To anyone who, like myself, has found a real and deep enjoyment in reading the Life of Johnson, I can only recommend Boswell's own diaries. The first volume - his 'London Journal' starting in the year he met Johnson - is pure delight. Boswell always saw himself as a character acting in the drama of life, and he could be almost excruciatingly honest and objective about himself. His voluminous diaries record all the trivia, triumphs, and despairs of his own life, day by day and year by year. My own opinion is that Boswell is a far better diarist than Pepys, though not nearly as well known in this respect. There is a fascination about seeing his whole life recorded from youth to shortly before his death, with all the same force and liveliness that went into his Life of Johnson. His inner life is at least as entertaining as his outer life. He seems totally determined to write about himself as he wrote about Johnson - warts and all. It's this courage and honesty about himself that makes us respect Boswell even when he is at his most foolish or debauched. The diaries make it extremely clear that he was no idiot, and that the Life of Johnson was no fortuitous masterpiece. From his diaries he comes across as a deeply sensitive, romantic, self-conscious man. Charming, likeable, and often playing the clown to his acquaintances; but often filled with self-doubt, frustration, insecurity, and a deep depression that he concealed from all except his closest friends. We see Boswell puffed up with vanity at some silly social success, and the same Boswell quietly devoting large amounts of time and money that he could ill spare to helping people in trouble. We see Boswell in love again and again with totally unsuitable women, and eventually marrying the cousin who had always been a good, close friend rather than an object of wild romance. We see Boswell in his vibrant youth, and his tragic final years, as an alcoholic filled with bitter shame and despair, yet unable to reform.
His diaries are certainly one of the great undiscovered treasures of literature. They deserve to be a lot better known than they are.
Here's a Boswell diary entry. 'Good heavens, what a loose did we give to amorous dalliance! ...In a moment I felt myself animated with the strongest power of love, and, from my dearest creature's kindness, had a most luscious feast. Proud of my godlike vigour, I soon resumed the noble game. I was in full glow of health. Sobriety had preserved me from effeminacy and weakness, and my bounding blood beat quick and high alarms. A more voluptuous night I never enjoyed. Five times I was fairly lost in supreme rapture... Louisa had an exquisite mixture of delicacy and wantonness that made me enjoy her with more relish. Indeed I could not help roving in fancy to the embraces of some other ladies which my lively imagination strongly pictured. I don't know if that was altogether fair... I have painted this night as well as I could. The description is faint; but I surely may be styled a Man of Pleasure.' (12 January 1763) Indeed. Get hold of this book immediately.
James Boswell (author of the Life of Samuel Johnson) was about 22 when he arrived in London in 1762. His journal, even by today's standards, is remarkably uninhibited. Boswell loves describing everything--from his elicit love affair with an actress to the bout of venereal disease he contracted as a result; from his strained relationship with his father to his rather clingy relationship with Johnson. Oftentimes, I found myself a bit disenchanted with Boswell as a person(he seems to embody so many human weaknesses)--but he is a remarkable relator of events, characters, conversations, and situations.
Tired of all those solemn "memoirs" and "remembrances" that are on the library shelves? Well, this one will knock your socks off! If Boswell were alive today and using videotape instead of a quill pen, the talk shows would have him as their constant guest. I'm not sure if I'd want to have known him, but this lecher, alcoholic, and moocher had a keen eye for London high- and low-life that will keep you hanging on every page.
It has been quite awhile since I have read this book but and can remember few details. What sticks in the mind is the complete humanity displayed by its author. Frankly, Boswell is unlikable and hardly to be admired but his passion and candidness make this book very readable today. Not many tomes from this era can make this claim. It is a must read for both those interested in Johnson and those students of the human condition.