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CHAPTER IV.

Return to Streatham—Murphy the Dramatist—A Proposed Comedy—‘The Witlings’—Adverse Judgment of Mr. Crisp and Dr. Burney—Fanny to Mr. Crisp—Dr. Johnson on Miss Burney—A Visit to Brighton—Cumberland—An Eccentric Character—Sir Joshua’s Prices—Tragedies—Actors and Singers—Regrets for the Comedy—Crisp’s Reply—The Lawrence Family at Devizes—Lady Miller’s Vase—The Gordon Riots—Precipitate Retreat—Grub Street—Sudden Death of Mr. Thrale—Idleness and Work—A Sister of the Craft—The Mausoleum of Julia—Progress of ‘Cecilia’ through the Press—Crisp’s Judgment on ‘Cecilia’—Johnson and ‘Cecilia’—Publication of ‘Cecilia’—Burke—His Letter to Miss Burney—Assembly at Miss Monckton’s—New Acquaintances—Soame Jenyns—Illness and Death of Crisp—Mrs. Thrale’s Struggles—Ill-health of Johnson—Mr. Burney Organist of Chelsea Hospital—Mrs. Thrale marries Piozzi—Last Interview with Johnson—His Death.

In February, 1779, Miss Burney returned to Streatham. A bedroom was set apart for her exclusive use. She became almost as much a recognised member of the family as Dr. Johnson had for many years been. Nearly all the remainder of 1779 was spent with her new friends, either at Streatham, Tunbridge Wells, or Brighton. Her father could scarcely regain possession of her, even for a few days, without a friendly battle. Johnson always took the side of the resisting party. In one of these contests, when Burney urged that she had been away from home too long: ‘Sir,’ cried Johnson, seizing both her hands to detain her, ‘I do not think it long; I would have her always come! and never go!’ In February, the first new face she saw at Mrs. Thrale’s was that of Arthur Murphy,[44] playwright 101and translator of Tacitus. Mrs. Thrale charged her to make herself agreeable to this gentleman, whose knowledge of the stage might be of service to her in relation to the comedy which her friends were urging her to write. The exhortation was unneeded, for almost the first words uttered by Murphy in her presence won Fanny’s heart. Mrs. Thrale, missing Dr. Burney, who after his weekly lesson had returned to town without taking leave, inveighed against him as a male coquet: he only, she said, gave enough of his company to excite a desire for more. Murphy was ready with his compliment.

‘Dr. Burney,’ he replied, ‘is indeed a most extraordinary man; I think I don’t know such another: he is at home upon all subjects, and upon all so agreeable! he is a wonderful man.’

Noting down this pretty speech led the diarist to record some words which had passed between Johnson and herself on the same theme:

“‘I love Burney,’ said the Doctor; ‘my heart goes out to meet him.’

“‘He is not ungrateful, sir,’ cried I: ‘for most heartily does he love you.’

“‘Does he, madam? I am surprised at that.’

“‘Why, sir? Why should you have doubted it?’

“‘Because, madam, Dr. Burney is a man for all the world to love; it is but natural to love him.’

“I could almost have cried with delight at this cordial, unlaboured éloge.”

An admirer of her father was a man whom Fanny could trust at once, and she soon had confidences with Murphy, 102as well as with Johnson, on the subject of her projected play. In May, the first draft was submitted to the former, who bestowed on it abundance of flattery. Mrs. Thrale also was warm in its praise. But the piece, when finished, had to be submitted to critics who felt a deeper interest, and a stronger sense of responsibility. The manuscript was carried by Dr. Burney to Crisp at Chesington, and the two old friends sat in council on it. “I should like,” wrote Fanny to Crisp, “that your first reading should have nothing to do with me—that you should go quick through it, or let my father read it to you—forgetting all the time, as much as you can, that Fannikin is the writer, or even that it is a play in manuscript, and capable of alterations;—and, then, when you have done, I should like to have three lines, telling me, as nearly as you can trust my candour, its general effect. After that take it to your own desk, and lash it at your leisure. Adieu, my dear daddy! I shall hope to hear from you very soon, and pray believe me yours ever and ever.”

The comedy was intended to be called ‘The Witlings,’ and seems to have borne a strong resemblance to the Femmes Savantes. We have not the letter containing Crisp’s judgment, but he told his disciple plainly that her production would be condemned as a pale copy of Molière’s piece. We gather also from subsequent correspondence that both he and Dr. Burney felt ‘The Witlings,’ to be a failure, even when considered on its own merits. It was some consolation to Fanny that she had never read Molière, but she sought no saving for her self-love. Here is her answer to her daddy:

“Well! ‘there are plays that are to be saved, and plays that are not to be saved!’ so good-night, Mr. Dabbler!—good-night, Lady Smatter,—Mrs. Sapient,—Mrs. 103Voluble,—Mrs. Wheedle,—Censor,—Cecilia,—Beaufort,—and you, you great oaf, Bobby!—good-night! good-night!

And good-morning, Miss Fanny Burney!—I hope now you have opened your eyes for some time, and will not close them in so drowsy a fit again—at least till the full of the moon.

I won’t tell you I have been absolutely ravie with delight at the fall of the curtain; but I intend to take the affair in the tant mieux manner, and to console myself for your censure by this greatest proof I have ever received of the sincerity, candour, and, let me add, esteem, of my dear daddy. And as I happen to love myself rather more than my play, this consolation is not a very trifling one.

As to all you say of my reputation and so forth, I perceive the kindness of your endeavours to put me in humour with myself, and prevent my taking huff, which if I did, I should deserve to receive, upon any future trial, hollow praise from you—and the rest from the public.

As to the MS., I am in no hurry for it. Besides, it ought not to come till I have prepared an ovation, and the honours of conquest for it.

