LETTERS AND LITERARY REMAINS
MRS. PIOZZI (THRALE)
EDITED WITH NOTES
AN INTRODUCTORY ACCOUNT OF HER LIFE AND WRITINGS
BY A. HAYWARD, ESQ. Q.C.
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Welcome, Associate Forms, where'er we turn Fill, Streatham's Hebe, the Johnsonian urn—St. Stephen's
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In Two Volumes VOL. I.
LONDON LONGMAN, GREEN, LONGMAN, AND ROBERTS 1861
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THE SECOND EDITION.
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THE first edition of a work of this kind is almost necessarily imperfect; since the editor is commonly dependent for a great deal of the required information upon sources the very existence of which is unknown to him till reminiscences are revived, and communications invited, by the announcement or publication of the book. Some valuable contributions reached me too late to be properly placed or effectively worked up; some, too late to be included at all. The arrangement in this edition will therefore, I trust, be found less faulty than in the first, whilst the additions are large and valuable. They principally consist of fresh extracts from Mrs. Piozzi's private diary ("Thraliana"), amounting to more than fifty pages; of additional marginal notes on books, and of copious extracts from letters hitherto unpublished.
Amongst the effects of her friend Conway, the actor, after his untimely death by drowning in North America, were a copy of Mrs. Piozzi's "Travel Book" and a copy of Johnson's "Lives of the Poets," each enriched by marginal notes in her handwriting. Such of those in the "Travel Book" as were thought worth printing appeared in "The Atlantic Monthly" for June last, from which I have taken the liberty of copying the best. The "Lives of the Poets" is now the property of Mr. William Alexander Smith, of New York, who was so kind as to open a communication with me on the subject, and to have the whole of the marginal notes transcribed for my use at his expense.
Animated by the same liberal wish to promote a literary undertaking, Mr. J.E. Gray, son of the Rev. Dr. Robert Gray, late Bishop of Bristol, has placed at my disposal a series of letters from Mrs. Piozzi to his father, extending over nearly twenty-five years (from 1797 to the year of her death) and exceeding a hundred in number. These have been of the greatest service in enabling me to complete and verify the summary of that period of her life.
So much light is thrown by the new matter, especially by the extracts from "Thraliana," on the alleged rupture between Johnson and Mrs. Piozzi, that I have re-cast or re-written the part of the Introduction relating to it, thinking that no pains should be spared to get at the merits of a controversy which now involves, not only the moral and social qualities of the great lexicographer, but the degree of confidence to be placed in the most brilliant and popular of modern critics, biographers and historians. It is no impeachment of his integrity, no detraction from the durable elements of his fame, to offer proof that his splendid imagination ran away with him, or that reliance on his wonderful memory made him careless of verifying his original impressions before recording them in the most gorgeous and memorable language.
No one likes to have foolish or erroneous notions imputed to him, and I have pointed out some of the misapprehensions into which an able writer in the "Edinburgh Review" (No. 231) has been hurried by his eagerness to vindicate Lord Macaulay. Moreover, this struck me to be as good a form as any for re-examining the subject in all its bearings; and now that it has become common to reprint articles in a collected shape, the comments of a first-rate review can no longer be regarded as transitory.
I gladly seize the present opportunity to offer my best acknowledgments for kind and valuable aid in various shapes, to the Marquis of Lansdowne, His Excellency M. Sylvain Van de Weyer (the Belgian Minister), the Viscountess Combermere, Mr. and the Hon. Mrs. Monckton Milnes, the Hon. Mrs. Rowley, Miss Angharad Lloyd, and the Rev. W.H. Owen, Vicar of St. Asaph and Dymerchion.
8, St. James's Street: Oct. 18th, 1861.
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THE FIRST VOLUME
Origin and Materials of the Work Object of the Introduction Origin, Education, and Character of Thrale Introduction of Johnson to the Thrales Johnson's Habits at the Period His Household His Social Position Society at Streatham Blue Stocking Parties Johnson's Fondness for Female Society Nature of his Intimacy with Mrs. Thrale His Verses to her Her Age Her Personal Appearance and Handwriting Portraits of her Boswell at Streatham Her Behaviour to Johnson Her Acquirements Johnson's Estimate of her Popular Estimate of her Manners of her Time Madame D'Arblay at Streatham Her Account of Conversations there Johnson's Politeness Mrs. Thrale's Domestic Trials Electioneering with Johnson Thrale's Embarrassments, and Johnson's Advice Johnson on Housekeeping and Dress His Opinions on Marriage Johnson in the Country Johnson fond of riding in a Carriage, but a bad Traveller His Want of Taste for Music or Painting Tour in Wales Tour in France Baretti Campbell's Diary Mrs. Thrale's Account of her Quarrel with Baretti His Account Alleged Slight to Johnson Miss Streatfield Thrale's Infidelity Madame D'Arblay as an Inmate Dr. Burney Mrs. Thrale canvassing Southwark Attack by Rioters on the Brewhouse Thrale's Illness and Winter in Grosvenor Square Proposed Tour Thrale's Death His Will Johnson as Executor Her Management of the Brewery Italian Translation A strange Incident Mrs. Montagu—Mr. Crutchley Sale of the Brewery Mrs. Thrale's Introduction to Piozzi Scene with him at Dr. Burney's Her early Impressions of him Melancholy Reflections Johnson's Regard for Thrale Mrs. Thrale's and Johnson's Feelings towards each other Johnson at Streatham after Thrale's Death Piozzi—Verses to him Johnson's Health Self-Communings Town Gossip Verses on Pacchierotti Fears for Johnson Reports of her marrying again Reasons for quitting Streatham Resolution to quit approved by Johnson Complaints of Johnson's Indifference Piozzi—to marry or not to marry Was Johnson driven out of Streatham His Farewell to Streatham His last Year there Johnson and Mrs. Thrale at Brighton Conflicting Feelings Gives up Piozzi Meditated Journey to Italy Parting with Piozzi Unkindness of Daughters Position as regards Johnson Objections to him as an Inmate Parting with Piozzi Verses to him on his Departure Her undiminished Regard for Johnson proved by their Correspondence Character of Daughters Madame D'Arblay, Scene with Johnson Lord Brougham's Commentary Correspondence with Johnson Recall of Piozzi Trip to London Verses to Piozzi on his Return Journey with Daughters Feelings on Piozzi's Return, and Marriage Objections to her Second Marriage discussed Correspondence with Madame D'Arblay on the Marriage Objections of Daughters—Lady Keith Correspondence with Johnson as to the Marriage Baretti's Story of her alleged Deceit Her uniform Kindness to Johnson Johnson's Feelings and Conduct Miss Wynn's Commonplace Book Johnson's unfounded Objections to the Marriage and erroneous Impressions of Piozzi Miss Seward's Account of his Loves Misrepresentation and erroneous Theory of a Critic Last Days and Death of Johnson Lord Macaulay's Summary of Mrs. Piozzi's Treatment of Johnson Life in Italy Projected Work on Johnson The Florence Miscellany Correspondence with Cadell and Publication of the "Anecdotes" Her alleged Inaccuracy, with Instances H. Walpole Peter Pindar H. Walpole again Hannah More Marginal Notes on the "Anecdotes" Extracts from Dr. Lort's Letters Her Thoughts on her Return from Italy Her Reception Miss Seward's Impressions of her and Piozzi Publication of the "Letters" Opinions on them—Madame D'Arblay, Queen Charlotte, Hannah More, and Miss Seward Baretti's libellous Attacks Her Character of him on his Death "The Sentimental Mother" "Johnson's Ghost" The Travel Book Offer to Cadell Publication of the Book and Criticisms—Walpole and Miss Seward Mrs. Piozzi's Theory of Style Attacked by Walpole and Gifford The Preface Extracts Anecdote of Goldsmith Publication of her "Synonyms"—Gifford's Attack Extract Remarks on the Appearance of Boswell's Life of Johnson "Retrospection" Moore's Anecdotes of her and Piozzi Lord Lansdowne's Visit and Impressions Adoption and Education of Piozzi's Nephew, afterwards Sir John Salusbury Life in Wales Character and Habits of Piozzi Brynbella Illness and Death of Piozzi Miss Thrale's Marriage The Conway Episode Anecdotes Celebration of her Eightieth Birthday Her Death and Will Madame D'Arblay's Parallel between Mrs. Piozzi and Madame de Stael Character of Mrs. Piozzi, Moral and Intellectual
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AUTOBIOGRAPHY &c. OF MRS. PIOZZI
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LIFE AND WRITINGS OF MRS. PIOZZI.
Dr. Johnson was hailed the colossus of Literature by a generation who measured him against men of no common mould—against Hume, Robertson, Gibbon, Warburton, the Wartons, Fielding, Richardson, Smollett, Gray, Goldsmith, and Burke. Any one of these may have surpassed the great lexicographer in some branch of learning or domain of genius; but as a man of letters, in the highest sense of the term, he towered pre-eminent, and his superiority to each of them (except Burke) in general acquirements, intellectual power, and force of expression, was hardly contested by his contemporaries. To be associated with his name has become a title of distinction in itself; and some members of his circle enjoy, and have fairly earned, a peculiar advantage in this respect. In their capacity of satellites revolving round the sun of their idolatry, they attracted and reflected his light and heat. As humble companions of their Magnolia grandiflora, they did more than live with it; they gathered and preserved the choicest of its flowers. Thanks to them, his reputation is kept alive more by what has been saved of his conversation than by his books; and his colloquial exploits necessarily revive the memory of the friends (or victims) who elicited and recorded them.
[Footnote 1: "Je ne suis pas la rose, mais j'ai vecu pres d'elle."—Constant.]
