Academic journal article Scottish Literary Review

Three New James Boswell Articles from the Public Advertiser, 1763

Academic journal article Scottish Literary Review

Three New James Boswell Articles from the Public Advertiser, 1763

Article excerpt

Only with the recent landmark work by Gordon Turnbull on the Penguin Classics Edition of the London Journal 1762-63, and the present author's work on the Yale research edition of that journal and allied texts from the period 1758-63, have the earliest publications of James Boswell (1740-95) in the London press begun to be explored in anything approaching their entirety. (1) These analyses of the canon of Boswell's earliest journalism supplement the work done by others, such as Richard B. Sher, in adding to the canon of Boswell articles for the later years, work that will all be reflected in Paul Tankard's important projected critical edition of representative selections from Boswell's journalism, the first ever attempted. (2) The groundbreaking early work of Frederick Pottle in The Literary Career of James Boswell (1929) and its expansion in the NCBEL (1971) added much to the canon of Boswell's journalism, either by external evidence in the journals or marked files kept by Boswell, or, less frequently, on grounds of internal evidence; the more tentative attributions being marked out by Pottle with an asterisk. (3) Anthony Brown's fine series of Boswell bibliographies (1966, 1972, 1991) expanded these newspaper entries with Brown's own work in the Burney Collection of early English newspapers.4 Yet Pottle admitted the ultimate futility of trying to find every last example of Boswell's newspaper and magazine writing. This passage from his New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature bibliography offers his view, after nearly fifty years of diligent Boswellian archival work, of the difficulties posed in identifying all of the relevant pieces.

   Boswell was a voluminous contributor of signed and unsigned
   articles to newspapers and magazines. But failing the recovery of
   marked files or of lists kept by himself, much of his
   p[u]b[licatio]n will always remain untraced. Apart from the
   difficulty of assembling complete files of the newspapers to which
   he contributed and the time required to search them systematically,
   his practice of writing on both sides of questions and in many
   dramatic modes makes complete recovery difficult. His own marked
   and partially indexed file of the London Chron[icle] 1767-75, now
   at Yale, provides a large and trustworthy specimen of his methods.
   His journal identifies many of his anonymous or pseudonymous
   periodical paragraphs. Finally, several collections of newspapers
   and newspaper cuttings among the Boswell papers at Yale, some of
   them labelled (... Newspaper paragraphs by myself or relating to me
   etc) furnish valuable but tantalizingly inexplicit information of
   his dealings with the periodical press, especially in his later
   years. (5)

What makes these items difficult to identify is that so many writers of occasional letters to the newspapers very frequently concealed their names with a pseudonym, whether their writings were politically or religiously controversial or not. Anonymity need not signal transgression or subversion, or even the need for a mask. The fear of getting into trouble with the state or the church was not, from evidence of anonymity and pseudonymity in the London papers and magazines of the 1760s, the primary motivation for concealing the author's identity. Often, an author taking her or his first tentative steps into the literary world would desire to keep her or his authorial name hidden, at least until it could be discerned whether the book was welcomed or derided. As Pottle pointed out, Boswell sometimes donned a mask, sometimes not, sometimes appearing 'signed', at other times preferring to be 'unsigned'. Indeed, a look at Boswell's pamphlets shows that despite his propensity for self-publicity and putting himself into the spotlight, up until the Account of Corsica (1768), and even beyond, most of Boswell's pamphlets were anonymous or (less frequently and traceably) pseudonymous, young Boswell appearing in masquerade as 'a GENTLEMAN of SCOTLAND' (1761), 'J. …

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