Thrale-Piozzi Manuscripts

Scope and Content

The correspondence in the collection (English MSS 530-609, 891-893 and 1335) contains numerous letters both to and from family and friends of Hester Lynch Thrale-Piozzi (henceforth referred to as HLP), dating from the mid 1750s up to her death in 1821. This correspondence includes over 150 letters from HLP to Samuel Johnson. Other notable correspondents include James Boswell, Dr Charles Burney, Fanny Burney, 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. The collection also contains a substantial quantity of family and business correspondence, relating primarily to inheritance disputes and the management of estates. This correspondence ranges in date from the mid 1730s until the 1850s, and includes papers of John Salusbury (HLP's father), and Sir John Salusbury Piozzi Salusbury (HLP's adopted son). There are also eleven volumes of letters from HLP to members of the Williams family of Bodelwyddan. There are in total around 1,500 letters written by Hester Thrale-Piozzi and 1,300 received by her.

The collection also contains journals, notebooks and manuscript drafts and copies (English MSS 610-660). These include journals of John Salusbury in Nova Scotia, an incomplete run of HLP's daily journals, and HLP's travel journals of tours of France, Italy, Germany and the North of England. These include some original travel journals, but also include revisions of these journals for publication. English Manuscripts 618-622 show how HLP developed her Italian and German journals for publication as Observations and reflections made in the course of a journey through France, Italy and Germany (1788). This was an important work in which HLP experimented with the genre of travel writing, using a subjective approach to erode the barriers between travel journal and diary.

The collection contains draft and fair copy manuscripts of many of HLP's writings in prose and verse, including:

  • Three Dialogues on the Death of Hester Lynch Thrale (1779);
  • Una and Duesa, or A Set of Dialogues upon the most popular Subjects (1791);
  • British Synonymy (1793);
  • Three Warnings to John Bull before he dies by an Old Acquaintance (1798);
  • Retrospection (1800);
  • The Two Fountains (1789);
  • The Humourist: a Comedy;
  • The Adventurer (c 1790).

Many of these works were not published during her lifetime. It appears that some of these manuscripts were preserved by HLP for posthumous publication; she instructed her literary executor, Sir James Fellows, to cull what poems and anecdotes he might think fit from Thraliana and her miscellaneous papers. However, HLP's anticipated publication of her letters and literary works was prevented by her adopted son, Sir John Salusbury Piozzi Salusbury, who concealed her papers at Brynbella and threatened legal action against the Williams family who wished to print their Piozzi letters.

The collection also contains a number of HLP's translations and transcriptions of works by friends and writers she admired and a small amount of juvenalia. As an adult, HLP herself ascribed dates to much of her juvenalia; this dating information however should not be relied on.

The collection also contains a proof copy of Samuel 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 research. Many aspects of Hester Thrale-Piozzi's life can be studied, including her relationships with family and friends, her literary career and legal disputes. Through her correspondence and literary papers, HLP gives us a unique insight into the social and intellectual life of the eighteenth century, in particular Samuel Johnson's circle, political issues such as poverty, slavery, and the French Revolution, and the ambivalent status of women particularly in relation to literary endeavour. The travel journals offer a rich resource, both giving a contemporary impression of the regions HLP visited, but also showing the authoring process from rough manuscript journal to published work.

Administrative / Biographical History

Born Hester Lynch Salusbury, Hester Lynch Piozzi is best remembered as the friend of Dr Samuel Johnson, and the hostess of a brilliant literary circle. She was born into a gentry family on 16 January 1741 at Bodvel, near Pwllheli, Caernarvonshire. In her childhood, her father, John Salusbury was sent to Nova Scotia on official business at the behest of his patron, Lord Halifax, the then President of the Board of Trade. Hester and her mother went to live with Sir Robert Salusbury Cotton at Lleweny Hall, Denbighshire, later moving to East Hyde, near Luton, and then to live with Sir Thomas Salusbury at Offley Hall, Herefordshire. Hester was a lively intelligent girl who learnt Latin and modern languages from her tutor, Dr Arthur Collier, and had published a paper in the St James Chronicle before she was fifteen.