If the two most conspicuous among these have hitherto gained notoriety rather than what is commonly understood by fame, a discriminating posterity is already beginning to make reparation for the wrong. Boswell's "Letters to Temple," edited by Mr. Francis, with "Boswelliana," printed for the Philobiblion Society by Mr. Milnes, led, in 1857, to a revisal of the harsh sentence passed on one whom the most formidable of his censors, Lord Macaulay, has declared to be not less decidedly the first of biographers, than Homer is the first of heroic poets, Shakspeare the first of dramatists, or Demosthenes the first of orators. The result was favourable to Boswell, although the vulnerable points of his character were still more glaringly displayed. The appeal about to be hazarded on behalf of Mrs. Piozzi, will involve little or no risk of this kind. Her ill-wishers made the most of the event which so injuriously affected her reputation at the time of its occurrence; and the marked tendency of every additional disclosure of the circumstances has been to elevate her. No candid person will read her Autobiography, or her Letters, without arriving at the conclusion that her long life was morally, if not conventionally, irreproachable; and that her talents were sufficient to confer on her writings a value and attraction of their own, apart from what they possess as illustrations of a period or a school. When the papers which form the basis of this work were laid before Lord Macaulay, he gave it as his opinion that they afforded materials for a "most interesting and durably popular volume."
[Footnote 1: His letter, dated August 22, 1859, was addressed to Mr. T. Longman. The editorship of the papers was not proposed to me till after his death, and I had never any personal communication with him on the subject; although in the Edinburgh Review for July 1857, I ventured, with the same freedom which I have used in vindicating Mrs. Piozzi, to dispute the paradoxical judgment he had passed on Boswell. The materials which reached me after I had undertaken the work, and of which he was not aware, would nearly fill a volume.]
1. Autobiographical Memoirs.
2. Letters, mostly addressed to the late Sir James Fellowes.
3. Fugitive pieces of her composition, most of which have never appeared in print.
4. Manuscript notes by her on Wraxall's Memoirs, and on her own published works, namely: "Anecdotes of the late Samuel Johnson, LL.D., during the last twenty years of his life," one volume, 1786: "Letters to and from the late Samuel Johnson, LL.D., &c.," in two volumes, 1788: "Observations and Reflections made in the course of a journey through France, Italy, and Germany," in two volumes, 1789: "Retrospection; or, Review of the most striking and important Events, Characters, Situations, and their Consequences which the last Eighteen Hundred Years have presented to the View of Mankind," in two volumes, quarto, 1801.
The "Autobiographical Memoirs," and the annotated books, were given by her to the late Sir James Fellowes, of Adbury House, Hants, M.D., F.R.S., to whom the letters were addressed. He and the late Sir John Piozzi Salusbury were her executors, and the present publication takes place in pursuance of an agreement with their personal representatives, the Rev. G.A. Salusbury, Rector of Westbury, Salop, and Captain J. Butler Fellowes.
Large and valuable additions to the original stock of materials have reached me since the announcement of the work.
The Rev. Dr. Wellesley, Principal of New Inn Hall, has kindly placed at my disposal his copy of Boswell's "Life of Johnson" (edition of 1816), plentifully sprinkled with marginal notes by Mrs. Piozzi.
The Rev. Samuel Lysons, of Hempsted Court, Gloucester, has liberally allowed me the free use of his valuable collection of books and manuscripts, including numerous letters from Mrs. Piozzi to his father and uncle, the Rev. Daniel Lysons and Mr. Samuel Lysons.
From 1776 to 1809 Mrs. Piozzi kept a copious diary and note-book, called "Thraliana." Johnson thus alludes to it in a letter of September 6th, 1777: "As you have little to do, I suppose you are pretty diligent at the 'Thraliana;' and a very curious collection posterity will find it. Do not remit the practice of writing down occurrences as they arise, of whatever kind, and be very punctual in annexing the dates. Chronology, you know, is the eye of history. Do not omit painful casualties or unpleasing passages; they make the variegation of existence; and there are many passages of which I will not promise, with AEneas, et haec olim meminisse juvabit." "Thraliana," which at one time she thought of burning, is now in the possession of Mr. Salusbury, who deems it of too private and delicate a character to be submitted to strangers, but has kindly supplied me with some curious passages and much valuable information extracted from it.
I shall have many minor obligations to acknowledge as I proceed.
Unless Mrs. Piozzi's character and social position are freshly remembered, her reminiscences and literary remains will lose much of their interest and utility. It has therefore been thought advisable to recapitulate, by way of introduction, what has been ascertained from other sources concerning her; especially during her intimacy with Johnson, which lasted nearly twenty years, and exercised a marked influence on his tone of mind.
"This year (1765)," says Boswell, "was distinguished by his (Johnson) being introduced into the family of Mr. Thrale, one of the most eminent brewers in England, and member of Parliament for the borough of Southwark.... Johnson used to give this account of the rise of Mr. Thrale's father: 'He worked at six shillings a week for twenty years in the great brewery, which afterwards was his own. The proprietor of it had an only daughter, who was married to a nobleman. It was not fit that a peer should continue the business. On the old man's death, therefore, the brewery was to be sold. To find a purchaser for so large a property was a difficult matter; and after some time, it was suggested that it would be advisable to treat with Thrale, a sensible, active, honest man, who had been employed in the house, and to transfer the whole to him for thirty thousand pounds, security being taken upon the property. This was accordingly settled. In eleven years Thrale paid the purchase money. He acquired a large fortune, and lived to be a member of Parliament for Southwark. But what was most remarkable was the liberality with which he used his riches. He gave his son and daughters the best education. The esteem which his good conduct procured him from the nobleman who had married his master's daughter made him be treated with much attention; and his son, both at school and at the University of Oxford, associated with young men of the first rank. His allowance from his father, after he left college, was splendid; not less than a thousand a year. This, in a man who had risen as old Thrale did, was a very extraordinary instance of generosity. He used to say, 'If this young dog does not find so much after I am gone as he expects, let him remember that he has had a great deal in my own time.'"
What is here stated regarding Thrale's origin, on the alleged authority of Johnson, is incorrect. The elder Thrale was the nephew of Halsey, the proprietor of the brewery whose daughter was married to a nobleman (Lord Cobham), and he naturally nourished hopes of being his uncle's successor. In the Abbey Church of St. Albans, there is a monument to some members of the Thrale family who died between 1676 and 1704, adorned with a shield of arms and a crest on a ducal coronet. Mrs. Thrale's marginal note on Boswell's account of her husband's family is curious and characteristic:
"Edmund Halsey was son to a miller at St. Albans, with whom he quarrelled, like Ralph in the 'Maid of the Mill,' and ran away to London with a very few shillings in his pocket. He was eminently handsome, and old Child of the Anchor Brewhouse, Southwark, took him in as what we call a broomstick clerk, to sweep the yard, &c. Edmund Halsey behaved so well he was soon preferred to be a house-clerk, and then, having free access to his master's table, married his only daughter, and succeeded to the business upon Child's demise. Being now rich and prosperous, he turned his eyes homewards, where he learned that sister Sukey had married a hardworking man at Offley in Hertfordshire, and had many children. He sent for one of them to London (my Mr. Thrale's father); said he would make a man of him, and did so: but made him work very hard, and treated him very roughly, Halsey being more proud than tender, and his only child, a daughter, married to Lord Cobham.
"Old Thrale, however, as these fine writers call him,—then a young fellow, and, like his uncle, eminent for personal beauty,—made himself so useful to Mr. Halsey that the weight of the business fell entirely on him; and while Edmund was canvassing the borough and visiting the viscountess, Ralph Thrale was getting money both for himself and his principal: who, envious of his success with a wench they both liked but who preferred the young man to the old one, died, leaving him never a guinea, and he bought the brewhouse of Lord and Lady Cobham, making an excellent bargain, with the money he had saved."
[Footnote 1: In "Thraliana" she says: "strolled to London with only 4s. 6d. in his pocket."]
When, in the next page but one, Boswell describes Thrale as presenting the character of a plain independent English squire, she writes: "No, no! Mr. Thrale's manners presented the character of a gay man of the town: like Millamant, in Congreve's comedy, he abhorred the country and everything in it."
In "Thraliana" after a corresponding statement, she adds: "He (the elder Thrale) educated his son and three daughters quite in a high style. His son he wisely connected with the Cobhams and their relations, Grenvilles, Lyttletons, and Pitts, to whom he lent money, and they lent assistance of every other kind, so that my Mr. Thrale was bred up at Stowe, and Stoke and Oxford, and every genteel place; had been abroad with Lord Westcote, whose expenses old Thrale cheerfully paid, I suppose, who was thus a kind of tutor to the young man, who had not failed to profit by these advantages, and who was, when he came down to Offley to see his father's birthplace, a very handsome and well accomplished gentleman."
After expatiating on the advantages of birth, and the presumption of new men in attempting to found a new system of gentility, Boswell proceeds: "Mr. Thrale had married Miss Hester Lynch Salusbury, of good Welsh extraction, a lady of lively talents, improved by education. That Johnson's introduction into Mr. Thrale's family, which contributed so much to the happiness of his life, was owing to her desire for his conversation, is a very probable and the general supposition; but it is not the truth. Mr. Murphy, who was intimate with Mr. Thrale, having spoken very highly of Dr. Johnson, he was requested to make them acquainted. This being mentioned to Johnson, he accepted of an invitation to dinner at Thrale's, and was so much pleased with his reception both by Mr. and Mrs. Thrale, and they so much pleased with him, that his invitations to their house were more and more frequent, till at last he became one of the family, and an apartment was appropriated to him, both in their house at Southwark and in their villa at Streatham."
Long before this was written, Boswell had quarrelled with Mrs. Thrale (as it is most convenient to call her till her second marriage), and he takes every opportunity of depreciating her. He might at least, however, have stated that, instead of sanctioning the "general supposition" as to the introduction, she herself supplied the account of it which he adopts. In her "Anecdotes" she says:
"The first time I ever saw this extraordinary man was in the year 1764, when Mr. Murphy, who had long been the friend and confidential intimate of Mr. Thrale, persuaded him to wish for Johnson's conversation, extolling it in terms which that of no other person could have deserved, till we were only in doubt how to obtain his company, and find an excuse for the invitation. The celebrity of Mr. Woodhouse, a shoemaker, whose verses were at that time the subject of common discourse, soon afforded a pretence, and Mr. Murphy brought Johnson to meet him, giving me general caution not to be surprised at his figure, dress, or behaviour.... Mr. Johnson liked his new acquaintance so much, however, that from that time he dined with us every Thursday through the winter, and in the autumn of the next year he followed us to Brighthelmstone, whence we were gone before his arrival; so he was disappointed and enraged, and wrote us a letter expressive of anger, which we were very desirous to pacify, and to obtain his company again if possible. Mr. Murphy brought him back to us again very kindly, and from that time his visits grew more frequent, till in the year 1766 his health, which he had always complained of, grew so exceedingly bad, that he could not stir out of his room in the court he inhabited for many weeks together, I think months."