The only bad thing in this affair is, that I cannot take the comfort of my poor friend Dabbler, by calling you a crabbed fellow, because you write with almost more kindness than ever; neither can I (though I try hard) persuade myself that you have not a grain of taste in your whole composition.

This, however, seriously I do believe,—that when my two daddies put their heads together to concert for me that hissing, groaning, catcalling epistle they sent me they felt as sorry for poor little Miss Bayes as she could possibly do for herself.

You see I do not attempt to repay your frankness with 104the art of pretended carelessness. But though somewhat disconcerted just now, I will promise not to let my vexation live out another day. I shall not browse upon it, but, on the contrary, drive it out of my thoughts, by filling them up with things almost as good of other people’s.

Our Hettina is much better; but pray don’t keep Mr. B. beyond Wednesday, for Mrs. Thrale makes a point of my returning to Streatham on Tuesday, unless, which God forbid, poor Hetty should be worse again.

Adieu, my dear daddy, I won’t be mortified, and I won’t be downed,—but I will be proud to find I have, out of my own family, as well as in it, a friend who loves me well enough to speak plain truth to me.

Always do thus, and always you shall be tried by,
Your much obliged
And most affectionate,
Frances Burney.”

The manuscript comedy does not appear to have been shown to Dr. Johnson. This was not for want of encouragement. He was extremely willing to read it, or have it read to him, but desired that his opinion should be taken before that of Murphy, who was to judge of the stage effect, and as the latter had already offered his services, the scrupulous author felt that this could not be. Fanny continued to grow in favour with Johnson. His expressions of affection became stronger, his eulogy of her novel more unmeasured.

“I know,” he said on one occasion, “none like her, nor do I believe there is, or there ever was, a man who could write such a book so young.”

“I suppose,” said Mrs. Thrale, “Pope was no older than Miss Burney when he wrote ‘Windsor Forest;’[45] and I suppose ‘Windsor Forest’ is equal to ‘Evelina!’”

105‘Windsor Forest,’ though, according to Pope himself, it was in part written at the age of sixteen, was finished and published when the poet was twenty-five. But Johnson would by no means allow that ‘Windsor Forest’ was so remarkable a work as ‘Evelina.’ The latter, he said, seemed a work that should result from long experience and deep and intimate knowledge of the world; yet it had been written without either.

“Miss Burney,” added the sage, “is a real wonder. What she is, she is intuitively. Dr. Burney told me she had had the fewest advantages of any of his daughters, from some peculiar circumstances. And such has been her timidity, that he himself had not any suspicion of her powers.”

About this time, Johnson began teaching his favourite Latin, an attention with which she would gladly have dispensed, thinking it an injury to be considered a learned lady.

In the autumn of this year, Miss Burney accompanied the Thrales to Tunbridge Wells, and thence to Brighton. Her Diary contains some lively sketches of incidents on the Pantiles and the Steyne, for which we cannot find space. At Brighton she encountered Sir Fretful Plagiary:

“‘It has been,’ said Mrs. Thrale warmly, ‘all I could do not to affront Mr. Cumberland to-night!’

“‘Oh, I hope not!’ cried I; ‘I would not have you for the world!’

“‘Why, I have refrained; but with great difficulty!’

“And then she told me the conversation she had just had with him. As soon as I made off, he said, with a spiteful tone of voice:

“‘Oh, that young lady is an author, I hear!’

106“‘Yes,’ answered Mrs. Thrale, ‘author of Evelina!’

“‘Humph—I am told it has some humour!’

“‘Ay, indeed! Johnson says nothing like it has appeared for years!’

“‘So,’ cried he, biting his lips, and waving uneasily in his chair, ‘so, so!’

“‘Yes,’ continued she; ‘and Sir Joshua Reynolds told Mr. Thrale he would give fifty pounds to know the author!’

“‘So, so—oh, vastly well!’ cried he, putting his hand on his forehead.

“‘Nay,’ added she, ‘Burke himself sat up all night to finish it!’

“This seemed quite too much for him; he put both his hands to his face, and waving backwards and forwards, said:

“‘Oh, vastly well!—this will do for anything!’ with a tone as much as to say, Pray, no more! Then Mrs. Thrale bid him good-night, longing, she said, to call Miss Thrale first, and say, ‘So you won’t speak to my daughter?—why, she is no author!’”

At another time, Mrs. Thrale said:

“Let him be tormented, if such things can torment him. For my part I’d have a starling taught to halloo ‘Evelina’!”

At Brighton, also, Miss Burney met with one of those humorous characters which her pen loved to describe:

“I must now have the honour to present to you a new acquaintance, who this day dined here-Mr. B——-y, an Irish gentleman, late a commissary in Germany. He is between sixty and seventy, but means to pass for about thirty; gallant, complaisant, obsequious, and humble to 107the fair sex, for whom he has an awful reverence; but when not immediately addressing them, swaggering, blustering, puffing, and domineering. These are his two apparent characters; but the real man is worthy, moral, religious, though conceited and parading.

“He is as fond of quotations as my poor ‘Lady Smatter,’ and, like her, knows little beyond a song, and always blunders about the author of that.... His whole conversation consists in little French phrases, picked up during his residence abroad, and in anecdotes and storytelling, which are sure to be re-told daily and daily in the same words....

“Speaking of the ball in the evening, to which we were all going, ‘Ah, madam!’ said he to Mrs. Thrale, ‘there was a time when—tol-de-rol, tol-de-rol [rising, and dancing and singing], tol-de-rol!—I could dance with the best of them; but, now a man, forty and upwards, as my Lord Ligonier used to say—but—tol-de-rol!—there was a time!’

“‘Ay, so there was, Mr. B——y,’ said Mrs. Thrale, ‘and I think you and I together made a very venerable appearance!’