In the early 1760s, Thomas Salusbury decided that Hester should marry Henry Thrale, the son of a rich brewer; neither wanted the marriage, but Thomas Salusbury promised to settle upon Hester if she married. John Salusbury, however, forbade the match, and took his wife and daughter to London, but he died there soon afterwards. In 1763 Hester married Thrale. He became MP for Southwark in 1765 (remaining so until 1780), and Hester Thrale took an active part in writing his election addresses. The marriage was not a happy one, however. Hester and her husband were opposites in temperament and interests. Although Thrale lost a lot of money in business ventures, the sale of the brewery business after his death in 1781 left a considerable fortune to Hester and her children (she had four daughters who survived infancy).

Hester had 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, when Hester met Gabriel Piozzi, an Italian musician, and went with him to Italy in 1782. She eventually married Piozzi in 1784, a match regarded with disapproval by society and which led to a permanent falling out with her eldest daughter. After her marriage, she returned to Italy with Piozzi, making friends with Robert Merry and the Della Cruscan circle. While living in Florence, she wrote her Johnsonian anecdotes (1786), which includes a lively account of her friendship with Johnson. Hester returned to England in 1787, eventually settling in Streatham Park. She published Letters to and from the late Samuel Johnson, LL.D in 1788, for which Boswell claimed she was paid £500 (her relationship with Boswell was not friendly at this stage). Hester had considerable literary aspirations, particularly in the field of non-fiction; these aspirations were never really fulfilled. Apart from her works on Johnson, she published a popular account of her foreign travels, Observations and reflections made in the course of a journey through France, Italy and Germany (1788) and the similarly successful British synonymy, or, An attempt at regulating the choice of words in familiar conversation (1794); her historical observations published in Retrospection in 1801 were less successful.

In 1795 Hester retired to a villa called Brynbella in the Vale of Clwyd. She had no male heirs, and in 1798 adopted Gabriel Piozzi's five-year-old nephew, John Salusbury Piozzi, who later took the surname Salusbury. After Gabriel Piozzi's death in 1809, Hester lived mainly in Bath, and settled all her Welsh property on her adopted son when he married. Her life continued to be marked by controversy, as when at the age of 80 she developed an affection for a young actor, William Augustus Conway, and it was reported that she would marry him. Her love letters to him were published in 1843, but are of doubtful authenticity. Hester Piozzi died on 2 May 1821 at Clifton, leaving everything to her adopted son.

Hester was a vivacious, well-read, intelligent woman, who was often frustrated in fulfilling her ambitions. She had talents for friendship and enmity in equal measure. She was acquainted with many of the leading society and literary figures of her day. Her real literary achievements are perhaps to be found in her correspondence, which she took great trouble with, freely expressing her opinions and feelings about individuals and events. She intended that her correspondence should be published following her death, and requested that her correspondents take great care in preserving her letters. In the event, the letters were not published due to disagreements between her literary executors.

Source: Michael J. Franklin, 'Piozzi , Hester Lynch (1741-1821)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press -


Prior to their purchase by the John Rylands Library in 1931 the papers were largely unsorted, although there was some evidence of arrangement by Samuel Johnson, Hester Thrale Piozzi and John Salusbury Piozzi Salusbury. On arrival to the Library, the collection was divided into three parts: the estate papers of the Salusbury family became part of the sequence of Rylands Charters (see Related Units of Description); the printed material became part of the printed books sequence, and the Thrale-Piozzi Manuscripts (listed here) became part of the Rylands English Manuscripts sequence. Within the manuscripts there is a discernable arrangement into letters to and from friends and family of HLP (English MSS 530-596), business letters and papers, including inventories and catalogues (English MSS 597-614), diaries and journals (English MSS 615-623) and literary manuscripts, drafts etc. (English MSS 624-660). There is also some additional correspondence purchased at a later date (English MSS 891-893 and 1335). For the purposes of convenience, it has been decided to retain this arrangement.

