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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Fanny Burney and her Friends » CHAPTER I.
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Birth—Parentage—The Macburneys—Early Life of Dr. Burney—Fulk Greville—Esther Sleepe—Lynn—Poland Street—Frances Burney’s Brothers and Sisters—Her Backwardness in Childhood—Her Mother’s Death—David Garrick—The Old Lady—The Wig-maker—Neglect of Fanny’s Education—Her Taste for Scribbling—Samuel Crisp—His Early Life—His Tragedy—Its Failure—His Chagrin—His Life at Hampton—His Retirement from the World—Crisp renews his Acquaintance with Burney—Becomes the Adviser of the Family—Burney’s Amiable Temper—Chesington Hall—Its Quaint Interior—Contrast between Fanny and her Elder Sister—Burney’s Second Marriage—Change of Plans—Mrs. Burney lectures Fanny—An Auto da Fé—Origin of ‘Evelina’—Burney takes his Doctor’s Degree—His Essay on Comets—Preparations for the ‘History of Music’—Musical Tour in France and Italy—House in Queen Square—German Tour—Fanny’s Occupation during his Absence—Removal to St. Martin’s Street—Newton’s House—The Observatory—Fanny’s Arrival at Womanhood.

Frances Burney was born at King’s Lynn on the 13th of June, 1752. She was the second daughter, and third child, of Dr. Charles Burney, author of the well-known ‘History of Music,’ by Esther Sleepe, his first wife.

It has been stated,[1] we know not on what authority, that Dr. Burney was a descendant in the fifth degree of James Macburney, a native of Scotland, who attended King James I. when he left that country to take possession of the English throne. The doctor himself was certainly unacquainted with this fact, if fact it be. His grandfather and father were each named James Macburney, 2but they were both born at the village of Great Hanwood, in Shropshire, where the former inherited a considerable estate; there was no trace in their connections of Celtic extraction; and Charles has recorded that he could never find at what period any of his ancestors lived in Scotland or Ireland. Doubtless it was the adventures of the two historical James Macburneys which led Macaulay to conclude that the family was of Irish origin. James the younger offended his father by eloping with an actress from the Goodman’s Fields Theater. ‘The old gentleman could devise no more judicious mode of wreaking vengeance on his undutiful boy than by marrying the cook.’ He married some sort of domestic, at any rate, who brought him a son, named Joseph, to whom he left all his property. Joseph, however, soon ran through his fortune, and was reduced to earn his bread as a dancing-master in Norfolk. His elder brother James survived the actress, and though a poor widower with a swarm of children, gained the hand of Miss Ann Cooper, an heiress and beauty, who had refused the addresses of the celebrated Wycherley. After his second marriage, James followed the profession of a portrait-painter, first at Shrewsbury, and later at Chester. The number of his children rose to twenty-two; the youngest being Charles, afterwards Dr. Burney, and a twin sister, Susannah, who were born and baptized at Shrewsbury on the 12th of April, 1726; at which date their father still retained the name of Macburney. When and why the Mac was dropped we are not informed, but by the time Charles attained to manhood, the family in all its branches—uncles and cousins, as well as brothers and sisters—had concurred in adopting the more compact form of Burney.

The musical talents of Charles Burney showed themselves at an early age. In his eighteenth year, the proficiency 3he had acquired under his eldest half-brother, James Burney, organist of St. Mary’s, Shrewsbury, recommended him to the notice of Dr. Arne, the composer of ‘Rule, Britannia,’ who offered to take him as a pupil. In 1744, accordingly, Charles was articled to the most famous English musician of that day, and went to live in London. At the house of the no less famous Mrs. Cibber,[2] who was sister of Dr. Arne, he had opportunities of mixing with most of the persons then distinguished by their writings or their performances in connection with the orchestra and the stage. At the end of his third year with Arne, Burney acquired a still more useful patron. Among the leaders of ton in the middle of last century was Fulk Greville, a descendant of the favorite of Queen Elizabeth and friend of Sir Philip Sidney. To a passion for field sports, horse-racing, and gaming, this fine gentleman united an equally strong taste for more refined pleasures, and his ample possessions enabled him to gratify every inclination to the utmost. Greville met Burney at the shop of Kirkman, the harpsichord-maker, and was so captivated with his playing and lively conversation, that he paid Arne £300 to cancel the young man’s articles, and took him to live with himself as a sort of musical companion. The high-bred society to which he was now introduced prepared Burney to take rank in later years as the most fashionable professor of music, and one of the most polished wits of his time. In Greville’s town circle, and at his country seat, Wilbury House, near Andover, his dependent constantly encountered peers, statesmen, diplomatists, macaronis, to whose various humours this son of a provincial portrait-painter seems to have adapted 4himself as readily as if he had been to the manner born. So firm a hold did he gain on his protector, that neither the marriage of the latter, nor his own, appears in any degree to have weakened his favour. When Greville chose to make a stolen match with Miss Frances Macartney,[3] or, as the lady’s father expressed it, ‘to take a wife out of the window whom he might just as well have taken out of the door,’ Burney was employed to give the bride away. When Burney himself became a benedict, Mr. and Mrs. Greville cordially approved both the act and his choice, and Mrs. Greville subsequently stood as godmother to Frances Burney.

