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198 PERRY AND JOHN CARROLL BOSWELL ON DISPLAY' The superbly reproduced portrait on the jacket of F. A. Pottle's biography of James Boswell shows a hearty young man of twenty-four: wearing the attire in which he presented himself to Rousseau in 1764, he is resplendent in a scarlet and green costume and holds a hat trimmcd with a solid gold laceHat least," wrote Boswell in his journal, Hwith the air of being solid," Boswell's uneasy comment may be said to characterize not only his attire but his bearing towards the world, at once self-assured and vulnerable, high-spirited and melancholic, sober and gadabout. But however difficult it may be to weigh Boswell's substance, there is no difficulty at all in weighing Professor Pottle's biography: it is indeed solid, and all gold. Frederick Pottle, Sterling Professor and senior member of the Department of English at Yale, has spent more than forty years studying Boswell and has served as editor, singly or in collaboration, of many of the volumes that make up the Yale Editions of the Private Papers of James Boswell. His present work deals with the first twenty-nine years of Boswell's fifty-five-year life. To write Boswell's story is an intimidating but perhaps also an inviting task, for Boswell mused in his journal: "I have a kind of strange feeling as if I wished nothing to be secret that concerns myself." Boswell himself made an excellent start on that project; the letters, the poems, the voluminous journal, the Life of Johnson-even the political pamphlets, the arguments of law cases, the supposedly anonymous newspaper columns- reveal a startling amount about the private life of their author. Professor Pottle, who has painstakingly collected and assimilated those and other contemporary sources and made them into a coherent narrative, deserves our thanks and praise. One feels the need to say more, however. What makes the book a truly distinguished biography is the tact and wisdom with which Professor Pottle has meditated upon his subject; he has not, to borrow Samuel Johnson's phrase, abandoned his mind to it. As a result, the book presents not simply a detailed chronicle of Boswell's early life but an assessment of it; an assess~ ment not clumsily or arbitrarily crowded into a foreword or an afterword but woven into and invigorating the entire narrative. Most of us know Boswell from his Life of Johnson and his often racy journal. That Boswell on more than a few occasions played the rake, the sot, and the capering fool, we know; that he often liked to prod Johnson and other celebrated men to speak because he liked to display them, rather as if they were fairy-tale characters who lisped toads or diamonds, we also ""Frederick A. Pottle, James Boswell: The Earlier Years, 1740-1769. New York, Toronto, London: McGraw~HilI. 1966. Pp. xix, 606. $14.75. Frank Brady, Boswell's Political Career. Yale Studies in English, 155. New Haven and London: Ya1e University Press, 1965. Pp. xv, 200. $5.00. The Correspondence of James Boswell and John Johnston of Grange, ed. Ralph S. Walker. New York, Toronto: McGraw-Hill. Pp. I, 369. $20.75. BOSWELL ON DISPLAY 199 knowi nor is it news that he was vain, weak·willed, hypochondriac, and good company. To some, those traits make Boswell an engaging fellow being; to others, including Edward Gibbon and Thomas Gray in Boswell's own time, an object of amusement or of scorn. But for those who wish to found their taste on the fullest knowledge possible, Professor Pottle's bigraphy is indispensable: the Boswell it presents is, if not a new, then a much more complex and accomplished person than any previous source has given us reason to believe. Professor Pottle organizes his book around three factors of Boswell's lifefactors , one should add, that were large in Boswell's eyes, not only in those of his biographer. In the first place, Boswell was a Scot, the eldest son of an ancient, landed family, a condition that inspired in him pride, anxiety, and division of purpose, in varying degrees at varying times. Secondly, he was a lawyer...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 198-202
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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