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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Fanny Burney and her Friends » CHAPTER VI.
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Royal Visit to Nuneham—A Present from the Queen—Official Exhortations—Embarrassments at Nuneham—A Laborious Sunday—Hairdressing—The Court visits Oxford—Journey thither—Reception by the University—Address and Reply—Kissing Hands—Christchurch—Fatigues of the Suite—Refreshment under Difficulties—A Surprise—The Routine of Court Life—The Equerries—Draughts in the Palace—Early Prayers—Barley-water—The London Season—Mrs. Siddons—Mrs. Schwellenberg’s Apartments—Her Tame Frogs—Her Behaviour to Miss Burney—Cruel Treatment—A Change for the Better—Newspaper Reports—Conversation with the Queen—Miss Burney as Reader—Her Attainments, Tastes, and Powers.

A few days after the scene described at the end of our last chapter, the Court set out on a visit to Lord and Lady Harcourt at Nuneham. The arrangement was that the royal party should pass the first day with their host and hostess; spend the second and third in excursions to Oxford and Blenheim respectively, sleeping each night at Nuneham; and return the fourth day to Windsor. Miss Burney was informed that she was to be one of her Majesty’s suite. In making this communication to her, Mrs. Schwellenberg took occasion to say: ‘I tell you once, I shall do for you what I can; you are to have a gown!’ Seeing Fanny draw back in surprise at this abrupt speech, the important old lady added: ‘The Queen will give you a gown; the Queen says you are not rich.’ Offended at the grossness with which the intended gracious present was offered, our inexperienced Court servant declared a wish to decline it. Her superior instantly flew into a passion. ‘Miss Bernar,’ cried she, quite angrily, ‘I tell you once, when the Queen will give 168you a gown,[76] you must be humble, thankful, when you are Duchess of Ancaster!’ Before the journey to Nuneham took place, Fanny, rather unwisely, expressed her regret that she had some time previously neglected an opportunity of being introduced to the lady whose house she was about to visit; she had met Lord Harcourt, she said, and thought it might have smoothed her way to know something of his Countess also. She was promptly told that she was utterly insignificant—that, going with the Queen, she was sure of civil treatment; but that whether or not she had a servant, or any change of dress, was of no consequence. ‘There is no need,’ said the senior Robe-Keeper, ‘that you should be seen. I shall do everything that I can to assist you to appear for nobody.’

In fact, the whole expedition might have seemed to be planned for the purpose of convincing her that any importance she had once enjoyed was now absolutely gone. Their Majesties went to Nuneham to breakfast. Miss Burney followed in the afternoon, with Miss Planta, English teacher of the Princesses, Mrs. Thielky, the Queen’s wardrobe-woman, and one or two more of the royal attendants. On their arrival, they found the house to be ‘one of those straggling, half-new, half-old, half-comfortable, and half-forlorn mansions, that are begun in one generation and finished in another.’ We have a graphic and amusing description of accidents encountered and discomforts endured, before the hapless and helpless diarist was settled for the night: the being handed from her carriage by a common postilion; the deserted hall, where not even a porter was to be seen; the entire absence of a welcome, the whole family being in the 169Park, with the King and Queen and Princesses, and the mistress of the house having deputed no one to act for her; the want of assistance in searching for her apartment; the wanderings through unknown mazy passages; the ‘superfine men in yellow-laced liveries’ occasionally met sauntering along, who disdained to waste a word in answer to inquiries; the sitting down at length in despair in a room destined for one of the Princesses; the alarm at being surprised there by its owner and her sisters; the subsequent promises, only made to be broken, of guidance to the wished-for haven; and finally, when that haven had at last been reached, the humiliation of being summoned to supper by a gentleman-footman haughtily calling out from the foot of the stairs, ‘The equerries want the ladies!’ It is impossible to read the account of these ‘difficulties and disgraces’ without seeing that the shy, sensitive, flattered novel-writer had indeed mistaken her vocation when she accepted service in a royal household.

