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CHAPTER II.
Life in St. Martin’s Street—Increase of Fame and Friends—Garrick’s First Call—Confusion—The Hairdresser—‘Tag-rag and Bobtail’—The History of Histories—Imitation of Dr. Johnson—The Great Roscius—Mr. Crisp’s Gout—Correspondence between him and Fanny—Dr. Burney’s Concerts—Abyssinian Bruce—Supper in St. Martin’s Street—Italian Singers—A Musical Evening—Visit of Count Orloff—His Stature and Jewels—Condescension—A Matrimonial Duet—The Empress’s Miniature—Jemmy Twitcher—Present State of St. Martin’s Street—Mr. and Mrs. Thrale—Dr. Johnson—Visit of the Thrales and Johnson—Appearance of Dr. Johnson—His Conversation—His Contempt for Music—Meeting of Dr. Johnson and Mr. Greville—Mrs. Thrale Defiant—Signor Piozzi.

Frances Burney’s Memoirs of her father, her letters to Daddy Crisp, and her Diary, together, give us a pretty distinct idea of her life in the little street south of Leicester Square. From the time when Dr. Burney became established in that quarter, the circle of his friends and his reputation steadily widened. In no long time he made acquaintance with his neighbours, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Miss Reynolds, and their nieces, the Misses Palmer; with another neighbour, the sculptor Nollekens; with the painter Barry, Harris of Salisbury,[15] Mrs. Ord, Sir Joseph Banks, and Abyssinian Bruce, then just returned from his travels. All these and others were, from time to time, to be found in the Doctor’s modest drawing-room, together with many old friends, such as the 33Stranges, Garrick, Colman, Mason, the Hooles, father and son, Twining, and Baretti.

We have, in the ‘Memoirs,’ an account of David Garrick’s first call at the house in St. Martin’s Street, which, though written in the author’s later style, was no doubt derived from contemporary notes or journals:—It was early morning, and the doorsteps were being washed by a new housemaid, who, not recognising the actor, demurred to his entering unannounced. He brushed past her, ran upstairs, and burst into the Doctor’s study. Here he found the master of the house under the hands of his hairdresser; while Susanna was reading a newspaper to him, Charlotte making his tea, and Fanny arranging his books. There was a litter of papers everywhere. Burney would have cleared a chair, but the visitor plumped down into one that was well cushioned with pamphlets, crying: ‘Ay, do now, Doctor, be in a little confusion! Whisk your matters all out of their places, and don’t know where to find a thing that you want for the rest of the day, and that will make us all comfortable.’ The Doctor then, laughing, returned to his place on the stool, that his wig—or, as Madame d’Arblay calls it, the furniture of his head—might go through its proper repairs. David, assuming a solemn air of profound attention, fastened his eyes upon the hairdresser, as if wonderstruck at his amazing skill. The man, highly gratified by such notice from the celebrated Garrick, briskly worked on, frizzing, curling, powdering, and pasting, after the mode of the day, with the utmost importance and self-complacency. Garrick himself had on what he called his scratch wig, which was so uncommonly ill-arranged and frightful that the whole family agreed no one else could have appeared in such a state in the public streets without risk of being hooted at. He dropped now all talk with the 34Doctor, not even answering what he said, and seemed wholly absorbed in watching what was going on; putting on, by degrees, with a power like transformation, a little mean face of envy and sadness, such as he wore in representing Abel Drugger, till at length, in the eyes of the spectators, he passed out of himself altogether, and, with his mouth hanging stupidly open, and his features vacant of all expression, he became the likeness of some daubed wooden block in a barber’s shop window. The friseur, who at the beginning had felt flattered on seeing his operations so curiously observed, was put out of countenance by this incomprehensible change, became presently so embarrassed that he hardly knew what he was about, and at last fell into utter consternation. Scared and confounded, he hastily rolled up the last two curls, and prepared to make his retreat; but before he could escape, Garrick, lifting his own miserable scratch from his head, and holding it out on his finger and thumb, squeaked out in a whining voice, ‘Pray now, sir, do you think, sir, you could touch me up this here old bob a little bit, sir?’

The hairdresser dismissed, the actor, who could not help acting, proceeded to give further proofs of his versatility. ‘And so, Doctor,’ he began, ‘you, with your tag-rag and bobtail there——’ Here he pointed to some shelves of shabby books and tracts, which he started up to examine; the next moment, becoming an auctioneer, he offered for sale these valuable works, each worth a hundred pounds, and proclaimed that they were ‘going, going, going, at a penny apiece.’ Then, quietly reseating himself: ‘And so, Doctor,’ he continued, ‘you, and tag-rag and bobtail there, shut yourselves up in this snug little bookstall, with all your bright elves around you, to rest your understanding!’ There were loud cries of mock indignation from the young people at the idea of papa 35resting his understanding. Garrick apologized in his best stage manner, and after some further talk, inquired, ‘But when, Doctor, shall we have out the History of Histories? Do let me know in time, that I may prepare to blow the trumpet of fame.’ Of course, this was a prelude to his appearing in the character of a cheap-jack, advertising ‘the only true History.’ Invited to the parlour to breakfast, he excused himself on the plea of being engaged at home to Twiss[16] and Boswell, whom immediately he took off to the life. Encouraged by the laughter of his audience, this most reprehensible person, who set no bounds to his levity, proceeded to offer an imitation of Dr. Johnson himself. He sincerely honoured and loved Dr. Johnson, he said, but that great man had eccentricities which his most attached admirers were irresistibly impelled to mimic. Arranging, therefore, his dress so as to enlarge his person, in some strange way, several inches beyond its natural size, assuming the voice and authoritative port of the lexicographer, and giving a thundering stamp on the carpet, the devout worshipper of Dr. Johnson delivered, with sundry extraordinary attitudes and gestures, a short dialogue that had passed between them during the preceding week:

“David! Will you lend me your ‘Petrarca’?”

