WHEN James Boswell was in Rome, aged 24, and with few accomplishments to his name other than bouts of gonorrhoea and panic attacks about the afterlife, he had his portrait painted by George Willison.
Belknap Press, £19.95
It is a curious piece. In it, Boswell is wearing a fur-trimmed coat, reminiscent of the signature dress of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whom he had met six months earlier, and whom he would latterly hustle into making him the unofficial ambassador to Corsica (as well as sleeping with his mistress).
Above Boswell in the portrait is an owl, a traditional symbol of wisdom. At the same time as he met Rousseau, Boswell met his philosophical foe, Voltaire, who in a parable about governance cast the owl as the Machiavellian mastermind. The owl in the portrait has a gothic look about it, appearing threatening rather than serene. After Boswell’s death, another philosopher, Hegel, would write that “the owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk”, meaning that philosophy only understands an era as it is closing.
Oddly enough, in the landscape behind Boswell’s portrait, the sun seems to be setting. Robert Zaretsky’s book may be about Boswell and the Enlightenment, but it cannot wholly ignore the imminent darkling plain. Boswell may be a figure fashioned by the Enlightenment, but in his hysteria and histrionics, his self-dramatisation and self-doubt, he seems more akin to the Romantics than the Age of Reason.
The idea that there is some kind of irreversible threshold between “Romantics” and “the Enlightened” is, of course, bogus. It was the Enlightenment that introduced sensibility and fellow-feeling as key concepts about what makes us human; it was a peculiarly lachrymose generation, given to ostentatious weeping as much as to cerebral rumination. Boswell is the ideal person through whom to explore the ambiguities and contradictions of the Enlightenment. In the opening chapter, Zaretsky foregrounds this, narrating Boswell and his friend Temple as young students, climbing Arthur’s Seat and hollering “Voltaire, Rousseau, Immortal Names!” across the grey North Sea. That they did not grasp the differences between them is part of why Boswell’s biography is so illuminating rather than enlightening.
Through a combination of chutzpah and naivety, Boswell managed to meet most of the major figures of his age: not just Rousseau and Voltaire, but David Hume, Adam Smith, Samuel Johnson (whose biography he would write) and Sir Joshua Reynolds, the portrait painter (whose biography he intended to write). One of the funniest parts of Zaretsky’s book – and, in a way, Boswell appears here like a picaresque hero, bumbling from encounter to encounter, never quite getting what he has been told – is Boswell’s desperation and failure to meet Frederick the Great. The section on his failed seduction of the gloriously named Isabella Agneta Elisabeth van Tuyll van Serooskerken is worth the whole book: she saw through Boswell, and he did not even realise he’d been intellectually and emotionally rumbled.
Part of the cleverness of this work is to describe a Boswell before he became Johnson’s amanuensis and sidekick. His relationship with Pasquale Paoli, the Corsican nationalist, was every bit as significant and sentimental. Boswell believed that Corsican independence was a chance to change political history – I am reminded of Byron’s enthusiasm and innocence over Greece. Corsica could have been the Berlin Wall of the 18th century. It actually happened in Paris and a Corsican, Napoleon, reaped the benefits. The entanglement of reason, heroism, “feeling”, liberation and tyranny could have no more embroiled a knot. If only Boswell had been alive to witness it.
Some of Zaretsky’s broad-brush descriptions are askew. John Knox is denounced as a prim Presbyterian killjoy – but this was a man who saw himself represented on stage, and whose agenda about education and, for want of a better phrase, “social security”, pre-empted Enlightenment thought. That Boswell got goose-pimples over Hell and Annihilation cannot be blamed on Knox and the Reformation. The fact he could go to university is a tribute to Knox’s improvements.
