« PreviousContinue »
it is called, appeared good-humoured, and we were soon followed, respected, and admired. The summer months sent us about visiting and pleasuring, and
after another gay London season, Streatham Park, unoccupied by tenants, called us as if really home. Mr. Piozzi, with more generosity than prudence, spent two thousand pounds on repairing and furnishing it in 1790;- and we had danced all night, I recollect, when the news came of Louis Seize's escape from, and recapture by, his rebel subjects.'
The following are some of the names most frequently mentioned in her Diary as visiting or corresponding with her after her return from Italy: Lord Fife, Dr. Moore, the Kembles, Dr. Currie, Mrs. Lewis (widow of the Dean of Ossory), Dr. Lort, Sir Lucas Pepys, Mr. Selwin, Sammy Lysons (sic), Sir Philip Clerke, Hon. Mrs. Byron, Mrs. Siddons, Arthur Murphy, Mr. and Mrs. Whalley, the Greatheads, Mr. Parsons, Miss Seward, Miss Lee, Dr. Barnard (Bishop of Killaloe, better known as Dean of Derry), Hinchcliffe (Bishop of Peterborough), Mrs. Lambert, the Staffords, Lord Huntingdon, Lady Betty Cobb and her daughter Mrs. Gould, Lord Dudley, Lord Cowper, Lord Pembroke, Marquis Araciel, Count Marteningo, Count Meltze, Mrs. Drummond Smith, Mr. Chappelow, Mrs. Hobart, Miss Nicholson, Mrs. Locke, Lord Deerhurst.
Resentment for her imputed unkindness to Johnson might have been expected to last longest at his birthplace. But Miss Seward writes from Lichfield, October 6th, 1787:
"Mrs. Piozzi completely answers your description: her conversation is indeed that bright wine of the intellects which has no lees I shall always feel in
debted to him (Mr. Perkins) for eight or nine hours of Mr. and Mrs. Piozzi's society. They passed one evening here, and I the next with them at their inn."
Again to Miss Helen Williams, Lichfield, December, 25th, 1787:
"Yes, it is very true, on the evening he (Colonel Barry) mentioned to you, when Mrs. Piozzi honoured this roof, his conversation greatly contributed to its Attic spirit. Till that day I had never conversed with her. There has been no exaggeration, there could be none, in the description given you of Mrs. Piozzi's talents for conversation; at least in the powers of classic allusion and brilliant wit."
Mrs. Piozzi's next publication was "Letters To and From the late Samuel Johnson, LL.D., &c." In the Preface she speaks of the " Anecdotes" having been received with a degree of approbation she hardly dared to hope, and exclaims, "May these Letters in some measure pay my debt of gratitude! they will not surely be the first, the only thing written by Johnson, with which our nation has not been pleased." "The good taste by which our countrymen are distinguished, will lead them to prefer the native thoughts and unstudied phrases scattered over these pages to the more laboured elegance of his other works; as bees have been observed to reject roses, and fix upon the wild fragrance of a neighbouring heath."
Whenever Johnson took pen in hand, the chances were, that what he produced would belong to the composite order; the unstudied phrases were reserved for his "talk;" and he wished his Letters to be preserved.* The main value of these consists in the additional illustrations they afford of his conduct in private life, and of his opinions on the management of domestic affairs. The lack of literary and public interest is admitted and excused:
"None but domestic and familiar events can be expected from a private correspondence; no reflexions but such as they excite can be found there; yet whoever turns away disgusted by the insipidity with which this, and I suppose every correspondence must naturally and almost necessarily begin-will here be likely to lose some genuine pleasure, and some useful knowledge of what our heroic Milton was himself contented to respect, as
"That which before thee lies in daily life.'
"And should I be charged with obtruding trifles on the public, I might reply, that the meanest animals preserved in amber become of value to those who form collections of natural history; that the fish found in Monte Bolca serve as proofs of sacred writ; and that the cart-wheel stuck in the rock of Tivoli, is now found useful in computing the rotation of the earth."
*"Do you keep my letters? I am not of your opinion that I shall not like to read them hereafter."—Letters, vol. i. p. 295.
In "Thraliana" she thus refers to the reception of the book:
"The Letters are out. They were published on Saturday, 8th of March. Cadell printed 2,000 copies, and says 1,100 are already sold. My letter to Jack Rice on his marriage (Vol. i. p. 96), seems the universal favourite. The book is well spoken of on the whole; yet Cadell murmurs. I cannot make out why."
This entry is not dated; the next is dated March 27th, 1788.
"This collection," says Boswell, "as a proof of the high estimation set on any thing that came from his pen, was sold by that lady for the sum of 500l." She has written on the margin: "How spiteful."
Boswell states that "Horace Walpole thought Johnson a more amiable character after reading his Letters to Mrs. Thrale, but never was one of the true admirers of that great man." Madame D'Arblay came to an opposite conclusion; in her Diary, January 9th, 1788, she writes:
"To-day Mrs. Schwellenberg did me a real favour, and with real good nature, for she sent me the letters of my poor lost friends, Dr. Johnson and Mrs. Thrale, which she knew me to be almost pining to procure. The book belongs to the Bishop of Carlisle, who lent it to Mr. Turbulent, from whom it was again lent to the Queen, and so passed on to Mrs. S. It is still unpublished. With what a sadness have I been reading! what scenes has it revived! what regrets renewed! These letters have not been more improperly published in the whole than they are injudiciously displayed in
their several parts. She has given all, every word, and thinks that perhaps a justice to Dr. Johnson, which, in fact, is the greatest injury to his memory.
"The few she has selected of her own do her, indeed, much credit; she has discarded all that were trivial and merely local, and given only such as contain something instructive, amusing, or ingenious."
She admits only four of Johnson's letters to be worthy of his exalted powers: one upon Death, in considering its approach, as we are surrounded, or not, by mourners; another upon the sudden death of Mrs. Thrale's only son. Her chief motive for "almost pining" for the book, steeped as she was in egotism, may be guessed:
"Our name once occurred; how I started at its sight! 'Tis to mention the party that planned the first visit to our house."
She says she had so many attacks upon "her (Mrs. Piozzi's) subject," that at last she fairly begged quarter. Yet nothing she could say could put a stop to, “How can you defend her in this? how can you justify her in that? &c. &c." "Alas! that I cannot defend her is precisely the reason I can so ill bear to speak of her. How differently and how sweetly has the Queen conducted herself upon this occasion. Eager to see the Letters, she began reading them with the utmost avidity. A natural curiosity arose to be informed of several names and several particulars, which she knew I could satisfy; yet when she perceived how tender a string she touched, she soon suppressed her inquiries, or