“Y—e—s, sir!”

“David, you sigh?”

“Sir, you shall have it, certainly.”

“Accordingly,” Garrick continued, “the book—stupendously bound—I sent to him that very evening. But scarcely had he taken the noble quarto in his hands, when, as Boswell tells me, he poured forth a Greek ejaculation, and a couplet or two from Horace; and then, in one of those fits of enthusiasm which always 36seem to require that he should spread his arms aloft in the air, his haste was so great to debarrass them for that purpose, that he suddenly pounces my poor ‘Petrarca’ over his head upon the floor—Russia leather, gold border, and all! And then, standing for several minutes erect, lost in abstraction, he forgot, probably, that he had ever seen it, and left my poor dislocated Beauty to the mercy of the housemaid’s morning mop!”

This concluded the performance, and the performer presently took his leave. After he had said good-bye, and left the room, he hastily came back, whimsically laughing, and said: ‘Here’s one of your maids downstairs that I love prodigiously to talk to, because she is so cross! She was washing, and rubbing, and scrubbing, and whitening and brightening your steps this morning, and would hardly let me pass. Egad, sir, she did not know the great Roscius! But I frightened her a little just now: “Child,” says I, “you don’t guess whom you have the happiness to see! Do you know that I am one of the first geniuses of the age? You would faint away upon the spot if you could only imagine who I am!”’

One familiar face was no longer seen at Burney’s house. Mr. Crisp had become subject to such frequent fits of gout that his visits to London were almost given up, and he rarely slept even a single night away from Chesington. But his interest in musical and literary news, and in all that concerned the Burney family, continued unabated. What he could no more take part in himself was duly communicated to him by letter.

How early the correspondence between Frances and the family friend began we are not informed. But it must have commenced long before she was old enough to be admitted to parties such as she had now to describe to her ‘daddy.’ In a passage written at seventy-two, she has 37set down “a charge delivered to me by our dear vehement Mr. Crisp at the opening of my juvenile correspondence with him: ‘Harkee, you little monkey! dash away whatever comes uppermost; if you stop to consider either what you say, or what may be said of you, I would not give one fig for your letters.’” So rough a speech could not have been addressed, even by a professed cynic, to any young lady very far advanced in her teens. In the letters from which we are about to quote, Miss Fanny prattles to the old man with perfect ease and confidence, showing that she felt herself on terms of established familiarity, and was quite free from the shyness and embarrassment that would attend a timid girl’s first efforts to entertain him.

For many years Dr. Burney had given informal evening concerts at his house. These entertainments, to which he had been prompted by Crisp, began in Poland Street, were continued in Queen Square, and attained their highest distinction in St. Martin’s Street. There was no band, no hired singer, no programme, no admission by ticket. A word from the courteous host was the only invitation needed or expected. But the company, as well as the music, was attractive even to guests accustomed to fashionable society. Before his writings made him famous, Burney’s extensive acquaintance brought him visitors whom the curious were anxious to meet. Some came to see Sir Constantine Phipps, afterwards Lord Mulgrave, on his return from his Arctic voyage. Others came for a view of Omai, whom Captain Cook had imported from the South Seas. On one occasion the gentle savage obliged the musical audience with a Tahitian love-song, which proved to be a mere confused rumbling of uncouth sounds. Whatever the incident of the evening, Crisp looked for a full report of it from ‘his Fannikin.’

38The sense of humour which we may still see brimming over in her portrait was greatly provoked by Bruce, the particular lion of that day. The explorer was reported to have brought home with him drawings of a Theban harp at least three thousand years old, and of an Abyssinian lyre in present use, about which Fanny was evidently more sceptical than her father, who was always ready to welcome materials for his ‘History.’ ‘The Abyssinians have lyres, have they?’ said George Selwyn; ‘well, they have one less since he left their country.’ Bruce was a personage of stupendous height and breadth, whose pompous manners were proportioned to his size and fame. ‘He is the tallest man you ever saw in your life—at least gratis,’ wrote the observer. Nevertheless ‘the man-mountain’ condescended to the Burneys. In the season of his greatest glory, he figured several times at the Doctor’s concerts, of which visits faithful accounts were duly despatched to Chesington. On one of these evenings Mr. Bruce even consented to stay supper, “which, you know,” says Fanny, “with us is nothing but a permission to sit over a table for chat, and roast potatoes or apples. But now,” she continues, “to perfect your acquaintance with this towering Ethiopian, where do you think he will take you during supper? To the source, or sources, you cry, of the Nile? to Thebes? to its temple? to an arietta on the Theban harp? or perhaps to banqueting on hot raw beef in Abyssinia? No such thing, my dear Mr. Crisp—no such thing. Travellers who mean to write their travels are fit for nothing but to represent the gap at your whist-table at Chesington, when you have only three players; for they are dummies. Mr. Bruce left all his exploits, his wanderings, his vanishings, his reappearances, his harps so celestial, and his bullocks so terrestrial, to plant all our entertainment within a hundred 39yards of our own coterie; namely, at the masquerades at the Haymarket.” Then follows a story of a practical jest not worth copying. “To have looked at Mr. Bruce in his glee at this buffoonery, you must really have been amused; though methinks I see, supposing you had been with us, the picturesque rising of your brow, and all the dignity of your Roman nose, while you would have stared at such familiar delight in an active joke as to transport into so merry an espiègle the seven-footed loftiness of the haughty and impetuous tourist from the sands of Ethiopia, and the waters of Abyssinia; whom, nevertheless, I have now the honour to portray in his robe de chambre, that is, in private society, to my dear Chesington daddy.”

