Boswell's Life


James Boswell. Notes on the life of Johnson. 1776-1777. Manuscript. MS Hyde 51 (19)

Boswell did not meet Johnson until 1763, so it was his tireless research into Johnson's early life and his relentless questioning of Johnson himself that made the Life possible. Here Boswell records an anecdote about Johnson's supposed earliest poetic composition, lines on accidentally stepping on a duckling at the age of three. Johnson insisted that the poem was actually his father's composition, an outgrowth of Michael Johnson's unwelcome enthusiasm for displaying his son's precocious intellect.

Under this stone lyes Mr. Duck
Whom Samuel Johnson trode on
He might have liv'd if he had luck;
But then he'd been an odd one.