The next day was Sunday, and was appointed to be observed, after due attendance at Church, by a visit to the University of Oxford. Late on Saturday night, Miss Burney received the Queen’s commands to belong to the suite on the morrow, and rejoiced exceedingly that she had brought with her a new Chambéry gauze, instead of only the dress she wore, according to her Cerbera’s advice. We abridge Fanny’s narrative of her laborious Sabbath:

“August 13th.—At six o’clock my hairdresser, to my great satisfaction, arrived. Full two hours was he at work, yet was I not finished, when Swarthy, the Queen’s hairdresser, came rapping at my door, to tell me her Majesty’s hair was done, and she was waiting for me. I 170hurried as fast as I could, and ran down without any cap. She smiled at sight of my hasty attire, and said I should not be distressed about a hairdresser the next day, but employ Swarthy’s assistant, as soon as he had done with the Princesses: ‘You should have had him,’ she added, ‘to-day, if I had known you wanted him.’

“When her Majesty was dressed, all but the hat, she sent for the three Princesses; and the King came also. I felt very foolish with my uncovered head; but it was somewhat the less awkward, from its being very much a custom, in the Royal Family, to go without caps; though none that appear before them use such a freedom.

“As soon as the hat was on—‘Now, Miss Burney,’ said the Queen, ‘I won’t keep you; you had better go and dress too.’”

Breakfast and morning service followed, and then came the Oxford expedition:

“How many carriages there were, and how they were arranged, I observed not sufficiently to recollect; but the party consisted of their Majesties, the Princesses Royal, Augusta, and Elizabeth, the Duchess of Ancaster, Lord and Lady Harcourt, Lady Charlotte Bertie, and the two Miss Vernons. These last ladies are daughters of the late Lord Vernon, and sisters of Lady Harcourt. General Harcourt, Colonel Fairly, and Major Price, and Mr. Hagget, with Miss Planta and myself, completed the group. Miss Planta and I, of course, as the only undignified persons, brought up the rear.... The city of Oxford afforded us a very noble view on the road, and its spires, towers, and domes soon made me forget all the little objects of minor spleen that had been crossing me as I journeyed towards them; and, indeed, by the time I 171arrived in the midst of them, their grandeur, nobility, antiquity, and elevation impressed my mind so forcibly, that I felt, for the first time since my new situation had taken place, a rushing in of ideas that had no connection with it whatever. The roads were lined with decently-dressed people, and the high street was so crowded we were obliged to drive gently and carefully, to avoid trampling the people to death. Yet their behaviour was perfectly respectful and proper. Nothing could possibly be better conducted than the whole of this expedition.‘

The royal party were received by the Vice-Chancellor, and all the heads of colleges and professors then in residence, who conducted them in state to the Theatre, which was crowded with spectators. The King took his seat, with his head covered, on the Chancellor’s chair, the Queen and Princesses sitting below him to the left. An address, which was read by the Vice-Chancellor, contained, among other expressions of loyalty, the congratulations of the University to the King on his recent escape from the knife of Margaret Nicholson; at the same time touching on the distress which the attempt had occasioned the Queen, and paying a tribute to her amiable and virtuous character.

“The Queen could scarcely bear it, though she had already, I doubt not, heard it at Nuneham, as these addresses must be first read in private, to have the answers prepared. Nevertheless, this public tribute of loyalty to the King, and of respect to herself, went gratefully to her heart, and filled her eyes with tears—which she would not, however, encourage, but, smiling through them, dispersed them with her fan, with which she was repeatedly obliged to stop their course down her cheeks. 172The Princesses, less guarded, the moment their father’s danger was mentioned, wept with but little control....

“When the address was ended, the King took a paper from Lord Harcourt, and read his answer.... When he had done, he took off his hat, and bowed to the Chancellor and Professors, and delivered the answer to Lord Harcourt, who, walking backwards, descended the stairs, and presented it to the Vice-Chancellor....

