Thursday, April 18, 2019

"...Good company — ready to talk, laugh, drink, eat, and argue...."

The reviewer doesn't think the book quite lives up to its promise because how wonderful would it be to have a record of the conversations, arguments, debates, among the members of this group:
In the famous dictionary he published in 1755, Samuel Johnson defined a “club” as “an assembly of good fellows, meeting under certain conditions.” Nine years later, in 1764, the lexicographer became a founder of the Club, with a capital C. Its good fellows met under these conditions: They gathered one evening each week near the Strand in London, where they took a private room at the Turk’s Head Tavern, ordered food and wine, and conversed about topics great and small. Members “had to be good company — ready to talk, laugh, drink, eat, and argue until late into the night,” writes Leo Damrosch in The Club, an ambitious, multi-part biography of their lives and times.

The Club was no ordinary collection of drinking buddies. Rather, it represented an astonishing assembly of talent and accomplishment. Members included Johnson as well as James Boswell, Edmund Burke, Edward Gibbon, and Adam Smith. These five, according to Damrosch, were “arguably the greatest British critic, biographer, political philosopher, historian, and economist of all time.” The Club’s second-tier members also were extraordinary: David Garrick, the greatest actor of the age; Joshua Reynolds, a top painter; and Oliver Goldsmith and Richard Brinsley Sheridan, two of the era’s most successful playwrights. Men of this caliber of intellectual and cultural firepower have congregated only rarely, in places such as classical Athens, Renaissance Florence, and, coincidentally, in Philadelphia at roughly the same time as Johnson’s group.

Who wouldn’t want to eavesdrop on the Club’s conversations? Imagine Johnson and Garrick debating the art of Shakespeare. Or Boswell and Reynolds discussing the differences between written and visual portraiture. Or Burke and Smith — a pair of thinkers whose ideas echo loudly in today’s conservative movement — chatting about just about anything. .... (more)

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