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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.
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
* "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.
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
* "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,
hand to catch the sound, he replied: "He may paint himself as deaf as he pleases, but I will not be Blinking Sam."
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 saying, '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.
what folly is poor that can
Poor David! Smile with the simple! that? And who would feed with the help it? No, no; let me smile with the wise, and feed with the rich."" Boswell adds, that he repeated this sally to Garrick, 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