Johnson and Boswell: A Biography of Friendship

John B Radner, Author
John B. Radner. Yale Univ., $45 (432p) ISBN 978-0-300-17875-3
Reviewed on: 02/04/2013
Release date: 01/01/2013
Open Ebook - 416 pages - 978-0-300-18908-7
Open Ebook - 1 pages - 978-1-283-91528-1
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Radner's thorough examination of the profound, occasionally volatile 20 year friendship between authors Samuel Johnson and James Boswell begins with a young Boswell's search for a religious mentor and ends in his struggle to write his dear friend's posthumous biography. Johnson guided his protégée away from promiscuity and drinking and through many bouts of depression, often with tough love. Meanwhile Boswell gently prodded Johnson to explore the fear of death and damnation that haunted him. They shared many collaborative efforts, notably their 12 week journey through the Scottish Highlands and Hebrides, the respective journals of which both men turned into best-selling books. There were intellectual clashes: Boswell sided with American colonists while Johnson defended the British government; Johnson took issue with Boswell's friendship with David Hume though it was Johnson that helped Boswell through spiritual confusion after Hume's death. Finally, we see Boswell's anxiety over losing an aging, ailing Johnson that caused him to neglect correspondence in Johnson's final days, as well as the guilt and grief he worked through while writing the biography. Radner, professor emeritus of English at George Mason University, should be praised for his research and critical reflection, providing a window into a complex relationship between two brilliant men. (Jan)
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