Friday, February 03, 2012

"Boswell's perpetual doses of clap," or, Oh, thank the gods for the weekend

Is it in the jelly-side-down nature of things that a ten-hour workday, in which it's impossible for hours at a time to escape the computer's gravitational pull, will necessarily fall on a Friday?

Such, at least, has been today, and it leaves little time or mental capacity for blogging. So herewith, a bit about Boswell I happened across in Anthony Powell's journals the other day, from the entry for December 31, 1987:
Reread three vols of Boswell's Journals. . . . As with Pepys, tho' in quite different manner, I cannot really like Boswell, who undoubtedly had good points, capacity for taking keen interest in other people in spite of his own overweening egotism (of which he was completely aware, one of his good qualities) and ability to describe them. One can't really forgive him for behaving so odiously to the dog given him by the Corsican General Paoli. Also one gets rather sick of Boswell's perpetual doses of clap (unlike Casanova he probably never got cured by a severe regime, which Boswell was temperamentally incapable of keeping). At the same time he must be given credit for not suppressing his less attractive side.
It's no surprise that Powell is attracted to Boswell's "keen interest" in others, since that was Powell's most salient characteristic as a writer. I don't remember the dog Powell refers to, and a quick online search isn't turning anything up--anyone familiar with that story? It doesn't sound likely to be anything but awful, but I wonder whether Boswell's maltreatment of the dog would have seemed noteworthy in amid the more common animal cruelty of the eighteenth century?

The journal entry continues in a more somber vein:
This year ended on a pleasant note. I doubt it I would ever again have energy to write another novel, even a short one, trouble being largely identification of author's point of vie, vis-a-vis other people, so hard to establish in changing world as one gets older. Such ideas as one has must go into this journal.
Powell's final novel, The Fisher King had been published the year before, when he was eighty-one. It's his most Dance-like standalone novel, full of people speculating about the lives, histories, and motivations of other characters they only half know; it's funny and lively and effective. It doesn't feel like an ending, though it was. It does, however, close appropriately:
The rain had abated a little, though not altogether. In spite of foul weather there was exhilaration in the northern air. The leaden surface of the loch was just perceptibly heaving in the wind, still blowing from time to time in fairly strong gusts. On the far side of the waters, low rounded hills, soft and mysterious, concealed in luminous haze the frontiers of Thule: the edge of the known world; man's permitted limits; a green-barriered check-point, beyond which the fearful cataract of torrential seas cascaded down into Chaos.
And on that note, it's the hour for a martini and some time at the piano. May your reading this weekend keep Chaos at bay.


  1. Amper Stof11:37 AM

    Some years ago, after a heart attack, I decided to stop working and spend my remaining days reading. That's when I first got know of Boswell and Dr Johnson in a mouldy copy of the Yale Edition of Boswell's London Journals of 1762-63, with an introduction by Frederick Pottle! Boswell's sex drive seems to have been prolific and his journal entries hilarious on the subject: Saturday 16 July has a long entry on animal gratification, moral decay, etc, and a reminder: "Swear to have no more rogering before you leave England except Mrs.------- in chambers..."

    Dare I ask, what happened with the bookclub and Miss Macintosh? Shriveled up and died? Did any of you finish the book?

  2. Oh, the Miss Macintosh book club . . . I'm not generally one who feels much guilt--what's done is done, good or bad--but the slow sickness unto death of the Miss Macintosh book club is a source of guilt. Your comment has prompted me to nudge the rest of the crew. Maybe we can revive the patient at this late stage, which would be good, because what I did get read of the novel really was nothing less than fascinating.