“‘Ah! madam, I remember once, at Bath, I was called out to dance with one of the finest young ladies I ever saw. I was just preparing to do my best, when a gentleman of my acquaintance was so cruel as to whisper me—’B——y! the eyes of all Europe are upon you!‘—for that was the phrase of the times. ‘B——y!’ says he, ’the eyes of all Europe are upon you!‘—I vow, ma’am, enough to make a man tremble!—tol-de-rol, tol-de-rol! [dancing]—the eyes of all Europe are upon you!—I declare, ma’am, enough to put a man out of countenance!”

“Dr. Delap, who came here some time after, was speaking of Horace.

108“‘Ah! madam,’ cried Mr. B——y, ‘this Latin—things of that kind—we waste our youth, ma’am, in these vain studies. For my part, I wish I had spent mine in studying French and Spanish—more useful, ma’am. But, bless me, ma’am, what time have I had for that kind of thing? Travelling here, over the ocean, hills and dales, ma’am—reading the great book of the world—poor ignorant mortals, ma’am—no time to do anything.’

“‘Ay, Mr. B——y,’ said Mrs. Thrale, ‘I remember how you downed Beauclerk and Hamilton, the wits, once at our house, when they talked of ghosts!’

“‘Ah! ma’am, give me a brace of pistols, and I warrant I’ll manage a ghost for you! Not but Providence may please to send little spirits—guardian angels, ma’am—to watch us: that I can’t speak about. It would be presumptuous, ma’am—for what can a poor, ignorant mortal know?’

“‘Ay, so you told Beauclerk and Hamilton.’

“‘Oh yes, ma’am. Poor human beings can’t account for anything—and call themselves esprits forts. I vow ’tis presumptuous, ma’am! Esprits forts, indeed! they can see no farther than their noses, poor, ignorant mortals! Here’s an admiral, and here’s a prince, and here’s a general, and here’s a dipper—and poor Smoker, the bather, ma’am! What’s all this strutting about, and that kind of thing? and then they can’t account for a blade of grass!’

“After this, Dr. Johnson being mentioned,

“‘Ay,’ said he, ‘I’m sorry he did not come down with you. I liked him better than those others: not much of a fine gentleman, indeed, but a clever fellow—a deal of knowledge—got a deuced good understanding!’...

“I am absolutely almost ill with laughing. This Mr. B——y half convulses me; yet I cannot make you laugh by writing his speeches, because it is the manner which 109accompanies them that, more than the matter, renders them so peculiarly ridiculous. His extreme pomposity, the solemn stiffness of his person, the conceited twinkling of his little old eyes, and the quaint importance of his delivery, are so much more like some pragmatical old coxcomb represented on the stage, than like anything in real and common life, that I think, were I a man, I should sometimes be betrayed into clapping him for acting so well. As it is, I am sure no character in any comedy I ever saw has made me laugh more extravagantly.

“He dines and spends the evening here constantly, to my great satisfaction.

“At dinner, when Mrs. Thrale offers him a seat next her, he regularly says:

“‘But where are les charmantes?’ meaning Miss T. and me. ‘I can do nothing till they are accommodated!’

“And, whenever he drinks a glass of wine, he never fails to touch either Mrs. Thrale’s or my glass, with ‘est-il-permis?’

“But at the same time that he is so courteous, he is proud to a most sublime excess, and thinks every person to whom he speaks honoured beyond measure by his notice,—nay, he does not even look at anybody without evidently displaying that such notice is more the effect of his benign condescension, than of any pretension on their part to deserve such a mark of his perceiving their existence. But you will think me mad about this man....

“As he is notorious for his contempt of all artists, whom he looks upon with little more respect than upon day-labourers, the other day, when painting was discussed, he spoke of Sir Joshua Reynolds as if he had been upon a level with a carpenter or farrier.

“‘Did you ever,’ said Mrs. Thrale, ‘see his Nativity?’

“‘No, madam,—but I know his pictures very well; I 110knew him many years ago, in Minorca; he drew my picture there, and then he knew how to take a moderate price; but now, I vow, ma’am, ’tis scandalous—scandalous indeed! to pay a fellow here seventy guineas for scratching out a head!’

“‘Sir!’ cried Dr. Delap,[46] ‘you must not run down Sir Joshua Reynolds, because he is Miss Burney’s friend.’

“‘Sir,’ answered he, ‘I don’t want to run the man down; I like him well enough in his proper place; he is as decent as any man of that sort I ever knew; but for all that, sir, his prices are shameful. Why, he would not [looking at the poor Doctor with an enraged contempt]—he would not do your head under seventy guineas!’

“‘Well,’ said Mrs. Thrale, ‘he had one portrait at the last Exhibition, that I think hardly could be paid enough for; it was of a Mr. Stuart; I had never done admiring it.’

“‘What stuff is this, ma’am!’ cried Mr. B——y; ‘how can two or three dabs of paint ever be worth such a sum as that?’

“‘Sir,’ said Mr. Selwyn (always willing to draw him out), ‘you know not how much he is improved since you knew him in Minorca; he is now the finest painter, perhaps, in the world.’

“‘Pho, pho, sir!’ cried he, ‘how can you talk so? you, Mr. Selwyn, who have seen so many capital pictures abroad?’

“‘Come, come, sir,’ said the ever odd Dr. Delap, ‘you must not go on so undervaluing him, for, I tell you, he is a friend of Miss Burney’s.’

“‘Sir,’ said Mr. B——y, ‘I tell you again I have no objection to the man; I have dined in his company two 111or three times; a very decent man he is, fit to keep company with gentlemen; but, ma’am, what are all your modern dabblers put together to one ancient? Nothing!—a set of—not a Rubens among them! I vow, ma’am, not a Rubens among them!’...

“Whenever plays are mentioned, we have also a regular speech about them.