It was in 1749 that Charles Burney took to wife the lady before mentioned, who, on her mother’s side, was of French origin, and grandchild of a Huguenot refugee named Dubois. Esther Sleepe herself was bred in the City of London, and her future husband first saw her at the house of his elder brother, Richard Burney, in Hatton Garden. To his fashionable friends the marriage must have seemed an imprudent one, for Miss Sleepe had no fortune to compensate for her obscure parentage. From the ‘Memoirs of Dr. Burney,’[4] we learn that her father was a man of ill conduct; but Fanny everywhere speaks with enthusiasm of her mother’s mother. Somewhat strangely, this lady herself adhered to the Roman Catholic creed, though she was the child of a man exiled by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and though she suffered her own daughter Esther to be brought up in the Anglican Communion. In view of the union which Frances Burney afterwards contracted, it is as well to bear in mind that one of her parents was partly of French extraction. In 5consequence of his wife’s connections, Charles Burney on his marriage hired a house in the City. He was presently elected organist of St. Dionis Backchurch, produced several pieces of music, and laid himself out to obtain pupils. These flocked to him from all sides. The Grevilles had gone abroad shortly after he left them, but he could still count on their influence, and that of the friends they had procured him, while he found new supporters daily among the merchants and bankers east of Temple Bar. His wife bore him a first-born son, who was baptized James, according to the immemorial usage of the Burney race, and then a daughter, who received her mother’s name of Esther. But when all things looked fair and promising, the sky suddenly became overcast. The young father’s health broke down: a violent attack of fever was succeeded by a train of symptoms threatening consumption; and, as a last resource, he was ordered by his medical adviser, the poet-physician Armstrong,[5] to throw up his employments in London and go to live in the country.

In this emergency, Burney was offered and accepted the place of organist at Lynn, whither he removed in 1751, and where he spent the nine following years. His stipend was fixed at £100 a year, a handsome sum for those days, and he largely added to it by giving music lessons in the town, and in many of the great houses of Norfolk. The qualities which had stood him in good stead in London proved equally acceptable to the country gentlemen of East Anglia. ‘He scarcely ever entered one of their houses upon terms of business without leaving it on terms of intimacy.’ His journeys to Houghton, Holkham, Kimberley, Rainham and Felbrig were performed on the back of his mare Peggy, who leisurely padded along the 6sandy cross-roads, while the rider studied a volume of Italian poetry with the aid of a dictionary which he carried in his pocket. As Burney’s income grew, his family also increased. After his third child, Frances, came another daughter, Susanna; next a second son, who was called Charles, and then a fourth daughter, Charlotte. The keen breezes from the Wash helped to brace his spare person, and though constant riding about the country in winter was not desirable exercise, Burney gradually reconciled himself to his provincial lot, which he enlivened by laying plans for his ‘History of Music,’ corresponding with the Grevilles and other old friends, and commencing an acquaintance by letter with Dr. Johnson. In 1759, however, he gained some general reputation by his musical setting of an ode for St. Cecilia’s Day, which was performed with much applause at Ranelagh Gardens; and, stimulated by the exhortations which reached him from various quarters, he prepared to resume his career in the capital. Foremost in urging the step was Samuel Crisp, whom he had met and taken for his mentor at Wilbury House, and of whom we shall have more to say presently. To settle for life among the foggy aldermen of Lynn, wrote Crisp, would be to plant his youth, genius, hopes and fortune against a north wall. Burney took the warning, and in 1760, having sufficiently recruited his constitution, he returned to London with his wife and family.

He established himself in Poland Street, which, from having been in high fashion, was then lapsing by degrees to the professional and the less wealthy mercantile classes, though it still boasted among its inhabitants the Duke of Chandos, besides several lesser personages whose names were written in the peerage. This was the very situation for an ambitious music-master of slender means but good connections. In a very short time, we are told, Burney 7‘had hardly an hour that was not appropriated to some fair disciple.’ He began his round of lessons as early as seven o’clock in the morning, and sometimes did not finish it till eleven at night. He often dined in a hackney coach on the contents of a sandwich-box and a flask of sherry and water, which he carried in his pocket. The care of his six little ones of necessity devolved wholly on their mother, who was well worthy of the charge. In talents and accomplishments Mrs. Burney appears to have been at least the equal of her husband. While she lived, a certain touch of Huguenot decision in her added strength to his less strenuous nature; and her French blood undoubtedly contributed its full share to the quick and lively parts that in different degrees distinguished their children. These, as they grew out of infancy, composed a group which, on every view that we get of it, presents an extremely pleasant picture. In most cases, their minds blossomed at an early period. The eldest daughter, Esther, inherited her father’s musical genius; when only eight years of age she performed with surprising skill on the harpsichord. James, the eldest son, appears to have been a lad of spirit and vivacity. Beginning as ‘a nominal midshipman’ at the age of ten, he chose the navy for his profession, sailed twice round the world with Captain Cook, rose to the rank of rear-admiral, and lived to have his ‘flashes of wild wit’ celebrated by Charles Lamb in one of the essays of ‘Elia.’ Susanna, the favorite and special friend of our Fanny, has left letters worthy of being printed on the same page with those of her famous sister, and her power of writing showed itself sooner than did Fanny’s. Finally, Charles,[6] the second son, though for some reason he quitted Cambridge without 8taking a degree, made his mark in Greek criticism before completing his twenty-fifth year; in that department of study, so speedy a harvest affords sufficient proof of a forward spring. The fame of the younger Dr. Charles Burney is now somewhat faded: in his prime, he was classed with Porson and Parr as one of the three chief representatives of English scholarship; and on his death his library was purchased by the nation and placed in the British Museum.

