Throughout his life, James Boswell struggled to fashion a clear account of himself, but try as he might, he could not reconcile the truths of his era with those of his religious upbringing. Boswell's Enlightenment examines the conflicting credos of reason and faith, progress and tradition that pulled Boswell, like so many eighteenth-century Europeans, in opposing directions.Read more...
Throughout his life, James Boswell struggled to fashion a clear account of himself, but try as he might, he could not reconcile the truths of his era with those of his religious upbringing. Boswell's Enlightenment examines the conflicting credos of reason and faith, progress and tradition that pulled Boswell, like so many eighteenth-century Europeans, in opposing directions. In the end, the life of the man best known for writing Samuel Johnson's biography was something of a patchwork affair. As Johnson himself understood: "That creature was its own tormentor, and I believe its name was BOSWELL."
Few periods in Boswell's life better crystallize this internal turmoil than 1763-1765, the years of his Grand Tour and the focus of Robert Zaretsky's thrilling intellectual adventure. From the moment Boswell sailed for Holland from the port of Harwich, leaving behind on the beach his newly made friend Dr. Johnson, to his return to Dover from Calais a year and a half later, the young Scot was intent on not just touring historic and religious sites but also canvassing the views of the greatest thinkers of the age. In his relentless quizzing of Voltaire and Rousseau, Hume and Johnson, Paoli and Wilkes on topics concerning faith, the soul, and death, he was not merely a celebrity-seeker but--for want of a better term--a truth-seeker. Zaretsky reveals a life more complex and compelling than suggested by the label "Johnson's biographer," and one that 250 years later registers our own variations of mind.
- ISBN-13: 9780674368231
- ISBN-10: 0674368231
- Publisher: Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard Universi
- Publish Date: March 2015
- Page Count: 288
- Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 0.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-01-26
- Reviewer: Staff
This sparkling work is a partial biography of one of the 18th century’s most arresting figures—someone often taken to be emblematic of that intellectually critical era. Zaretsky (A Life Worth Living), professor of French history at the University of Houston, sees James Boswell—known for “his oddness, his youth, and his melancholy”—as embodying the Enlightenment’s many conflicting currents and torn by them all. Seeking to escape from conflicts between the flesh and Protestant religiosity, and between the ancient and modern, the young Scot sought and gained the acquaintance and counsel, much of it unsettling to him, of some of the age’s great figures—Samuel Johnson, Voltaire, Rousseau, David Hume, John Wilkes, and Pascal Paoli—in a famous two-year tour of the Continent. Boswell’s earnest search for answers to life’s bewildering puzzles continues to fascinate. Zaretsky brilliantly, sometimes movingly, adds to that fascination. It’s frustrating, however, that he leaves his protagonist in mid-life, before Boswell takes up his classic Life of Samuel Johnson. Also, though Zaretsky opens the book with a short, lively critique of Enlightenment scholarship, he doesn’t indicate how, if at all, his portrait of Boswell alters our present knowledge of the era. So convincing are Zaretsky’s observations, so sure his touch, that one wishes for more—a longer, fuller study of his subject. (Mar.)