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September 28, 1773, she writes to Mr. Perkins, who was on a commercial journey:
“Mr. Thrale is still upon his little tour; I opened a letter from you at the counting-house this morning, and am sorry to find you have so much trouble with Grant and his affairs. How glad I shall be to hear that matter is settled at all to your satisfaction. His letter and remittance came while I was there to-day...... Careless, of the ‘Blue Posts,' has turned refractory, and applied to Hoare's people, who have sent him in their beer. I called on him to-day, however, and by dint of an unwearied solicitation (for I kept him at the coach side a full half-hour) I got his order for six butts more as the final trial.”
Examples of fine ladies pressing tradesmen for their votes with compromising importunity are far from rare, but it would be difficult to find a parallel for Johnson's “ Hetty” doing duty as a commercial traveller. She was simultaneously obliged to anticipate the electioneering exploits of the Duchess of Devonshire and Mrs. Crewe; and in after life, having occasion to pass through Southwark, she expresses her astonishment at no longer recognizing a place, every hole and corner of which she had three times visited as a canvasser.
After the death of Mr. Thrale, a friend of Mr. H. Thornton canvassed the borough on behalf of that gentleman. He waited on Mrs. Thrale, who promised her support. She concluded her obliging expressions by saying: “I wish your friend success, and I think he will have it: he may probably come in for two Parliaments, but if he tries for a third, were he an angel from heaven, the people of Southwark would cry, "Not this man, but . Barabbas.'”*
On one of her canvassing expeditions, Johnson accompanied her, and a rough fellow, a hatter by trade, seeing the moralist's hat in a state of decay, seized it suddenly with one hand, and clapping him on the back with the other, cried out, “ Ah, Master Johnson, this is no time to be thinking about hats.” “No, no, Sir,” replied the Doctor, “ hats are of no use now, as you say,
* Miss Lætitia Matilda Hawkins vouches for this story. — “Memoir, &c.” Vol. I. p. 66, note, where she adds: “I have heard it said, that into whatever company she (Mrs. T.) fell, she could be the most agreeable person in it."
except to throw up in the air and huzza with ;” accompanying his words with the true election halloo.
Thrale had serious thoughts of repaying Johnson's electioneering aid in kind, by bringing him into Parliament. Sir John Hawkins says that Thrale had two meetings with the minister (Lord North), who at first seemed inclined to find Johnson a seat, but eventually discountenanced the project. Lord Stowell told Mr. Croker that Lord North did not feel quite sure that Johnson's support might not sometimes prove rather an encumbrance than a help. “ His lordship perhaps thought, and not unreasonably, that, like the elephant in the battle, he was quite as likely to trample down his friends as his foes.” Flood doubted whether Johnson, being long used to sententious brevity and the short flights of conversation, would have succeeded in the expanded kind of argument required in public speaking. Burke's opinion was, that if he had come early into Parliament, he would have been the greatest speaker ever known in it. Upon being told this by Reynolds, he exclaimed, “I should like to try my hand now.” On Boswell's adding that he wished he had, Mrs. Thrale writes : “ Boswell had leisure for curiosity: ministers had not. Boswell would have been equally amused by his failure as by his success; but to Lord North there would have been no joke at all in the experiment ending untowardly.”
He was equally ready with advice and encouragement during the difficulties connected with the brewery. He was not of opinion, with Aristotle and Parson Adams, that trade is below a philosopher ; * and he eagerly busied himself in computing the cost of the malt and the possible profits on the ale. In October, 1772, he writes from Lichfield:
“ Do not suffer little things to disturb you. The brew-house must be the scene of action, and the subject of speculation. The first consequence of our late trouble ought to be, an endeavor to brew at a cheaper rate; an endeavor, not violent and transient, but steady and continual, prosecuted with total contempt of censure or wonder, and animated by resolution not to stop while more can be done. Unless this can be done, nothing can help us; and if this be done, we shall not want help.
* “ Trade, answered Adams, is below a philosopher, as Aristotle proves in his first chapter of Politics,' and unnatural, as it is managed now.” -- Joseph Andrews.
“Surely there is something to be saved; there is to be saved whatever is the difference between vigilance and neglect, between parsimony and profusion.
“ The price of malt has risen again. It is now two pounds eight shillings the quarter. Ale is sold in the public houses at sixpence a quart, a price which I never heard of before.
“I am, &c." In November of the same year, from Ashbourne:
“ DEAR MADAM: So many days and never a letter! - Fugere fides, pietasque pudorque. This is Turkish usage. And I have been hoping and hoping. But you are so glad to have me out of your mind.
“I think you were quite right in your advice about the thousand pounds, for the payment could not have been delayed long ; and a short delay would have lessened credit, without advancing interest. But in great matters you are hardly ever mistaken.”
