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“ I am willing to show myself. in Southwark, or in any place, for my master's pleasure or advantage ; but have no present conviction that to be re-elected would be advantageous, so shattered a state as his nerves are in just now. — Do not you, however, fancy for a moment, that I shrink from fatigue, — or desire to escape from doing my duty ; — spiting one's antagonist is a reason that never ought to operate, and never does operate with me: I care nothing about a rival candidate's innuendos, I care only about my husband's health and fame ; and if we find that he earnestly wishes to be once more member for the Borough, — he shall be member, if anything done or suffered by me will help make him so."
Referring to the spring of 1781, “I found,” says Boswell, “ on visiting Mr. Thrale that he was now very ill, and had removed, I suppose by the solicitation of Mrs. Thrale, to a house in Grosvenor Square.” She has written opposite : “Spiteful again! He went by direction of his physicians where they could easiest attend to him.” On February 7, 1781, she writes to Madame D'Arblay : —
“Yesterday I had a conversazione. Mrs. Montagu was brilliant in diamonds, solid in judgment, critical in talk. Sophy smiled, Piozzi sung, Pepys panted with admiration, Johnson was good-humored, Lord John Clinton attentive, Dr. Bowdler lame, and my master not asleep. Mrs. Ord looked elegant, Lady Rothes dainty, Mrs. Davenant dapper, and Sir Philip's curls were all blown about by the wind. Mrs. Byron rejoices that her Admiral and I agree so well; the way to his heart is connoisseurship it seems, and for a background and cortorno, who comes up to Mrs. Thrale, you know.”
We learn from Madame D'Arblay's Journal, that, towards the end of March, 1781, Mr. Thrale had resolved on going abroad with his wife, and that Johnson was to accompany them, but a subsequent entry states that the doctors condemned the plan ; and “therefore,” she adds, “it is settled that a great meeting of his friends is to take place before he actually prepares for the journey, and they are to encircle him in a body, and endeavor, by representations and entreaties, to prevail with him to give it up; and I have little doubt myself but, amongst us, we shall be able to succeed.” This is one of the oddest schemes ever projected by a set of eminently learned and accomplished gentlemen and ladies for the benefit of a hypochondriac patient. Its execution was prevented by his death April 4th, 1781. The hurried note from Mrs. Thrale announcing the event, beginning, “ Write to me, pray for me,” is indorsed by Madame D'Arblay : “Written a few hours after the death of Mr. Thrale, which happened by a sudden stroke of apoplexy, on the morning of a day on which half the fashion of London had been invited to an intended assembly at his house in Grosvenor Square.” These invitations had been sent out by his own express desire : so little was he aware of his danger. Letters and messages of condolence poured in from all sides. Johnson says all that can be said in the way of counsel or consolation :
“I do not exhort you to reason yourself into tranquillity. We must first pray, and then labor; first implore the blessing of God, and those means which he puts into our hands. Cultivated ground has few weeds; a mind occupied by lawful business, has little room for useless regret.
“ We read the will to-day ; but I will not fill my first letter with any other account than that, with all my zeal for your advantage, I am satisfied ; and that the other executors, more used to consider property than I, commended it for wisdom and equity. Yet why should I not tell you that you have five hundred pounds for your immediate expenses, and two thousand pounds a year, with both the houses and all the goods ?
“Let us pray for one another, that the time, whether long or short, that shall yet be granted us, may be well spent; and that when this life, which at the longest is very short, shall come to an end, a better may begin which shall never end."
On April 9th he writes :
“ DEAREST MADAM, — That you are gradually recovering your tranquillity, is the effect to be humbly expected from trust in God. Do not represent life as darker than it is. Your loss has been very great, but you retain more than almost any other can hope to possess. You are high in the opinion of mankind ; you have children from whom much pleasure may be expected ; and that you will find many friends, you have no reason to doubt. Of my friendship, be it worth more or less, I hope you think yourself certain, without much art or care. It will not be easy for me to repay the benefits that I have received ; but I hope to be always ready at your call. Our sorrow has different effects ; you are withdrawn into solitude, and I am driven into company. I am afraid of thinking what I have lost. I never had such a friend before. Let me have your prayers and those of my dear Queeny.
“ The prudence and resolution of your design to return so soon to your business and your duty deserves great praise; I shall communicate it on Wednesday to the other executors. Be pleased to let me know whether you would have me come to Streatham to receive you, or stay here till the next day.”
Johnson was one of the executors, and took pride in discharging his share of the trust. Mrs. Thrale's account (in the “Autobiography") of the pleasure he took in signing the checks, is incidentally confirmed by Boswell: —
“I could not but be somewhat diverted by hearing Johnson talk in a pompous manner of his new office, and particularly of the concerns of the brewery, which it was at last resolved should be sold. Lord Lucan tells a very good story, which, if not precisely exact, is certainly characteristical ; that when the sale of Thrale's brewery was going forward, Johnson appeared bustling about, with an ink-horn and pen in his button-hole, like an excise-man ; and on being asked what he really considered to be the value of the property which was to be disposed of, answered, • We are not here to sell a parcel of boilers and vats, but the potentiality of growing rich beyond the dreams of avarice.'”
