A foot-noted biographical essay on James Boswell.
|James Boswell: In The Realm Of London Litterateurs
I. Boswell’s many facets
A. The Two worlds of Boswell
B. Concepts of Boswell
1. Personalities traits
II. Boswell’s ideas of London
III. His Father’s Opposition
IV. Boswell amongst the prominent London figures
A. Places he frequented for conversation
2. Near the Footguards
3. London Club activities
B. The Literary Club
1. During and After Acceptance Period
V. Boswell’s ambitions for social acceptance
VI. His friendships with three foremost figures of the
A. Association with Johnson
B. Association with Garrick
C. Association with Goldsmith
James Boswell in London is a series of extended stays. From, in 1762, he visits
London at twenty-two, through brief excursions for the purpose of seeing Samuel
Johnson, his business ventures to Oxford as a man of letters and on up to the
time before and after his admittance to the Literary Club . (1) Each visit might
be said to deal with a unique concept of Boswell’s personality. His story is
one of man’s disobedience and its fruit as that fruit grew ripe in the experience
of a man who lived both marvelously in accord, and marvelously at variance,
with the lives of his contemporaries .(2)
We may never get rid of the old conception of Boswell as a man with a notebook,
pursuing Johnson for materials to use in The Life Of Samuel Johnson, for it is
now one of those established legends of great men which grow the more vigor-
ously for being trodden upon. Yet the legend can no longer have any hold on
the minds of those who have read the records from the conversations in The Life
were quarried. Each is a fragment of Boswell’s autobiography, torn loose from
its context. His preoccupation during all his years was not with writing a book,
though he had that in mind; it was living his own life with style and prepostorous
secrecy. (3) This, then, is important for to view Boswell in London one must delve
deep within the man; study his reactions toward people, his habits, his doubts. An
eighteenth century man of sensibility, he stands between two worlds. The shape
of his years indicates to us that no man ever entered upon life with a more over-
weening ambition than himself, and none ever left it with a more complete real-
ization of failure.(4)
Although Boswell went through periods of deep depression and experienced
excrutiating mental fatigue at the results of his cases he took up as a lawyer, he
found a kind of peace in London. He says of it: “ . . . I felt myself as much at
home and in as much tranquility in London as I could wish to be. I believe London
to be my real home--in the heart.” (5)
In this way, Boswell was a remarkably many -faceted human being and while
he is enlarged upon--as a man caught up in London society--one must always
keep in mind that his zest, his jollity, his keenness for conversation and convers-
ationalists, reveal only the man at peace hiding an underbelly of significant
problems; this was Boswell in a world he loved best where his dignity arose
and his appearance became elaborately cared for. This man is James Boswell
. . . in the realm of London Litterateurs.
Talking of London, Johnson said, ‘ I will venture
to say that there is more learning and science within
the circumference of ten miles from where I sit
now, than in all the rest of the kingdom’.(6)
This was essentially what James Boswell felt London held for him. He made it a
place of wonder in itself, a kind of temple of learning where conversation and the
friendships of great men could be had. He comments:
In reality, a person of small fortune who has only the
common view of life and would just be as anybody else,
cannot like London. But a person of imagination and
feeling, such as The Spectator finely describes can have
the most lively enjoyment from the sight of external
objects without regard to property at all. London is un-
doubtedly a place where men and manners may be
seen to the greatest advantage. The liberty and the whim
that reigns there occasions a variety of perfect and
curious characters. Then the immense crowd and hurry
and bustle of entertainment, the noble churches and the
superb buildings of different kinds, agitate, amuse, and
elevate the mind. Besides the satisfaction of pursuing
whatever plan is most agreeable, without being known
or looked at, is very great. Here a young man of curious-
ity and observation may have a sufficient fund of
present entertainment and may lay up ideas to employ
his mind in age.(7)
After London had cast a spell upon Boswell, he was entranced until his
death. James MacPherson once told Boswell, who was of Scotish origin,
“The Highlanders are hospitable and love society. They are very hardy and
can endure the inconveniences of life very well. Yet they are fond of London
when they get to it and indulge as much in its pleasures as anybody.”(8) And
so, London became a part of his brain, a place to go home to; an enchantment
with which to entangle himself.
