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‘Evelina’—Date of its Composition—Negotiations with Publishers—Dr. Burney’s Consent—Publication—Illness of the Author—Visit to Chesington—Her Father reads the Book—Mrs. Thrale and Mrs. Cholmondeley—Exciting News—Fanny’s Success—Nancy Dawson—The Secret told to Mr. Crisp—Characters in ‘Evelina’—Dinner at Streatham—Dr. Johnson—David Garrick—The Unclubbable Man—Curiosity as to Authorship of ‘Evelina’—The Bookseller in the Dark—Visits to the Thrales—Table Talk—Mr. Smith—Goldsmith—Johnson and the Scotch—Civil for Four—Sir Joshua Reynolds—Mrs. Montagu—Boswell—The Branghtons—Mrs. Cholmondeley—Talk with Sir Joshua—Is it True?—Mrs. Cholmondeley’s Whimsical Manner—Visit to her House—Mr. Cumberland—A Hint for a Comedy—A Charmed Circle—Sheridan—Not a Fair Question—Pressed to Write for the Stage—Flattered by Compliments.

We now approach the time when the ‘History of Evelina’ was given to the world. There has been much futile controversy as to the date at which this novel was composed. As the author was unquestionably half-way between twenty-five and twenty-six when her first book was published, it has been inferred that she was not much below that age when she began the story. This inference was put in sharp contrast with a current report—which cannot be traced to Frances Burney or her family—that she wrote ‘Evelina’ at seventeen. Her enemy Croker went so far as to suggest that she represented herself to have been ten years younger than she really was at the period of the publication.[31] But if we may trust Mrs. Barrett, 61who had not only the ‘Memoirs,’ but Fanny’s early and still unpublished journals to guide her, the author herself would have been puzzled to say exactly when her tale was written. It was planned in girlhood, worked at by snatches, and occupied long years in growing up. The idea of seeing it in print seems to have been conceived in 1776, shortly after the appearance of the first volume of her father’s History, and we are distinctly told by Madame d’Arblay and her biographer, that there was already a manuscript in existence. We gather, however, that this manuscript was imperfect; and it would manifestly be presuming too much to suppose that its contents remained unaltered, and unimproved, in the transcript which the writer proceeded to make before taking any other step.

Though stimulated by her father’s success, and encouraged by her sisters, whom she took into her confidence, Fanny was, nevertheless, determined that, in bringing forward her work, she would keep its authorship unknown. She therefore copied out her manuscript in a feigned upright hand, in order to guard against the possibility of her ordinary writing being recognised by some one who had seen the numerous pages of the paternal books which she had transcribed for the printer. Tiring of her irksome task when she had accomplished enough to fill two volumes, she wrote a letter, without signature, to be sent to some bookseller, offering the fairly-copied portion for immediate publication, and promising 62to forward the rest in the following year. This proposal was first directed to Dodsley, who, in answer, declined to look at anything without being previously informed of the author’s name. Fanny and her sisters, “after sitting in committee on this lofty reply,” addressed another offer, in like terms, to Lowndes, a publisher in Fleet Street. The latter, less exacting than his brother at the West-End, desired to see the manuscript, which—there being no Parcels Delivery Company in those days—was conveyed to him by young Charles Burney, muffled up by his sisters to make him look older than he was. Lowndes read, was pleased, and declared himself willing to purchase and print the work when finished, but he naturally would not hear of publishing an unfinished novel. Disappointed at this second rebuff, the impatient aspirant gave up hope; but, her spirits reviving, after a time, her third volume was completed and copied before the end of the twelvemonth. Meanwhile, a scruple had arisen in her mind. Her correspondence with Lowndes had been carried on without her father’s knowledge; the publisher’s letters to her being addressed to Mr. Grafton, and sent to the Orange Coffee House, in Orange Street. But she now saw it to be her duty not to rush into print without Dr. Burney’s consent. Availing herself of a propitious moment, when he was bidding her good-bye before setting out on a visit to Chesington, she confessed to him, with many blushes, that she had written a little book, and hoped that he would allow her to publish it on condition of not disclosing her name. She assured him that he should not be troubled in the business, which her brother Charles would manage for her, and only begged further that he would not himself ask to see the manuscript. The Doctor was first amazed, then amused, and finally bursting into a laugh, kissed her, and bade her see that 63Charles was discreet, thus tacitly granting her petition. The completed work was now forwarded to Lowndes, who without much delay accepted it, and paid the author what seemed to her the magnificent sum of twenty pounds for the copyright.

Much censure has been thrown on Dr. Burney for his conduct in this transaction. He ought, we are told, to have given his daughter serious counsel as to the perils of authorship, to have inquired into the merits of her production, and to have seen that she made the best possible terms with the bookseller. ‘Happily,’ says Macaulay, ‘his inexcusable neglect of duty caused her no worse evil than the loss of twelve or fifteen hundred pounds.’ We doubt if it cost her the twelfth part of the smaller sum. It is most unlikely, we think, that an untried and anonymous writer could, with the best assistance, have commanded a hundred pounds for a first attempt at fiction. We are not concerned to defend Dr. Burney, but to us he seems to have failed less in carefulness than in discernment. He could not believe his ears when Frances spoke of having a book ready for the press. He looked on her scheme of publication as an idle fancy, and doubtless was convinced that nothing would come of it. Her motive for concealing her project from him had been merely dread of his ridicule. Until ‘Evelina’ became an assured success, he had no faith in the ability of his second daughter. ‘Poor Fanny’—so he used to call her—was, in his eyes, a dutiful and affectionate child, and a useful amanuensis, and nothing more. So little did he expect ever to hear again of her embryo work, that he did not even ask its title.

At length, in January, 1778, ‘Evelina’ was published. The author was informed of the event through hearing an advertisement announcing it read aloud by her step-mother 64at breakfast-time. Those of the party who were in the secret smiled, or blushed; those who were not suspected nothing. Several weeks elapsed before the new novel attracted much attention. Meanwhile the writer was laid up with inflammation of the lungs. On quitting her bedroom, she found that, in the circles known to her, her book was being widely read, with speculations as to its authorship. One acquaintance attributed it to Anstey, then famous for his ‘New Bath Guide;’ most voices agreed that it could not have proceeded from a woman’s pen—a conclusion which, with the usual perversity of her sex, Miss Burney regarded as a high compliment. Then the magazines commenced to speak in its praise. The London Review and the Monthly Review both gave favourable notices. Thus stimulated, the sale increased, till at the end of the fifth month two editions had been exhausted, and a third was fast being disposed of.[32] By May, Fanny was sufficiently recovered to leave town, and went on a long visit to Chesington, where, as she ‘could hardly walk three yards in a day at first,’ she amused herself with reading ‘Evelina’ to Daddy Crisp, and goading his curiosity by allusions to dark reports about its origin. Crisp, who, of course, suspected some mystery, was guarded in his praise, but gratified his young favourite by betraying a most uncynical eagerness for the third volume as soon as the first two had been despatched. Before long, exciting letters from home began to pour in on the convalescent at the Hall. She gives the substance of some of them in her Diary:

“I received from Charlotte a letter, the most interesting that could be written to me, for it acquainted me that my 65dear father was at length reading my book, which has now been published six months. How this has come to pass, I am yet in the dark; but it seems ... he desired Charlotte to bring him the Monthly Review; she contrived to look over his shoulder as he opened it, which he did at the account of ‘Evelina; or, A Young Lady’s Entrance into the World.’ He read it with great earnestness, then put it down; and presently after snatched it up, and read it again. Doubtless his paternal heart felt some agitation for his girl in reading a review of her publication!—how he got at the name I cannot imagine. Soon after, he turned to Charlotte, and bidding her come close to him, he put his finger on the word ‘Evelina,’ and saying she knew what it was, bade her write down the name, and send the man to Lowndes’, as if for herself. This she did, and away went William. When William returned, he took the book from him, and the moment he was gone, opened the first volume—and opened it upon the Ode!”

