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Unless Mrs. Piozzi's character and social position are freshly remembered, her reminiscences and literary remains will lose much of their interest and utility. It has, therefore, been thought advisable to recapitulate, by way of introduction, what has been ascertained from other sources concerning her: especially during her intimacy with Johnson, which lasted nearly twenty years, and exercised a marked influence on his tone of mind.
“ This year (1765),” says Boswell, “ was distinguished by his (Johnson) being introduced into the family of Mr. Thrale, one of the most eminent brewers in England, and member of Parliament for the borough of Southwark. . ... Johnson used to give this account of the rise of Mr. Thrale's father : “He worked at six shillings a week for twenty years in the great brewery, which afterwards was his own. The proprietor of it had an only daughter, who was married to a nobleman. It was not fit that a peer should continue the business. On the old man's death, therefore, the brewery was to be sold. To find a purchaser for so large a property was a difficult matter; and, after some time, it was suggested, that it would be advisable to treat with Thrale, a sensible, active, honest man, who had been employed in the house, and to transfer the whole to him for thirty thousand pounds, security being taken upon the property. This was accordingly settled. In eleven years Thrale paid the purchasemoney. He acquired a large fortune, and lived to be a member of Parliament for Southwark. But what was most remarkable was the liberality with which he used his riches. He gave his son and daughters the best education. The esteem which his good conduct procured him from the nobleman who had married his master's daughter, made him be treated with much attention ; and his son, both at school and at the University of Oxford, associated with young men of the first rank. His allowance from his father, after he left college, was splendid ; not less than a thousand a year. This, in a man who had risen as old Thrale did, was a very extraordinary instance of generosity. He used to say, 'If this young dog does not find so much after I am gone as he expects, let him remember that he has had a great deal in my own time.'
What is here stated regarding Thrale's origin, on the alleged authority of Johnson, is incorrect. The elder Thrale was the nephew of Halsey, the proprietor of the brewery, whose daughter was married to a nobleman (Lord Cobham), and he naturally nourished hopes of being his uncle's successor.
In the Abbey Church of St. Albans there is a monument to some members of the Thrale family who died between 1676 and 1704, adorned with a shield of arms and a crest on a ducal coronet. Mrs. Thrale’s marginal note on Boswell's account of her husband's family is curious and characteristic:
“ Edmund Halsey was son to a miller at St. Albans, with whom he quarrelled, like Ralph in the Maid of the Mill, and ran away to London with a very few shillings in his pocket. He was eminently handsome, and old Child, of the Anchor Brewhouse, Southwark, took him in as what we call a broomstick clerk, to sweep the yard, &c. Edmund Halsey behaved so well he was soon preferred to be a house-clerk, and then, having free access to his master's table, married his only daughter, and succeeded to the business upon Child's demise. Being now rich and prosperous, he turned his eyes homewards, where he learned that sister Sukey had married a hard-working man at Offey in Hertfordshire, and had many children. He sent for one of them to London (my Mr. Thrale's father); said he would make a man of him, and did so, but made him work very hard, and treated him very roughly, Halsey being more proud than tender, and his only child, a daughter, married to Lord Cobham.
“ Old Thrale, however, as these fine writers call him, then a young fellow, and, like his uncle, eminent for personal beauty, - made himself so useful to Mr. Halsey that the weight of the business fell entirely on him; and while Edmund was canvassing the borough and visiting the viscountess, Ralph Thrale was getting money both for himself and his principal, who, envious of his success with a wench they both liked, but who preferred the young man to the old one, died, leaving him never a guinea, and he bought the brewhouse of Lord and Lady Cobham, making an excellent bargain, with the money he had saved.”
When, in the next page but one, Boswell describes Thrale as presenting the character of a plain, independent English squire,
she writes: “ No, no! Mr. Thrale's manners presented the character of a gay man of the town: like Millamant, in Congreve's comedy, he abhorred the country and everything in it.”
In “ Thraliana,” after a corresponding statement, she adds : “ He (the elder Thrale) educated his son and three daughters quite in a high style. His son he wisely connected with the Cobhams and their relations, Grenvilles, Lyttletons, and Pitts, to whom he lent money, and they lent assistance of every other kind, so that my Mr. Thrale was bred up at Stowe, and Stoke, and Oxford, and every genteel place; had been abroad with Lord Westcote, whose expenses old Thrale cheerfully paid, I suppose, who was thus a kind of tutor to the young man, who had not failed to profit by these advantages, and who was, when he came down to Offley to see his father's birthplace, a very handsome and well-accomplished gentleman.”
