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Brother-Making

James Davidson, 8 February 1996

The Marriage of Likeness: Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe 
by John Boswell.
Fontana, 412 pp., £8.99, January 1996, 0 00 686326 4
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... Sexual Dissidence, have caused scarcely a ripple outside the literary critical lagoon, but when John Boswell, a rather old-fashioned medieval historian, claimed to have discovered evidence for gay marriages being celebrated and blessed inside Christian churches, he made waves. It is not altogether obvious why the suggestion should be so shocking. Why ...

Getting rid of them

Tom Shippey, 31 August 1989

Betrayal: Child Exploitation in Today’s World 
edited by Caroline Moorehead.
Barrie and Jenkins, 192 pp., £15, March 1989, 0 7126 2170 9
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The Kindness of Strangers: The Abandonment of Children in Western Europe from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance 
by John Boswell.
Allen Lane, 488 pp., £20, April 1989, 0 7139 9019 8
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... mechanism for coping with surplus fertility? The ancient and long-successful answer, suggests John Boswell, is abandonment: handing your child over to The Kindness of Strangers. What Boswell starts from is some well-known stories, those of Oedipus, of Romulus and Remus, of Paris, Perdita, or Moses in the ...

Pay me for it

Helen Deutsch: Summoning Dr Johnson, 9 February 2012

Samuel Johnson: A Life 
by David Nokes.
Faber, 415 pp., £9.99, August 2010, 978 0 571 22636 8
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Selected Writings 
by Samuel Johnson, edited by Peter Martin.
Harvard, 503 pp., £16.95, May 2011, 978 0 674 06034 0
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The Brothers BoswellA Novel 
by Philip Baruth.
Corvus, 336 pp., £7.99, January 2011, 978 1 84887 446 6
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The Life of Samuel Johnson LL.D. 
by John Hawkins, edited by O.M. Brack.
Georgia, 554 pp., £53.50, August 2010, 978 0 8203 2995 6
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... How can we know Samuel Johnson without summoning him through the reanimating power of James Boswell’s Life? For the many scholars, writers, readers and collectors who call themselves Johnsonians, this is the near impossible task. Boswell first met Johnson in 1763, in the back parlour of a bookshop. It belonged to a ...

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 ...

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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... 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, ...

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 ...

Mr and Mr and Mrs and Mrs

James Davidson: Why would a guy want to marry a guy?, 2 June 2005

The Friend 
by Alan Bray.
Chicago, 380 pp., £28, September 2003, 0 226 07180 4
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... couple were illustrious knights of the royal chamber of Richard II, Sir William Neville and Sir John Clanvowe, ‘the Castor and Pollux of the Lollard movement’, as the medieval historian Bruce McFarlane called them. Neville died just four days after Clanvowe, the inscription records, in October 1391. The Westminster Chronicle fills in the ...

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 ...

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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... Item: in 1684, there appeared John Oldham’s posthumous Remains in Verse and Prose, with a prefatory elegy by John Dryden, ‘Farewell, too little and too lately known’. Dryden’s poem has been much admired and praised – but not by Claude Rawson, who calls it variously ‘pompous’, ‘self-serving’, ‘overrated’, ‘unctuously self-exalting’, ‘self-promoting’, ‘pontifical’ and ‘patronising’ Item: in a chapter on Richardson (wittily called ‘Richardson, alas’ after ‘Hugo, hélas’), Rawson quotes a curious letter in which the novelist asks a friend to come to Tunbridge Wells, where she will be able to see a figure more ‘grotesque’ even than Beau Nash or Colley Cibber, ‘a sly sinner, creeping along the very edges of the walks, getting behind benches ...

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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... luvvies; it began with quite serious purposes and ambitions. With his rancorous first biographer, John Hawkins (Johnson coined the term ‘unclubbable’ for Hawkins, who after a few years, was ostracised from the Turk’s Head), Johnson had already founded the Ivy Lane Club, which ran for several years but broke up around 1756. The new club was a rather ...

Dear Miss Boothby

Margaret Anne Doody, 5 November 1992

The Letters of Samuel Johnson: Vol. I: 1731-1772, Vol. II: 1773-1776, Vol. III: 1777-1781 
edited by Bruce Redford.
Oxford, 431 pp., £25, February 1992, 0 19 811287 4
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... was intertwined with his. It would be helpful to have explanations of Lucy Porter, Hill Boothby, John Taylor and the Thrales, as major figures in Johnson’s life and letter-writing. The notes are self-referential in a cryptic way, with a delicately archaic use of ante and post; these are not as helpful as the editor thinks, for the reader who is reading ...

Sex in the head

Roy Porter, 7 July 1988

The History of Sexuality. Vol. III: The Care of Self 
by Michel Foucault, translated by Robert Hurley.
Allen Lane, 279 pp., £17.95, April 1988, 0 7139 9002 3
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... Sternberg has shown how the sexuality of Christ himself figured prominently in Christian art; and John Boswell has pointed to Christian tolerance of homo-eroticism. Many scholars, most recently Edmund Leites (The Puritan Conscience and Modern Sexuality), have further argued that Protestantism developed positive attitudes towards a measured sensuality ...

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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... John Mortimer’s book has a thoroughly misleading title. It is designed to enlist a little pathetic sympathy for someone carried along like a piece of flotsam without the courage or determination to strike out for the shore. It would be difficult – judging from the book itself – to find anyone less shipwrecked than John Mortimer and less likely to pursue this policy if shipwrecked ...

Northern Lights

Rosalind Mitchison, 19 April 1984

Literature and Gentility in Scotland 
by David Daiches.
Edinburgh, 114 pp., £6.50, June 1982, 9780852244388
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New Perspectives on the Politics and Culture of Early Modern Scotland 
edited by John Dwyer, Roger Mason and Alexander Murdoch.
John Donald, 340 pp., £15, August 1982, 0 85976 066 9
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Adam Smith 
by R.H. Campbell and A.S. Skinner.
Croom Helm, 231 pp., £12.95, June 1982, 9780709907299
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Sister Peg 
edited by David Raynor.
Cambridge, 127 pp., £15.50, June 1981, 0 521 24299 1
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BoswellThe Applause of the Jury 1782-1785 
edited by Irma Lustig and Frederick Pottle.
Heinemann, 419 pp., £15, July 1982, 0 434 43945 2
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Muir of Huntershill 
by Christina Bewley.
Oxford, 212 pp., £8.50, May 1981, 0 19 211768 8
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... suffered from the academic disease of inability to put pen to paper, wrote in distinguished prose. Boswell was a literary innovator and knew it. Professor Daiches, in his small book, links the poetry acceptable in this period with the rise of genteel expression and shows how, in the pursuit of a language capable of wider circulation than the old ...

Let us breakfast in splendour

Charles Nicholl: Francis Barber, 16 July 2015

The Fortunes of Francis Barber: The True Story of the Jamaican Slave Who Became Samuel Johnson’s Heir 
by Michael Bundock.
Yale, 282 pp., £20, May 2015, 978 0 300 20710 1
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... convivially cluttered with decanters and after-dinner debris. From left to right they are James Boswell, Samuel Johnson, Joshua Reynolds, David Garrick, Edmund Burke, Pasquale Paoli, Charles Burney, Thomas Warton and Oliver Goldsmith. Their names appear below the image, cursively engraved, appositely placed: one might almost be looking at a signed group ...

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