Saturday, June 9, 2007

Boswell in Utrecht

To John Johnston of Grange

23 September 1763 {Utrecht}

I set out upon my travels with a kind of gloom upon my mind. My enthusiastic love of London made me leave it with a heavy heart. It might not have been the case had I been setting out on an immediate tour through the gay regions of Italy and France. But to comply with my father's inclinations I had agreed to pass my first winter at Utrecht, a Dutch university town of which I had received the most disagreeable prepossessions. Mr. Samuel Johnson honoured me with his company to Harwich, where he saw me embark and set sail from Britain. I was sick and filled with a crowd of different ideas. But we had a good passage, and landed on Sunday the 7 of August, at twelve noon . . . I began to turn low-spirited, and set out for Utrecht. I travelled between Leyden and Utrecht nine hours in a sluggish trek schuit [barge] without any companion, so that I brooded over my own dismal imaginations. I arrived at Utrecht on a Saturday evening. I went to the Nouveau Chateau d'Anyers. I was shown up to a high bedroom with old furniture, where I had to sit and be fed by myself. At every hour the bells of the great tower played a dreary psalm tune. A deep melancholy seized upon me. I groaned with the idea of living all winter in so shocking a place. I thought myself old and wretched and forlorn. I was worse and worse next day. All the horrid ideas that you can imagine, recurred upon me. I sunk quite into despair. I thought that at length the time was come that I should grow mad. I actually believed myself so. I went out to the streets, and even in public could not refrain from groaning and weeping bitterly. I said always, 'Poor Boswell! Is it come to this? Miserable wretch that I am! what shall I do?'

-from The Essential Boswell: Selections from the Writings of James Boswell selected and edited by Peter Martin. (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003) p. 58-59.

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