Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Men Behaving Badly: Boswell celebrates the King's birthnight

Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Loretta reports:

From Boswell’s London Journal 1762-63
FRIDAY 3 JUNE [1763]
…I am always resolving to study propriety of conduct.  But I never persist with any steadiness.  I hope, however, to attain it.  I shall perhaps go abroad a year or two, which may confirm me in proper habits.  In the mean time let me strive to do my best.

It was the King’s birthnight, and I resolved to be a blackguard and to see all that was to be seen.  I dressed myself in my second-mourning suit,[4] in which I had been powdered many months, dirty buckskin breeches and black stockings, a shirt of Lord Eglinton’s which I had worn two days, and a little round hat with tarnished silver lace belonging to a disbanded officer of the Royal Volunteers.  I had in my hand an old oaken stick battered against the pavement.  And was I not a complete blackguard?  I went to the Park, picked up a low brimstone,[5] called myself a barber and agreed with her for sixpence, went to the bottom of the Park arm in arm and dipped my machine in the Canal and performed most manfully.  I then went as far as St. Paul’s Church-yard, roaring along, and then came to Ashley’s Punch-house and drank three threepenny bowls.  In the Strand I picked up a little profligate wretch and gave her sixpence.  She allowed me entrance.  But the miscreant refused me performance.  I was much stronger than her, and volens nolens pushed her up against the wall.  She however gave a sudden spring from me; and screaming out, a parcel of more whores and soldiers came to her relief.  “Brother soldiers,” said I, “should not a half-pay officer r-g-r[6] for sixpence?  And here has she used me so and so.”  I got them on my side, and I abused her in blackguard style, and then left them.  At Whitehall I picked up another girl to whom I called myself a highwayman and told her I had no money and begged she would trust me.  But she would not.  My vanity was somewhat gratified tonight that, notwithstanding of my dress, I was always taken for a gentleman in disguise.  I came home about two o'clock, much fatigued.

[4]A dark suit but less sombre than one worn for first or full mourning.  This one happened to be Boswell’s oldest or shabbiest suit, and as he had worn it while his hair was being powdered, it had grown more shabby.
[5] Virago, spit-fire
[6] Roger, a word of other meaning than it has acquired since the introduction of radio-telephony.
Above left:  Street walkers
Below right:  The sailors adventure to the streights of Merry-land or, An evening view on Ludgate Hill

Illustrations courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA


Heather Carroll said...

Boswell's bad behavior always leaves me with a sick feeling. I recall one of his letters where he rapes (or attempts to) a girl on the street and gets caught, and, like these entries, he writes about it with the same expression as he would in describing making his morning tea! What a pig. Can you tell I'm not a Boswell fan?

LorettaChase said...

And he has such a high opinion of himself, too.

ILoveVersailles said...

I agree with Heather: what a pig. Even making allowances for the historical differences in how men viewed women in general, and how gentlemen (!) viewed women they regarded as beneath them, Boswell's still a first-class jerk. Johnson can have him.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

He has an ENORMOUS high opinion of himself. All that nonsense about how he was dressing down to look like a rogue, yet of course everyone recognized him as a true gentleman. Gosh, how did they guess? The truly scary part is that I suspect there were a lot more of these arrogant, bullying, sexist "gentlemen" than we 21st c. folk (esp. us women-folk) want to believe.

Lauren said...

I'm amazed by the great illustrations. Who knew they'd have prints like these in the Library of Congress?

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Here's a refreshing counterpoint to Boswell's swinishness in one of his much more honorable contemporaries, the Earl of Besborough:

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