The one marked exception to the rule of early development in the Burney family was noted in the case of the daughter who was destined to be its principal ornament. We are told that the most remarkable features of Frances Burney’s childhood were her extreme shyness and her backwardness at learning. At eight years of age, she did not even know her letters; and her elder brother, who had a sailor’s love of practical jokes, used to pretend to teach her to read, and give her the book upside down, which, he said, she never found out. An officious acquaintance of her mother suggested that the application of the little dunce might be quickened by the rod, but the wiser parent replied that ‘she had no fear about Fanny.’ Mrs. Burney, it is clear, favoured no forcing methods in education. She was laid aside by illness shortly after the family’s return to London, and, so long as her health lasted, seems to have given regular teaching to the eldest of her daughters only, whose taste for reading she very early began to form. “I perfectly recollect,” wrote Fanny to Esther many years later, “child as I was, and never of the party, this part of your education. At that very juvenile period, the difference even of months makes a marked distinction in bestowing and receiving instruction. I, also, was so peculiarly backward that even our Susan stood before me; she could read when I knew not my 9letters. But, though so sluggish to learn, I was always observant. Do you remember Mr. Seaton denominating me at fifteen, the silent, observant Miss Fanny? Well I recollect your reading with our dear mother all Pope’s works and Pitt’s ‘?neid.’ I recollect, also, your spouting passages from Pope, that I learned from hearing you recite them, before—many years before—I read them myself.”

Mrs. Burney died at the end of September, 1761. Towards the close of her illness, Fanny and Susan, with their brother Charles, had been sent to board with a Mrs. Sheeles, who kept a school in Queen Square, that they might be out of the way; and this experienced judge of children was greatly struck by the intensity of Fanny’s grief at a loss which girls of nine are apt to realize very imperfectly.

The truth seems to be that Fanny’s backwardness and apparent dulness were simply due to the numbing influence of nervousness and extreme diffidence. Her father, the less indulgent to shyness in others because he had experienced it in himself, for a long time did her very imperfect justice. Looking back in later years, he could remember that her talent for observing and representing points of character, her lively invention, even her turn for composition, had shown themselves before she had learnt to spell her way through the pages of a fairy tale. A magician more potent than any books helped to call forth the germs of her latent powers. Among the friends most intimate in Poland Street during the months following Mrs. Burney’s death were David Garrick and his engaging wife, La Violetta. While exerting themselves to console the widower, this brilliant and kindly couple did not neglect his motherless family. ‘Garrick, who was passionately fond of children, never withheld his visits on account of 10the absence of the master of the house.’ If Mr. Burney was not at home, the great actor, keenly alive to his own gift of bestowing pleasure, would devote himself to entertaining the little ones. The rapture with which his entrance was greeted by that small audience charmed him as much as the familiar applause of Drury Lane. The prince of comedians and mimics was content to lavish all the resources of his art on a handful of girls and boys. When he left them, they spent the rest of the day in recalling the sallies of his humour, and the irresistible gestures which had set them off. So Fanny tells us, the least noticed, probably, yet the most attentive and observant member of the whole group. On many a happy night, the elder ones, in charge of some suitable guardian, were permitted to occupy Mrs. Garrick’s private box at the theatre. There they beheld ‘the incomparable Roscius’ take the stage, and followed him with eyes of such eager admiration, that it seemed—so their amused father told his friend—
‘They did, as was their duty,
Worship the shadow of his shoe-tie!’

Burney relates of Fanny that ‘she used, after having seen a play in Mrs. Garrick’s box, to take the actors off, and compose speeches for their characters, for she could not read them.’ But, he continues, in company or before strangers, she was silent, backward, and timid, even to sheepishness; and, from her shyness, had such profound gravity and composure of features, that those of Dr. Burney’s friends who went often to his home, and entered into the different humours of the children, never called Fanny by any other name, from the time she had reached her eleventh year, than ‘the old lady.’

Yet the shyest children will now and then forget their shyness. This seems to be the moral of a story which 11the worthy doctor goes on to tell in his rather prolix and pompous style. “There lived next door to me, at that time, in Poland Street, and in a private house, a capital hair-merchant, who furnished perukes to the judges and gentlemen of the law. The hair-merchant’s female children and mine used to play together in the little garden behind the house; and, unfortunately, one day, the door of the wig-magazine being left open, they each of them put on one of those dignified ornaments of the head, and danced and jumped about in a thousand antics, laughing till they screamed at their own ridiculous figures. Unfortunately, in their vagaries, one of the flaxen wigs, said by the proprietor to be worth upwards of ten guineas—in those days an enormous price—fell into a tub of water, placed for shrubs in the little garden, and lost all its gorgon buckle,[7] and was declared by the owner to be totally spoilt. He was extremely angry, and chid very severely his own children, when my little daughter, ‘the old lady,’ then ten years of age, advancing to him, as I was informed, with great gravity and composure, sedately said, ‘What signifies talking so much about an accident? The wig is wet, to be sure; and the wig was a good wig, to be sure: but ’tis of no use to speak of it any more, because what’s done can’t be undone.’”

Meanwhile, little was done on any regular plan for Fanny’s education. She had not been suffered to remain at the school in which she was temporarily placed during her mother’s last illness, nor was she sent to any other. When, after the lapse of two or three years, Burney found himself in a position to put two of his girls to school at 12Paris, he selected the third, Susanna, rather than Fanny, to accompany the eldest sister, proposing to send Fanny and Charlotte together at a future time. Two reasons were assigned for this arrangement. One was the notion that Susanna, who inherited her father’s consumptive habit, required change of climate more than the second daughter. The other was a fear lest Fanny’s deep reverence for her Roman Catholic grandmother might incline her to adopt the same form of faith, and thus render her perversion easy, if, when so young, she fell within the influence of some enterprising French chaplain. We cannot help suspecting, however, that the true cause of Fanny being passed over on this occasion was an impression that Susanna was a girl of brighter parts, and better fitted to benefit by the teaching of a Paris pension.