Prefixed to Evelina was an inscription in verse to the writer’s father, much more remarkable for tenderness of feeling than for poetical merit.

“How great must have been his astonishment at seeing himself so addressed! Indeed, Charlotte says he looked all amazement, read a line or two with great eagerness, and then, stopping short, he seemed quite affected, and the tears started into his eyes. Dear soul! I am sure they did into mine; nay, I even sobbed as I read the account.

I believe he was obliged to go out before he advanced much further. But the next day I had a letter from Susan, in which I heard that he had begun reading it with Lady Hales and Miss Coussmaker, and that they liked it vastly! Lady Hales spoke of it very innocently, in the 66highest terms, declaring she was sure it was written by somebody in high life, and that it had all the marks of real genius! She added, ‘He must be a man of great abilities.’”

Dr. Burney’s opinion was expressed with even greater simplicity than this. From an unbeliever he had been suddenly changed into a worshipper, and in the first glow of his conversion, he pronounced the new novel to be the best he had met with, excepting Fielding’s, and in some respects better than his! A proselyte himself, he was at once full of schemes for spreading the knowledge of the true faith. He would begin by telling Mrs. Thrale, as the centre of a large literary circle. Before he could broach the subject, he heard his daughter’s book celebrated at the Streatham tea-table. “Madam,” cried Dr. Johnson, see-sawing on his chair, “Mrs. Cholmondeley was talking to me last night of a new novel, which, she says, has a very uncommon share of merit—‘Evelina.’ She says that she has not been so entertained this great while as in reading it, and that she shall go all over London to discover the author.” Mrs. Cholmondeley was a sister of Peg Woffington, the actress, and had married Captain Cholmondeley, second son of the Earl of Cholmondeley, and a nephew of Horace Walpole. Her husband afterwards quitted the army, and took orders; and at this time the salon of the witty and eccentric Mrs. Cholmondeley was in high repute. Besides recommending Evelina to Johnson, she had engaged Burke and Reynolds to get it, and announced her intention of keeping it on her table the whole summer to make it as widely known as possible. All this made it necessary for her friend and rival, Mrs. Thrale, not to be left in the background. There was but one thing to be done: the lady of Streatham lost no time in procuring and reading this new success; fell into a rapture over it; 67bepraised it with her usual vivacity, and passed it on to Johnson. The great man took to it immensely. When he had finished one volume, he was as impatient as Crisp had been for the next, protesting that he could not get rid of the rogue; and his judgment was that there were passages in the book that might do honour to Richardson. The packet of letters in which this compliment was transmitted to Fanny reported also that Sir Joshua Reynolds had forgotten his dinner while engrossed with her story, and that Burke had sat up all night to finish it; and Dr. Burney added an enclosure, in which he said: ‘Thou hast made thy old father laugh and cry at thy pleasure.’

If Mrs. Cholmondeley could claim to have introduced Evelina to the polite world, to Mrs. Thrale fell the distinction of making known its author. After ratifying the general opinion of the work, Mrs. Thrale asked, in Burney’s presence, whether Mrs. Cholmondeley had yet found out the writer, ‘because,’ said the speaker, ‘I long to know him of all things.’ This inquiry produced an avowal, which the Doctor had obtained his daughter’s permission to make; and shortly afterwards he appeared at Chesington to carry her to Streatham, and present her, by appointment, to the Thrales—and to Dr. Johnson.

Many surprising successes are recorded in the annals of literature; but there have been few quite like this. Lately the least noticed member of her father’s household, Frances Burney was now elevated far above its head. Other writers before their rise have been insignificant; the author of Evelina was despised. Proud and happy man though he was, Dr. Burney could not at once break off the habit of calling her poor Fanny. “Do you breathe, my dear Fanny?” asks Susan in a letter, after recounting part of the wonders above mentioned. “It took away my breath,” adds the writer, “and then made me skip about 68like a mad creature.” “My dearest Susy,” responds Fanny, “don’t you think there must be some wager depending among the little curled imps who hover over us mortals, of how much flummery goes to turn the head of an authoress? Your last communication very near did my business, for, meeting Mr. Crisp ere I had composed myself, I ‘tipt him such a touch of the heroics’ as he has not seen since the time when I was so much celebrated for dancing ‘Nancy Dawson.’[33] I absolutely longed to treat him with one of Captain Mirvan’s[34] frolics, and to fling his wig out of the window. I restrained myself, however, from the apprehension that they would imagine I had a universal spite to that harmless piece of goods, which I have already been known to treat with no little indignity. He would fain have discovered the reason of my skittishness; but as I could not tell it him, I was obliged to assure him it would be lost time to inquire further into my flights.” Refraining from the wig, Fanny darted out of the room, and, as she tells us elsewhere,[35] performed a sort of jig round an old mulberry-tree that stood on the lawn before the house. She related this incident many years afterwards to Sir Walter Scott, who has recorded it in his journal.[36]

It will be gathered from our last extract that Mr. Crisp was not yet in possession of the great secret. Fanny dreaded the edge of his criticism, even more than she had dreaded the chill of her father’s contempt. Dr. Burney 69arrived at the Hall to fetch away his daughter on the first Saturday in August, and it was agreed between them that a disclosure could no longer be deferred. “My dear father,” says the Diary, “desired to take upon himself the communication to my Daddy Crisp, and as it is now in so many hands that it is possible accident might discover it to him, I readily consented. Sunday evening, as I was going into my father’s room, I heard him say, ‘The variety of characters, the variety of scenes, and the language—why, she has had very little education but what she has given herself—less than any of the others!’ and Mr. Crisp exclaimed, ‘Wonderful! it’s wonderful!’ I now found what was going forward, and therefore deemed it most fitting to decamp. About an hour after, as I was passing through the hall, I met my Daddy Crisp. His face was all animation and archness; he doubled his fist at me, and would have stopped me, but I ran past him into the parlour. Before supper, however, I again met him, and he would not suffer me to escape; he caught both my hands, and looked as if he would have looked me through, and then exclaimed, ‘Why, you little hussy, ain’t you ashamed to look me in the face, you ‘Evelina,’ you! Why, what a dance have you led me about it! Young friend, indeed! Oh, you little hussy, what tricks have you served me!’ I was obliged to allow of his running on with these gentle appellations for I know not how long, ere he could sufficiently compose himself, after his great surprise, to ask or hear any particulars; and then he broke out every three instants with exclamations of astonishment at how I had found time to write so much unsuspected, and how and where I had picked up such various materials; and not a few times did he, with me, as he had with my father, exclaim, ‘Wonderful!’ He has since made me read him all my letters upon this 70subject. He said Lowndes would have made an estate, had he given me £1,000 for it, and that he ought not to have given less. ‘You have nothing to do now,’ continued he, ‘but to take your pen in hand, for your fame and reputation are made, and any bookseller will snap at what you write.’”

