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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Fanny Burney and her Friends » CHAPTER X.
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Royal Visit to Weymouth—Lyndhurst—Village Loyalty—Arrival at Weymouth—Bathing to Music—Mrs. Gwynn—Mrs. Siddons—The Royal Party at the Rooms—First Sight of Mr. Pitt—The Marquis of Salisbury—Royal Tour—Visit to Longleat—Mrs. Delany—Bishop Ken—Tottenham Park—Return to Windsor—Progress of the French Revolution—Colonel Digby’s Marriage—Miss Burney’s Situation—A Senator—Tax on Bachelors—Reading to the Queen—Miss Burney’s Melancholy—Proposal for her Retirement—Her Tedious Solitude—Her Literary Inactivity—Her Declining Health—A Friendly Cabal—Windham and the Literary Club—James Boswell—Miss Burney’s Memorial to the Queen—Leave of Absence Proposed—The Queen and Mrs. Schwellenberg—Serious Illness of Miss Burney—Discussions on her Retirement—A Day at the Hastings Trial—The Defence—A Lively Scene—The Duke of Clarence—Parting with the Royal Family—Miss Burney receives a Pension—Her Final Retirement.

On the 25th of June the Court set out on a progress from Windsor to Weymouth. Miss Burney and Miss Planta, as was usual on these occasions, were of the suite; the Schwellenberg, as usual, remained behind. ‘The crowds increased as we advanced, and at Winchester the town was one head.’ At Romsey, on the steps of the Town Hall, a band of musicians, some in coarse brown coats and red neckcloths, some even in smock-frocks, made a chorus of ‘God save the King,’ in which a throng of spectators joined with shouts that rent the air. ‘Carriages of all sorts lined the roadside—chariots, chaises, landaus, carts, waggons, whiskies, gigs, phaetons—mixed and intermixed, filled within and surrounded without by faces all glee and delight.’ On the verge of the New Forest the King was met by a party of foresters, habited in green, with bows and bugles, who, according to ancient custom, 252presented him with a pair of milk-white greyhounds, wearing silver collars, and led by silken cords.

Arrived at Lyndhurst, he drove to the old hunting-seat of Charles II., then tenanted by the Duke of Gloucester. “It is a straggling, inconvenient old house,” writes Fanny, “but delightfully situated in a village—looking, indeed, at present, like a populous town, from the amazing concourse of people that have crowded into it.... During the King’s dinner, which was in a parlour looking into the garden, he permitted the people to come to the window; and their delight and rapture in seeing their monarch at table, with the evident hungry feeling it occasioned, made a contrast of admiration and deprivation truly comic. They crowded, however, so excessively, that this can be permitted no more. They broke down all the paling, and much of the hedges, and some of the windows, and all by eagerness and multitude, for they were perfectly civil and well-behaved.... We continued at Lyndhurst five days.... On the Sunday we all went to the parish church; and after the service, instead of a psalm, imagine our surprise to hear the whole congregation join in ‘God save the King!’ Misplaced as this was in a church, its intent was so kind, loyal, and affectionate, that I believe there was not a dry eye amongst either singers or hearers.”

On the 30th of June the royal party quitted Lyndhurst, and arrived at Weymouth in the course of the evening. ‘The journey was one scene of festivity and rejoicing.’ The change of air, the bustle of travelling, the beauty of the summer landscapes, the loyalty of the population, had restored Fanny’s tone, and brought back the glow she had experienced at the time of the King’s convalescence. Her enthusiasm lent a touch of enchantment to everything she saw. Salisbury and Blandford welcomed their sovereign with displays and acclamations that fairly carried her away. At Dorchester the windows and roofs of the 253quaint old houses seemed packed with eager faces. ‘Girls, with chaplets, beautiful young creatures, strewed the entrance of various villages with flowers.’

Nor were the good people of Weymouth and Melcomb Regis a whit behind in loyalty, though greatly at a loss how to vary the expression of their feelings. “Not a child could we meet that had not a bandeau round its head, cap or hat, of ‘God save the King’; all the bargemen wore it in cockades; and even the bathing-women had it in large coarse girdles round their waists. It is printed in golden letters upon most of the bathing-machines, and in various scrolls and devices it adorns every shop, and almost every house, in the two towns.... Nor is this all. Think but of the surprise of his Majesty when, the first time of his bathing, he had no sooner popped his royal head under water than a band of music, concealed in a neighbouring machine, struck up, ‘God save great George our King’! One thing, however, was a little unlucky:—When the mayor and burgesses came with the address, they requested leave to kiss hands. This was graciously accorded; but the mayor advancing in a common way, to take the Queen’s hand, as he might that of any lady mayoress, Colonel Gwynn, who stood by, whispered:

“‘You must kneel, sir.’

“He found, however, that he took no notice of this hint, but kissed the Queen’s hand erect. As he passed him, in his way back, the Colonel said:

“‘You should have knelt, sir!’

“‘Sir,’ answered the poor Mayor, ‘I cannot.’

“‘Everybody does, sir.’

“‘Sir,—I have a wooden leg!’

“But the absurdity of the matter followed—all the rest did the same; taking the same privilege, by the example, without the same or any cause!”

