The Club:

Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age

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, David Garrick and James Boswell—it was known simply as “the Club.” 

In this lecture Dr. Leo Damrosch brings alive this eccentric cast of the most notable writers, artists, and thinkers of the 18th century. With the friendship of the “odd couple” Samuel Johnson and James Boswell at the heart of his narrative, he conjures up the precarious, exciting, and often brutal world of late 18th century Britain. Dr. Damrosch also will talk about lesser known luminaries such as painter Frances Reynolds (younger sister of Sir Joshua), Sir Joshua Reynold’s secret confidante and confessor Hester Thrale, his black servant Francis Barber, his pornographic friend John Wilkes, and his “infidel” opponent David Hume. Dr. Damrosch will transport the audience back into a world of brilliant conversations and arguments among an extraordinary group of people whose ideas helped to shape their age, as well as our own.

Thank you to our co-sponsors: American Friends of the Georgian Group; The New York Society Library

Additional support for New York lectures is generously provided by Dr. Leonora Ballinger, Virginia Brody, Mr. Albert Messina and Mr. Ken Jennings, Linda Pedro, Stephanie Speakerman, The Stoddart Family, John and Phillis Warden, Mr. William Lee Younger, and an Anonymous donor
Damrosch jacket

Damrosch jacket

Dr. Leo Damrosch ©Nicholas Damrosch

Dr. Leo Damrosch ©Nicholas Damrosch

Dr. Leo Damrosch

Professor and Author

Dr. Leo Damrosch spent his boyhood in the mountains of the Philippines, while being interned with his parents during the WWII, and afterwards grew up in Maine. Educated at Yale; Trinity College, Cambridge; and Princeton, he has taught in the English departments at the University of Virginia (1966-83), University of Maryland at College Park (1983-89), and since 1989 at Harvard. He served as chair of the English Department and was awarded a Harvard College Professorship. After retirement in 2010, he has continued to teach in the Harvard Extension School and in the Harvard Summer School. One of his books, Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius, was a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction in 2005. Other books include Tocqueville’s Discovery of America (2010), Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World (2013), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for biography and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and Eternity’s Sunrise: The Imaginative World of William Blake (2015). His latest book is The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age, published in March 2019 by Yale University Press. He has also recorded lecture courses for The Teaching Company on the Enlightenment and on Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

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Tuesday, November 5 | 6:15 p.m.
Reception and book signing following lecture


The General Society Library
20 West 44th Street


$30 members; $40 non-members

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