Nothing like a Dame

Thrale Street SE.


The other week Vivien was singing the St Mathew Passion at Southwark Cathedral. On my way along Southwark Street passing the magnificent Hop Exchange I came across Thrale Street.

The Thrales of Southwark, of course, this is where they had the brewery, which paid  for Streatham Park and allowed them  to entertain and look after Dr Johnson for nearly twenty years. Of Henry Thrale the brewer,MP and bon viveur  Dr J was famously said,”he may not have had a minute hand but he could strike on the hour well”. But  just as our hero recognised Henry’s generosity, he  loved, needed and cherished the witty  Hester who was  one of several clever, younger women who kept up Dr J’s spirits. Fanny Burney being an obvious other.

Until of course Henry literally ate himself to death in 1781. Some  including Boswell thought that Dr J would step  up to the alter and marry his dear friend and  cherished companion/nurse. But she had other ideas. She fell in love and despite the opposition from everyone including her daughters married Gabriel Piozzi in1784.

For Gods sake Hester was an established and wealthy widow and he was a foreigner, a Catholic and a mere music teacher-an obvious  gold digger.

But marry they did and had nearly thirty years of happy marriage. Although Hester’s marriage to Henry  had produced twelve babies of which four survived it was  no love match. But her relationship with the slim hipped Gabriel was  as far as  she was concerned made in heaven.

But for Dr J it was then end. Whether he seriously considered himself a suitor is much discussed, but he was always jealous of any one who got in the way of he and Hester. On hearing of her marriage he wrote one of the most damning letters of all time.

“ are ignominiously married…If you have abandoned your children and  your religion, God forgive your wickedness; if you have forfeited your fame, and your country, may your folly do you no further mischief.”

Hester who was tired anyway of the  ever increasing demands of the good doc wrote” The birth of my second husband is no meaner than that of my first, his profession is not meaner.. till you have changed your opinion of Mr Piozzi, let us converse no more, God bless you.”

Johnson would change is tune “I with that God may grant you every blessing” but the  breach was made. They never saw each other again and Johnson  quickly descended   into increasing ill health and death. Before that event Fanny Burney asked him had he heard of Hester now Piozzi.

“No ,nor write to her. I drive her quite out of my mind. If I meet with one of her letters, I burn it immediately.” Its almost as sad as the last chorus of the St Mathew Passion.


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