Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Johnson/Boswell Association Copies Talk at BPL

Finally being freed from the yoke of classes I had the chance last night to get down to the BPL for "Guilt by Association: The Passions of a Private Book Collector," a talk by Paul Ruxin as part of the Library's Lowell Lecture series. Mr. Ruxin, an attorney by vocation who also serves as a trustee at the Folger Shakespeare Library and is involved with the publication of The Private Papers of James Boswell at Yale, started collecting early and fine editions of the writings of Johnson and Boswell, but has since branched out to collect 'association copies' somehow related to the pair or their writings.

The discussion was riveting - Ruxin had brought along some of the most interesting books from his collection, including a copy of one of JB's books which he'd inscribed to his friend and mentor George Keith, and a bound edition of MacPherson's Ossian poems containing an essay by Boswell's father on the authenticity of those works. The coup de grace was Sir Joshua Reynolds' copy of Boswell's Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, the discovery of which solved a longstanding bibliographic mystery. Ruxin commented on how the association copies make him feel closer to those who once owned them, read them, and experienced them.

Incidentally, today is being hailed as "Johnson/Boswell Day", for it was on this day in 1763 that Dr. Johnson first made the acquaintance of the young James Boswell - and on this day in 1791 when Boswell's Life of Johnson was first published. Bruce Tober also has just mounted a fascinating essay on Robert Dodsley, one of the publishers who encouraged Johnson to begin work on his great Dictionary of the English Language.

So, happy Johnson/Boswell Day to all, in honor of which I'll close with one of the quotes from Johnson's great letter to MacPherson in their correspondence over the Ossian poems: "Stubborn audacity is the last refuge of guilt."