“After this, the Vice-Chancellor and Professors begged for the honour of kissing the King’s hand. Lord Harcourt was again the backward messenger; and here followed a great mark of goodness in the King: he saw that nothing less than a thoroughbred old courtier, such as Lord Harcourt, could walk backwards down these steps, before himself, and in sight of so full a hall of spectators; and he therefore dispensed with being approached to his seat, and walked down himself into the area, where the Vice-Chancellor kissed his hand, and was imitated by every Professor and Doctor in the room.

“Notwithstanding this considerate good-nature in his Majesty, the sight, at times, was very ridiculous. Some of the worthy collegiates, unused to such ceremonies, and unaccustomed to such a presence, the moment they had kissed the King’s hand, turned their backs to him, and walked away as in any common room; others, attempting to do better, did still worse, by tottering and stumbling, and falling foul of those behind them; some, ashamed to kneel, took the King’s hand straight up to their mouths; others, equally off their guard, plumped down on both knees, and could hardly get up again; and many, in their confusion, fairly arose by pulling his Majesty’s hand to raise them....

“It was vacation time; there were therefore none of the students present....

173“At Christ Church, where we arrived at about three o’clock, in a large hall there was a cold collation prepared for their Majesties and the Princesses. It was at the upper end of the hall. I could not see of what it consisted, though it would have been very agreeable, after so much standing and sauntering, to have given my opinion of it in an experimental way. Their Majesties and the Princesses sat down to this table; as well satisfied, I believe, as any of their subjects so to do. The Duchess of Ancaster and Lady Harcourt stood behind the chairs of the Queen and the Princess Royal. There were no other ladies of sufficient rank to officiate for Princesses Augusta and Elizabeth. Lord Harcourt stood behind the King’s chair; and the Vice-Chancellor, and the Head of Christ Church, with salvers in their hands, stood near the table, and ready to hand to the three noble waiters whatever was wanted: while the other Reverend Doctors and Learned Professors stood aloof, equally ready to present to the Chancellor and the Master whatever they were to forward.

“We, meanwhile, untitled attendants, stood at the other end of the room, forming a semicircle, and all strictly facing the Royal collationers.... A whisper was soon buzzed through the semicircle of the deplorable state of our appetite; and presently it reached the ears of some of the worthy Doctors. Immediately a new whisper was circulated, which made its progress with great vivacity, to offer us whatever we would wish, and to beg us to name what we chose. Tea, coffee, and chocolate, were whispered back. The method of producing, and the means of swallowing them, were much more difficult to settle than the choice of what was acceptable. Major Price and Colonel Fairly, however, seeing a very large table close to the wainscot behind us, desired our 174refreshments might be privately conveyed there, behind the semicircle, and that, while all the group backed very near it, one at a time might feed, screened by all the rest from observation. I suppose I need not inform you, my dear Susan, that to eat in presence of any of the Royal Family, is as much hors d’usage as to be seated. This plan had speedy success, and the very good Doctors soon, by sly degrees and with watchful caution, covered the whole table with tea, coffee, chocolate, cakes, and bread and butter....

“The Duchess of Ancaster and Lady Harcourt, as soon as the first serving attendance was over, were dismissed from the royal chairs, and most happy to join our group, and partake of our repast. The Duchess, extremely fatigued with standing, drew a small body of troops before her, that she might take a few minutes’ rest on a form by one of the doors; and Lady Charlotte Bertie did the same, to relieve an ankle which she had unfortunately sprained. ‘Poor Miss Burney!’ cried the good-natured Duchess, ‘I wish she could sit down, for she is unused to this work. She does not know yet what it is to stand for five hours following, as we do....’

“In one of the colleges I stayed so long in an old chapel, lingering over antique monuments, that all the party were vanished before I missed them, except Doctors and Professors; for we had a train of those everywhere; and I was then a little surprised by the approach of one of them, saying, ‘You seem inclined to abide with us, Miss Burney?’—and then another, in an accent of facetious gallantry, cried, ‘No, no; don’t let us shut up Miss Burney among old tombs!—No, no!’”

