Dr Samuel Johnson and Hester Lynch Thrale (later Mrs Piozzi)


I observed to Mr Johnson the other day that he most resembled of all living creatures the elephant, whose trunk could, from its force and elasticity, either arrest the buffalo or pick up the pin.   In return, he observed to me that I most resembled the rattlesnake! Why, said I. Well, said he, Many, my dear, have felt your sting, few can resist your attractions and all the world knows you have the Rattle!

Hester Thrale and her eldest daughter Queeney, Sir Joshua Reynolds

1777 Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Frederictown, New Brunswick, Canada

In 1765 Samuel Johnson, aged fifty-six, ill, bereaved and lonely, living off Fleet Street among quarrelling dependants, is introduced to a wealthy Southwark brewer, Henry Thrale, and his witty and educated young Welsh-born wife Hester. Their friendship will last eighteen years. For Johnson it provides comforting hospitality, feminine companionship and an enjoyment of family life. To Hester it brings great stimulus, as she finds herself the recipient of Johnson’s views on life, literature and the arts. She responds with plenty of her own.   When Thrale dies, Hester, mother of five daughters, marries an Italian musician, Gabriel Piozzi, neither London society nor Samuel Johnson would ever forgive her. “I drive her from my mind” says Johnson to Fanny Burney “ When I meet with one of her letters I burn it”.   Nonetheless Hester would enjoy an entertaining and active later life, first in North Wales and later in Bath; attending the Theatre Royal, befriending a troubled young actor, William Augustus Conway,   and employing her spare moments in writing a widely-researched HISTORY OF THE WORLD. “One MUST have something in prospect!”

With paintings, portraits and caricatures by Hogarth, Rowlandson, Reynolds, Richard Wilson, Francis Hayman and George Morland.

THE LADY’S LAST STAKEsaid to be a portrait of the young Hester

William Hogarth 1758, Tate Britain