But far greater things were to follow this stalking of the African lion. The Continental reputation which Dr. Burney acquired by his tours, and which was extended by the first instalment of his ‘History,’ ‘attracted to his house,’ as Macaulay points out, ‘the most eminent musical performers of that age. The greatest Italian singers who visited England regarded him as the dispenser of fame in their art, and exerted themselves to obtain his suffrage. Pacchierotti[17] became his intimate friend. The rapacious Agujari,[18] who sang for nobody else under fifty pounds an air, sang her best for Dr. Burney without a fee; and in the company of Dr. Burney even the haughty and eccentric Gabrielli[19] constrained herself to behave with civility. It was thus in his power to give, with scarcely any expense, concerts equal to those of the 40aristocracy. On such occasions the quiet street in which he lived was blocked up by coroneted chariots, and his little drawing-room was crowded with peers, peeresses, ministers, and ambassadors.’

The following extract from one of Fanny’s letters contains a full description of the most memorable of these musical evenings, though it was one on which no foreign artist performed:

“You reproach me, my dear Mr. Crisp, for not sending you an account of our last two concerts. But the fact is, I have not anything new to tell you. The music has always been the same: the matrimonial duets[20] are so much à la mode, that no other thing in our house is now demanded. But if I can write you nothing new about music, you want, I well know you will say, to hear some conversations.

My dear Mr. Crisp, there is, at this moment, no such thing as conversation. There is only one question asked, meet whom you may, namely: ‘How do you like Gabrielli?’ and only two modes, contradictory, to be sure, but very steady, of reply: either, ‘Of all things upon earth!’ or, ‘Not the least bit in the whole world!’

Well, now I will present you with a specimen, beginning with our last concert but one, and arranging the persons of the drama in the order of their actual appearance.

But, imprimis, I should tell you that the motive to this concert was a particular request to my father from Dr. King, our old friend, and the chaplain to the British—something—at St. Petersburg, that he would give a little music to a certain mighty personage, who, somehow or 41other how, must needs take, transiently at least, a front place in future history, namely, the famed favourite of the Empress Catherine of Russia—Prince[21] Orloff.

There, my dear Mr. Crisp! what say you to seeing such a doughty personage as that in a private house, at a private party, of a private individual—fresh imported from the Czarina of all the Russias, to sip a cup of tea in St. Martin’s Street? I wonder whether future historians will happen to mention this circumstance? I am thinking of sending it to all the keepers of records. But I see your rising eyebrows at this name—your start—your disgust—yet big curiosity.

Well, suppose the family assembled, its honoured chief in the midst—and Tat, tat, tat, tat, at the door.
Enter Dr. Ogle, Dean of Winchester.

Dr. Burney, after the usual ceremonies:—‘Did you hear the Gabrielli last night, Mr. Dean?’

The Dean: ‘No, Doctor, I made the attempt, but soon retreated, for I hate a crowd—as much as the ladies love it! I beg pardon!’ bowing with a sort of civil sneer at us fair sex.

My mother was entering upon a spirited defence, when—Tat, tat, tat.
Enter Dr. King.

He brought the compliments of Prince Orloff, with his Highness’s apologies for being so late; but he was obliged to dine at Lord Buckingham’s, and thence to show himself at Lady Harrington’s.

As nobody thought of inquiring into Dr. King’s opinion of La Gabrielli, conversation was at a stand, till—Tat, tat, tat, tat, too, and
42Enter Lady Edgcumbe.

We were all introduced to her, and she was very chatty, courteous, and entertaining. [Lady Edgcumbe is asked the usual question about Gabrielli, as also are the Honourable Mr. and Mrs. Brudenel, who appear next. Then we are introduced in succession to the Baron Demidoff, Harris of Salisbury, and Lord Bruce.] At length—Tat, tat, tat, tat, tat, tat, tat, tat, too!
Enter his Highness Prince Orloff.