[Footnote 1: "He (Johnson) spoke with much contempt of the notice taken of Woodhouse, the poetical shoemaker. He said that it was all vanity and childishness, and that such objects were to those who patronised them, mere mirrors of their own superiority. They had better, said he, furnish the man with good implements for his trade, than raise subscriptions for his poems. He may make an excellent shoemaker, but can never make a good poet. A schoolboy's exercise may be a pretty thing for a schoolboy, but it is no treat to a man."—Maxwell's Collectanea.]
The "Anecdotes" were written in Italy, where she had no means of reference. The account given in "Thraliana" has a greater air of freshness, and proves Boswell right as to the year.
"It was on the second Thursday of the month of January, 1765, that I first saw Mr. Johnson in a room. Murphy, whose intimacy with Mr. Thrale had been of many years' standing, was one day dining with us at our house in Southwark, and was zealous that we should be acquainted with Johnson, of whose moral and literary character he spoke in the most exalted terms; and so whetted our desire of seeing him soon that we were only disputing how he should be invited, when he should be invited, and what should be the pretence. At last it was resolved that one Woodhouse, a shoemaker, who had written some verses, and been asked to some tables, should likewise be asked to ours, and made a temptation to Mr. Johnson to meet him: accordingly he came, and Mr. Murphy at four o'clock brought Mr. Johnson to dinner. We liked each other so well that the next Thursday was appointed for the same company to meet, exclusive of the shoemaker, and since then Johnson has remained till this day our constant acquaintance, visitor, companion, and friend."
In the "Anecdotes" she goes on to say that when she and her husband called on Johnson one morning in Johnson's Court, Fleet Street, he gave way to such an uncontrolled burst of despair regarding the world to come, that Mr. Thrale tried to stop his mouth by placing one hand before it, and desired her to prevail on him to quit his close habitation for a period and come with them to Streatham. He complied, and took up his abode with them from before Midsummer till after Michaelmas in that year. During the next sixteen years a room in each of their houses was set apart for him.
The principal difficulty at first was to induce him to live peaceably with her mother, who took a strong dislike to him, and constantly led the conversation to topics which he detested, such as foreign news and politics. He revenged himself by writing to the newspapers accounts of events which never happened, for the sole purpose of mystifying her; and probably not a few of his mischievous fictions have passed current for history. They made up their differences before her death, and a Latin epitaph of the most eulogistic order from his pen is inscribed upon her tomb.
It had been well for Mrs. Thrale and her guests if there had existed no more serious objection to Johnson as an inmate. At the commencement of the acquaintance, he was fifty-six; an age when habits are ordinarily fixed: and many of his were of a kind which it required no common temper and tact to tolerate or control. They had been formed at a period when he was frequently subjected to the worst extremities of humiliating poverty and want. He describes Savage, without money to pay for a night's lodging in a cellar, walking about the streets till he was weary, and sleeping in summer upon a bulk or in winter amongst the ashes of a glass-house. He was Savage's associate on several occasions of the sort. He told Sir Joshua Reynolds that, one night in particular, when Savage and he walked round St. James's Square for want of a lodging, they were not at all depressed; but in high spirits, and brimful of patriotism, traversed the square for several hours, inveighed against the minister, and "resolved they would stand by their country." Whilst at college he threw away the shoes left at his door to replace the worn-out pair in which he appeared daily. His clothes were in so tattered a state whilst he was writing for the "Gentleman's Magazine" that, instead of taking his seat at Cave's table, he sate behind a screen and had his victuals sent to him.
Talking of the symptoms of Christopher Smart's madness, he said, "Another charge was that he did not love clean linen; and I have no passion for it."
His deficiency in this respect seems to have made a lasting impression on his hostess. Referring to a couplet in "The Vanity of Human Wishes":—
"Through all his veins the fever of renown Spreads from the strong contagion of the gown,"
"he had desired me (says Boswell) to change spreads into burns. I thought this alteration not only cured the fault, but was more poetical, as it might carry an allusion to the shirt by which Hercules was inflamed." She has written in the margin: "Every fever burns I believe; but Bozzy could think only on Nessus' dirty shirt, or Dr. Johnson's." In another marginal note she disclaims that attention to the Doctor's costume for which Boswell gives her credit, when, after relating how he had been called into a shop by Johnson to assist in the choice of a pair of silver buckles, he adds: "Probably this alteration in dress had been suggested by Mrs. Thrale, by associating with whom his external appearance was much improved." She writes: "it was suggested by Mr. Thrale, not by his wife."
In general his wigs were very shabby, and their foreparts were burned away by the near approach of the candle, which his short-sightedness rendered necessary in reading. At Streatham, Mr. Thrale's valet had always a better wig ready, with which he met Johnson at the parlour door when dinner was announced, and as he went up stairs to bed, the same man followed him with another.
One of his applications to Cave for a trifling advance of money is signed Impransus (Dinnerless); and he told Boswell that he could fast two days without inconvenience, and had never been hungry but once. What he meant by hungry is not easy to explain, for his every day manner of eating was that of a half-famished man. When at table, he was totally absorbed in the business of the moment; his looks were riveted to his plate, till he had satisfied his appetite; which was indulged with such in-* tenseness, that the veins of his forehead swelled, and generally a strong perspiration was visible. Until he left off drinking fermented liquors altogether, he acted on the maxim "claret for boys, port for men, brandy for heroes." He preferred the strongest because he said it did its work (i.e. intoxicate) the soonest. He used to pour capillaire into his port wine, and melted butter into his chocolate. His favourite dishes are accurately enumerated by Peter Pindar:
MADAME PIOZZI (loquitur).
"Dear Doctor Johnson loved a leg of pork, And hearty on it would his grinders work: He lik'd to eat it so much over done, That one might shake the flesh from off the bone. A veal pye too, with sugar crammed and plums, Was wondrous grateful to the Doctor's gums. Though us'd from morn to night on fruit to stuff, He vow'd his belly never had enough."
Mr. Thackeray relates in his "Irish Sketches" that on his asking for currant jelly for his venison at a public dinner, the waiter replied, "It's all gone, your honour, but there's some capital lobster sauce left." This would have suited Johnson equally well, or better: he was so fond of lobster sauce that he would call for the sauce-boat and pour the whole of its remaining contents over his plum pudding. A clergyman who once travelled with him relates, "The coach halted as usual for dinner, which seemed to be a deeply interesting business to Johnson, who vehemently attacked a dish of stewed carp, using his fingers only in feeding himself." At the dinner when he passed his celebrated sentence on the leg of mutton—"That it was as bad as bad could be: ill-fed, ill-killed, ill-kept, and ill-dressed"—the ladies, his fellow-passengers, observed his loss or equanimity with wonder.
Two of Mrs. Thrale's marginal notes on Boswell refer to her illustrious friend's mode of eating. On his reported remark, that "a dog will take a small bit of meat as readily as a large, when both are before him," she adds, "which Johnson would never have done." When Boswell, describing the dinner with Wilkes at Davies', says, "No man eat more heartily than Johnson, or loved better what was nice and delicate," she strikes in with—"What was gustful rather: what was strong that he could taste it, what was tender that he could chew it."
When Boswell describes him as occupied for a considerable time in reading the "Memoirs of Fontenelle," leaning and swinging upon the low gate into the court (at Streatham) without his hat, her note is: "I wonder how he liked the story of the asparagus,"—an obvious hint at his selfish habits of indulgence at table.
With all this he affected great nicety of palate, and did not like being asked to a plain dinner. "It was a good dinner enough," he would remark, "but it was not a dinner to ask a man to." He was so displeased with the performances of a nobleman's French cook, that he exclaimed with vehemence, "I'd throw such a rascal into the river;" and in reference to one of his Edinburgh hosts he said, "As for Maclaurin's imitation of a made dish, it was a wretched attempt."
His voice was loud, and his gesticulations, voluntary or involuntary, singularly uncouth. He had superstitious fancies about crossing thresholds or squares in the carpet with the right or left leg foremost, and when he did not appear at dinner might be found vainly endeavouring to pass a particular spot in the anteroom. He loved late hours, or more properly (say Mrs. Thrale) hated early ones. Nothing was more terrifying to him than the idea of going to bed, which he never would call going to rest, or suffer another to call it so. "I lie down that my acquaintance may sleep; but I lie down to endure oppressive misery, and soon rise again to pass the night in anxiety and pain." When people could be induced to sit up with him, they were often amply compensated by his rich flow of mind; but the resulting sacrifice of health and comfort in an establishment where this sitting up became habitual, was inevitably great. Instead of being grateful, he always maintained that no one forbore his own gratification for the purpose of pleasing another, and "if one did sit up, it was probably to amuse oneself." Boswell excuses his wife for not coinciding in his enthusiasm, by admitting that his illustrious friend's irregular hours and uncouth habits, such as turning the candles with their ends downwards when they did not burn bright enough, and letting the wax drop upon the carpet, could not but be displeasing to a lady. He was generally last at breakfast, but one morning happened to be first and waited some time alone; when afterwards twitted by Mrs. Thrale with irregularity, he replied, "Madam, I do not like to come down to vacuity."
[Footnote 1: Dr. Burney states that in 1765 "he very frequently met Johnson at Streatham, where they had many long conversations, after sitting up as long as the fire and candles lasted, and much longer than the patience of the servants subsisted."]
He was subject to dreadful fits of depression, caused or accompanied by compunction for venial or fancied sins, by the fear of death or madness—(the only things he did fear), and by ingrained ineradicable disease. When Boswell speaks of his "striving against evil," "Ay," she writes in the margin, "and against the King's evil."
