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Saturday, 29 December 2012

An Amour: from Boswell's London Journal, 1762-1763


The Orgy: William Hogarth, c. 1735, oil on canvas, 62.5 x 75 cm (Sir John Soane's Museum, London)



It is very curious to think that I have now been in London several weeks without ever enjoying the delightful sex, although I am surrounded with numbers of free-hearted ladies of all kinds: from the splendid Madam at fifty guineas a night, down to the civil nymph with white-thread stockings who tramps along the Strand and will resign her engaging person to your honour for a pint of wine and a shilling. Manifold are the reasons for this my present wonderful continence. I am upon a plan of economy, and therefore cannot be at the expense of first-rate dames. I have suffered severely from the loathsome distemper, and therefore shudder at the thoughts of running any risk of having it again. Besides, the surgeons' fees in this city come very high. But the greatest reason of all is that fortune, or rather benignant Venus, has smiled upon me and favoured me so far that I have had the most delicious intrigues with women of beauty, sentiment, and spirit, perfectly suited to my romantic genius.

Indeed, in my mind, there cannot be higher felicity on earth enjoyed by man than the participation of genuine reciprocal amorous affection with an amiable woman. There he has a full indulgence of all the delicate feelings and pleasures both of body and mind, while at the same time in this enchanting union he exults with a consciousness that he is the superior person. The dignity of his sex is kept up. These paradisial scenes of gallantry have exalted my ideas and refined my taste, so that I really cannot think of stooping so far as to make a most intimate companion of a groveling-minded, ill-bred, worthless creature, nor can my delicacy be pleased with the gross voluptuousness of the stews. I am therefore walking about with a healthful stout body and a cheerful mind, in search of a woman worthy of my love, and who thinks me worthy of hers, without any interested views, which is the only sure way to find out if a woman really loves a man. If I should be a single man for the whole winter, I will be satisfied. I have had as much elegant pleasure as I could have expected would come to my share in many years.

However, I hope to be more successful. In this view, I had now called several times for a handsome actress of Covent Garden Theatre, whom I was a little acquainted with, and whom I shall distinguish in this my journal by the name of LOUISA. This lady had been indisposed and saw no company, but today I was admitted. She was in a pleasing undress and looked very pretty. She received me with great politeness. We chatted on the common topics. We were not easy — there was a constraint upon us — we did not sit right on our chairs, and we were unwilling to look at one another. I talked to her on the advantage of having an agreeable acquaintance, and hoped I might see her now and then. She desired me to call in whenever I came that way, without ceremony. "And pray," said she, "when shall I have the pleasure of your company at tea?" I fixed Thursday, and left her, very well satisfied with my first visit.

The Woman Taking Coffee: Louis-Marin Bonnet (1736-1793), 1774, pastel manner intaglio color print, 31.5 x 23.4 cm (Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum)


I rose very disconsolate, having rested very ill by the poisonous infection raging in my veins and anxiety and vexation boiling in my breast. I could scarcely credit my own senses. What! thought I, can this beautiful, this sensible, and this agreeable woman be so sadly defiled? Can corruption lodge beneath so fair a form? Can she who professed delicacy of sentiment and sincere regard for me, use me so very basely and so very cruelly? No, it is impossible. I have just got a gleet by irritating the parts too much with excessive venery. And yet these damned twinges, that scalding heat, and that deep-tinged loathsome matter are the strongest proofs of an infection. But she certainly must think that I would soon discover her falsehood. But perhaps she was ignorant of her being ill. A pretty conjecture indeed! No, she could not be ignorant. Yes, yes, she intended to make the most of me. And now I recollect that the day we went to Hayward's, she showed me a bill of thirty shillings about which she was in some uneasiness, and no doubt expected that I would pay it. But I was too cautious, and she had not effrontery enough to try my generosity in direct terms so soon after my letting her have two guineas. And am I then taken in? Am I, who have had safe and elegant intrigues with fine women, become the dupe of a strumpet? Am I now to be laid up for many weeks to suffer extreme pain and full confinement, and to be debarred all the comforts and pleasures of life? And then must I have my poor pocket drained by the unavoidable expense of it? And shall I no more (for a long time at least) take my walk, healthful and spirited, round the Park before breakfast, view the brilliant Guards on the Parade, and enjoy all my pleasing amusements? And then am I prevented from making love to Lady Mirabel, or any other woman of fashion? O dear, O dear! What a cursed thing this is! What a miserable creature am I!