The first significant extended period of time that one may view Boswell in
London dates back to 1762 when, at the young age of twenty-two, he set up
residence there for approximately a year’s time. This trip was considerably
important in that the idea of his father’s opposition to London, though Boswell
would not have admitted it, remained on his conscience and bothered him
Alexander Boswell, (Lord Auchinleck), was a Scots lawyer educated in Scot-
land and Holland for beging a judge. A classical scholar with a special
fondness for Horace and Anacreon, he had the reputation of being a laborious
and disapassionate judge, was was generally esteemed for manliness, frank-
ness, candour, and dignity. The character he displayed at home was less
attractive. Towards his children he was stern, undemonstrative, suspicious and
overbearing. James had and felt strong affection for him but was still treated
with chilling disapproval.
Lord Auchinleck had a motto from Horace prominently displayed across
his dooor; it may be paraphrased to read: “All you week is here, in the remote-
ness and quiet of Auchinleck[The Estate]; if you have fitted yourself with a
good steady mind.” There is an certain assumption which can be made: Lord
Auchinleck was decidely impatient with those who had to acquire a good,
steady mind. James lacked a good, steady mind and was forever making
excuses for his behaviour, trying desperately to change the pattern of his
actions. This basic mistrust of himself and lack of communication with his
father might be said to be the first seeds of frustration which accompanied
him throughout his lifetime. His conversations, when reading him, can be
noted as interspersed with this unrest.(9)
Lord Auchinleck despised people who made a living by writing and could
not have been pleased by his son’s verse or prose. Like any father at any
time he thought actors and actresses bad company for his son. So, during
this period, it was almost a constant battle of wits between Boswell and his
father. When Boswell returned home to the Auchinleck Estate in Scot-
land, during his early years, he was put to the question of if he stayed out
at night. Declining to comment, he busied himself with the study of law,
listlessly, under his father’s personal instruction.
Even away from home, Boswell was still influenced by his father’s way
of doing and thinking. He writes, “Prepare like father. Mark this and
keep in pocket. You are not to consider yourself alone. You have a worthy
father whose happiness depends on your behaving so as at least to give no
offence and there is a prudent way to keep up appearances.”(10)
Several talks to his good friend, Samuel Johnson, Boswell at a later
dealt with his matter in his journals by saying:
“ . . . I told him (Johnson) all my story. ‘Sir’, said
he, “your father has been wanting to make the man
of you at twenty, which you will be at thirty. Sir,
let me tell you that to be a Scotish landlord where you have a
number of families dependent upon you and attached to you
is perhaps as high a situation as humanity can arrive at . . .
Thus, the great Samuel Johnson in so many ways tried to approve his father’s words
to him. Boswell answers to this by saying:
“Sir, a father and a son should part at a certain time of life, I
never lo, believed what my father said, I always thought that he
spoke ex officio, as a priest does.”
And even on another occasion Boswell comments in his work:
“ . . . I said, You and I, sir[meaning Johnson]are very good
companions, but my father and I are not so. Now what can
occasion this? For you are as old as my father and you are
certainly as learned; as knowing. “Sir,”, said he to Boswell,
“I am the man of the world, and take in some measure the
color of the world as it moves along. But your father is a
judge in the remote part of the country and all his notions
are taken from the old world. Besides, there must always
be a struggled between a father and a son, while the one
aims at power, and the other at independency.” I told him
that he was a lawyer. “Why sir, you,” he[Johnson]answered
back “Need not be afraid of his forcing you to be a laborious
practicing lawyer. That is not in his power . . . `(11)
Externally, however, it worked out just as Lord Auchinleck wanted it to. Boswell
slipped from hopefullness into uncertainty, from uncertainty into doubt, from
doubt into subjection, until he gave up consciously to dwindle into a lawyer--
and he did not know that these struggles with his father were mere scirmishes.(12)
The most powerful concept of Boswell as he acquainted himself with the London
litterateurs, was his deep-rooted ambition for social acceptance. As a boy, he
was timid, scared of the dark and terribly afraid of ghosts; bashful in company,
priggish, and puritanical. He had some kind of “scorbutic” complaint when he
was twelve for which it was thought wise to send him to drink the waters of the
Moffat. He was subject to fits of depression and in his seventeenth year suffered
a protracted illness that sounds like a nervous collapse. When he emerged from
it, he seemed to have undergone a physical and mental transformation. He
grew suddenly robust and almost phrenetically active: a young man of average
height, tending to his plumpness, with very black hair and eyes and a swarthy
complexion. He now became vain amorous, and gregarious. He began to
frequent the theater and to dangle after actresses. Before very long, besides
being a wit, he emerged as skeptical and tireless (somewhat grubby)--a man of
pleasure. He wanted to live the year in London, and thought a commission
in the Footguards the most eligible way of securiing perpetual London residence.
