Page images

Thrales and herself got up early to bathe. “We then returned home, and dressed by candle-light, and, as soon as we could get Dr. Johnson ready, we set out upon our journey in a coach and a chaise, and arrived in Argyll Street at dinner time. Mrs. Thrale has there fixed her tent for this short winter, which will end with the beginning of April, when her foreign journey takes place.”

On Boswell's arrival in London, the year following (March 20, 1783) he found Johnson still domesticated with Mrs. Thrale and her daughters in Argyll Street, and judging from their manner to each other, “ imagined all to be as well as formerly.” But three months afterwards (June 19th) Johnson writes to her :

“I am sitting down in no cheerful solitude to write a narrative which would once have affected you with tenderness and sorrow, but which you will perhaps pass over now with the careless glance of frigid indifference. For this diminution of regard, however, I know not whether I ought to blame you, who may have reasons which I cannot know, and I do not blame myself, who have for a great part of human life done you what good I could, and have never done you evil.”

Two days before, he had suffered a paralytic stroke, and lost the power of speech for a period. After minutely detailing his ailments and their treatment by his medical advisers, he proceeds :

“ How this will be received by you I know not. I hope you will sympathize with me; but perhaps


“My mistress gracious, mild, and good,

Cries! Is he dumb? 'Tis time he should.

“But can this be possible? I hope it cannot. I hope that what, when I could speak, I spoke of you, and to you, will be in a sober and serious hour remembered by you; and surely it cannot be remembered but with some degree of kindness. I have loved you with virtuous affection ; I have honored you with sincere esteem. Let not all our endearments be forgotten, but let me have in this great distress your pity and your prayers. You see I yet turn to you with my complaints as a settled and unalienable friend ; do not, do not drive me from you, for I have not deserved either neglect or hatred.”

Mrs. Thrale was at Bath, and did all she could to comfort him. Whilst his illness lasted, he sent her a regular diary, and on June 28th he sets down in it: “ Your letter is just such as I desire, and as from you I hope always to deserve.” He was so absorbed with his own sufferings, as to make no allowance for hers. Yet her own health was in a very precarious state, and in the autumn of the same year, his complaints of silence and neglect are suspended by the intelligence that her daughter Sophia was lying at death's door. On March 27, 1784, she writes :

“ You tell one of my daughters that you know not with distinctness the cause of my complaints. I believe she who lives with me knows them no better; one very dreadful one is however removed by dear Sophia's recovery. It is kind in you to quarrel no more about expressions which were not meant to offend; but unjust to suppose, I have not lately thought myself dying. Let us, however, take the Prince of Abyssinia's advice, and not add to the other evils of life the bitterness of controversy. If courage is a noble and generous quality, let us exert it to the last, and at the last: if faith is a Christian virtue, let us willingly receive and accept that support it will most surely bestow, — and do permit me to repeat those words with which I know not why you were displeased : Let us leave behind us the best example that we can.

“ All this is not written by a person in high health and happiness, but by a fellow-sufferer, who has more to endure than she can tell, or you can guess; and now let us talk of the Severn salmons, which will be coming in soon; I shall send you one of the finest, and shall be glad to hear that your appetite is


The pleasures of intimacy in friendship depend far more on external circumstances than people of a sentimental turn of mind are willing to concede; and when constant companionship ceases to suit the convenience of both parties, the chances are that it will be dropped on the first favorable opportunity. Admiration, esteem, or affection may continue to be felt for one whom, from altered habits or new ties, we can no longer receive as an inmate or an established member of the family circle. It is to be regretted, therefore, that Mrs. Thrale should have rested her partial estrangement from Johnson upon grounds which would justify a suspicion that much of the cordiality she had shown him during the palmy days of their friendship had been forced. In her “ Anecdotes," after mentioning an instance of his violence, she says:

“Such accidents, however, occurred too often, and I was forced to take advantage of my lost lawsuit, and plead inability of purse to remain longer in London or its vicinage. I had been crossed in my intentions of going abroad, and found it convenient, for every reason of health, peace, and pecuniary circumstances, to retire to Bath, where I knew Mr. Johnson would not follow me, and where I could for that reason command some little portion of time for my own use; a thing impossible while I remained at Streatham or at London, as my hours, carriage, and servants had long been at his command who would not rise in the morning till twelve o'clock perhaps, and oblige me to make breakfast for him till the bell rung for dinner, though much displeased if the toilet was neglected, and though much of the time we passed together was spent in blaming or deriding, very justly, my neglect of economy, and waste of that money which might make many families happy. The original reason of our connection, his particularly disordered health and spirits, had been long at an end, and he had no other ailments than old age and general infirmity, which every professor of medicine was ardently zealous and generally attentive to palliate, and to contribute all in their power for the prolongation of a life so valuable. Veneration for his virtue, reverence for his talents, delight in his conversation, and habitual endurance of a yoke my husband first put upon me, and of which he contentedly bore his share for sixteen or seventeen years, made me go on so long with Mr. Johnson ; but the perpetual confinement I will own•to have been terrifying in the first years of our friendship, and irksome in the last; nor could I pretend to support it without help, when my coadjutor was no more. To the assistance we gave him, the shelter our house afforded to his uneasy fancies, and to the pains we took to soothe or repress them, the world perhaps is indebted for the three political pamphlets, the new edition and correction of his Dictionary, and for the Poets' Lives, which he would scarce have

