Biography Before Boswell includes a sampling of those pre-Boswellian biographers (Plutarch, St. Bede, Giorgio Vasari, and John Aubry) who highlight the tradition Boswell drew on and yet altered irrevocably. Boswell believed that Johnson, a literary man, could be the subject of moral instruction and therefore worthy of a Plutarchian biography. While Boswell certainly revealed Johnson's moral failings, Boswell nevertheless saw Johnson as an exemplary figure, which suggests that medieval hagiography had its part to play in the Life of Johnson. But like Vasari, Boswell was keenly focused on the details of professional life. How does a man become a Samuel Johnson, an artist and oracle? The sinner and the saint fuse in Boswellian biography. Like John Aubry, Boswell saw the vagaries of human experience and his subject's tics as intrinsically interesting. It was as important to learn about Johnson's habits of dress as about his habits of mind. Aubry's interest in the person of Thomas Hobbes is a clear forerunner of Boswell's own attachment to Johnson. In other words, the selections in this volume demonstrate that nearly all the elements necessary for a Boswellian biography were available when Boswell began his landmark work. Along with Rollyson's British Biography: A Reader, Biography Before Boswell represent a succinct yet comprehensive history of biography in the western world.
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December 06, 2005
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