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LIFE AND WRITINGS OF MRS. PIOZZI.
Dr. Johnson has been hailed by acclamation the literary colossus of an epoch when the galaxy of British authorship sparkled with the names of Hume, Robertson, Gibbon, Warburton, the Wartons, Fielding, Richardson, Smollett, Gray, Goldsmith, and Burke. Any one of these may have surpassed the great lexicographer in some one branch of learning or domain of genius; but as a man of letters, in the highest sense of the term, he towered pre-eminent, and his superiority to each of them (except Burke) in general acquirements, intellectual power, and force of expression, was hardly contested by his contemporaries. To be associated with his name has become a title of distinction in itself; and some members of his circle enjoy, and have fairly earned, a peculiar advantage in this respect. In their capacity of satellites revolving round the sun of their idolatry, they attracted and reflected his light and heat. As humble companions of their Magnolia grandiflora, they did more than live with it;* they gathered and preserved the choicest of its flowers. Thanks to them, his reputation is kept alive more by what has been saved of his conversation than by his books; and his colloquial exploits necessarily revive the memory of the friends (or victims) who elicited and recorded them.
If the two most conspicuous amongst these have hitherto gained notoriety rather than what is commonly understood by fame, a
* “ Je ne suis pas la rose, mais j'ai vécu avec elle.” – Constant.
discriminating posterity is already beginning to make reparation for the wrong. Boswell's “ Letters to Temple," edited by Mr. Francis, with “ Boswelliana,” printed for the Philobiblion Society by Mr. Milnes, led, in 1857, to a revisal of the harsh sentence passed on one whom the most formidable of his censors, Lord Macaulay, has declared to be not less decidedly the first of biographers, than Homer is the first of heroic poets, Shakespeare the first of dramatists, or Demosthenes the first of orators. The result was eminently favorable to Boswell, although the vulnerable points of his character were still more glaringly displayed. The appeal about to be hazarded on behalf of Mrs. Piozzi will involve little or no risk of this kind. Her ill-wishers made the most of the event which so injuriously affected her reputation at the time of its occurrence; and the marked tendency of every additional disclosure of the circumstances has been to elevate her. No candid person will read her Autobiography, or her Letters, without arriving at the conclusion that her long life was morally, if not conventionally, irreproachable ; and that her talents were sufficient to confer on her writings a value and attraction of their own, apart from what they possess as illustrations of a period or a school. When the papers out of which this volume is principally composed were laid before Lord Macaulay, he gave it as his opinion that they afforded materials for a “most interesting and durably popular volume.”
They comprise :— 1. Autobiographical Memoirs. 2. Letters, mostly addressed to the late Sir James Fellowes.
3. Fugitive pieces of her composition, most of which have never appeared in print.
4. Manuscript notes by her on Wraxall's Memoirs, and on her own published works, namely: “ Anecdotes of the late Samuel Johnson, LL.D., during the last twenty years of his life," one volume, 1786 ; “ Letters to and from the late Samuel Johnson, LL. D., &c.,” in two volumes, 1788 ; “ Observations and Reflections made in the course of a Journey through France, Italy, and Germany," in two volumes, 1789; “ Retrospection ; or, Review of the most striking and important Events, Characters, Situations, and their Consequences which the last Eighteen Hundred Years have presented to the View of Mankind,” in two volumes, quarto, 1801.
The “ Autobiographical Memoirs," and the annotated books, were given by her to the late Sir James Fellowes, of Adbury House, Hants, M. D., F. R. S., to whom the letters were addressed. He and the late Sir John Piozzi Salusbury were her executors, and the present publication takes place in pursuance of an agreement with their personal representatives, the Rev. G. A. Salusbury, Rector of Westbury, Salop, and Captain J. Butler Fellowes.
Valuable additions to the original stock of materials have reached me since the announcement of the work. The Rev. Dr. Wellesley, the Principal of New Inn Hall, has kindly placed at my disposal his copy of Boswell's “Life of Johnson,” (edition of 1816), plentifully sprinkled with marginal notes by Mrs. Piozzi. The Rev. Samuel Lysons, of Hempsted Court, Gloucester, has liberally allowed me the free use of his valuable collection of books and manuscripts, including numerous letters from Mrs. Piozzi to his father and uncle, the Rev. Daniel Lysons and Mr. Samuel Lysons, the friend and correspondent of Johnson ; and I shall have many more obligations to acknowledge as I proceed.
From 1776 to 1809 Mrs. Piozzi kept a copious diary and note-book, called “Thraliana.” Johnson thus alludes to it in a letter of September 6th, 1777: “As you have little to do, I suppose you are pretty diligent at the “Thraliana;' and a very curious collection posterity will find it. Do not remit the practice of writing down occurrences as they arise, of whatever kind, and be very punctual in annexing the dates. Chronology, you know, is the eye of history. Do not omit painful casualties or unpleasing passages ; they make the variegation of existence ; and there are many passages of which I will not promise, with Æneas, et hæc olim meminisse juvabit.” “ Thraliana,” which at one time she thought of burning, is now in the possession of Mr. Salusbury, who deems it of too private and delicate a character to be submitted to strangers, but has kindly supplied me with some curious passages and much valuable information extracted from it.