James Boswell: A Sentimental Education
James Boswell, Samuel Johnson’s future biographer, found Glasgow a dull place. Yet it was at the city’s university that he came into contact with the political economist Adam Smith, whose insights forced the student to grapple with competing claims on his conscience, as Robert Zaretsky explains.
In October 1759 James Boswell (1740-95) half-stepped, half-collapsed from the coach that had just plied a 12-hour journey over rutted roads from his hometown of Edinburgh to Glasgow. The city’s centre, known as the Trongate, was impressive: the English novelist Daniel Defoe (c. 1661-1731) had marvelled a few decades earlier over its broad avenues and stone buildings, the bustle of commerce and construction. Surely, he exclaimed, Glasgow was ‘the cleanest and beautifullest, and best built city in Britain, London excepted’.
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