By Murray Pittock
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Extra info for James Boswell
When this arrived in 1773 however, Boswell requested another one from Samuel Johnson, who was a more unequivocal Marian and a defender of Tytler (Pittock in Keymer and Mee, 167). With not untypical slipperiness, in 1775 Boswell told Sir Joshua Reynolds that Robertson’s description of the picture was nonetheless ‘very well’. No copy of the Hamilton portrait survives with either epigram (Gen Corr, 2: 77n, 95n, 96n; Letters, 1: 520) although Johnson’s is cited to Reynolds. It is unequivocally Marian: Mary is ‘terrified and overpowered by the insults, menaces and clamours of her rebellious subjects’ (Corr, 3: 57).
This is a brilliant summary of the patriot historiographical position, which Boswell exemplified in his distrust of Hume’s disparagement of the Scottish past. ’Pactolus’ is the ‘golden river of Lydia, traditional source of the wealth of Croesus’ (Corr, 6: 236, 237n), and hence the implication of Hume’s accepting bribes and the ‘bought and sold for English gold’ school of patriot historiography are neatly combined. Croesus of course was, despite his wealth, ultimately defeated, going to war to defeat a great empire on the oracle’s advice, the empire in question turning out to be his own.
Boswell was nonetheless influenced by Enlightenment AngloSaxonism to see himself as a descendant of Germanic stock, and related as such to the English Bosvilles. This was the ‘old Gothic Salic enthusiasm’ which he recorded himself as exhibiting on occasion (Extremes, 19). On the other hand, Boswell’s notion of Gothic Anglo-Saxonism was not that associated with many of his Enlightenment contemporaries, where it was a guarantor of progressive and arguably Protestant values. Rather, Boswell laid stress on the Gothic values in Tacitus which accorded more with the native tradition of ‘Gothic liberty and northern valour’ (Erskine-Hill, 159–60) that celebrated for example by James Ray, whose A Compleat History of the Rebellion (1747) portrayed the Boswell’s Life and the Life of the Mind 25 ‘Forty-five Rising as one where the Jacobite forces were ‘like the antient Goths, intrepid, bold and daring, inur’d to Hardships and Fatigues from their Infancy’ (Ray, vii).