Boswell's Life


James Boswell. Cancel leaf from The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. London: Charles Dilly, 1791. MS Hyde 51 (23)

At the last minute, Boswell ordered the printer to remove and replace a leaf from the Life in order to delete Johnson's very frank views on marital infidelity. Boswell has struck through the offending passage, which reads:

[Wives] detest a mistress, but they don’t mind a whore. My wife told me I might lye with as many women as I pleased, provided I loved her alone. BOSWELL. She was not in earnest. JOHNSON. But she was; consider, Sir, how gross it is in a wife to complain of her husband's going to other women, merely as women; it is that she has not enough of what she would be ashamed to avow. BOSWELL. And was Mrs. Johnson then so liberal, Sir?

Shortly before publication, Boswell wrote to Edmond Malone about the cancellation, saying "I wonder how you and I admitted this to the publick eye ... It is however mighty good stuff."