Henry Thrale's ill health

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

False reports of death in 1777

On 1 April 1777 Henry's death was falsely reported in the newspapers, and threw James Boswell into…

> a state of very uneasy uncertainty.### June 1779 stroke

In the second week of June 17791, Henry Thrale's visited his youngest sister Susannah in London. The visit was to comfort her after the death of her husband, Arnold Nesbitt MP for Cricklade, and hear the will, of which Henry was an executor. Here Henry suffered his first stroke. Hester later speculated that this was brought on by the shock of hearing about Nesbitt's insolvency which had potentially calamitous implications for Thrale. Afterwards Hester Thrale wrote…

Mrs Nesbitt is very silly She always was; but any fool might have had Wit enough to send for a Surgeon one wd think when they saw a Man drop down in a Fit: but No; She called the Carriage to bring him home-& so lost Time in wch He might have been bled: We were forced to send back to London for help, little Kitchen could not be found; the Apothecary of the Village. Bromfield came in two Hours, but two Hours is an Age in such a Case. What a Natural that Mrs Nesbitt is! Duce take her!

Henry Thrale after Sir Joshua Reynolds 1777
She also later wrote in Thraliana about the events…

11: June 1779.] Here is a dreadful Event indeed in the Thraliana! Mr Thrale suddenly struck with the palsy as he sate at Dinner sister Nesbitt last Tuesday: his Brain is apparently loaded if not for ever injured by the blow. poor dear Master! this day I been married sixteen Years and eight Months: & last Tuesday was he brought me home apparently Paralytick. I am not yet able to write about it I see, though he has mended ever since the Attack; thanks to Bromfield who first administered Relief, & afterwards called in both Huck & Heberden. I'm confident he will recover, he has Youth and Strength, and general Health on his Side; but his Temper is strangely altered: so vigilant; so jealous, so careful lest one should watch him, & so unfit to be left unwatched.—Oh Lord have mercy on us! this is a horrible Business indeed. five little Girls too, & breeding again, & Fool enough to be proud of it! ah Ideot! what should I want more Children for God knows only to please my Husband, who now perhaps may be much better without them.—Distress shews one's Friends; Seward2 was the first to fly to our Assistance ; fetch Physicians, carry Reports, turn out troublesome Enquirers, attend Mr Thrale in all his Operations: Dear Creature how kind he is! 3 Johnson is away-down at Lichfield or Derby, or God knows where, something always happens when he is away; but Mr Seward has supplied every body's neglect. I expected more Attention from 4 Burney! Murphy's5 a dissipated Rogue & loves his Friends while they can talk & hear; but Dr Burney's Indifference disgusts me. I kept Sir Philip 6 away, or he would have done all in his Power. he has sent, & written, & run about with honest and unaffected Agitation, but I shall never love Doctor Burney as I have loved Him, for there I expected Kindness, & deserved it-his Daughter 7 has behav'd better than he, but 8 Seward & Mrs D'avenantfn, daughter of Sir Lynch Salusbury Cotton, later Lady Corbet. shew'd the true Concern ; they came directly & have staid with me ever since: Seward's Sensibility & Attention is the Cordial of my Heart-a Friend in Distress is the sweetest of Things—he came I remember when my Son died.—Good Creature! he would not have come to a Concert or a Dinner, but when there is Sorrow to be assisted, alleviated rather; then he Can come; & put off a Journey to Cornwall, by way of devoting himself wholly to the Duties of Friendship. Sir Philip Jennings Clerke is a Conquest I shall long be proud of, he is a Conquest made by Virtue; his Regard for me is boundless, & it is founded in a Notion that I am better & wiser than other Women are; while I continue good & wise therefore, I shall have his Esteem, & he is an extremely amiable respectable Character.— Touched by God's Grace I think in the latter part of his Life, & brought to a Conviction of Sin by the Affliction of his Daughter's untimely Death, he flies to Religion & to Friendship for Comfort, & he shall never want one to speak Peace to his Soul while Life is lent to H:L:T 9. NB—I will make him leave off wearing Black so; 'tis a Singularity that can do no good; is I should fear displeasing to God, & at best but an ill Compliment to his other Children:—

Henry Thrale - caricature as the Southwark Macaroni

Later Hester wrote…

22: June 1779. Mr Thrale has recovered his paralytick Stroke: Doctor Heberden thinks him now wholly out of Danger, as so much Time has elapsed, & the Attack has not been renewed. his Head is as good as ever, his Spirits indeed are low, but they will mend: few People live in such a State of Preparation for Eternity I thin, as my dear Master has done since I have been connected with him; regular in his publick & private devotions, constant at the Sacrament, Temperate in his Appetites, moderate is Passions-he has less to apprehend from a sudden Summons than any Man I have known, who was young and gay, & high in health & Fortune like him.-I think he will have another of these Strokes sometime, but perhaps I may not live to see the Day; let us not then anticipate Misfortune, nor when God sends a chearful hour-refrain.### February 1780 stroke

Eight months later10 on 19 or 21 February 1780, Henry Thrale suffered a second stroke and received the contemporary medical treatment of 'bleeding'. He was delirious for five days, only speaking again when receiving a visit from Sophy Streatfeild.

September 1780 stroke

On 13 August 1780 Hester wrote in Thraliana

My Master is got into most riotous Spirits somehow; he will go here & there, & has a hundred Projects in his Head, so gay, so wild; I wish no harm may come on't.

Soon afterwards on 29 August 1780 she wrote…

Mr Thrale would go to Mitchel Grove the Seat of Sir John Shelley; I did not half like the Expedition, but Pepys11 bled him first 13 ounces, & gave some rough Medcines too—We just pulled up in Time the Dr says, or here would have been another Stroke.

On Sunday 10th September 1780, Henry has minor a third stroke while canvassing - ultimately unsuccessfully - constituents at St. George's church. The strokes were largely caused by Henry's voracious appetite for large indulgent meals, accompanied by large quantities of ale.

  • 1. Thraliana, states 11 June on page 389, Dr Johnson's Own Dear Master states 8 June on page 192)
  • 2. William Seward 1747-1799 was an anecdotist and son of a wealthy brewer of the firm Calvert and Seward.
  • 3. Seward came at five o'clock in the morning.
  • 4. Dr. Charles Burney.
  • 5. Arthur Murphy.
  • 6. Sir Philip Jennings Clerke.
  • 7. Fanny Burney.
  • 8. William Seward.
  • 9. Hester Lynch Thrale.
  • 10. Thraliana, states Monday 21 February on page 432, Dr Johnson's Own Dear Master states Saturday 19 February on page 212
  • 11. Sir Lucas Pepys - physician to the King 1742-1830.