The Correspondence and Other Papers of James Boswell Relating to the Making of the “Life of Johnson”

The Correspondence and Other Papers of James Boswell Relating to the Making of the “Life of Johnson”

Editor: Marshall Waingrow

London: Heinemann; New York: McGraw Hill, 1969; 2nd edition, corrected and enlarged, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001

ISBN 0748613846; 0300083076

Hardback, lxxvi, 524 pages

This edition—expanded to include the text of letters unavailable at the time of the volume’s first publication in 1969—records James Boswell’s quest over a period of more than twenty years to amplify his knowledge of his major biographical subject, Samuel Johnson, through a detailed correspondence with a wide network of friends, informants, and other authorities. The volume, with revised and updated annotation, shows Boswell’s struggles through his personal distresses to gather material for his Life of Johnson. It notes many of his revisions of his sources, changes made in manuscript and proof, and revisions of the first and second editions. It also presents letters that illuminate the contemporary reception of his powerfully innovative, controversial, and influential biography (which appeared first in 1791), taking the story as far as exchanges in 1808 between Boswell’s friend and editor, Edmond Malone, and his son, James Boswell the younger, about corrections for the sixth edition of 1811. Throughout, the annotation brings to life an extensive range of eighteenth-century figures, issues and topics.

This corrected and enlarged version (the first edition had been out of print for two decades) serves as a valuable supplement and companion to the Yale manuscript edition of the Life of Johnson, upon which all future editions of Boswell’s biography will need to draw.

Marshall Waingrow (1923–2007) was Professor of English Emeritus, Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, California


Waingrow encourages and makes possible a significant reconsideration of Boswell’s accomplishment.… By analyzing examples of how Boswell edited for the Life information about Johnson supplied by various correspondents, Waingrow shows that “Boswell subjected his materials to every conceivable mode of revision: summary, paraphrase, expansion, conflation, interpolation, and so forth.” What emerges is the firmly supported conclusion “that Boswell, in editing his authorities, was engaged in more than polishing: he was aiming at a unified and coherent portrait.” The successful creation of that portrait, Waingrow suggests, is what largely makes up the Life’s artistry. 

It is the greatest virtue of Waingrow’s edition that despite his modest disclaimer his volume points so clearly to the exacting task of theoretical formulation that now challenges critical attention.  In doing this much, Waingrow has set an example of thoroughness and brilliance.

Paul K. Alkon, University of Minnesota, Eighteenth-Century Studies, 1970


The present fascinating book—Volume 2 of Correspondence in the “Research Edition” of the Yale Editions of the Private Papers of James Boswell—shows Boswell in pursuit of such information. It gives in what must be almost complete detail the letters about Johnson between Boswell and some 100 correspondents.…The main interest of this collection is threefold. It gives fresh evidence of Boswell’s scrupulousness, ability, and tact; it leads us to a fuller understanding of what people expected from biography, and what were eighteenth-century notions of propriety and accuracy; and it enables us perhaps to define more clearly the achievement of Boswell’s masterpiece.

This volume is superbly edited by Marshall Waingrow.… The annotation (a notable feature of the Yale Research Editions of Boswell) is extremely full while at the same time tactfully relevant. There is a useful twenty-eight page chronology which enables the reader to “date the progress (real or imagined) of the Life”, and also a long and judicious introduction.

Times Literary Supplement, 23 July 1970

Boswell sets about obtaining material for his projected biography from Johnson’s friends and colleagues, applying for information in a manner ranging from pompous to ingratiating. Meanwhile, the editor provides a commentary of unusual thoroughness: a one-page letter to or from Boswellwho kept copies of his own requestsmight occasion two pages of footnotes.

James Campbell, Times Literary Supplement, 14 Sept. 2001