Access Information

The collection is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

The bulk of the collection was purchased by the John Rylands Library from Mrs Rosamund V. Colman in January 1931 for £600 (English MSS 530-660, accession no. R71063), with additional material purchased from Mrs Colman in April 1936 for £52 10s (English MSS 891-893, accession no. R74733). The letters to the Williams family (English MS 1335) were purchased by the John Rylands University Library in summer 1984 from an unidentified vendor, by private treaty negotiated with Sotheby's.


Description compiled by Jo Klett, project archivist, and Elizabeth Gow, Assistant Keeper of Manuscripts and Archives, with reference to:

  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article on Hester Lynch Piozzi;
  • Edward A. Bloom and Lillian D. Bloom, The Piozzi Letters: correspondence of Hester Lynch Piozzi, 1784-1821;
  • articles relating to particular manuscripts, as listed in the Bibliography.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1928-1935 (English MSS 530-660) and Supplementary Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1937 (English MSS 891-893).

Alternative Form Available

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, Connecticut: Research Publications, 1989).

Separated Material

The papers of Hester Thrale-Piozzi have been widely dispersed. The most significant collections include:

  • British Library, Manuscript Collections: particularly correspondence with her daughter (367 items) (ref.: GB 058 RP812) and correspondence with Frances Burney, 1780-1782 (ref.: GB 058 Eg MS 3695; RP5318);
  • Cambridge University, Trinity College Library: literary notes (ref.: GB 0016 Rothschild Library);
  • National Library of Wales, Department of Collection Services: Bachegraig estate papers, including correspondence; diaries, miscellaneous correspondence, 1808-12 (ref.: GB 0210 Brynbella Piozziana; NLW MSS 11099-11102);
  • Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum, Lichfield: 15 letters from Samuel Johnson, 1769-1780 (ref.: GB 495 MS21);
  • Victoria & Albert Museum, National Art Library: 116 letters to the Williams family, 1796-1821 (24 originals, the others transcripts) (ref.: GB 072 Forster Collection);
  • Harvard University, Houghton Library: literary journals (5 volumes), 1810-1814 (ref.: NUC MS 84-1923); letters mainly to Mr and Mrs Edward Mangin, c 1812-1820 (ref.: MS Eng 231); the Hyde Collection of Dr Johnson containing substantial material relating to Hester Lynch Piozzi and family;
  • Huntington Library, San Marino, California: 39 letters, 1780-1821;
  • Princeton University Library: c 300 letters;
  • Yale University Libraries, Beinecke Library: 58 letters.

Custodial History

Hester Thrale Piozzi's papers were passed on her death to her adopted son, John Salusbury Piozzi Salusbury, and part of the collection comprises his own papers. The papers passed by descent to Mrs Rosamund V. Colman, his great granddaughter. Much of the collection was sold through sales at Sotheby's in 1904, 1907 and 1908. The Thraliana was sold to the Huntington Library in 1922. In January 1918 Mrs Colman sold via Sotheby's 159 letters from Samuel Johnson to HLP.

The John Rylands Library purchased much of the collection from Mrs Colman in January 1931 (English MSS 530-660), along with estate papers of the Salusbury family (Rylands Charters 914-1262) and a very small collection of printed material (R69718-R69738 and R71033-R71037), some of which was probably from the library at Brynbella.

In April 1936 the John Rylands Library purchased from Mrs Colman three further volumes of Piozzi letters (English MSS 891-893), which had been mounted and bound by her.

In the summer of 1984 the John Rylands University Library purchased by private treaty via Sotheby's a collection of Piozzi letters to the Williams family (English MS 1335). These had been bound together shortly after the death of Hester Lynch Piozzi, probably with the intent to publish. The whereabouts of this collection was unknown for many years, although copies of some of the letters were held by the Victoria & Albert Museum. In a letter of 15 August [1983] to Glenise Matheson, then Keeper of Manuscripts at the JRULM, Lillian Bloom describes what she knew of the provenance of the letters. She states that they were sold by a Brigadier General Mainwaring in 1969 to Traylen and in 1975 were sold via Sotheby's to a fictitious Mr Barber.