If his early familiarity with all the miseries of destitution, aggravated by disease, had increased his natural roughness and irritability, on the other hand it had helped largely to bring out his sterling virtues,—his discriminating charity, his genuine benevolence, his well-timed generosity, his large-hearted sympathy with real suffering. But he required it to be material and positive, and scoffed at mere mental or sentimental woes. "The sight of people who want food and raiment is so common in great cities, that a surly fellow like me has no compassion to spare for wounds given only to vanity or softness." He said it was enough to make a plain man sick to hear pity lavished on a family reduced by losses to exchange a fine house for a snug cottage; and when condolence was demanded for a lady of rank in mourning for a baby, he contrasted her with a washerwoman with half-a-dozen children dependent on her daily labour for their daily bread.
[Footnote 1: "It's weel wi' you gentles that can sit in the house wi' handkerchers at your een when ye lose a friend; but the like o' us maun to our wark again, if our hearts were beating as hard as any hammer."—The Antiquary. For this very reason the "gentles" commonly suffer most.]
Lord Macaulay thus portrays the objects of Johnson's hospitality as soon as he had got a house to cover them. "It was the home of the most extraordinary assemblage of inmates that ever was brought together. At the head of the establishment he had placed an old lady named Williams, whose chief recommendations were her blindness and her poverty. But in spite of her murmurs and reproaches, he gave an asylum to another lady who was as poor as herself, Mrs. Desmoulins, whose family he had known many years before in Staffordshire. Room was found for the daughter of Mrs. Desmoulins, and for another destitute damsel, who was generally addressed as Mrs. Carmichael, but whom her generous host called Polly. An old quack doctor called Levet, who bled and dosed coalheavers and hackney coachmen, and received for fees crusts of bread, bits of bacon, glasses of gin, and sometimes a little copper, completed this menagerie."
[Footnote 1: Miscellaneous Writings, vol. i. p. 293.]
Mrs. Williams was the daughter of a physician, and of a good Welsh family, who did not leave her dependent on Johnson. She is termed by Madame D'Arblay a very pretty poet, and was treated with uniform respect by him. All the authorities for the account of Levet were collected by Hawkins: from these it appears that his patients were "chiefly of the lowest class of tradesmen," and that, although he took all that was offered him by way of fee, including meat and drink, he demanded nothing from the poor, nor was known in any instance to have enforced the payment of even what was justly his due. Hawkins adds that he (Levet) had acted for many years in the capacity of surgeon and apothecary to Johnson under the direction of Dr. Lawrence.
[Footnote 1: Miss Cornelia Knight, in her "Autobiography," warmly vindicates her respectability, and refers to a memoir, by Lady Knight, in the "European Magazine" for Oct. 1799.]
[Footnote 2: Life of Johnson, p. 396-400.]
"When fainting Nature called for aid, And hovering death prepared the blow, His vigorous remedy display'd The power of Art without the show;
No summons mocked by chill delay, No petty gains disdained by pride, The modest wants of every day The toil of every day supplied."
Johnson's verses, compared with Lord Macaulay's prose, strikingly shew how the same subject can be degraded or elevated by the mode of treatment; and how easily the historian or biographer, who expands his authorities by picturesque details, may brighten or darken characters at will.
To complete the picture of Johnson's interior, it should be added that the inmates of his house were quarrelling from, morning to night with one another, with his negro servant, or with himself. In one of his letters to Mrs. Thrale, he says, "Williams hates everybody: Levet hates Desmoulins, and does not love Williams: Desmoulins hates them both: Poll (Miss Carmichael) loves none of them." In a conversation at Streatham, reported by Madame D'Arblay, the menagerie was thus humorously described:—
"Mrs. Thrale.—Mr. Levet, I suppose, Sir, has the office of keeping the hospital in health? for he is an apothecary.
"Dr. J.—Levet, Madam, is a brutal fellow, but I have a good regard for him; for his brutality is in his manners, not his mind.
"Mr. Thrale.—But how do you get your dinners drest?
"Dr. J.—Why De Mullin has the chief management of the kitchen; but our roasting is not magnificent, for we have no jack.
"Mr. T.—No jack? Why how do they manage without?
"Dr. J.—Small joints, I believe, they manage with a string, and larger are done at the tavern. I have some thoughts (with a profound gravity) of buying a jack, because I think a jack is some credit to a house.
"Mr. T.—Well, but you will have a spit, too?
"Dr. J.—No, Sir, no; that would be superfluous; for we shall never use it; and if a jack is seen, a spit will be presumed!
"Mrs. T.—But pray, Sir, who is the Poll you talk of? She that you used to abet in her quarrels with Mrs. Williams, and call out,' At her again, Poll! Never flinch, Poll!'
"Dr. J.—Why I took to Poll very well at first, but she won't do upon a nearer examination.
"Mrs. T.—How came she among you, Sir?
"Dr. J.—Why I don't rightly remember, but we could spare her very well from us. Poll is a stupid slut; I had some hopes of her at first; but when I talked to her tightly and closely, I could make nothing of her; she was wiggle waggle, and I could never persuade her to be categorical."
The effect of an unbroken residence with such inmates, on a man of irritable temper subject to morbid melancholy, may be guessed; and the merit of the Thrales in rescuing him from it, and in soothing down his asperities, can hardly be over-estimated. Lord Macaulay says, they were flattered by finding that a man so widely celebrated preferred their house to every other in London; and suggests that even the peculiarities which seem to unfit him for civilised society, including his gesticulations, his rollings, his puffings, his mutterings, and the ravenous eagerness with which he devoured his food, increased the interest which his new associates took in him. His hostess does not appear to have viewed them in that light, and she was able to command the best company of the intellectual order without the aid of a "lion," or a bear. If his conversation attracted many, it drove away many, and silenced more. He accounted for the little attention paid him by the great, by saying that "great lords and great ladies do not like to have their mouths stopped," as if this was peculiar to them as a class. "My leddie," remarks Cuddie in "Old Mortality," "canna weel bide to be contradicted, as I ken neabody likes, if they could help themselves."
Johnson was in the zenith of his fame when literature, politics, and fashion began to blend together again by hardly perceptible shades, like the colours in shot-silk, as they had partially done in the Augustan age of Queen Anne. One marked sign was the formation of the Literary Club (The Club, as it still claims to be called), which brought together Fox, Burke, Gibbon, Johnson, Goldsmith, Garrick, Reynolds, and Beauclerc, besides blackballing a bishop (the Bishop of Chester), and a lord-chancellor (Camden). Yet it is curious to observe within how narrow a circle of good houses the Doctor's engagements were restricted. Reynolds, Paoli, Beauclerc, Allan Ramsay, Hoole, Dilly, Strahan, Lord Lucan, Langton, Garrick, and the Club formed his main reliance as regards dinners; and we find Boswell recording with manifest symptoms of exultation in 1781: "I dined with him at a bishop's where were Sir Joshua Reynolds, Mr. Berenger, and some more company. He had dined the day before at another bishop's." His reverence for the episcopal bench well merited some return on their part. Mr. Seward saw him presented to the Archbishop of York, and described his bow to an Archbishop as such a studied elaboration of homage, such an extension of limb, such a flexion of body, as have seldom or ever been equalled. The lay nobility were not equally grateful, although his deference for the peerage was extreme. Except in Scotland or on his travels, he is seldom found dining with a nobleman.
[Footnote 1: Canning was blackballed the first time he was proposed. He was elected in 1798, Mr. Windham being his proposer, and Dr. Burney his seconder.]
It is therefore hardly an exaggeration to say that he owed more social enjoyment to the Thrales than to all the rest of his acquaintance put together. Holland House alone, and in its best days, would convey to persons living in our time an adequate conception of the Streatham circle, when it comprised Burke, Reynolds, Garrick, Goldsmith, Boswell, Murphy, Dr. Burney and his daughter, Mrs. Montagu, Mrs. Boscawen, Mrs. Crewe, Lord Loughborough, Dunning (afterwards Lord Ashburton), Lord Mulgrave, Lord Westcote, Sir Lucas and Mr. (afterwards Sir William) Pepys, Major Holroyd afterwards Lord Sheffield, the Bishop of London and Mrs. Porteous, the Bishop of Peterborough and Mrs. Hinchcliffe, Miss Gregory, Miss Streatfield, &c. As at Holland House, the chief scene of warm colloquial contest or quiet interchange of mind was the library, a large and handsome room, which the pencil of Reynolds gradually enriched with portraits of all the principal persons who had conversed or studied in it. To supply any deficiencies on the shelves, a hundred pounds, Madame D'Arblay states, was placed at Johnson's disposal to expend in books; and we may take it for granted that any new publication suggested by him was ordered at once. But a bookish couple, surrounded by a literary set, were surely not exclusively dependent on him for this description of help, nor laid under any extraordinary obligation by reason of it. Whilst the "Lives of the Poets" was in progress, Dr. Johnson "would frequently produce one of the proof sheets to embellish the breakfast table, which was always in the library, and was certainly the most sprightly and agreeable meeting of the day." ... "These proof sheets Mrs. Thrale was permitted to read aloud, and the discussions to which they led were in the highest degree entertaining."
[Footnote 1: "Memoirs of Dr. Burney," &c., by his daughter, Madame D'Arblay. In three volumes, 1832. Vol. ii. p. 173-178.]
It was mainly owing to his domestication with the Thrales that he began to frequent drawing-rooms at an age when the arm-chair at home or at the club has an irresistible charm for most men of sedentary pursuits. It must be admitted that the evening parties in which he was seen, afforded a chance of something better than the "unidead chatter of girls," with an undue fondness for which he reproached Langton; for the Blue Stocking clubs had just come into fashion,—so called from a casual allusion to the blue stockings of an habitue, Mr. Stillingfleet. Their founders were Mrs. Vesey and Mrs. Montagu; but according to Madame D'Arblay, "more bland and more gleeful than that of either of them, was the personal celebrity of Mrs. Thrale. Mrs. Vesey, indeed, gentle and diffident, dreamed not of any competition, but Mrs. Montagu and Mrs. Thrale had long been set up as rival candidates for colloquial eminence, and each of them thought the other alone worthy to be her peer. Openly therefore when they met, they combated for precedence of admiration, with placid though high-strained intellectual exertion on the one side, and an exuberant pleasantry or classical allusion or quotation on the other; without the smallest malice in either."