Have you heard the dreadful story of the thumb, by which this terrible Prince is said to have throttled the late Emperor of Russia, Peter, by suddenly pressing his windpipe while he was drinking? I hope it is not true; and Dr. King, of whom, while he resided in Russia, Prince Orloff was the patron, denies the charge. Nevertheless, it is so currently reported, that neither Susan nor I could keep it one moment from our thoughts; and we both shrank from him with secret horror, heartily wishing him in his own Black Sea.

His sight, however, produced a strong sensation, both in those who believed, and those who discredited this disgusting barbarity; for another story, not perhaps of less real, though of less sanguinary guilt, is not a tale of rumour, but a crime of certainty; namely, that he is the first favourite of the cruel, inhuman Empress—if it be true that she connived at this horrible murder.

His Highness was immediately preceded by another Russian nobleman, whose name I have forgot; and followed by a noble Hessian, General Bawr.

Prince Orloff is of stupendous stature, something resembling Mr. Bruce. He is handsome, tall, fat, upright, magnificent. His dress was superb. Besides the blue garter, he had a star of diamonds of prodigious brilliancy, 43a shoulder-knot of the same lustre and value, and a picture of the Empress hung about his neck, set round with diamonds of such brightness and magnitude that, when near the light, they were too dazzling for the eye. His jewels, Dr. King says, are estimated at one hundred thousand pounds sterling.

His air and address are showy, striking, and assiduously courteous. He had a look that frequently seemed to say, ‘I hope you observe that I come from a polished Court? I hope you take note that I am no Cossack?’ Yet, with all this display of commanding affability, he seems, from his native taste and humour, ‘agreeably addicted to pleasantry,’ He speaks very little English, but knows French perfectly.

His introduction to my father, in which Dr. King pompously figured, passed in the drawing-room. The library was so crowded that he could only show himself at the door, which was barely high enough not to discompose his prodigious toupee. He bowed to Mr. Chamier,[22] then my next neighbour, whom he had somewhere met; but I was so impressed by the shocking rumours of his horrible actions, that involuntarily I drew back even from a bow of vicinity; murmuring to Mr. Chamier, ‘He looks so potent and mighty, I do not like to be near him!’

‘He has been less unfortunate,’ answered Mr. Chamier archly, ‘elsewhere; such objection has not been made to him by all ladies.’

Lord Bruce, who knew, immediately rose to make way for him, and moved to another end of the room. The Prince instantly held out his vast hand, in which, if he had also held a cambric handkerchief, it must have looked like a white flag on the top of a mast—so much higher than the 44most tip-top height of every head in the room was his spread-out arm, as he exclaimed, ‘Ah! milord me fuit!’

His Honour,[23] then, rising also, with a profound reverence, offered his seat to his Highness; but he positively refused to accept it, and declared that if Mr. Brudenel would not be seated, he would himself retire; and seeing Mr. Brudenel demur, still begging his Highness to take the chair, he cried, with a laugh, but very peremptorily, ‘Non, non, monsieur! Je ne le veux pas! Je suis opiniatre, moi; un peu comme Messieurs les Anglais!’

Mr. Brudenel then reseated himself; and the corner of a form appearing to be vacant, from the pains taken by poor Susan to shrink away from Mr. Orloff, his Highness suddenly dropped down upon it his immense weight, with a force—notwithstanding a palpable and studied endeavour to avoid doing mischief—that threatened his gigantic person with plumping upon the floor, and terrified all on the opposite side of the form with the danger of visiting the ceiling.

Perceiving Susan strive, though vainly, from want of space, to glide further off from him, and struck, perhaps, by her sweet countenance, ‘Ah, ha!’ he cried, ‘je tiens ici, je vois, une petite prisonnière!’

Charlotte, blooming like a budding little Hebe, actually stole into a corner from affright at the whispered history of his thumb ferocity.

Mr. Chamier, who now probably had developed what passed in my mind, contrived, very comically, to disclose his similar sentiment; for, making a quiet way to my ear, he said in a low voice, ‘I wish Dr. Burney had invited Omiah here tonight instead of Prince Orloff!’—meaning, 45no doubt, of the two exotics, he should have preferred the most innocent!

The grand duet of Müthel was now called for, and played; but I can tell you nothing extra of the admiration it excited. Your Hettina looked remarkably pretty; and, added to the applause given to the music, everybody had something to observe upon the singularity of the performers being husband and wife. Prince Orloff was witty quite to facetiousness; sarcastically marking something beyond what he said, by a certain ogling, half-cynical, half-amorous cast of his eyes; and declaring he should take care to initiate all the foreign academies of natural philosophy in the secret of the harmony that might be produced by such nuptial concord.

The Russian nobleman who accompanied Prince Orloff, and who knew English, they told us, so well that he was the best interpreter for his Highness in his visits, gave us now a specimen of his proficiency; for, clapping his fore-finger upon a superfine snuff-box, he exclaimed, when the duet was finished, ‘Ma foi, dis is so pretty as never I hear in my life!’

General Bawr also, to whom Mr. Harris directed my attention, was greatly charmed. He is tall, and of stern and martial aspect. ‘He is a man,’ said Mr. Harris, ‘to be looked at, from his courage, conduct, and success during the last Russian war; when, though a Hessian by birth, he was a lieutenant-general in the service of the Empress of Russia, and obtained the two military stars, which you now see him wear on each side, by his valour!’...

