Thursday, November 12, 2015


Never Mind the Use

James Boswell, Life of Johnson (aetat. 60, i.e. 1769):
On Thursday, October 19, I passed the evening with him at his house. He advised me to complete a Dictionary of words peculiar to Scotland, of which I shewed him a specimen. 'Sir, (said he,) Ray has made a collection of north-country words. By collecting those of your country, you will do a useful thing towards the history of the language.' He bade me also go on with collections which I was making upon the antiquities of Scotland. 'Make a large book; a folio.' BOSWELL. 'But of what use will it be, Sir?' JOHNSON. 'Never mind the use; do it.'

Dear Mike,

Boswell's draft materials ('specimen'), which he had begun to compile in Utrecht in 1764, were long assumed to be lost, until rediscovered serendipitously in 2008, bound together with the 1802 Prospectus for John Jamieson's Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language (1808) kept in the Bodleian Library. Thirty-seven of the forty-four leaves of the Prospectus are Boswell's. More information and photographs of the manuscript can be found here:

Best wishes,
Eric [Thomson]

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