswell kept a diary for thirty-three years, beginning just before his first trip to London and extending over his eventful life until shortly before his death in 1795. This one-volume selection of Boswell's journal entries, gathered and introduced by the distinguished writer John Wain, brings to life both a pre-eminent chronicler of eighteenth-century Britain and the tumultuous land about which he wrote so well.
In 1764, at the age of 24, Boswell sent an autobiographical sketch to Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Boswell promised, ``I shall not conceal my weaknesses and follies. I shall not even conceal my crimes.'' For more than 30 years, from 1762, when he set out for London to seek a commission in the Royal Foot Guards, to his death in 1795, Boswell recorded in his journals those weaknesses and follies, his ``various sentiments and . . . various conduct''; his account proved, as Boswell had promised, ``not only useful but very agreeable.'' Yale owns the Boswell manuscripts--Wain's introduction briefly discusses their startling recovery early in this century--and it recently completed the publication of the trade edition of the journals in 13 volumes. From these Wain has created a handsome one-volume selection. Although Wain includes many of the most famous passages, such as Boswell's meeting with Samuel Johnson in the back room of Tom Davies's bookshop on May 16, 1763 and Boswell's final parting from the great lexicographer at the entry to Bolt Court on June 30, 1784, much must of necessity be omitted. True Boswellians will not want to lose a word of the originals, but those for whom the discovery of Boswell's journals remains an unexperienced delight will find Wain's edition a pleasant and tantalizing introduction.-- Joseph Rosenblum, Univ. of North Carolina, Greensboro