He would have turned out something like this--in the Footguards--for the forms
of his ambition were probably set largely by his intense admiration of his first
patron, James Lord Somerville, a Scotsman who, living in obscure lodgings
in London, contrived in public to make a show befitting his rank, obtained a
commission in the Dragoons, married a wealthy widow, when she died married
a wealthier one. Somerville was the friend of Pope and his house near
Edinburgh was the resort of authors and actors; he having taken the illegal but
tolerated theater of Edinburgh under his protection.
Boswell remarks of him:
He was the first person of high rank that took me in the way
most flattering to a young man fondly ambitious of being
distinguished for his literary talents and by the honour of his
encouragement made me think well of myself and aspire
to desire it better. (13)
Except for a few brief periods of his life--all later than twenty-two years of age--
Boswell suffered from a radical sense of insecurity and a basic lack of con-
fidence. It was so, during his London jaunt in 1762. When he surveyed himself
each morning he knew that most of the time instead of being what he wished to
be--a brilliant high-bred man of pleasure, poised, countly, holding scoffers in awe
by the rapier of his wit--he was really a raw, loud, romping over-eager boy;
greedy, stingy, and with brutal tastes.
He was granted without reservation the chance he had begged, prayed, and
fought for through three bitter years--a chance to be a part of London’s high
society. To him, in November of 1762, that happiness seemed to contain
every hope of happiness that life held for him. Could he make a go of it--
the scheme--that in Scotland, his home, had seemed so plausible? Or was he,
after all, the weakling his father thought him? Would he have to go crawling
back to Edinburgh defeated and ridiculous? He was almost pathetic in
being freed for the first time in his life, freed from his father’s incessant
scrupulous admonition, hedging himself ‘round with substituites. Boswell
Be reserved and calm and sustain a consistent
character. It will please you when high and when
low it will be a sure comfort through all things.
And when high again, ‘twill delight! So when you
return to Auchinleck, you’ll have dignity.
His ambition was extended to every phase of his living:
Much did I ruminate with regard to lodgings. Some-
times I considered that a fine lodging denoted a man
of great fashion, but then I thought that few people
would see it and therefore the expense would be hid,
whereas my business was to make as much show as I
could with my small allowance. I thought that my
elegant place to come home to was very agreeable and
would inspire me with ideas of my own dignity; but
then I thought it hard if I had not a proportionable
show in other things, and that it was better to come
gradually to a fine place than from a fine to worse . . .
He studied social behavior, also, contemplating each trait one might have to
be able to be part of the company of actors and literary geniuses comfortably:
The great art of living easy and happy in society is to
study proper behavior and even with our most intimate
friends to observe politeness; otherwise we will insens-
ibly tread on each other with some degree of rudeness
and each will find himself despised in some measure or
On arriving in London, Boswell had informed his father where he was, and his
father had written to the Earl of Elginton, an Ayrshire neighbor then residing in
London, begging him to look the young man up. Then Elginton dazzled him and
swept away the last of his strict and gloomy notions by introducing him “into the
circles of the great, the gay, and the ingenious.”
Boswell talked with him about his enjoyment of London society:
Lord Elginton said that a savage had as much pleasure
in eating his rude meals and hearing the rough notes of
the bagpipes as a man in polished society had in the
most elegant entertainment and in hearing the finest
music . . .to judge of their happiness we must feel that
we are superior of both of them, who should feel the
pleasure of each; and in that case it would be found that
although each had his taste fully gratified, that all the
civilization having his taste more refined and susceptible
of higher enjoyment, must be acknowledged to have
the greater happiness.
Boswell’s fastidious manner and keen perception of “unnoticed” facets of
life stirred him to write:
I was now upon a plan of studying reserved behavior,
which is the only way to keep up dignity of character.
And as I have a good deal of pride, which I think is
proper and ever noble I am hunt with the taunts of
ridicule and am unsatisfied if I do not feel myself some-
thing of a superior animal . . . This has always been my
favorite idea in my best moments.
Boswell, indeed, considered himself before any other. This new look at him
might be somewhat surprising to those who have always considered him but
a mere bumbling servant to Samuel Johnson, but his deep concern for being
someone he was not, makes him a unique revelation.
