‘Boswell’s Enlightenment’ by Robert Zaretsky

A-detail-from-Joshua-Reyn-010James Campbell at The Observer:

While studying in Utrecht in 1764, the trainee lawyer and diarist James Boswell met a young woman called Belle de Zuylen – known as Zélide in Boswell’s journal – a novelist, religious doubter and amorous adventurer, with a lightning mind which “flashes with so much brilliance [it] may scorch”. Boswell was in search of a wife, and Belle, he assumed, would be in need of a husband.

Despite being rebuffed, he persisted in his attentions, finally applying, not to Belle herself, but to her father. The “terms of the treaty”, as Robert Zaretsky puts it in Boswell’s Enlightenment, were “as onerous as they were outlandish”. As Mrs Boswell, Belle would swear never to see, or write to, another man, not to publish any literary works without her husband’s approval and, in the words of the proposal, “never to speak against the established religion or customs of the country she might find herself in”, which was most likely to be Scotland. It appears that Belle’s father passed on the invitation because when Boswell tried again a year later, Belle herself replied that all she knew of Scotland was that it produced “decidedly despotic husbands and humble, simple wives who blushed and looked at their lords before opening their mouths”.

more here.

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