Boswell’s Meditation on Place and a Pudding

Boswell’s Meditation on Place and a Pudding

Last week I did a pleasant book-signing at Boswell Book Co. (for A Guide to Fantasy Literature; my thanks to Daniel Goldin, proprietor, and Jason, for hosting!).

Boswell Books is a Milwaukee indie bookstore, named for James Boswell (1740–95), a literary Scottish laird, described by one biographer as a complicated fellow, with “his rippling good nature, his extravagance and folly and weakness, his odd piety, his awful glooms, his alternations of revelry and solemnity . . .” and known today mostly as a companion of Samuel Johnson, the famous dictionaryist (okay, lexicographer).

He loved good conversation, liquor, travel, writing . . . hey, a man after my own heart.

Anyhow, the Boswell Books signing made me recall a lovely, fanciful “sense of place” piece from Boswell’s Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, written on a long excursion with Samuel Johnson in the fall of 1773 to the western isles of Scotland.

This is Boswell’s recollection of an afternoon bit of playfulness:

“. . . . He [Johnson] then indulged in a playful fancy, in making a Meditation on a Pudding, of which I hastily wrote down, in his presence, the following note; which, though imperfect, may serve to give my readers some idea of it.


Let us seriously reflect of what a pudding is composed. It is composed of flour that once waved in the golden grain, and drank the dews of the morning; of milk pressed from the swelling udder by the gentle hand of the beauteous milkmaid, whose beauty and innocence might have recommended a worse draught; who, while she stroked the udder, indulged no ambitious thoughts of wandering in palaces, formed no plans for the destruction of her fellow-creatures; milk, which is drawn from the cow, that useful animal, that eats the grass of the field, and supplies us with that which made the greatest part of the food of mankind in the age which the poets have agreed to call golden. It is made with an egg, that miracle of nature. . . . An egg contains water within its beautiful smooth surface; and an unformed mass, by the incubation of the parent, becomes a regular animal, furnished with bones and sinews, and covered with feathers. – Let us consider; can there be more wanting to complete the Meditation on a Pudding? If more is wanting, more may be found. It contains salt, which keeps the sea from putrefaction: salt, which is made the image of intellectual excellence, contributes to the formation of a pudding.”

A delightful little piece, by a couple of writers lounging about a Scottish inn on a lazy afternoon, speculating on place and pudding.

(Reminds me of a similar, more modern “sense of place as seen in food” piece by Linda Hasselstrom. I’ll dig it out and share in a coming post.)


  1. Phil, I love the food centered aspect. I think we all need to connect with the sacred nature of our food sources and contemplate them more. Just thinking about the Hebrides makes me long for a dram of Lagavulin.

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