At Magdalene College, Miss Burney and two or three other members of the suite, having slipped away to a 175small parlour, sat down to rest, and enjoy some apricots which Mr. Fairly had brought in his pockets. Suddenly the door opened; the Queen entered; the truants started up, and tried to look as if sitting was a posture unknown to them; while desperate exertions were made to hide the forbidden fruit. ‘I discovered,’ says Fanny, ‘that our appetites were to be supposed annihilated, at the same time that our strength was to be invincible.’ However, her fatigues ended at last, and she was permitted to spend the Monday in peace among the pictures and gardens of Nuneham, not being commanded to join in the excursion to Blenheim.

After this expedition, the year wore on slowly and tediously. There were more royal birthdays to be kept, with the usual terracings and concerts. In alternate weeks, the Court removed from Windsor to Kew for two or three days, and again returned to Windsor. There were journeys from Kew to St. James’s, and back, on the days appointed for Drawing-rooms. But the ordinary routine of Windsor and Kew was monotony itself. ‘The household always rose, rode, dined at stated intervals. Day after day was the same. At the same hour at night the King kissed his daughters’ jolly cheeks; the Princesses kissed their mother’s hand; and Madame Thielky brought the royal nightcap. At the same hour the equerries and women-in-waiting had their little dinner, and cackled over their tea. The King had his backgammon or his evening concert; the equerries yawned themselves to death in the anteroom.’[77] And it must be remembered that poor Miss Burney had only a partial share even in this unvaried round of existence. Her views of the Court proper were confined to glimpses through half-opened doors, and down the vistas of long corridors. 176She was not even permitted to stand at the entrance of the room where ‘nothing but Handel was played;’ and when Mrs. Siddons once came to the Lodge to read a play, the Keepers of the Robes were only allowed access to ‘a convenient adjoining room.’ She was licensed to receive hardly anyone from the outer world, except her father and sisters, Mrs. Delany, and the Lockes; beyond these, she had to use the utmost caution in admitting visitors; while her associates within the palace were restricted to the King’s equerries, Mr. Turbulent, Mrs. Schwellenberg, Miss Planta, and a few other persons in positions resembling her own. She saw no other company but the strangers who from time to time were sent to dine at Mrs. Schwellenberg’s table.

His Majesty’s equerries were certainly not selected for their brilliant attainments, or their powers of conversation, or even for their polished manners. One of these gentlemen, a Colonel Goldsworthy, whom Miss Burney had not before seen, arrived for his turn of duty at the end of September. ‘He seems to me,’ says the Diary, ‘a man of but little cultivation or literature, but delighting in a species of dry humour, in which he shines most successfully, by giving himself up for its favourite butt.’ He soon began to warn Fanny of the discomforts of winter service in the ill-built and ill-contrived Queen’s Lodge. ‘Wait till November and December, and then you’ll get a pretty taste of them.... Let’s see, how many blasts must you have every time you go to the Queen? First, one upon opening your door; then another, as you get down the three steps from it, which are exposed to the wind from the garden-door downstairs; then a third, as you turn the corner to enter the passage; then you come plump upon another from the hall door; then comes another, fit to knock you down, as you turn 177to the upper passage; then, just as you turn towards the Queen’s room comes another; and last, a whiff from the King’s stairs, enough to blow you half a mile off. One thing,’ he added, ‘pray let me caution you about—don’t go to early prayers in November; if you do, that will completely kill you!... When the Princesses, used to it as they are, get regularly knocked up before this business is over, off they drop one by one:—first the Queen deserts us; then Princess Elizabeth is done for; then Princess Royal begins coughing; then Princess Augusta gets the snuffles; and all the poor attendants, my poor sister[78] at their head, drop off, one after another, like so many snuffs of candles: till at last, dwindle, dwindle, dwindle—not a soul goes to the Chapel but the King, the parson, and myself; and there we three freeze it out together!’

That the King was considerate to his attendants, the following story by the same elegant wit will testify. It was told after a hard day’s hunting: “‘After all our labours,’ said he, ‘home we come, with not a dry thread about us, sore to the very bone, and forced to smile all the time, and then:

“‘Here, Goldsworthy!’ cries his Majesty; so up I comes to him, bowing profoundly, and my hair dripping down to my shoes. ‘Goldsworthy, I say,’ he cries, ‘will you have a little barley-water?’

