Hester Thrale's Gold Pen

  • Posted on: 20 September 2009
  • By: David Thrale

Johann Zoffany (1733 - 1810). Portrait of Mrs. Thrale in a yellow dress at a writing table.
On 7 October 1777 at Brighthelmstone, Dr. Charles Burney presented Hester with a gold pen and these verses. Hester’s reply - also in verse - is reproduced below after Burney’s verses. On reading Dr. Burney’s verses, Samuel Johnson remarked…

These days he are some of the few verses which have as much Truth as Wit, and as much Wit as Truth.

Dr. Burney's verses


Such Implements though fine and splendid
Report says ne’er write well:
With common Fame that Truth is blended
Let this Example tell.

If bounteous Thrale could thus transfer
Her Learning Sense and Wit;
Who would not wish a Gift from her,
Who—not to beg—submit?

Paupers from Grubstreet at her Gate
Would crowd both young and old;
Who day and Night would supplicate
For Thoughts—not Pens of Gold.

But not alone the Gift of Tongues
The Muse’s Grace and Favour;
Enrich her Prose and to her Songs
Afford the Attick Flavour;

The Virtues all around her wait
T’infuse their Influence mild;
And ev’ry Duty regulate
Of Parent, Wife and Child:

Within her Bosom Friendship glows
With unexampled Zeal;
While Piety its Balm bestows
Each mental Wound to heal:

Such Judgement to direct each Storm,
Each Hurricane to weather;
A Mind so pure—a Heart so warm
How seldom found together!

Hester Thrale's verses

To these compliments I returned the following Answer.

When Wits with sportive Malice aim
To speed the Shaft that flies;
Tis Love of Praise that bears the blame
And those that blame are wise.

When female Levity and Youth
Run wild a Thousand ways;
Each Stander-by-with equal Truth
Arraigns the Love of Praise.

But Praises when by Virtue given
To Virtue are assign’d;
They light like Harbingers from Heav’n
And fix the wavring Mind.

Should smooth Prosperity betray
To Indolence and Ease;
Or Sorrow blind the well known Way
We once could find to please.

’Tis then that recollected Fame
Decides our future Days;
And Virtue with an humbler Name
Becomes the Love of Praise.

Written by Hester Lynch Thrale in October 1777. Thraliana entry dated December 1777.