Boswell again comments upon himself:
When my father forced me down to Scotland I was at first
very low-spirited, although appearance was high. I after-
wards from my natural vivacity endeavoured to make myself
easy and like a man who takes to drinking to banish care,
I threw myself loose as a a heedless, dissipated, rattled
fellow who might say or do every ridiculous thing. This
made me sought after by everybody at the present hour,
but I found many people presuming to treat me as such,
which not withstanding of my appearance of undiscerning
gaiety, gave me much pain . . . I remember my friend
Johnson told me one day after my return from London that I
had turned out different from what he had imagined as he
thought I would resemble Addison. I laughed and threw
out some loud sally of humor, but the observation struck
deep . . . Addison! Indeed, I had accustomed that it
required time to render my imagination solid and give me
just notions of real life and religion. But I hoped by
degrees to obtain some degree of propriety. (15)
In a rapid view of Boswell, the faults seem glaring and the man absurd. He
could be offensive and then again could strut like a crow in the gutter. He not
only rang the most impressive doorbells, but announced himself as a desirable
caller. And having pushed himself in among great men, he proceeded to ask
them extremely impertinent questions. Most times he was something of a busy-
body and sometimes a consummate nuisance. Anything but self-effacing when
sober, he grew noisy, silly and garrulous when drunk. Obsessed with family
dignity, he had absolutely no dignity of his own; and pursuing the most ticklish
enterprises, proved to be utterly wanting in tact. (16)
Yet this man became, in varying degrees, the friend of Johnson, Reynolds,
Goldsmith, Garrick, Burke, Paoli, Hume, Rousseau, Voltaire; of grave bishops
and fine ladies. He was a diner out who certainly added to the gaiety and even
the stolidity of countless gatherings. He was, said Johnson, “ a man everybody
liked”. and “the best traveling companion in the world.” Since what made him a
fool could have hardly made him a favorite, he was a ingenious man with
saving virtues. He had good nature and high spirits. These two things stand out
impeccably! He could talk well and lead talk on, he could make people feel
he was glad to be with them, and perhaps even make them glad to be with each
Whenever the conversation began to flag, Boswell was like a woman with a
parrot or like a man with a dancing bear. He excited the creature, made him
talk or dance for the edification of the company. He sideled obsequiously to-
ward his hero and with utter irrelevancy, propounded a question of theology,
a social theology, a fashion of dress or marriage, a philosophical conundrum.(18)
Boswell frequented places, dreamed schemes, and entered into homes with the
specific art being uppermost in his mind--conversation.
As being centers of intercommunication in the book world where the literati
met and discussed new books or learned of projects for forthcoming works,
some of the bookshops came to be known as literary coffeehouses. Here could
be met serious minded, progressive citizens who were steadily outnumbering
and overpowering the cotaries of the old social regime. Mathew Elrrold has once
said that when “England entered the prison of Puritanism it turned the key
on its intellectual progress for two hundred years.” In reality, it was precisely
this class, made up of inheritors of Puritan narrowness and perserverence which
created a new culture for England out of its coffeehouses. It has already been
shown how Londoners as early as the protectorate, began to assemble in these
rendezvous and how, by daily intercourse, they learned to feel interest in each
other’s manners and habits of thought. As they cared little for the more
frivolous diversions of the capital, pleasures of news and conversatoin, until
coffeehouses and conversation had become the most striking feature of
London life. (19)
Men who gathered day after day in these resorts were not only interested in
their companion’s ideas and demeanour; they cultivated an eye for trivial
actions and utterances, a gift for investigating other people’s prejudices and
partialities and they realized the pleasure of winning their way into the intric-
acies of another’s mind. Hence, they acquired a new attitude towards their
fellow-creatures. Characters which would formerly have been ridiculed or
despised were now valued as intellectual puzzles, eccentricities attracted symp-
athetic attention to be tolerant.. Besides this sentiment of friendliness, the
mere conditions of club life imposed a new code of manners. If men were to
enjoy daily intercouse, they had to respect each other’s opinions and to cult-
ivate self-suppression. Thus, consideration for others became the fashion and
the middle-class--besides studying character--came to regard courtesy as a part
of civilization. (20)
And so, James Boswell went to a coffeehouse not so much for coffee or tea
as to read the newspapers, of which the better coffeehouses furnished several
copies of. He also went there to talk politics and to listen to other people’s
conversation. A coffeehouse did service, to him, as a cheap club. According
to Johnson, a great authority on such matters, a man might be in one for some
hours every day in very good company by spending no more than three pence.
