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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 Offey 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
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 forehead swelled, and generally a strong perspiration was visible. Until he left off drinking fermented liquors altogether, he acted on the maxim “ Claret for boys, port for men, brandy for heroes.” He preferred the strongest, because, he said, it did its work (i.e. intoxicate) the soonest. He used to pour capillaire into his port wine, and melted butter into his chocolate. His favorite dishes are accurately enumerated by Peter Pindar:
Mr. Thackeray relates, in his "Irish Sketches," that on his asking for currant-jelly for his venison at a public dinner, the waiter replied, “It's all gone, your honor; but there's some capital lobster-sauce left.” This would have suited Johnson equally well, or better; he was so fond of lobster-sauce, that he would call for the sauce-boat and pour the whole of its remaining contents over his plum-pudding. A clergyman who once travelled with him relates : “ The coach halted as usual for dinner, which seemed to be a deeply interesting business to Johnson, who vehemently attacked a dish of stewed carp, using his fingers only in feeding himself.”
With all this he affected great nicety of palate, and did not like being asked to a plain dinner. “ It was a good dinner enough,” he would remark, “but it was not a dinner to ask a man to.” He was so displeased with the performances of a nobleman's French cook, that he exclaimed, with vehemence, “I'd throw such a rascal into the river;” and, in reference to one of his Edinburgh hosts, he said, “ As for Maclaurin's imitation of a made dish, it was a wretched attempt.”
His voice was loud, and his gesticulations, voluntary or involuntary, singularly uncouth. He had superstitious fancies about crossing thresholds or squares in the carpet with the right or left
leg foremost, and when he did not appear at dinner, might be found vainly endeavoring to pass a particular spot in the ante
He loved late hours, or more properly (says Mrs. Thrale) hated early ones. Nothing was more terrifying to him than the idea of going to bed, which he never would call going to rest, or suffer another to call it so. "I lie down that my acquaintance may sleep; but I lie down to endure oppressive misery, and soon rise again to pass the night in anxiety and pain.” When people could be induced to sit up with him, they were often amply compensated by his rich flow of mind; but the resulting sacrifice of health and comfort in an establishment where this sitting up became habitual, was inevitably great.* Instead of being grateful, he always maintained that no one forbore his own gratification for the purpose of pleasing another, and “if one did sit up, it was probably to amuse one's self.” Boswell excuses his wife for not coinciding in his enthusiasm, by admitting that his illustrious friend's irregular hours and uncouth babits, such as turning the candles with their ends downwards when they did not burn bright enough, and letting the wax drop upon the carpet, could not but be displeasing to a lady. He was generally last at breakfast, but one morning happened to be first, and waited some time alone; when afterwards twitted by Mrs. Thrale with irregularity, he replied, “ Madam, I do not like to come down to vacuity.”
If his early familiarity with all the miseries of destitution, aggravated by disease, had increased his natural roughness and irritability, on the other hand it had helped largely to bring out his sterling virtues, - his discriminating charity, his genuine benevolence, his well-timed generosity, his large-hearted sympathy with real suffering or sorrow. He said it was enough to make a plain man sick to hear pity lavished on a family reduced by losses to exchange a palace for a comfortable cottage; and when condolence was demanded for a lady of rank in mourning for a baby, he contrasted her with a washerwoman with half
* Dr. Burney states that in 1765 “he very frequently met Johnson at Streatham, where they had many long conversations, after sitting up as long as the fire and candles lasted, and much longer than the patience of the servants subsisted."