The trajectory of Samuel Johnson and his three phases -the scribbler for hire arriving to the underworld of Grub Street from the province; the dedicated compiler of A Dictionary of the English Language, and at the same time unique essayist and moralist; the critic who writes the introductions to the grand anthology of English poetry; or putting it another way, the needy writer, the author of an enlightened project, and the intellectual who sat on the apex of his time-, as well as his peculiar, and sometimes slippery and paradoxic, relationships with other intellectuals of his time, together with the circumstances of the 18th century, will allow me to draft in this first conference the scenario of the English Enlightenment -including some references to significant authors of this period that are not strictly speaking English, especially Rousseau and Voltaire from the French side, and Hume in what is called Scottish Enlightenment-.This should allow us to shed some light over the breeding ground of a unique figure, though very characteristic to its time, and its trajectory in regards to the path to be followed later by many other crucial figures of philosophy and literature along the following centuries.
In an attempt to draw some parallelisms between that moment that inaugurated modernity and the present one, this first conference would be a kind of gigantic (though partial) foot note in the book of James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson, an introduction and the side stories which should be kept in mind for a better enjoyment of this book. In summary, in order to have a better understanding of who Johnson was and what he represents, I would like to review the lines, tense or relaxed, that connected him with the figures of his most intimate circle, the so-called Literary Club he founded (and was composed by the most eminent figures of the time in all kind of fields: Reynolds the painter, Burke the specialist in political philosophy and aesthetics, the historian Gibbon who transformed historiography, Langton the specialist in classical philology, and playwrights and novelists like Goldsmith). In my second conference I will focus on how he made Boswell a member of the Literary Club, as we should not forget that he was the author of the biography meant to found a genre in modernity.
Considering that Life of Samuel Johnson is a fundamental book within the canon of occidental literature, and that the full version widely annotated has just been published for the first time in Spanish, the time is ripe for doing a profound reading of this work, which due to its dimension, together with the lack of tradition the biography genre has in Spain, may not be an easily accesible book for the common reader. James Boswell's magnum opus is a picture of a colossal genius that has almost become a legend, the most cited author in English language after Shakespeare. But it is also an extensive and exact overview of the times of Enlightenment in England, a time period named due to this biography the Century of Reason or the Century of Johnson. On top of this, Boswell will set the basis for the production of biographies by applying procedures that are worth being analyzed in detail.
The Life of Samuel Johnson is to a great extent a picture of an improbable friendship due to the differences between the biographer and the subject of the biography. It is of great interest to analyze in detail how Boswell builds a hero starting from a friend. To see what is the image he provides of his friend while he struggles between the intimacy of their friendship and the public side of a man of reputation. If Life of Samuel Johnson was a tragedy, which in certain way is, the procedures applied for the construction the hero and for the reconstructing his conflicts (some fictional) will result in a non-fiction work that includes within it a very modern reality of how the 18th century in England.