Friday, June 1st, 2012...9:30 am
You’ve Got Mail: “The Dr. was in high glee at Auchinleck”
The Hyde Collection of Samuel Johnson holds some 75 letters written by James Boswell, but this just-acquired, previously unpublished letter to Boswell’s brother David perhaps outshines them all. When he wrote to David, then living in Valencia, Spain, in November of 1776, it was his first letter in several years.
To one who has such a similarity of constitution with my own as you have it is easy for me to apologize for a long cessation of correspondence by letters. … It is really astonishing how we delay, as if writing a letter were a difficult or dangerous undertaking. After neglecting it many & many a leisure morning & afternoon, I now sit down on a Monday, my busiest day, just an hour before dinner, and I’ll lay that the greatest part of it shall be done before the broth comes up.
Accordingly, he used a large folio writing sheet and filled it up with news of recent events, including Samuel Johnson’s visit to Auchinleck, the family estate, in 1773:
The Dr. was in high glee at Auchinleck. He and I breakfasted one day with the Rev. Mr. George Reid, who is now above eighty, yet is quite entire in the faculties of his mind. You can figure the scenes which the Dr. & I would have at Auchinleck. We returned to Edinburgh together. As encouragement for us it must be remarked that he is now in better health and spirits than he ever was in his life, & is never afflicted with melancholy.
David Hume, Esq. died last autumn. I saw him not long before he died, and was shocked with his persisting or appearing to persist in infidelity. What a poor thing is our existence, & what pitiful creatures are we if there be no other state than this! I hope my dear David your piety is never impaired.
The letter even features a brief musical interlude, as Boswell transcribes a song he heard on a visit to the elderly Earl of Dundonald.
Below, the letter in full: front, back (including address panel and seal) and interior.
This post is part of a weekly feature on the Houghton Library blog, “You’ve Got Mail,” based on letters in Houghton Library. Every Friday this year a Houghton staff member will select a letter from the diverse collections in the Library and put that letter into context. All posts associated with this series may be viewed by clicking on the You’veGotMail tag.
[This post was contributed by John Overholt, Acting Curator of the Donald and Mary Hyde Collection of Dr. Samuel Johnson and Early Modern Books and Manuscripts.]