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An intimate picture of family life in eighteenth-century England emerges here from a unique journal. Hester Thrale, vivacious and intellectual wife of a prosperous London brewer, began in 1766 a journal devoted to her children: their growth and achievements, their education and illnesses, family travels and diversions. Beyond the life of the children, there is the story of Mrs. Thrale herself, talented and well educated, but held back in many things by conventions of the time. Her greatest defiance came as a widow, when she took a second husband, Gabriel Piozzi, foreigner, music teacher, public entertainer, a decision for which her children and friends never forgave her.
Mary Hyde has fully annotated the journal for us, drawing on such sources as the letters between Mrs. Thrale and Samuel Johnson and their journals to fill in the gaps of the “Family Book,” providing a continuous account of the family at home and among friends. She brings to her task the authority of wide learning in the field and a wonderful narrative skill.
The Thrales’ story has both typical and unusual aspects. Special interest derives from their friendship and acquaintance with some of the most celebrated figures of the time. We see vignettes of Edmund Burke, Oliver Goldsmith, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Charles Burney, and Lord North in unguarded moments; the journal is particularly valuable for its insight on Samuel Johnson, showing a side of him that Boswell rarely saw firsthand. To the extent that the family’s daily life and vicissitudes were typical, this history offers a revealing account of domestic life and child-raising in the late eighteenth century.