Saturday, January 28, 2006

And if this doesn't persuade you

that Boswell's Life of Johnson is worth a look, I don't know what will.

In 1769 Boswell accompanies Johnson home to tea and meets one of the many indigent housemates he supports, in this case a blind woman with an irritable temper called Mrs. Williams. Here is Boswell's description of how she makes the tea:

Mrs. Williams made it with sufficient dexterity, notwithstanding her blindness, though her manner of satisfying herself that the cups were full enough appeared to me a little aukward; for I fancied she put her finger down a certain way, till she felt the tea touch it.

In subsequent editions Boswell politely retracted the claim, adding this footnote: he had been told instead that “she had acquired such a niceness of touch, as to know, by the feeling on the outside of the cup, how near it was to being full.”

But Hester Thrale Piozzi, who knew Johnson well, wrote this in her copy of the 1816 edition of the Life: “Not She poor Soul; the 1st Story is the truest.”

Anyway the conference was great, I saw lots of old friends & had a lavish dinner at the Union League Cafe (including a tuna carpaccio appetizer that was pretty much the perfect food, I would eat that every day for dinner if I could) and stayed in the rather fancy Omni Hotel which has truly spectacular views out over New Haven. That Yale gothic style has never been much to my taste, the general impression is rather dark and heavy and oppressive (you know, the gym that looks like a cathedral, that sort of thing). But when you see it from a high-up window on a sunny day, it is rather ludicrously romantic, very Gormenghasty; even more spectacular with that massive red cliff that is East Rock lowering over the scene.


  1. so like yeah, you are a total fucking goddess of the book and stuff. totally. yeah. i mean, OMG??!!?! i'm a man, im' gay, and if there was anyone as bookfiendish as you and hot and male, i think i would club them neantheral style and drag them to my apartment, and force them to marry and live with me forever at gun point. that is, if i couldn't win them fairly and without violence. but yeah. no gay man is like you. sooo depressing. you are ideal and now i'm getting gushy and rather embarssing so i'll silence myself.

  2. No, no, not gushy at all, quite adorable, and I thank you (also for coining the adjective bookfiendish which I can see I will now use a lot, how useful...).

  3. Speaking of the 18c, Mary and I went to see "Tristam Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story" and rather liked it. It's incredibly strange and hilarious, and we think something that you'd like as well - so hopefully you'll get a chance to see it at some point.