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Thrale-Piozzi Manuscripts

Date range: 18th–19th centuries.

The Library holds a major collection of papers of Hester Lynch Thrale-Piozzi née Salusbury (1741–1821), friend and correspondent of Dr Samuel Johnson and the centre of a brilliant literary circle.

Born Hester Lynch Salusbury, in 1763 she married Henry Thrale, who became MP for Southwark in 1765.

Hester met Samuel Johnson for the first time in 1764, and she acted as his confidant for many years. However they quarrelled after Henry Thrale’s death in 1781, when Hester met Gabriel Piozzi, an Italian musician, and went with him to Italy. She eventually married Piozzi in 1784, a match regarded with disapproval by Society. In 1795 Hester retired to the villa Brynbella in the Vale of Clwyd.

The collection contains over 150 letters from Hester to Samuel Johnson. Other notable correspondents include James Boswell, Dr Charles Burney, Frances Burney, Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsonby (the ladies of Llangollen), John Delap, Robert Gray (later) Bishop of Bristol, Robert Merry, Elizabeth Montagu, Arthur Murphy, Samuel Lysons, Thomas Pennant, Anna Seward, Sarah Siddons and Helen Maria Williams.

In total there are around 1,500 letters written by Hester Thrale-Piozzi and 1,300 received by her.

Further papers include family correspondence, accounts, business papers, sale catalogues, literary manuscripts, memoranda, diaries  and travel journals. The latter include journals of John Salusbury in Nova Scotia, an incomplete run of Hester’s daily journals, and Hester’s journals of tours in France, Italy, Germany and the North of England.

English MSS 618-622 were developed by Hester for publication as Observations and Reflections Made in the Course of a Journey Through France, Italy and Germany (1788).

As well as Hester’s literary manuscripts, the collection contains a proof copy of Johnson’s ‘Preface’ to The Plays of William Shakespeare, with manuscript corrections in Johnson’s hand, and a small quantity of fragments and verse attributed to Jonathan Swift.

The Thrale-Piozzi Manuscripts are a rich source for a wide range of studies into the political, social, cultural, artistic and intellectual life of the eighteenth century. Many aspects of Hester’s life are illuminated, including her relationships with family and friends, her literary career and her legal disputes.

The manuscripts also provide unique insights into the circle of Samuel Johnson, the literary life of London, political issues such as poverty, slavery, and the French Revolution, and the ambivalent status of women particularly in relation to literary endeavour.

Finding aids

  • Catalogue available online via ELGAR.
  • Recorded in published handlist of English Manuscripts (English MSS 530-660, 891-893).
  • See also E.A. and L.D. Bloom and J.E. Klingel, `Portrait of a Georgian Lady: the Letters of Hester Lynch (Thrale) Piozzi, 1784-1821', Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, vol. 60 (1977-8), pp. 303-38.

Alternative form

Published microfilm: Hester Thrale-Piozzi, Samuel Johnson and Literary Society, 1755-1821: the Thrale-Piozzi and Related Manuscripts from the John Rylands University Library, Manchester (Woodbridge: Research Publications, 1989).

Location

The John Rylands Library

Using the reading rooms in the John Rylands Library

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