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.