End of the Samuel Johnson era

  • Posted on: 24 September 2009
  • By: David Thrale

Hester Thrale and the ghost of Samuel Johnson by James Sayers
On 1 January 1782 Hester Thrale wrote in Thraliana…

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.

On 1 February 1782 after the loss of her husband and growing concerned about the health of Samuel Johnson wrote …

Here is Mr Johnson very ill. What shall we do for him? If I lose hime, I am more than undone—friend, father, guardian, confidant! God give me health and patience What shall I do?

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 when Hester married Piozzi and during July 1784, Samuel Johnson and Hester Thrale exchanged parting letters.

On 28 November - shortly before his death on 13 December 1784 - 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.

After Johnson's death the newspapers treated her harshly. They called her an amorous widow, and Piozzi - who was Queeney's music master - a fortune-hunter.