“‘I never,’ he says, ‘go to a tragedy,—it’s too affecting; tragedy enough in real life: tragedies are only fit for fair females; for my part, I cannot bear to see Othello tearing about in that violent manner;—and fair little Desdemona—ma’am, ’tis too affecting! to see your kings and your princes tearing their pretty locks,—oh, there’s no standing it! ‘A straw-crown’d monarch,’—what is that, Mrs. Thrale?
‘A straw-crown’d monarch in mock majesty.’

I can’t recollect now where that is; but for my part, I really cannot bear to see such sights. And then out come the white handkerchiefs, and all their pretty eyes are wiping, and then come poison and daggers, and all that kind of thing,—Oh, ma’am, ’tis too much; but yet the fair tender hearts, the pretty little females, all like it!’

“This speech, word for word, I have already heard from him literally four times.

“When Mr. Garrick was mentioned, he honoured him with much the same style of compliment as he had done Sir Joshua Reynolds.

“‘Ay, ay,’ said he, ‘that Garrick is another of those fellows that people run mad about. Ma’am, ’tis a shame to think of such things! an actor living like a person of quality! scandalous! I vow, scandalous!’

“‘Well,—commend me to Mr. B——y!’ cried Mrs. Thrale, ‘for he is your only man to put down all the people that everybody else sets up.’

112“‘Why, ma’am,’ answered he, ‘I like all these people very well in their proper places; but to see such a set of poor beings living like persons of quality,—’tis preposterous! common sense, madam, common sense is against that kind of thing. As to Garrick, he is a very good mimic, an entertaining fellow enough, and all that kind of thing; but for an actor to live like a person of quality—oh, scandalous!’

“Some time after, the musical tribe was mentioned. He was at cards at the time with Mr. Selwyn, Dr. Delap, and Mr. Thrale, while we ‘fair females,’ as he always calls us, were speaking of Agujari. He constrained himself from flying out as long as he was able; but upon our mentioning her having fifty pounds a song, he suddenly, in a great rage, called out, ‘Catgut and rosin!—ma’am, ’tis scandalous!’

“We all laughed, and Mr. Selwyn, to provoke him on, said:

“‘Why, sir, how shall we part with our money better?’

“‘Oh fie! fie!’ cried he, ‘I have not patience to hear of such folly; common sense, sir, common sense is against it. Why, now, there was one of these fellows at Bath last season, a Mr. Rauzzini,[47]—I vow I longed to cane him every day! such a work made with him! all the fair females sighing for him! enough to make a man sick!’”

At the beginning of 1780, Miss Burney was troubled about her suppressed comedy. She wrote to Mr. Crisp:

“As my play was settled, I entreated my father to call on Mr. Sheridan, in order to prevent his expecting 113anything from me, as he had had a good right to do, from my having sent him a positive message that I should, in compliance with his exhortations at Mrs. Cholmondeley’s, try my fortune in the theatrical line, and send him a piece for this winter. My father did call, but found him not at home, neither did he happen to see him till about Christmas. He then acquainted him that what I had written had entirely dissatisfied me, and that I desired to decline for the present all attempts of that sort.

“Mr. Sheridan was pleased to express great concern,—nay, more, to protest he would not accept my refusal. He begged my father to tell me that he could take no denial to seeing what I had done—that I could be no fair judge for myself—that he doubted not but what it would please, but was glad I was not satisfied, as he had much rather see pieces before their authors were contented with them than afterwards, on account of sundry small changes always necessary to be made by the managers, for theatrical purposes, and to which they were loth to submit when their writings were finished to their own approbation. In short, he said so much, that my father, ever easy to be worked upon, began to waver, and told me he wished I would show the play to Sheridan at once.”

As the result of this, Fanny conceived a plan for revising and altering her piece, which she submitted to her daddy. Crisp answered:

“The play has wit enough and enough—but the story and the incidents don’t appear to me interesting enough to seize and keep hold of the attention and eager expectations of the generality of audiences. This, to me, is its capital defect.” He went on to suggest that this fault, being fundamental, admitted of no remedy. And then in 114reference to a proposed trip to Italy, he added: “They tell me of a delightful tour you are to make this autumn on the other side of the water, with Mr. and Mrs. Thrale, Dr. Johnson, Mr. Murphy, etc. Where will you find such another set? Oh, Fanny, set this down as the happiest period of your life; and when you come to be old and sick, and health and spirits are fled (for the time may come), then live upon remembrance, and think that you have had your share of the good things of this world, and say: For what I have received, the Lord make me thankful!”

The autumnal trip to the Continent did not take place, but in April the Thrales and Miss Burney went by easy stages to Bath:

“The third day we reached Devizes.

“And here, Mrs. Thrale and I were much pleased with our hostess, Mrs. Lawrence, who seemed something above her station in her inn. While we were at cards before supper, we were much surprised by the sound of a piano-forte. I jumped up, and ran to listen whence it proceeded. I found it came from the next room, where the overture to the ‘Buona Figliuola’ was performing. The playing was very decent, but as the music was not quite new to me, my curiosity was not whole ages in satisfying itself, and therefore I returned to finish the rubber.

“Don’t I begin to talk in an old-cattish manner of cards?

“Well, another deal was hardly played, ere we heard the sound of a voice, and out I ran again. The singing, however, detained me not long, and so back I whisked: but the performance, however indifferent in itself, yet surprised us at the Bear at Devizes, and, therefore, Mrs. Thrale determined to know from whom it came. Accordingly, she tapped at the door. A very handsome girl, 115about thirteen years old, with fine dark hair upon a finely-formed forehead, opened it. Mrs. Thrale made an apology for her intrusion, but the poor girl blushed and retreated into a corner of the room: another girl, however, advanced, and obligingly and gracefully invited us in, and gave us all chairs. She was just sixteen, extremely pretty, and with a countenance better than her features, though those were also very good. Mrs. Thrale made her many compliments, which she received with a mingled modesty and pleasure, both becoming and interesting. She was, indeed, a sweetly-pleasing girl.

