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THE two brothers to whom the first batch of the following letters are addressed, were members of a county family settled for more than two centuries at Hempsted in Gloucestershire. Both were eminently distinguished by the extent and variety of their antiquarian and literary acquirements, as well as highly esteemed for their social qualities. It is sufficient to mention their principal work, the “ Magna Britannia," which they undertook in copartnership. The younger, Samuel, afterwards Keeper of the Records in the Tower and a V.P.R.S., was presented to Johnson and favourably received by him ; but the acquaintance commenced only a few months before Johnson's death.
The present proprietor of Hempsted Court and rector of Rodmarton (the family living) amply sustains the hereditary reputation of his family, being the author of several works of learning, ingenuity and research.
A selection of letters from Mrs. Piozzi to the same gentlemen, of an earlier date, appeared in “ Bentley's Miscellany,” in 1849, and I have made a few extracts from these.
Milan, 26th Feb. 1785. “ Tell me something of home, do: how the people tear Mrs. Siddons in pieces, and why they tear her. How the executors and Mr. Boswell quarrel over the remains of poor Dr. Johnson! I saw something of it in an English newspaper one day; but it only served to whet, not gratify, curiosity; the particulars must come from you. The booksellers have written to me for materials or letters, but I told them truly enough that I had left most of my papers in England, and could do nothing till my return."
“Milan, 22nd March, 1785. “My book is getting forward, and will run well enough among the rest; the letters I have of Dr. Johnson's are two hundred at least, I dare say, and some of those from Skie are delightful — they will carry my little volume upon their back quite easily.
“Do you know who Dr. Taylor gives his anecdotes to? Dr. Johnson bid me once ask him for memoirs, if I was the survivor, and so I would, but I am afraid of a refusal, as I guess Sir John Hawkins is already in possession of all that Dr. Taylor has to bestow. There lives, however, at Birmingham a surgeon, Mr. Edward Hector, whom, likewise, Mr. Johnson referred me to: he once saw Mr. Thrale and me, and, perhaps, would be more kind, and more likely to relate such things as I wish to hear,—could you go between us and coax him out of some intelligence ? — the story of the duck is incomparable.* Sir Lucas Pepys advised me not to declare to private friends alone, but to publicly advertise my intentions of writing anecdotes concerning Dr. Johnson: you will, therefore, see it proclaimed in all the papers, I hope.
“ Venice, 30th April, 1785. “My book is in very pretty forwardness, but the letters I have in England are my best possessions. A propos, the papers said that Sir John Hawkins has had his house burnt down, is it true? Pray inquire for a letter which I know Dr. Johnson wrote to Mr. Barnard, the King's librarian, when he was in Italy looking for curious books; the subject was wholly literary and controversial, and would be most interesting to the public; I would give anything almost to obtain a copy now, and there was a time when I might have taken twenty copies. Do not you be as negligent of your opportunities of improvement; one always repents such negligence in the end. No end to my preachments, you'll say, but you always gave me permission to preach to you, so I am at least a licenziata.”
* The story that Johnson, when only three years old, having trodden on a duckling, the eleventh of a brood, and killed it, dictated the following epitaph to his mother:
“ Here lies good master Duck,
Whom Samuel Johnson trod on,
For then we'd had an odd one."
Miss Seward discovered the seeds of his future character in these lines, which were really written by his father.
“ Miss Thrale has written to me from Brighthelmstone, and Susan and Sophy have thanked me for a little box I sent at the same time as yours, with female trifles in it. Mr. Piozzi is so good as to send them some token of our existence and regard by every opportunity, and the Venetian resident will be good-natured and carry something, I am sure; but then he will not get to London these ten months. I hope you will all like him when he comes among you, and I rather think it, he is a man of an active mind and soft manners. What is there in this world, I wonder, unattainable by the old maxim well persisted in-of suaviter in modo, fortiter in re? Very few things I do think.”
“Florence, 14th June, 1785. “It was exceedingly friendly in you to tell me about the spitfire wits, and nothing can prove the regard I pay to your good counsel so completely, as the method I immediately took by writing to Mr. Cadell, and offering him the "Anecdotes.' He will probably show you my letter, perhaps publish it, in order to convince the world that 'tis no joke at all, and that they must wait till they have read, before they begin to ridicule it. Meantime, I have sent Sir Lucas Pepys an ode, written by the Chevalier Pindemonte, a noble Venetian, in praise of England, with my translation over against it; so people may see I am at liberty to write something, and may undertake the Memoirs of Dr. Johnson as well as anything else. Mr. Colman is right enough in his conjectures, I dare say; but those who had a true