Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Boswell - What If...?

Among my current bedtime reading is another damn'd thick square book by the notoriously readable Bill Bryson. At Home is a history of the development over the years of the home and all the comforts we now take for granted. Built around a room-by-room tour of the Norfolk rectory that is now Bryson's home, the book soon develops into a big, baggy - and, dammit, immensely readable - history of, well, nearly everything (a subject he's already covered in another fat book). Bryson is a virtuoso of research - or rather of distilling vast quantities of material into fascinating titbits - and he's happy to roam at large in his subject, wandering off into digressions and footnotes, and as a result delivering far more than his subject might promise. For example, last night, while reading about the agricultural revolution of the 18th century (this in the chapter devoted to The Drawing Room), I learnt from a footnote that the Ayrshire breed of cattle - a handsome, good-natured and bountiful breed - was developed by Bruce Campbell, a second cousin of James  Boswell. Campbell was put in charge of the estate when Boswell turned down the life of a Scottish country gent in favour of something a deal more raffish and metropolitan. Just think - if Boswell had decided to take over the estate, we would most likely not have Ayrshire cattle, and we could certainly not have Samuel Johnson - Johnson the man, that is, as large as life and larger: Boswell's Johnson.

5 comments:

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