From Thraliana

By Hester Thrale Piozzi

Edited by Jack Lynch

The text is from Thraliana: The Diary of Mrs. Hester Lynch Thrale (later Mrs. Piozzi), 1776–1809, ed. Katharine C. Balderston (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1942).


It is many Years since Doctor Samuel Johnson advised me to get a little Book, and write in it all the little Anecdotes which might come to my Knowledge, all the Observations I might make or hear; all the Verses never likely to be published, and in fine ev’ry thing which struck me at the Time. Mr Thrale has now treated me with a Repository, — and provided it with the pompous Title of Thraliana; I must endeavour to fill it with Nonsense new and old. 15: September 1776. —

Bob Lloyd used to say that a Parent or other Person devoted to the Care and Instruction of Youth, led the Life of a Finger Post; still fixed to one disagreeable spot himself, while his whole Business was only to direct others in the way.

An Old man’s Child says Johnson leads much the same sort of Life as a Child’s Dog; teized like that with Fondness through Folly, and exhibited like that to every Company, through idle and empty Vanity.

I have heard Johnson observe that as Education is often compared to Agriculture, so it resembles it chiefly in this; that though no one can tell whether the Crop may answer the Culture, yet if nothing be sowed, we all see that no Crop can be obtained.

Brighton, July–August 1780

I have picked up Piozzi here, the great Italian Singer; he shall teach Hester: She will have some Powers in the Musical way I believe; her Voice tho’ not strong is sweet & flexible, her Taste correct, & her Expression pleasing — The other two Girls leave me tomorrow they will do very well; Susan is three parts a Beauty, & quite a Scholar for ten Years old: few passages in History or Poetry, — I mean English Poetry — are new to her, & She is a Critick in Geography & French. Sophy has a Turn for making Verses, bad enough to be sure, yet such a Turn shews Genius in a Girl who was nine Years old only a fortnight ago. The following is one of her Attempts forsooth upon a wild Convolvulus which She picked up here between Brighthelmston & Rottenden

Fairest Product of the Field,
Scent and Fragrance thou dost yield,
Oh lovely, beauteous Flow’r!
Thy Charms indeed are more than I can tell,
They please the Sight, the Sense, the Smell,
And shew thy wondrous Pow’r. —

I dread the General Election more than ever; Mr Thrale is now well enough to canvass in Person, and ’twill kill him: had it happened when he could not absolutely have stirred — We would have done it for him, but now! Well! one should not however anticipate Misfortunes, they will come Time enough.

8 August 1780

Piozzi is become a prodigious Favourite with me; he is so intelligent a Creature, so discerning, one can’t help wishing for his good Opinion: his Singing surpasses every body’s for Taste, Tenderness, and true Elegance; his Hand on the Forte Piano too is so soft, so sweet, so delicate, every Tone goes to one’s heart I think; and fills the Mind with Emotions one would not be without, though inconvenient enough sometimes — I made him sing yesterday, & tho’ he says his Voice is gone, I cannot some how or other get it out of my Ears, — odd enough!

These were the Verses he sung to me.

Amor — non sò che sia,
Ma sò che è un Traditor;
Cosa è la Gelosia?
Non l’hò provato ancor.
La Donna mi vien detto
Fà molto Sospirar;
Ed Io poveretto,
Men’ voglio Innamorar.

I instantly translated them for him, and made him sing them in English thus all’Improviso.

For Love — I can’t abide it,
The treacherous Rogue I know;
Distrust! — I never tried it
Whether t’would sting or no:
For Flavia many Sighs are,
Sent up by sad Despair:
And yet poor Simple I Sir
Am hasting to the Snare.

October–November 1780

Here is Sophy Streatfield again; handsomer than ever, and flushed with new Conquests: the Bishop of Chester feels her Power I am sure, She shewed me a Letter from him that was as tender, and had all the Tokens upon it as strong as ever I remember to have seen ’em, I repeated to her out of Pope’s Homer — very well Sophy, says I

Range undisturb’d among the hostile Crew,
But touch not Hinchliffe, Hinchliffe is my due.