Then followed, to vary the entertainment, singing by Mrs. Brudenel.

Prince Orloff inquired very particularly of Dr. King who we four young female Burneys were; for we were all 46dressed alike, on account of our mourning; and when Dr. King answered, ‘Dr. Burney’s daughters,’ he was quite astonished, for he had not thought our dear father, he said, more than thirty years of age, if so much.

Mr. Harris, in a whisper, told me he wished some of the ladies would desire to see the miniature of the Empress a little nearer; the monstrous height of the Prince putting it quite out of view to his old eyes and short figure; and being a man, he could not, he said, presume to ask such an indulgence as that of holding it in his own hands. Delighted to do anything for this excellent Mr. Harris, and quite at my ease with poor prosing Dr. King, I told him the wish of Mr. Harris. Dr. King whispered the desire to M. de Demidoff; M. de Demidoff did the same to General de Bawr; and General de Bawr dauntlessly made the petition to the Prince, in the name of The Ladies.

The Prince laughed, rather sardonically; yet with ready good humour complied, telling the General, pretty much sans ceremonie, to untie the ribbon round his neck, and give the picture into the possession of The Ladies.

He was very gallant and debonnaire upon the occasion, entreating they would by no means hurry themselves; yet his smile, as his eye sharply followed the progress from hand to hand of the miniature, had a suspicious cast of investigating whether it would be worth his while to ask any favour of them in return! and through all the superb magnificence of his display of courtly manners, a little bit of the Cossack, methought, broke out, when he desired to know whether The Ladies wished for anything else—declaring, with a smiling bow, and rolling, languishing, yet half-contemptuous eyes, that, if The Ladies would issue their commands, they should strip him entirely!

You may suppose, after that, nobody asked for a closer 47view of any more of his ornaments! The good, yet unaffectedly humorous philosopher of Salisbury could not help laughing, even while actually blushing at it, that his own curiosity should have involved The Ladies in this supercilious sort of sarcastic homage.

There was hardly any looking at the picture of the Empress for the glare of the diamonds. One of them, I really believe, was as big as a nutmeg; though I am somewhat ashamed to undignify my subject by so culinary a comparison.

When we were all satisfied, the miniature was restored by General Bawr to the Prince, who took it with stately complacency; condescendingly making a smiling bow to each fair female who had had possession of it, and receiving from her in return a lowly courtesy.

Mr. Harris, who was the most curious to see the Empress, because his son, Sir James,[24] was, or is intended to be, Minister at her Court, had slyly looked over every shoulder that held her; but would not venture, he archly whispered, to take the picture in his own hands, lest he should be included by the Prince amongst The Ladies, as an old woman!

Have you had enough of this concert, my dear Mr. Crisp? I have given it in detail, for the humour of letting you see how absorbing of the public voice is La Gabrielli; and also for describing to you Prince Orloff, a man who, when time lets out facts, and drives in mysteries, must necessarily make a considerable figure, good or bad—but certainly not indifferent—in European history. Besides, I want your opinion whether there is not an odd and striking resemblance in general manners, as well as in herculean strength and height, in this Siberian Prince and his Abyssinian Majesty?”

48On another musical evening, of which Fanny wrote an account, there were present: the French Ambassador, the Count de Guignes, at whose request the concert was given; the Danish Ambassador, Baron Deiden, and his wife; the Groom of the Stole, Lord Ashburnham, ‘with his gold key dangling from his pocket;’ Lord Barrington from the War Office, and Lord Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty. Of this last, the boon-companion and denouncer[25] of Wilkes, Miss Fanny na?vely asks, “I want to know why he is called Jemmy Twitcher in the newspapers? Do pray tell me that.”