“We found they were both daughters of our hostess, and born and bred at Devizes. We were extremely pleased with them, and made them a long visit, which I wished to have been longer. But though those pretty girls struck us so much, the wonder of the family was yet to be produced. This was their brother, a most lovely boy of ten years of age, who seems to be not merely the wonder of their family, but of the times, for his astonishing skill in drawing.[48] They protest he has never had any instruction, yet showed us some of his productions that were really beautiful. Those that were copies were delightful—those of his own composition amazing, though far inferior. I was equally struck with the boy and his works.

“We found that he had been taken to town, and that all the painters had been very kind to him, and Sir Joshua Reynolds had pronounced him, the mother said, the most promising genius he had ever met with. Mr. Hoare[49] 116has been so charmed with this sweet boy’s drawings that he intends sending him to Italy with his own son.

“This house was full of books, as well as paintings, drawings, and music; and all the family seem not only ingenious and industrious, but amiable; added to which, they are strikingly handsome.”

A chief topic of conversation at this time in Bath was Lady Miller’s vase at Batheaston. Horace Walpole mentions this vase, and the use to which it was put: ‘They hold a Parnassus-fair every Thursday, give out rhymes and themes, and all the flux at Bath contend for the prizes. A Roman vase, dressed with pink ribbons and myrtles, receives the poetry, which is drawn out every festival. Six judges of these Olympic games retire, and select the brightest composition.’ Fanny met Lady Miller, whom she describes with her usual candour: ‘Lady Miller is a round, plump, coarse-looking dame of about forty, and while all her aim is to appear an elegant woman of fashion, all her success is to seem an ordinary woman in very common life, with fine clothes on. Her habits are bustling, her air is mock-important, and her manners very inelegant.’ In the midst of a round of gaieties, the Thrale party attended a reception at Batheaston. The rooms were crowded; but it being now June, the business of the vase was over for that season, and the sacred vessel itself had been removed. On returning to their lodging, they received the news of the Gordon Riots. Next morning Mrs. Thrale had letters acquainting her that her town-house had been three times attacked, but saved by the Guards, with the children, plate, and valuables, which were removed. Streatham had also been threatened and emptied of all its furniture. The same day a 117Bath newspaper denounced Mr. Thrale as a papist. The brewer was now in a critical state of health, and it became necessary to remove him without exciting his alarm. Miss Burney was employed to break the matter to him, and obtained his consent to an immediate departure. Arriving at Salisbury on the 11th of June, they were reassured by information that order had been restored in London, and Lord George Gordon sent to the Tower. In London the friends parted, and Fanny returned to her father’s house. Johnson met her at Sir Joshua’s a few days after, and mention being made of a house in Grub Street that had been destroyed by the mob, proposed that they should go there together, and visit the seats of their progenitors.

The latter part of this year, and part of 1781, were spent by Miss Burney chiefly in writing ‘Cecilia.’ While thus occupied she passed most of her time at Chesington. In February, 1781, she writes from that place to Mrs. Thrale: “I think I shall always hate this book, which has kept me so long away from you, as much as I shall always love ‘Evelina,’ which first comfortably introduced me to you.” Shortly after the date of this letter, the writer returned home, apparently for the purpose of meeting the Thrales, who were fixed for the winter in Grosvenor Square. She found them engaged in giving parties to half London. In the midst of their entertainments Mr. Thrale died suddenly from a stroke of apoplexy. Fanny could not desert her friend in such trouble. So soon as the widow could bear any society, she summoned her young companion to Streatham, and kept her there, with hardly an interval, till the summer was over. It does not appear that Fanny was at all averse to be detained, but so long a stay was not to her advantage. Her hostess, of course, was much engrossed 118by the late brewer’s affairs. Dr. Johnson, as one of the executors, was similarly employed; and though Miss Burney, from time to time, saw something of him, as well as of his co-executors, Mr. Cator[50] and Mr. Crutchley,[51] she met with little in the narrowed and secluded household to compensate her for her loss of time. If she busied herself at all with ‘Cecilia’ during this period, she seems to have accomplished very little. At any rate, both her fathers became impatient of her inaction. Prompted from Chesington, Dr. Burney would have recalled his daughter, but found himself powerless against the self-willed little lady of Thrale Hall. The more resolute Crisp then took the field in person,[52] and in spite of his infirmities, repaired to Streatham, whence he carried off the captive authoress, and straightway consigned her to what he called the Doctor’s Conjuring Closet, at his own abode. There Fanny was held to her task till the beginning of 1782, when she was called home to be present at the marriage of her sister Susan to Captain Phillips; after which Dr. Burney kept her stationary in St. Martin’s Street till she had written the word ‘Finis’ on the last proof-sheet of ‘Cecilia.’

However, when the new novel was fairly in the printer’s hands, the author was again seen in London society. At a party, given by a Mrs. Paradise, she was introduced to a sister of her craft:

“Mrs. Paradise, leaning over the Kirwans and Charlotte, who hardly got a seat all night for the crowd, said 119she begged to speak to me. I squeezed my great person out, and she then said:

“‘Miss Burney, Lady Say and Sele desires the honour of being introduced to you.’

“Her ladyship stood by her side. She seems pretty near fifty—at least turned forty; her head was full of feathers, flowers, jewels, and gew-gaws, and as high as Lady Archer’s; her dress was trimmed with beads, silver, Persian sashes, and all sort of fine fancies; her face is thin and fiery, and her whole manner spoke a lady all alive.

“‘Miss Burney,’ cried she, with great quickness, and a look all curiosity, ‘I am very happy to see you; I have longed to see you a great while; I have read your performance, and I am quite delighted with it. I think it’s the most elegant novel I ever read in my life. Such a style! I am quite surprised at it. I can’t think where you got so much invention!’

