1763 | London

Flicker Account

James Boswell needs to recharge.

When I went home in the evening, I felt myself quite dissipated by running about so much.

I was indolent and careless and could not fix to anything. Even this my journal was in danger of being neglected. Near a whole week had elapsed without my writing a single page of it. By way, therefore, of penance for my idleness, and by way of making up for the time lost and bringing up my business, I determined to sit up all this night; which I accordingly did, and wrote a great deal. About two o’clock in the morning, I inadvertently snuffed out my candle, and as my fire was long before that black and cold, I was in a great dilemma how to proceed. Downstairs did I softly and silently step to the kitchen. But, alas, there was as little fire there as upon the icy mountains of Greenland. I was now filled with gloomy ideas of the terrors of the night. I was also apprehensive that my landlord, who always keeps a pair of loaded pistols by him, might fire at me as a thief. I went up to my room, sat quietly till I heard the watchman calling, “Past three o’clock.” I then called to him to knock at the door of the house where I lodged. He did so, and I opened it to him and got my candle relumed without danger. Thus I was relieved and continued busy till eight next day.

Portrait of Scottish biographer and diarist James Boswell.

James Boswell

From his journals. For what became his exhaustive biography of Samuel Johnson—widely regarded as a landmark work for the development of the genre—Boswell immediately began taking notes upon meeting Johnson for the first time. He sought evidence from others as well, once asking to read the diary of a queen’s lady-in-waiting who was friendly with Johnson. The request occurred on the grounds of Windsor Castle just as the king and queen were approaching. She later recorded in her diary that it embarrassed her deeply.