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of the “ Gentleman's Magazine” suggests that Johnson had in his mind an epigram on a young lady who appeared at a masquerade in Paris, habited as a Jesuit, during the height of the contention between the Jansenists and Molinists concerning free-will:
“ On s'étonne ici que Calviniste
N'est ce pas une Janseniste." * Mrs. Thrale took the lead even when her husband might be expected to strike in, as when Johnson was declaiming paradoxically against action in oratory : “Action can have no effect on reasonable minds. It may augment noise, but it never can enforce argument.” Mrs. Thrale. “ What then, Sir, becomes of Demosthenes’ saying, Action, action, action?” Johnson. “ Demosthenes, Madam, spoke to an assembly of brutes, to a barbarous people.” “ The polished Athenians !” is her marginal protest, and a most conclusive one.
In English literature she was rarely at fault. In reference to the flattery lavished on Garrick by Lord Mansfield and Lord Chatham, Johnson had said, “ When he whom everybody else fatters, flatters me, then I am truly happy.” Mrs. Thrale. “ The sentiment is in Congreve, I think.” Johnson. “ Yes, Madam, in “The Way of the World.'
" If there's delight in love, 't is when I see
The heart that others bleed for, bleed for me.'"
The laudari a laudato viro is nearer the mark.
It would be easy to heap proof upon proof of the value and variety of Mrs. Thrale's contributions to the colloquial treasures accumulated by Boswell and other members of the set; and
* " Menagiana," Vol. III. p. 376. Edition of 1716. Equally happy were Lord Chesterfield's lines to a young lady who appeared at a Dublin ball, with an orange breastknot:
“ Pretty Tory, where's the jest
To wear that riband on thy breast,
The whiteness of the rebel rose ?"
Johnson's deliberate testimony to her good qualities of head and heart will far more than counterbalance any passing expressions of disapproval or reproof which her mistimed vivacity, or alleged disregard of scrupulous accuracy in narrative, may have called forth. No two people ever lived much together for a series of years without many fretful, complaining, dissatisfied, uncongenial moments, — without letting drop captious or unkind expressions utterly at variance with their habitual feelings and their matured judgments of each other. The hasty word, the passing sarcasm, the sly hit at an acknowledged foible, should count for nothing in the estimate when contrasted with earnest and deliberate assurances, proceeding from one who was always too proud to flatter, and in no mood for idle compliment when he wrote:
“ Never (he writes in 1773) imagine that your letters are long; they are always too short for my curiosity. I do not know that I was ever content with a single perusal. ..... My nights are grown again very uneasy and troublesome. I know not that the country will mend them ; but I hope your company will mend my days. Though I cannot now expect much attention, and would not wish for more than can be spared from the poor dear lady (her mother), yet I shall see you and hear you every now and then ; and to see and hear you, is always to hear wit and to see virtue.”
He would not suffer her to be lightly spoken of in his presence, nor permit his name to be coupled jocularly with hers. “I yesterday told him," says Boswell, when they were traversing the Highlands, “I was thinking of writing a poetical letter to him, on his return from Scotland, in the style of Swift's humorous epistle in the character of Mary Gulliver to her husband, Captain Lemuel Gulliver, on his return to England from the country of the Houyhnhnms:
". At early morn I to the market haste,
Studious in ev'rything to please thy taste.
He laughed, and asked in whose name I would write it. I said in Mrs. Thrale's. He was angry. “Sir, if you have any sense of decency or delicacy, you won't do that.' Boswell. “Then let it be in Cole's, the landlord of the Mitre tavern, where we have so often sat together. Johnson. “Ay, that may do.”
Again, at Inverary, when Johnson called for a gill of whiskey that he might know what makes a Scotchman happy, and Boswell proposed Mrs. Thrale as their toast, he would not have her drunk in whiskey. Peter Pindar has maliciously added to this reproof :—
“We supped most royally, were vastly frisky,
So far from making light of her scholarship, he frequently accepted her as a partner in translations from the Latin. The translations from Boethius, printed in the second volume of the Letters, are their joint composition.
After recapitulating Johnson's other contributions to literature in 1766, Boswell says, “The Fountains,' a beautiful little fairy tale in prose, written with exquisite simplicity, is one of Johnson's productions ; and I cannot withhold from Mrs. Thrale the praise of being the author of that admirable poem, "The Three Warnings.'” Marginal note : “How sorry he is!” Both the tale and the poem were written for a collection of “Miscellanies,” published by Mrs. Williams in that year. The character of Floretta in “ The Fountains ” was intended for Mrs. Thrale, and parts of it received touches from her ready and fruitful pen. Her fugitive pieces, mostly in verse, thrown off from time to time at all periods of her life, are numerous; and the best of these that have been recovered will be included in these volumes. In a letter to the author of “ Piozziana," she says : “ When Wilkes and Liberty were at their highest tide, I was bringing or losing children every year; and my studies were confined to my nursery; so, it came into my head one day to send an infant alphabet to the 'St. James Chronicle':
“A was an Alderman, factious and proud ;
B was a Bellas that blustered aloud, &c.'
In a week's time Dr. Johnson asked me if I knew who wrote it ? Why, who did write it, Sir?' said I. *Steevens,' was the reply. Some time after that, years for aught I know, he mentioned to me Steevens's veracity! No, no,' answered H. L. P., 6 anything but that;' and told my story; showing him by incontestable proofs that it was mine. Johnson did not utter a word, and we never talked about it any more. I durst not introduce the subject; but it served to hinder S. from visiting at the house : I suppose Johnson kept him away.”
It does not appear that Steevens claimed the Alphabet ; which may have suggested the celebrated squib that appeared in the “ New Whig Guide," and was popularly attributed to Mr. Croker. It was headed, “The Political Alphabet; or, the Young Member's A B C,” and begins :
“ A was an Althorpe, as dull as a hog:
What widely different associations are now awakened by these names! The sting is in the tail :
" W was a Warre, 'twixt a wasp and a worm,
But X Y and Z are not found in this form,
Amongst Miss Reynolds's “ Recollections ” will be found : “On the praises of Mrs. Thrale he (Johnson) used to dwell with a peculiar delight, a paternal fondness, expressive of conscious exultation in being so intimately acquainted with her. One day, in speaking of her to Mr. Harris, author of • Hermes,' and expatiating on her various perfections, — the solidity of her virtues, the brilliancy of her wit, and the strength of her understanding, &c. — he quoted some lines (a stanza, I believe, but from what author I know not), with which he concluded his most eloquent eulogium, and of these I retained but the two last lines :
" • Virtues — of such a generous kind,
Good in the last recesses of the mind.'"
The place assigned to Mrs. Thrale by the popular voice
amongst the most cultivated and accomplished women of the day, is fixed by some verses printed in the “Morning Herald” of March 12th, 1782, which attracted much attention, They were commonly attributed to Mr. (afterwards Sir W. W.) Pepys, and Madame d’Arblay, who alludes to them complacently, thought them his; but he subsequently repudiated the authorship, and the editor of her Memoirs believes that they were written by Dr. Burney. They were provoked by the proneness of the Herald to indulge in complimentary allusions to ladies of the demirep genus :
“ HERALD, wherefore thus proclaim
Naught of woman but the shame?
Herald, haste, and these proclaim!”