A day or two after this conversation, Fanny and her father left Liberty Hall, as Mr. Crisp was pleased to designate his retreat. Arrived at the verge of our own heroine’s entrance into the world, we shall not stop to discuss the question how far she was entitled to the fame she had so rapidly won, nor shall we engage in any criticism of the work by which she had acquired it. We may assent to the admission of an admirer that the society depicted in Evelina is made up of unreal beings. What else could be expected from a fiction designed in immature youth, executed, like patchwork, at intervals, and put together, at last, without advice from any experienced person? Real or unreal, however, the characters in the novel were vivid enough to interest strongly those of the writer’s contemporaries who were most familiar with the world and human nature.

In the conversations which we are about to extract will be found numerous allusions to personages who, though fictitious, are, at any rate, as substantial for us as most of the talkers, who have long since passed into the region of shadows. We may leave to Miss Burney the task of introducing her friends; she mentions the creations of her brain without a word of explanation, because she knew that the few eyes and ears for which her Diary was intended were as well acquainted with them as herself. It therefore devolves on us to indicate the chief actors in Evelina to our readers. We have the honour to present: Madame Duval, Evelina’s low-bred grandmother 71from Paris, interlarding her illiterate English with an incessant Ma foi! and other French interjections; Captain Mirvan, a fair specimen of the coarse naval officer of that time;[37] the Branghtons, a vulgar family living on Snow Hill; Mr. Smith, a Holborn beau, lodging with the Branghtons. Add to these, Lord Orville, the hero, and Sir Clement Willoughby, the villain of the piece; Mr. Lovel, a fop; Lady Louisa, a languishing dame of quality; Sir John Belmont, the heroine’s father; M. Du Bois, a Frenchman in attendance on Madame Duval; and Mr. Macartney, a starving Scotch poet. Of the last two, the author conferred on the former the maiden name of her grandmother; on the latter, the maiden-name of her god-mother, Mrs. Greville.

We will give Fanny’s account of her first dinner at Streatham in the words of her Diary:

“When we were summoned to dinner, Mrs. Thrale made my father and me sit on each side of her. I said that I hoped I did not take Dr. Johnson’s place;—for he had not yet appeared.

‘No,’ answered Mrs. Thrale, ‘he will sit by you, which I am sure will give him great pleasure.’

Soon after we were seated, this great man entered. I have so true a veneration for him, that the very sight of him inspires me with delight and reverence, notwithstanding the cruel infirmities to which he is subject; for he has almost perpetual convulsive movements, either of his hands, lips, feet, or knees, and sometimes of all together.

72Mrs. Thrale introduced me to him, and he took his place. We had a noble dinner, and a most elegant dessert. Dr. Johnson, in the middle of dinner, asked Mrs. Thrale what was in some little pies that were near him.

‘Mutton,’ answered she; ‘so I don’t ask you to eat any, because I know you despise it.’

‘No, madam, no,’ cried he; ‘I despise nothing that is good of its sort; but I am too proud now to eat of it. Sitting by Miss Burney makes me very proud to-day!’

‘Miss Burney,’ said Mrs. Thrale, laughing, ‘you must take great care of your heart if Dr. Johnson attacks it; for I assure you he is not often successless.’

‘What’s that you say, madam?’ cried he; ‘are you making mischief between the young lady and me already?’

A little while after he drank Miss Thrale’s health and mine, and then added:

‘’Tis a terrible thing that we cannot wish young ladies well without wishing them to become old women!’

‘But some people,’ said Mr. Seward, ‘are old and young at the same time, for they wear so well that they never look old.’

‘No, sir, no,’ cried the doctor, laughing; ‘that never yet was; you might as well say they are at the same time tall and short. I remember an epitaph to that purpose, which is in——’

(I have quite forgot what,—and also the name it was made upon, but the rest I recollect exactly:)
‘—— lies buried here;
So early wise, so lasting fair,
That none, unless her years you told,
Thought her a child, or thought her old.’

Mrs. Thrale then repeated some lines in French, and Dr. Johnson some more in Latin. An epilogue of Mr. 73Garrick’s to ‘Bonduca’ was then mentioned, and Dr. Johnson said it was a miserable performance, and everybody agreed it was the worst he had ever made.

‘And yet,’ said Mr. Seward, ‘it has been very much admired: but it is in praise of English valour, and so I suppose the subject made it popular.’

‘I don’t know, sir,’ said Dr. Johnson, ‘anything about the subject, for I could not read on till I came to it; I got through half a dozen lines, but I could observe no other subject than eternal dulness. I don’t know what is the matter with David; I am afraid he is grown superannuated, for his prologues and epilogues used to be incomparable.’

‘Nothing is so fatiguing,’ said Mrs. Thrale, ‘as the life of a wit; he and Wilkes are the two oldest men of their ages I know, for they have both worn themselves out by being eternally on the rack to give entertainment to others.’

‘David, madam,’ said the doctor, ‘looks much older than he is; for his face has had double the business of any other man’s; it is never at rest; when he speaks one minute, he has quite a different countenance to what he assumes the next. I don’t believe he ever kept the same look for half an hour together in the whole course of his life; and such an eternal, restless, fatiguing play of the muscles must certainly wear out a man’s face before its real time.’

‘O yes,’ cried Mrs. Thrale; ‘we must certainly make some allowance for such wear and tear of a man’s face.’

The next name that was started was that of Sir John Hawkins, and Mrs. Thrale said:

‘Why now, Dr. Johnson, he is another of those whom you suffer nobody to abuse but yourself; Garrick is one, 74too; for if any other person speaks against him, you browbeat him in a minute!’

‘Why, madam,’ answered he, ‘they don’t know when to abuse him, and when to praise him; I will allow no man to speak ill of David that he does not deserve; and as to Sir John, why really I believe him to be an honest man at the bottom: but to be sure he is penurious, and he is mean, and it must be owned he has a degree of brutality, and a tendency to savageness, that cannot easily be defended.’

We all laughed, as he meant we should, at this curious manner of speaking in his favour, and he then related an anecdote that he said he knew to be true in regard to his meanness. He said that Sir John and he once belonged to the same club, but that as he ate no supper after the first night of his admission, he desired to be excused paying his share.

‘And was he excused?’

‘O yes; for no man is angry at another for being inferior to himself! we all scorned him, and admitted his plea. For my part, I was such a fool as to pay my share for wine, though I never tasted any. But Sir John was a most unclubbable man!’

‘And this,’ continued he, ‘reminds me of a gentleman and lady with whom I travelled once; I suppose I must call them gentleman and lady, according to form, because they travelled in their own coach and four horses. But at the first inn where we stopped, the lady called for—a pint of ale! and when it came, quarrelled with the waiter for not giving full measure. Now, Madame Duval could not have done a grosser thing.’

Oh, how everybody laughed! and to be sure I did not glow at all, nor munch fast, nor look on my plate, nor lose any part of my usual composure! But how grateful 75do I feel to this dear Dr. Johnson, for never naming me and the book as belonging one to the other, and yet making an allusion that showed his thoughts led to it, and, at the same time, that seemed to justify the character as being natural! But, indeed, the delicacy I met with from him, and from all the Thrales, was yet more flattering to me than the praise with which I have heard they have honoured my book.

