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Westminster, it is stated that it was not distress which compelled him to accept Mr. Thrale's hospitality, but that he was over-persuaded by Johnson, contrary to his own inclination, to undertake the instruction of the Misses Thrale in Italian. “He was either nine or eleven years almost entirely in that family,” says the Dean, “though he still rented a lodging in town, during which period he expended his own £500, and received nothing in return for his instruction, but the participation of a good table, and £150 by way of presents. Instead of his letters to Mrs. Piozzi in the “European Magazine, had he told this plain, unvarnished tale, he would have convicted that lady of avarice and ingratitude without incurring the danger of a reply, or exposing his memory to be insulted by her advocates.”
As he had a pension of £80 a year, besides the interest of his £500, he did not want money. If he had been allowed to want it, the charge of avarice would lie at Mr., not Mrs. Thrale's door; and his memory was exposed to no insult beyond the stigma which (as we shall presently see) his conduct and language necessarily fixed upon it. All his literary friends did not entertain the same high opinion of him. An unpublished letter from Dr. Warton to his brother contains the following passage:
“ He (Huggins, the translator of Ariosto) abuses Baretti infernally, and says that he one day lent Baretti a gold watch, and could never get it afterwards; that after many excuses Baretti skulked, and then got Johnson to write to Mr. Huggins a suppliant letter; that this letter stopped Huggins awhile, while Baretti got a protection from the Sardinian ambassador; and that, at last, with great difficulty, the watch was got from a pawnbroker to whom Baretti had sold it.”
This extract is copied from a valuable contribution to the literary annals of the eighteenth century, for which we are indebted to the colonial press.* It is the diary of an Irish clergyman, containing strong internal evidence of authenticity, although nothing more is known of it than that the manuscript was discovered behind an old press in one of the offices of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. That such a person saw a good deal of Johnson in 1775 is proved by Boswell, whose accuracy is frequently confirmed in return. In one marginal note Mrs. Thrale says : “ He was a fine, showy talking man. Johnson liked him of all things in a year or two.” In another: “ Dr. Campbell was a very tall, handsome man, and, speaking of some other Highbernian, used this expression : Indeed now, and upon my honor, Sir, I am but a Twitter to him.'”*
* Diary of a Visit to England in 1775. By an Irishman (the Rev. Doctor Thomas Campbell, author of " A Philosophical Survey of the South of Ireland"). And other Papers by the same hand. With Notes by Samuel Raymond, M. A., Prothonotary of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. Sydney. Waugh and Cox. 1854.
Several of his entries throw light on the Thrale establishment:
“ 14th. — This day I called at Mr. Thrale's, where I was received with all respect by Mr. and Mrs. Thrale. She is a very learned lady, and joins to the charms of her own sex, the manly understanding of ours. The immensity of the brewery astonished me.”
“ 16th. — Dined with Mr. Thrale along with Dr. Johnson and Baretti. Baretti is a plain, sensible man, who seems to know the world well. He talked to me of the invitation given him by the College of Dublin, but said it (£ 100 a year and rooms) was not worth his acceptance; and if it had been, he said, in point of profit, still he would not have accepted it, for that now he could not live out of London. He had returned a few years ago to his own country, but he could not enjoy it; and he was obliged to return to London, to those connections he had been making for near thirty years past. He told me he had several families with whom, both in town and country, he could go at any time and spend a month : he is at this time on these terms at Mr. Thrale’s, and he knows how to keep his ground. Talking as we were at tea of the magnitude of the beer vessels, he said there was one thing in Mr. Thrale's house still more extraordinary; - meaning his wife. She gulped the pill very prettily, — so much for Baretti! Johnson, you are the very man Lord Chesterfield describes : a Hottentot indeed, and though your abilities are respectable, you never can be respected yourself. He has the aspect of an idiot, without the faintest ray of sense gleaming from any one feature, — with the most awkward garb, and unpowdered * He is similarly described in the “ Letters,” Vol. I. p. 329.
gray wig, on one side only of his head, — he is forever dancing the devil's jig, and sometimes he makes the most drivelling effort to whistle some thought in his absent paroxysms.”
“ 25th. — Dined at Mr. Thrale's, where there were ten or more gentlemen, and but one lady besides Mrs. Thrale. The dinner was excellent: first course, soups at head and foot, removed by fish and a saddle of mutton; second course, a fowl they call galena at head, and a capon larger than some of our Irish turkeys, at foot; third course, four different sorts of ices, pine-apple, grape, rasperry, and a fourth ; in each remove there were I think fourteen dishes. The two first courses were served in massy plate. I sat beside Baretti, which was to me the richest part of the entertainment. He and Mr. and Mrs. Thrale joined in expressing to me Dr. Johnson's concern that he could not give me the meeting that day, but desired that I should go and see him.”