[Footnote 1: The first of these was then (about 1768) in the meridian of its lustre, but had been instituted many years previously at Bath, It owed its name to an apology made by Mr. Stillingfleet in declining to accept an invitation to a literary meeting at Mrs. Vesey's, from not being, he said, in the habit of displaying a proper equipment for an evening assembly. "Pho, pho," said she, "don't mind dress. Come in your blue stockings." With which words, humorously repeating them as he entered the apartment of the chosen coterie, Mr. Stillingfleet claimed permission for entering according to order. And these words, ever after, were fixed, in playful stigma, upon Mrs. Vesey's associations. (Madame D'Arblay.) Boswell also traces the term to Stillingfleet's blue stockings; and Hannah More's "Bas-Bleu" gave it a permanent place in literature.]
A different account of the origin of Bluestocking parties was given by Lady Crewe to a lady who has allowed me to copy her note of the conversation, made at the time (1816):
"Lady Crewe told me that her mother (Mrs. Greville), the Duchess of Portland, and Mrs. Montagu were the first who began the conversation parties in imitation of the noted ones, temp. Madame de Sevigne', at Rue St. Honore. Madame de Polignac, one of the first guests, came in blue silk stockings, then the newest fashion in Paris. Mrs. Greville and all the lady members of Mrs. Montagu's club, adopted the mode. A foreign gentleman, after spending an evening at Mrs. Montagu's soiree, wrote to tell a friend of the charming intellectual party, who had one rule; 'they wear blue stockings as a distinction.'"
Wraxall, who makes the same comparison, remarks: "Mrs. Thrale always appeared to me to possess at least as much information, a mind as cultivated, and more brilliancy of intellect than Mrs. Montagu, but she did not descend among men from such an eminence, and she talked much more, as well as more unguardedly, on every subject. She was the provider and conductress of Johnson, who lived almost constantly under her roof, or more properly under that of Mr. Thrale, both in Town and at Streatham. He did not, however, spare her more than other women in his attacks if she courted and provoked his animadversions."
Although he seldom appeared to greater advantage than when under the combined spell of feminine influence and rank, his demeanour varied with his mood. On Miss Monkton's (afterwards Countess of Cork) insisting, one evening, that Sterne's writings were very pathetic, Johnson bluntly denied it. "I am sure," she rejoined, "they have affected me." "Why," said Johnson, smiling and rolling himself about, "that is because, dearest, you're a dunce." When she some time afterwards mentioned this to him, he said, with equal truth and politeness, "Madam, if I had thought so, I certainly should not have said it."
He did not come off so well on another occasion, when the presence of women he respected might be expected to operate as a cheek. Talking, at Mrs. Garrick's, of a very respectable author, he told us, says Boswell, "a curious circumstance in his life, which was that he had married a printer's devil. Reynolds. 'A printer's devil, Sir! why, I thought a printer's devil was a creature with a black face and in rags.' Johnson. 'Yes, Sir. But I suppose he had her face washed, and put clean clothes on her.' Then, looking very serious, and very earnest. 'And she did not disgrace him;—the woman had a bottom of good sense.' The word bottom thus introduced was so ludicrous when contrasted with his gravity, that most of us could not forbear tittering and laughing; though I recollect that the Bishop of Killaloe kept his countenance with perfect steadiness, while Miss Hannah More slily hid her face behind a lady's back who sat on the same settee with her. His pride could not bear that any expression of his should excite ridicule, when he did not intend it: he therefore resolved to assume and exercise despotic power, glanced sternly around, and called out in a strong tone, 'Where's the merriment?' Then collecting himself, and looking awful, to make us feel how he could impose restraint, and as it were searching his mind for a still more ludicrous word, he slowly pronounced, 'I say the woman was fundamentally sensible;' as if he had said, Hear this now, and laugh if you dare. We all sat composed as at a funeral."
This resembles the influence exercised by the "great commoner" over the House of Commons. An instance being mentioned of his throwing an adversary into irretrievable confusion by an arrogant expression of contempt, the late Mr. Charles Butler asked the relator, an eye-witness, whether the House did not laugh at the ridiculous figure of the poor member. "No, Sir," was the reply, "we were too much awed to laugh."
It was a marked feature in Johnson's character that he was fond of female society; so fond, indeed, that on coming to London he was obliged to be on his guard against the temptations to which it exposed him. He left off attending the Green Room, telling Grarrick, "I'll come no more behind your scenes, Davy; for the silk stockings and white bosoms of your actresses excite my amorous propensities."
The proneness of his imagination to wander in this forbidden field is unwittingly betrayed by his remarking at Sky, in support of the doctrine that animal substances are less cleanly than vegetable: "I have often thought that, if I kept a seraglio, the ladies should all wear linen gowns, or cotton, I mean stuffs made of vegetable substances. I would have no silks: you cannot tell when it is clean: it will be very nasty before it is perceived to be so; linen detects its own dirtiness." His virtue thawed instead of becoming more rigid in the North. "This evening," records Boswell of their visit to an Hebridean chief, "one of our married ladies, a lively pretty little woman, good-humouredly sat down upon Dr. Johnson's knee, and being encouraged by some of the company, put her hands round his neck and kissed him. 'Do it again,' said he, 'and let us see who will tire first.' He kept her on his knee some time whilst he and she drank tea."
The Rev. Dr. Maxwell relates in his "Collectanea," that "Two young women from Staffordshire visited him when I was present, to consult him on the subject of Methodism, to which they were inclined. 'Come,' said he, 'you pretty fools, dine with Maxwell and me at the Mitre, and we will talk over that subject:' which they did, and after dinner he took one of them upon his knee, and fondled her for half an hour together." 
[Footnote 1: "Amongst his singularities, his love of conversing with the prostitutes he met in the streets, was not the least. He has been known to carry some of these unfortunate creatures into a tavern, for the sake of striving to awaken in them a proper sense of their condition. I remember, he said, once asking one of them for what purpose she supposed her Maker had bestowed on her so much beauty. Her answer was, 'To please the gentlemen, to be sure; for what other purpose could it be given me?" (Johnsoniana.) He once carried one, fainting from exhaustion, home on his back.]
Women almost always like men who like women; or as the phenomenon is explained by Pope—
"Lust, through some certain strainers well refined, Is gentle love, and charms all womankind."
Johnson, despite of his unwieldy figure, scarred features and uncouth gestures, was a favourite with the fair, and talked of affairs of the heart as things of which he was entitled to speak from personal experience as confidently as of any other moral or social topics. He told Mrs. Thrale, without the smallest consciousness of presumption or what Mr. Square would term the unfitness of things, of his and Lord Lyttleton's having contended for Miss Boothby's preference with an emulation that occasioned hearty disgust and ended in lasting animosity. "You may see," he added, when the Lives of the Poets were printed, "that dear Boothby is at my heart still. She would delight in that fellow Lyttleton's company though, all that I could do, and I cannot forgive even his memory the preference given by a mind like hers." 
[Footnote 1: In point of personal advantages the man of rank and fashion and the scholar were nearly on a par.
"But who is this astride the pony, So long, so lean, so lank, so bony? Dat be de great orator, Littletony."]
Mr. Croker surmises that "Molly Aston," not "dear Boothby," must have been the object of this rivalry; and the surmise is strengthened by Johnson's calling Molly the loveliest creature he ever saw; adding (to Mrs. Thrale), "My wife was a little jealous, and happening one day when walking in the country to meet a fortune-hunting gipsy, Mrs. Johnson made the wench look at my hand, but soon repented of her curiosity,'for,' says the gipsy, 'your heart is divided between a Betty and a Molly: Betty loves you best, but you take most delight in Molly's company.' When I turned about to laugh, I saw my wife was crying. Pretty charmer, she had no reason." This pretty charmer was in her forty-eighth year when he married her, he being then twenty-seven. He told Beauclerc that it was a love match on both sides; and Garrick used to draw ludicrous pictures of their mutual fondness, which he heightened by representing her as short, fat, tawdrily dressed, and highly rouged.
[Footnote 1: See "Croker's Boswell," p. 672, and Malone's note in the prior edition.]
On the question whether "Molly Aston" or "dear Boothby" was the cause of his dislike of Lyttleton, one of Mrs. Piozzi's marginal notes is decisive. "Mrs. Thrale (says Boswell) suggests that he was offended by Molly Aston's preference of his lordship to him." She retorts: "I never said so. I believe Lord Lyttleton and Molly Aston were not acquainted. No, no: it was Miss Boothby whose preference he professed to have been jealous of, and so I said in the 'Anecdotes.'"
One of Rochefoucauld's maxims is: "Young women who do not wish to appear coquette, and men of advanced years who do not wish to appear ridiculous, should never speak of love as of a thing in which they might take part." Mrs. Thrale relates an amusing instance of Johnson's adroitness in escaping from the dilemma: "As we had been saying one day that no subject failed of receiving dignity from the manner in which Mr. Johnson treated it, a lady at my house said, she would make him talk about love; and took her measures accordingly, deriding the novels of the day because they treated about love. 'It is not,' replied our philosopher, 'because they treat, as you call it, about love, but because they treat of nothing, that they are despicable: we must not ridicule a passion which he who never felt, never was happy, and he who laughs at, never deserves to feel—a passion which has caused the change of empires, and the loss of worlds—a passion which has inspired heroism and subdued avarice.' He thought he had already said too much. 'A passion, in short,' added he, with an altered tone, 'that consumes me away for my pretty Fanny here, and she 'is very cruel,' speaking of another lady (Miss Burney) in the room."