The room was cheerful, there was a good fire; patrons sat by twos and threes
at small tables and spoke low so as not to disturb the others. Child’s in
St. Paul’s Churchyard was Boswell’s choice; he was probably directed to it by
The Spectator of Addison and Steele’s , and who mention it in their first
numbered edition. It was frequented not as one might expect--book-sellers,
authors and wits--but more largely by physicians and solid citizens.(21)
Boswell says of Child’s:
Child’s is quite a place, to my mind; dusky, comfortable,
and warm, with a society of citizens and physicians who
talk political matters very fully and are very sagacious,
and sometimes jocular..(22)
Boswell held one pet scheme in mind when he came to London, and Lord
Achinleck did not veto this plan of a military life for Boswell, though he
disliked it. He grudgingly offered to procure Boswell a commission in a
marching regiment, but declined absolutely to put any money into the
Guard’s he would tire of the whole thing: hence, “he had better wait a year
or two and meantime get some law in his schedule.”(23)
Yet it was not all his wish to be an active soldier. He was quite frank in ad-
mitting that he had no stomach for the fighting in Germany or America or
anywhere else. True, he was fascinated by the pomp and circumstance of
military dress and martial parade, and found the social status of an officer
attractive, but fundamentally what he wanted was London society. The
footguards were household troops, the personal bodyguard’s of the sovereign.
In time of peace they would be stationed in London or Windsor and even
in wartime there was a fair chance that a Guardsman would remain through
all vicissitudes, parading at St. James. By securing a commision in the
Guards, Boswell would have fitted himself with a gentlemanly profession
that held the promise of keeping him in London with plenty of time to
enjoy himself in the modes that he found most delightful (24)Nevertheless,
when he saw the “Guards dawn up the court of the palace while the
moon shone and showed their splendour.”, his imagination soare and as he
walked out to the park he admired “all the objects around me!” He said
too, “How I value ease and health. The sight of the parade and the
splendid guards bring back my love to that professionwith redoubled
force. I am convinced that it is indeed the genuine object, the only station
in real life which I could have.” (25) Yet, these hopes were quelled
shortly after as he says:
I, this day, received a letter from the Duke of
Queensberry, in answer to one that I had wrote
him, telling me that a commission in the
Guards was a fruitless endeavour, and advising
me to take a civil life. I was quite stupidified
and enraged at this. I imagined my father was at the
bottom of it.(26).
Time proved his right--Boswell later, after having failed to secure his com-
mission in any way, yielded to his father’s desire and agreed to become a
Boswell was continually joining a number of clubs each time he re-visited London.
He was admitted to a club composed mostly of physicians, dissenting clergy
and masters of academies. It was a secondary thing with him, and meetings
were held every other Thursday at the London coffeehouse on Ludgate Hill
until 12 Noon. He was also a member of the Catch Club, and he frequented
at the Covent Garden Theater for a metting of the Sublime Society of
Beefsteaks. He secured a membership in a debating society--the Robinhood
Society--frequented by artisans and tradesmen. The subjects for debate
were chosen a week 9in advance; there was no restriction on membership
except the payment of a six pence each meeting attended. Any man present
could speak for five minutes with complete freedom of utterance. (28)
Boswell appeared to be unable to resist joining any kind of club, and it was
again due to that wish for being known, which he so nobly carried as his banner
until death. He was like an eager boy--wanting to participate in every form
of what he considered to e the greatest leisurely way and a path for gaining
He comments that he once,
. . . mentioned a club in London at the Boar’s Head
in East Cheap, the very tavern where Falstaff and his
joyous companions met; and the members of it all
assume Shakespeare’s characters. One Falstaff; another,
Prince Hal, another, Bardolph and so on. Johnson
answered him with the remark “Don’t be of it.