lived, I think, and kept his faculties entire, to have written, had not incessant care been exerted at the time of his first coming to be our constant guest in the country ; and several times after that, when he found himself particularly oppressed with diseases incident to the most vivid and fervent imaginations. I shall forever consider it as the greatest honor which could be conferred on any one, to have been the confidential friend of Dr. Johnson's health, and to have in some measure, with Mr. Thrale's assistance, saved from distress at least, if not from worse, a mind great beyond the comprehension of common mortals, and good beyond all hope of imitation from perishable beings.”

This, in forensic phrase, is her case.

That the resolution to live more apart from her venerated friend would have been taken independently of Piozzi, is likely enough; but she had little reason to wonder or complain that it was attributed to her growing affection for her future husband. Her account of the commencement of their acquaintance, and the growth of their attachment, forms one of the most striking fragments of her Autobiography. She says that in August, 1780, Madame D'Arblay recommended him by letter as “a man likely to lighten the burden of life to her,” and that both she and Mr. Thrale took to him at once. Madame D'Arblay is silent on the subject of the introduction or recommendation. She told the Rev. W. Harness, who told me, that the first time Mrs. Thrale was in a room with Piozzi, she stood behind him when he was singing, and mimicked his gestures. On August 24, 1780, Madame D'Arblay writes: “I have not seen Piozzi ; he left me your letter, which indeed is a charming one, though its contents puzzled me much whether to make me sad or merry." In her Diary, dated Streatham, July 16, 1781, she sets down :

“ You will believe I was not a little surprised to see Sacchini. He is going to the Continent with Piozzi, and Mrs. Thrale invited them both to spend the last day at Streatham, and from hence proceed to Margate.”

“ The first song he sang, beginning ‘En quel amabil volto, you may perhaps know, but I did not; it is a charming mezza bravura. He and Piozzi then sung together the duet of the Amore Soldato;' and nothing could be much more delightful; Piozzi taking pains to sing his very best, and Sacchini, with his soft but delicious whisper, almost thrilling 'me by his exquisite and pathetic expression. They then went through that opera, great part of · Creso,' some of · Erifile,' and much of “Rinaldo.'”

In February, 1782, Piozzi is thus mentioned in a letter from Mrs. Thrale to Madame D'Arblay : “This morning I was with him (Johnson) again, and this evening Mrs. Ord's conversation and Piozzi's cara voce have kept away care pretty well.” It was never asserted or insinuated by her bitterest enemies that her regard for him took too warm a tinge whilst Thrale lived, and it appears to have ripened slowly into love, manifesting no symptoms calculated to excite suspicion till the year before the crisis. Piozzi's attentions to the wealthy widow had attracted Johnson's notice without troubling his peace. On November 24th, 1781, he wrote from Ashbourne: “ Piozzi, I find, is coming in spite of Miss Harriet’s prediction, or second sight, and when he comes and I come, you will have two about you that love you; and I question if either of us heartily care how few more you have. But how many soever they may be, I hope you keep your kindness for me, and I have a great mind to have Queeny's kindness too."

Again, December 3d, 1781 : “ You have got Piozzi again, notwithstanding pretty Harriet's dire denunciations. The Italian translation which he has brought, you will find no great accession to your library, for the writer seems to understand very little English. When we meet we can compare some passages. Pray contrive a multitude of good things for us to do when we meet. Something that may hold all together ; though if anything makes me love you more, it is going from you."

Madame D'Arblay, who registers her friend's movements as carefully and minutely as her own, states in August, 1782, that Streatham had been let to Lord Shelburne, and that “My dear Mrs. Thrale, the friend, though not the most dear friend, of my heart, is going abroad for three years certain. This scheme has been some time in a sort of distant agitation, but it is now brought to a resolution. Much private business belongs to it relative to her detestable lawsuit; but much private inclination is also joined with it relative to her long wishing to see Italy.”

« PreviousContinue »