Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D., 1773

Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D., 1773

Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D., 1773

Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D., 1773

Excerpt

Boswell's journal of his Hebridean tour with Samuel Johnson is the best of all his journals, the most important single document among his recovered papers. It does not have the attraction of novelty which the London journal of 1762-1763 enjoys, and it lacks the strong dash of sexual impropriety which undoubtedly has been giving that journal part of its extraordinary circulation. I should not wish to maintain that Boswell writes best when he is innocent and happy; on the contrary, I am myself convinced that his greatest writing, judged simply as writing, occurs in passages of his later journals which record states of remorse and despair. But these later journals, though very ably expressed, suffer from a lack of continuously important subject-matter. It is not true that autobiography cannot furnish the material of imaginative art, even of great imaginative art, but one hardly needs Aristotle's authority for the conclusion that a writer who sticks to what actually happened is going to find it harder to produce a continuously significant piece of writing than one who presents what might have or ought to have happened. Boswell's greatest good fortune as imaginative journalist was to have met in Samuel Johnson a character as good as was ever invented by novelist. His Johnson-record, as Geoffrey Scott pointed out, "flows in and out of the personal Boswell-record, and is not different in kind. The vast, bracing difference is the subject-matter." The literary superiority of the Hebridean journal could be established solely by the fact that it covers a period of Boswell's life when, for one hundred and one consecutive days, he travelled, ate, talked, and often slept in the same room with Samuel Johnson.

The Hebridean journal has also the further appeal of being a first-rate travel book. Everyone is interested in descriptions . . .

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