As the high-flown language which he occasionally employed in addressing or discussing women, has originated a theory that the basis or essence of his character was romance, it may be as well to contrast what he said in soberer moods on love. He remarked to Dr. Maxwell, that "its violence and ill-effects were much exaggerated; for who knows any real sufferings on that head, more than from the exorbitancy of any other passion?" On Boswell asking him whether he did not suppose that there are fifty women in the world with any of whom a man may be as happy as with any one woman in particular, he replied, "Ay, Sir, fifty thousand. I believe marriages would in general be as happy, and often more so, if they were all made by the lord-chancellor upon a due consideration of the characters and circumstances without the parties having any choice in the matter." On another occasion he observed that sensible men rarely married for love.
These peculiarities throw light on more questions than one relating to Johnson's prolonged intimacy and alleged quarrel with Mrs. Thrale. His gallantry, and the flattering air of deferential tenderness which he threw into his commerce with his female favourites, may have had little less to do with his domestication at Streatham than his celebrity, his learning, or his wit. The most submissive wife will manage to dislodge an inmate who is displeasing to her, "Aye, a marriage, man," said Bucklaw to his led captain, "but wherefore droops thy mighty spirit? The board will have a corner, and the corner will have a trencher, and the trencher will have a glass beside it; and the board end shall be filled, and the trencher and the glass shall be replenished for thee, if all the petticoats in Lothian had sworn the contrary." "So says many an honest fellow," said Craigenfelt, "and some of my special friends; but curse me if I know the reason, the women could never bear me, and always contrived to trundle me out before the honey-moon was over."
[Footnote 1: Bride of Lammermoor.]
It was all very well for Johnson to tell Boswell, "I know no man who is more master of his wife and family than Thrale. If he holds up a finger, he is obeyed." The sage never acted on the theory, and instead of treating the wife as a cipher, lost no opportunity of paying court to her, though in a manner quite compatible with his own lofty spirit of independence and self-respect. Thus, attention having been called to some Italian verses by Baretti, he converted them into an elegant compliment to her by an improvised paraphrase:
"Viva! viva la padrona! Tutta bella, e tutta buona, La padrona e un angiolella Tutta buona e tutta bella; Tutta bella e tutta buona; Viva! viva la padrona!"
"Long may live my lovely Hetty! Always young and always pretty; Always pretty, always young, Live my lovely Hetty long! Always young and always pretty; Long may live my lovely Hetty!"
Her marginal note in the copy of the "Anecdotes" presented by her to Sir James Fellowes in 1816 is:—"I heard these verses sung at Mr. Thomas's by three voices not three weeks ago."
It was in the eighth year of their acquaintance that Johnson solaced his fatigue in the Hebrides by writing a Latin ode to her. "About fourteen years since," wrote Sir Walter Scott, in 1829, "I landed in Sky with a party of friends, and had the curiosity to ask what was the first idea on every one's mind at landing. All answered separately that it was this ode." Thinking Miss Cornelia Knight's version too diffuse, I asked Mr. Milnes for a translation or paraphrase, and he kindly complied by producing these spirited stanzas:
"Where constant mist enshrouds the rocks, Shattered in earth's primeval shocks, And niggard Nature ever mocks The labourer's toil,
I roam through clans of savage men, Untamed by arts, untaught by pen; Or cower within some squalid den O'er reeking soil.
Through paths that halt from stone to stone, Amid the din of tongues unknown, One image haunts my soul alone, Thine, gentle Thrale!
Soothes she, I ask, her spouse's care? Does mother-love its charge prepare? Stores she her mind with knowledge rare, Or lively tale?
Forget me not! thy faith I claim, Holding a faith that cannot die, That fills with thy benignant name These shores of Sky."
"On another occasion," says Mrs. Thrale, in the "Anecdotes," "I can boast verses from Dr. Johnson. As I went into his room the morning of my birthday once and said to him, 'Nobody sends me any verses now, because I am five-and-thirty years old; and Stella was fed with them till forty-six, I remember.' My being just recovered from illness and confinement will account for the manner in which he burst out suddenly, for so he did without the least previous hesitation whatsoever, and without having entertained the smallest intention towards it half a minute before:
"Oft in danger, yet alive, We are come to thirty-five; Long may better years arrive, Better years than thirty-five. Could philosophers contrive Life to stop at thirty-five, Time his hours should never drive O'er the bounds of thirty-five. High to soar, and deep to dive, Nature gives at thirty-five. Ladies, stock and tend your hive, Trifle not at thirty-five; For howe'er we boast and strive, Life declines from thirty-five; He that ever hopes to thrive Must begin by thirty-five; And all who wisely wish to wive Must look on Thrale at thirty-five."
"'And now,' said he, as I was writing them down, 'you may see what it is to come for poetry to a dictionary-maker; you may observe that the rhymes run in alphabetical order exactly.' And so they do."
Byron's estimate of life at the same age, is somewhat different:
"Too old for youth—too young, at thirty-five To herd with boys, or hoard with good threescore, I wonder people should he left alive. But since they are, that epoch is a bore."
Lady Aldborough, whose best witticisms unluckily lie under the same merited ban as Rochester's best verses, resolved not to pass twenty-five, and had her passport made out accordingly till her death at eighty-five. She used to boast that, whenever a foreign official objected, she never failed to silence him by the remark, that he was the first gentleman of his country who ever told a lady she was older than she said she was. Actuated probably by a similar feeling, and in the hope of securing to herself the benefit of the doubt, Mrs. Thrale omitted in the "Anecdotes" the year when these verses were addressed to her, and a sharp controversy has been raised as to the respective ages of herself and Dr. Johnson at the time. It is thus summed up by one of the combatants:
"In one place Mr. Croker says that at the commencement of the intimacy between Dr. Johnson and Mrs. Thrale, in 1765, the lady was twenty-five years old. In other places he says that Mrs. Thrale's thirty-fifth year coincided with Johnson's seventieth. Johnson was born in 1709. If, therefore, Mrs. Thrale's thirty-fifth year coincided with Johnson's seventieth, she could have been only twenty-one years old in 1765. This is not all. Mr. Croker, in another place, assigns the year 1777 as the date of the complimentary lines which Johnson made on Mrs. Thrale's thirty-fifth birthday. If this date be correct Mrs. Thrale must have been born in 1742, and could have been only twenty-three when her acquaintance commenced. Mr. Croker, therefore, gives us three different statements as to her age. Two of the three must be incorrect. We will not decide between them."
[Footnote 1: Macaulay's Essays.]
Mr. Salusbury, referring to a china bowl in his possession, says: "The slip of paper now in it is in my father's handwriting, and copied, I have heard him say, from the original slip, which was worn out by age and fingering. The exact words are, 'In this bason was baptised Hester Lynch Salusbury, 16th Jan. 1740-41 old style, at Bodville in Carnarvonshire.'"
The incident of the verses is thus narrated in "Thraliana": "And this year, 1777, when I told him that it was my birthday, and that I was then thirty-five years old, he repeated me these verses, which I wrote down from his mouth as he made them." If she was born in 1740-41, she must have been thirty-six in 1777; and there is no perfectly satisfactory settlement of the controversy, which many will think derives its sole importance from the two chief controversialists.
[Footnote 1: In one of her Memorandum books, 1776.]
The highest authorities differ equally about her looks. "My readers," says Boswell, "will naturally wish for some representation of the figures of this couple. Mr. Thrale was tall, well-proportioned, and stately. As for Madam, or My Mistress, by which epithets Johnson used to mention Mrs. Thrale, she was short, plump, and brisk." "He should have added," observes Mr. Croker, "that she was very pretty." This was not her own opinion, nor that of her cotemporaries, although her face was attractive from animation and expression, and her personal appearance pleasing on the whole. Sometimes, when visiting the author of "Piozziana," she used to look at her little self, as she called it, and spoke drolly of what she once was, as if speaking of some one else; and one day, turning to him, she exclaimed: "No, I never was handsome: I had always too many strong points in my face for beauty." On his expressing a doubt of this, and hinting that Dr. Johnson was certainly an admirer of her personal charms, she replied that his devotion was at least as warm towards the table and the table-cloth at Streatham.
[Footnote 1: "Piozziana; or Recollections of the late Mrs. Piozzi, with Remarks. By a Friend." (The Rev. E. Mangin.) Moxon, 1833. These reminiscences, unluckily limited to the last eight or ten years of her life at Bath, contain much curious information, and leave a highly favourable impression of Mrs. Piozzi.]
One day when he was ill, exceedingly low-spirited, and persuaded that death was not far distant, she appeared before him in a dark-coloured gown, which his bad sight, and worse apprehensions, made him mistake for an iron-grey. "'Why do you delight,' said he, 'thus to thicken the gloom of misery that surrounds me? is not here sufficient accumulation of horror without anticipated mourning?'—'This is not mourning, Sir!' said I, drawing the curtain, that the light might fall upon the silk, and show it was a purple mixed with green.—'Well, well!' replied he, changing his voice; 'you little creatures should never wear those sort of clothes, however; they are unsuitable in every way. What! have not all insects gay colours?'"
According to the author of "Piozziana," who became acquainted with her late in life, "She was short, and though well-proportioned, broad, and deep-chested. Her hands were muscular and almost coarse, but her writing was, even in her eightieth year, exquisitely beautiful; and one day, while conversing with her on the subject of education, she observed that 'all Misses now-a-days, wrote so like each other, that it was provoking;' adding, 'I love to see individuality of character, and abhor sameness, especially in what is feeble and flimsy.' Then, spreading her hand, she said, 'I believe I owe what you are pleased to call my good writing, to the shape of this hand, for my uncle, Sir Robert Cotton, thought it was too manly to be employed in writing like a boarding-school girl; and so I came by my vigorous, black manuscript.'"
It was fortunate that the hand-writing compensated for the hands; and as she attached great importance to blood and race, that she did not live to read Byron's "thoroughbred and tapering fingers," or to be shocked by his theory that "the hand is almost the only sign of blood which aristocracy can generate." Her Bath friend appeals to a miniature (engraved for this work) by Roche, of Bath, taken when she was in her seventy-seventh year. Like Cromwell, who told the painter that if he softened a harsh line or so much as omitted a wart, he should never be paid a sixpence,—she desired the artist to paint her face deeply rouged, which it always was, and to introduce a trivial deformity of the jaw, produced by a horse treading on her as she lay on the ground after a fall. In this respect she proved superior to Johnson; who, with all his love of truth, could not bear to be painted with his defects. He was displeased at being drawn holding a pen close to his eye; and on its being suggested that Reynolds had painted himself holding his ear in his hand to catch the sound, he replied: "He may paint himself as deaf as he pleases, but I will not be Blinking Sam."