In this woeful manner did I melancholy ruminate. I thought of applying to a quack who would cure me quickly and cheaply. But then the horrors of being imperfectly cured and having the distemper thrown into my blood terrified me exceedingly. I therefore pursued my resolution of last night to go to my friend Douglas, whom I knew to be skillful and careful; and although it should cost me more, yet to get sound health was a matter of great importance, and I might save upon other articles. I accordingly went and breakfasted with him. . . .

After breakfast Mrs. Douglas withdrew, and I opened my sad case to Douglas, who upon examining the parts, declared I had got an evident infection and that the woman who gave it me could not but know of it. I joked with my friend about the expense, asked him if he would take a draught on my arrears, and bid him visit me seldom that I might have the less to pay. To these jokes he seemed to give little heed, but talked seriously in the way of his business. And here let me make a just and true observation, which is that the same man as a friend and as a surgeon exhibits two very opposite characters. Douglas as a friend is most kind, most anxious for my interest, made me live ten days in his house, and suggested every plan of economy. But Douglas as a surgeon will be as ready to keep me long under his hands, and as desirous to lay hold of my money, as any man. In short, his views alter quite. I have to do not with him but his profession.

As Lady Northumberland was to have a great rout next day, I delayed beginning my course of medicine till Friday night. Enraged at the perfidy of Louisa, I resolved to go and upbraid her most severely; but this I thought was not acting with dignity enough. So I would talk to her coolly and make her feel her own unworthiness. But hearing the Duke of Queensberry was in town, I thought I would go and have one more brush at him and hear what he had to say. . . .

I then went to Louisa. With excellent address did I carry on this interview, as the following scene, I trust, will make appear.

LOUISA. My dear Sir! I hope you are well today.
BOSWELL. Excessively well, I thank you. I hope I find you so.
LOUISA. No, really, Sir. I am distressed with a thousand things. (Cunning jade, her circumstances!) I really don't know what to do.
BOSWELL. Do you know that I have been very unhappy since I saw you?
LOUISA. How so, Sir?
BOSWELL. Why, I am afraid that you don't love me so well, nor have not such a regard for me, as I thought you had.
LOUISA. Nay, dear Sir! (Seeming unconcerned.)
BOSWELL. Pray, Madam, have I no reason?
LOUISA. No, indeed, Sir, you have not.
BOSWELL. Have I no reason, Madam? Pray think.
BOSWELL. Pray, Madam, in what state of health have you been in for some time?
LOUISA. Sir, you amaze me.
BOSWELL. I have but too strong, too plain reason to doubt of your regard. I have for some days observed the symptoms of disease, but was unwilling to believe you so very ungenerous. But now, Madam, I am thoroughly convinced.
LOUISA. Sir, you have terrified me. I protest I know nothing of the matter.
BOSWELL. Madam, I have had no connection with any woman but you these two months. I was with my surgeon this morning, who declared I had got a strong infection, and that she from whom I had it could not be ignorant of it. Madam, such a thing in this case is worse than from a woman of the town, as from her you may expect it. You have used me very ill. I did not deserve it. You know you said where there was no confidence, there was no breach of trust. But surely I placed some confidence in you. I am sorry that I was mistaken.
LOUISA. Sir, I will confess to you that about three years ago I was very bad. But for these fifteen months I have been quite well. I appeal to GOD Almighty that I am speaking true; and for these six months I have had to do with no man but yourself.
BOSWELL. But by G-D, Madam, I have been with none but you, and here am I very bad.
LOUISA. Well, Sir, by the same solemn oath I protest that I was ignorant of it.
BOSWELL. Madam, I wish much to believe you. But I own I cannot upon this occasion believe a miracle.
LOUISA. Sir, I cannot say more to you. But you will leave me in the greatest misery. I shall lose your esteem. I shall be hurt in the opinion of everybody, and in my circumstances.
BOSWELL (to himself). What the devil does the confounded jilt mean by being hurt in her circumstances? This is the grossest cunning. But I won't take notice of that at all. — Madam, as to the opinion of everybody, you need not be afraid. I was going to joke and say that I never boast of a lady's favours. But I give you my word of honour that you shall not be discovered.
LOUISA. Sir, this is being more generous than I could expect.
BOSWELL. I hope, Madam, you will own that since I have been with you I have always behaved like a man of honour.
LOUISA. You have indeed, Sir.
BOSWELL (rising). Madam, your most obedient servant.