“‘You may believe this was a reception not to make me very loquacious. I did not know which way to turn my head.

“‘I must introduce you,’ continued her ladyship, ‘to my sister; she’ll be quite delighted to see you. She has written a novel herself; so you are sister authoresses. A most elegant thing it is, I assure you; almost as pretty as yours, only not quite so elegant. She has written two novels, only one is not so pretty as the other. But I shall insist upon your seeing them. One is in letters, like yours, only yours is prettiest; it’s called the “Mausoleum of Julia!”’

“What unfeeling things, thought I, are my sisters! I’m sure I never heard them go about thus praising me!

“Mrs. Paradise then again came forward, and, taking my hand, led me up to her ladyship’s sister, Lady Hawke, 120saying aloud, and with a courteous smirk, ‘Miss Burney, ma’am, authoress of “Evelina.”’...

“Lady Hawke arose and curtseyed. She is much younger than her sister, and rather pretty; extremely languishing, delicate, and pathetic; apparently accustomed to be reckoned the genius of her family, and well contented to be looked upon as a creature dropped from the clouds....

“‘My sister intends,’ said Lady Say and Sele, ‘to print her “Mausoleum,” just for her own friends and acquaintances.’

“‘Yes,’ said Lady Hawke: ‘I have never printed yet.’...

“‘Well,’ cried Lady Say, ‘but do repeat that sweet part that I am so fond of—you know what I mean; Miss Burney must hear it—out of your novel, you know!’

“Lady H.: No, I can’t; I have forgot it.

“Lady S.: Oh, no! I am sure you have not; I insist upon it.

“Lady H.: But I know you can repeat it yourself; you have so fine a memory; I am sure you can repeat it.

“Lady S.: Oh, but I should not do it justice! that’s all—I should not do it justice!

“Lady Hawke then bent forward, and repeated: ‘If, when he made the declaration of his love, the sensibility that beamed in his eyes was felt in his heart, what pleasing sensations and soft alarms might not that tender avowal awaken!’

“‘And from what, ma’am,’ cried I, astonished, and imagining I had mistaken them, ‘is this taken?’

“‘From my sister’s novel!’ answered the delighted Lady Say and Sele, expecting my raptures to be equal to her own; ‘it’s in the “Mausoleum,”—did not you know that? Well, I can’t think how you can write these sweet 121novels! And it’s all just like that part. Lord Hawke himself says it’s all poetry. For my part, I’m sure I never could write so. I suppose, Miss Burney, you are producing another—a’n’t you?’

“‘No, ma’am.’

“‘Oh, I dare say you are. I dare say you are writing one at this very minute!’”

Years afterwards, when Miss Burney had entered the royal household, Queen Charlotte lent her a presentation copy of a novel which her Majesty had received from Lady Hawke. The book proved to be the “Mausoleum of Julia,” then at length given to the public. “It is all of a piece,” laughed Fanny, on reading it—“all love, love, love, unmixed and unadulterated with any more worldly materials.”

‘Cecilia’ was now passing slowly through the press, amidst the comments and flattering predictions of the few friends who were permitted to see the manuscript. Mrs. Thrale and Queeny reddened their eyes over the pages; Dr. Burney found them more engrossing even than ‘Evelina;’ but the author’s only real adviser was her ‘other daddy.’ Crisp was a close, but not an overbearing critic; he had great faith in his Fannikin, and he was restrained, besides, by rankling memories of his unfortunate ‘Virginia.’ ‘Whomever you think fit to consult,’ he wrote, ‘let their talents and taste be ever so great, hear what they say, but never give up, or alter a tittle, merely on their authority, nor unless it perfectly accords with your own inward feelings. I can say this to my sorrow and to my cost. But mum!’ And if Crisp was somewhat dogmatic, he was also a sanguine admirer, declaring that he would insure the rapid and complete success of the novel for half a crown. Miss Burney, 122too, though bashful in a drawing-room, had plenty of self-reliance in her study, and was by no means disposed to be often seeking counsel. Macaulay, always confident in his conjectures, will have it that she received assistance from Johnson. But he had before him, in the Diary, a distinct assertion to the contrary, stated to have been made by the Doctor himself some time after the publication. If we may trust Fanny, Johnson said: ‘Ay, some people want to make out some credit to me from the little rogue’s book. I was told by a gentleman this morning that it was a very fine book if it was all her own. “It is all her own,” said I, “for me, I am sure; for I never saw one word of it before it was printed.”’[53] Macaulay did not mean to emulate Croker; he was betrayed by fancied resemblances of style, than which nothing can be more deceptive. The probability is that the manuscript was not submitted to Johnson, lest he should be held to have written what he only corrected.

‘Cecilia; or, The Memoirs of an heiress,’ was published in July, 1782. “We have been informed,” says Macaulay, “by persons who remember those days, that no romance of Sir Walter Scott was more impatiently awaited, or more eagerly snatched from the counters of the booksellers.” The first edition, which was exhausted in the following October, consisted of two thousand copies; and Macaulay was told by someone, not named, that an equal number of pounds was received by the author for her work. There is no producible authority for the latter statement, and we cannot 123but think that it is an exaggeration, arising out of some confusion between the amount paid for the copyright, and the number of copies first printed. At any rate, the sum mentioned does not seem to square with some expressions used by Burke, who about this time began to take a personal interest in Miss Burney.