After dinner, when Mrs. Thrale and I left the gentlemen, we had a conversation that to me could not but be delightful, as she was all good-humour, spirits, sense, and agreeability. Surely I may make words, when at a loss, if Dr. Johnson does.

We left Streatham at about eight o’clock, and Mr. Seward, who handed me into the chaise, added his interest to the rest, that my father would not fail to bring me again next week to stay with them for some time. In short, I was loaded with civilities from them all. And my ride home was equally happy with the rest of the day, for my kind and most beloved father was so happy in my happiness, and congratulated me so sweetly, that he could, like myself, think on no other subject.

Yet my honours stopped not here; for Hetty, who, with her sposo, was here to receive us, told me she had lately met Mrs. Reynolds, sister of Sir Joshua; and that she talked very much and very highly of a new novel called ‘Evelina;’ though without a shadow of suspicion as to the scribbler....

Sir Joshua, it seems, vows he would give fifty pounds to know the author! I have also heard, by the means of Charles, that other persons have declared they will find him out!

This intelligence determined me upon going myself to Mr. Lowndes, and discovering what sort of answers 76he made to such curious inquirers as I found were likely to address him. But as I did not dare trust myself to speak, for I felt that I should not be able to act my part well, I asked my mother to accompany me.

We introduced ourselves by buying the book, for which I had a commission from Mrs. G——. Fortunately Mr. Lowndes himself was in the shop; as we found by his air of consequence and authority, as well as his age; for I never saw him before.

The moment he had given my mother the book, she asked if he could tell her who wrote it.

‘No,’ he answered: ‘I don’t know myself.’

‘Pho, pho,’ said she; ‘you mayn’t choose to tell, but you must know.’

‘I don’t, indeed, ma’am,’ answered he; ‘I have no honour in keeping the secret, for I have never been trusted. All I know of the matter is, that it is a gentleman of the other end of the town.’

My mother made a thousand other inquiries, to which his answers were to the following effect: that for a great while, he did not know if it was a man or a woman; but now, he knew that much, and that he was a master of his subject, and well versed in the manners of the times.”

A few days after this, Mrs. Thrale called in St. Martin’s Street, and carried her new acquaintance down to Streatham:

“At night, Mrs. Thrale asked if I would have anything? I answered, ‘No;’ but Dr. Johnson said,—

‘Yes: she is used, madam, to suppers; she would like an egg or two, and a few slices of ham, or a rasher—a rasher, I believe, would please her better.’

How ridiculous! However, nothing could persuade 77Mrs. Thrale not to have the cloth laid; and Dr. Johnson was so facetious, that he challenged Mr. Thrale to get drunk!

‘I wish,’ said he, ‘my master would say to me, Johnson, if you will oblige me, you will call for a bottle of Toulon, and then we will set to it, glass for glass, till it is done; and after that I will say, Thrale, if you will oblige me, you will call for another bottle of Toulon, and then we will set to it, glass for glass, till that is done: and by the time we should have drunk the two bottles we should be so happy, and such good friends, that we should fly into each other’s arms, and both together call for the third!’

I ate nothing, that they might not again use such a ceremony with me. Indeed, their late dinners forbid suppers, especially as Dr. Johnson made me eat cake at tea; for he held it till I took it, with an odd or absent complaisance.

He was extremely comical after supper, and would not suffer Mrs. Thrale and me to go to bed for near an hour after we made the motion....

Now for this morning’s breakfast.

Dr. Johnson, as usual, came last into the library; he was in high spirits, and full of mirth and sport. I had the honour of sitting next to him: and now, all at once, he flung aside his reserve, thinking, perhaps, that it was time I should fling aside mine.

Mrs. Thrale told him that she intended taking me to Mr. T——’s.

‘So you ought, madam,’ cried he; ‘’tis your business to be cicerone to her.’

Then suddenly he snatched my hand, and kissing it,

‘Ah!’ he added, ‘they will little think what a tartar you carry to them!’

78‘No, that they won’t!’ cried Mrs. Thrale; ‘Miss Burney looks so meek and so quiet, nobody would suspect what a comical girl she is; but I believe she has a great deal of malice at heart.’

‘Oh, she’s a toad!’ cried the doctor, laughing—‘a sly young rogue! with her Smiths and her Branghtons!’

‘Why, Dr. Johnson,’ said Mrs. Thrale, ‘I hope you are very well this morning! If one may judge by your spirits and good-humour, the fever you threatened us with is gone off.’

He had complained that he was going to be ill last night.

‘Why, no, madam, no,’ answered he, ‘I am not yet well; I could not sleep at all; there I lay, restless and uneasy, and thinking all the time of Miss Burney. Perhaps I have offended her, thought I; perhaps she is angry; I have seen her but once, and I talked to her of a rasher!—Were you angry?’

I think I need not tell you my answer.

‘I have been endeavouring to find some excuse,’ continued he, ‘and, as I could not sleep, I got up, and looked for some authority for the word; and I find, madam, it is used by Dryden: in one of his prologues he says—“And snatch a homely rasher from the coals.” So you must not mind me, madam; I say strange things, but I mean no harm.’

I was almost afraid he thought I was really idiot enough to have taken him seriously; but, a few minutes after, he put his hand on my arm, and shaking his head, exclaimed:

‘Oh, you are a sly little rogue!—what a Holborn beau have you drawn!’

‘Ay, Miss Burney,’ said Mrs. Thrale, ‘the Holborn beau is Dr. Johnson’s favourite; and we have all your 79characters by heart, from Mr. Smith up to Lady Louisa.’

‘Oh, Mr. Smith, Mr. Smith is the man!’ cried he, laughing violently. ‘Harry Fielding never drew so good a character!—such a fine varnish of low politeness!—such a struggle to appear a gentleman! Madam, there is no character better drawn anywhere—in any book, or by any author.’

I almost poked myself under the table. Never did I feel so delicious a confusion since I was born! But he added a great deal more, only I cannot recollect his exact words, and I do not choose to give him mine.

‘Come, come,’ cried Mrs. Thrale, ‘we’ll torment her no more about her book, for I see it really plagues her. I own I thought for awhile it was only affectation, for I’m sure if the book were mine I should wish to hear of nothing else. But we shall teach her in time how proud she ought to be of such a performance.’

‘Ah, madam,’ cried the Doctor, ‘be in no haste to teach her that; she’ll speak no more to us when she knows her own weight.’...

Some time after the Doctor began laughing to himself, and then, suddenly turning to me, he called out, ‘Only think, Polly! Miss has danced with a lord!’

‘Ah, poor Evelina!’ cried Mrs. Thrale, ‘I see her now in Kensington Gardens. What she must have suffered! Poor girl! what fidgets she must have been in! And I know Mr. Smith, too, very well; I always have him before me at the Hampstead Ball, dressed in a white coat, and a tambour waistcoat, worked in green silk. Poor Mr. Seward! Mr. Johnson made him so mad t’other day! “Why, Seward,” said he, “how smart you are dressed! Why you only want a tambour waistcoat, to look like Mr. Smith!” But I am very fond of Lady 80Louisa. I think her as well drawn as any character in the book—so fine, so affected, so languishing, and, at the same time, so insolent!...

