This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.
Van Doren introduces Herman Liebert from Yale Library, who talks about James Boswell's "Boswell's London Journals." Reads some journal entries and tells stories from the book.
Van Doren introduces Skinner, who performs a skit called "A Subscriber to the Symphony."
For more on Cornelia Otis Skinner, please visit http://www.wnyc.org/blogs/neh-preservation-project/2012/dec/26/cornelia-otis-skinner/.
Van Doren introduces journalist John Gunther, who talks about his book "The Riddle of MacArthur" and Japan.
Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection
WNYC archives id: 71170
Municipal archives id: LT2312
This is a machine-generated transcript. Text is unformatted and may contain errors.
Plucked it our interest in politics was world conditions and international problems for such things have become increasingly important to us but other things not so pressing also for so it is particularly gratifying to have as our first speaker today a man who represents at least a purely literary of comp. Probably most of us have never actually read Boswell of life of Johnson but we've all heard of it and we've generally accepted the idea that it is the first biography in the English language. In fact possible to name his past him to use it as the symbol of the perfect biography we say for instance of a man about whom a good study has been written he's found his bicycle. For many years however thanks to Boswell himself We've know more about Johnson than about his great biography. And then in the twenty's there was found there were found in the possession of descendants living at Mount castle in Ireland vast quantities of Boswell's papers including large parts of the luminous Journal. When Ralph finally acquired these and they were printed in eighteen volumes as the private papers of James Bond. They were phone as Mr proof has said shameless and brilliant. Later more papers were discovered and there may be still more at any rate all the documents we now know of have been acquired by the Yale Library and will be published or at least the most interesting of them will be published from time to time not as bibliophile items but in a regular trade edition like any current book so that they may reach a large one reading audience. The first of these books is by move London Journal it is a good choice with which to initiate the series for it has great fascination for any book reader as it study presents on the bestseller list indicates it records Boswell second journey to London when he was only twenty two with all his adventures amatory and social and it covers the high spot of his life though he may not have so considered it at the time his first meeting with Dr Johnson a committee at Yale has been has been preparing the Boswell documents for publication and I've asked the member of that committee Mr Herman Lee but to tell us today something of the fabulous story of the papers and something of the almost equally fabulous Boswell himself Mr Lee But background is that of a newspaper man for eight years he was with the power block newspaper in New York first as a columnist and feature writer and then as member of the executive editor of staff responsible especially for editorials on national and international affairs. During the wall he was for four years with the OAS and us as principal economic editor of the Europe Africa subdivision up to this point I'd met there seems little connection between him and Basel But when the war was over he began to work on a forthcoming book on Dr Johnson and his circle that work was temporarily interrupted by his appointment as assistant executive secretary of the president's committee on foreign aid the Harriman committee Mr Lee But it did the committee's report to the president recommending the Marshall Plan and he has since intermittently assisted in the preparation of the Marshall Plan testimony for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee now. Settled at Yale as a research assistant in the Yale Library he's preparing a guide to the growing resources of the library and he's gone back to his interest in Johnson and inevitably Boston has published a number of monographs on Johnson for the various learned journals and he said work steadily on the Boswell papers. It is therefore with great pleasure that I introduce to you a man concerned about the problems of the world in which we live who is at the same time a humane scholar of the world two hundred years ago Mr Hammond Lee but. Thank you Dr Arthur. I can't help thinking how very much James Boswell would have enjoyed the sight. This great trying of people gathered here a great hotel sponsored by a great newspaper all sitting down to listen to someone no matter who. Talking about him. I must remind you of that I am here to talk about him Mr Gunther and Miskin are are here in their own right but they are the real live authors of the books that they wrote and that you and I have richly enjoyed but I am the pale thin shadow. Of the author of What I assure you to be here if you could. Gunther and Skinner are if you like senators and I am a mayor representative. I kind of medium telephone through which I hope you will be able to reach back nearly two hundred years to see and to hear this author who wrote today's bestseller so very long ago. If I can serve as a kind of isthmus between the continent of Boswell and the continent of you. Then perhaps you will not be too greatly distressed. That the author cannot be here except by proxy. I'm not going to offer you with the dry bones of Boswell's biography. The full story is very vividly told my colleague Fred Fattal's excellent introduction to the London Journal. What I will try to do instead is to give you some sort of feeling for this man was a little as if he were here today. So that you can look at him and form your own opinion of him and his book just as you can from the skin done for. The first extraordinary thing is that a group of the ship sort should spend any time about James Boswell. It could never have happened so little as thirty years ago. Boswell was then I see is now considered in some unconverted quarters a drunken clown. Who by some unexplained chance wrote a great book but as was life of Johnson has always been admitted like great really almost since the day it was published. And it's now recognised as Mrs Lander and as sad as the world's greatest biography but in his own time and almost all times with the largest He has been sneered at. What is even more extraordinary is that they sneered at him knowing very little relatively bad about him we know very much more that's bad about him and that first hand from Boswell himself in this unbelievably complete collection of letters journals diaries. Private Papers of all kinds and yet. No other literary figure of the past I think it's safe to say excite so much attention that once from the man in the street and from the scholars we know more about James Boswell than we know about any man living or dead more than any of you know about your wives or husbands or your children or your best friend's mom almost then you know about yourselves we know more about him than any valid ever knew of his master and yet Boswell is here. In fact this completeness of knowledge is I think one of the keys to the mystery of Boswell's newfound fame. We can get so much inside his skin. We can hear so clearly that inner prompting voice of self speaking to self. More clearly perhaps that. Most of us hear it in our own life. That we will soon find ourselves feeling with. Responding to his changes of movie making his pleasures our pleasures and his pains are pains. Mr Gunther has made a specialty of being inside the thing so. I think it's safe to say he has never been inside anything