From whatever motive, Fanny was left behind, nor was any instructor provided for her at home. The widower disliked the idea of introducing a governess into his house, though he had no time to spare even for directing his daughter’s studies. She was thus entirely self-educated, and had no other spur to exertion than her unbounded affection for her father, who excused himself for his neglect of her training by the reflection that ‘she had a natural simplicity and probity about her which wanted no teaching.’ In her eleventh year she had learned to read, and began to scribble little poems and works of invention, though in a character that was illegible to everyone but herself. ‘Her love of reading,’ we are told, ‘did not display itself till two or three years later.’ Her father had a good library, over which she was allowed to range at will; and in course of time she became acquainted with a fair portion of its lighter contents. The solitary child kept a careful account of the authors she studied, making extracts from them, and adding remarks 13which, we are assured, showed that her mind was riper than her knowledge. Yet she never developed any strong or decided taste for literature. She never became even a devourer of books. Indeed, it may be doubted whether she did not always derive more pleasure from her own compositions than from those of the greatest writers. Plying her pen without an effort, the leisure which most intellectual persons give to reading, Fanny devoted in great part to producing manuscripts of her own. Childish epics, dramas, and romances, were not the only ventures of her youth: she began keeping a diary at the age of fifteen, and, in addition to her published novels and sundry plays which have perished, journals, memoirs, and letters, of which a small proportion only have seen the light, occupied most of the vacant hours in her active womanhood.

During this period of self-education, the person from whom Fanny received most notice and attention appears to have been her father’s old friend, Samuel Crisp. This gentleman had gone abroad while the Burneys were in Norfolk, and had taken up his abode at Rome, where he passed several years, improving his taste in music, painting, and sculpture, and forgetting for a while the young English professor who had interested him under Greville’s roof. Having at length returned to England, he, some time after Mrs. Burney’s death, met Burney by accident at the house of a common acquaintance. The casual encounter immediately revived the old intimacy. Crisp at once found his way to the house in Poland Street, and, like Garrick, was attracted by the group of children there. As the two eldest of these and the lively Susanna were soon afterwards removed to a distance, the chief share in his regard naturally fell to the lot of Fanny. Hence, while all the children came to look upon him with a sort of filial feeling, he was in a special manner appropriated 14by Fanny as ‘her dearest daddy.’ And there were points in Crisp’s temperament which harmonized well with the girl’s shy yet aspiring character. Both, in their turn, set their hearts on the attainment of literary renown; both had the same tendency to shrink into themselves. Success changed Fanny from a silent domestic drudge into a social celebrity; failure helped to change Crisp from a shining man of fashion into a moody recluse.

The story of this strange man has been sketched by Macaulay, but it has so close a bearing on our heroine’s life, that we cannot avoid shortly retracing it here. A handsome person, dignified manners, excellent talents, and an accomplished taste procured for Crisp, in his prime, acceptance and favour, not only with Fulk Greville and his set, but also with a large number of other persons distinguished in the great world. Thus, he was admitted to the acquaintance of the highly descended and wealthy Margaret Cavendish Harley, then Duchess Dowager of Portland, whom we mention here because through her Crisp became known to Mrs. Delany, by whom Fanny was afterwards introduced to the Royal Family. Another of his friends was Mrs. Montagu, who then, as he used to say, was ‘peering at fame,’ and gradually rising to the rank of a lady patroness of letters. And among the most intimate of his associates was the Earl of Coventry, at the time when that ‘grave young lord,’ as Walpole calls him, after long dangling, married the most beautiful of the beautiful Gunnings. Now, about the date when our Fanny first saw the light, it was buzzed abroad in the coterie of Crisp’s admirers that their hero had finished a tragedy on the story of Virginia. A lively expectation was at once awakened. But Garrick, though a personal friend of the author, hesitated and delayed to gratify the public with the rich feast which was believed to be in store for it. 15The utmost efforts were employed to overcome his reluctance. The great Mr. Pitt was prevailed on to read the play, and to pronounce in its favour. Lord Coventry exerted all his influence with the coy manager. Yet not until Lady Coventry herself had joined her solicitations to those of her husband was ‘Virginia’ put in rehearsal at Drury Lane. The piece was produced in February, 1754, and ran several nights, buoyed up by the acting and popularity of Garrick, who contributed a remarkably good epilogue.[8] But no patronage or support could keep alive a drama which, in truth, had neither poetical merit nor the qualities of a good acting play to recommend it. ‘Virginia’ was very soon withdrawn, and, as usual, the writer, while cruelly mortified by his failure, attributed it to every cause but the right one. Lord Coventry advised alterations, which Crisp hastened to execute, but Garrick, though civil, was determined that so ineffective a muse should not again cumber his stage. His firmness, of course, cost him the friendship of the ungrateful Crisp, who, conscious of considerable powers, and unable to perceive that he had mistaken their proper application, inveighed with equal bitterness against manager, performers, and the public, and in sore dudgeon betook himself across the sea to Italy. Macaulay, indeed, will have it that his disappointment ruined his temper and spirits, and turned him into ‘a cynic, and a hater of mankind.’ But in this, as in too many of the essayist’s trenchant statements, something of accuracy is sacrificed for the sake of effect. Crisp appears to have enjoyed himself not a little in Italy, and on his return, though he did not again settle in London, he fixed his first abode as near to it as the courtly village of Hampton, where he furnished a small house, filling it with pictures, statuary, 16and musical instruments, as became a man of taste. Far from shunning society in this luxurious retreat, he entertained so many guests there that his hospitality in a short time made a serious inroad on his small fortune. Chagrin at his imprudence brought on a severe attack of gout; and then it was that, broken alike in health and finances, he resolved on secluding himself from the world. Having sold his villa and its contents, he removed a few miles off to a solitary mansion belonging to an old friend, Christopher Hamilton, who, like himself, had lost the battle of life, and desired to be considered as dead to mankind.

