This copiously illustrated early Victorian edition appeared only 60 years after James Boswell’s masterpiece of biography was first published in 1791. Titled in full “The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. comprehending an account of his studies and numerous works in chronological order; a series of his epistolary correspondence and conversations,” the set is completed by “Boswell's journal of a tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson” as its fifth volume.
The volumes were issued at intervals during 1851 and 1852 by the Office of the National Illustrated Library, London (part of the Illustrated London News group). Volume I incorporates pages advertising the books that would follow, each to include 50 – 100 engravings and be “beautifully bound”.
The original binding of gray-blue cloth -- embossed with an elaborate rose and thistle motif, heraldic crests and the publisher’s name in swirling banners -- remains on our set (whereas many have been rebound) and all illustrations appear to be present. The spines have gilt decoration and titles and page tops are also gilded. Each book measures about 7 3/4 inches tall and 5 1/2 inches wide. Naturally there are condition issues with books more than 150 years old, but no pages are loose and readability isn’t at all impaired. The only problems inside are foxing in some spots, a prior owner's small bookplate (reading Edward Theobald) and, in Volume III, slight separation at the hinge in a couple of places. Volume III looks like it may have been sat on, creating a crease in the middle of the spine and front board, but it did no significant damage. Other covers show only the wear and discoloration you’d expect after so long – apart from Volume I, which is missing a very small strip of cloth at the top of the spine. Overall condition is surprisingly good. You needn't be afraid of using these books; they'll hold up fine.
While it’s still fairly easy to find the first four volumes of this set (mainly from English booksellers), priced at the equivalent of US $150 or so, I saw online only one other set complete with the fifth volume. At current exchange rates, that runs about US $545 plus international shipping from the UK.
Thus, our set for $100 less represents really good value for you fans of the legendary lexicographer, Dr. Johnson, and Boswell, who raised the bar for every subsequent biographer.
There's no charge for insured U.S. delivery, with an equivalent discount on international delivery, and gift-wrap is always free on request. Please e-mail to confirm availability, order or request more photos. Thanks for looking!