“‘And, pray, did you drink it?’

“‘I drink it?—drink barley-water? No, no; not come to that neither.’ But there it was, sure enough!—in a jug fit for a sick-room; just such a thing as you put upon a hob in a chimney, for some poor miserable soul that keeps his bed! And: ‘Here, Goldsworthy,’ says his Majesty, ‘here’s the barley-water!’

178“‘And did the King drink it himself?’

“‘Yes, God bless his Majesty! but I was too humble a subject to do the same as the King!’”

In January, 1787, the Court removed to London for the winter. During their residence in the capital, the Royal Family occupied Buckingham House, then called the Queen’s House. But the season in town was interrupted by short weekly visits to Windsor. The only Sundays of the year which George III. spent in London were the six Sundays of Lent. Miss Burney went to the play once or twice, and also attended ‘the Tottenham Street oratorios.’ She had more than one illness in the early part of this year; but her custodians courteously entreated their prisoner, and gave her liberty to go to her friends to refresh herself. Under this permission, she had opportunities of meeting Mrs. Cholmondeley, Sir Joshua, Mrs. Montagu, Mrs. Vesey, Horace Walpole,[79] and sundry other old acquaintances. But at the beginning of June the relaxations of this pleasant time, as well as the fatiguing journeys backwards and forwards to Windsor, came to an end, and the household were again settled in the Upper Lodge. The rest of the year passed in much the same way as the summer and autumn of 1786 had done, but with fewer noticeable incidents.

In August occurred the commanded visit of Mrs. Siddons, to which we have before referred:

“In the afternoon ... her Majesty came into the room, and, after a little German discourse with Mrs. 179Schwellenberg, told me Mrs. Siddons had been ordered to the Lodge, to read a play, and desired I would receive her in my room.

“I felt a little queer in the office; I had only seen her twice or thrice, in large assemblies, at Miss Monckton’s, and at Sir Joshua Reynolds’s, and never had been introduced to her, nor spoken with her. However, in this dead and tame life I now lead, such an interview was by no means undesirable.

“I had just got to the bottom of the stairs, when she entered the passage gallery. I took her into the tea-room, and endeavoured to make amends for former distance and taciturnity, by an open and cheerful reception. I had heard from sundry people (in old days) that she wished to make the acquaintance; but ... now that we came so near, I was much disappointed in my expectations.... I found her the Heroine of a Tragedy—sublime, elevated, and solemn. In face and person, truly noble and commanding; in manners, quiet and stiff; in voice, deep and dragging; and in conversation, formal, sententious, calm, and dry. I expected her to have been all that is interesting; the delicacy and sweetness with which she seizes every opportunity to strike and to captivate upon the stage had persuaded me that her mind was formed with that peculiar susceptibility which, in different modes, must give equal powers to attract and to delight in common life. But I was very much mistaken. As a stranger, I must have admired her noble appearance and beautiful countenance, and have regretted that nothing in her conversation kept pace with their promise; and, as a celebrated actress, I had still only to do the same. Whether fame and success have spoiled her, or whether she only possesses the skill of representing and embellishing 180materials with which she is furnished by others, I know not; but still I remain disappointed.

“She was scarcely seated, and a little general discourse begun, before she told me—all at once—that ‘there was no part she had ever so much wished to act as that of Cecilia.’ I made some little acknowledgment, and hurried to ask when she had seen Sir Joshua Reynolds, Miss Palmer, and others with whom I knew her acquainted. The play she was to read was ‘The Provoked Husband.’ She appeared neither alarmed nor elated by her summons, but calmly to look upon it as a thing of course, from her celebrity.”

