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Hester Thrale – A Welsh diarist who described 18th-century life, but mostly the life of Dr. Samuel Johnson

Tijana Radeska
Hester Thrale
Hester Thrale

Hester Lynch Thrale was a Welsh author and was mostly remembered as the diarist who wrote a lot about Dr. Samuel Johnson. He was 32 years older than Hester, who was only 23, and yet, they bonded since the moment they met, their friendship lasting twenty years until Johnson’s death.

Thrale was an intelligent and interesting character, but in history, however, she remains to be known only as Johnson’s friend and mistress. Besides detailing information about Johnson’s life, her writings are notable and important for her well-written description of 18th-century life.

An 18th-century engraving of a Portrait of Mrs. Thrale at the age of 40, by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

 

Henry Thrale.

Hester was born in Caernarvonshire, Wales, in 1741, in a noble and powerful family – the Salusbury Family, which was one of the most representative, wealthy, land-owning dynasties of the Georgian era.

She was the daughter of the diarist, explorer, and co-founder of Halifax, Nova Scotia – John Salusbury, and a direct descendant of the Welsh noblewoman, Katheryn of Berain.

When Hester’s father tried to invest in Halifax, Canada, the family went bankrupt, and in 1763, Hester married the wealthy Henry Thrale, a brewer, and later a member of the Parliament.

Mr. Thrale’s house in Streatham Park.

It was her husband who introduced Hester to her beloved friend and lover, Samuel Johnson. Hester and Henry Thrale lived in London and had 12 children, of whom only four daughters survived to adulthood. Their marriage had been described as loveless and strained. When Henry died, after 15 years of marriage, Hester had the freedom to associate with whom she pleased, but it appears that she did so even before the end of her marriage.

Sir Joshua Reynolds, Portrait of Hester Thrale and her daughter Hester (c. 1777).

Hester was vivacious and adventurous. Johnson simply enchanted her when he first showed up at a dinner in her house in 1765. He had told her that above all other creatures, she resembled a rattlesnake – “for many have felt your venom, few have escaped your attractions, and all the world knows you have the rattle.” Almost immediately after they met, Johnson became a part of their family. He and Hester had a special, intimate relationship.

Henry died in 1781, and everyone expected that Hester and Johnson would start a formal relationship, but instead, she fell in love with an Italian music teacher, Gabriel Mario Piozzi and married him in 1784. When she informed Johnson about this, he wrote her an angry reply: “You are ignominiously married. God forgive your wickedness”. Hester was cut by many social circles when she married Piozzi, but despite everything, it seems as though she was finally happy and in love. Together they traveled around Europe, and later they settled in a villa in North Wales.

Samuel Johnson.

Johnson died in 1784, and in 1786, Hester published “Anecdotes of the late Samuel Johnson,” and her letter in 1788. Her diaries, known as Thraliana, were not published until 1949.

Read another story from us: Joseph Jenkins was the most famous Welsh swagman in Australia who recorded each day in his diary since he was 22

These writings were a source of information about the often biased picture of Samuel Johnson. Hester lived a peaceful life with her Italian husband and died in 1821, at the age of 80.