[Footnote 1: "One day I called early at her house, and as I entered her drawing-room, she passed me, saying, 'Dear Sir, I will be with you in a few minutes; but, while I think of it, I must go to my dressing-closet and paint my face, which I forgot to do this morning.' Accordingly she soon returned, wearing the requisite quantity of bloom; which, it must be noticed, was not in the least like that of youth and beauty. I then said that I was surprised she should so far sacrifice to fashion, as to take that trouble. Her answer was that, as I might conclude, her practice of painting did not proceed from any silly compliance with Bath fashion, or any fashion; still less, if possible, from the desire of appearing younger than she was, but from this circumstance, that in early life she had worn rouge, as other young persons did in her day, as a part of dress; and after continuing the habit for some years, discovered that it had introduced a dull yellow colour into her complexion, quite unlike that of her natural skin, and that she wished to conceal the deformity."—Piozziana.]
Reynolds' portrait of Mrs. Thrale conveys a highly agreeable impression of her; and so does Hogarth's, when she sat to him for the principal figure in "The Lady's Last Stake." She was then only fourteen; and he probably idealised his model; but that he also produced a striking likeness, is obvious on comparing his picture with the professed portraits. The history of this picture (which has been engraved, at Lord Macaulay's suggestion, for this work) will be found in the Autobiography and the Letters.
Boswell's account of his first visit to Streatham gives a tolerably fair notion of the footing on which Johnson stood there, and the manner in which the interchange of mind was carried on between him and the hostess. This visit took place in October, 1769, four years after Johnson's introduction to her; and Boswell's absence from London, in which he had no fixed residence during Johnson's life, will hardly account for the neglect of his illustrious friend in not procuring him a privilege which he must have highly coveted and would doubtless have turned to good account.
"On the 6th of October I complied with this obliging invitation; and found, at an elegant villa, six miles from town, every circumstance that can make society pleasing. Johnson, though quite at home, was yet looked up to with an awe, tempered by affection, and seemed to be equally the care of his host and hostess. I rejoiced at seeing him so happy."
"Mrs. Thrale disputed with him on the merit of Prior. He attacked him powerfully; said he wrote of love like a man who had never felt it; his love verses were college verses: and he repeated the song, 'Alexis shunn'd his fellow swains,' &c. in so ludicrous a manner, as to make us all wonder how any one could have been pleased with such fantastical stuff. Mrs. Thrale stood to her guns with great courage, in defence of amorous ditties, which Johnson despised, till he at last silenced her by saving, 'My dear lady, talk no more of this. Nonsense can be defended but by nonsense.'
"Mrs. Thrale then praised Garrick's talents for light gay poetry; and, as a specimen, repeated his song in 'Florizel and Perdita,' and dwelt with peculiar pleasure on this line:—
"'I'd smile with the simple, and feed with the poor.'
"Johnson.—'Nay, my dear lady, this will never do. Poor David! Smile with the simple!—what folly is that? And who would feed with the poor that can help it? No, no; let me smile with the wise, and feed with the rich.'" Boswell adds, that he repeated this sally to Glarrick, and wondered to find his sensibility as a writer not a little irritated by it; on which Mrs. Thrale remarks, "How odd to go and tell the man!"
The independent tone she took when she deemed the Doctor unreasonable, is also proved by Boswell in his report of what took place at Streatham in reference to Lord Marchmont's offer to supply information for the Life of Pope:
"Elated with the success of my spontaneous exertion to procure material and respectable aid to Johnson for his very favourite work, 'the Lives of the Poets,' I hastened down to Mr. Thrale's, at Streatham, where he now was, that I might insure his being at home next day; and after dinner, when I thought he would receive the good news in the best humour, I announced it eagerly: 'I have been at work for you to-day, Sir. I have been with Lord Marchmont. He bade me tell you he has a great respect for you, and will call on you to-morrow at one o'clock, and communicate all he knows about Pope.' Johnson. 'I shall not be in town to-morrow. I don't care to know about Pope.' Mrs. Thrale (surprised, as I was, and a little angry). 'I suppose, Sir, Mr. Boswell thought that as you are to write Pope's Life, you would wish to know about him.' Johnson. 'Wish! why yes. If it rained knowledge, I'd hold out my hand; but I would not give myself the trouble to go in quest of it.' There was no arguing with him at the moment. Sometime afterwards he said, 'Lord Marchmont will call upon me, and then I shall call on Lord Marchmont.' Mrs. Thrale was uneasy at this unaccountable caprice: and told me, that if I did not take care to bring about a meeting between Lord Marchmont and him, it would never take place, which would be a great pity."
The ensuing conversation is a good sample of the freedom and variety of "talk" in which Johnson luxuriated, and shows how important a part Mrs. Thrale played in it:
"Mrs. Thrale told us, that a curious clergyman of our acquaintance (Dr. Lort is named in the margin) had discovered a licentious stanza, which Pope had originally in his 'Universal Prayer,' before the stanza,—
"'What conscience dictates to be done, Or warns us not to do,' &c.
It was this:—
"'Can sins of moment claim the rod Of everlasting fires? And that offend great Nature's God Which Nature's self inspires."
and that Dr. Johnson observed, it had been borrowed from Guarini. There are, indeed, in Pastor Fido, many such flimsy superficial reasonings as that in the last two lines of this stanza.
"Boswell. 'In that stanza of Pope's, "rod of fires" is certainly a bad metaphor.' Mrs. Thrale. 'And "sins of moment" is a faulty expression; for its true import is momentous, which cannot be intended.' Johnson. 'It must have been written "of moments." Of moment, is momentous; of moments, momentary. I warrant you, however, Pope wrote this stanza, and some friend struck it out.'
"Talking of divorces, I asked if Othello's doctrine was not plausible:—
"'He that is robb'd, not wanting what is stolen, Let him not know't, and he's not robb'd at all.'
Dr. Johnson and Mrs. Thrale joined against this. Johnson. 'Ask any man if he'd wish not to know of such an injury.' Boswell. 'Would you tell your friend to make him unhappy?' Johnson. 'Perhaps, Sir, I should not: but that would be from prudence on my own account. A man would tell his father.' Boswell. 'Yes; because he would not have spurious children to get any share of the family inheritance.' Mrs. Thrale. 'Or he would tell his brother.' Boswell. 'Certainly his elder brother.... Would you tell Mr. ——?' (naming a gentleman who assuredly was not in the least danger of so miserable a disgrace, though married to a fine woman). Johnson. 'No, Sir: because it would do no good; he is so sluggish, he'd never go to Parliament and get through a divorce.'" Marginal Note: "Langton."
There is every reason to believe that her behaviour to Johnson was uniformly marked by good-breeding and delicacy. She treated him with a degree of consideration and respect which he did not always receive from other friends and admirers. A foolish rumour having got into the newspapers that he had been learning to dance of Vestris, it was agreed that Lord Charlemont should ask him if it was true, and his lordship with (it is shrewdly observed) the characteristic spirit of a general of Irish volunteers, actually put the question, which provoked a passing feeling of irritation. Opposite Boswell's account of this incident she has written, "Was he not right in hating to be so treated? and would he not have been right to have loved me better than any of them, because I never did make a Lyon of him?"
One great charm of her companionship to cultivated men was her familiarity with the learned languages, as well as with French, Italian, and Spanish. The author of "Piozziana" says: "She not only read and wrote Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, but had for sixty years constantly and ardently studied the Scriptures and the works of commentators in the original languages." She did not know Greek, and he probably over-estimated her other acquirements, which Boswell certainly underestimates when he speaks slightingly of them on the strength of Johnson's having said: "It is a great mistake to suppose that she is above him (Thrale) in literary attainments. She is more flippant, but he has ten times her learning: he is a regular scholar; but her learning is that of a school-boy in one of the lower forms." If this were so, it is strange that Thrale should cut so poor a figure, should seem little better than a nonentity, whilst every imaginable topic was under animated discussion at his table; for Boswell was more ready to report the husband's sayings than the wife's. In a marginal note on one of the printed letters she says: "Mr. Thrale was a very merry talking man in 1760; but the distress of 1772, which affected his health, his hopes, and his whole soul, affected his temper too. Perkins called it being planet struck, and I am not sure he was ever completely the same man again." The notes of his conversation during the antecedent period are equally meagre. He is described by Madame D'Arblay as taking a singular amusement in hearing, instigating, and provoking a war of words, alternating triumph and overthrow, between clever and ambitious colloquial combatants.
[Footnote 1: "Pray, Doctor, said a gentleman to Johnson, is Mr. Thrale a man of conversation, or is he only wise and silent?' 'Why, Sir, his conversation does not show the minute hand; but he generally strikes the hour very correctly.'"—Johnsoniana.]
No one would have expected to find her as much at home in Greek and Latin authors as a man of fair ability who had received and profited by an University education, but she could appreciate a classical allusion or quotation, and translate off-hand a Latin epigram.
"Mary Aston," said Johnson, "was a beauty and a scholar, and a wit and a whig; and she talked all in praise of liberty; and so I made this epigram upon her. She was the loveliest creature I ever saw!
"'Liber ut esse velim, suasisti, pulchra Maria, Ut maneam liber, pulchra Maria, vale!'
"Will it do this way in English, Sir? (said Mrs. Thrale)—
"'Persuasions to freedom fall oddly from you, If freedom we seek, fair Maria, adieu."
Mr. Croker's version is:—
"'You wish me, fair Maria, to be free, Then, fair Maria, I must fly from thee.'
Boswell also has tried his hand at it; and a correspondent of the "Gentleman's Magazine" suggests that Johnson had in his mind an epigram on a young lady who appeared at a masquerade in Paris, habited as a Jesuit, during the height of the contention between the Jansenists and Molinists concerning free will:—
"On s'etonne ici que Calviniste Eut pris l'habit de Moliniste, Puisque que cette jeune beaute Ote a chacun sa liberte, N'est ce pas une Janseniste."
