The Influence of Professional Vanity:

The Motivations Behind Boswellís Editing for Publication of Tour of the Hebrides

by Steven A. Lee


A comparison between the published version of Tour of the Hebrides and the original manuscript, examining the authorís motivations as revealed by the manner in which he edited the manuscript for publication. Prompted by Boswellís desire to secure for himself the undisputed position as Samuel Johnsonís preferred biographer, changes were made to the manuscript in order to foster an image of the author as a credible and authoritative writer, well qualified to relate intimate accounts of Johnsonís character and speech. Alterations to the delivery of speech were carefully implemented to promote a more clear, concise and unmediated representation of this prominent literary figure. Manipulation of the manuscript text was also performed to soften controversial material and to render the published work more readable. Original passages which contained vulgar or mundane details, and might reflect poorly on Boswellís literary reputation, were often simply removed from the text. To enhance the temporal accuracy of related events, and therefore ease the task of the reader seeking to savour the account of the tour, the text of the journal was in many instances reordered. Boswell also often embellished Johnsonís character traits with fresh text, in order to heighten the appeal of his work. Additional material was also supplied for reasons of clarity and to improve the readerís grasp of Johnsonís words and arguments. Further, in order to effectively set out the context in which the text was to be read, Boswell supplied actual excerpts of the letters to which he and Johnson referred through the course of their journey. These exhibits were not part of the original work. The edited version of Tour of the Hebrides, through such enhancements and omissions, clearly improved Boswellís literary standing; however, the literary integrity and unique character of the original work was greatly sacrificed. While the published version was presented as an honest account, and indeed reads as a faithful, factual narrative, it pales and becomes less satisfying when compared to the original manuscript.