This feels like the first volume of a bigger work. It is about becoming Boswell, not being Boswell, and Zaretsky expertly highlights the points where Boswell examines himself on who he might be or not be. It is an overture more than an opera. But he did eventually decide, and that decision is important, even if he never managed to make his beliefs and his actions ethically aligned. The cover of the book is taken from the portrait I mentioned, but is clipped to show just the eye. It’s a red and rheumy eye, as if the sitter had just been full of tears. Later portraits show a swaggery, self-satisfied sitter. How did one transform into the other? Did the more comfortable Boswell remember the fearful, pompous Boswell?
The most melancholy part of Zaretsky’s work is Boswell’s anxieties. Johnson – twitchy, strange, grumpy, dislikeable – was far more of a tether to the self-loathing Scot than the elegant Voltaire or the iconoclastic Rousseau. Boswell sought out atheists and cringed when they advocated atheism. Johnson’s placid, placatory piety was more appealing, especially as he struggled to believe it himself. Both men were pursued by the black dog of melancholy, but Johnson forbore while Boswell caved in on himself. It makes Boswell more interesting, and Johnson more noble. Despite the fact that Boswell wrote one of the world’s greatest biographies, one always feels he’d rather have taken a selfie.
The Louisa Episodes
Permalink Submitted by James Caudle (not verified) on Dec 13, 2012.
The most authoritative edition of the London Journal, as of the end of 2012, is that edited by Gordon Turnbull for Penguin Classics. (2010). The Journal itself (presented for the first time almost completely un-modernized in its spellings and punctuation), is a newly-prepared and carefully checked text, which corrects some flaws in the 1950 transcription which had been reprinted 1950-1954, almost always with no modification and usually just from camera-copies of the 1950 text. In addition, Turnbull includes the Memoranda, the "Minc'd Pye' journal-letter, the 'History' of the publication of Boswell's letters with Erskine, and the 'Scheme of Living' Boswell wrote as his budget for London. The edition is one of the most lavishly-annotated Penguin Classics, and it is the best edition for assignment in university courses studying the *Journal*, or for scholars wishing to cite the text in books or articles.
Boswell's London Journal, 1762-1763
譬如說 noble church 翻譯成貴族去的教堂
詹姆斯·鮑斯韋爾（James Boswell，1740——1795），英國家喻戶曉的文學大師，現代傳記文學的開創者。鮑斯韋爾年輕時在父親的堅持下違心地學習法律，但他真正的興趣 在文學上，其所著《約翰遜傳》以資料翔實名揚天下，至今暢銷。在20世紀，鮑斯韋爾的書信、日記等大量手跡被發現，司各特與波特爾將其編纂為《詹姆斯·鮑 斯韋爾遺稿》18卷，成為研究當時英國人文歷史的珍貴資料。今天，“鮑斯韋爾”已成為忠實的傳記作家的代名詞。
This is the book that started the whole present-day Boswell-mania.
It covers the time from November 15, 1762 to August 4, 1763, beginning with his departure from Edinburgh, and ends with his last day in London before he left for Holland and his Grand Tour, not to set foot in England again until 1766.
We follow Boswell's fight for a commission in the guards, his affair with Covent Garden actress Louisa Lewis, his (declining) relationship with Thomas and Frances Sheridan, his reunion with his old chum William Johnson Temple and the beginning of his friendship with Samuel Johnson. We also hear of the gay life in London with Andrew Erskine, George Dempster and the 10th Earl of Eglinton, as well as his occasional depressions and a visit from Signor Gonorrhea.
The book is amusing and educating, and a great glimpse of life in society circles in 18th century London.
Boswell's London Journal was published by William Heinemann Ltd. in 1950. In addition to the standard hardback edition, a deluxe edition was printed in a stronger cover, better print and coming with a bookcase.
Another deluxe version was also published in just 1,050 numered copies, to which was prefixed Boswell's Journal of my Jaunt, Harvest 1762. This journal begins on September 14, 1762 and ends with November 14, 1762, covering his tour of southern Scotland to visit friends and family. This first journal is not available anywhere else.
It is a pity that the Journal of my Jaunt has only been published in a very limited number, as it is a great read, as well as a good introduction to Boswell's scottish background. Having read this journal gives greater depth to the London Journal.
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