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Boswell’s Bowels

Neal Ascherson, 20 December 1984

James BoswellThe Later Years 1769-1795 
by Frank Brady.
Heinemann, 609 pp., £20, November 1984, 0 434 08530 8
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... James Boswell created the ‘Age of Johnson’, rescuing the late 18th century, above all, for the Victorians. The Boswell industry at Yale University has given an ‘Age of Boswell’ to the 20th century. This second volume of the grand Frederick Pottle-Frank Brady biography marks the climax of that long achievement ...

Self-Hugging

Andrew O’Hagan: A Paean to Boswell, 5 October 2000

Boswell's Presumptuous Task 
by Adam Sisman.
Hamish Hamilton, 352 pp., £17.99, November 2000, 0 241 13637 7
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James Boswell’s ‘Life of Johnson’: Research Edition: Vol. II 
edited by Bruce Redford and Elizabeth Goldring.
Edinburgh, 303 pp., £50, February 2000, 0 7486 0606 8
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Samuel Johnson: The Life of an Author 
by Lawrence Lipking.
Harvard, 372 pp., £11.50, March 2000, 0 674 00198 2
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Dr Johnson's London 
by Liza Picard.
Weidenfeld, 362 pp., £20, July 2000, 0 297 84218 8
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... begetter of admiration in other people. Yet none that loved him could easily match the love of James Boswell, who puttered along for many years, joyously, drunkenly, boisterously, earnestly, with his love of Dr Johnson both a wondrous act of worship and a curious kind of self-loving. Arm in arm on their way up the High Street, ...

Strutting

Linda Colley, 21 September 1995

All the Sweets of Being: The Life of James Boswell 
by Roger Hutchinson.
Mainstream, 238 pp., £17.50, May 1995, 1 85158 702 0
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James Boswell’s ‘Life of Johnson’ 
edited by Marshall Waingrow.
Edinburgh, 518 pp., £75, March 1995, 0 7486 0471 5
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Johnson and BoswellThe Transit of Caledonia 
by Pat Rogers.
Oxford, 245 pp., £30, April 1995, 0 19 818259 7
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... man. Altogether an appropriately ambivalent emblem, one might think, for the vicissitudes that James Boswell would experience throughout his life, and the turbulence of his reputation since his death. It was not just a case of the man’s temperament being volatile and manic, his daily memoranda to himself shifting suddenly from ‘You got up dreary ...

Great Portland Street Blues

Karl Miller, 25 January 1990

BoswellThe Great Biographer. Journals: 1789-1795 
by James Boswell, edited by Marlies Danziger and Frank Brady.
Heinemann, 432 pp., £25, November 1989, 0 434 89729 9
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... Boswell’s life of Boswell has reached its conclusion, this being the 13th in the series of journals brought out by the team responsible for the Yale Editions of his Private Papers. It opens two hundred years ago in London, during the winter of 1789. Frosty weather – the widower is warm against ‘the French insurrection ...

Blessed, Beastly Place

Douglas Dunn, 5 March 1981

Precipitous City 
by Trevor Royle.
Mainstream, 210 pp., £6.95, May 1980, 0 906391 09 1
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RLS: A Life Study 
by Jenni Calder.
Hamish Hamilton, 362 pp., £9.95, June 1980, 0 241 10374 6
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Gillespie 
by J. MacDougall Hay.
Canongate, 450 pp., £4.95, November 1979, 0 903937 79 4
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Scottish Satirical Verse 
edited by Edwin Morgan.
Carcanet, 236 pp., £6.95, June 1980, 0 85635 183 0
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Collected Poems 
by Robert Garioch.
Carcanet, 208 pp., £3.95, July 1980, 0 85635 316 7
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... Europe and America. An ancient city, a capital, with authors of all kinds, from Gavin Douglas to James Boswell to Annie S. Swan, Sir Compton Mackenzie and a thousand others: the subject is God’s own gift to the sifter of anecdotes and the historian of large-scale cultural change. Trevor Royle tackles it with affection and enthusiasm. Admirable as ...

Colonel Cundum’s Domain

Clare Bucknell: Nose, no nose, 18 July 2019

Itch, Clap, Pox: Venereal Disease in the 18th-Century Imagination 
by Noelle Gallagher.
Yale, 288 pp., £55, March 2019, 978 0 300 21705 6
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... and well, and most courageously did I plunge into the fount of love, and had vast pleasure,’ James Boswell wrote in his diary on a winter’s night in 1763, after an assignation with a beautiful Covent Garden actress. But the next day ‘came sorrow. Too, too plain was Signor Gonorrhoea.’ The arrival of the Signor was heralded by ‘damned ...