The company that assembled in Mrs. Schwellenberg’s apartments occupied their leisure hours with small-talk, mild flirtations, and trifling amusements, varied by occasional misunderstandings. The first Keeper of the Robes domineered over them all, and her rule was a savage tyranny, tempered by ill-health. Her infirmities sometimes detained her in London for weeks together. During her absence, her junior presided at the dinner-table, and made tea for the equerries. Great was the joy whenever the old lady went up to town to consult her physician. Then Mr. Turbulent,[80] more gay and flighty than beseemed a married clergyman,[81] would practise on the patent prudery of Fanny’s character by broaching strange theories of morality, and breaking out in wild rhapsodies of half-amatory admiration. Then the colonels-in-waiting, relieved from the watchful eyes of Cerbera, exerted themselves for the entertainment of the fair tea-maker. They were not always successful. Miss Burney cared but little for 181Colonel Goldsworthy’s rough humour, and still less for the vocal performances of a certain Colonel Manners, who, in love with his own voice, and with what he called the songs that he heard at church, insisted on regaling his friends with snatches from Tate and Brady, married to the immortal notes of the National Anthem. Fanny once or twice caused some unpleasantness by endeavouring to escape from the duty of receiving the equerries in the evening. As soon as the Schwellenberg returned, she was again thrown into the background. Destitute of every attraction, yet constantly demanding notice, the principal could not bear to see the least attention bestowed on anyone else. ‘Apparently,’ says the Diary, ‘she never wishes to hear my voice but when we are tête-à-tête, and then never is in good-humour when it is at rest.’ When in company, she would sometimes talk about a pair of tame frogs which she kept, and fall into an ecstasy while describing ‘their ladder, their table, and their amiable ways of snapping live flies.’ ‘And I can make them croak when I will,’ she would say, ‘when I only go so to my snuff-box—knock, knock, knock—they croak all what I please.’ Rather to our surprise, we hear of this lady being once engaged in reading: the author was Josephus, ‘which is the only book in favour at present, and serves for all occasions, and is quoted to solve all difficulties.’ But the sole effectual mode of amusing her, after the gentlemen had retired, was to join her in a game at cards. Fanny disliked cards, and knew little of trumps or honours; but to avert threatened attacks of spasms, she was at length fain to waive her objections, and learn piquet. When in the least crossed, Mrs. Schwellenberg put no restraint on her temper, language, or demeanour. If her servants kept her waiting for her coach, she would talk of having them transported; 182if Miss Burney spoke of taking tea with Mrs. Delany, she would leave her unhelped at the dinner-table.

Such was la Présidente. More than once, Miss Burney felt her ill-usage so intolerable that she was only held back from resigning her appointment by reluctance to mortify her father. The most violent dispute between them occurred towards the end of November, 1787, when, during a journey to town for a Drawing-Room, Mrs. Schwellenberg had insisted upon keeping the window of the carriage on her companion’s side open, though a sharp wind was blowing, which before their arrival in London set up an inflammation in poor Fanny’s eyes. The scene on the journey back is thus described:

“The next day, when we assembled to return to Windsor, Mr. de Luc was in real consternation at sight of my eyes; and I saw an indignant glance at my coadjutrix, that could scarce content itself without being understood....

“Some business of Mrs. Schwellenberg’s occasioned a delay of the journey, and we all retreated back; and when I returned to my room, Miller, the old head housemaid, came to me, with a little neat tin saucepan in her hand, saying, ‘Pray, ma’am, use this for your eyes: ’tis milk and butter, such as I used to make for Madame Haggerdorn when she travelled in the winter with Mrs. Schwellenberg.’

“I really shuddered when she added, that all that poor woman’s misfortunes with her eyes, which, from inflammation after inflammation, grew nearly blind, were attributed by herself to these journeys, in which she was forced to have the glass down at her side in all weathers, and frequently the glasses behind her also!

“Upon my word this account of my predecessor was 183the least exhilarating intelligence I could receive! Goter told me, afterwards, that all the servants in the house had remarked I was going just the same way!

“Miss Planta presently ran into my room, to say she had hopes we should travel without this amiable being; and she had left me but a moment when Mrs. Stainforth succeeded her, exclaiming, ‘Oh, for Heaven’s sake, don’t leave her behind; for Heaven’s sake, Miss Burney, take her with you!’