Chesington Hall, which thenceforth became the joint residence of this pair of hermits, stood on an eminence rising from a wide and nearly desolate common, about midway between the towns of Epsom and Kingston; the neglected buildings were crumbling to pieces from age, having been begun in the same year in which Wolsey laid the first stone of Hampton Court; and the homestead was surrounded by fields, that for a long period had been so ploughed up as to leave no road or even regular footpath open across them. In this hiding-place Crisp fixed his abode for the rest of his life. So isolated was the spot that strangers could not reach it without a guide. But the inhabitants desired to have as few visitors as possible. Only as the spring of each year came round would Crisp, while his strength allowed, quit his refuge for a few weeks, to amuse himself with the picture-shows and concerts of the London season.

It seems to have been during one of these excursions that Burney met Crisp again after their long separation. The revival of their friendship gave the solitary man one more connecting link with the outside world. Down to that time Crisp’s only visitor in his retreat seems to have been 17his sister, Mrs. Sophia Gast, of Burford, in Oxfordshire. Now to Burney also was entrusted the clue for a safe route across the wild common to Chesington Hall, while from all others, including Mr. Greville, it was still steadfastly withheld. There is no reason to suppose that the acquaintances whom Crisp thus relinquished were more faithless than a poor man’s great friends usually are. He had been flattered with hopes of obtaining some public appointment through their interest; but his health had failed before the value of the promises made to him could be fairly tested. When restored strength might have rendered seclusion irksome, and employment acceptable, his pride rebelled against further solicitation, and fixed him in the solitude where his poverty and lack of energy alike escaped reproach. Charles Burney alone, from whom he had nothing to expect, and who had always looked up to him, was admitted where others were excluded.

The modern village of Chesington lies about two miles to the north-west of the railway-station at Ewell. Some patches of heathy common still remain. Though not so solitary a place as in the days of which we write, Chesington has still a lonely look.[9]

Crisp, in his sanctuary, and his occasional secret journeys to London, resumed his office of mentor to Burney, and became also the confidential adviser of Burney’s daughters. For such trust he was eminently qualified; since, to borrow the words of Macaulay, though he was a bad poet, he was a scholar, a thinker, and an excellent counsellor. He surpassed his younger friend, Charles, in general knowledge and force of mind, as much as he was surpassed by Charles in social tact and pliability of temper. And Burney was 18far from resenting or grudging the influence which Crisp acquired in his family; for Burney was a sweet-natured as well as a sensible man. No pitiful vanity or treacherous jealousy lay hid under his genial and gracious exterior. Conscious, apparently, that both from too great easiness of disposition, and from his manifold engagements, he was ill-fitted to discharge all the duties devolving on him as sole surviving parent, he cordially welcomed the assistance of his old and valued friend. Mrs. Thrale afterwards complained that Dr. Burney liked to keep his hold on his children; but the engrossing lady patroness seems to have meant only that he objected, as well he might, to have Fanny disposed of for months or years at a time without regard to his wishes or convenience. He was never disturbed by unworthy alarms lest some interloping well-wisher should steal away the hearts of his children from himself. He stooped to no paltry man?uvres to prevent them from becoming too much attached to this or that friend. He certainly did not interfere to check the warmth of his daughters’ regard for the rugged old cynic of Chesington, nor put any restraint on the correspondence which grew up between Fanny and her ‘dearest daddy.’ And he reaped the full reward of his unselfishness, or, we should rather say, of his straightforward good sense. No son or daughter was ever estranged from him by the feeling that his jealousy had robbed them of a useful connection or appreciative ally. Fanny’s fondness for her adopted father, as might have been expected, did not in the least diminish her love for her natural parent. ‘She had always a great affection for me,’ wrote Dr. Burney at the close of his life. The latter was, indeed, the standard by which she generally tried the claims of any other person to be considered admirable or charming. In her twenty-sixth year she expressed her 19enthusiasm for her newly-made friend, Mrs. Thrale, by saying: ‘I never before saw a person who so strongly resembles my dear father.’ At forty-one, she described her husband as being ‘so very like my beloved father in disposition, humour, and taste, that the day never passes in which I do not exclaim: “How you remind me of my father!”’

Crisp himself, at the time when Fanny made his acquaintance, had no pretension to gentle manners or a graceful address; but, like many other disappointed men who assume the character of misanthropes, he possessed at bottom a warm, and even tender, heart, and was particularly fond of young persons. In his intimate intercourse with the Burney family, all ceremony was discarded; towards the junior members he adopted a plain, rough style of speech, which, being unmistakably playful, left them always quite at home with him. Very soon the death of Crisp’s companion in retirement rendered the society of the Burneys more indispensable to the survivor, while it placed him in a better position for receiving these visits. The male line of the Hamiltons ended in Christopher, and his dilapidated estate descended to a maiden sister, Mrs. Sarah Hamilton. Rather than sell the property, this ancient lady, under Crisp’s advice, divided the capacious old Hall between herself and Farmer Woodhatch, who rented and cultivated what remained of the lands. To assist her in keeping up the residence she still retained, Mrs. Hamilton called in as ‘lady help’ a rustic niece, named Kitty Cooke, and Crisp became her lodger, securing to his own use ‘a favourite apartment, with a light and pleasant closet at the end of a long corridor.’ In this closet a great part of Burney’s ‘History of Music’ was written. There was a larger scheme, also, at this time, for turning the whole suite of rooms into a boarding 20establishment, but applicants for accommodation in so remote and obscure an abode were likely to be few in number. Mrs. Gast, however, came thither from time to time, and Frances Burney and her sisters were often there. We shall see, in due course, how the animated scenes of the famous novel, ‘Cecilia,’ or most of them, were elaborated within those mouldering walls. To the end of her life the author’s thoughts wandered back with delight to the quaint old place. Her memory let nothing slip: “not a nook or corner; nor a dark passage ‘leading to nothing’; nor a hanging tapestry of prim demoiselles and grim cavaliers; nor a tall canopied bed tied up to the ceiling; nor japan cabinets of two or three hundred drawers of different dimensions; nor an oaken corner-cupboard, carved with heads, thrown in every direction, save such as might let them fall on men’s shoulders; nor a window stuck in some angle close to the ceiling of a lofty slip of a room; nor a quarter of a staircase, leading to some quaint unfrequented apartment; nor a wooden chimney-piece, cut in diamonds, squares, and round knobs, surmounting another of blue and white tiles, representing, vis-à-vis, a dog and a cat, as symbols of married life and harmony.”[10]

