Marshall Waingrow (ed.), The Yale Editions of the Private Papers of James Boswell: Research Edition: Correspondence, Vol. 2: The Correspondence and Other Papers of James Boswell relating to the Making of the Life of Johnson (Second Edition)

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From William Elford,1 Friday 16 March 1792

MS. Yale (C 1186).

address: James Boswell Esqr., London.

endorsement: William Elford Esq.

Bickham near Plymouth, 16 March 1792

Sir: I am willing to believe that men of Eminence in the literary world, are sometimes troubled with letters from perfect strangers, and that this of mine is not among the first intrusions of that kind. If, however, I am guilty of taking an undue liberty, I am prompted to it, by, what I trust will in some measure plead my excuse, an invincible desire to tell You how very great a pleasure I have received from the perusal of Your Life of Dr. Johnson, which to my great regret I have just finish'd. When Your Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides was publish'd, I read it with an avidity, pg 367I had never experienc'd before, and I need not say, with what anxiety I expected the appearance of this last work, which does so much honor to Your Friend and Yourself. This kind of Biography appears to me perfectly new, and of all others the most excellent—it constitutes a fund of the highest intellectual entertainment, by giving the portrait of the mind of perhaps the greatest man the world has produc'd—enliven'd with anecdotes, and conversations of most of the great literary characters of his time—and as these works of Yours are, I believe the first of their kind, so it will be long before Your example will be follow'd, for Your plan requir'd not only great Ability, and Capacity of selection, but a degree of labour and attention which very few persons will be found willing to submit to. In short instead of describing Your characters, You exhibit them to the Reader. He finds himself in their Company, and becomes an Auditor of Conversations, which have all the dignity of the best moral writings, soften'd by the ease, the wit and the familiarity of Colloquial manners.

Will You permit me, Sir, to add, that I have also another reason for troubling You with this letter, which is, that I am very sollicitous of the honor of being known to You, and that If I am not discouraged, I shall request some mutual friend to do me the favor of introducing me to You, on my Arrival in London in April. Had the late Sir Joshua Reynolds been alive2 I might quickly have obtain'd that favor from him.

I shall send this letter to my Friend Mr. Cranstoun of the Navy Office,3 who will be so good as to transmit it to You, by means of Your Brother,4 with whom I believe he has the pleasure of being acquainted. I have the honor to be, Sir, Your Very Oblig'd and Obedient Servant

Willm. Elford

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Editor’s Note
1 William Elford (1749–1837), banker, politician, scientist, and artist. He was Mayor of Plymouth in 1797, M.P. for Plymouth, 1796–1806, Fellow of the Royal Society and of the Linnean Society, 1790, and was created a baronet in 1800.
Editor’s Note
2 He died 23 Feb. Elford and Reynolds were neighbours in Devonshire, and Elford made contributions of his own to the Royal Academy exhibitions from 1774 until his death.
Editor’s Note
3 Henry Kerr Cranstoun (c. 1756–1843) was assistant to the Inspector of Seamen's Wills and Powers of Attorney, Inspectors Branch of the Pay Office (London Calendar, 1792, p. 132). He was a grandson of William, fifth Baron Cranstoun (Scots Peer. ii. 598).
Editor’s Note
4 T. D. Boswell was a clerk in the same branch.
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