Friday, January 1, 2016

Have a Boswell New Year!

     Friday is New Year's Day. A time of resolutions, of personal goals solemnly set.
     Some are general: be a better person. Some are very specific: lose 15 pounds.
     Less clear is how to go about trying to reach those goals: how to eat less. How to be that better person.
     I'm going to suggest something out of left field: consider James Boswell.
     Famed as the 18th century biographer of British man of letters Samuel Johnson. But a fascinating figure in his own right, an ordinary man with a genius for hanging out with the most brilliant minds of his era. As a teenager he knocked on rationalist David Hume's door, barging in to talk philosophy. Later he argued about God with Voltaire and invited himself to be the house guest of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, hospitality he rewarded by eventually seducing Rousseau's wife.
     I'm not suggesting you spend 2016 cuckolding the great philosophers of our day — our era doesn't really have prominent philosophers. But Boswell's energetic efforts to give his life meaning can be emulated, and they start with one practice that anybody can do, right now, with no special equipment or training: keep a journal.

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  1. Your work here is done Neil. I knew of the Zaretsky book from reading a review, but must now get my hands on a copy and read it. May also revisit the "Life of Samuel Johnson, LL-D" after all these years.

    More ambitious resolutions, like ending gun violence in Chicago, bringing peace to the middle east and revealing Donald Trump to be an alien being, unqualified by birth to be President, will have to be put off for the time being.

    Tom Evans

  2. Small point. Hume was an empiricist, not a rationalist.

  3. Keeping a journal can be extremely rewarding, but one has to keep in mind that it is unlikely to interest anyone other than yourself.


    1. A problem is that most events don't seem memorable while they are happening. As in the myth about what George III wrote in his journal on July 4th 1776.

      People might find it interesting in a hundred years or more. One thinks of what Edmund Wilson made of journal entries by some fairly unfamous people in "Patriotic Gore."

      Tom Evans

  4. Instead of a daily journal I'm going to do what I've been thinking of doing for a few years, which is writing my occasional thoughts into a journal, for safekeeping, for my son, hoping he will enjoy it one day when I'm no longer here. Thanks for the incentive.


  5. 've been using a calendar since 1987 to enter snippets most days and while Tate above is correct that it only interests myself and my loved ones, we enjoy the time machine quality of randomly choosing a previous date to see what I may have scribbled into the 2" by 2" daily square the calendar afforded.


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