[x-posted from my 8353 blog]
In any ordinary understanding of the word, the Boswell papers had indeed been “lost”. Millions of words of the young Laird of Auchinleck’s prodigious output, including most of his terrific journal and large unpublished sections of the Life of Johnson, had been known to reside somewhere in Malahide Castle in Ireland, the home of Boswell’s great-great-grandson, Lord Talbot de Malahide.
For a number of reasons, the family was not desperate to release them. They had little idea of the scholarly, literary or pecuniary value of the cache – but they did have an all-too-vivid understanding of their ancestor’s kenspeckle reputation. Before handing the manuscripts to Isham, Lady Talbot carefully inked over every indecorous word, phrase and passage in the collection (it took American experts 18 months to delete her deletions).
All of which brings us to 2007 and an Edinburgh publishing house. Birlinn has published To the Hebrides, containing Samuel Johnson’s Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland and James Boswell’s Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides. The most devoted reader could be forgiven for suppressing a yawn. How many more Johnson and Boswells in Caledonia do we need? The answer is one more. And the reason is Isham.
I haven’t seen this new dual-author version of the two texts, but I can imagine how using might have affected our discussion of Boswell and Johnson’s contrasting styles. Who ever said that bibliography was a dull, pedestrian subject, when it involves mucking around in the stables looking for manuscripts?
The newly chronologized form offered by this version is also interesting to me, because it simply acknowledges and facilitates what Boswell and Johnson readers (and have they ever been separate audiences) have always done: working back and forth between the divergent accounts.
How much do you want to bet that the “unedited” (or de-Maloned) version of these two texts becomes the standard classroom edition in the next 5 years, along the lines of the newly republished, de-fictionalized “novel-reduced-to-memoir” On the Road?
There should be a term for this phenomenon: how about Post Facto Memoir, when a published text is re-edited to make it appear less polished, less narratively shaped, and more like a daily journal?