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Dr. Johnson by Mrs. Thrale : THE 'ANECDOTES' OF MRS. PIOZZI IN THEIR ORIGINAL FORM, edited and with an introduction by Richard Ingrams (Merrimack: $15.95; 136 pp., illustrated)

February 02, 1986|Loren R. Rothschild | Rothschild is the chairman of the Samuel Johnson Society of Southern California. and

"Dr. Johnson by Mrs. Thrale" reminds us that James Boswell was neither the only 18th-Century biographer of Samuel Johnson nor the only one of his friends to regularly record the Great Cham's wise, witty and remarkable words.

Hester Lynch Thrale, in fact, knew more of Johnson and spent more time with him during his mature years than had Boswell or anyone else. From the time of their first meeting in 1765 until their estrangement shortly before his death in 1784, Johnson was virtually a member of the Thrale family. From 1776 onward, Mrs. Thrale kept a diary, grandly entitled "Thraliana," in which she entered anecdotes and conversations by and about Johnson. It was to "Thraliana" that Mrs. Thrale turned for material for her "Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson, L. L. D." (1786), the first important biography of Johnson to be published after his death.

Richard Ingram's book consists merely of a reprinting of the portions of "Thraliana" which served as the principal sources for the "Anecdotes." These excerpts are typical of Mrs. Thrale's writing: frequently sentimental, fulsome and rapturous, prone to exaggeration and inaccuracy, but often witty and delightful.

Ingram, the editor of the British magazine "Private Eye," boasts that the material in this book is "now published separately for the first time in its original form." While it is true that these particular passages have not previously been published separately, it is also true that all of "Thraliana," including this material, was published in a well-edited edition by Katharine C. Balderston in 1942.

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