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woman, who would feed him well, understand him, and add to the joys of conversation. From that time on, whether at their residence in Deadman's Place in Southwark, at Streatham, or at Brighton, even on their journeys, the Thrales and Johnsons were constantly together; and when he went on a journey alone, as sometimes happened, he wrote long letters to his mistress or his master, as he affectionately called his friends.
Who gained most by this intercourse? Johnson summed up his obligations to the lady in the famous letter written just before her second marriage, probably the last he ever wrote her. 'I wish that God may grant you every blessing, that you may be happy in this world
and eternally happy in a better state; and whatever I can contribute to your happiness I am ready to repay for that kindness which soothed twenty years of a life radically wretched."
On the other hand, the Thrales secured what, perhaps unconsciously, they most desired, social position and distinction. At Streatham they entertained the best, if not perhaps the very highest society of the time. Think for a moment of the intimates of this house, whose portraits, painted by Reynolds, hung in the library. There were my Lords Sandys and Westcote, college friends of Thrale; there were Johnson and Goldsmith; Garrick and Burke; Burney, and Reynolds himself, and a number of others, all from the brush of the great master; and could we hear the voices which from time to time might have been heard in the famous room, we should recognize Boswell and Piozzi, Baretti, and a host of others; and would it be necessary for the servant to announce the entrance of the great Mrs. Siddons, or Mrs. Garrick, or Fanny Burney, or Hannah More, or Mrs. Montague, or any of the other ladies who later formed that fa
mous coterie which came to be known as the Blue Stockings?
But Johnson was the Thrales' first lion and remained their greatest. He first gave Streatham parties distinction. The master of the house enjoyed having the wits about him, but was not one himself. Johnson said of him that 'his mind struck the hours very regularly but did not mark the minutes.' It was his wife who, by her sprightliness, and by her wit and readiness, kept the ball rolling, showing infinite tact and skill in drawing out one and, when necessary, repressing another; asking - when the Doctor was not speaking-for a flash of silence from the company that a newcomer might be heard.
But I am anticipating. All this was not yet. A salon such as she created at Streatham Park is not the work of a month or of a year.
If Mrs. Thrale had ever entertained any illusions as to her husband's regard for her, they must have received a shock when she discovered, as she soon did, that Mr. Thrale had previously offered his hand to several ladies, coupling with his proposal the fact that, in the event of its being accepted, he would expect to live for a portion of each year in his house adjoining the brewery. The famous brewery is now Barclay & Perkins's, and still stands on its original site, where the Globe Theatre once stood, not far from the Surrey end of Southwark Bridge. A more unattractive place of residence it would be hard to imagine, but for some reason Mr. Thrale loved it.
On the other hand, Streatham was delightful. It was a fine estate, something over an hour's drive from Fleet Street in the direction of Croydon. The house, a mansion of white stucco, stood in a park of more than a hundred acres, beautifully wooded. Drives and gravel walks gave easy access to all parts of
the grounds. There was a lake with a drawbridge, and conservatories, and glass houses stocked with fine fruits. Grapes, peaches, and pineapples were grown in abundance, and Dr. Johnson, whose appetite was robust, was able for the first time in his life to indulge himself in these things to his heart's content.
In these delightful surroundings the Thrales spent the greater part of each year, and here assembled about them a coterie almost, if not quite, as distinguished as that which made Holland House famous half a century later.
A few years ago Barrie wrote a delightful play - What Every Woman Knows; and I hasten to say, for the benefit of those who have not seen this play, that what every woman knows is how to manage a husband. In this respect Mrs. Thrale had no superior. Making due allowance, the play suggests the relationship of the Thrales. A cold, self-contained, and commonplace man is married to a sprightly and engaging wife. With her to aid him, he was able so to carry himself that people took him for a man of great ability; without her, he was utterly lost. To give point to the play, the husband is obliged to make this painful discovery. Mrs. Thrale, mercifully, never permitted her husband to discover how commonplace he was. Could he have looked in her diary, he might have read this description of himself; and, had he read it, he would probably have made no remark. He spoke little.
'Mr. Thrale's sobriety, and the decency of his conversation, being wholly free from all oaths, ribaldry and profaneness, make him exceedingly comfortable to live with; while the easiness of his temper and slowness to take offense add greatly to his value as a domestic man. Yet I think his servants do not love him, and I am not sure that his children have much affec
tion for him. With regard to his wife, though little tender of her person, he is very partial to her understanding; but he is obliging to nobody, and confers a favor less pleasingly than many a man refuses one.'