more fully than we today can be inside the soul of James Boswell. It's fortunate I think for Boswell that his vast collection of papers has been found in this age of psychoanalysis. When fewer and fewer of us are going to bed and more and more to the couch. We can appreciate his self-analysis just as Boswell would have understood our modern passion for an atom izing personality. He sought desperately to anathematize his personality in his journals and the memoranda that he wrote to himself telling them how he should behave and we will now have them all can read them over his shoulder and derive that special free song. Eavesdropping on our reading postcards. This is by no means as suggested by as well as journals are smutty that they in any way resembled a very private dirty joke the sniggering self-consciousness for example of Samuel peeps or they will to excite of Casanova. It is true that Boswell recounts his sexual adventures with complete candor telling us when where and with whom. One passage in his journal I might radio I don't think it will offend he is in London and he writes I sallied forth to the Piazza says in the rich flow of animal spirits and burning with fierce desire. I met two very pretty little girls who asked me to take them with me my dear girl said I I am a poor fellow I can give you no money possibly Scotch. But if you choose to have a glass of wine and my company let us be gay and obliging to each other without money I am your man. They agreed with great good humor so back to the Shakespeare I went that was a tavern waiter said I I've got here a couple of human beings I don't know how they'll do I look here are cried he and with a name and a bully front stared them in the face and cried they'll do very well. But to die are they good fellow creatures bring them up then we were shown into a good room and had a bottle of sherry before us in a minute I surveyed my seraglio and found them both good subjects for amorous play. I toyed with them and drank about and sang youth's the season and thought myself captain McKeith and then I shall ask my existence with them one after the other according to their seniority that. I know that is just what it is and yet I don't think there is anything suggesting anything incentive telling that. I I don't think one is moved to go out and do likewise. Risking arrest and interviewed by Dr Kinsey. I can tell you how utterly objective how how sterilizing a complete candor can be. One of the greatest living novelist Somerset mom put his finger on this in choosing Boswell's London Journal as his number one book of the air boss was London Journal he wrote is not only very good on and using reading but it makes everyone who reads it realize that the is a far fine I know black man and ever James Boswell was. This is a very nice feeling to have. It is nice to feel superior but it's sometimes deceptively easy one of the things that has delayed Boswell's Pham is that his vices were conventional and only his virtues unconventional and therefore hard to appreciate we know that he hoard and drank and repented and did it all over again regrettable weakness if you like and yet I venture to suggest that the pattern of sin and repentance and sin again is not wholly unknown to anyone in this room. Boswell's trouble was that his vices were visible the evidence was plain even in his own time he was often pushing and equally often painfully ingratiating if he was Peacock again one day he was just as likely to be full of flowing remorse the next these things about Boswell any fool could see and a great many fools who did so concluded that they could dismiss Boswell as a silly and consequential person only when his real virtue was less conventional and therefore less paid and have become increasingly visible as his reputation mounted but then with these virtues Well even the general events of his life have to be put into some kind of perspective for those of us virtually all of us who are raised on Macaulay we tend to forget for example that Boswell was a man from an ancient almost a noble family his father a distinguished judge was what would be equivalent today in America to a justice of the Supreme Court. Boswell was related to many of the oldest families in Scotland. We must not think of him therefore as a kind of adventurer fresh up to London from the sticks. We have only to look in the London Journal to see the entree he had to the great house of the Duke of Northumberland elegant and. The Duke of Queensberry to say that he came of a good family. And then we forget that he was an affectionate family man too much has been said of Boswell's devotion to women and wine and very much too little of his love for his wife his constant concern for his children his affection for his mother and the affection he would have had for his father if that chilly individual had allowed it. One of the finest features of Boswell's archived in the full light they throw. On his family relationship we have letters to him from his father his mother his wife his children and without exception under the close scrutiny of posterity Boswell. Appears as a fine husband a fine parent a fine son. If for his sins I think he were stoned by those who have never done work who have done work never done worse he would not be very badly wounded. It often escapes us that Basel was right busy and not wholly on successful lawyer we think of him hanging loose about London and visiting and writing and drinking but we overlook his professional career Mr Pottle first pointed out a fact about the life of Johnson that bears this out we think of the life as a long run of endless conversations but if you look at them carefully you'll see that they all occur in them are almost all occur in the month between March and May And these are the months when the Scotch parts had their long vacations on me then it was possible for me to come down to London and visit his friends and record their conversations and the massive legal papers we have. Bears out fact that Bob was a busy liar we tend also to forget that he was an intentional and a careful collector one of the very few men of his age who systematically collected materials about his own time he knew what a collector was and those of you who have collected for example antiques can agree that his definition of a collector is a pretty good one they're dead. Every ingenious fragment is venerable to the virtuoso and always pleasant to a curious inquisitive mind but a collector should have the industry of Hercules the patience of a Socrates and I like Argus and a person like Christmas. But many don't realize is that this vast body of manuscripts is not just the casual contents of volatiles desk drawers or the turn out of his overcoat pockets but a great systematic collection that he formed and for which he made very careful plans the story of the long complicated story of how those manuscripts survive beyond and are now a place beyond the reach of time is one that I'd like to tell now but cannot you'll find it recorded fully in the book. It is a romantic story but I must pass on to what I regard as the internal traits of character that make possible great. Traits that that are large enough and good enough to outweigh his weaknesses. And I second that all appear in the London Journal the first of them I think is the sheer exuberance of the man the warmth and vitality. Which is so powerful that one can literally toast himself before it as before a well built fire it appears in this book at the very beginning when Boswell approaches London in the coach and brings just as brightly throughout the region just one brief passage when we came upon Highgate Hill and had a view of London I was life and joy I repeated Cato's look way on the immortality of the soul and my soul boun