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It was fortunate that the handwriting compensated for the hands; and as she attached great importance to blood and race, that she did not live to read Byron's " thoroughbred and tapering fingers,” or to be shocked by his theory that “the hand is almost the only sign of blood which aristocracy can generate.” Her Bath friend appeals to a miniature (engraved for this work) by Roche, of Bath, taken when she was in her seventy-seventh year. Like Cromwell, who told the painter that if he softened a harsh line, or so much as omitted a wart, he should never be paid a sixpence, — she desired the artist to paint her face deeply rouged, which it always was,* and to introduce a trivial deformity of the jaw, produced by a horse treading on her as she lay on the ground after a fall. In this respect she proved superior to Johnson; who, with all his love of truth, could not bear to be painted with his defects. He was displeased at being drawn holding a book close to his eye, and on its being suggested that Reynolds had painted himself with his ear-trumpet, he replied: “ He may do as he likes, but I will not go down to posterity as Blinking Sam.”
Reynolds's portrait of Mrs. Thrale conveys a highly agreeable impression of her ; and so does Hogarth's when she sat to him for the principal figure in “ The Lady's Last Stake.” She was then only fourteen ; and he probably idealized his model ; but that he also produced a striking likeness, is obvious on comparing his picture with the professed portraits. The history of this picture (which has been engraved, at Lord Macaulay's sugges
* “ One day I called early at her house; and as I entered her drawing-room, she passed me, saying, “Dear Sir, I will be with you in a few minutes; but, while I think of it, I must go to my dressing-closet and paint my face, which I forgot to do this morning.' Accordingly she soon returned, wearing the requisite quantity of bloom; which, it must be noticed, was not in the least like that of youth and beauty. I then said that I was surprised she should so far sacrifice to fashion, as to take that trouble. Her answer was that, as I might conclude, her practice of painting did not proceed from any silly compliance with Bath fashion, or any fashion; still less, if possible, from the desire of appearing younger than she was, but from this circumstance, that in early life she had worn rouge, as other young persons did in her day, as a part of dress; and after continuing the habit for some years, discovered that it had introduced a dead yellow color into her complexion, quite unlike that of her natural skin, and that she wished to conceal the deformity." - Piozziana.
tion, for this work) will be found in the Autobiography and the Letters.
Boswell's account of his first visit to Streatham gives a tolerably fair notion of the footing on which Johnson stood there, and the manner in which the interchange of mind was carried on between him and the hostess. This visit took place in October, 1769, four or five years after Johnson's introduction to her; and Boswell's absence from London, in which he had no fixed residence during Johnson's life, will hardly account for the neglect of his illustrious friend in not procuring him a privilege which he must have highly coveted and would doubtless have turned to good account.
“On the 6th of October I complied with this obliging invitation ; and found, at an elegant villa, six miles from town, every circumstance that can make society pleasing. Johnson, though quite at home, was yet looked up to with an awe, tempered by affection, and seemed to be equally the care of his host and hostess. I rejoiced at seeing him so happy.”
“Mrs. Thrale disputed with him on the merit of Prior. He attacked him powerfully; said he wrote of love like a man who had never felt it; his love verses were college verses : and he repeated the song, ‘Alexis shunned his fellow-swains, &c. in so ludicrous a manner, as to make us all wonder how any one could have been pleased with such fantastical stuff. Mrs. Thrale stood to her guns with great courage, in defence of amorous ditties, which Johnson despised, till he at last silenced her by saying, • My dear lady, talk no more of this. Nonsense can be defended but by nonsense.'
“ Mrs. Thrale then praised Garrick's talents for light, gay poetry ; and, as a specimen, repeated his song in Florizel and Perdita,' and dwelt with peculiar pleasure on this line :
“I'd smile with the simple, and feed with the poor.'
“ Johnson. — Nay, my dear lady, this will never do. Poor David! Smile with the simple ! — what folly is that? And who would feed with the poor that can help it ? No, no; let me smile with the wise, and feed with the rich.'” Boswell adds, that
he repeated this sally to Garrick, and wondered to find his sensibility as a writer not a little irritated by it; on which Mrs. Thrale remarks, “ How odd to go and tell the man!”
The independent tone she took when she deemed the Doctor unreasonable, is also proved by Boswell in his report of what took place at Streatham in reference to Lord Marchmont's offer to supply information for the Life of Pope.
