Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age
by Leo Damrosch
Pub Date 26 Mar 2019
Talking about this book? Be sure to tag it using #TheClub #NetGalley
In 1763, the painter Joshua Reynolds proposed to his friend Samuel Johnson that they invite a few friends to join them every Friday at the Turk’s Head Tavern in London to dine, drink, and talk until midnight. Eventually the group came to include among its members Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, Edward Gibbon, and James Boswell. It was known simply as “the Club.”
In this captivating book, Leo Damrosch brings alive a brilliant, competitive, and eccentric cast of characters. With the friendship of the “odd couple” Samuel Johnson and James Boswell at the heart of his narrative, Damrosch conjures up the precarious, exciting, and often brutal world of late eighteenth‑century Britain. This is the story of an extraordinary group of people whose ideas helped to shape their age, and our own.
“Damrosch’s glorious study takes us on a brilliantly animated Grand Tour of the whole Johnsonian universe, with its ever-expanding galaxy of stellar personalities. He revisits not only the old glittering Club Land familiars like James Boswell, David Garrick, Edmund Burke, and Sir Joshua Reynolds, but also intriguing lesser known luminaries such as Johnson’s early portrait painter Frances Reynolds (younger sister of Sir Joshua), his secret confidante and confessor Hester Thrale, his black servant Francis Barber, his pornographic friend John Wilkes, and his “infidel” opponent David Hume. Shrewd, good-natured, and endlessly informative, Damrosch makes a spell-binding guide. He narrates with a compelling mixture of provoking gossip, shrewd commentary and masterly scholarship. He is so intimate and engaging, that I could well believe he once drank punch and compared notes with Boswell at the Mitre Tavern.”—Richard Holmes, author of The Age of Wonder “The Club is a stimulating and delightful work. The portraits of Boswell, Gibbon, and Burke are extraordinary condensations granting us accurate visions of complex personalities. Leo Damrosch has addressed himself to common readers with authentic gusto.”—Harold Bloom “Brilliant, lucid, and enjoyable . . . With perfectly chosen anecdotes, The Club vividly evokes the period.”—Norma Clarke, author of Dr Johnson's Women “Leo Damrosch’s book is an extraordinary achievement. A lively and engaging account of the coming together of a group of famously gifted individuals—the Club, a virtual microcosm of the vibrant world of mid-to-late eighteenth-century London.”—William C. Dowling, Rutgers University