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Boswell on being passive


James Boswell, the future biographer of Dr Johnson, at 25
Painting by George Willison

Maggie's Farm is quoting excerpts from Boswell's Journals. I noticed "this bit" from 11 December 1762 because Boswell feels and acts exactly as I do not insofar as politics is concerned. I am always 'up in arms'.

Yet Boswell's attitude has its appeal -

I drank coffee at Macfarlane's. Erskine and he got into a dispute about the Peace and each told his antagonist that he was speaking arrant nonsense. They were seriously hot. I was much diverted at Captain Andrew's being so, who does not enter the least into common notions, and does not care a farthing whether there be peace or war or confusion in Europe, provided he and his own agreeable circle be safe and happy.

I must own that I am much of that way of thinking. I cannot help it. I see too far into the system of things to be much in earnest. I consider mankind in general, and therefore cannot take a part in their quarrels when divided into certain states and nations. I can see that after a war is over and a great quantity of cold and hunger and want of sleep endured by mortals, things are upon the whole just as they were. I can see that Great People, those that manage the fate of kingdoms, are just such beings as myself: have their hours of discontent and are not a bit happier. This being the case, I am rather passive than active in life. It is difficult to make my feeling clearly understood. I may say, I act passively. That is, not with my whole heart, and thinking this or that of real consequence, but because so and so things are established and I must submit.

Meditating calmly and finding myself situated in this sublunary system, I do not know well what to make of it. I do not rightly understand it. Guardian Angel: "Stop. How should you? God has formed men with very limited capacities." True. But still I cannot help enquiring and thinking.

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