“ Elated with the success of my spontaneous exertion to procure material and respectable aid to Johnson for his very favorite work, · The Lives of the Poets,' I hastened down to Mr. Thrale's, at Streatham, where he now was, that I might insure his being at home next day; and after dinner, when I thought he would receive the good news in the best humor, I announced it eagerly :
I have been at work for you to-day, Sir. I have been with Lord Marchmont. He bade me tell you he has a great respect for you, and will call on you to-morrow at one o'clock, and communicate all he knows about Pope.' Johnson. 'I shall not be in town to
I don't care to know about Pope.' Mrs. Thrale (surprised, as I was, and a little angry). 'I suppose, Sir, Mr. Boswell thought that as you are to write Pope's Life, you would wish to know about him.' Johnson. “Wish! why yes. If it rained knowledge, I'd hold out my hand; but I would not give myself the trouble to go in quest of it.' There was no arguing with him at the moment. Some time afterwards he said, ' Lord Marchmont will call on me, and then I shall call on Lord Marchmont.' Mrs. Thrale was uneasy at this unaccountable caprice; and told me, that if I did not take care to bring about a meeting between Lord Marchmont and him, it would never take place, which would be a great pity."
The ensuing conversation is a good sample of the freedom and variety of “talk” in which Johnson luxuriated, and shows how important a part Mrs. Thrale played in it:
“Mrs. Thrale told us, that a curious clergyman of our acquaintance (Dr. Lort is named in the margin) had discovered a licentious stanza, which Pope had originally in his Universal Prayer,' before the stanza,
"What conscience dictates to be done,
Or warns us not to do,' &c.
It was this:
6. Can sins of moment claim the rod
Of everlasting fires ?
Which Nature's self inspires ?'
and that Dr. Johnson observed, it had been borrowed from Guarini. There are, indeed, in Pastor Fido, many such flimsy, superficial reasonings as that in the last two lines of this stanza.
“ Boswell. • In that stanza of Pope's, “ rod of fires ” is certainly a bad metaphor. Mrs. Thrale. And “ sins of moment” is a faulty expression ; for its true import is momentous, which cannot be intended.' Johnson. It must have been written “ of moments.” Of moment, is momentous ; of moments, momentary. I warrant you, however, Pope wrote this stanza, and some friend struck it out'
“ Talking of divorces, I asked if Othello's doctrine was not plausible :
"" He that is robbed, not wanting what is stolen,
Let him not know 't, and he's not robbed at all.'
Dr. Johnson and Mrs. Thrale joined against this. Johnson. * Ask any man if he'd wish not to know of such an injury.' Boswell. • Would you tell your friend, to make him unhappy ?' Johnson. • Perhaps, Sir, I should not; but that would be from prudence on my own account. A man would tell his father.' Boswell. “Yes; because he would not have spurious children to get any share of the family inheritance. Mrs. Thrale. Or he would tell his brother. Boswell. Certainly his elder brother.
Would you tell Mr. — ?' (naming a gentleman who assuredly was not in the least danger of so miserable a disgrace, though married to a fine woman). Johnson. "No, Sir; because it would do no good; he is so sluggish, he'd never go to Parliament and get through a divorce."" Marginal Note : "Langton.”
One great charm of her companionship to cultivated men was her familiarity with the learned languages, as well as with French, Italian, and Spanish. The author of " Piozziana" says: “ She not only read and wrote Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, but had for sixty years constantly and ardently studied the Scriptures
and the works of commentators in the original languages." He probably over-estimated her acquirements, which Boswell certainly underestimates when he speaks slightingly of them on the strength of Johnson's having said : “ It is a great mistake to suppose that she is above him (Thrale) in literary attainments. She is more flippant, but he has ten times her learning: he is a regular scholar ; but her learning is that of a school-boy in one of the lower forms.” If this were so, it is strange that Thrale should cut so poor a figure, should seem little better than a nonentity, whilst every imaginable topic was under animated discussion at his table; for Boswell was more ready to report the husband's sayings than the wife's. In a marginal note on one of the printed letters she says: “Mr. Thrale was a very merrytalking man in 1760 ; but the distress of 1772, which affected his health, his hopes, and his whole soul, affected his temper too. Perkins called it being planet-struck, and I am not sure he was ever completely the same man again.” The notes of his conversation during the antecedent period are equally meagre.
No one would have expected to find her as much at home in Greek and Latin authors as a man of fair ability who had received and profited by a university education, but she could appreciate a classical allusion or quotation, and translate off-hand a Latin epigram into idiomatic English.
“ Mary Aston,” said Johnson, “was a beauty and a scholar, and a wit and a whig; and she talked all in praise of liberty; and so I made this epigram upon her. She was the loveliest creature I ever saw !
“ • Liber ne esse velim, suasisti, pulchra Maria,
Ut maneam liber, pulchra Maria, vale!' “ « Will it do this way in English, Sir?' (said Mrs. Thrale) :
* * Persuasions to freedom fall oddly from you,
If freedom we seek, fair Maria, adieu.'"
Mr. Croker's version is :
“ You wish me, fair Maria, to be free,
Then, fair Maria, I must fly from thee."
Boswell also has tried his hand at it; and a correspondent