Miss Streatfield, (says my Master) could have quoted these Lines in the Greek: his saying so, piqued me; & piqued me because it was true. I wish I understood Greek! Mr Thrale’s preference of her to me never vexed me so much as my Consciousness — or Fear at least — that he had Reason for his Preference. She has ten Times my Beauty, and five Times my Scholarship — Wit and Knowledge has She none. —

How fond some People are of riding in a Carriage! those most I think who had from beginning least Chance of keeping one; Johnson doats on a Coach, so do many People indeed: I never get into any Vehicle, but for the sake of being conveyed to some Place, or some Person — the Motion is unpleasing to me in itself, and the straitness of the room makes it inconvenient: Conversation too is almost wholly precluded, the grinding of the Wheels hinders one from hearing, & the necessity of raising one’s Voice makes it less comfortable to talk — a Book is better than a Friend in a Carriage — & a Carriage is the only Place where it is so. —

10 December 1780

We have got a sort of literary Curiosity amongst us; the foul Copy of Pope’s Homer, with all his old Intended Verses, Sketches, emendations &c. strange that a Man shd keep such Things! — stranger still that a Woman should write such a Book as this; put down every Occurrence of her Life, every Emotion of her Heart, & call it a Thraliana forsooth — but then I mean to destroy it.

All Wood & Wire behind the Scenes sure enough! one sees that Pope laboured as hard —

as if the Stagyrite o’erlooked each Line

indeed: and how very little effect those glorious Verses at the end of the 8th Book of the Iliad have upon one; when one sees ’em all in their Cradles and Clouts: and Light changed for bright — & then the whole altered again, and the Line must end with Night — & Oh Dear! thus — tort’ring one poor Word a thousand Ways.

Johnson says ’tis pleasant to see the progress of such a Mind: true; but ’tis a malicious Pleasure, Such as Men feel when they watch a Woman at her Toilet &

see by Degrees a purer Blush arise. &c.

Wood & Wire once more! Wood & Wire! —

5 January 1781

What an odd Partiality I have for a rough Character! and even for the hard parts of a soft one! Fanny Burney has secured my Heart: I now love her with a fond & firm Affection, besides my Esteem of her Parts, & my Regard for her Father. her lofty Spirit dear Creature! has quite subdued mine; and I adore her for the Pride which once revolted me. There is no true Affection, no Friendship in the sneakers & Fawners: tis not for Obsequious Civility that I delight in Johnson or Hinchliffe, Sir Richard Jebb or Piozzi; who has as much Spirit in his Way as the best of them. great Solidity of Mind too I think, some Sarcasm, and wonderful Discernment in that rough Italian, I will do him all the Service I can.

10 January 1781

I will now write out the Characters of the People who are intended to have their Portraits hung up in the Library here at Streatham.

. . . . .

My own & my eldest Daughter’s portraits in one Picture come next, and are to be placed over the Chimney. —

In Features so placid, so smooth, so serene,
What Trace of the Wit — or the Welch-woman’s seen?
Of the Temper sarcastic, the flattering Tongue,
The Sentiment right — with th’ Occasion still wrong.
What Trace of the tender, the rough, the refin’d,
The Soul in which all Contrarieties join’d?
Where tho’ Merriment loves over Method to rule,
Religion resides, and the Virtues keep School;
Till when tired we condemn her dogmatical Air,
Like a Rocket She rises, and leaves us to Stare.
To such Contradictions d’ye wish for a Clue,
Keep Vanity still — that vile Passion in view;
For ’tis thus the slow Miner his Fortune to make,
Of Arsenic thin scatter’d pursues the pale Track;
Secure where that Poyson pollutes the rich Ground,
That it points to the Soil where Some Silver is found.

The Portrait of my eldest Daughter deserves better Lines than these which follow — She is a valuable Girl.

Of a Virgin so tender; the Face or the Fame,
Alike would be injur’d by praise or by Blame;
To the world’s fiery Tryal too early consign’d
She soon shall experience it, cruel or kind.
His Concern thus the anxious Enameller hides,
And his well finish’d Work to the Furnace confides;
But jocund resumes it secure from Decay,
If the Colours stand firm on the dangerous Day.

