Autobiography, 1784

Lynch Piozzi, Hester
Sir Joshua Reynolds, Portrait of Hester Thrale and her daughter Hester (c. 1777), Beaverbrook Art Gallery, New Brunswick, Canada.


"Dear Piozzi grew more and more weary of this controversial chat; but it was comical to see with how much pleasure he witnessed my gaining even a momentary triumph over these men, skilled in disputation, and masters of their own language."

When we arrived at Milan, our abiding place, I perceived the men of quality and bon ton considered me as fair game to shoot their senseless attentions at; and my sometimes cold, some- times indignant, reception of their odd complimentary addresses, was received at first with most unmerited displeasure, and in a short time with admiration no less undeserved. Conjugal fidelity being a thing they had no conception of, and each concluding I kept my favours for some one else, nothing undeceived them but my strictly adhered-to resolution of never suffering a tete-a tete with any man whatever except my husband, and laughing with them in company, saying we inhabited a Casa Fidele, and should do honour to the residence.

The truth is, old Comte Fidele, a widower of seventy years old, said his house was too big for him (an invalid), and gave us up the winter side of his palace for a year, paying only 80 l. My bed-chamber, twenty-seven feet long and eighteen feet high, was lighted by one immense window at the end, and looked over the naviglio to the beautiful mountains of Brianza. Out of this went a handsome square room where I received my company in common. Out of that we walked into a large dinner apartment, next to which was the servants' hall (as we should call it, but known in Italy by name of anti- camera), where and from whence the servants answered the bell. Through this opened the best drawing-room, with two fire-places, two large glass lustres, four enor- mous windows with yellow damask curtains I am ashamed to say how long, but my maid always said they were eight yards from top to bottom. Her apartment opened through this; for all were passage rooms, and a small pair of stairs led to a lovely cold bath. I have not done yet. Behind my magnificent bed of white- watered tabby, and very clean, a door opened into a large light closet where I kept my books; and through that a commodious staircase led to Mr. Piozzi's bed- chamber, and a beautiful dressing-room or study, where he was supposed to receive company, people on business, &c. All this very well furnished indeed for four-score pounds a year!! a. d. 1784.

The showy valet was a Frenchman hired at Paris, the gaudy butler out of livery resembling nothing but a gold fish, had eighteen pence a day, and the man cook no less. One woman, besides my own English Abigail, formed our household; a word I should not have used, for they all walked home in the evening, after the wives and children &c. had been brought into the kitchen almost literally to lick the plates. It seemed very odd, but I believe Mr. Piozzi paid everybody every night of his life. I remember his asking me one day what I thought our dinner came to; we were eight at table, the dishes seven and nine. When I had made some ridiculous conjectures, he showed me that the whole expense, wine included, was thirteen shillings of our money, no more, and I expected to hear him say how happy he was. Not a bit; he was happy only in my attachment and society; his countrymen were his scourge. They told him, as I was a Protestant I was of course an infidel, and should be a favourite at the German court which the Emperor kept at Milan. So I was; but one day when some of our Italian eccle- siastics dined with us and met the Austrian Count Kinigh, the Viennese librarian, &c., who endeavoured to play upon the natives, ridiculing their superstitions, &c., I could bear no more of what they called philo- sophy, the less perhaps because they hoped I should be pleased with such discourse, and much amazed our Milanese friends by saying, when applied to, that I really thought the thorns of ancient philosophy were now only fit to burn in the fire, unless we could make a hedge of them to fence in the possession of Christian truth.

This speech won all the old abates' hearts at once, and was echoed about with ten times the praise it deserved. I was now assailed on every side to become a Romanist, for Catholics I never would submit to call them who excluded from salvation every sect of our religion but their own. Dear Piozzi grew more and more weary of this controversial chat; but it was comical to see with how much pleasure he witnessed my gaining even a momentary triumph over these men, skilled in disputation, and masters of their own language. "Are you a Calvinist, Madam?" said one of the Monsignori. "Certainly not," was the reply. "Do you kneel to re- ceive the Sacrament?" "/ do." "And are not those fellows damned who do receive it standing or sitting?" \ "I believe not" said I. "Our blessed Lord did not himself eat the passover according to the strict rules of the Mosaical law, which insists on its being eaten stand- ing; whereas we know that Jesus Christ reclined on a triclinium, as was the usage of Rome and of the times. Nay, perhaps he was pleased to do so that such disputes should not arise; or, if arising, that his example might be appealed to." "What proof have you of our Saviour's reclining on a triclinium?" "St. John's leaning on his breast at supper," said I. "Oh, that was at common meals, not at the passover." "Excuse me, my lord, it was at the last solemn supper, which we all com- memorate with our best intentions, some one way, some another. Their method is not yours, neither is it mine; let us beware of judging lest we ourselves be judged." "Fetch me a Bible, Sir," said Monsignore. "I will bring mine," said I. "Excuse me now, Madam," replied my antagonist; "we cannot abide but by the Vulgate." Canonico Palazzi offered to go; I begged of him to buy me one at the next bookseller's three doors off. My victory was complete, and I have the Bible still which won it for me.

All this, however delightful, grew very wearisome and a little dangerous; and we were glad when spring time came that we might set out upon our travels.


Autobiography, letters and literary remains of Mrs. Piozzi (Thrale), ed. with notes and an introductory account of her life and writings, by A. Hayward. London : Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1861, vol. 2, p. 64-67. Full text at Hathitrust.