« PreviousContinue »
the plan of it in his bedchamber. So little did Dr. Johnson even then comprehend the strict awe I stood in of my first husband, that I well recollect his saying to me, “ Madam! You should tear that foolish paper down: : why 'tis like leaving a wench's loveletter in the apartments of a man whom you would wish to cure of his amorous passion.” God knows I durst as well encounter death as disturb Mr. Thrale's loveletters or his building plans. The next grand agony was seeing him send out cards of invitation to a concert and supper on the 5th of April. He had himself charged Piozzi, who was the first to tell me, with care of the musical part of our entertainment, and had himself engaged the Parsees, a set of Orientals, who were shown at all the gay houses, —the lions of the day. I could but call my coadjutors, Jebb and Pepys; who tried to counteract this frolic, but in vain. They were obliged to compromise the matter by making him promise to leave town for Streatham immediately after the 5th. “Leave London! lose my Ranelagh season!” exclaimed their patient. “Why Sir, we wished you to be here, that our attendance might be more regular, and less expensive: but since we find you thus unmanageable, you are safesť at a distance.” Now, Johnson first began to see, or say he saw the danger, but now his lectures upon temperance came all too late. Poor Mr. Thrale answered him only by inquiring when lamprey season would come in? requesting Sir Philip, who was dining with us, to write his brother, the Prebendary of Worcester, a letter, begging from him the first fish of that kind the Severn should produce. I winked at Sir Philip, but he, following us women half up stairs, said: “I understand you, Madam, but must disobey. A friend I have known thirty-six years shall not ask a favour of me in his last stage of life and be refused. What difference can it make?” Tears stood in his eyes, and my own prevented all answer. In effect, that day was Mr. Thrale's last! I saw him in Sir Richard's arms at midnight. Pepys came at ten, and never left the house till early light showed me the way to Streatham: and from thence, hoping still less disturbance, to Brighthelmstone: where we had a dwelling house of our own, and whither you will see the letters all addressed.
This was thirty-four or thirty-five years ago, yet did J. never completely recover my strength of body or of mind again. I am sure I never did ! The shocks of 1780 and 1781 are not yet either recovered or forgotten by poor H. L. P.
“ POOR dear Dr. Collier." -- Mrs. Thrale to Johnson, Aug. 10, 1780; Letters, vol. ii. p. 183.
Perhaps this is no improper place to observe that La Bruyère tells his readers with confidence how the firmest friendships will be always dissolved by the intervention of love seizing the heart of either party.* It may be so: but certainly the sentiment with which dear Dr. Collier inspired me in 1757 remains unaltered now in the year 1815. After my father's death my kind and prudent mother, resolving I should marry Mr. Thrale, and fearing possibly lest my Preceptor should foment any disinclination which she well knew would melt in her influence, or die in her displeasure, resolved to part us, and we met no more: but never have I failed remembering him with a preference as completely distinct from the venerating solicitude which hung heavily over my whole soul whilst connected with Doctor Johnson, as it was from the strong connubial duty that tied my every thought to Mr. Thrale’s interest, or from the fervid and attractive passion which made twenty years passed in Piozzi’s enchanting society seem like a happy
"No friend like to a woman man discovers,
dream of twenty hours. My first friend formed my mind to resemble his. It never did resemble that of either of my husbands, and in that of Doctor Johnson's mine was swallowed up and lost. Oh true were these words, put together so long ago :
- The sentiment I feel for you
Sophia Streatfield too, if yet living, will bear testimony to the strange power of Doctor Arthur Collier over the minds of his youthful pupils when past seventy years old, and to the day of his death, which when I knew her, she lamented annually, by wearing a black dress, &c. If he did not burn my letters, Latin exercises, &c., she possesses them.
Mr. Thrale's passion for her she played with; a little perhaps diverting herself by mortifying me, but there was no harm done, I am confident. He thought her a
a thing at least semi-celestial; had he once found her out a mere mortal woman, his flame would have blazed out no more. And it did blaze frightfully indeed during one dreadful attack of the apoplexy at our Borough house, alluded to in these letters, page 178, when by Sir Richard Jebb's conditional permission, Shaw the apothecary bled Mr. Thrale usque ad deliquium, and I thought all over. When, however, temporary and apparent recovery followed the horrid process of stimulating cataplasms which awakened him from coma to delirium, that delirium only appeased by bleeding quite to faintness; when he had remained mute five long days; not speaking a consolatory word to one of us; friends, sisters, daughters, clerks, physicians, no sooner was Sophy Streatfield's voice heard in Southwark, than our patient sate up in bed, conversed with her without hesitation, and even said, with a complimentary smile, kissing her hand, that the visit she had made that day, had repaid all his sufferings. It was from this attack, when he recovered, that Lawrence, Jebb, &c. sent us to Bath, whence rioters dislodged and drove us to Brighthelmstone. From thence we returned to London: a ready-furnished house in Grosvenor Square being thought the best place by medical advisers, while Perkins assured Doctor Johnson that his master would be safest, in every respect, at a distance from his business.