Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

Some may look to this chronicle for the documentation of his introduction and first impressions of Samuel Johnson, but there is much more to the diary.  Boswell went from Scotland to London in 1762 at the age of 22 to seek a commission with the Guards, an appointment that would bring him the life of a gentleman, residence in London, and a virtual guarantee not to see any military action.  Many forces aligned against him in this aspiration.  Regiments were being disbanded at that time.  The social position and wealth of Boswell’s family were unquestionably sufficient to obtain the commission (which needed the approval of the court and George III) even during this challenging period, however an overarching theme of his life was the conflict with his father, who refused to use his influence to help him in this endeavor.  Boswell, in spite of his charm and aristocratic friends, could not obtain the commission and left London in August 1763.

Boswell’s father ultimately succeeded in having his son follow a career in law, a field in which Boswell never obtained professional success to match his father.  What makes the London Journal fascinating, more so than its brilliant style, is its honesty in documenting the feelings of self-questioning that are a part of becoming an adult.  His weaknesses and depression are also documented in its pages, giving the very real impression that the formative experiences of his youth are preserved for all to witness.

That Boswell’s life is still a vivid thing for us to appreciate is the result of the singular application of his talents to that purpose.  As a person of significant shortcomings and weaknesses, he expressed and brought forth through his writing his best qualities and made great literature, even though this did not bring him professional success.  Boswell finding his calling in writing is a tremendous inspiration.  He lived a great life because he chose to make it great, and he will forever give the gift of letting us appreciate it.


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The poem Lycidas, evoking an entire pastoral world, is a favorite of mine, though unfortunately it has no catchy phrases about music from which to take my blog title. “Sweet compulsion,” more often quoted “such sweet compulsion,” is from the masque  Arcades, which shares imagery with Lycidas.

The Genius of the Wood is speaking of listening to the harmony of the spheres, or celestial harmony.  This harmony, produced by the singing of the nine sirens that preside over the spheres, is made for the ears of the one who holds “the vital shears.” This is Atropos, the cutter of the thread of destiny.   The sweet compulsion of celestial music governs the actions of the Fates.  Those inclined to fatalist thinking often believe Fate to be the final arbiter.  That Fate itself is governed by a higher force, the concords of celestial harmony, is a fascinating aspect of the passage.

The reader is not to believe that Fate rests ultimately with the Sirens, or even the celestial music, but rather with the laws of the universe that are expressed through this harmony, “worthiest were to blaze / the peerless height….”

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