In May 17, 1773 :“ Why should Mr. T- suppose, that what I took the liberty of suggesting was concerted with you ? He does not know how much I revolve his affairs, and how honestly I desire his prosperity. I hope he has let the hint take some hold of his mind.”
In the copy of the printed letters presented by Mrs. Thrale to Sir James Fellowes, the blank is filled up with the name of Thrale, and the passage is thus annotated in her handwriting:
“ Concerning his (Thrale’s) connection with quack chemists, quacks of all sorts ; jumping up in the night to go to Marlbro' Street from Southwark, after some advertising mountebank, at hazard of his life.”
That Johnson's advice was neither thrown away nor undervalued, may be inferred from an incident related by Boswell. Mr. Perkins had hung up in the counting-house a fine proof of the mezzotinto of Dr. Johnson by Doughty ; and when Mrs. Thrale asked him, somewhat flippantly, “ Why do you put him up in the counting-house ? ” Mr. Perkins answered, “ Because, Madam, I wish to have one wise man there.” “ Sir” said Johnson, “I thank you. It is a very handsome compliment, and I believe you speak sincerely.”
He was in the habit of paying the most minute attention to every branch of domestic economy, and his suggestions are invariably marked by shrewdness and good sense. Thus when Mrs. Thrale was giving evening parties, he told her that, though few people might be hungry after a late dinner, she should always have a good supply of cakes and sweetmeats on a side table, and that some cold meat and a bottle of wine would often be found acceptable. Notwithstanding the imperfection of his eyesight, and his own slovenliness, he was a critical observer of female dress and demeanor, and found fault without ceremony or compunction when any of his canons of taste or propriety were infringed. Several amusing examples are enumerated by Mrs. Thrale :
“I commended a young lady for her beauty and pretty behavior one day, however, to whom I thought no objections could have been made. •I saw her,' said Dr. Johnson, 'take a pair of scissors in her left hand though ; and for all her father is now become a nobleman, and as you say excessively rich, I should, were I a youth of quality ten years hence, hesitate between a girl so neglected, and a negro.'
“ It was indeed astonishing how he could remark such minuteness with a sight so miserably imperfect; but no accidental position of a riband escaped him, so nice was his observation, and so rigorous his demands of propriety. When I went with him to Lichfield, and came down stairs to breakfast at the inn, my dress did not please him, and he made me alter it entirely before he would stir a step with us about the town, saying most satirical things concerning the appearance I made in a riding-habit; and adding, ' 'T is very strange that such eyes as yours cannot discern propriety of dress : if I had a sight only half as good, I think I should see to the centre.
“ Another lady, whose accomplishments he never denied, came to our house one day covered with diamonds, feathers, &c., and he did not seem inclined to chat with her as usual. I asked him why? when the company was gone. "Why, her head looked so like that of a woman who shows puppets,' said he, “and her voice so confirmed the fancy, that I could not bear her to-day ; when she wears a large cap, I can talk to her.'
“When the ladies wore lace trimmings to their clothes, he expressed his contempt of the reigning fashion in these terms : 'A Brussels trimming is like bread-sauce,' said he, “it takes away the glow of color from the gown, and gives you nothing instead of it; but sauce was invented to heighten the flavor of our food, and trimming is an ornament to the manteau, or it is nothing. Learn,' said he, that there is propriety or impropriety in everything how slight soever, and get at the general principles of dress and of behavior ; if you then transgress them, you will at least know that they are not observed.""
Madame D’Arblay confirms this account. He had just been finding fault with a bandeau worn by Lady Lade, a very large woman, standing six feet high without her shoes :
“ Dr. J. — The truth is, women, take them in general, have no idea of grace. Fashion is all they think of. I don't mean Mrs. Thrale and Miss Burney, when I talk of women ! — they are goddesses ! — and therefore I except them.
.“ Mrs. Thrale. — Lady Lade never wore the bandeau, and said she never would, because it is unbecoming.
“Dr J. (laughing). — Did not she ? then is Lady Lade a charming woman, and I have yet hopes of entering into engagements with her!
“ Mrs. I. - Well, as to that I can't say ; but to be sure, the only similitude I have yet discovered in you, is in size : there you agree mighty well.
“ Dr. J. — Why, if anybody could have worn the bandeau, it must have been Lady Lade ; for there is enough of her to carry it off; but you are too little for anything ridiculous ; that which seems nothing upon a Patagonian, will become very conspicuous upon a Lilliputian, and of you there is so little in all, that one single absurdity would swallow up half of you.”
Matrimony was one of his favorite subjects, and he was fond of laying down and refining on the duties of the married state, and the amount of happiness and comfort to be found in it. But once when he was musing over the fire in the drawing-room at Streatham, a young gentleman called to him suddenly, “Mr.