The time arrived when, in accordance with their father’s original design, Frances and Charlotte Burney should have been placed at school in Paris in succession to Esther and Susanna. Burney presently made another journey to the French capital to bring back the pair of sisters who had completed the term of two years assigned for their education there, but he was not accompanied by either of his other daughters. He was not deterred from taking them by any misgiving as to the results of his first experiment, which, we are assured, had fully answered 21his expectations, but rather by some uncertainty of means and plans, connected, perhaps, in part with his approaching second marriage. Some lines from the pen of Susanna have been preserved, which are said to have been written shortly after her return, and which, if the date ascribed to them be correct, would show that the writer, who was then barely fourteen, was a remarkably forward girl of her age. As this short composition sketches in contrast Susanna’s two elder sisters, we give it entire:

“Hetty seems a good deal more lively than she used to appear at Paris; whether it is that her spirits are better, or that the great liveliness of the inhabitants made her appear grave there by comparison, I know not: but she was there remarkable for being sérieuse, and is here for being gay and lively. She is a most sweet girl. My sister Fanny is unlike her in almost everything, yet both are very amiable, and love each other as sincerely as ever sisters did. The characteristics of Hetty seem to be wit, generosity and openness of heart: Fanny’s—sense, sensibility, and bashfulness, and even a degree of prudery. Her understanding is superior, but her diffidence gives her a bashfulness before company with whom she is not intimate, which is a disadvantage to her. My eldest sister shines in conversation, because, though very modest, she is totally free from any mauvaise honte: were Fanny equally so, I am persuaded she would shine no less. I am afraid that my eldest sister is too communicative, and that my sister Fanny is too reserved. They are both charming girls—des filles comme il y en a peu.”

Burney’s second marriage took place not long after the return of Esther and Susanna from Paris. His choice on this occasion was an intimate friend of the first Mrs. Burney, whom she succeeded after an interval of six years. This lady was the widow of Mr. Stephen Allen, a merchant 22of Lynn, and by him the parent of several children. The young Allens had been playmates of the young Burneys. If not equal in mind or person to the adored Esther Sleepe, Mrs. Allen was a handsome and well-instructed woman, and proved an excellent stepmother to Fanny and her sisters, as well as an admirable wife to their father. For some reason or other, the nature of which does not very clearly appear, it was judged desirable that not only the engagement between the widow and widower should be kept secret, but that their wedding should be celebrated in private. They were married some time in the spring of 1768, at St. James’s, Piccadilly, by the curate, an old acquaintance of the bridegroom, their intention being confided to three other friends only. Crisp, who was one of these, had clearly no mind that Burney’s new connection should put an end to their alliance, or deprive himself of the relief which the visits of the widower and his children had afforded to the monotony of his retirement. The freshly married couple carried their secret and their happiness ‘to the obscure skirts of the then pathless, and nearly uninhabited Chesington Common, where Mr. Crisp had engaged for them a rural and fragrant retreat, at a small farm-house in a little hamlet a mile or two from Chesington Hall.’

The secret, we are further told, as usual in matrimonial concealments, was faithfully preserved for a time by careful vigilance, and then escaped through accident. Betrayed by the loss of a letter, Mrs. Burney came openly to town to be introduced to her husband’s circle, and presently took her place at the head of his household in Poland Street. The young people on both sides accepted their new relationships with pleasure. The long-deferred scheme of sending Fanny and her youngest sister to Paris was now finally abandoned. Susanna undertook to instruct 23Fanny in French, and Charlotte was put to school in Norfolk. For some years the united families spent their summer holidays at Lynn, where Mrs. Burney had a dower-house. But, whether in town or country, Frances and Susanna were specially devoted to each other. Susan alone was Fanny’s confidante in her literary attempts.

