The story of the group of extraordinary eighteenth-century writers, artists, and thinkers who gathered weekly at a London tavern
Named one of the 10 Best Books of 2019 by the New York Times Book Review • A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2019 • A Kirkus Best Book of 2019
“Damrosch brings the Club’s redoubtable personalities—the brilliant minds, the jousting wits, the tender camaraderie—to vivid life.”—New York Times Book Review
“Magnificently entertaining.”—Washington Post
In 1763, the painter Joshua Reynolds proposed to his friend Samuel Johnson that they invite a few friends to join them every Friday at the Turk’s Head Tavern in London to dine, drink, and talk until midnight. Eventually the group came to include among its members Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, Edward Gibbon, and James Boswell. It was known simply as “the Club.”
In this captivating book, Leo Damrosch brings alive a brilliant, competitive, and eccentric cast of characters. With the friendship of the “odd couple” Samuel Johnson and James Boswell at the heart of his narrative, Damrosch conjures up the precarious, exciting, and often brutal world of late eighteenth†‘century Britain. This is the story of an extraordinary group of people whose ideas helped to shape their age, and our own.
This look at Samuel Johnson, his biographer James Boswell, and their social circle delightfully captures the bonds of friendship and competition which joined some of the late 18th century's greatest minds. The titular club, which began meeting weekly at the Turk's Head Tavern in London in 1764, was first proposed by painter Joshua Reynolds, as much to raise Johnson's frequently depressed spirits as to provide a place to wine, dine, and, above all, converse until the wee hours of the morning. Over the next 20 years, its membership would come to include political philosopher Edmund Burke, actor David Garrick, playwright Oliver Goldsmith, historian Edward Gibbon, economist Adam Smith, and other luminaries. Damrosch (Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World) doesn't provide a fly-on-the-wall account of the Club's meetings but rather crisp, colorful portraits of its members, illuminated by quotes from their lively, sometimes contentious interactions with each other. Boswell, agreeing with Reynolds about Johnson's love of debate, observed, "He has no formal preparation, no flourishing with his sword; he is through your body in an instant." This effervescent history shines a light on the extraordinary origins of a club which still exists to this day. With 31 color plates.