As I have always heard from my father that every individual at Streatham spends the morning alone, I took the first opportunity of absconding to my own room, and amused myself in writing till I tired. About noon, when I went into the library, book-hunting, Mrs. Thrale came to me.

We had a very nice confab about various books, and exchanged opinions and imitations of Baretti; she told me many excellent tales of him, and I, in return, related my stories.

She gave me a long and very interesting account of Dr. Goldsmith, who was intimately known here; but in speaking of ‘The Good-natured Man,’ when I extolled my favourite Croaker, I found that admirable character was a downright theft from Dr. Johnson. Look at the ‘Rambler,’ and you will find Suspirius is the man, and that not merely the idea, but the particulars of the character are all stolen thence![38]

While we were yet reading this ‘Rambler,’ Dr. Johnson came in: we told him what we were about.

‘Ah, madam!’ cried he, ‘Goldsmith was not scrupulous; but he would have been a great man had he known the real value of his own internal resources.’

‘Miss Burney,’ said Mrs. Thrale, ‘is fond of his “Vicar of Wakefield,” and so am I; don’t you like it, sir?’

‘No, madam; it is very faulty. There is nothing of real life in it, and very little of nature. It is a mere fanciful performance.’

81He then seated himself upon a sofa, and calling to me, said: ‘Come, Evelina—come, and sit by me.’

I obeyed, and he took me almost in his arms—that is, one of his arms, for one would go three times, at least, round me—and, half-laughing, half-serious, he charged me to ‘be a good girl.’

‘But, my dear,’ continued he with a very droll look, ‘what makes you so fond of the Scotch? I don’t like you for that; I hate these Scotch, and so must you. I wish Branghton had sent the dog to jail—that Scotch dog, Macartney!’

‘Why, sir,’ said Mrs. Thrale, ‘don’t you remember he says he would, but that he should get nothing by it?’

‘Why, ay, true,’ cried the Doctor, see-sawing very solemnly, ‘that, indeed, is some palliation for his forbearance. But I must not have you so fond of the Scotch, my little Burney; make your hero what you will but a Scotchman. Besides, you write Scotch—you say, “the one.” My dear, that’s not English—never use that phrase again.’

‘Perhaps,’ said Mrs. Thrale, ‘it may be used in Macartney’s letter, and then it will be a propriety.’

‘No, madam, no!’ cried he; ‘you can’t make a beauty of it; it is in the third volume; put it in Macartney’s letter, and welcome!—that, or anything that is nonsense.’

‘Why, surely,’ cried I, ‘the poor man is used ill enough by the Branghtons!’

‘But Branghton,’ said he, ‘only hates him because of his wretchedness, poor fellow! But, my dear love, how should he ever have eaten a good dinner before he came to England?’

And then he laughed violently at young Branghton’s idea.

82‘Well,’ said Mrs. Thrale, ‘I always liked Macartney; he is a very pretty character, and I took to him, as the folks say.’

‘Why, madam,’ answered he, ‘I liked Macartney myself. Yes, poor fellow, I liked the man, but I love not the nation.’”

Miss Burney’s visit on this occasion lasted several days, and it was speedily followed by another and another. Mrs. Thrale, having discovered a fresh attraction for her country house, hastened to turn it to the best account. The friendship between her and the new authoress developed with the rapid growth peculiar to feminine attachments. And Fanny enjoyed her life at Streatham. Dr. Johnson was nearly always there; she liked the family; and the opulent establishment, with its well-kept gardens, hot-houses, shrubberies, and paddock, had all the charm of novelty to a young woman, whose time had long been divided between the smoky atmosphere of Leicester Fields and the desolation of Liberty Hall. The great Doctor, whose affection for her increased daily, took an early opportunity of saying to her: ‘These are as good people as you can be with; you can go to no better house; they are all good-nature; nothing makes them angry.’ She found no cause to complain of Mr. Thrale’s curt speech, or the eldest daughter’s cold manner, or the roughness of Ursa Major, though she has reported Mrs. Thrale’s quick answer to Johnson when he asked the motive of his hostess’s excessive complaisance: ‘Why, I’ll tell you, sir; when I am with you, and Mr. Thrale, and Queeny, I am obliged to be civil for four.’

If Mrs. Thrale engrossed a large share of her novice’s time this autumn, she took pains to make her talk a little in company, and prepared her, in some degree, for the ordeal that awaited her during the ensuing winter in London. 83Numerous visitors were invited to Streatham to become acquainted with the timid young writer, who, though accustomed to society, had never yet learned to make her voice heard in a circle of listeners. One afternoon Sir Joshua Reynolds and his nieces came down, and on their arrival, the conversation being turned to the subject of Evelina, they were informed that they should meet the author at dinner. After a good deal of guessing, the suspicions of the guests settled on the lady of the house, who sportively assumed a conscious air, but before the close of the day, the secret was allowed to transpire, and when the party broke up, Sir Joshua, approaching Miss Burney, with his most courtly bow, hoped that as soon as she left Streatham he should have the honour of seeing her in Leicester Square.

“The joke is,” writes Fanny, “the people speak as if they were afraid of me, instead of my being afraid of them.... Next morning, Mrs. Thrale asked me if I did not want to see Mrs. Montagu? I truly said, I should be the most insensible of animals not to like to see our sex’s glory.” A note was despatched accordingly, and the glory of her sex graciously accepted. On hearing of this, “Dr. Johnson began to see-saw, with a countenance strongly expressive of inward fun, and after enjoying it some time in silence, he suddenly, and with great animation, turned to me, and cried: ‘Down with her, Burney!—down with her!—spare her not!—attack her, fight her, and down with her at once! You are a rising wit, and she is at the top; and when I was beginning the world, and was nothing and nobody, the joy of my life was to fire at all the established wits! and then everybody loved to halloo me on. But there is no game now; everybody would be glad to see me conquered: but then, when I was new, to vanquish the great ones was 84all the delight of my poor little dear soul! So at her, Burney—at her, and down with her.’” The Queen of the Blue Stockings arrived, attended by her companion, a Miss Gregory; and the usual presentation and disclosure took place. Fanny, of course, had not much to say for herself, but the observant eyes were busy as usual. This is their report of Mrs. Montagu; “She is middle-sized, very thin, and looks infirm; she has a sensible and penetrating countenance, and the air and manner of a woman accustomed to being distinguished, and of great parts. Dr. Johnson, who agrees in this, told us that Mrs. Hervey, of his acquaintance, says she can remember Mrs. Montagu trying for this same air and manner. Mr. Crisp has said the same: however, nobody can now impartially see her, and not confess that she has extremely well succeeded.” When dinner was upon table, the observer followed the procession, in a tragedy step, as Mr. Thrale would have it, into the dining-room. The conversation was not brilliant, nor is much of it recorded. When Mrs. Montagu’s new house[39] was talked of, Dr. Johnson, in a jocose manner, desired to know if he should be invited to see it. ‘Ay, sure,’ cried Mrs. Montagu, looking well pleased; ‘or else I shan’t like it: but I invite you all to a house-warming; I shall hope for the honour of seeing all this company at my new house next Easter-day: I fix the day now that it may be remembered.’ “Dr. Johnson,” adds Fanny, “who sat next to me, was determined I should be of the party, for he suddenly clapped his hand on my shoulder, and called out aloud: ‘Little Burney, you and I will go together.’ ‘Yes, surely,’ cried Mrs. Montagu, ‘I shall hope for the pleasure of seeing Evelina.’”