That sh—te Creech

James Buchan: The Scottish Enlightenment, 5 April 2007

The Enlightenment and the Book: Scottish Authors and Their Publishers in 18th-Century Britain, Ireland and America 
by Richard Sher.
Chicago, 815 pp., £25.50, February 2007, 978 0 226 75252 5
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... In March 1776, James Boswell and Samuel Johnson visited Pembroke College, Oxford and called on the master, William Adams. According to Richard Sher, Boswell wrote in his journal how dismayed he had been to see in the master’s library a copy of the quarto edition of David Hume’s Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects of 1758, handsomely bound in morocco leather ...

Tony, Ray and the Duchess

Alan Bell, 21 May 1981

A Lonely Business: A Self-Portrait of James Pope-Hennessy 
edited by Peter Quennell.
Weidenfeld, 278 pp., £12.50, April 1981, 0 297 77918 4
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... James Pope-Hennessy, who was murdered in 1974 when he was 58, will be remembered for several of his books, among them London Fabric, an architectural study made in the nick of time in 1939, a young man’s book which has worn well; the two volumes of his life of Monckton Milnes, Lord Houghton; Verandah of 1964, with its autobiographical element added to family and colonial history; and the excellent Queen Mary (1959), an unusually sympathetic study ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: Valets, 10 September 2009

... staff memoirs to show their boss to have been a font of everyday kindness and domestic ease. Even James Boswell, who wasn’t on Dr Johnson’s payroll but was on the staff as his quietly acknowledged biographer-elect, found time to draw attention to the great moralist’s horrible way of eating an orange. If you stick with Hitler’s valet long enough ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: Tweeting at an Execution, 6 October 2011

... have seldom been strangers at the scene of an execution. As we know from his London Journal, James Boswell would think nothing of tipping up at Tyburn after a bit of the Old Peculiar on Westminster Bridge – horror was an essential part of the 18th century’s entertainment diet. The death vigil was known more recently in Britain: think of Derek ...

At least that was the idea

Thomas Keymer: Johnson and Boswell’s Club, 10 October 2019

The Club: Johnson, Boswell and the Friends who Shaped an Age 
by Leo Damrosch.
Yale, 488 pp., £20, April 2019, 978 0 300 21790 2
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... Gibbon was made a member in 1774 and Adam Smith in 1775. The importance of other members, such as James Boswell and the pioneering linguistician William Jones, was recognised only posthumously. Alongside Johnson himself (and before one even gets to Garrick or Reynolds), their involvement supports Leo Damrosch’s claim that the Club brought together ...

Uppish

W.B. Carnochan, 23 February 1995

Satire and Sentiment, 1660-1830 
by Claude Rawson.
Cambridge, 309 pp., £40, March 1994, 0 521 38395 1
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... Rawson detects in Oldham an occasional ‘note of hoity-toity tu quoque’. Item: and, examining Boswell’s habit of draining every rhetorical situation to the lees, Rawson likens the Boswellian manner to that of ‘a hyperactive puppy on a benzedrine diet’. I begin with this bill of particulars because Rawson, by any standard a powerful interpreter of ...

Aversion Theory

Lord Goodman, 20 May 1982

Clinging to the Wreckage 
by John Mortimer.
Weidenfeld, 200 pp., £8.50, March 1982, 0 297 78010 7
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... comment. He developed an interest in writing and the theatre and planned to become a writer. Like James Boswell, he was persuaded by his father to practise the Law but, unlike Boswell, he became a successful lawyer, initially specialising in divorce but later emerging as the champion of any literary activity threatened ...

Gentleman Jack from Halifax

Elizabeth Mavor, 4 February 1988

I know my own heart: The Diaries of Anne Lister, 1791-1840 
edited by Helena Whitbread.
Virago, 370 pp., £7.95, February 1988, 0 86068 840 2
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... The keeping of diaries prompts the question why, and for whom? James Boswell at 22, and going to London for the first time, piously hoped that keeping a diary might engender ‘a habit of application and improve me in expression’, possibly even ‘make me more careful to do well’. At all events, 24 pages of this self-imposed devoir were sent off each Tuesday to his friend John Johnston of Grange, a dullish youth of about Boswell’s own age, but one in whose affectionate and uncritical company he felt more at peace than with anyone ...

More than one world

P.N. Furbank, 5 December 1991

D.H. Lawrence: The Early Years 1885-1912 
by John Worthen.
Cambridge, 624 pp., £25, September 1991, 0 521 25419 1
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The Letters of D.H. Lawrence. Vol. VI: 1927-28 
edited by James Boulton, Margaret Boulton and Gerald Lacy.
Cambridge, 645 pp., £50, September 1991, 0 521 23115 9
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... most unchanging thing about them. (As it was, one might add, the most unchanging thing about poor James Boswell, another great vita nuova man, ever inclined to exhort himself: ‘Be Samuel Johnson! Be the rock of Gibraltar!’) All the same, despite Svevo’s rule, there have been a few people – Tolstoy, Wittgenstein and D.H. Lawrence come to mind ...

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