The title page of Life of Johnson as included in the first edition in 1791.
Life of Johnson is both peculiar and remarkable, as far as the genre of biography is concerned. The book has dealt with significant contemporary criticism as to its methodology. The biography encompasses the entirety of Johnson's life. And even though Boswell did not meet Johnson until the latter was 54, Boswell conveyed Johnson's "life-scenes" as if he had been present, mixing fact and fantasy. Boswell is also known to have edited some of Johnson's quotes and omitted any anecdotes that would have reflected poorly on his character.
It is widely agreed among contemporary critics, that The Life of Johnson revolutionized the genre of biography. Its unique stylization leads some to call it a series of diary entries or a table-talk more readily than they do a biography. This, combined with Boswell's clear fondness for and familiarity with the subject of the book, resulted in a final product that showed bias, but was more personal and joyous than other biographies. This led to immediate critical and popular success, easily becoming Boswell's most famous work and cementing him as a central figure in the development of modern literary practice.
Joshua Reynolds, (1723-1792)
Portrait of Samuel Johnson (1775)
Unknown medium, dimensions, and location
Joshua Reynolds (1723-92)
Portrait of Samuel Johnson, 1772
Oil on canvas
75.6 x 62.2 cm
Though he was regarded for his intelligence and humor, Johnson's life was hardly easy. His family faced economic strain throughout his childhood, his formal education becoming rather inconsistent due to lack of funding. Money prevented him from acquiring a degree from Oxford, where he had intensely studied for 13 months, which in turn made it difficult to acquire teaching positions. This, biographer Robert DeMaria believes, only accentuated his eventual arrival at a career in writing. Johnson's visible Tourette's Syndrome made it difficult to perform the duties of public occupations when he was able to get them, leading him to "the invisible occupation of authorship."