Now that you have a name you must be careful
to avoid many things bad in themselves, but which
will lessen your character. This every man who has
a name must observe. A man who is publicly
known may live in London as he pleases without it
being taken from him. It is wonderful how a
person of any consequence is watched.”(29)
On his second trip to London, during the spring of 1773, Boswell was
received into the club of the most celebrated politicians and litterateurs.(30)
In an age of clubs and coteries, it was the most brilliant in England, primar-
ily because it was headed by the great well-known man of literature,
Dr. Sameul Johnson. Known simply as “The Club” and later as “The
Literary Club” by others, it had its formal beginnings in 1764 and included,
among its original members:Edmund Burke--distinguished parlimentarian;
Dr. Christopher--physician; Bennet Langton--classical scholar; Sir John
Hawkins--man of letters; Anthony Chamier--goverment official; Topham
Beauclerk--wit; and there there was added the greats David Garrick--the
actor; Charles James Fox--Statesman; Thomas and Joseph Warton--
poets and critics; Adam Smith--economist; Bishop Percy of Dromone--
editor of the famous Reliques; Edward Gibbon--historian; Dr. Charles
Burney--musician; and . . . as man about town and biographer--the
great James Boswell, who had by now taken his place with others and
become a man destined for history. In all, there were about thirty-five
members. The Club met weekly for fortnightly at the Turk’s Head
on Gerald Street, Soho, and later at other taverns. According to
Boswell, they “generally continued their conversation until a
pretty late hour.” Not all members were authors, but all were interested
in literature and good conversation.(31)
It was started at the proposal of Sir Joshua Reynolds. At these gatherings
Samuel Johnson’s conversational gifts were amply excerised and well-
enjoyed. the customary conviviality was occasional disturbed by
disagreements, as when Hawkins “one evening attacked Mr. Burke, in so
rude a manner that all the company testified their displeasure and at
their next meeting they all received him poorly . He never came
Johnson had a way of contracting the names of his literary friends:
as Beauclerk--Beau; Langton--Lanky; Murphy--Mur; Sheridan--
Sherry; Goldsmith--Goldy; and lastly, Boswell-Bozzy. As his circle
of friends, they took the idea as his good nature unfolding. Boswell
found it enchanting.
A grand moment came towards which Boswell maneuvered with some
care--and some genius--in his admission to the Literary Club. Johnson
had told Boswell a few months later, “Sir, you got into our club by
doing what a man can do.” “I suppose Dr Johnson mean’t”, said
Boswell, “That I assiduously and earnestly recommended myself to some
of the members, as in canvass for an election into Parliament.”
Boswell sent a note to Percy: “I hope you remember me at the club
tonight. Sir Joshua, Dr. Johnson and Dr. Goldsmith have obligingly
engaged to be for me. They are all to dine at my lodgings on Saturday
night. May I beg you to do the favor of joining us?” Johnson wrote
to Goldsmith who was chairman of the meeting that evening, “I
beg that you will excuse my absence to the Club; I am going this
evening at Oxford, I have another favor to beg. It is that Mr. Boswell
be considered a candidate for our society and that he may be considered
as regularly nominated.” (33)
. . . I dined with him, Johnson, at Mr. Beauclerk’s where
were Lord Charlemont, Sir Joshua Reynolds and some
more company frequented . . . the gentlemen went away
to their Club . . . and as in anxious suspense as ever over
the charms of Lady Diana, Beauclerk’s conversation
could hardly give relief. Mr. Beauclerk’s coach returned
for me in less than an hour with a note from him that
I was chosen [Candidate for Literary Club Member]
. . .I hastened to the Turk’s Head in Soho and introduced
to such a society as can seldom be found. Upon my
entrance Johnson placed himself behind a chair on
which he leant as on a desk or pulpit and with humorous
formality gave me a charge, pointing out the duties
incumbent upon me as a good member of the Club.
Boswell was in ecstacy--he felt satisfaction for the first time at his own
accomplisment. He found himself becoming a star in the company of
famous persons on a regular basis.
I felt a completion of happiness. I just sat and hugged
myself in my own mind. Here I am in London, at the
house of General Oglethorpe and he just introduced
himself to m because I now seem distinguished in
literature. Words cannot describe our feelings. The
finer parts are lost, as the down upon a plume; the
radiance of the light cannot be painted.(34}
Boswell was now living in a kind of “continuous whirl”. Usually each
mealtime was spent with different people, in different parts of London.
He was out for breakfast and had tea, dinner, tea again, supper sometimes
late in the evening he might call on a coffeehouse. Almost always there
wre other visits for “gallant compliments” and for good talk or to arrange
for good talk in the future.(35)
Every evening was a gathering for literary men. Discussions could be deep
and profound at one moment and convivial the next. There were certain
elements that prevailed--a love of learning, aire of dignity, respect for each
other and knowlege each possessed.
