Skip to Main Content

Course & Subject Guides

James Boswell, Biographer and Diarist, Fall 2016 @ Archives & Special Collections: Case X: Papers and Biography

The Special Collections Department at the University of Pittsburgh presents an exhibition of the life of James Boswell, the writer who revolutionized the genre of biography and the broader literary tradition.

[A banner reading: 'Papers and Biography''

Papers and Biography

Case X contains the writings of Boswell that concern his life apart from Johnson and the Grand Tour. Though The London Journal and his Grand Tour journals are the most popular and well-known of his personal writings, Boswell also kept a diary for the majority of his adult life. The entries from his diaries have been organized and published since their discovery at Malahide Castle in Ireland. The volumes included in Case X span the entirety of Boswell's life, from his graduation form Edinburgh University and his marriage to Margaret Montgomerie (Boswell in Search of a Wife) to his meeting with David Hume only weeks before the philosopher's death (Boswell in Extremes).

Some of Boswell's other important publications include Dorando, A Spanish Tale (1767), which was fictional but a thinly-veiled allusion to the captivating legal battle between minor nobility for the Douglas Estates. He was also responsible for a collaborative critique of the tragic play 'Elvira' in Critical Strictures on the New Tragedy of 'Elvira', written by Mr. David Malloch (1763). One of Boswell's more infamous pieces is the poem No Abolition of Slavery; or the Universal Empire of Love, (1791) which venerated the practice of slavery on the grounds of the 'happy slave narrative.'

The title page of 'The Decision.'
The title page of The Decision of the Court of Sessions Upon the Question of Literary Property, published in 1774. 

The Decision of the Court of Sessions Upon the Question of Literary Property, pictured above, chronicles Boswell's most successful endeavor as an advocate for the defense of Alexander Donaldson in Donaldson v. Beckett. The case concerned the infringement of literary property rights, specifically the expiration of the copyright of publications and their subsequent entrance into the public domain. The case is also touched upon in the latter half of Boswell for the Defense, 1769-1774.

[A quote from Boswell's 'Boswell in Search of a Wife," reading as follows: "And, therefore, in plain words, I am mad enough to indulge imaginations of marrying her... I rave about her. I was never so much in love as I am no. My fancy is quite inflamed. It riots in extravagance."

A display case featuring the books listed on this page.
A view of Case X as displayed for the exhibition. 

Dialogue in the Dark, a semi-fictitious interpretation of Boswell and Hume's meeting shortly before the death of the latter, adopted partially from Boswell's account in Boswell in Extremes, 1776-1778.