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Boswell’s Clap

A Scene from William Hogarth’s The Rake’s Progress

I have been reading James Boswell’s London Journal 1762-1763. Inasmuch as I thought Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson LLD was one of the greatest books ever written, I thought it a shame that I had not read more of the great biographer.

At the time, Boswell was in his early twenties. His father, Lord Auchinlech (pronounced Affleck), had insisted that his son become a lawyer or merchant. Instead, James wanted to become an officer of the Guards, stationed in London. I am currently halfway through the book. Boswell spent many an anxious hour trying to win the patronage of powerful Scottish lords of the King’s party currying favor to this end. But, alas, no one went out of his way to help him.

James Boswell (1740-1795)

What the young Scot found was a stubborn case of gonorrhea contracted from a pretty young actress whom he code-named Louisa. He built up to the affair with many weeks of visitations and gifts, only to come down with the clap for the third time in his life.

When he discovered he had been infected, Boswell mused about the effect his cure would have on his daily journal:

What will now become of my journal for some time? It must be a barren desert, a mere blank. To relate gravely that I rose, made water, took drugs, sat quiet, read a book, saw a friend or two day after day, must be exceedingly poor and tedious. My journal must therefore, like the newspapers, yield to the times.

Sounds like the coronavirus quarantine, doesn’t it?

Boswell’s journal makes for excellent reading. It shows its author to be an ambitious and randy young man who delights in conversation, especially with his fellow Scots. I can see myself making several more posts based on or inspired by this excellent book.

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