Boswell wrote that one evening he was in the midst of large company when
somebody said that the life of a mere literary man could not be very
entertaining. Johnson then quickly spoke up and said: But it certainly
may. Tis is a remark which has been made and repeated without justice.
Why should the life of a literary man be less entertaining than the life
of other man? As a literary life it may be VERY entertaining.”
Bosell agreed wholeheartedly. (36)
I, having dwelled upon Boswell’s search for being known along with his
companions, feel that among those with which he lived in London, three
intimate friendships emerged as most important in his life. They are
Samuel Johnson, David Garrick and Oliver Goldsmith. Each relationship
is unique in itself, and they may be said to be the fruits of endeavour
he had carried in his mind, as they grew ripe with fulfillment of purpose.
As Boswell’s relationship with Johnson aged, he became more and more
awed at the idea of being so close to such greatness. Boswell owes much
to Johnson but it was Boswell who gave us Johnson. He would not stand
so high in the world’s estimation today if it were not for the little Scotish
advocate he snubbed, bullied, and loved. It was easy to laugh at Boswell’s
way, even easier to be annoyed by it; he was pushy, inquisitive, opinionated,
often a bore. (37) Johnson, too, provided Boswell with an idea to strive
for and in some sense served as a father to him.
Boswell’s first meeting with Johnson showed most appropriately his constant
striving for acceptance by the literary genius. One might note the way
Boswell flatters another whom he admires greatly; he told a companion
(a bookseller) this when he encountered Johnson for the first time: I was
much agitated; and recollected his prejudice against the Scottish of which
I had heard much, I said to Davies:’Don’t tell him where I come from.’ In
his friendship with Johnson, Boswell found the most fruitful and fortunate
element in his life. It was indeed less Boswell’s veneration for Johnson than
his love for London and his distaste for Scotland that kept driving him
southward; in fact, he moved to London permanently--against his best
interest--after Johnson died. (38)
Boswell’s appreciation of being admitted to the friendship of the great actor
and manager, David Garrick, had been enthusiastic and steady from their
earliest encounters with each other when he remained at home working
hard at the Auchinleck Estate. The first awakening and exchange of
literary letters of an Edinburgh edition of Shakespeare and three essays
in the London Mazagine are centered around the glamourous figure
Boswell wrote of him:
I was quite in raptures with Garrick’s kindness--the
man whom from a boy I used to adore and look
upon as a heathen god--to find him paying me so
much respect! How amiable is he in comparison
to Sheridan! I was this day with him what the
French call un etoundi. I gave free vent to my feelings.
Love was by to whom I called “This sir, the real
scene.” And taking Mr. Garrick cordially by the
hand “thou greatest of men” said I, “I cannot express
how happy you make me.” This upon my soul was
not flattery. He saw it was not. And the dear great man
was truly pleased.
Boswell cherished as one of his best memories of the London trip of 1772
a morning when he walked with Garrick along the Thames near the Adelph,
and was fortunate enough to listen to him burst into an animated recital of a
speech from Macbeth. (39)
Boswell came out in The London Magazine with three essays “on the
profession of a player”--the first two being in part a part of those in
medium with the acting of David Garrick; in part, a shrewd self-revela-
tion concerning Boswell’s own affinity for the stage.
Boswell tells us: Mr. Garrick exhibits in his own person
such a variety of characters, with such propriety and
excellence, as not onlyt ot catch the immediate applause
of ther multitude, but to be the delight and admiration
of the judicious, enlightened and philosophical spec-
Johnson once told Boswell:
(About Garrick) He is the first man for sprightly
Having expatiated with his usual force and eloquence on Mr. Garrick’s
extraordinary eminence as an actor(says Boswell) I thought him less to be
envied on the state than at the head of the table.
The relationship James Boswell had with Oliver Goldsmith is not as even.
It is a striking a somewhat disconcerting fact that Boswell during the first
years of their acquaintance had been underestimated this struggling author
and perhaps felt he could but patronize him. Boswell depicts Goldsmith
in a comic view as the awkward over-eager conversationalist, the habitual
perpetration of Irish bulls. At the same time, with Goldsmith’s
theatrical triumph of She Stoops To Conquer, Boswell’s enthusiasum for
Boswell says of him:
He, I am afraid, had not settled system of any sort,
so that his conduct must be strictly scrutinized but
his affections were social and generous and when
he had money he gave it away very liberally.(43)
Goldsmith’s incessant desire of being conspicuous
in company was the occasion of his sometimes
appearing to such disadvantage as one should
hardly have supposed possible in a man of genius.
