Page images

five o'clock by an octogenary pen a heart (as Mrs. Lee says) twenty-six years old: and as H. L. P. feels it to be,ALL YOUR OWN. Suffer your dear noble self to be in some measure benefited by the talents which are left me; your health to be restored by soothing consolations while I remain here, and am able to bestow them. All is not lost yet. You have a friend, and that friend is Piozzi."

Conway's "high blood" was as great a recommendation to Mrs. Piozzi as his good looks, and he vindicated his claim to noble descent by his conduct, which was disinterested and gentlemanlike throughout.

Moore sets down in his Diary, April 28, 1819: "Breakfasted with the Fitzgeralds. Took me to call on Mrs. Piozzi; a wonderful old lady; faces of other times seemed to crowd over her as she sat, -the Johnsons, Reynoldses, &c. &c.: though turned eighty, she has all the quickness and intelligence of a gay young woman."

Nichol, the bookseller, had said that "Johnson was the link that connected Shakespeare with the rest of mankind.” On hearing this, Mrs. Piozzi at eighty exclaimed, "Oh, the dear fellow, I must give him a kiss for that idea." When Nichol told the story, he added, "I never got it, and she went out of the world a kiss in my debt."

One of the most characteristic feats or freaks of this extraordinary woman was the celebration of her eightieth birthday by a concert, ball, and supper, to between six and seven hundred people, at the Kingston Rooms, Bath, on the 27th January, 1820. At the conclusion

of the supper, her health was proposed by Admiral Sir James Sausmarez, and drunk with three times three. The dancing began at two, when she led off with her adopted son, Sir John Salusbury, dancing (according to the author of "Piozziana," an eye-witness) "with astonishing elasticity, and with all the true air of dignity which might have been expected of one of the best bred females in society." When fears were expressed that she had done too much, she replied: - "No: this sort of thing is greatly in the mind; and I am almost tempted to say the same of growing old at all, especially as it regards those of the usual concomitants of age, viz., laziness, defective sight, and ill-temper."

"So far from feeling fatigued or exhausted on the following day by her exertions," remarks Sir James Fellowes in a note on this event, "she amused us by her sallies of wit, and her jokes on Tully's Offices,' of which her guests had so eagerly availed themselves." Tully was the cook and confectioner, the Bath Gunter, who provided the supper.

Mrs. Piozzi died in May, 1821. Her death is circumstantially communicated in a letter from Mrs. Pennington, the lady mentioned in Miss Seward's correspondence as the beautiful and agreeable Sophia Weston :

"Hot Wells, May 5th, 1821.

"DEAR MISS WILLOUGHBY,—It is my painful task to communicate to you, who have so lately been the kind associate of dearest Mrs. Piozzi, the irreparable loss we

have all sustained in that incomparable woman and beloved friend.

"She closed her various life about nine o'clock on Wednesday, after an illness of ten days, with as little suffering as could be imagined under these awful circumstances. Her bed-side was surrounded by her weeping daughters: Lady Keith and Mrs. Hoare arrived in time to be fully recognised*; Miss Thrale, who was absent from town, only just before she expired, but with the satisfaction of seeing her breathe her last in peace.

"Nothing could behave with more tenderness and propriety than these ladies, whose conduct, I am convinced, has been much misrepresented and calumniated by those who have only attended to one side of the history: but may all that is past be now buried in oblivion! Retrospection seldom improves our view of any subject. Sir John Salusbury was too distant, the close of her illness being so rapid, for us to entertain any expectation of his arriving in time to see the dear deceased. He only reached Clifton late last night. I have not yet seen him; my whole time has been devoted to the afflicted ladies."

Mrs. Pennington told a friend that Mrs. Piozzi's last words were: "I die in the trust and the fear of God." When she was attended by Sir George Gibbes, being unable to articulate, she traced a coffin in the air with her hands and lay calm. Her will, dated the 29th March,

* On hearing of their arrival she is reported to have said, "Now, I shall die in state."

1816, makes Sir John Salusbury Piozzi Salusbury heir to all her real and personal property with the exception of some small bequests, Sir James Fellowes and Sir John Salusbury being appointed executors.

A Memorandum signed by Sir James Fellowes runs thus: "After I had read the Will, Lady Keith and her two sisters present, said they had long been prepared for the contents and for such a disposition of the property, and they acknowledged the validity of the Will."

In any endeavour to solve the difficult problem of Mrs. Piozzi's conduct and character, it should be kept in view that the highest testimony to her worth has been volunteered by those with whom she passed the last years of her life in the closest intimacy. She had become completely reconciled to Madame D'Arblay, with whom she was actively corresponding when she died, and her mixed qualities of head and heart are thus summed up in that lady's Diary, May, 1821:

"I have lost now, just lost, my once most dear, intimate, and admired friend, Mrs. Thrale Piozzi, who preserved her fine faculties, her imagination, her intelligence, her powers of allusion and citation, her extraordinary memory, and her almost unexampled vivacity, to the last of her existence. She was in her eightysecond year, and yet owed not her death to age nor to natural decay, but to the effects of a fall in a journey from Penzance to Clifton. On her eightieth birthday she gave a great ball, concert, and supper, in the public.

rooms at Bath, to upwards of two hundred persons, and the ball she opened herself. She was, in truth, a most wonderful character for talents and eccentricity, for wit, genius, generosity, spirit, and powers of entertain


"She had a great deal both of good and not good, in common with Madame de Staël Holstein. They had the same sort of highly superior intellect, the same depth of learning, the same general acquaintance with science, the same ardent love of literature, the same thirst for universal knowledge, and the same buoyant animal spirits, such as neither sickness, sorrow, nor even terror, could subdue. Their conversation was equally luminous, from the sources of their own fertile minds, and from their splendid acquisitions from the works and acquirements of others. Both were zealous to serve, liberal to bestow, and graceful to oblige; and both were truly high-minded in prizing and praising whatever was admirable that came in their way. Neither of them was delicate nor polished, though each was flattering and caressing; but both had a fund inexhaustible of good humour, and of sportive gaiety, that made their intercourse with those they wished to please attractive, instructive, and delightful; and though not either of them had the smallest real malevolence in their compositions, neither of them could ever withstand the pleasure of uttering a repartee, let it wound whom it might, even though each would serve the very person they goaded with all the means in their power. Both were kind, charitable, and munificent, and therefore

« PreviousContinue »