Friday, March 31, 2017

`All the Little Circumstances of His Life'

Momentous events can begin in obscurity, even in idle fantasy or in a private notebook, and unfold in anonymity. Their importance can be appreciated only in retrospect, with the knowledge granted by time and fate. On May 16, 1763, Boswell met Johnson in Thomas Davies’ Bookshop in Russell Street, Covent Garden. Boswell was 22; Johnson, 53. Boswell recorded the seemingly trivial meeting in his journal, and subsequently recorded events in the ripening friendship.

Boswell’s first mention of his plan to become Johnson’s biographer occurred on this date, March 31, in 1772. It’s as though he had to formally announce his intentions to himself before revealing them to his subject. Boswell writes:

“I have a constant plan to write the life of Mr. Johnson. I have not told him of it yet; nor do I know if I should tell him. I said that if it was not troublesome and presuming too much I would beg of him to tell me all the little circumstances of his life, what schools he attended, when he came to Oxford, when he came to London, etc. etc. He did not disapprove of my curiosity as to these particulars, but said, `They’ll come out by degrees.’”

The world’s greatest biography, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D., was published in 1791, seven years after Johnson’s death.

No comments: