James Boswell Under ‘Lockdown’ in Eighteenth Century London

James Boswell

Recently reading James Boswell’s London Journal I came across a period when due to Gonorrhoea, Boswell decided to isolate himself from the rest of the world and society at large apart from a few select individuals who were permitted to see him. Boswell is most famous for his work as a diarist and biographer. His experiences during his ‘lockdown’ are an interesting reflection on our own troubled times.

His experiences reminded me of what we have been through and are still going through.  Although not our own choice but that of the government to risk the spread of infection, we were advised to stay home to save lives.

Boswell did this to get better and fight his infection. We too, have been in isolation, be it on our own or with select individuals whether they are from our own family or fellow housemates. Stuck in a house or several rooms with a limited supply of food.

At the start, there was a flurry of bulk buying when people went mad for toilet roll and hand soap. Now, these items are in plentiful supply upon the supermarket shelves as peoples understairs cupboards and garages creak with the weight of these items purchased in a mass panic.

Boswell decided to limit his diet during his isolation to help ease the disease he was battling. He limited the people who he was willing to see too. While many of us stayed at home and acknowledged the lockdown rules, others felt the need to bend them with many a story making it on to social media and the news about house parties and BBQs.

As the hot weather hit, people started to break these sanctions. in the local area, people started to congregate in large numbers at a site known locally as ‘the beach’. However, that again did not stop some from making unnecessary car journeys be it to walk their dog or to test their eyesight!

Boswell set great stock in his isolation, and although he allowed some people to enter his lodgings, it was a select few with whom he could have company and discuss the issues of the day.

We had social media, Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp to name a few different ways in which we chatted to people; Zoom calls went into overdrive in our desire to stay in touch with our loved ones and friends. Video calls became the order of the day for businesses to keep in touch with colleagues, and working from home became the new normal. We then started to use these social media platforms to vent our anger and frustration with the government and its handling of the situation. So many different opinions, comments, discussions and arguments across so many platforms.

Boswell discussed his frustrations with his friends, he was desperate to leave his lodgings he needed to get out there into the world back into society but knew it would be detrimental to his health, as did those who defied the COVID-19 lockdown rules.

Nevertheless, the desire was too strong and to stay put was not the answer. Boswell knew he was ill and battling an infection but he had promised his closest friends that they would attend every first-night performance at the theatre and he felt compelled to venture out to the theatre as it was the first night showing of Mrs Sheridan’s comedy.

Macbeth Covent Garden 1760

Image: Macbeth at Covent Garden, 1760 (Oil on Canvas)

Boswell may have gained much pleasure out of his little trip out, but he regretted it the next day as he felt worse in his illness. Is this how others felt after being in lockdown and defying the rules by going out did they experience a little glint of pleasure by being able to go outside even if it might harm them?

I’ve seen many a person over the age of seventy going for a walk at the start of lockdown. I chatted to a lady in her nineties who told me she has been going out every day since lockdown because at her age wanted to enjoy every minute of the time she had left and did not want to spend them stuck at home alone indoors despite the apparent risks.

Have we forgotten about those on their own and isolated, the loneliness they must feel at not seeing others?: Loneliness under COVID-19 Lockdown There are others stuck at home in terrible situations that we cannot begin to imagine living with those who like to belittle and assault them: Domestic Violence during COVID-19 Lockdown. Their time in isolation must have been so traumatic. As humans, we are social animals; we socialise to gain a broader benefit. So I understand entirely Boswell’s frustrations of being shut off from the world but for the company of a select few and comprehend the need to go out see people chat to them and put the world to rights. Thankfully the lockdown is easing, and we can now go and sit in a friends garden or meet up all by socially distancing of course.

By Ursula Watkins, Second Year BA History
















Comments are closed.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: