Hester and Gabriel Piozzi

  • Posted on: 26 September 2009
  • By: David Thrale

Gabriel Piozzi 1793 by George Dance
Gabriel Mario Piozzi was an Italian singer and composer born and baptised on 8 June 1740. His parents were Domenico and Giancoma. His baptismal sponsor was Signor Giacomo Guadagni. He was one of 14 children. They included brothers Giambattista and P. Luigi, and sisters Maria, Laura, Madalena Tamotti and Ippolita. The family were known to have lived in Brescia, Quinzano and Venice


Hester Thrale had first met Gabriel Mario Piozzi 1740-1809 at a party hosted by Dr. Charles Burney in 1777. Mrs. Thrale had entered in her 'Thraliana' under July, 1780, being then at Brighton

I have picked up Piozzi here, the great Italian singer. He is amazingly like my father. He shall teach1 Hester

Now! that little dear discerning Creature Fanny Burney says I'm in love with Piozzi.

Hester Lynch Thrale.

On 8 August 1780 Hester Thrale wrote about Piozzi in Thraliana…

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—l 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.

Lady Shelley & I shall get him a pretty little Benefit, & he will have ten Guineas from me beside, for teaching Hester to sing: his Journey to Brighton will be a lucky one, he has lost some of his Voice by relaxation,—the Sea will restore it.

Gabriel Piozzi by unknown artist
On 1 January 1782 Hester Thrale wrote in Thraliana…

My Life is every instant in Danger from the Apoplexy which has destroyed my whole Family, & now holds his Club over my Head. May it but strike the blow strong enough to procure my instant Dismission, not leave me stunned & stupefied: a Model of Misery & a Load upon my Successors! Disorders run in Blood I am convinced of it; My Grandfather, my Father—his three Brothers— my Son2, all died in less than four Hours from their Seizure; and now my poor Self apparently of an Apoplectick Habit quite apparently; full, red, and Sanguineous. very odd! ay & very shocking! My Face is all over Pimples like a Drunkard,—twere better have a Hump-back.”;

If nothing of all these Misfortunes however befall me, if for my Sins God should take from me my Monitor, my Friend, my Inmate, my Dear Mr Johnson; if neither I should marry, nor the Brewhouse People break; if the ruin of the Nation should not change the Situation of Affairs so that One could not receive regular Remittances from England: and if Piozzi should not pick him up a Wife, and fix his abode in this Country—If therefore & If, & If & If again— All should conspire to keep my present Resolution warm; I certainly would at the close of the four Years from the Sale of the Southwark Estate, set out for Italy with my two or three eldest Girls; and see what the World could shew me. I am now provided with an Italian Friend who would manage my Money Matters, facilitate my Continental amusements, & be faithful to my Interest: I would make it worth his while, & we should live happily together.

Hester's dilemma

On the same day3 Hester wrote of Johnson

Travelling with Mr Johnson I cannot bear, & leaving him behind he could not bear; so his Life or Death must determine the Execution or laying aside my Schemes:—I wish it were within Reason to hope he could live four Years.

Between 20 September 17824 and 1 October 1782, Hester Lynch Thrale wrote at Streatham Park of her Dilemma as to whether she should marry Piozzi…
Hester Thrale sketch in 1793 by George Dance

Now! that little dear discerning Creature Fanny Burney says I'm in love with Piozzi—very likely! he is so amiable, so honourable, so much above his Situation by his Abilities, that if
_Fate had'nt fast bound her
With Styx nine Times round her
Sure Musick & Love were victorious5._

but if he is ever so worthy, ever so lovely, he is below me forsooth : in what is he below me? in Virtue—I would I were above him; in Understanding—I would mine were from this Instant under the Guardianship of his:—in Birth—to be sure he is below me in birth, & so is almost every Man I know, or have a Chance to know;—but he is below me in Fortune—is mine sufficient for us both? more than amply so. does he deserve it by his Conduct in which he has always united warm notions of Honour, with cool attention to Œconomy; the Spirit of a Gentleman with the Talents of a Professor ? how shall any Man deserve Fortune if he does not? but I am the Guardian of five Daughters by Mr Thrale, and must not disgrace their Name & Family—Was then the Man my Mother chose for me6 of higher Extraction than him I have chosen for myself? No.—but his Fortune was higher—I wanted Fortune then perhaps, do I want it now? Not at all. but I am not to think about myself, I married the first Time to please my Mother, I must marry the second Time to please my Daughter—I have always sacrificed my own Choice to that of others, so I must sacrifice it again:—but why?

Oh because I am a Woman of superior Understanding, & must not for the World degrade my self from my Situation in Life. but if I have superior Understanding, let me at least make use of it for once; & rise to the Rank of a human Being conscious of its own power to discern Good from ill—the person who has uniformly acted by the Will of others, has hardly that Dignity to boast, but once again I am Guardian to five Girls; agreed—will this Connection prejudice their Bodies, Souls, or Purse? my Marriage may assist my Health, but I suppose it will not injure theirs:—will his Company or Companions corrupt their Morals; God forbid, if I did not believe him one of the best of our Fellow Beings I would reject him instantly. Can it injure their Fortunes? and could he impoverish (if he would) five Women to whom their Father left 20,000£ each—independent almost of Possibilities?

To what then am I Guardian? to their Pride and Prejudice? & is anything else affected by the Alliance?

Now for more solid Objections. Is not the Man of whom I desire Protection a Foreigner? unskilled in the Laws and Language of our Country certainly. Is he not as the French say Arbitre de mon sort? & from the Hour he possesses my person & Fortune have I any power of decision how or where I may continue or end my Life ? Is not the man upon the Continuance of whose Affection my whole Happiness depends—younger than myself,& is it wise to place one's Happiness on the Continuance of any Man' Affection?—would it not be painful to owe his appearance of Regard more to his Honour than his Love? & is not my Person already faded, likelier to fade soon than his? on the other hand is his Life a good. one? & would it not be Lunacy even to risque the Wretchedness of losing all Situation in the World for the sake of living with a Man one loves, and then to lose both Companion & Consolation. When I lost Mr Thrale, every one was officious to comfort & to soothe me: but which of my Children or quondam friends would look with Kindness upon Piozzi's Widow? if I bring Children by him must they not be Catholicks, & must not I live among People, the ritual part of whose Religion I disapprove?

These are my Objections, these my Fears: not those of being censured by the World as it is called—a Composition of Vice & Folly. though 'tis surely no good Joke to be talked of
by each affected She that tells my Story
and blesses her good Stars that She was prudent7._

These Objections would increase in Strength too, if my present State was a happy one. but it really is not: I live a quiet Life but not a pleasant one: My Children govern without loving me, my Servants devour & despise me, my Friends caress and censure me, my Money wastes in Expences I do not enjoy, and my Time in Trifles I do not approve, every one is made Insolent, & no one Comfortable, my Reputation unprotected, my Heart unsatisfied, my Health unsettled.

I will however resolve on nothing, I will take a Voyage to to the Continent in Spring; enlarge my Knowledge, & repose my Purse: Change of Place may turn the Course of these Ideas, and external Objects supply the room of internal Felicity. If he follows me, I may reject or receive at Pleasure the Addresses of a Man who follows on no explicit Promise, nor much probability of Success, for I wd really wish to marry no more without the Consent of my Children, (such I mean as are qualified to give their Opinions:) & how should Miss Thrale approve of my marrying Mr Piozzi? here then I rest, & will torment my Mind no longer, but commit myself as he advises to the Hand of Providence, & all will end all 'ottima Perfezzione,8 & if I am blest with obtaining the Man—the only Man I could have loved, I verily believe it will be only because the Almighty will not leave such Virtue as his—unrewarded.

Hester Thrale sketch in 1793 by William Daniell after George Dance

In October 1782 Hester - who was involved in a lawsuit with Lady Salusbury and straightened for money - left Streatham for her Brighton home. Johnson followed her. After a violent scene with Queeney, Hester returned to London and resolved to give up Piozzi.

In January 1783, Hester told Piozzi that they must part. Hester retired to Bath and on 8 May 1783 Piozzi left for Italy. Her daughters on seeing that Hester's health was affected consented to the recall of Piozzi.

Johnson was not in love with Hester Thrale, although he had an intelligible feeling of jealousy towards anyone who threatened to distract her allegiance. This of course came to a head shortly before her remarriage when they exchanged parting letters. The resulting estrangement saddened last months of his life.

Marriage to Piozzi

On 2 July 1784 - aged 43 - Hester wrote in Thraliana…

The happiest Day of my whole Life I think—Yes, quite the happiest; my Piozzi came home Yesterday & dined with me: but my Spirits were too much agitated, my Heart too much dilated, I was too painfully happy then, my Sensations are more quiet to day, & my Felicity less tumultuous. I have spent the Night as I ought in Prayer & Than[k]sgiving—Could I have slept I had not deserved such Blessings. May the Almighty but preserve them to me! He lodges at our old House on the South Parade: his Companion Mecci is a faithless treacherous Fellow—but no matter! Tis all over now.

On 23 July 1784, aged forty-four, Hester married Gabriel Piozzi in London by Padre Richard Smith the Catholic chaplain to the Spanish Ambassador. There is confusion as to whether the ceremony took place at the Spanish or French embassy chapel. Two days later they were married by a Protestant clergyman in Bath.

On the 25 July 1784, being at Bath, her entry was…

I am returned from church the happy wife of my lovely, my faithful Piozzi:— Subject of my Prayers, Object of my Wishes, my Sighs, my Reverence, my Esteem. His nerves have been horribly shaken; but he lives, he loves me and will be mine for ever. He has sworne it in the Face. of God & the whole Xstian Church: Catholicks, Protestants, all are Witnesses : may he who has preserved us thus long for each other give us a long Life together & so I hope & trust he will thro' the Merits of Jesus Christ Amen.

The fallout

Following the wedding, Hester was cut off by most friends and relations, except the late Henry's dearest friend Arthur Murphy. To marry a foreigner and a Roman Catholic was unacceptable in society at that time. Queeney refused to recognise the new father, and shut herself up in a house at Brighton with a nurse, Tib or Tibson. The two younger sisters, who were at school, lived afterwards with Queeney (aged just 20).

On 4 September 1784, they left for Italy where they spent the winters in Milan and the summers in Florence. Only the fourth daughter, the youngest9, went with them to Italy, where Hester made friends with Robert Merry (1755-1798) and contributed to the Florence Miscellany.

On 28 November - shortly before his death - Fanny Burney asked Johnson if he every heard from Hester. Johnson replied…

No, nor write to her. I drive her quite out of my mind. If I meet with one of her letters, I burn it instantly. I have burnt all I can find. I never speak of her and I desire never to hear of her anymore. I drive her, as I said, wholly from my mind.

When many old friends remained aloof, Mrs. Hester Piozzi drew around her a new artistic circle, including actress Sarah Siddons. Her pen remained active, and thousands of her entertaining, gossipy letters have survived. She retained to the end her unflagging vivacity and zest for life.

Their children

On 7 January 1788, Hester wrote of a miscarried daughter.

In January 1798 Hester and Gabriel adopted the five year old son of Giovanne Battiste (Giambattista) - Gabriel's favourite brother who they renamed John Salusbury Piozzi.

Their new life together

In 1790 Hester recorded their seventh wedding anniversary party at Streatham Park.

In August 1794 Hester became Godmother to Cecilia Siddons 1794-1868 - named after Cecilia Thrale - daughter of Sarah Siddons. In 1795 they took up residence at Brynbella - a house they built in North Wales on Hester’s Bach-y-Graig estate. They also renovated Bach-y-craig. Hester and Gabriel Piozzi seem to have spent most of their winters in Bath.

On the occasion of their 19th wedding anniversary, Hester wrote verses of celebration.

On the occasion of her 63rd birthday Hester wrote10

My Birthday—Grand Climacteric,—kept very I chearfully: thank God; & all the little Children of the Village & Cottages in our Parish to the amount of 60 as I remember, came & eat Plumb Pudden, 40 very good Girls & Boys, had 6d each11 for singing & saying their Catechism so well. & Mr Roberts made some affecting Verses celebrating their Benefactress’s Birthday &c—all very comfortable, very happy indeed.—

On 22 April 1800, Piozzi was appointed Overseer of the Poor for Tremeirchion. However he tried to avoid the duties to the annoyance of the Dean of St. Asaph's.

Alike with all well to do people at that time, Hester had servants and on 15 May 1804 she wrote of them on her return to Brynbella from Streatham Park…

Poor Hodgkins! He died whilst we were absent—so we bring back Three new Servts Chivers, Joseph & Julia the Cook—it lowers my Spirits tho’ to see all new Faces about us so.

Gabriel Piozzi's death

Aside from the terrible rheumatic pain suffered by Gabriel Piozzi, they both lived in happiness until Piozzi's death from gout at Brynbella on 26 March 1809. Piozzi was buried outside the north side of in the family vault in Tremeirchion church.

Piozzi left Hester £6,000, and other legacies to all his brothers in his will. Hester and her adopted son, John, remained at Brynbella for five more years until he married Harriet Maria Pemberton of Ryton Grove Shropshire on 7 November 1814. Hester then left John the whole of her Welsh estate, and she retired to Bath, where she took temporary lodgings in New King Street, before taking permanent residence at 8 Gay Street, Bath.


I worked at 8 Gay Street from about 1982-89, very happy days, lovely old building. There is a plaque there to record Mrs P occupancy. Amazing to touch history, seems like old buildings retain some memory of past events, makes one think.