“ April 1st. — Dined at Mr. Thrale’s, whom in proof of the magnitude of London, I cannot help remarking, no coachman, and this is the third I have called, could find without inquiry. But of this by the way. There was Murphy, Boswell, and Baretti: the two last, as I learned just before I entered, are mortal foes, so much so that Murphy and Mrs. Thrale agreed that Boswell expressed a desire that Baretti should be hanged upon that unfortunate affair of his killing, &c. Upon this hint, I went, and without any sagacity, it was easily discernible, for upon Baretti's entering Boswell did not rise, and upon Baretti's descry of Boswell he grinned a perturbed glance. Politeness, however, smooths the most hostile brows, and theirs were smoothed. Johnson was the subject, both before and after dinner, for it was the boast of all but myself, that under that roof were the Doctor's fast friends. His bon-mots were retailed in such plenty, that they, like a surfeit, could not lie upon my memory.”
“N. B. The · Tour to the Western Isles' was written in twenty days, and the Patriot' in three ; · Taxation no Tyranny,' within a week; and not one of them would have yet seen the light, had it not been for Mrs. Thrale and Baretti, who stirred him up by laying wagers.”
“ April 8th. — Dined with Thrale, where Dr. Johnson was, and Boswell (and Baretti as usual). The Doctor was not in as good spirits as he was at Dilly's. He had supped the night before with Lady - Miss Jeffries, one of the maids of honor, Sir Joshua Reynolds, &c., at Mrs. Abington's. He said Sir C. Thompson, and some others who were there, spoke like people who had seen good company, and so did Mrs. Abington herself, who could not have seen good company."
Boswell's note, alluding to the same topic, is :
« On Saturday, April 8, I dined with him at Mr. Thrale's, where we met the Irish Dr. Campbell. Johnson had supped the night before at Mrs. Abington's with some fashionable people whom he named; and he seemed much pleased with having made one in so elegant a circle. Nor did he omit to pique his mistress a little with jealousy of her housewifery; for he said, with a smile, “Mrs. Abington's jelly, my dear lady, was better than yours.”
The monotony of a constant residence at Streatham was varied by trips to Bath or Brighton ; and it was so much a matter of course for Johnson to make one of the party, that when, not expecting him so soon back from a journey with Boswell, the Thrale family and Baretti started for Bath without him, Boswell is disposed to treat their departure without the lexicographer as a slight to him.
In his first letter of condolence on Mr. Thrale's death, Johnson speaks of her having enjoyed happiness in marriage, “ to a degree of which, without personal knowledge, I should have thought the description fabulous.” The “ Autobiography" tells a widely different tale. The mortification of not finding herself appreciated by her husband was poignantly increased, during the last years of his life, by finding another offensively preferred to her. He was so fascinated by one of her fair friends, as to lose sight altogether of what was due to appearances or to the feelings of his wife. The story she told the author of “ Piozziana,” in proof of Johnson's want of firmness, clearly refers to this lady:
“I had remarked to her that Johnson's readiness to condemn any moral deviation in others was, in a man so entirely before the public as he was, nearly a proof of his own spotless purity
of conduct. She said, “Yes, Johnson was, on the whole, a rigid moralist ; but he could be ductile, I may say, servile ; and I will give you an instance. We had a large dinner-party at our house; Johnson sat on one side of me, and Burke on the other; and in the company there was a young female (Mrs. Piozzi named her),* to whom I, in my peevishness, thought Mr. Thrale superfluously attentive, to the neglect of me and others ; especially of myself, then near my confinement, and dismally low spirited ; notwithstanding which, Mr. T. very unceremoniously begged of me to change place with Sophy — , who was threatened with a sore throat, and might be injured by sitting near the door. I had scarcely swallowed a spoonful of soup when this occurred, and was so overset by the coarseness of the proposal, that I burst into tears, said something petulant, — that perhaps erelong the lady might be at the head of Mr. T.'s table, without displacing the mistress of the house, &c., and so left the apartment. I retired to the drawing-room, and for an hour or two contended with my vexation, as I best could, when Johnson and Burke came up. On seeing them, I resolved to give a jobation to both, but fixed on Johnson for my charge, and asked him if he had noticed what passed, what I had suffered, and whether, allowing for the state of my nerves, I was much to blame?' He answered, “Why, possibly not ; your feelings were outraged.' I said, 'Yes, greatly so; and I cannot help remarking with what blandness and composure you witnessed the outrage. Had this transaction been told of others, your anger would have known no bounds; but, towards a man who gives good dinners, &c., you were meekness itself !' Johnson colored, and Burke, I thought, looked foolish ; but I had not a word of answer from either.”
The only excuse for Mr. Thrale is to be found in his mental and bodily condition at the time. This made it impossible for Johnson or Burke to interfere without a downright quarrel with him, nor without making matters worse. Highly to her credit, she did not omit any part of her own duties because he forgot his. In March, 1781, a few weeks before his death, she writes to Johnson:
* Sophia Streatfield, the charming S.S., as Thrale and Johnson called her, and the lady of the ivory neck, &c. (ante, p. 33). There is a good deal about her in the “Autobiography."