Boswell's life of Boswell has reached its conclusion, this being the 13th in the series of journals brought out by the team responsible for the Yale Editions of his Private Papers. It opens two hundred years ago in London, during the winter of 1789. Frosty weather - the widower is warm against 'the French insurrection'. Christmas Day takes him to church. Three years go by, and on the same day the same church receives him. 'It vexed me that even on the festival of Christmas I was melancholy. I went with my son James to St George's, Hanover Square, and had some elevation of heart in that hallowed dome. Saw Miss Upton at a distance' - then back to the family turkey in Great Portland Street. The content of this last journal - previewed in the account of Boswell's later life which was published six years ago by one of the present editors, Frank Brady - is the worse for its author's frustrations, prostrations and despairs, interesting though he can sometimes make them appear; it conveys what can often seem like a bitter end for the likely lad from Ayrshire; Boswell's last legs are apt to give way. Nevertheless, he gets up and keeps going, and keeps writing it down. Such states are his old friends, after all. The journal is no discouragement to supposing that Boswell's life of Boswell is among the crown jewels of confessional literature.
LRB 25 January 1990 | PDF Download