ON Friday 20 April 1781 'Somebody said the life of a mere literary man could not be very entertaining. JOHNSON. "But it certainly may. This is a remark which has been made, and repeated, without justice; why should the life of a literary man be less entertaining than the life of any other man? Are there not as interesting varieties in such a life? As a literary life it may be very entertaining."' Johnson had previously meditated on the same question, for in The Idler he had written, 'It is commonly supposed that the uniformity of a studious life affords no matter for narration; but the truth is, that of the most studious life a great part passes without study. . . . he is born and married like another man; he has hopes and fears, expectations and disappointments, griefs and joys, and friends and enemies.' ( Powell-Hill edition of Boswell Life of Johnson, IV:98.)
Even if a literary life should not be entertaining to others, this particular one has been prodigiously entertaining to him who has lived it.
The lack of order, coherence, symmetry in this book is owing neither to accident nor to laziness; it is the way I chose to write it. Novels of particular communities or of particular lives often seem untrue because the novelist endeavours to form the events into a plot, with development and climax; whereas life itself has nothing but a time-line; and even that is reduced to a semblance of order only by the artificial divisions of clock and calendar. And the individual time-line is continually broken by memory and by anticipation. The pleasure of good conversation would be destroyed if conversations were 'organized' --forced to proceed in a definite direction, instead of being
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Publication information: Book title: Autobiography, with Letters. Contributors: William Lyon Phelps - Author. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1939. Page number: vii.