Related Material

The Library holds estate papers of the Salusbury family in our Charters collection (Rylands Charters 914-1262). These are described in M. Tyson, Hand-list of charters, deeds and similar documents in the possession of the John Rylands Library II, which is available via Access to Archives. The papers include many deeds relating to estates in Bachegraig, Denbigh and Tremeirchia, and some papers relating to legacies of Henry Thrale, Gabriel Piozzi and Hester Thrale Piozzi. Many of the deeds have been endorsed by Samuel Johnson.

The printed book collection of the John Rylands Library contains a number of books and pamphlets, probably from the library at Brynbella, acquired in 1931 with the collection of manuscripts (R69718-R69738 and R71033-R71037). The Library also holds two printed items which contain extensive marginalia and comments in the hand of HLP, namely an Apocrypha of 1813 (R78979) and a Bible Commentary of 1770 (R69876). These books were given by HLP to Sir James Fellowes, her literary executor, in 1820. They were purchased by the John Rylands Library from Orlando Butler Fellowes, his grandson, in 1931 and 1937.


See descriptions of the Thrale-Piozzi accessions in the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, volumes 15-17 and 20 (1931-1933, 1936), in particular the following articles:

  • For English MSS 537 and 543 see J.D. Wright, Some unpublished letters to and from Dr Johnson (vol. 16, pp. 32-76) .
  • For English MS 545 see W. Wright Roberts, Charles and Fanny Burney in the light of the new Thrale correspondence in the John Rylands Library (vol. 16, pp. 115-36) .
  • For English MS 632 see M. Zamick (ed.), Three Dialogues of Hester Lynch Thrale (vol. 16, pp. 77-114) .
  • For English MS 648 see W.Wright Roberts (ed.), The trial of Midas the Second (vol. 17, pp. 322-32) .
  • For English MSS 891-893, see James L. Clifford, Further letters of the Johnson circle (vol. 20, pp. 157-72).

Hester Thrale-Piozzi's correspondence, including material held at the John Rylands Library, has been published in various editions, including: R.W. Chapman, The letters of Samuel Johnson with Mrs Thrale's genuine letters to him, 3 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952) , and Edward A. Bloom and Lillian D. Bloom, The Piozzi letters: correspondence of Hester Lynch Piozzi, 1784-1821 (formerly Mrs Thrale), 6 vols (Newark, Del.: University of Delaware Press, 1991-2002).

For correspondence held by the Library see also Edward A. Bloom, Lillian D. Bloom and Joan 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 (1977-78), pp. 303-38.

For English MSS 566-568 see O.G. Knapp (ed.), Intimate letters of Hester Piozzi and Penelope Pennington, 1788-1821 (London: John Lane, 1914) .

For English MS 574 see Kalman A. Burnim, The letters of Sarah and William Siddons to Hester Lynch Piozzi in the John Rylands Library, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, vol. 52 (1969), pp. 46-95.

For English MSS 582-584 see Diane Menagh, The Life of Marianne Francis; With an Account of her Letters to Mrs. Piozzi, an Old Friend of the Family, Bulletin of the New York Public Library, vol. 80.3 (1977), pp. 318-44.

For English MS 617 see M. Tyson and H. Guppy (eds), The French journals of Mrs. Thrale and Doctor Johnson, edited from the original manuscripts in the John Rylands Library and in the British Museum (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1932).

For English MS 623 see Richard R. Reynolds, Mrs. Piozzi's Scotch Journey, 1789, Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, vol. 60, no. 1 (1977), pp. 114-34.

For English MS 624 see William McCarthy, A Verse "Essay on Man" by H.L. Piozzi, The Age of Johnson, vol. 2 (1989), pp. 375-420.

For English MSS 649 and 654 see Gwin J. Kolb, Mrs (Thrale) Piozzi and Dr. Johnson's The Fountains: A Fairy Tale, Novel, vol. 13 (1979), pp. 68-81.

For English MS 653 see Arthur Sherbo, The proof sheets of Dr Johnson's Preface to Shakespeare, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, vol. 35 (1952), pp. 206-10.

Personal Names