This essay considers the interdependence of formal and ethical questions about the appropriate use of particular detail by juxtaposing eighteenth-century fiction to contemporary practices of life-writing, especially the use of detail by Johnson in his Lives of the Poets and Boswell in his Life of Johnson. After laying out some premises about what constitutes novelistic detail during this period, the essay explores a productive tension between an ethical argument against “being particular” when writing about real historical figures and an increasingly strong preference for specificity in both fiction and nonfiction.