My House Guest, Dr. Johnson

A solo presentation by actor Karin Fernald, lasting 50 minutes,  based on Hester Thrale’s journal THRALIANA and on her later writings and journals.

dr johnson“I observed to Mr. Johnson, he most resembled of all 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, I most resembled the Rattlesnake. “Why?” said I. “Well”, said he, “many have felt your Sting, few can resist your Attractions and all the World knows you have the Rattle!”

In 1765 Samuel Johnson, aged 56, mentally exhausted and physically chronically ill, is living in mean circumstances off Fleet Street among quarrelling dependants. One evening he is introduced by a friend, actor and playwright Arthur Murphy, to a wealthy brewer, Henry Thrale, and to his witty, highly educated, bored wife Hester, “shut away from the world” says Johnson “like her husband’s kept mistress.” 

Hester PiozziThe Thrales adopt Johnson as a house guest in their lovely home, Streatham Park in Surrey, where he enjoys their celebrated dinners – “pineapples, ices, creams and everything in silver plate!” In return Johnson improves the life of  Hester Thrale. He sets her to work on Latin translations; he publishes her blackly humorous poem, THE THREE WARNINGS; and he encourages her to take an interest in Thrale’s business affairs, which improves the relationship between husband and wife.

When Henry Thrale dies and Hester falls in love with Gabriel Piozzi, an Italian musician, London society is shocked. Johnson never forgives her and  dies soon after. The Piozzis travel in Italy; they then live happily for the next twenty years in Wales, where Hester writes and publishes several books including her TRAVELS IN  ITALY (recently re-published)  and an ambitious HISTORY OF THE WORLD. She  writes a fascinating Welsh Journal; and after the death of Gabriel Piozzi will live   later years to the full as a theatre-going “Bath Cat” in that sociable city.

This solo show has been presented at the National Portrait Gallery, London and  at  Dr. Johnson’s House, Gough Square.  A two-handed version was presented at Brynbella, the Piozzis’ Italianate home in North Wales, designed by Piozzi himself.

 “SPELL-BINDING” Irving Wardle in The Times

In addition to a slide lecture on the same subject,  THE RATTLESNAKE AND THE ELEPHANT,(see under Illustrated Talks)   Karin has also written and presented two  talks without slides  on Mrs. Thrale’s later life; MRS PIOZZI AND THE MILLENIUM and BATH CAT.  These have both been presented to the Johnson Society of London, and then   published in their NEW RAMBLER magazine.

For further details regarding any of the shows on this website
please contact: Karin Fernald directly from this page