Boswell’s Book

Guest commentary by Postmodern Conservative

On a more uplifting note, here is a piece about James Boswell’s Life of Johnson, a 1,200+ page book I’ve read through twice, by Henrik Bering in Policy Review:

Among the great encounters of literature, none ranks higher than the one that took place between James Boswell and Samuel Johnson in Tom Davis’s bookstore in Russell Street, Covent Garden on Monday, May 16, 1763.

Of particular interest are [Johnson’s] reading habits. Dropping by for a visit, Boswell found Johnson dusting his books, with a “cloud of dust flying around him,” “wearing a pair of large gloves such as hedgers use,” and living up to Boswell’s uncle’s characterization of him as “a Herculean genius, born to grapple with whole libraries.” (When visiting others, Johnson would make a beeline for their bookshelves and lose himself completely, “almost brushing the books with his eyelashes,” as the novelist Fanny Burney has noted.) One of the Life’s nicest images shows us Johnson outside “swinging upon the low gate” of the Thrale residence without his hat, totally absorbed in his book.

Johnson was a host of contradictions: by turns kind and brutal, stern and forgiving, a subtle intellect which could be incredibly rigid, an intellectual bruiser and a kind and humane man, and for Boswell it was imperative to get the emphasis right (“The
Ultimate Literary Portrait
“).

Policy Review always has good political and social analysis. This is the first time I’ve seen a literary essay. It was enjoyable.