Very seldom, in these latter days, does any private carriage, with or without a coronet on its panels, turn into the decayed thoroughfare running down from the bottom of Leicester Square. ‘Vulgarly-peopled,’ according to Madame d’Arblay, even in her father’s time, St. Martin’s Street has since fallen many degrees lower yet. The house to which the fashionable world was drawn by the charms of Burney’s music stands on the east side, immediately above the chapel at the corner of Orange Street. The glass observatory which Dr. Burney repaired, and which he subsequently rebuilt when it was blown away by a gale of wind, has long since disappeared. It was replaced by a wooden[26] erection, or what Macaulay 49calls ‘a square turret,’ which, when the essayist wrote, distinguished the house from all the surrounding buildings. This erection also has been removed, but the house itself cannot be mistaken by any passer-by who cares to see it. A tablet on the front bears the inscription: ‘Sir Isaac Newton, philosopher, lived here.’ The house is at present the quarters of the United Service Warrant Officers’ Club. No great effort is required to imagine the plain, silent Newton passing in and out of that slender doorway. The movements of the man qui genus humanum ingenio superavit were without noise and ostentation. We may let half a century go by in thought, and with equal ease picture to ourselves David Garrick tripping up the steps before breakfast; Samuel Johnson rolling up them for a call, on his way to dine with Mrs. Montagu; pleasant Dr. Burney briskly setting out on his daily round of lessons; and demure Miss Fanny sallying forth to seek an interview incognita with her publisher. But how call up the scene, when the lacqueys of Count Orloff—Orloff the Big, Walpole calls him—thundered at the knocker, or when officers of the Household, displaying the ensigns of their rank, peers with stars and orders, and great ladies arrayed in brocaded silks and immense head-dresses, followed one another up a confined staircase[27] into a couple of small and crowded reception-rooms? Standing opposite to the club where our gallant petty officers of to-day congregate, and noticing that to the left of it, on the other side of Long’s Court, there is now a cheap lodging-house for working men, and that a little further to the left, at the entrance from the Square, the roadway narrows, as we 50learn from the “Memoirs” that it did in Burney’s time, till there is barely room for a single vehicle of moderate size to pass, we recognise the limitations of the human fancy. It is difficult to conceive of a great aristocratic crowd assembling in such a place. We can understand the pride with which Fanny set down the prolonged rat-tat-tat-tat-too that announced the arrival of each titled and decorated visitor. We may observe the pains she took to draw and colour for her country correspondent groups of dazzling figures such as had never been seen in the more spacious area of Queen Square. But they are gone, and in presence of the dirt and squalor which have made St. Martin’s Street little better than an East-End slum, their shadows will not revisit the glimpses of the moon. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Somewhat later, Dr. Burney formed a new connection which had an important influence on the life of his second daughter. He was invited to Streatham by Mr. and Mrs. Thrale to give lessons in music to their eldest daughter, familiarly called Queeny, who afterwards became Viscountess Keith. There, besides winning the regard of the Thrales, he renewed his acquaintance with Dr. Johnson, to whom he had made himself known by letter twenty-two years before. Johnson, who had no ear, despised music, and was wont to speak slightingly of its professors, but he conceived a strong liking for Burney. In bringing out the ‘Tour to the Hebrides,’ the author confessed that he had kept his friend’s Musical Tours in view. At this time, Richard, the youngest son of Dr. Burney, born of his second marriage, was preparing for Winchester School, whither his father proposed conveying him in person. Johnson, who was a friend of Dr. Warton, the headmaster, volunteered to accompany them, and introduce the new pupil. This joint expedition of Johnson and 51Burney was followed by a similar one to Oxford, and their intercourse became so cordial that Mrs. Thrale and Johnson arranged to meet in St. Martin’s Street, there to make acquaintance with Burney’s family, to look over his library, and to see Newton’s house. Fanny, who had just come up from Chesington, wrote an account of this visit to her daddy:

“My dearest Mr. Crisp,

My father seemed well pleased at my returning to my time; so that is no small consolation and pleasure to me for the pain of quitting you. So now to our Thursday morning and Dr. Johnson, according to my promise.

We were all—by we, I mean Suzette, Charlotte, and I—for my mother had seen him before, as had my sister Burney; but we three were all in a twitter from violent expectation and curiosity for the sight of this monarch of books and authors.

Mrs. and Miss Thrale, Miss Owen, and Mr. Seward,[28] came long before Lexiphanes. Mrs. Thrale is a pretty woman still, though she has some defect in the mouth that looks like a cut or scar; but her nose is very handsome, her complexion very fair; she has the embonpoint charmant, and her eyes are blue and lustrous. She is extremely lively and chatty, and showed none of the supercilious or pedantic airs so freely, or rather so scoffingly, attributed by you envious lords of the creation to women of learning or celebrity; on the contrary, she is full of sport, remarkably gay, and excessively agreeable. I liked her in everything except her entrance into the room, which was rather florid and flourishing, as who should say, ‘It’s I!—no less a person than Mrs. Thrale!’ However, all that ostentation wore out in the course of 52the visit, which lasted the whole morning; and you could not have helped liking her, she is so very entertaining—though not simple enough, I believe, for quite winning your heart....

The conversation was supported with a great deal of vivacity, as usual when il Signor Padrone is at home; but I can write you none of it, as I was still in the same twitter, twitter, twitter, I have acknowledged, to see Dr. Johnson. Nothing could have heightened my impatience—unless Pope could have been brought to life again—or, perhaps, Shakespeare!

This confab was broken up by a duet between your Hettina and, for the first time to company-listeners, Suzette; who, however, escaped much fright, for she soon found she had no musical critics to encounter in Mrs. Thrale and Mr. Seward, or Miss Owen, who know not a flat from a sharp, nor a crotchet from a quaver. But every knowledge is not given to everybody—except to two gentle wights of my acquaintance: the one commonly hight il Padre, and the other il Dadda. Do you know any such sort of people, sir? Well, in the midst of this performance, and before the second movement was come to a close, Dr. Johnson was announced!

Now, my dear Mr. Crisp, if you like a description of emotions and sensations—but I know you treat them all as burlesque; so let’s proceed.

Everybody rose to do him honour, and he returned the attention with the most formal courtesy. My father then, having welcomed him with the warmest respect, whispered to him that music was going forward, which he would not, my father thinks, have found out; and, placing him on the best seat vacant, told his daughters to go on with the duet; while Dr. Johnson, intently rolling towards them one eye—for they say he does 53not see with the other—made a grave nod, and gave a dignified motion with one hand, in silent approvance of the proceeding.