The great statesman was introduced to her, a few days before her second novel appeared, at a dinner given by Sir Joshua in his house on Richmond Hill. At the end of July he addressed her in a letter of congratulation: ‘You have crowded,’ he wrote, ‘into a few small volumes an incredible variety of characters; most of them well planned, well supported, and well contrasted with each other. If there be any fault in this respect, it is one in which you are in no great danger of being imitated. Justly as your characters are drawn, perhaps they are too numerous. But I beg pardon; I fear it is quite in vain to preach economy to those who are come young to excessive and sudden opulence. I might trespass on your delicacy if I should fill my letter to you with what I fill my conversation to others. I should be troublesome to you alone if I should tell you all I feel and think on the natural vein of humour, the tender pathetic, the comprehensive and noble moral, and the sagacious observation, that appear quite throughout that extraordinary performance.’ To be addressed in such terms by such a man was enough to turn the head of any young writer; and this letter may be regarded as marking the topmost point in Fanny’s literary career.

Four months afterwards she encountered Mr. Burke again at Miss Monckton’s[54] assembly. The gathering was 124a brilliant one: most of the ladies present were going to the Duchess of Cumberland’s, and were in full dress, oppressed by the weight of their sacques and ruffles; but as soon as Burke and Sir Joshua Reynolds entered, Frances Burney had no eyes for anyone else. When the knight had paid his compliments, Burke sat down beside her, and a conversation ensued, in which the great man used the words to which we have referred. He began by repeating and amplifying the praises of his letter; and then, not to appear fulsome, proceeded to find fault: the famous masquerade he thought too long, and that something might be spared from Harrel’s grand assembly; he did not like Morrice’s part at the Pantheon, and he wished the conclusion either more happy or more miserable; ‘for in a work of imagination,’ said he, ‘there is no medium.’ But, he added, there was one further fault more serious than any he had mentioned, and that was the disposal of the book: why had not Mr. Briggs, the city gentleman of the novel, been sent for? he would have taken care that it should not be parted with so much below par. Had two thousand pounds, or any sum approaching that, been given for the copyright, the price could not have been considered insufficient. We are obliged, therefore, to conclude that the story told to the Edinburgh Reviewer was apocryphal.[55]

The list of Miss Burney’s friends continued to enlarge itself. In the winter of 1782-3, besides being made free of certain fashionable houses, such as Miss Monckton’s and Mrs. Walsingham’s,[56] she became known to the two ‘old 125wits,’ Owen Cambridge and Soame Jenyns,[57] to Erskine, the Wartons, Benjamin West, Jackson of Exeter, William Windham, Dr. Parr, Mrs. Delany, and a host of others, till she began ‘to grow most heartily sick of this continual round of visiting, and these eternal new acquaintances.’ Soame Jenyns came to meet her at a reception arranged by his special request, and, at seventy-eight, arrayed himself for the occasion in a Court suit of apricot-coloured silk, lined with white satin, making all the slow speed in his power to address her, as she entered, in a studied harangue on the honour, and the pleasure, and the what not, of seeing so celebrated an authoress; while the whole of a large company rose, and stood to listen to his compliments.

But the time was coming when Frances was to learn that life has its trials even for the most favoured children of fortune. In the spring of 1783, Mr. Crisp’s old enemy the gout fixed upon his head and chest; and, after an illness of some duration, he sank under the attack. His fits of gout had latterly become so constant that at first the fatal seizure caused little apprehension. In the early part of his sufferings Fanny sent frequent letters to cheer him. ‘God bless,’ she writes, ‘and restore you, my most dear daddy! You know not how kindly I take your thinking of me, and inquiring about me, in an illness that might so well make you forget us all; but Susan assures me your heart is as affectionate as ever to your ever and ever faithful and loving child.’ As soon as danger was declared, she hastened to Chesington. She attended the old man throughout his last few days; he called her, at parting, ‘the dearest thing to him on 126earth;’ and her passionate sorrow for his death excited the alarm, though not the jealousy, of her natural father.[58]

And this loss was not the only trouble of that year. Mrs. Thrale had for some time been meditating her foolish second marriage. As soon as ‘Cecilia’ was off her mind, Miss Burney had resumed her visits to Streatham. She at once found that her friend was changed. Mrs. Thrale had become absent, restless, moody. The secret of her attachment to Piozzi was not long in being disclosed to Fanny, who could give her comfort, though not sympathy. The latter remained long enough at Streatham to witness the gradual estrangement of her hostess from Dr. Johnson. One morning the Doctor accompanied his little Burney in the carriage to London: as they turned into Streatham Common, he exclaimed, pointing backwards: ‘That house is lost to me for ever!’ A few weeks later, the house was let to Lord Shelburne. Mrs. Thrale retired to Brighton, and afterwards coming to town, passed the winter in Argyle Street. Frances spent much time with her there. But in the beginning of April the uneasy widow went with her three eldest daughters to take up her abode at Bath, till she could make up her mind to complete the match which all her friends disapproved. Crisp’s illness becoming serious shortly afterwards, left Fanny no time at first to grieve over this separation. She felt it all the more on her return to St. Martin’s Street after her daddy’s death. And in the summer, Dr. Johnson’s health, which for some time had been steadily declining, was broken down by a stroke of paralysis. She visited him frequently at his house in Bolt Court. One evening, when she with 127her father and some others were sitting with him, he turned aside to her, and, grasping her hand, said: ‘The blister I have tried for my breath has betrayed some very bad tokens; but I will not terrify myself by talking of them. Ah, priez Dieu pour moi!’

One ray of comfort the close of 1783 brought with it. On the day on which the Ministry to which he belonged was dissolved, Mr. Burke appointed Dr. Burney organist of Chelsea Hospital, at the insignificant, though augmented salary of £50 a year, regretting that while he had been Paymaster-General, nothing more worthy of the Doctor’s acceptance had fallen to his disposal. About this incident Miss Burney writes: ‘You have heard the whole story of Mr. Burke, the Chelsea Hospital, and his most charming letter? To-day he called, and, as my father was out, inquired for me. He made a thousand apologies for breaking in upon me, but said the business was finally settled at the Treasury. Nothing could be more delicate, more elegant than his manner of doing this kindness. I don’t know whether he was most polite, or most friendly, in his whole behaviour to me. I could almost have cried when he said, “This is my last act in office.” He said it with so manly a cheerfulness, in the midst of undisguised regret. What a man he is!’