When his literary reputation had risen deservedly, he
became very jealous of the extraordinary attention which
was everywhere paid to Mr. Johnson. On evening in
a circel of wits he found fault with me for talking of
Johnson as entitled to the honor of unquestionable
James Boswell . . . in the realm of London literaratuers was, indeed, a
significant personaity. He certainly sought to indulge his curiousity and
add to his prestige and in doing so found deserved favour. He had
sympathy, too and sincertiy that went beyond the compliments he paid
his cohorts. During an age in London when most people were forced to
be on their guard and to care desperately about appearances, Boswell
offereda a unique comic relief. He was quite the city-man, his man
even more fascinating. I found his diaries to be insatiiable with. He
opens up and really speaks truthfully, like no other man in his time
One might imagine him to say these words of Shakespeare:
When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state
and trouble deaf heaven with my bootless
cries and look upon myself and curse my fate
wishing me like to one more rich in hope
featured like him, like him with friends
desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope
with what I most enjoy, contested least . . . (45)
Bibliography with Footnotes:
(1) James Boswell, Boswell for the Defense, ed. Winsatt, and F.A. Pottle,
(New York, l960), p. 1.
(2) Ibid, p. xvii.
(3) James Boswell, Boswell: the Ominous Years, ed. Charles Ryskamp and
F.A. Pottle, (New Your, l960), p. xiii.
(4) Ibid., p 1.
(5) Ibid, p. 341.
(6) James Boswell and Samuel Johnson, The Portable Johnson and Boswell,
ed. Lousi Kronenberg, (New York, l947), p. 25.
(7) James Boswell, London Journal (1762-1763), ed. F. A. Pottle, (New York,
1950), p. 68.
(8) Ibid, p 73.
(9) James Boswell, London Journal (1762-63), p. 27.
(10) Ibid, p. 27.
(11) Ibid, pp. 284-285.
(12)Ibid., same source.
(13) Ibid, pp 3-4.
(14) Ibid, pp. 15-17.
(15)Ibid., pp 60-63.
(16)James Boswell and Samuel Johnson, The Portable Johnson and
and Boswell, p. 21.
(17)Ibid. p 21.
(18)William Long, English Literature, (New York, l937), p. 295.
(19)”James Boswell”, The Cambridge History of English
Literature, (London, l933), IX, p. 35.
(20)Ibid, p. 35.
(21)James Boswell, London Journal (1762-63), p. 23.
(22)Ibid., p. 74.
(23)Ibid., p. 7
(24)Ibid., p. 19
(25)Ibid., p. 205
(26)Ibid., p. 107.
(27)James Boswell, Boswell for the Defense, p. 2.
(28)James Boswell and Samuel Johnson, The Portable Johnson
and Boswell, p. 402.
(29)Ibid., p. 402.
(30)James Boswell, Boswell for the Defense, p. xi.
(31)”Johnson and His Circle”, The Literature of England,
5th edition, *New York, l953}, p. 543.
(32)A.C. Ward, The Illustrated History of English Literature,
6th edition, (London, 1966), p. 230.
(33)James Boswell, Boswell for the Defense, p. 183.
(34)Ibidl, p 1.
(35)James Boswell, Boswell: The Ominous Years, p. 332.
(36)James Boswell and Samuel Johnson, The Portable Johnson
and Boswell, p. 332.
(37)James Boswell, British Authors Before 1800, (New York,
l959), p. 51.
(38)James Boswell; “Samuel Johnson”, The Portable Johnson and
Boswell, p. 25.
(39)James Boswell, Boswell for the Defense, p. xii.
(40)Ibid., p. 17.
(41)James Boswell and Samuel Johnson, The Portable Johnson
and Boswell, p. 95.
(42)James oswell, Boswell for the Defense, p. xiii.
(43)James Boswell and Samuel Johnson, The Portable Johnson
and Boswell, p. 100.
(44) Ibid., p. 186.
(45) William Shakespeare, Treasury of Golden Memories, ed.
Kenneth Giniger, (New York, l958), p. 373.
Most of this piece of work was done in l968
in the Carnegie Library in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh when I was 18. Much was talked about, that year, on Boswell at Yale University on the subject of his lifestyle and his personal life. There is one thing I think I might want to add: I don't believe Boswell was a totally greedy or misguided man. I feel he had a wealth of attributes to make him a very fascinating man in history.