Elsewhere she refers to him as the handsomest man in London, by whom she has had thirteen children, two sons and eleven daughters. Both sons and all but three of the daughters died either in infancy or in early childhood. Constantly in that condition in which ladies wish to be who love their lords, Mrs. Thrale, by her advice and efforts, once at least, saved her husband from bankruptcy, and frequently from making a fool of himself. She grew to take an intelligent interest in his business affairs, urged him to enter Parliament, successfully electioneered for him, and in return was treated with just that degree of affection that a man might show to an incubator which, although somewhat erratic in its operations, might at any time present him with a son.
Such was the household of which Dr. Johnson became a member, and which, to all intents and purposes, became his home. Retaining his lodgings in a court off Fleet Street, he established in them what Mrs. Thrale called his menagerie of old women: dependents too poor and wretched to find asylum elsewhere. To them he was at all times considerate, if not courteous. It was his custom to dine with them two or three times each week, thus insuring them an ample dinner; but the library at Streatham was especially devoted to his service. When he could be induced to work on his Lives of the Poets it became his study; but for the most part it was his arena, in which, in playful converse or in violent discussion, he held his own against all comers.
In due time, under the benign influence of the Thrales, he overcame his repugnance to clean linen. Mr. Thrale suggested silver buckles for his shoes, and he bought them. As he entered the drawing-room, a servant might have been seen clapping on his head a wig which had not been badly singed by a midnight candle, as he tore the heart out of a book. The great bear became bearable. One of his most intimate friends, Baretti, a highly cultivated man, was secured as a tutor for the Thrale children, of whom the eldest, nicknamed Queenie, was Johnson's favorite.
Henry Thrale's table was one of the best in London. By degrees it became known that at Streatham one might always be sure of an excellent dinner and the best conversation in England. Dr. Johnson voiced, not only his own, but the general opinion, that to smile with the wise and to feed with the rich was very close upon human felicity; and he would have admitted, had his attention been called to it, that there was at least one house in London in which people could enjoy themselves as much as at a capital inn.
For the best description of life at Streatham we must turn to the pages of Fanny Burney [Madame d'Arblay]. From the pages of her diary we gather how, with talks and walks and drives and dinners and tea-drinkings unceasing, with news, gossip, and scandal at retail, wholesale, and for exportation, it was contrived that life at Streatham was as delightful as life can be made to be. Occasionally there was work to be done, and it became Mrs. Thrale's duty to keep the Doctor up to his work,
so intimate and personal, so well worth knowing?
One morning Mrs. Thrale, entering the library and finding Johnson there, complained that it was her birthday, and that no one had sent her any verses. She admitted being thirty-five, yet Swift, she said, fed Stella with them till she was forty-six. Thereupon Johnson without hesitation began to compose aloud, and Mrs. Thrale to write at his dictation, —
'Oft in danger, yet alive,
Must look on Thrale at thirty-five,'
adding, as he concluded, 'And now, my dear, you see what it is to come for poetry to a dictionary-maker. You may observe that the rhymes run in alphabetical order exactly.'
Meanwhile, Mr. Thrale was quietly digging his grave with his teeth. Warned by his physician and his friend that he must exercise more and eat less, he snapped his fingers at them, I was going to say, but he did nothing so violent. He simply disregarded their advice and gave orders that the best and earliest of everything should be placed upon his table in profusion. His death was the result, and at forty Mrs. Thrale found herself a widow, wealthy, and with her daughters amply provided for. She, with Dr. Johnson and several others, was an executor of the estate, and promptly began to grapple
with the problems of managing a great business. Not long after Thrale's death we find this entry in her journal: 'I have now appointed three days a week to attend at the counting-house. If an angel from Heaven had told me twenty years ago that the man I knew by the name of Dictionary Johnson should one day become partner with me in a great trade, and that we should jointly or separately sign notes, drafts, etc., for three or four thousand pounds, of a morning, how unlikely it would have seemed ever to happen! Unlikely is not the word, it would have seemed incredible, neither of us then being worth a groat, and both as immeasurably removed from commerce as birth, literature, and inclination could get us.'
The opinion was general that Mrs. Thrale had been a mere sleeping partner, and her friends were amazed at the insight the sparkling little lady showed in the management of a great business. 'Such,' says Mrs. Montague, 'is the dignity of Mrs. Thrale's virtue, and such her superiority in all situations of life, that nothing now is wanting but an earthquake to show how she will behave on that occasion.'
