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Tony Grist

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Boswell's London Journal 1762-63 [May. 29th, 2013|10:51 am]
Tony Grist
Boswell comes down to London in his early twenties with a view to getting himself a commission in the Guards- an enterprise that is doomed from the start because his father, the judge, is lobbying against it and he doesn't have the money for bribes. He spends his time "sauntering" around London, breakfasting with other young bucks, rogering whores, studying "propriety of conduct" and- when there's nothing better to do- writing up this early masterpiece of self-revelation.

He wants to be a soldier for the sake of the coat and the income and favours the Guards because he is very unlikely to be posted out of London- let alone- oh horrors- on active service.  His ambitions swell and deflate.  "It is very difficult," he says, talking about worldly success, "To be keen about a thing which in reality you do not regard and consider as imaginary."  His ability to stand apart from himself is extraordinary.  He records things most of us would hide, making himself ridiculous and touching- and- every once in a while- detestable.  His account of his affair with Louisa- the actress who gives him the pox- is as truthful- and as wince-making- as it gets. Also remarkably even-handed. He has a wonderful ear for dialogue.

Georgian London is a small world. On the basis of certain connections and some trifling literary achievements he gets to socialize with everybody who is anybody- from "Ossian" Macpherson to David Garrick to the Duchess of Northumberland- who promises to use her influence on his behalf, then avoids him. Towards the end of the Journal Dr Johnson makes an appearance and Boswell, as if sensing his destiny, immediately starts to make notes of his conversation. 

[User Picture]From: steepholm
2013-05-29 12:12 pm (UTC)
This is one of my favourite books, ever. Even the index is more entertaining than most novels.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2013-05-29 12:57 pm (UTC)
Boswell talks gleefully about socializing with geniuses and you think, "One day, laddie, you're going to outshine them all."
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2013-05-29 06:06 pm (UTC)
Even the index is more entertaining than most novels.

That makes me want to read it.
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[User Picture]From: veronikos
2013-05-29 02:59 pm (UTC)
Great recommendation! I look forward to reading it.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2013-05-29 03:26 pm (UTC)
Boswell left masses of personal papers- most of which weren't recovered until the 20th century.
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[User Picture]From: resonant
2013-05-30 12:41 am (UTC)
His whole-hearted approval of slavery is severely offputting, but I am adding his books to my reading pile.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2013-05-30 08:33 am (UTC)
Boswell was a bit of a swine- but aren't we all in our differing ways? He was a man of his time. His views on women- too- leave a lot to be desired.

Dr Johnson opposed slavery- if I remember right- but then he was a moral titan and Boswell wasn't.
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