But now, my dear Mr. Crisp, I am mortified to own—what you, who always smile at my enthusiasm, will hear without caring a straw for—that he is, indeed, very ill-favoured. Yet he has naturally a noble figure; tall, stout, grand, and authoritative: but he stoops horribly; his back is quite round: his mouth is continually opening and shutting, as if he were chewing something; he has a singular method of twirling his fingers, and twisting his hands: his vast body is in constant agitation, see-sawing backwards and forwards: his feet are never a moment quiet; and his whole person looked often as if it were going to roll itself, quite voluntarily, from his chair to the floor.

Since such is his appearance to a person so prejudiced in his favour as I am, how I must more than ever reverence his abilities, when I tell you that, upon asking my father why he had not prepared us for such uncouth, untoward strangeness, he laughed heartily, and said he had entirely forgotten that the same impression had been, at first, made upon himself, but had been lost even on the second interview—how I long to see him again, to lose it, too!—for knowing the value of what would come out when he spoke, he ceased to observe the defects that were out while he was silent.

But you always charge me to write without reserve or reservation, and so I obey, as usual. Else, I should be ashamed to acknowledge having remarked such exterior blemishes in so exalted a character.

His dress, considering the times, and that he had meant to put on all his best becomes—for he was engaged to dine with a very fine party at Mrs. Montagu’s—was as much out of the common road as his figure. He had a 54large, full, bushy wig, a snuff-colour coat, with gold buttons (or, peradventure, brass), but no ruffles to his doughty fists; and not, I suppose, to be taken for a Blue, though going to the Blue Queen, he had on very coarse black worsted stockings.

He is shockingly near-sighted; a thousand times more so than either my Padre or myself. He did not even know Mrs. Thrale, till she held out her hand to him, which she did very engagingly. After the first few minutes, he drew his chair close to the pianoforte, and then bent down his nose quite over the keys, to examine them, and the four hands at work upon them; till poor Hetty and Susan hardly knew how to play on, for fear of touching his phiz; or, which was harder still, how to keep their countenances; and the less, as Mr. Seward, who seems to be very droll and shrewd, and was much diverted, ogled them slyly, with a provoking expression of arch enjoyment of their apprehensions.

When the duet was finished, my father introduced your Hettina to him, as an old acquaintance, to whom, when she was a little girl, he had presented his Idler.

His answer to this was imprinting on her pretty face—not a half touch of a courtly salute—but a good, real, substantial, and very loud kiss.

Everybody was obliged to stroke their chins, that they might hide their mouths.

Beyond this chaste embrace, his attention was not to be drawn off two minutes longer from the books, to which he now strided his way; for we had left the drawing-room for the library, on account of the pianoforte. He pored over them, shelf by shelf, almost brushing them with his eyelashes from near examination. At last, fixing upon something that happened to hit his fancy, he took it down; and, standing aloof from the company, which he 55seemed clean and clear to forget, he began, without further ceremony, and very composedly, to read to himself; and as intently as if he had been alone in his own study.

We were all excessively provoked: for we were languishing, fretting, expiring to hear him talk—not to see him read! What could that do for us?

My sister then played another duet, accompanied by my father, to which Miss Thrale seemed very attentive; and all the rest quietly resigned. But Dr. Johnson had opened a volume of the British Encyclop?dia, and was so deeply engaged, that the music, probably, never reached his ears.

When it was over, Mrs. Thrale, in a laughing manner, said: ‘Pray, Dr. Burney, will you be so good as to tell me what that song was, and whose, which Savoi sang last night at Bach’s[29] concert, and which you did not hear?’

My father confessed himself by no means so able a diviner, not having had time to consult the stars, though he lived in the house of Sir Isaac Newton. But, anxious to draw Dr. Johnson into conversation, he ventured to interrupt him with Mrs. Thrale’s conjuring request relative to Bach’s concert.

The Doctor, comprehending his drift, good-naturedly put away his book, and, see-sawing, with a very humorous smile, drolly repeated: ‘Bach, sir?—Bach’s concert? And pray, sir, who is Bach? Is he a piper?’

You may imagine what exclamations followed such a question.

Mrs. Thrale gave a detailed account of the nature of the concert, and the fame of Mr. Bach, and the many charming performances she had heard, with all their varieties, in his rooms.

When there was a pause, ‘Pray, madam,’ said he, with the calmest gravity, ‘what is the expense for all this?’

56‘Oh,’ answered she, ‘the expense is much trouble and solicitation to obtain a subscriber’s ticket—or else, half a guinea!’

‘Trouble and solicitation,’ he replied, ‘I will have nothing to do with; but, if it be so fine, I would be willing to give’—he hesitated, and then finished with—‘eighteen-pence.’

Ha! ha! Chocolate being then brought, we returned to the drawing-room; and Dr. Johnson, when drawn away from the books, freely, and with social good-humour, gave himself up to conversation.

The intended dinner of Mrs. Montagu being mentioned, Dr. Johnson laughingly told us that he had received the most flattering note that he had ever read, or that anybody else had ever read, of invitation from that lady.

‘So have I, too!’ cried Mrs. Thrale. ‘So, if a note from Mrs. Montagu is to be boasted of, I beg mine may not be forgotten.’

‘Your note, madam,’ cried Dr. Johnson, smiling, ‘can bear no comparison with mine; for I am at the head of all the philosophers—she says.’