The record of 1784 in the Diary is very short. The chief incidents are the marriage of Mrs. Thrale to Piozzi, and the death of Dr. Johnson. Enough, and more than enough, has been written on the subject of the marriage. Most of the lady’s contemporaries spoke of it as if it had been some disgraceful offence. Many in later times have adopted the same tone. Dr. Burney had introduced Piozzi to the Thrales, and for this and other reasons, the Doctor and his family were disposed to be more lenient in their judgment. Dr. Burney said: ‘No one could blame 128Piozzi for accepting a gay rich widow. What could a man do better?’ And the singing-master was a quiet, inoffensive person. Still, as to the lady, it could not be forgotten that she had young daughters, whose prospects she had no right to prejudice by a match so unequal and so generally condemned. It is, therefore, not surprising that when the wedding took place about the middle of this year, and Mrs. Piozzi wrote, demanding cordial congratulations, Miss Burney was unable to reply with warmth enough to satisfy her. The intimate friendship and correspondence of six years, therefore, came to an end. Fanny, who was the last to write, attributed the rupture, at one time, to the cause just mentioned, and, at another, to the resentment of Piozzi, when informed of her constant opposition to the union.

Some months later, Miss Burney had her final interview with Dr. Johnson:

“Last Thursday, Nov. 25th, my father set me down at Bolt Court, while he went on upon business. I was anxious to again see poor Dr. Johnson, who has had terrible health since his return from Lichfield. He let me in, though very ill. He was alone, which I much rejoiced at: for I had a longer and more satisfactory conversation with him than I have had for many months. He was in rather better spirits, too, than I have lately seen him; but he told me he was going to try what sleeping out of town might do for him.

“‘I remember,’ said he, ‘that my wife, when she was near her end, poor woman, was also advised to sleep out of town; and when she was carried to the lodgings that had been prepared for her, she complained that the staircase was in very bad condition—for the plaster was beaten off the walls in many places. ‘Oh,’ said the man of the 129house, ‘that’s nothing but by the knocks against it of the coffins of the poor souls that have died in the lodgings!’

“He laughed, though not without apparent secret anguish, in telling me this. I felt extremely shocked, but, willing to confine my words at least to the literal story, I only exclaimed against the unfeeling absurdity of such a confession.

“‘Such a confession,’ cried he, ‘to a person then coming to try his lodging for her health, contains, indeed, more absurdity than we can well lay our account for.’

“I had seen Miss T. the day before.

“‘So,’ said he, ‘did I.’

“I then said: ‘Do you ever, sir, hear from her mother?’

“‘No,’ cried he, ‘nor write to her. I drive her quite from my mind. If I meet with one of her letters, I burn it instantly. I have burnt all I can find. I never speak of her, and I desire never to hear of her more. I drive her, as I said, wholly from my mind.’

“Yet, wholly to change this discourse, I gave him a history of the Bristol milk-woman,[59] and told him the tales I had heard of her writing so wonderfully, though she had read nothing but Young and Milton; ‘though those,’ I continued, ‘could never possibly, I should think, be the first authors with anybody. Would children understand them? and grown people who have not read are children in literature.’

“‘Doubtless,’ said he; ‘but there is nothing so little comprehended among mankind as what is genius. They give to it all, when it can be but a part. Genius is nothing more than knowing the use of tools; but there must be tools for it to use: a man who has spent all his 130life in this room will give a very poor account of what is contained in the next.’

“‘Certainly, sir; yet there is such a thing as invention; Shakespeare could never have seen a Caliban.’

“‘No; but he had seen a man, and knew, therefore, how to vary him to a monster. A man who would draw a monstrous cow, must first know what a cow commonly is; or how can he tell that to give her an ass’s head or an elephant’s tusk will make her monstrous? Suppose you show me a man who is a very expert carpenter; another will say he was born to be a carpenter—but what if he had never seen any wood? Let two men, one with genius, the other with none, look at an overturned waggon:—he who has no genius, will think of the waggon only as he sees it, overturned, and walk on; he who has genius, will paint it to himself before it was overturned,—standing still, and moving on, and heavy loaded, and empty; but both must see the waggon, to think of it at all.’

“How just and true all this, my dear Susy! He then grew animated, and talked on, upon this milk-woman, upon a once as famous shoemaker, and upon our immortal Shakespeare, with as much fire, spirit, wit, and truth of criticism and judgment, as ever yet I have heard him. How delightfully bright are his faculties, though the poor and infirm machine that contains them seems alarmingly giving way.

“Yet, all brilliant as he was, I saw him growing worse, and offered to go, which, for the first time I ever remember, he did not oppose; but, most kindly pressing both my hands:

“‘Be not,’ he said, in a voice of even tenderness, ‘be not longer in coming again for my letting you go now.’

“I assured him I would be the sooner, and was running 131off, but he called me back, in a solemn voice, and, in a manner the most energetic, said:

“‘Remember me in your prayers!’

“I longed to ask him to remember me, but did not dare. I gave him my promise, and, very heavily indeed, I left him. Great, good, and excellent that he is, how short a time will he be our boast! Ah, my dear Susy, I see he is going! This winter will never conduct him to a more genial season here! Elsewhere, who shall hope a fairer? I wish I had bid him pray for me; but it seemed to me presumptuous, though this repetition of so kind a condescension might, I think, have encouraged me.”

‘He wished to look on her once more; and on the day before his death she long remained in tears on the stairs leading to his bedroom, in the hope that she might be called in to receive his blessing. He was then sinking fast, and though he sent her an affectionate message, was unable to see her.’


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