It was at Streatham shortly afterwards that Miss Burney made her first acquaintance with James Boswell. 85We do not get our account of this meeting direct from the Diary, and have to take it as it stands in the Memoirs, dressed up by the pen of the aged Madame d’Arblay. Boswell, we are told, had a strong Scotch accent, though by no means strong enough to make him unintelligible to an English ear. He had an odd mock solemnity of tone and manner that he had acquired unconsciously from constantly thinking of, and imitating, Johnson. There was also something slouching in the gait and dress of Mr. Boswell that ridiculously caricatured the same model. His clothes were always too large for him; his hair, or wig, was constantly in a state of negligence; and he never for a moment sat still or upright in his chair. Every look and movement betrayed either intentional or involuntary imitation:

“As Mr. Boswell was at Streatham only upon a morning visit, a collation was ordered, to which all were assembled. Mr. Boswell was preparing to take a seat that he seemed, by prescription, to consider as his own, next to Dr. Johnson; but Mr. Seward, who was present, waved his hand for Mr. Boswell to move farther on, saying with a smile:

“‘Mr. Boswell, that seat is Miss Burney’s.’

“He stared, amazed: the asserted claimant was new and unknown to him, and he appeared by no means pleased to resign his prior rights. But after looking round for a minute or two, with an important air of demanding the meaning of the innovation, and receiving no satisfaction, he reluctantly, almost resentfully, got another chair, and placed it at the back of the shoulder of Dr. Johnson; while this new and unheard-of rival quietly seated herself as if not hearing what was passing, for she shrank from the explanation that she feared might 86ensue, as she saw a smile stealing over every countenance, that of Dr. Johnson himself not excepted, at the discomfiture and surprise of Mr. Boswell.

“Mr. Boswell, however, was so situated as not to remark it in the Doctor; and of everyone else, when in that presence, he was unobservant, if not contemptuous. In truth, when he met with Dr. Johnson, he commonly forbore even answering anything that went forward, lest he should miss the smallest sound from that voice to which he paid such exclusive, though merited, homage. But the moment that voice burst forth, the attention which it excited in Mr. Boswell amounted almost to pain. His eyes goggled with eagerness; he leant his ear almost on the shoulder of the Doctor; and his mouth dropped open to catch every syllable that might be uttered: nay, he seemed not only to dread losing a word, but to be anxious not to miss a breathing; as if hoping from it, latently or mystically, some information.

“But when, in a few minutes, Dr. Johnson, whose eye did not follow him, and who had concluded him to be at the other end of the table, said something gaily and good-humouredly, by the appellation of Bozzy, and discovered, by the sound of the reply, that Bozzy had planted himself, as closely as he could, behind and between the elbows of the new usurper and his own, the Doctor turned angrily round upon him, and, clapping his hand rather loudly upon his knee, said, in a tone of displeasure: ‘What do you do there, sir?—Go to the table, sir!’

“Mr. Boswell instantly, and with an air of affright, obeyed; and there was something so unusual in such humble submission to so imperious a command, that another smile gleamed its way across every mouth, except that of the Doctor and of Mr. Boswell, who now, very unwillingly, took a distant seat.

87“But, ever restless when not at the side of Dr. Johnson, he presently recollected something that he wished to exhibit; and, hastily rising, was running away in its search, when the Doctor, calling after him, authoritatively said: ‘What are you thinking of, sir? Why do you get up before the cloth is removed?—Come back to your place, sir!’

“Again, and with equal obsequiousness, Mr. Boswell did as he was bid; when the Doctor, pursing his lips not to betray rising risibility, muttered half to himself: ‘Running about in the middle of meals! One would take you for a Branghton!’

“‘A Branghton, sir?’ repeated Mr. Boswell, with earnestness; ‘what is a Branghton, sir?’

“‘Where have you lived, sir?’ cried the Doctor, laughing; ‘and what company have you kept, not to know that?’

“Mr. Boswell now, doubly curious, yet always apprehensive of falling into some disgrace with Dr. Johnson, said, in a low tone, which he knew the Doctor could not hear, to Mrs. Thrale: ‘Pray, ma’am, what’s a Branghton? Do me the favour to tell me! Is it some animal hereabouts?’

“Mrs. Thrale only heartily laughed, but without answering, as she saw one of her guests uneasily fearful of an explanation. But Mr. Seward cried: ‘I’ll tell you, Boswell—I’ll tell you!—if you will walk with me into the paddock; only let us wait till the table is cleared, or I shall be taken for a Branghton, too!’

“They soon went off together; and Mr. Boswell, no doubt, was fully informed of the road that had led to the usurpation by which he had thus been annoyed. But the Branghton fabricator took care to mount to her chamber ere they returned, and did not come down till Mr. Boswell was gone.”

The following December and January Miss Burney 88spent at home. She paid her promised visit to Sir Joshua Reynolds:

“We found the Miss Palmers alone. We were, for near an hour, quite easy, chatty, and comfortable; no pointed speech was made, and no starer entered.

“Just then, Mrs. and Miss Horneck were announced....

“Mrs. Horneck, as I found in the course of the evening, is an exceeding sensible, well-bred woman.[40] Her daughter is very beautiful; but was low-spirited and silent during the whole visit. She was, indeed, very unhappy, as Miss Palmer informed me, upon account of some ill news she had lately heard of the affairs of a gentleman to whom she is shortly to be married.

“Not long after came a whole troop, consisting of Mr. Cholmondeley!—O perilous name!—Miss Cholmondeley, and Miss Fanny Cholmondeley, his daughters, and Miss Forrest. Mrs. Cholmondeley, I found, was engaged elsewhere, but soon expected.

“Now here was a trick of Sir Joshua, to make me meet all these people!

“Mr. Cholmondeley is a clergyman; nothing shining either in person or manners, but rather somewhat grim in the first, and glum in the last. Yet he appears to have humour himself, and to enjoy it much in others....

“Next came my father, all gaiety and spirits. Then Mr. William Burke. Soon after, Sir Joshua returned home. He paid his compliments to everybody, and then brought a chair next mine, and said:

89“‘So you were afraid to come among us?’

“I don’t know if I wrote to you a speech to that purpose, which I made to the Miss Palmers? and which, I suppose, they had repeated to him. He went on, saying I might as well fear hobgoblins, and that I had only to hold up my head to be above them all.

“After this address, his behaviour was exactly what my wishes would have dictated to him, for my own ease and quietness; for he never once even alluded to my book, but conversed rationally, gaily, and serenely: and so I became more comfortable than I had been ever since the first entrance of company....

“Our confab was interrupted by the entrance of Mr. King; a gentleman who is, it seems, for ever with the Burkes; and presently Lord Palmerston[41] was announced.

“Well, while this was going forward, a violent rapping bespoke, I was sure, Mrs. Cholmondeley, and I ran from the standers, and turning my back against the door, looked over Miss Palmer’s cards; for you may well imagine I was really in a tremor at a meeting which so long has been in agitation, and with the person who, of all persons, has been most warm and enthusiastic for my book.

