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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."
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,
"Long may live my lovely Hetty!
* Bride of Lammermoor.
Always pretty, always young,
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,
I roam through clans of savage men,
Through paths that halt from stone to stone,
One image haunts my soul alone,
Soothes she, I ask, her spouse's care?
Stores she her mind with knowledge rare,
Forget me not! thy faith I claim,
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;
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,
For howe'er we boast and strive,
He that ever hopes to thrive
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 be 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."
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.
• Macaulay's Essays.
In one of her Memorandum books, 1776.