More Boswell

pottleHave been, this weekend, much immersed in the book Pride & Negligence: The History of the Boswell Papers. What a convoluted tale, of siblings, inheritance, misplaced manuscripts, and dedicated collectors and editors.

Poor Boswell! having read much about his own proclivities (he might have saved his relations must angst if he had used cypher – like Pepys, Dudley, Lister did – for some of his more ‘delicate’ adventures!), he was a man battling several demons at various times in his life. His children didn’t exactly have an easy time of it either. They lost their mother fairly early (and what she had to put up with, doesn’t bare thinking); Veronica died of consumption; Euphemia was decades in an asylum; Sir Alexander, his father’s heir, was shot in a dual.

Then there were the scholars who hoped for a peep at the papers, only to be rebuffed – by having no answer given to queries. Oh, a tough place indeed to be.

And then the sales… and ensuing litigation.

boswellI’ve Buchanan’s Treasure of Auchinleck coming too. While I’ve found Frederick Pottle’s account well written, there is a whiff of the “too close to the trees to see the woods”. Interesting, though, to read about R.W. Chapman — yes, he plays a role in the Boswell papers, just as he was making a name for himself in Austen circles (among the letters of others that he brought forth at The Clarendon Press).

 

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Boswell’s London Journal, 1762-1763

Publisher / date: McGraw-Hill, 1950
pages: 370
Hardcover {but many later editions}
genre: diary

Casting my mind back, I’m really not sure how I first found this book. Library? I certainly had seen it time and again in used bookstores; but purchased the copy I have (it is really a first edition, as it claims?) in a no-longer-extant bookstore in Rutland, Vermont — Tuttle’s Antiquarian.

From the first, I was enthralled with James Boswell’s intimate (in all senses of that word) thoughts on his early trip to London. I’ve a couple of the later books (I buy when I find a VG+ copy, which means, complete with dust jacket) — Boswell in Search of a Wife, Boswell on the Grand Tour: Germany and Switzerland — yet none have the freshness of this first book. Read the introduction section of Peter Martin’s Life of Boswell to understand the task Frederick Pottle undertook! So many letters turning up where least expected; more and more diaries. Makes me salivate just thinking about all the “finds,” located at just a couple estates. The first “find”? Letters used as wrappers: they had been sold en masse as scrap paper!

I must confess that I wish the likes of the BBC and/or Masterpiece Theatre would film something based on this book. Can’t you see Boswell strolling around Georgian London???

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The next in the series, Boswell in Holland, features Zélide — a young woman Boswell was enamored enough with to contemplate asking her to marry him. He thought long and hard about it… and did nothing. Isabelle de Charrière (Belle du Zuylen), as she is known, has a bit of her own fame; her stories are available in English (the most widely-known is Caliste, or Letters written from Lausanne and also Letters of Mistress Henley); a fine (and stout!) biography by C.P. Courtney is perhaps best found through libraries; and her correspondence with Constant d’Hermenches has been translated by Janet and Malcolm Whatley as There are no letters like yours.

boswellVisit the Yale Boswell Editions