“’Twas impossible not to laugh at these opposite interests; both, from agony of fear, breaking through all restraint.

“Soon after, however, we all assembled again, and got into the coach. Mr. de Luc, who was my vis-à-vis, instantly pulled up the glass.

“‘Put down that glass!’ was the immediate order.

“He affected not to hear her, and began conversing.

“She enraged quite tremendously, calling aloud to be obeyed without delay. He looked compassionately at me, and shrugged his shoulders, and said, ‘But, ma’am——”

“‘Do it, Mr. de Luc, when I tell you! I will have it! When you been too cold, you might bear it!’

“‘It is not for me, ma’am, but poor Miss Burney.’

“‘O, poor Miss Burney might bear it the same! put it down, Mr. de Luc! without, I will get out! put it down, when I tell you! It is my coach! I will have it selfs! I might go alone in it, or with one, or with what you call nobody, when I please!’

“Frightened for good Mr. de Luc, and the more for being much obliged to him, I now interfered, and begged him to let down the glass. Very reluctantly he complied, and I leant back in the coach, and held up my muff to my eyes.

184“What a journey ensued! To see that face when lighted up with fury is a sight for horror! I was glad to exclude it by my muff.

“Miss Planta alone attempted to speak. I did not think it incumbent on me to ‘make the agreeable,’ thus used; I was therefore wholly dumb: for not a word, not an apology, not one expression of being sorry for what I suffered, was uttered. The most horrible ill-humour, violence, and rudeness, were all that were shown. Mr. de Luc was too much provoked to take his usual method of passing all off by constant talk: and as I had never seen him venture to appear provoked before, I felt a great obligation to his kindness.

“When we were about half-way, we stopped to water the horses. He then again pulled up the glass, as if from absence. A voice of fury exclaimed, ‘Let it down! without, I won’t go!’

“‘I am sure,’ cried he, ‘all Mrs. de Luc’s plants will be killed by this frost!’

“For the frost was very severe indeed.

“Then he proposed my changing places with Miss Planta, who sat opposite Mrs. Schwellenberg, and consequently on the sheltered side.

“‘Yes!’ cried Mrs. Schwellenberg, ‘Miss Burney might sit there, and so she ought!’

“I told her briefly I was always sick in riding backwards.

“‘Oh, ver well! when you don’t like it, don’t do it. You might bear it when you like it! What did the poor Haggerdorn bear it! when the blood was all running down from her eyes!’

“This was too much! ‘I must take, then,’ I cried, ‘the more warning!’”

185Even this quarrel blew over. Mrs. Schwellenberg[82] continued to look black, and hurl thunderbolts, as long as the peccant eyes remained inflamed, but as these gradually grew well, her brows cleared and her incivility wore off, till the sufferer became far more in favour than she had ever presumed to think herself till that time. She was$1‘$2’$3at every other word; no one else was listened to if she would speak, and no one else was accepted for a partner at piquet if she would play. Fanny found no cause to which she could attribute this change, and believed the whole mere matter of caprice.

In the autumn of 1787, the newspapers began to make frequent mention of Miss Burney’s name. Paragraphs appeared regretting her long silence, and the employment to which it was supposed to be attributable.[83] Fanny had many regrets connected with her situation: she lamented her dependence on her odious colleague; she lamented the inferiority of most of her associates; she lamented her separation from her old friends; but we have no reason to think that she repined at the want of liberty to print and publish. At least we cannot discover any passage in her Diary indicating such a feeling. Presently the paragraphs proceeded to mingle rumours with regrets. The ‘World’ was informed that Miss Burney ‘had resigned her place about the Queen, and had been promoted to attend the Princesses, an office far more suited to her character and abilities.’ Then followed 186a contradiction. ‘The rumour of resignation was premature, and only arose from thoughts of the benefit the education of the Princesses might reap from Miss Burney’s virtues and accomplishments.’ Such speculations made it needful for their subject to explain herself to the Queen. Fanny hastened to repudiate all participation in the idea that it could be promotion to her to be transferred from the service of her Majesty to that of the Princesses; she disclaimed, with equal warmth, having the slightest wish for such a transference. There can be no doubt that she was perfectly sincere. The Queen, she felt, had some regard for her, and she had a decided attachment to the Queen. ‘Oh,’ she sighed, ‘were there no Mrs. Schwellenberg!’