As the latter’s age increased, her passion for writing became more confirmed. Every scrap of white paper that could be seized upon without question or notice was at once covered with her manuscript. She was not long in finding out that her turn was mainly for story-telling and humorous description. The two girls laughed and cried together over the creations of the elder’s fancy, but the native timidity of the young author, and still more, perhaps, her father’s low estimate of her capacity, made her apprehend nothing but ridicule if what she scribbled were disclosed to others. She worked then under the rose, imposing the strictest silence on her faithful accomplice. When in London, she plied her pen in a closet up two pair of stairs, that was appropriated to the younger children as a playroom. At Lynn, she would shut herself up to write in a summer-house, which went by the name of ‘The Cabin.’ Yet all her simple precautions could not long elude the suspicion of her sharp-sighted stepmother. The second Mrs. Burney was a bustling, sociable person, who did not approve of young ladies creeping out of sight to study; though herself fond of books, and, as we learn, a particular admirer of Sterne’s ‘Sentimental Journey,’ then recently published, she was a matron of the period, and could not tolerate the idea of a young woman under her control venturing on the disesteemed career of literature. The culprit, therefore, was seriously and frequently admonished to check her scribbling propensity. Some morsels of her compositions, falling into the hands of Mrs. Burney, appear 24to have added point to the censor’s remarks. Fanny was warned not to waste time and thought over idle inventions; and she was further cautioned, and not unreasonably, according to the prevailing notions of the day, as to the discredit she would incur if she came before the public as a female novelist. The future author of ‘Cecilia’ was only too ready to assent to this view, and to cry peccavi. She bowed before her stepmother’s rebukes, and prepared herself inwardly for a great act of sacrifice. Seizing an opportunity when her father was at Chesington, and Mrs. Burney was in Norfolk, ‘she made over to a bonfire, in a paved play-court, her whole stock’ of prose manuscripts.

The fact of the auto da fé rests on the authority of the penitent herself: her niece and biographer, Mrs. Barrett, adds that Susanna stood by, weeping at the pathetic spectacle; but this is perhaps only a legendary accretion to the tale. It seems certain that Fanny fell into error, when, long years afterwards, she wrote of the incident as having occurred on her fifteenth birthday.[11] Fanny was never very careful about her dates, and she was unquestionably more than fifteen when her father’s second marriage took place. In spite of this, we are not warranted in questioning Mrs. Barrett’s express statement that her aunt’s famous Diary was commenced at the age of fifteen. Though of that portion of the Diary which belongs to the years preceding the publication of ‘Evelina,’ only the opening passages have been printed, and though the style of these may seem to betoken a more advanced age than that mentioned, the whole was before the biographer when she wrote, and the contents must have spoken for themselves.

Frances Burney had burned her papers with the full intention of breaking off altogether the baneful habit of 25authorship. Doubtless, however, she did not consider that her resolution of total abstinence debarred her from keeping a journal; and she was not long in discovering that, however steadfastly she might resist the impulses of her fancy, its wings were always pluming themselves for a flight. The latest-born of her literary bantlings committed to the flames had been a tale setting forth the fortunes and fate of Caroline Evelyn, who was feigned to be the daughter of a gentleman by a low-bred wife, and, after the death of her father, to contract a clandestine marriage with a faithless baronet, and then to survive her husband’s desertion of her just long enough to give birth to a female child. The closing incident of this tragic and tragically-destroyed production left a lively impression on the mind of the writer. Her imagination dwelt on the singular situations to which the infant, as she grew up, would be exposed by the lot that placed her between the rival claims of her vulgar grandmother and her mother’s more refined connections, and on the social contrasts and collisions, at once unusual and natural, which the supposed circumstances might be expected to occasion. In this way, from the ashes of the ‘History of Caroline Evelyn’ sprang Frances Burney’s first published work, ‘Evelina; or, A Young Lady’s Entrance into the World.’ We do not know how long a time expired from the burning of her manuscripts before Fanny relapsed into the sin of fiction-scribbling; but the flood of her invention probably rose the faster for being pent up. Irresistibly and almost unconsciously, she tells us, the whole story of ‘Evelina’ was laid up in her memory before a paragraph had been committed to paper. Even when her conscience had ceased to struggle, her opportunities for jotting down the ideas which haunted her were few and far between. She had to write in stolen 26moments, for she was under the eye of her stepmother. The demands on her time, too, became greater than they had been when Caroline Evelyn was her heroine. Her Diary occupied a large part of her leisure, and her hours of regular employment were presently lengthened by the work of transcribing for her father.

Charles Burney was now rising to eminence in his profession. To be Master of the King’s Band was the highest honour then within the reach of a musician, and Burney had been promised this appointment, though the promise was broken in favour of a candidate supported by the Duke of York.[12] In the summer of 1769, the Duke of Grafton was to be installed as Chancellor of the University of Cambridge. The poet Gray wrote the Installation Ode. Burney proposed to set it to music, and to conduct the performance at the ceremony, intending, at the same time, to take the degree of Doctor of Music at Cambridge. The Chancellor Elect accepted his offer as one which the composer’s rank well entitled him to make; but it soon appeared that the ideas of the two men as to the relative value of money and music were widely different. His Grace would consent to allow for the expense of singers and orchestra only one-half the amount which the conductor considered due to the occasion and his own importance. Burney in disgust threw up his commission, and, without loss of time, repaired to the sister University for his doctorate, which was conferred on him in June, 1769; the exercise produced by him as his qualification was so highly thought of that it was repeated three years successively at choral meetings in Oxford, and was afterwards performed at Hamburg under C. P. E. Bach.

Dr. Burney’s new title did not appear on his door-plate till a facetious friend exhorted him to brazen it. But, 27retiring as he was, the constitutional diffidence which his second daughter inherited was now giving way in him before the consciousness of ability and attainments, and the irresistible desire to establish a lasting reputation. In the latter part of the same year, he ventured anonymously into print with his first literary production. Ten years earlier, the return of Halley’s Comet at the time predicted seems to have given him an interest in astronomy, which he retained through life. There was again a comet visible in 1769, and this drew from him an Essay on Comets, to which he prefixed a translation from the pen of his first wife, Esther, of a letter by Maupertuis.[13] But this pamphlet was only an experiment, and being obviously the work of an amateur, attracted little notice. Having once tried his ’prentice hand at authorship, he fixed his attention on his proper subject, and devoted himself to his long-projected ‘History of Music.’