‘And I,’ returned Mrs. Thrale, ‘have all the Muses in my train.’

‘A fair battle!’ cried my father. ‘Come, compliment for compliment, and see who will hold out longest!’

‘I am afraid for Mrs. Thrale,’ said Mr. Seward; ‘for I know that Mrs. Montagu exerts all her forces when she sings the praises of Dr. Johnson.’

‘Oh yes,’ cried Mrs. Thrale, ‘she has often praised him till he has been ready to faint.’

‘Well,’ said my father, ‘you two ladies must get him fairly between you to-day, and see which can lay on the paint the thickest—Mrs. Montagu or Mrs. Thrale.’

57‘I had rather,’ said the Doctor very composedly, ‘go to Bach’s concert!’”

Not long after the morning call described in our last extract, Johnson spent an evening in St. Martin’s Street, for the purpose of being introduced to Mr. and Mrs. Greville. The Doctor came with Mr. and Mrs. Thrale. Signor Piozzi was there, invited to amuse the company by his musical skill. But the account of the second visit reads much less pleasantly than that of the first. This is due in great part to the different behaviour of the principal guests. Burney’s old patron, Greville, had for years been going steadily down hill, through indulgence in play and other extravagances. The loss of his fortune, perhaps, inclined him to assert more stiffly the claims of his rank. At any rate, in presence of the Thrales and Johnson, he thought it necessary to appear superior to the brewer’s wealth and the author’s fame. Johnson seems to have only half perceived his disdain; but the Doctor was not in a mood for talking, and Greville made no attempt to draw him out. Nor are the actors only changed on this subsequent occasion; the narrator is changed also. Instead of a letter by Fanny Burney, dashed off in the hey-day of youth and spirits, we have a formal account by her later self, Madame d’Arblay, composed in the peculiar style which makes a great part of the ‘Memoirs’ such difficult reading. However, as this account records Mrs. Thrale’s first meeting with the man who was destined to exercise a fatal influence on her after-life, we give a portion of it here:

“Mrs. Thrale, of the whole coterie, was alone at her ease. She feared not Dr. Johnson; for fear made no part of her composition; and with Mrs. Greville, as a fair 58rival genius, she would have been glad, from curiosity, to have had the honour of a little tilt, in full carelessness of its event; for though triumphant when victorious, she had spirits so volatile, and such utter exemption from envy or spleen, that she was gaily free from mortification when vanquished. But she knew the meeting to have been fabricated for Dr. Johnson, and, therefore, though not without difficulty, constrained herself to be passive.

“When, however, she observed the sardonic disposition of Mr. Greville to stare around him at the whole company in curious silence, she felt a defiance against his aristocracy beat in every pulse; for, however grandly he might look back to the long ancestry of the Brookes and the Grevilles, she had a glowing consciousness that her own blood, rapid and fluent, flowed in her veins from Adam of Saltsburg;[30] and, at length, provoked by the dulness of a taciturnity that, in the midst of such renowned interlocutors, produced as narcotic a torpor as could have been caused by a dearth the most barren of human faculties, she grew tired of the music, and yet more tired of remaining, what as little suited her inclinations as her abilities, a mere cipher in the company; and, holding such a position, and all its concomitants, to be ridiculous, her spirits rose rebelliously above her control, and, in a fit of utter recklessness of what might be thought of her by her fine new acquaintance, she suddenly but softly arose, and stealing on tip-toe behind Signor Piozzi, who was accompanying himself on the pianoforte to an animated aria parlante, with his back to the company, and his face to the wall, she ludicrously began imitating him by squaring her elbows, elevating them with ecstatic shrugs of the shoulders, and casting up her eyes, while 59languishingly reclining her head, as if she were not less enthusiastically, though somewhat more suddenly, struck with the transports of harmony than himself.

“This grotesque ebullition of ungovernable gaiety was not perceived by Dr. Johnson, who faced the fire, with his back to the performer and the instrument. But the amusement which such an unlooked-for exhibition caused to the party was momentary; for Dr. Burney, shocked lest the poor Signor should observe, and be hurt by this mimicry, glided gently round to Mrs. Thrale, and, with something between pleasantry and severity, whispered to her, ‘Because, madam, you have no ear yourself for music, will you destroy the attention of all who, in that one point, are otherwise gifted?’

“It was now that shone the brightest attribute of Mrs. Thrale, sweetness of temper. She took this rebuke with a candour, and a sense of its justice the most amiable; she nodded her approbation of the admonition; and, returning to her chair, quietly sat down, as she afterwards said, like a pretty little miss, for the remainder of one of the most humdrum evenings that she had ever passed.

“Strange, indeed, strange and most strange, the event considered, was this opening intercourse between Mrs. Thrale and Signor Piozzi. Little could she imagine that the person she was thus called away from holding up to ridicule, would become, but a few years afterwards, the idol of her fancy, and the lord of her destiny! And little did the company present imagine, that this burlesque scene was but the first of a drama the most extraordinary of real life, of which these two persons were to be the hero and heroine; though, when the catastrophe was known, this incident, witnessed by so many, was recollected and repeated from coterie to coterie throughout London, with comments and sarcasms of endless variety.”


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