During all this conversation I really behaved with a manly composure and polite dignity that could not fail to inspire an awe, and she was pale as ashes and trembled and faltered. Thrice did she insist on my staying a little longer, as it was probably the last time that I should be with her. She could say nothing to the purpose. And I sat silent. As I was going, said she, "I hope, Sir, you will give me leave to inquire after your health." "Madam,"  said I, archly, "I fancy it will be needless for some weeks." She again renewed her request. But unwilling to be plagued any more with her, I put her off by saying I might perhaps go to the country, and left her. I was really confounded at her behaviour. There is scarcely a possibility that she could be innocent of the crime of horrid imposition. And yet her positive asseverations really stunned me. She is in all probability a most consummate dissembling whore.

Thus ended my intrigue with the fair Louisa, which I flattered myself so much with, and from which I expected at least a winter's safe copulation. It is indeed very hard. I cannot say, like young fellows who get themselves clapped in a bawdy-house, that I will take better care again. For I really did take care. However, since I am fairly trapped, let me make the best of it. I have not got it from imprudence. It is merely the chance of war.

James Boswell (1740-1795): from Boswell's London Journal, 1762-1763, ed. Frederick A. Pottle, 1950


Before the Seduction: William Hogarth, c. 1730-1731, oil on canvas, 15 1/4 x 13 1/4 ins (J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles)

After the Seduction: William Hogarth, c. 1730-1731, oil on canvas, 15 1/4 x 13 1/4 ins (J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles)

James Boswell
: George Willison, 1765, oil on canvas, 135.20 x 96.50 cm (National Galleries of Scotland)

James Boswell with his wife, Margaret Montgomery, and three of their children (probably Veronica, James and six-year-old Elizabeth): Henry Singleton, c. 1786, oil on canvas, 104.1 x 125.1 cm (National Galleries of Scotland)




Oh to be young and twenty-two (again) -- or rather perhaps not?


grey of rain cloud above shadowed green
plane of ridge, motion of bamboo leaves
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

between things and “action”
at hand, where “hand”

is “structural,” see above
note, compare figure

orange edge of cloud across from point,
circular green pine on tip of sandspit

vanderleun said...

"and from which I expected at least a winter's safe copulation. It is indeed very hard. "

Seldom were disappointment and result so closely packed.

TC said...

"Boswell was consciously writing the whole of his journal for his friend Johnson to read; and he gave it -- not by misstatement of fact but by selection -- a prevailing tone of zest and confidence which, most of the time, he was far from feeling. Except for a few periods in his life -- all later than this -- Boswell suffered from a radical sense of insecurity and a basic lack of confidence. It was so during this London jaunt. When he surveyed himself each morning, he knew that most of the time instead of being what he wished to be -- a brilliant, high-bred man of pleasure, poised, courtly, imperturbable, holding scoffers in awe by the rapier of his wit -- he was really a raw, loud, romping, over-eager boy: greed, stingy, and with brutal tastes.

"And scared..."

-- Frederick A. Pottle, editor's introduction to Boswell's London Journal 1762-1763

Dalriada said...

A delightful family portrait Will I sleep tonight?