The executors had legacies of £200 each ; Johnson, to the surprise of his friends, being placed on no better footing than the rest. Many and heavy as were the reproaches subsequently heaped upon the widow, no one accused her of being in any respect wanting in energy, propriety, or self-respect at this period. She took the necessary steps for promoting her own interests and those of her children with prudence and promptitude. Madame D'Arblay, who was carrying on a flirtation with one of the executors (Mr. Crutchley), and had personal motives for watching their proceedings, writes, April 29th :
“ Miss Thrale is steady and constant, and very sincerely grieved for her father.
“ The four executors, Mr. Cator, Mr. Crutchley, Mr. Henry Smith, and Dr. Johnson, have all behaved generously and honorably, and seem determined to give Mrs. Thrale all the comfort and assistance in their power. She is to carry on the business jointly with them. Poor soul! it is a dreadful toil and worry to her.”
“ Streatham, Thursday. — This was the great and most important day to all this house, upon which the sale of the brewery was to be decided. Mrs. Thrale went early to town, to meet all the executors, and Mr. Barclay, the Quaker, who was the bidder. She was in great agitation of mind, and told me if all went well she would wave a white pocket-handkerchief out of the coach window.
“ Four o'clock came and dinner was ready, and no Mrs. Thrale. Five o'clock followed, and no Mrs. Thrale. Queeny and I went out upon the lawn, where we sauntered, in eager expectation, till near six, and then the coach appeared in sight, and a white pockethandkerchief was waved from it. I ran to the door of it to meet her, and she jumped out of it, and gave me a thousand embraces while I gave my congratulations. We went instantly to her dressing-room, where she told me, in brief, how the matter had been transacted, and then we went down to dinner. Dr. Johnson and Mr. Crutchley had accompanied her home.”
The event is thus announced to Langton by Johnson, in a letter printed by Boswell, dated June 16, 1781 : “ You will perhaps be glad to hear that Mrs. Thrale is disencumbered of her brewhouse, and that it seemed to the purchaser so far from an evil that he was content to give for it £135,000. Is the nation ruined ?" Marginal note : “I suppose he was neither glad nor sorry.”
The brewery was purchased by Messrs. Barclay, Perkins, and Co. The house at Streatham was left to Mrs. Thrale for her life, but in the course of the following year she made up her mind to let it; and there was no foundation for the remark with which Boswell accompanies his account of Johnson's solemn farewell to Streatham :
“ Whether," he says, “ her attachment to him was already divided by another object, I am unable to ascertain ; but it is plain that Johnson's penetration was alive to her neglect or forced attention ; for on the 6th October this year, 1782, we find him making a “parting use of the library' at Streatham, and pronouncing a prayer which he composed on leaving Mrs. Thrale's family.”
In one of his memorandum books Johnson wrote: “Sunday, went to church at Streatham, Templo valedixi cum osculo” (I bade farewell to the temple with a kiss); and in the same book is a Latin entry, particularizing his last dinner at Streatham, and ending “ Streathamiam quando revisam ?” (when shall I revisit Streatham ?)*
Madame D'Arblay's Diary proves that, far from having left Mrs. Thrale's family, he was living with them at Brighton on the 26th of the same month, having come with them from Streatham, and on October 28th she writes :
“ At dinner, we had Dr. Delap and Mr. Selwyn, who accompanied us in the evening to a ball; as did also Dr. Johnson, to the universal amazement of all who saw him there ; — but he said he had found it so dull being quite alone the preceding evening, that he determined upon going with us; “for,' he said, 'it cannot be worse than being alone.”. Strange that he should think so! I am sure I am not of his mind.”
On the 29th, she records that Johnson behaved very rudely to Mr. Pepys, and fairly drove bim from the house. The entry for November 10th is remarkable : “ We spent this evening at Lady De Ferrars, where Dr. Johnson accompanied us, for the first time he has been invited of our parties since my arrival.” On the 20th November, she tells us that Mrs. and the three Miss
* Mr. Croker terms this entry his farewell to the kitchen. It runs thus:
“ Oct. 6. Die Dominica, 1782. “Pransus sum Streathamiæ agninum crus coctum cum herbis (spinach) comminutis, farcimen farinaceum cum uvis passis, lumbos bovillos, et pullum gallinæ Turcicæ; et post carnes missas, ficus, uvas, non admodum maturas, ita voluit anni intemperies, cum malis Persicis, iis tamen duris. Non lætus accubui, cibum modicè sumpsi, ne intemperantiâ ad extremum peccaretur. Si recte memini, in mentem venerunt epulæ in exequiis Hadoni celebratæ. Streathamiam quando revisam?” — Rose MSS.