He had for many years kept a commonplace book, in which he laid up notes, extracts, abridgments, criticisms, as the matter presented itself. So large was the collection thus accumulated that it seemed to his family ‘as if he had merely to methodize his manuscripts, and entrust them to a copyist, for completing his purpose.’ The copyist was at hand in his daughter Frances, who became his principal secretary and librarian. But, as the enterprise proceeded, the views of the historian expanded. Much information that would now be readily supplied by public journals or correspondence was then only to be 28obtained by personal investigation on the spot. Early in 1770, Dr. Burney had determined that it would be needful for him to undertake a musical tour through France and Italy. He started on this expedition in June of that year, and did not return until the following January. His absence gave Fanny a considerable increase of leisure and opportunity for indulging her own literary dreams and occupations. Her stepmother, as well as her father, seems to have left her at liberty, for during part of this interval, at least, the attention of Mrs. Burney was engaged in providing a better habitation for her husband.

The house in Poland Street had been found too small to accommodate the combined families. In addition to the children of their former marriages, there had been born to the parents a son, who was baptized Richard Thomas, and a daughter to whom they gave the name of Sarah Harriet. Mrs. Burney now found, and having found, proceeded to purchase and furnish, a large house in the upper part of Queen Square, Bloomsbury, which then enjoyed an uninterrupted view of the Hampstead and Highgate Hills. The new abode had once belonged to Alderman Barber, the friend of Dean Swift; and the Burneys pleased themselves with the thought that there the great saturnine humourist had been wont sometimes to set the table in a roar. The removal was effected while the Doctor was still on the Continent. On his arrival in London, he was welcomed to the new home by his wife and children, and by the never-failing Mr. Crisp. We hear, however, but little of this house in Queen Square, and even less of Fanny’s doings there. Her father had scarcely time to become acquainted with it before he was off to Chesington, where he occupied himself for several weeks in preparing the journal of his tour for the press. All his daughters were pressed into the service of copying and recopying 29his manuscript, but the chief share of this labour fell upon the scribbling Fanny. The book, which was called ‘The Present State of Music in France and Italy,’ appeared in the season of 1771. Thenceforth his friend Crisp’s retreat became Burney’s constant resort when he had literary work in hand. A further production of his pen, dealing with a matter of musical technique, came forth before the close of the same year. At the beginning of July, 1772, he set out on another tour, with the same object of collecting materials for his history, his route being now through Germany and the Netherlands. During this second pilgrimage, his family spent their time partly at Lynn, partly at Chesington; and Fanny, as we are told,—apparently on the authority of her unpublished Diaries—profiting by the opportunities which these visits afforded, then “gradually arranged and connected the disjointed scraps and fragments in which ‘Evelina’ had been originally written.” But, careful to avoid offence, “she never indulged herself with reading or writing except in the afternoon; always scrupulously devoting her time to needlework till after dinner.”

The traveller’s absence lasted five months: he reached Calais on his return in a December so boisterous that for nine days no vessel could cross the Channel; and Fanny relates that, when at length the passage was effected, he was too much exhausted by sea-sickness to quit his berth, and, falling asleep, was carried back to France to encounter another stormy voyage, and a repetition of his sea-sickness, before he finally landed at Dover. The fatigues and hardships of his homeward journey brought on a severe attack of rheumatism, to which he was subject. Fanny and her sisters nursed him, sitting by his bedside, pen in hand, to set down the narrative of his German tour as his sufferings allowed of his dictating it. As soon as he 30was sufficiently recovered, he went down to Chesington not forgetting to carry his secretaries with him.

During this illness, or a relapse which followed it, the house in Queen Square had to be relinquished from difficulties respecting the title; and Mrs. Burney purchased and fitted up another in a central situation, which was at once more convenient for her husband’s teaching engagements, and more agreeable to him as being nearer to the opera, the theatres, and the clubs. St. Martin’s Street, Leicester Fields, to which the family removed, is now among the most dingy, not to say the most squalid, of London streets; even in 1773, ‘its unpleasant site, its confined air, and its shabby immediate neighbourhood,’ are spoken of as drawbacks requiring compensation on an exchange from the fair and open view of the northern heights, crowned with Caen Woods, which had faced the windows in Bloomsbury. But, apart from the practical advantages before mentioned, the new home was invested with a strong attraction for the incomers in having been once inhabited by a personage whom our astronomical Doctor revered, and taught his children to revere, as ‘the pride of human nature.’ The belief that the house in Queen Square had occasionally been visited by Dean Swift was nothing compared with the certain knowledge that No. 1, St. Martin’s Street, had been the dwelling of Sir Isaac Newton.[14] The topmost story was surmounted by an ‘observatory,’ having a leaden roof, and sides composed entirely of small panes of glass, except such parts as were taken up by a cupboard, fireplace and 31chimney. This structure being much dilapidated when Dr. Burney entered into possession, his first act was to put what he looked on as a special relic of his great predecessor into complete repair. The house itself was sufficiently large for the new tenant’s family, as well as for his books, ‘which now began to demand nearly equal accommodation.’ Having recovered his health, and set his affairs in order, the Doctor next resumed his daily round of lessons, and applied himself to remedy any injury which his professional connection had sustained from his two prolonged absences on the Continent. His pen was laid aside for a time, but the German Tour was published before the end of this year, and proved very successful. About the same time, its author was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. The first volume of his ‘History of Music’—in which work the main part of both his Tours was incorporated—did not appear till 1776. We are now arrived at the time when our heroine has attained majority. Her womanhood may be said to have commenced with the removal to St. Martin’s Street. In our next chapter we shall see how the first portion of it was spent.


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