[Footnote 1: "Menagiana," vol. iii. p. 376. Edition of 1716. Equally happy were Lord Chesterfield's lines to a young lady who appeared at a Dublin ball, with an orange breastknot:—
Mrs. Thrale took the lead even when her husband might be expected to strike in, as when Johnson was declaiming paradoxically against action in oratory: "Action can have no effect on reasonable minds. It may augment noise, but it never can enforce argument." Mrs. Thrale. "What then, Sir, becomes of Demosthenes' saying, Action, action, action?" Johnson. "Demosthenes, Madam, spoke to an assembly of brutes, to a barbarous people." "The polished Athenians!" is her marginal protest, and a conclusive one.
In English literature she was rarely at fault. In
"Pretty Tory, where's the jest To wear that riband on thy breast, When that same breast betraying shows The whiteness of the rebel rose?"
White was adopted by the malcontent Irish as the French emblem. Johnson's epigram may have been suggested by Propertius:
"Nullus liber erit si quis amare volet."]
reference to the flattery lavished on Garrick by Lord Mansfield and Lord Chatham, Johnson had said, "When he whom everybody else flatters, flatters me, then I am truly happy." Mrs. Thrale. "The sentiment is in Congreve, I think." Johnson. "Yes, Madam, in 'The Way of the World.'
"'If there's delight in love, 'tis when I see The heart that others bleed for, bleed for me.'"
When Johnson is reported saying, "Those who have a style of distinguished excellence can always be distinguished," she objects: "It seems not. The lines always quoted as Dryden's, beginning,
'To die is landing on some silent shore,'
are Garth's after all." Johnson would have been still less pleased at her discovery that a line in his epitaph on Phillips,
"Till angels wake thee with a note like thine,"
was imitated from Pope's
"And saints embrace thee with a love like mine."
In one of her letters to him (June, 1782) she writes: "Meantime let us be as merry as reading Burton upon Melancholy will make us. You bid me study that book in your absence, and now, what have I found? Why, I have found, or fancied, that he has been cruelly plundered: that Milton's first idea of 'L'Allegro' and 'Il Penseroso' were suggested by the verses at the beginning; that Savage's speech of Suicide in the 'Wanderer' grew up out of a passage you probably remember towards the 216th page; that Swift's tale of the woman that holds water in her mouth, to regain her husband's love by silence, had its source in the same farrago; and that there is an odd similitude between my Lord's trick upon Sly the Tinker, in Shakspeare's 'Taming of the Shrew,' and some stuff I have been reading in Burton."
It would be easy to heap proof upon proof of the value and variety of Mrs. Thrale's contributions to the colloquial treasures accumulated by Boswell and other members of the set; and Johnson's deliberate testimony to her good qualities of head and heart will far more than counterbalance any passing expressions of disapproval or reproof with her mistimed vivacity, or alleged disregard of scrupulous accuracy in narrative, may have called forth. No two people ever lived much together for a series of years without many fretful, complaining, dissatisfied, uncongenial moments,—without letting drop captious or unkind expressions, utterly at variance with their habitual feelings and their matured judgments of each other. The hasty word, the passing sarcasm, the sly hit at an acknowledged foible, should count for nothing in the estimate, when contrasted with earnest and deliberate assurances, proceeding from one who was commonly too proud to flatter, and in no mood for idle compliment when he wrote.
"Never (he writes in 1773) imagine that your letters are long; they are always too short for my curiosity. I do not know that I was ever content with a single perusal.... My nights are grown again very uneasy and troublesome. I know not that the country will mend them; but I hope your company will mend my days. Though I cannot now expect much attention, and would not wish for more than can be spared from the poor dear lady (her mother), yet I shall see you and hear you every now and then; and to see and hear you, is always to hear wit, and to see virtue."
He would not suffer her to be lightly spoken of in his presence, nor permit his name to be coupled jocularly with hers. "I yesterday told him," says Boswell, when they were traversing the Highlands, "I was thinking of writing a poetical letter to him, on his return from Scotland, in the style of Swift's humorous epistle in the character of Mary Gulliver to her husband, Captain Lemuel Gulliver, on his return to England from the country of the Houyhnhnms:—
"'At early morn I to the market haste, Studious in ev'ry thing to please thy taste. A curious fowl and sparagrass I chose; (For I remember you were fond of those:) Three shillings cost the first, the last seven groats; Sullen you turn from both, and call for OATS.'
He laughed, and asked in whose name I would write it. I said in Mrs. Thrale's. He was angry. 'Sir, if you have any sense of decency or delicacy, you won't do that.' Boswell. 'Then let it be in Cole's, the landlord of the Mitre tavern, where we have so often sat together.' Johnson. 'Ay, that may do.'"
Again, at Inverary, when Johnson called for a gill of whiskey that he might know what makes a Scotchman happy, and Boswell proposed Mrs. Thrale as their toast, he would not have her drunk in whiskey. Peter Pindar has maliciously added to this reproof:—
"We supped most royally, were vastly frisky, When Johnson ordered up a gill of whiskey. Taking the glass, says I, 'Here's Mistress Thrale,' 'Drink her in whiskey not,' said he, 'but ale.'"
So far from making light of her scholarship, he frequently accepted her as a partner in translations from the Latin. The translations from Boethius, printed in the second volume of the Letters, are their joint composition.
After recapitulating Johnson's other contributions to literature in 1766, Boswell says, "'The Fountains,' a beautiful little fairy tale in prose, written with exquisite simplicity, is one of Johnson's productions; and I cannot withhold from Mrs. Thrale the praise of being the author of that admirable poem 'The Three Warnings.'" Marginal note: "How sorry he is!" Both the tale and the poem were written for a collection of "Miscellanies," published by Mrs. Williams in that year. The character of Floretta in "The Fountains" was intended for Mrs. Thrale, and she thus gracefully alludes to it in a letter to Johnson in Feb. 1782:
"The newspapers would spoil my few comforts that are left if they could; but you tell me that's only because I have the reputation, whether true or false, of being a wit forsooth; and you remember poor Floretta, who was teased into wishing away her spirit, her beauty, her fortune, and at last even her life, never could bear the bitter water which was to have washed away her wit; which she resolved to keep with all its consequences."
Her fugitive pieces, mostly in verse, thrown off from time to time at all periods of her life, are numerous; and the best of them that have been recovered will be included in these volumes. In a letter to the author of "Piozziana," she says:—"When Wilkes and Liberty were at their highest tide, I was bringing or losing children every year; and my studies were confined to my nursery; so, it came into my head one day to send an infant alphabet to the 'St. James Chronicle':—
"'A was an Alderman, factious and proud; B was a Bellas that blustered aloud, &c.'
"In a week's time Dr. Johnson asked me if I knew who wrote it? 'Why, who did write it, Sir?' said I. 'Steevens,' was the reply. Some time after that, years for aught I know, he mentioned to me Steevens's veracity! 'No, no;' answered H.L.P., anything but that;' and told my story; showing him by incontestable proofs that it was mine. Johnson did not utter a word, and we never talked about it any more. I durst not introduce the subject; but it served to hinder S. from visiting at the house: I suppose Johnson kept him away."
It does not appear that Steevens claimed the Alphabet; which may have suggested the celebrated squib that appeared in the "New Whig Guide," and was popularly attributed to Mr. Croker. It was headed "The Political Alphabet; or, the Young Member's A B C," and begins:
"A was an Althorpe, as dull as a hog: B was black Brougham, a surly cur dog: C was a Cochrane, all stripped of his lace."
What widely different associations are now awakened by these names! The sting is in the tail:
"W was a Warre, 'twixt a wasp and a worm, But X Y and Z are not found in this form, Unless Moore, Martin, and Creevey be said (As the last of mankind) to be X Y and Z."
Amongst Miss Reynolds' "Recollections" will be found:—"On the praises of Mrs. Thrale, he (Johnson) used to dwell with a peculiar delight, a paternal fondness, expressive of conscious exultation in being so intimately acquainted with her. One day, in speaking of her to Mr. Harris, author of 'Hermes,' and expatiating on her various perfections,—the solidity of her virtues, the brilliancy of her wit, and the strength of her understanding, &c.—he quoted some lines (a stanza, I believe, but from what author I know not), with which he concluded his most eloquent eulogium, and of these I retained but the two last lines:—
'Virtues—of such a generous kind, Pure in the last recesses of the mind.'"
[Footnote 1: Dryden's Translation of Persius.]
The place assigned to Mrs. Thrale by the popular voice amongst the most cultivated and accomplished women of the day, is fixed by some verses printed in the "Morning Herald" of March 12th, 1782, which attracted much attention. They were commonly attributed to Mr. (afterwards Sir W.W.) Pepys, and Madame d'Arblay, who alludes to them complacently, thought them his; but he subsequently repudiated the authorship, and the editor of her Memoirs believes that they were written by Dr. Burney. They were provoked by the proneness of the Herald to indulge in complimentary allusions to ladies of the demirep genus:
"Herald, wherefore thus proclaim Nought of women but the shame? Quit, oh, quit, at least awhile, Perdita's too luscious smile; Wanton Worsley, stilted Daly, Heroines of each blackguard alley; Better sure record in story Such as shine their sex's glory! Herald! haste, with me proclaim Those of literary fame. Hannah More's pathetic pen, Painting high th' impassion'd scene; Carter's piety and learning, Little Burney's quick discerning; Cowley's neatly pointed wit, Healing those her satires hit; Smiling Streatfield's iv'ry neck, Nose, and notions—a la Grecque! Let Chapone retain a place, And the mother of her Grace, Each art of conversation knowing, High-bred, elegant Boscawen; Thrale, in whose expressive eyes Sits a soul above disguise, Skill'd with-wit and sense t'impart Feelings of a generous heart. Lucan, Leveson, Greville, Crewe; Fertile-minded Montagu, Who makes each rising art her care, 'And brings her knowledge from afar!' Whilst her tuneful tongue defends Authors dead, and absent friends; Bright in genius, pure in fame:— Herald, haste, and these proclaim!"