. . . . .

One Page more I see ends the 3d Volume of Thraliana! strange Farrago as it is of Sense, Nonsense, publick, private Follies — but chiefly my own — & I the little Hero &c Well! but who should be the Hero of an Ana? let me vindicate my own Vanity if it be with my last Pen. This Volume will be finished at Streatham & be left there — where I may never more return to dwell!

Mr Thrale may die, & not leave me sufficient to keep Streatham open as it has been kept, and I shall hate to live in it with more Thought about Expences than I have done: I may indeed be left sole Mistress of the Brewhouse to manage for my Girls, but that I hardly think will be the Case; & if not so, why Farewell pretty Stretham, where I have spent many a merry hour, and many a sad one.

My poor little old Aunt at Bath is dying too, and I am Dolt enough to be sincerely sorry: the more as her past Kindnesses claim that personal Attendance from me, which Mr Thrale will not permit me to pay her — poor, little, old, insipid, useless Creature! may God Almighty in his Mercy, pity, receive and bless her, as a most inoffensive Atom of Humanity — for whom his only Son consented to be crucified, and among whose Flock She has most innocently fed for sixty or seventy Years. —

Here closes the third Volume

Monday 29: January 1781.


The Oxford English Dictionary defines the suffix -ana: “Appended orig. to proper names, and subsequently also to nouns denoting hobbies, activities, etc. with sense of: a. Notable sayings of a person, literary trifles, society verses, items of gossip etc. of a place, as Walpoliana, Tunbrigiana; b. Anecdotes of, notes about, or publications bearing upon, as Shaksperiana, Burnsiana; c. Artefacts and other collectable items associated with a place, period, person, or activity, as Africana, Churchilliana, cricketana, Victoriana 2 etc.; d. A style or fashion reminiscent of, or associated with, a particular period, as Victoriana.”
Gabriel Piozzi was an Italian singer and music instructor. After Henry Thrale’s death, Hester Thrale married him. At this point in Thraliana, though, he added a footnote, “He is amazingly like my Father.”
Hester Maria Thrale was the eldest of Hester Thrale’s daughters; she was known by the nickname Queeney.
A flowering plant, better known as bindweed or morning glory.
The old spelling for the English city of Brighton.
General Election
Henry Thrale, Hester’s husband, stood for election to Parliament several times. In 1780 he was campaigning ("canvassing") for re-election.
Forte Piano
The name of a keyboard instrument that could, unlike the harpsichord, play notes louder (forte) or softer (piano). It was soon to be replaced by the pianoforte, better known by the shorter version of its name, the piano.
“A sign or mark indicating some quality, or distinguishing one object from others; a characteristic mark" (OED).
Pope’s Homer
Alexander Pope published a phenomenally successful translation of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey in the early eighteenth century. Thrale parodies a couplet from the Iliad (apparently quoting from memory):

Rage uncontroul’d thro’ all the hostile crew,
But toch not Hector, Hector is my due.

Hinchliffe was the Bishop of Peterborough.
Carriage could refer to any sort of coach, but Thrale seems to be using a sense that became especially common in the later eighteenth century, “A wheeled vehicle kept for private use for driving in; especially an elegant four-wheeled vehicle having accommodation for four persons inside, and drawn by two or more horses" (OED).
Foul Copy
Handwritten rough draft.
As if the Stagyrite o’erlooked each Line
From Pope’s Essay on Criticism, line 138. “The Stagyrite" is Aristotle, the ancient Greek literary critic.
Tort’ring one poor Word a thousand Ways
From John Dryden’s poem Mac Flecknoe, line 208.
See by Degrees a purer Blush arise. &c
From Pope’s Rape of the Lock, 1.143, where Belinda is applying makeup at her dressing table ("Toilet").
Fanny Burney
Frances Burney achieved fame with her novel Evelina in 1778. Her father, mentioned in the next sentence, was Charles Burney, a distinguished musical scholar. Both Frances and Charles were among Johnson’s friends.
Hester Thrale came from Wales.
“A confused group; a medley, mixture, hotchpotch" (OED).