“She had not, however, been in the room half an instant, ere my father came up to me, and tapping me on the shoulder, said, ‘Fanny, here’s a lady who wishes to speak to you.’

“I curtseyed in silence; she too curtseyed, and fixed her eyes full on my face, and then tapping me with her fan, she cried:

“‘Come, come, you must not look grave upon me.’

“Upon this, I te-he’d; she now looked at me yet more earnestly, and, after an odd silence, said, abruptly:

90“‘But is it true?’

“‘What, ma’am?’

“‘It can’t be!—tell me, though, is it true?’

“I could only simper.

“‘Why don’t you tell me?—but it can’t be—I don’t believe it!—no, you are an impostor!’

“Sir Joshua and Lord Palmerston were both at her side—oh, how notably silly must I look! She again repeated her question of ‘Is it true?’ and I again affected not to understand her; and then Sir Joshua, taking hold of her arm, attempted to pull her away, saying:

“‘Come, come, Mrs. Cholmondeley, I won’t have her overpowered here!’

“I love Sir Joshua much for this. But Mrs. Cholmondeley, turning to him, said, with quickness and vehemence:

“‘Why, I ain’t going to kill her! don’t be afraid, I shan’t compliment her!—I can’t, indeed!’”

Then came a scene in which Mrs. Cholmondeley pursued Fanny across the room, hunted her round the card-table, and finally drove her to take refuge behind a sofa, continually plying her with questions, and receiving her confused replies with exclamations of Ma foi! pardie! and other phrases borrowed from Madame Duval. At length:

“Mrs. Chol.: My Lord Palmerston, I was told to-night that nobody could see your lordship for me, for that you supped at my house every night! Dear, bless me, no! cried I, not every night! and I looked as confused as I was able; but I am afraid I did not blush, though I tried hard for it!

“Then again turning to me:

“‘That Mr. What-d’ye-call-him, in Fleet Street, is a 91mighty silly fellow;—perhaps you don’t know who I mean?—one T. Lowndes,—but maybe you don’t know such a person?’

“F. B.: No, indeed, I do not!—that I can safely say.

“Mrs. Chol.: I could get nothing from him: but I told him I hoped he gave a good price: and he answered me, that he always did things genteel. What trouble and tagging we had! Mr. —— laid a wager the writer was a man:—I said I was sure it was a woman: but now we are both out; for it’s a girl!

“In this comical, queer, flighty, whimsical manner she ran on, till we were summoned to supper....

“When we broke up to depart, which was not till near two in the morning, Mrs. Cholmondeley went up to my mother, and begged her permission to visit in St. Martin’s Street. Then, as she left the room, she said to me, with a droll sort of threatening look:

“‘You have not got rid of me yet: I have been forcing myself into your house.’

“I must own I was not at all displeased at this, as I had very much and very reasonably feared that she would have been by then as sick of me from disappointment, as she was before eager for me from curiosity.

“When we came away, Offy Palmer, laughing, said to me:

“‘I think this will be a breaking-in to you!’”

We have next a visit to the house of the persecutor:

“On Monday last, my father sent a note to Mrs. Cholmondeley, to propose our waiting on her the Wednesday following: she accepted the proposal, and accordingly, on Wednesday evening, my father, mother, and self went to Hertford Street.

“I should have told you that Mrs. Cholmondeley, when my father some time ago called on her, sent me a message, 92that if I would go to see her, I should not again be stared at or worried; and she acknowledged that my visit at Sir Joshua’s was a formidable one, and that I was watched the whole evening; but that upon the whole, the company behaved extremely well, for they only ogled!

“Well, we were received by Mrs. Cholmondeley with great politeness, and in a manner that showed she intended to entirely throw aside Madame Duval, and to conduct herself towards me in a new style.

“Mr. and the Misses Cholmondeley and Miss Forrest were with her; but who else think you?—why, Mrs. Sheridan! I was absolutely charmed at the sight of her. I think her quite as beautiful as ever, and even more captivating; for she has now a look of ease and happiness that animates her whole face.

“Miss Linley was with her; she is very handsome, but nothing near her sister: the elegance of Mrs. Sheridan’s beauty is unequalled by any I ever saw, except Mrs. Crewe.[42] I was pleased with her in all respects. She is much more lively and agreeable than I had any idea of finding her: she was very gay, and very unaffected, and totally free from airs of any kind.

“Miss Linley was very much out of spirits; she did not speak three words the whole evening, and looked wholly unmoved at all that passed. Indeed, she appeared to be heavy and inanimate.

“Mrs. Cholmondeley sat next me. She is determined, I believe, to make me like her: and she will, I believe, have full success; for she is very clever, very entertaining, and very much unlike anybody else.

“The first subject started was the Opera, and all joined in the praise of Pacchierotti. Mrs. Sheridan declared she could not hear him without tears, and that he was 93the first Italian singer who ever affected her to such a degree.

“They then talked of the intended marriage of the Duke of Dorset with Miss Cumberland, and many ridiculous anecdotes were related. The conversation naturally fell upon Mr. Cumberland, and he was finely cut up!

“‘What a man is that!’ said Mrs. Cholmondeley; ‘I cannot bear him—so querulous, so dissatisfied, so determined to like nobody and nothing but himself!’

“‘What, Mr. Cumberland?’ exclaimed I.

“‘Yes,’ answered she; ‘I hope you don’t like him?’

“‘I don’t know him, ma’am. I have only seen him once, at Mrs. Ord’s.’

“‘Oh, don’t like him for your life! I charge you not! I hope you did not like his looks?’

“‘Why,’ quoth I, laughing, ‘I went prepared and determined to like him; but perhaps, when I see him next, I may go prepared for the contrary.’

“A rat-tat-tat-tat ensued, and the Earl of Harcourt was announced. When he had paid his compliments to Mrs. Cholmondeley—

“‘I knew, ma’am,’ he said, ‘that I should find you at home.’

“‘I suppose then, my lord,’ said she, ‘that you have seen Sir Joshua Reynolds; for he is engaged to be here.’

“‘I have,’ answered his lordship; ‘and heard from him that I should be sure to find you.’

“And then he added some very fine compliment, but I have forgot it.

“‘Oh, my lord,’ cried she, ‘you have the most discernment of anybody! His lordship (turning another way) always says these things to me, and yet he never flatters.’

94“Lord Harcourt, speaking of the lady from whose house he was just come, said:

“‘Mrs. Vesey[43] is vastly agreeable, but her fear of ceremony is really troublesome: for her eagerness to break a circle is such, that she insists upon everybody’s sitting with their backs one to another; that is, the chairs are drawn into little parties of three together, in a confused manner, all over the room.’

“‘Why, then,’ said my father, ‘they may have the pleasure of caballing and cutting up one another, even in the same room.’

“‘Oh, I like the notion of all things,’ cried Mrs. Cholmondeley; ‘I shall certainly adopt it!’

“And then she drew her chair into the middle of our circle. Lord Harcourt turned his round, and his back to most of us, and my father did the same. You can’t imagine a more absurd sight.

“Just then the door opened, and Mr. Sheridan entered.

“Was I not in luck? Not that I believe the meeting was accidental; but I had more wished to meet him and his wife than any people I know not.

