I have begun reading Boswell’s Life of Johnson (which you may have noticed over in the “currently reading” section of the sidebar — I feel conflicted over those book lists, the “Currently Reading” one and the “Books Read” one because they feel so pooterish, but I like looking at other people’s lists and figured you might like to look at mine; they do give a quick way of judging if one’s reading tastes match those of the blogger). I tried to read this book a few years ago and got to page 340 out of the 1243 pages in my edition. I don’t remember what made me stop, but it wasn’t because I wasn’t enjoying it; it must have been that I got caught up in a busy semester or something and never returned to it.
Now that I think about it, this could possibly happen again, as I’m heading into what will probably be a busy semester, but I’m planning to finish this time — and I do enjoy the experience of reading it, don’t get me wrong. I want to know more about Johnson and also about Boswell; he’s got such a lively, energetic voice and his London journal, which I read a few years ago, was quite entertaining. I’m expecting to take a few months to make it through the entire Life of Johnson, but that’s okay; it’ll be a long-term project like Proust is. And I have another long book I want to read, Don Quixote, which I hope to get to this summer, so we’ll see if I can finish the Boswell by the beginning of summer or so. We’ll see.
Here are a couple passages about Johnson and reading; this first one is about his schooling:
He might, perhaps, have studied more assiduously; but it may be doubted, whether such a mind as his was not more enriched by roaming at large in the fields of literature, than if it had been confined to any single spot. The analogy between body and mind is very general, and the parallel will hold as to their food, as well as any other particular. The flesh of animals who feed excursively, is allowed to have a higher flavour than that of those who are cooped up. May there not be the same difference between men who read as their taste prompts, and men who are confined in cells and colleges to stated tasks?
And another on his reading habits:
… we may be absolutely certain, both from his writings and his conversation, that his reading was very extensive. Dr. Adam Smith, than whom few were better judges on this subject once observed to me, that “Johnson knew more books than any man alive.” He had a peculiar facility in seizing at once what was valuable in any book, without submitting to the labour of perusing it from beginning to end. He had, from the irritability of his constitution, at all times, an impatience and hurry when he either read or wrote. A certain apprehension arising from novelty, made him write his first exercise at College twice over; but he never took that trouble with any other composition; and we shall see that his most excellent works were struck off at a heat, with rapid exertion.