Madness and the Role of the Image in Thought

  • Allan Ingram


Imagery, for Boswell, is self-assertion. When he produces an image he is reaffirming his own identity as Boswell the image-producer, and, the more striking the image, then the more satisfying it is to be Boswell. ‘Of this week’, he says, ‘I can observe that my mind has been more lively than usual, more fertile in images, more agreeably sensible of enjoying existence’ (Def., p. 233). And yet Boswell was not content merely to seek more and more excuses to admire himself. He was, as the existence of his journal makes clear, an essentially honest man, and one, moreover, who was anxious to understand and come to terms with himself. ‘Know thyself’ was his motto, even more than ‘enjoy thyself’, and we properly regard his journal as one life-long exercise in self-examination. Boswell thoroughly pre-empts the advice of Sir Alexander Crichton, who in 1798, in his Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Mental Derangement, wrote of the need for rigorous self-analysis. The patient, he said,

should not only be capable of abstracting his own mind from himself, and placing it before him as it were, so as to examine it with the freedom and with the impartiality of a natural historian; but he also should be able to take a calm and clear view of every cause which tends to affect the healthy operations of mind, and to trace their effects.1


Mental Image Reflective Thought High Spirit Equal Claim Mental Derangement 
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  1. 5.
    Jean-Paul Sartre, The Psychology of Imagination Eng. trans. (1972) p. 96.Google Scholar
  2. 11.
    Samuel Johnson, Rasselas, ch. 44, ed. J. P. Hardy (1968) p. 105.Google Scholar
  3. 16.
    Cf. Bernard L. Einbond, Samuel Johnson’s Allegory (1971) p. 34ff.Google Scholar

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© Allan Ingram 1982

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  • Allan Ingram

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