In Further Memoirs of the Whig Party, Lord Holland recalls of Horace Walpole that “He felt, or pretended to feel, great disgust at the practice adopted by the bookmaking admirers of Johnson, who scrupled not to commit to print whatever they heard in private conversation. Hence he would suddenly purse up his mouth in a pointed but ludicrous fashion whenever Boswell came into the room, and sit as mute as a fish till that angler for anecdote and repartee had left it.” Quoted in The New Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes, this passage might almost serve as its epigraph.[1] Despite Walpole’s prissy tightlippedness, Boswell of course had no trouble reeling in succulent Johnsoniana by the ton. Far faster than the truth (with which they may or may not coincide), anecdotes will out—it is their contagious nature to spread from mouth to mouth, and sooner or later someone is bound...


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