After expatiating on the advantages of birth, and the presumption of new men in attempting to found a new system of gentility, Boswell proceeds: “Mr. Thrale had married Miss Hester Lynch Salusbury, of good Welsh extraction, a lady of lively talents, improved by education. That Johnson's introduction into Mr. Thrale's family, which contributed so much to the happiness of his life, was owing to her desire for his conversation, is a very probable and the general supposition; but it is not the truth. Mr. Murphy, who was intimate with Mr. Thrale, having spoken very highly of Dr. Johnson, he was requested to make them acquainted. This being mentioned to Johnson, he accepted of an invitation to dinner at Thrale's, and was so much pleased with his reception, both by Mr. and Mrs. Thrale, and they so much pleased with him, that his invitations to their house were more and more frequent, till at last he became one of the family, and an apartment was appropriated to him, both in their house at Southwark and in their villa at Streatham.”
Boswell was jealous of Mrs. Thrale (as it is most convenient to call her till her second marriage) as a rival biographer, and lost no opportunity of depreciating her. He might at least, however, have stated that instead of sanctioning the “general supposition” as to the introduction, she herself supplied the account of it which he adopts. In her “ Anecdotes” she says:
“ The first time I ever saw this extraordinary man was in the year 1764, when Mr. Murphy, who had long been the friend and confidential intimate of Mr. Thrale, persuaded him to wish for Johnson's conversation, extolling it in terms which that of no other person could have deserved, till we were only in doubt how to obtain his company, and find an excuse for the invitation. The celebrity of Mr. Woodhouse, a shoemaker, whose verses were at that time the subject of common discourse, soon afforded a pretence, and Mr. Murphy brought Johnson to meet him, giving me general caution not to be surprised at his figure, dress, or behavior. ..... Mr. Johnson liked his new acquaintance so much, however, that from that time he dined with us every Thursday through the winter, and in the autumn of the next year he followed us to Brighthelmstone, whence we were gone before his arrival; so he was disappointed and enraged, and wrote us a letter expressive of anger, which we were very desirous to pacify, and to obtain his company again if possible. Mr. Murphy brought him back to us again very kindly, and from that time his visits grew more frequent, till in the year 1766 his health, which he had always complained of, grew so exceedingly bad, that he could not stir out of his room in the court he inhabited for many weeks together, I think months.”
It is strange that they should differ about the date of the introduction by a year. She goes on to say that when she and her husband called on Johnson one morning in this court (Johnson's Court, Fleet Street), he gave way to such an uncontrolled burst of despair regarding the world to come, that Mr. Thrale tried to stop his mouth by placing one hand before it, and before leaving him desired her to prevail on him to quit his close habitation for a period and come with them to Streatham. He complied, and took up his abode with them from before Midsummer till after Michaelmas in that year. During the next sixteen years a room in their house was set apart for him.
The principal difficulty at first was to induce him to live peaceably with her mother, who took a strong dislike to him, and constantly led the conversation to topics which he detested, such as foreign news and politics. He revenged himself by writing to the newspapers accounts of events which never happened, for the
sole purpose of mystifying her; and probably more than one of his mischievous fictions have passed current for history. They made up their differences before her death, and a Latin epitaph of the most eulogistic order from his pen is inscribed upon her tomb.
It had been well for Mrs. Thrale and her guests if there had existed no more serious objection to Johnson as an inmate. At the commencement of the acquaintance, he was fifty-six; an age when habits are ordinarily fixed ; and many of his were of a kind which it required no common temper and tact to tolerate or control. They had been formed at a period when he was frequently subjected to the worst extremities of humiliating poverty and want. He describes Savage, without money to pay for a night's lodging in a cellar, walking about the streets till he was weary, and sleeping in the summer upon a bulk or in the winter amongst the ashes of a glass-house. He was Savage's associate on more than one occasion of the sort. Whilst at college, he threw away
the shoes which were left at his door to replace the worn-out pair in which he appeared daily. His clothes were in so tattered a state whilst he was writing for the “ Gentleman's Magazine” that, instead of taking his seat at Cave's table, he sat behind a screen and had his victuals sent to him.
Talking of the symptoms of Christopher Smart's madness, he said, “ Another charge was that he did not love clean linen ; and I have no passion for it.” In general his wigs were very shabby, and their foreparts were burned away by the near approach of the candle, which his short-sightedness rendered necessary in reading. At Streatham, Mr. Thrale's valet had always a better wig ready, with which he met Johnson at the parlor door when dinner was announced, and as he went up stairs to bed, the same man followed him with another.
One of his applications to Cave for a trifling advance of money is signed Impransus ; and he told Boswell that he could fast two days without inconvenience, and had never been hungry but once. What he meant by hungry is not easy to explain, for his everyday manner of eating was that of a half-famished man. When at table, he was totally absorbed in the business of the moment ; his looks were riveted to his plate, till he had satisfied his appetite; which was indulged with such intenseness, that the veins of his