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Hester Thrale Piozzi

(b. Jan. 27, 1745, Bodvel Hall, Caernarvonshire, Wales – d. May 2, 1821, 20 Sion Row, Clifton, Bristol )

Gender: F

Hester Lynch Piozzi, née Salusbury, later Thrale, Bluestocking socialite, diarist and author, was born on 27 January 1741, at Bodvel Hall in Caernarvonshire, Wales, to Sir John Salusbury (1707-1762), Welsh aristocrat and co-founder of Halifax, Nova Scotia, (1749-1753), and  Hester Maria, née Cotton (1707–1773). Following her father's loss of the family fortune in his failed Canadian ventures in the early 1750s, Hester moved with her mother to Offley Place, Hertfordshire, the estate of her paternal uncle, (1708-1773) where she was raised and educated by both her mother and her aunt, Lady Sarah Burroughs Salusbury (1721-1804), writing original verse and translations into and from Italian in her teens. She married (1763), Henry Thrale (1728-1781), a London brewer and MP for Southwark (1765-1780), and the couple divided their time between his house at Deadman's Place, Southwark, and estate at Streatham Park, Streatham. They had 12 children, four of whom survived to adulthood, including Hester Maria Thrale Elphinstone, Viscountess Keith (1764-1857), and Cecilia Margaretta Thrale Mostyn (1777-1857). Throughout the 1760s Hester Thrale established herself as a salonnière to rival Elizabeth Montagu, Elizabeth Vesey, and Frances Boscawen, with Streatham Park serving as a hub for a network of literary and political notables including Samuel Johnson and, from 1778, Frances Burney. Thrale and Elizabeth Montagu met in February 1776, and corresponded from 1777 to 1786, with the bulk of the 34 known letters from Montagu to Thrale written between 1777 and 1786. Their letters are primarily on social and intellectual topics, with Montagu commiserating with her friend's many difficult pregnancies, discussing her architectural plans, and circulating gifts and literary reflections on friendship. In 1781 Thrale's husband died, and she co-managed the sale of the Anchor Brewery, before marrying (1784) the Italian musician Gabriel Piozzi (1740–1809). Piozzi's nationality and Catholic religion proved insurmountable obstacles to Thrale's Bluestocking friends, and Elizabeth Montagu ceased her correspondence with her that year. After their marriage, the Piozzi's travelled in France and Italy for three years, during which Hester began a second career as an author, contributing original poetry and a preface to the Florence Miscellany (1785), a collection of influential poems in English and Italian. She followed this with Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson (1786), a memoir of Samuel Johnson as she knew him in the 1770s and 80s, which included some of their literary writings to one another, and which established Piozzi as a rival to James Boswell as a Johnson biographer. She completed her first book, Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson (1786), a candid and generically ground-breaking biography, which sold out on the first day of publication. The English Review judged Mrs Piozzi's the best 'of the nine lives of this giant in learning' (6, 1786, 255), and Peter Pindar (Dr Walcot) capitalized upon public fascination with the feuding biographers in his popular and pointed lampoon 'Bozzy and Piozzi, a town eclogue' (1786). Although some contemporary critics accused her of a self-justifying stress upon Johnson's foibles and failings, Hannah More's recognition that this was 'new-fashioned biography' has been endorsed by modern criticism, which sees her as anticipating Boswellian biographical innovation (his Life of Johnson was published in 1791) while supplying an irreverent corrective. It was the rivalry between Boswell and Hester Piozzi which was the occasion for the last letter from Montagu, when Boswell published a claim in his Journal of a Tour of the Hebrides (1785) that Hester Piozzi had agreed with Johnson that Montagu's Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespear (1769) was unreadable, necessitating a letter exchange in 1786 between the two. Piozzi's literary renaissance continued through the 1780s, 1790s and early 1800s, with her edition of Johnson's letters being published in 1788 being followed by a travelogue, Observations and Reflections (1789), a series of plays, a pragmatic lexicon, British Synonymy (1794), and an apocalyptic popular history, Retrospection (1801). In 1795 she and Gabriel Piozzi moved from Streatham to Brynbella, a house they had built near Denbigh in North Wales, where they lived until Gabriel's death in 1809. 1809 also marked the end of the Thraliana, an encyclopaedic personal diary Hester had been maintaining from 1776 and which was ultimately published in 1951. She bequeathed Brynbella to a nephew in 1814 and ultimately settled in Bath. She died in Clifton, near Bristol, on 2 May 1821.

Also known as:

  • Fiddle
  • Madam Hester Lynch
  • Hester Thrale Piozzi (née  Lynch)
  • Hester Thrale (née  Salusbury)
  • Mrs Thrale


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Mentioned in 10 letters

Recipient of 38 letters

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