One cannot help wondering if the question whether some more worthy position at Court might not be found for Miss Burney occurred to the Queen, or to herself, at this interview. If such a thought did present itself, it does not seem to have been mentioned by either. Fanny had early conceived the notion that the Queen intended to employ her as an English reader. She was not altogether wrong. She had been occasionally called on to read, but the result did not prove very satisfactory. At the first trial her voice was quite unmanageable; when she had concluded, the Queen talked of the Spectator she had read, but forebore saying anything of any sort about the reader. Of a subsequent attempt we have this record: ‘Again I read a little to the Queen—two Tatlers; both happened to be very stupid; neither of them Addison’s, and therefore reader and reading were much on a par: for I cannot arrive at ease in this exhibition to her Majesty; and where there is fear or constraint, how deficient, if not faulty, is every performance!’ For the office of preceptress to the Princesses she was even less fitted 187than for that of reader to their mother. Probably Mrs. Goldsworthy and Miss Planta were much better qualified to instruct their young charges than Miss Burney would have been. This may be confessed without the slightest reflection on her extraordinary talents. She could afford to have it known that her education had been neglected. It was nothing that she had withdrawn rather ungraciously from Johnson’s Latin lessons. It was little that she did not understand a word of the German which the Royal Family commonly spoke among themselves. Hardly any Englishwomen in those days read Latin, or were acquainted with the language of Goethe and Wieland. But Miss Burney had not even a strong taste for reading. At the height of her fame, her knowledge of ordinary English authors was surprisingly limited. Queen Charlotte, who read a good deal in French and English, as well as in German, was disappointed by the scanty furniture of her attendant’s book-shelves. And whenever her Majesty or anyone else at Court mentioned any standard or current work in her presence, it almost invariably happened that she had not read it. One evening, Cowper’s ‘Task’ was referred to, and she was asked if she knew the poem; ‘Only by character,’ was her answer. She had not even that amount of acquaintance with Churchill’s Satires, the very existence of which seems to have been unknown to her. Akenside’s works she knew of only by some quotations which she had heard from Mr. Locke. It may, perhaps, be urged that Cowper was then quite a new writer, and that the fame of Mark Akenside and Charles Churchill, though bright when she was a child, had become dim before she grew up. Well, then, take Goldsmith. No poems were more popular than Oliver’s when Fanny began to see the world in Martin’s Street; yet we have her confession that she never read the ‘Traveller,’ 188or ‘The Deserted Village,’ till a friend made her a present of them in 1790.[84] This being so, we cannot wonder that she had never heard of Falconer’s ‘Shipwreck’ when Colonel Digby produced a copy of that work. She appears to have been barely aware of Cumberland’s ‘Observer,’ a production in which she herself and most of her friends were referred to, until the Queen read some passages to her, and afterwards lent her the volumes. She had not seen Hawkins’s ‘Life of Johnson’ when the King first mentioned it to her, and ‘talked it over with great candour and openness.’ Nor did she take much interest in literary questions. The Scotch ballad of ‘The Gaberlunzie Man,’ then lately printed in Germany, she threw aside almost contemptuously, though it had been lent her by the Queen. About Shakspeare her views were those of a most loyal subject. She reads Hamlet to Mrs. Delany, and this is her comment: ‘How noble a play it is, considered in parts! how wild and how improbable, taken as a whole! But there are speeches, from time to time, of such exquisite beauty of language, sentiment, and pathos, that I could wade through the most thorny of roads to arrive at them.’ The Queen, as Thackeray has observed, could give shrewd opinions about books, and we suspect she presently learned to value her second Robe-Keeper for her brightness of intelligence, her powers of description, and her lively humour, rather than for the solidity or the variety of her attainments.


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