Friday, May 14, 2010

An old fashioned dedication

These days, dedications tend to be short and sweet. "To Amanda, my inspiration" or something along those lines. So when we read Boswell's Dedication, it is tempting to ignore it as being overly-verbose, or in the Australian manner, pure bull_ _ _ _.

Dedications, however, were a big part of the tradition in English literature. Boswell's tribute is to Sir Joshua Reynolds, a celebrated English painter and friend of Dr Johnson - his portrait of Johnson features in the first blog. Reynolds provided support and assistance to Boswell as he compiled his Life of Johnson, and Boswell's gratitude was genuine.

Having said that, I did have to read the following sentence three times before I got a handle on it:

If there be a pleasure in celebrating the distinguished merit of a contemporary, mixed with a certain degree of vanity not altogether inexcusable, in appearing fully sensible of it, where can I find one, in complimenting whom I can with more general approbation gratify those feelings?

I think what James Boswell is saying here (correct me if I’m wrong) is that if you’re going to do a dedication, there’s no one better to do a dedication to, than Sir Joshua Reynolds?

But I digress. After this initial flurry of praise, Boswell gets down to business. He introduces a theme that permeates the book; that of Mr Johnson, a great man, but a man with flaws: "Yet, luminous as he was upon the whole, you perceived all the shades which mingled in the grand
composition; all the little peculiarities and slight blemishes which marked the literary Colossus."

We read on.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sure Jane Austen could have written that sentence more directly - and just as elegantly!