“I could not endure my ridiculous situation, but replaced myself in an orderly manner immediately. Mr. Sheridan stared at them all, and Mrs. Cholmondeley said she intended it as a hint for a comedy.

“Mr. Sheridan has a very fine figure, and a good, though I don’t think a handsome, face. He is tall, and very upright, and his appearance and address are at once manly 95and fashionable, without the smallest tincture of foppery or modish graces. In short, I like him vastly, and think him every way worthy his beautiful companion.

“And let me tell you what I know will give you as much pleasure as it gave me—that, by all I could observe in the course of the evening, and we stayed very late, they are extremely happy in each other: he evidently adores her, and she as evidently idolizes him. The world has by no means done him justice.

“When he had paid his compliments to all his acquaintance, he went behind the sofa on which Mrs. Sheridan and Miss Cholmondeley were seated, and entered into earnest conversation with them.

“Upon Lord Harcourt’s again paying Mrs. Cholmondeley some compliment, she said:

“‘Well, my lord, after this I shall be quite sublime for some days! I shan’t descend into common life till—till Saturday, and then I shall drop into the vulgar style—I shall be in the ma foi way.

“I do really believe she could not resist this, for she had seemed determined to be quiet.

“When next there was a rat-tat, Mrs. Cholmondeley and Lord Harcourt, and my father again, at the command of the former, moved into the middle of the room, and then Sir Joshua Reynolds and Dr. Warton entered.

“No further company came. You may imagine there was a general roar at the breaking of the circle, and when they got into order, Mr. Sheridan seated himself in the place Mrs. Cholmondeley had left, between my father and myself.

“And now I must tell you a little conversation which I did not hear myself till I came home; it was between Mr. Sheridan and my father.

“‘Dr. Burney,’ cried the former, ‘have you no older 96daughters? Can this possibly be the authoress of ‘Evelina’?’

“And then he said abundance of fine things, and begged my father to introduce him to me.

“‘Why, it will be a very formidable thing to her,’ answered he, ‘to be introduced to you.’

“‘Well, then, by-and-by,’ returned he.

“Some time after this, my eyes happening to meet his, he waived the ceremony of introduction, and in a low voice said:

“‘I have been telling Dr. Burney that I have long expected to see in Miss Burney a lady of the gravest appearance, with the quickest parts.’

“I was never much more astonished than at this unexpected address, as among all my numerous puffers the name of Sheridan has never reached me, and I did really imagine he had never deigned to look at my trash.

“Of course I could make no verbal answer, and he proceeded then to speak of ‘Evelina’ in terms of the highest praise; but I was in such a ferment from surprise (not to say pleasure), that I have no recollection of his expressions. I only remember telling him that I was much amazed he had spared time to read it, and that he repeatedly called it a most surprising book; and some time after he added: ‘But I hope, Miss Burney, you don’t intend to throw away your pen?’

“‘You should take care, sir,’ said I, ‘what you say: for you know not what weight it may have.’

“He wished it might have any, he said; and soon after turned again to my father.

“I protest, since the approbation of the Streathamites, I have met with none so flattering to me as this of Mr. Sheridan, and so very unexpected....

“Some time after, Sir Joshua returning to his standing-place, 97 entered into confab with Miss Linley and your slave, upon various matters, during which Mr. Sheridan, joining us, said:

“‘Sir Joshua, I have been telling Miss Burney that she must not suffer her pen to lie idle—ought she?’

“Sir Joshua: No, indeed, ought she not.

“Mr. Sheridan: Do you then, Sir Joshua, persuade her. But perhaps you have begun something? May we ask? Will you answer a question candidly?

“F. B.: I don’t know, but as candidly as Mrs. Candour I think I certainly shall.

“Mr. Sheridan: What then are you about now?

“F. B.: Why, twirling my fan, I think!

“Mr. Sheridan: No, no; but what are you about at home? However, it is not a fair question, so I won’t press it.

“Yet he looked very inquisitive; but I was glad to get off without any downright answer.

“Sir Joshua: Anything in the dialogue way, I think, she must succeed in; and I am sure invention will not be wanting.

“Mr. Sheridan: No, indeed; I think, and say, she should write a comedy.

“Sir Joshua: I am sure I think so; and hope she will.

“I could only answer by incredulous exclamations.

“‘Consider,’ continued Sir Joshua, ‘you have already had all the applause and fame you can have given you in the closet; but the acclamation of a theatre will be new to you.’

“And then he put down his trumpet, and began a violent clapping of his hands.

“I actually shook from head to foot! I felt myself already in Drury Lane, amidst the hubbub of a first night.

98“‘Oh no!’ cried I; ‘there may be a noise, but it will be just the reverse.’ And I returned his salute with a hissing.

“Mr. Sheridan joined Sir Joshua very warmly.

“‘Oh, sir!’ cried I; ‘you should not run on so—you don’t know what mischief you may do!’

“Mr. Sheridan: I wish I may—I shall be very glad to be accessory.”

We gather from the remarks made by Mrs. Cholmondeley and Sheridan in the preceding extracts that Miss Burney at this time looked much younger than she really was. With her low stature, slight figure, and timid air, she did not seem quite the woman. Probably this youthful appearance may have helped to set afloat the rumour which confounded the age of her heroine with her own. An unmarried lady of six-and-twenty could hardly be expected to enter a formal plea of not guilty to the charge of being only a girl; yet we shall see presently that Mrs. Thrale was pretty well informed as to the number of Fanny’s years.

Some readers may be tempted to think that, with all her coyness, she was enraptured by the pursuit of her admirers. This is only to say that she was a woman. We must remember, moreover, that the Diary which betrays her feelings was not written with any design of publication, but consisted of private letters, addressed chiefly to her sister Susan, and intended to be shown to no one out of her own family, save her attached Daddy Crisp. ‘If,’ says Macaulay very fairly, ‘she recorded with minute diligence all the compliments, delicate and coarse, which she heard wherever she turned, she recorded them for the eyes of two or three persons who had loved her from infancy, who had loved her in obscurity, and to 99whom her fame gave the purest and most exquisite delight. Nothing can be more unjust than to confound these outpourings of a kind heart, sure of perfect sympathy, with the egotism of a blue stocking, who prates to all who come near her about her own novel or her own volume of sonnets.’

31. ‘There was no want of low minds and bad hearts in the generation which witnessed her first appearance. There was the envious Kenrick and the savage Wolcot, the asp George Steevens and the polecat John Williams. It did not, however, occur to them to search the parish register of Lynn, in order that they might be able to twit a lady with having concealed her age. That truly chivalrous exploit was reserved for a bad writer of our own time, whose spite she had provoked by not furnishing him with materials for a worthless edition of Boswell’s Life of Johnson, some sheets of which our readers have doubtless seen round parcels of better books.’—Macaulay’s Essay. This passage has been often quoted and admired. Yet is not such writing rather too much in the style of Mr. Bludyer, who, the reader will remember, was reproached with mangling his victims? Compare Macaulay’s swashing blow with the deadly thrust of a true master of sarcasm. ‘Nobody was stronger in dates than Mr. Rigby; ... detail was Mr. Rigby’s forte; ... it was thought no one could lash a woman like Rigby. Rigby’s statements were arranged with a formidable array of dates—rarely accurate.’—Coningsby.


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