london calling : crumb’s boswell journal

Adult sexual obsession. A madness that is disquietingly normal. The madness of the ordinary.The kind of torment that completes itself in sexual obsession. There is something uncanny in Robert Crumb’s caricatures of James Boswell, something that connects bad and bawdy Georgian England, leapfrogs over Victorianism and transplants itself on the American west coast.  Both Crumb and Boswell were and are well awares of the potential madness that lurks and festers, grows almost hydroponically behind the seemingly mundane nervousness of sexual panic. Of course, many are aware of Crumb’s relationship to the female body, but Boswell was also plagued by similar complexities that he attempted to resolve in his own manner.

---Read More:

So, with Boswell, we have almost a behavioral template for the Romantic, the essentials for celebrity. He was an infuriating type, always in need of attention, an alcoholic and immortalized many of his own indiscretions in writing, at least as he would like to have remembered them. His journals reveal that he fathered two children before marrying and was a regular and chronic customer of the pleasures and depradations of London’s better brothels over the course of his life. His public persona could vary widely; uppercrust style snob or as on one occasion, imitating a cow in a packed London theater to everyone’s amusement.

“I admire and like him beyond measure,” declared 20-year-old Charlotte Ann Burney, the sister of the famous diarist Fanny Burney. “He . . . puts himself into such ridiculous postures that he is as good as a comedy.” The philosopher David Hume described him as “very good-humored, very agreeable, and very mad.” ( Smithsonian )

In Crumb’s Boswell, we have the  juxtaposition of high-brow literary spirit in an easy, almost seamless relationship with low street morals. All variations on the profane, and actually a fair representation of 18th-century life given the writings of Fielding and Lord Chesterfield, even all the way back to Chaucer. Perhaps it was Boswell’s mixture of satire and language that was so influential on late Georgian period caricaturists like James Gillray and Thomas Rowlandson.

“To use Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin’s convenient term , Crumb is melding two conflicting traditions of cartoon“remediation” of classic literary works, the genteel and the underground—a contradiction that finds its 18th-century British counterpart in Boswell’s enthusiasm for both literary criticism and parlor bawdry.” Read More:

Read More: ---When they met, the distinguished man of letters, Dr Johnson, was already famous for having written A Dictionary of the English Language (1755). Their friendship lasted until Johnson's death, and Boswell is most remembered for his study of the great man, as well as for his own journals which reveal much about English life at that time. The 1762 journal gives an insight into the mind of a 22-year-old man away from home for the first time, a young provincial aristocrat having fun, sowing his oats and growing up in London.--

This James Boswell of Auchinleck was a very human mixture of self-indulgence, curiosity, and good nature. His behavior was almost daily proof of Sancho Panza’s observation: “Man is as God made him, and often a good deal worse.” A short account of Boswell’s religious opinions, their shiftings and the color which they took from his private life, is a hitherto unwritten chapter probably more interesting to the student of humanity than to the scholar of divinity. Indeed Boswell’s career was spent very largely under the exhilaration of those three strong stimulants which hardy Scots have sometimes mingled to the scandal of milder and more timid people—namely, alcohol, sex, and theology….

Read More:

…Boswell depended pathetically upon the inspiration of friends in his feeble battle against the Evil Principle; often he hinted at frailties and elicited good advice—not so much to follow it as to feel by radiation, as it were, the glow of sainthood, and also that he might set down these counsels of perfection for others more capable of applying them than himself. He even tried to believe that his delight in the company of men like Temple and Dalrymple was “proof that I am at bottom a sober and grave man myself.” Yet he could not help drawing painful comparisons: on at least two occasions he confesses to Temple that his sexual indulgences are “unworthy the friend of Paoli,” the Corsican patriot who was one of Boswell’s heroes; on the road to Ashbourne in 1777 he notes in his Journal: ” ‘How inconsistent/ thought I, ‘is it for me to be makin

pilgrimage to meet Dr. Johnson, and licentiously loving wenches by the way.’” And even of the spiritual milksop Temple, Boswell speaks with veneration—”whose worth my popish imagination cannot help somehow viewing as a kind of credit, on which I may in part repose.” Read More:


Boswell and Family. Henry Singleton.---wangled an invitation to visit philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, and in France he engaged Voltaire in a debate about religion. “For a . . . time there was a fair opposition between Voltaire and Boswell,” he noted with satisfaction. ... On the Mediterranean island of Corsica, Boswell got to know Pasquale Paoli, the charismatic patriot leading an insurgency against the Genoese, who then ruled the island. In Paris he learned of his mother’s death and departed for Scotland (en route, Boswell noted in his journal, he and Rousseau’s mistress had sex 13 times in 11 days). His first important book, An Account of Corsica (1768), celebrated Paoli. To Britons of the day, Corsica was an exotic and romantic destination, and Boswell’s breezy travelogue made him a minor celebrity known as “Corsica Boswell.” Nevertheless, he kept his word to his father and began practicing law. Read more:

…Others noticed that once he finished his great work, he lost his bearings. Perhaps the lowest point came when his daughter took him to task for misbehaving with one of her 14-year-old friends. “It seems that after dinner, when I had taken too much wine, I had been too fond,” he wrote in his journal, claiming that he had no clear memory of the event.

Boswell’s final years were grim. He remained in London, carousing and whoring; his health was ruined by repeated venereal infections. Hounded by debts incurred educating his children and buying land in Ayrshire, he complained that he felt “listless and fretful.” He died at home from kidney failure and uremia at the age of 54. “I used to grumble sometimes at his turbulence,” grieved Malone, “ but now miss and regret his noise and his hilarity and his perpetual good humour, which had no bounds.” Read more:

Related Posts

This entry was posted in Feature Article, Ideas/Opinion, Literature/poetry/spoken word, Modern Arts/Craft and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to london calling : crumb’s boswell journal

  1. Pingback: The Gosh! Authority 29/05/12 » Gosh! London – the Culture of Comics

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>