Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Boswell to his Wife Margaret

3 July 1786 [London]

My Dearest Life, That I am very selfish you have told me, and I have acknowledged it. But I am not so excessively selfish as to resist your very strong and persuasive letter of the 23 June, in which you describe the uneasiness it would give you should our family be removed to London and the desolation of Auchinleck so feelingly, that I yield to you. . .

For some time past, my constitutional melancholy has been grievous. The solitude of this house has frightened me into constant dissipation. I do not mean vice but a perpetual succession of company; and my mind has been quite unhinged. My anxiety about you and the children has been dreary, and I have upbraided myself for neglecting you.

I am now convinced that there is no probability of my getting great practice at the English bar; and therefore there is not an adequate reason for putting you and my children into a state of inferiority and running the risk of their being estranged from Auchinleck.

The difficult question then is, what should be done? Lady Forbes says that if you are assured that I will return with you to Scotland in the spring you will have no objection to come to London and bring Veronica and Phemie and pass the winter; and your mind being relieved from the imagination of being banished forever from your country and friends, that much of London would do you no harm and then I shall have made a fair trial of my chance in Westminster Hall. But, in truth, I already see clearly that I have so poor a chance that it is not advisable to persist. Mr Malone thinks otherwise, and I am loath to contradict his opinion. Yet is is shocking to me, who have been used to have a competent share of practice, to be altogether without it, and I am impatient and fretful. Lady Forbes and Sir William are full of your kind attention to them last winter, and have proposed that as it may be better for Sandy to be at the High School while we are in London, he shall be at their house as one of their own sons. How agreeable is it to be so well with them! My next consideration is Dr Johnson's Life, which it is necessary I should get ready for the press soon, that the public attention may not be diverted to some other object; and as I have collected a great variety of materials, it will probably be a work of considerable value. Mr Malone thinks I can write it nowhere but in London. But I feel that it is almost impossible for me to settle to it here on account of the agitation to which I have been used; and, especially in the present state of my mind, how can I settle to it, when I am in a kind of fever to think of my absence from her I love, and who is my own, and with whose illness I was lately so deeply alarmed? . . .

[James Boswell]

-from The Essential Boswell: Selections from the Writings of James Boswell selected and edited by Peter Martin. (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003) p. 289-290.

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