Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Quality Of Life

Just realised that I set about Boswell's Life of Johnson at the beginning of February and we're not far off the end of the month. The thing is that I'm not even a third of the way in yet and, much as I'm enjoying one of the greatest 'lives' of all, I don't fancy still being found reading it when May arrives. Mind you, I did take a major detour in the ever-reliable company of Stephen King: Mr Mercedes was gripping in the best tradition of the horror-meister. But that being said I don't remember taking quite so long to read Boswell the first time around, back in the 80s, in a time when I'm sure I made myself pretty busy most of the time.

Maybe things will speed up now I'm well past the bit where Boswell actually meets Johnson and we start getting lots of actual conversation. Before that the work is dominated by the Great Cham's letters which whilst giving a sense of the larger than life nature of the man don't really convey what it was like to listen to him with the vivid immediacy that his biographer is able to conjure so effortlessly in the pages detailing the life after 1762.

One of the great pleasures of reading Boswell is to be exposed to conversation as performance. This was a time when the literati regarded the very act of speech as something worth investing effort in, as if the elegance of their dialogue might balance somehow the sometimes grim reality of the tawdry world of eighteenth century London. Might there be a relationship between speaking well and living well? If there is, that's something else we've lost.

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