But this state of things was not long to continue. A knot of rich Quakers came along and purchased the enterprise for a hundred and thirty-five thousand pounds. Dr. Johnson was not quite clear that the property ought to be sold; but when the sale was finally decided upon, he did his share toward securing a good price. Capitalization of earning power has never been more succinctly described than when, in going over the great establishment with the intending purchasers, he made his famous remark, 'We are not here to sell a parcel of boilers and vats, but the potentiality of growing rich beyond the dreams of avarice.'
Mrs. Thrale's own notes are amusing. She was glad to bid adieu to the
brewhouse and to the Borough - the business had been a great burden. Her daughters were provided for, and she did not much care for money for herself. By the bargain she had purchased peace, and, as she said, 'restoration to her original rank in life'; recording in her journal, 'Now that it is all over I'll go to church and give God thanks and forget the frauds, follies and inconveniences of commercial life; as for Dr. Johnson, his honest heart was cured of its incipient passion for trade by letting him into some and only some of its mysteries.'
Not many Sundays after Mrs. Thrale's thanksgiving she had a visitor at Streatham-a visitor who, when he left, carried with him as a token of her regard two little calf-bound volumes, in one of which was the inscription, "These books written by Dr. Samuel Johnson, were presented to Mr. Gabbrielle [sic] Piozzi by Hester Lynch Thrale, Streatham, Sunday, June 10th, 1781'; with a further note in an equally clear and flowing hand, ‘And Twenty-eight years after that Time, presented again to his nephew, John Piozzi Salusbury, by Hester Lynch Piozzi, "Brynbella," 1st August, 1809.' The book was the first edition of the Prince of Abyssinia (it was not known as Rasselas until after Dr. Johnson's death), and Mrs. Thrale at the time did not know Piozzi sufficiently well to spell his name correctly; but she was soon to learn, and to learn, too, that she was in love with him and he with her.
She had first met Piozzi about a year before, at a musicale at the house of Dr. Burney, Fanny's father. On this occasion she had taken advantage of his back being turned to mimic him as he sat at the piano. For this she was reprimanded by Dr. Burney, and she
must have felt that she deserved the correction, for she took it in good part and behaved with great decorum during the rest of the evening.
After a year in her widow's weeds, which must have tormented Johnson, for he hated the thought of death and liked to see ladies dressed in gay colors, she laid aside her severe black and began to resume her place in society. The newspapers marked the change, and every man who entered her house was referred to as a possible husband for the rich and attractive widow. Finally she was obliged to write to the papers and ask that they would let the subject alone.
But it soon became evident to Johnson and to the rest of the world that Piozzi was successfully laying siege to the lady; as why should he not? The fact that he was a Catholic, an Italian, and a musician could hardly have appeared to him as reasons why he should not court a woman of rare charm and distinction, with whom he had been on terms of friendship for several years; a woman who was of suitable age, the mistress of a fine estate and three thousand pounds a year, whose children were no longer children but young ladies of independent fortune. That she should marry some one seemed certain. Why not Piozzi? Her daughters protested that their mother was disgracing herself and them, and the world held up its hands in horror at the thought; the co-executors of the estate became actually insulting, and Fanny Burney was so shocked at the idea that she finally gave up visiting Streatham altogether. Society ranged itself for and against the lady for, many against.
There were other troubles, too; a lawsuit involving a large sum was decided against her, and Johnson, ill, querulous, and exacting, behaved as an irritable old man would who felt his in
fluence in the family waning. I am a Johnsonian, - Tinker has called me so and Tinker may be depended upon to know a Johnsonian when he sees one,
but I am bound to admit that Johnson had behaved badly and was to behave much worse. Johnson was very human and the lady was very human, too. They had come to a parting of the ways. It was inevitable that the life at Streatham must be terminated. Its glory had departed, and the cost of its upkeep was too great for the lady. So a tenant was secured and Mrs. Thrale and Dr. Johnson prepared to leave the house in which so many happy years had been passed. Dr. Johnson was once more to occupy his old lodgings in Bolt Court, and Mrs. Thrale, after a visit to Brighton, was to go to Bath to repose her purse.
The engagement, or understanding, or whatever it was, with Piozzi 'was broken off, and Italy was proposed as a place of residence for him. Broken hearts there were in plenty.
Life for Mrs. Thrale at Bath proved to be impossible. If concealment did not feed on the damask of her cheek, love did, and at last it became evident, even to the young ladies, that their mother was pining away for Piozzi, and they gave their consent that he be recalled.
He came at once. Mrs. Thrale on his departure had sent him a poem which reached him at Dover. She now sent him another which was designed to reach him on his return, at Calais.
Over mountains, rivers, vallies,