Email this review


Buchanan has written a totally engrossing adventure story of the progressive discovery over half a century of the papers of James Boswell--and the greatest collection of literary sources ever assembled about a single man or a single period. Colonel Ralph Isham, a determined book collector non pareil, over a period of 21 years sacrificed his home, his marriage, his fortune, and much of his cherished collection of books in order to complete the archives. Legend had it that the Boswellian letters, notebooks and manuscripts once contained in an ebony cabinet at the Auchinleck estate had been destroyed--but despite incredible vicissitudes--they survived in hidden resting places for upwards of 150 years. In 1927, Isham acquired the first large body of papers from the biographer's heirs and, believing this to be all of the extant documents, embarked on one of the most costly schemes of private publication ever undertaken. Revelations of additional finds did nothing to dull Isham's enthusiasm for the enterprise. Despite growing financial difficulties, he set out to win them all: new caches discovered subsequently in a croquet box, in a tin dispatch box, in packing cases under the eaves of a grain loft, in an old deed box. There seems to be no end of them. Buchanan, a lawyer, dwells at length on the enormous intricacy of a major legal dispute over the rights to an important find in the attic of a Scottish castle. Boswell's once scattered archives now reside at Yale in a nearly total collection. Ralph Isham is a curious kind of hero--a mild dilettantish fellow of unsociable nocturnal habits--but he pursues his love of Boswelliana so singlemindedly and with such resourcefulness, that his achievement takes on epic proportions.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1974
Publisher: McGraw-Hill