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PRINTED AT THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY
form p-5 [1-23-25 1550]
THE Bulletin is published monthly by The New York Public Library at 476 Fifth Avenue, New York City. Subscription $1.00 a year, current single numbers 10 cents. Entered at the Post Office at New York, N. Y., as second-class matter, February 10, 1897, under Act of July 16. 1894. Acceptance for mailing at special rate of postage provided for in Section 1103, Act of October 3, 1917, authorized. Printed at The New York Public Library, 476 Fifth Avenue. January, 1925, Volume 29, Number 1.
NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY
ASTOR, LENOX AND TILDEN FOUNDATIONS
BOSWELL'S "OBSERVATIONS ON THE MINOR'
By FREDERICK A. POTTLE
Na study of the minor works of James Boswell I recently came across an anonymous pamphlet of the eighteenth century bound with other pamphlets in a volume in the Ford Collection in The New York Public Library. Investigation showed it was undoubtedly the first separate publication of James Boswell, the first edition and the only copy of that edition as yet located in this country or abroad. The following notes are printed to bring forth news of other copies, if possible, and to give those long-suffering people, library cataloguers, a chance to recatalogue a pamphlet they have hitherto considered authorless.
Sometime in the spring of 1760 (the date is not certainly known, but it cannot have been far from the middle of March), James Boswell, a young man in his twentieth year, ran away from Glasgow University, where his father had sent him to study law, and went up to London. He had never been there before, though for some years he had burned with the most ardent longings to experience the delights of the Metropolis. Under the guidance of Samuel Derrick he was initiated into the gay life of the town, and, with the Earl of Eglinton as his patron, made his entry into (to use his own words) "the circles of the great, the gay, and the ingenious." He remained in London only three months, but during that time he made the acquaintance of some of the most notable persons of the day. Lord Eglinton took him up to the races at Newmarket, where he wrote a poem about himself, "The Cub at Newmarket," which he read to the Duke of York, the younger brother of George III, whom he prevailed upon to accept the dedication. Many and famous were the people whom young Boswell met, but the most famous of the lot was Laurence Sterne, an obscure
Yorkshire parson who had come up to London at about the same time to find himself, as the author of "Tristram Shandy," the most talked-of writer of the day.
This meeting of Boswell and Sterne, which has escaped all the biographers, is established by several documents, but principally by a long unpublished poetical epistle from Boswell to Sterne now preserved in the Bodleian Library. The fact of this acquaintance makes clear many things in the early literary life of Boswell which have previously been hard to explain. We can see clearly now that "The Cub at Newmarket," for instance, is not so much literal autobiography as a painful attempt to be Shandean. But this piece was not the only one which shows strongly the influence of Sterne.
Boswell remained in London three months, and then returned to Scotland. All the biographies represent him as sojourning in the metropolis a year. This is a mistake. Sterne went back to Yorkshire about the same time, so that the visits of the two men almost exactly coincide. Sometime early in July, 1760, Samuel Foote opened his season at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket with his farce, "The Minor," then presented for the first time in London. This piece, as every one knows, was an attack on the Methodists, and especially their leader, Whitefield, who is referred to in the piece as "Dr. Squintum." The play was a tremendous success, and naturally called forth a long series of controversial pamphlets.
Boswell could hardly have been in London when the play was presented. His knowledge of it must have been derived from the printed text. But when he saw the amount of controversy it was causing, he thought it a pity to let slip such a fine opportunity to publish something. He was already a considerable author, having printed three or four pieces in the Scots Magazine, and possibly a separate pamphlet, "A View of the Edinburgh Stage during the Summer Season, 1759," though this as yet is not proved. Accordingly, he hastily wrote a little pamphlet, to which he gave the very Boswellian title, "Observations, Good or Bad, Stupid or Clever, Serious or Jocular, on Squire Foote's Dramatic Entertainment, intitled THE MINOR. By a Genius." Having some difficulty in securing a publisher for this in Edinburgh, he printed it at his own expense in November, 1760. At least, that is the way I interpret the fact that it bears no publisher's name, the imprint reading simply "Edinburgh: Printed in the year MDCCLX. Sold at all the Coffeehouses. Price Three Pence." As soon as the pamphlet was printed, he sent a copy to J. Wilkie, in London, who brought out, late in December, 1760 (though post-dated 1761), a second edition, identical with the first in everything except minor details of typography. The copy in The New York Public Library is of the first edition, and the only one I know,
but, as I shall show later, at least two other copies are in existence, though I am unaware of their present whereabouts. There are two copies of the second edition in the Boston Public Library, and one in the British Museum.
"Observations on the Minor" is an out-and-out imitation of Sterne. I cannot take space here to demonstrate this by quotation, but the matter will be fully treated in my forthcoming study, "The Literary Career of James Boswell,” in which this whole matter of the influence of Sterne on the early writings of Boswell will be discussed. It will be necessary here, however, to show the grounds on which this pamphlet is confidently attributed to Boswell.
I am afraid I can claim little credit for the "discovery." It is true that I saw the pamphlet listed in the Scots Magazine, and thought that the title and the pseudonym sounded like Boswell. I then found that there was a copy in the British Museum, and, as I was having some other photographs made there, had one of this piece included. Little did I dream that there was a copy of an earlier edition so near as New York! I studied the piece, and decided that so far as internal evidence can prove authorship, it was certainly Boswell's. Then there was brought to my attention a piece of external evidence (which I might have found for myself if I had been clever enough) to put the matter out of all question.
On June 23, 1893, a portion of the Auchinleck Library was sold by Sotheby, Wilkinson, and Hodge. In this sale were two copies of this pamphlet, and in one (lot 59) was the following inscription in Boswell's hand: "This was an idle performance and written inconsiderately, for I disapprove much of The Minor as having a profane and illiberal tendency." Professor Tinker had copied this note out of the sale catalogue some time ago, and, coming across it one day, gave it to me. I have since seen the catalogue itself and found in it other invaluable information concerning Boswell's anonymous works.
Boswell's inscription shows why this pamphlet has never been recognized as his. Soon after writing it, he became ashamed of it because of the approval expressed in it of "The Minor." One of the most remarkable of Boswell's characteristics was his extreme reverence for religion, although his actions were often far from coinciding with his beliefs. He wrote the pamphlet when so much under the influence of Sterne that he was willing to compromise his dislikes in order to be witty. But when he passed out of that influence, he concealed his authorship of the pamphlet.
For the discovery of the copy in The New York Public Library I can again claim little credit. It is rather to the glory of that admirable institution,