254Miss Burney’s way of life at Weymouth seems to have been much the same as if she had belonged to a private party. “I have here a very good parlour, but dull from its aspect. Nothing but the sea at Weymouth affords any life or spirit. My bedroom is in the attics. Nothing like living at a Court for exaltation. Yet even with this gratification, which extends to Miss Planta, the house will only hold the females of the party.... It is my intention to cast away all superfluous complaints into the main ocean, which I think quite sufficiently capacious to hold them; and really my little frame will find enough to carry and manage without them.... His Majesty is in delightful health, and much improved in spirits. All agree he never looked better.... The Queen is reading Mrs. Piozzi’s ‘Tour’ to me, instead of my reading it to her. She loves reading aloud, and in this work finds me an able commentator. How like herself, how characteristic is every line!—Wild, entertaining, flighty, inconsistent, and clever!” As at Cheltenham, much of the stiffness of Windsor etiquette was thrown aside. The King and his family spent most of their time in walking or riding, and the Queen required but little attendance. Now and again the royal party varied the usual amusements of a watering-place by a visit to the Magnificent line-of-battle ship, stationed at the entrance of the bay, by a cruise in the Southampton frigate, which lay further in, or by an excursion to Dorchester, Lulworth Castle, or Sherborne Castle. During these intervals, the Robe-Keeper was left to her own occupations. She passed much of her leisure with the wife of the equerry, Mrs. Gwynn, Goldsmith’s ‘Jessamy Bride,’ who had many stories to tell of her old admirer,[102] and could exchange anecdotes with Fanny of 255Johnson, Baretti, the Thrales, Sir Joshua and his nieces. Strolling with this acquaintance one morning on the sands, Miss Burney “overtook a lady of very majestic port and demeanour, who solemnly returned Mrs. Gwynn’s salutation, and then addressed herself to me with similar gravity. I saw a face I knew, and of very uncommon beauty, but did not immediately recollect it was Mrs. Siddons. Her husband was with her, and a sweet child. I wished to have tried if her solemnity would have worn away by length of conversation: but I was obliged to hasten home.”

The great actress, as she told Fanny, had come to Weymouth solely for her health; but she could not resist the royal command to appear at the little theatre, where Mrs. Wells and Quick were already performing. “The King,” says the Diary, “has taken the centre front box for himself, and family, and attendants. The side boxes are too small. The Queen ordered places for Miss Planta and me, which are in the front row of a box next but one to the royals. Thus, in this case, our want of rank to be in their public suite gives us better seats than those high enough to stand behind them!

“July 29th.—We went to the play, and saw Mrs. Siddons in Rosalind. She looked beautifully, but too large for that shepherd’s dress; and her gaiety sits not naturally upon her—it seems more like disguised gravity. I must own my admiration for her confined to her tragic powers; and there it is raised so high that I feel mortified, in a degree, to see her so much fainter attempts and success in comedy.”

A few days later we read that Mrs. Siddons, as Lady Townly, in her looks and the tragic part was exquisite; and again: “Mrs. Siddons performed Mrs. Oakley. What pity thus to throw away her talents! But the 256Queen dislikes tragedy; and the honour to play before the Royal Family binds her to the little credit acquired by playing comedy.

“Sunday, August 9th.—The King had a council yesterday, which brought most of the great officers of State to Weymouth. This evening her Majesty desired Miss Planta and me to go to the rooms, whither they commonly go themselves on Sunday evenings; and after looking round them, and speaking where they choose, they retire to tea in an inner apartment with their own party, but leave the door open, both to see and be seen. The rooms are convenient and spacious: we found them very full. As soon as the royal party came, a circle was formed, and they moved round it, just as before the ball at St. James’s, the King one way, with his Chamberlain, the new-made Marquis of Salisbury,[103] and the Queen the other, with the Princesses, Lady Courtown, etc. The rest of the attendants planted themselves round in the circle. I had now the pleasure, for the first time, to see Mr. Pitt; but his appearance is his least recommendation; it is neither noble nor expressive.”

Three days later occurs a significant entry:

“Wednesday, August 12th.—This is the Prince of Wales’s birthday; but it has not been kept.”

On the 13th the royal party left Weymouth for Exeter, where they arrived to a late dinner. Two days afterwards they proceeded through a fertile and varied country to Saltram, the seat of Earl Morley, a minor. All along the route, the enthusiasm of loyalty which had accompanied the King from Windsor continued undiminished. Arches of flowers were erected at every town, with such devices as rustic ingenuity could imagine, to express the welcome 257of the inhabitants. Everywhere there were crowds, cheers, singing, peals of bells, rejoicings, garlands, and decorations. The view from Saltram commanded Plymouth Sound, Mount Edgecombe, and a wide stretch of the fine adjacent country. Visits were made from this noble house to the great naval port, to the beauties of the famous Mount, to the woods and steeps of Maristow, and the antique curiosities of Cothele on the banks of the Tamar. On the 27th the Court quitted Saltram for Weymouth, and in the middle of September finally departed from Weymouth on its return to Windsor. Two nights and the intervening day were spent at Longleat, the seat of the Marquis of Bath. “Longleat,” writes Miss Burney, “was formerly the dwelling of Lord Lansdowne, uncle to Mrs. Delany; and here, at this seat, that heartless uncle, to promote some political views, sacrificed his incomparable niece, at the age of seventeen, marrying her to an unwieldy, uncultivated country esquire, near sixty years of age, and scarce ever sober—his name Pendarves. With how sad an awe, in recollecting her submissive unhappiness, did I enter these doors!—and with what indignant hatred did I look at the portrait of the unfeeling Earl, to whom her gentle repugnance, shown by almost incessant tears, was thrown away, as if she, her person, and her existence, were nothing in the scale, where the disposition of a few boroughs opposed them! Yet was this the famous Granville—the poet, the fine gentleman, the statesman, the friend and patron of Pope, of whom he wrote:
‘What Muse for Granville can refuse to sing?’

Mine, I am sure, for one.”

The house, at the time of this visit, though magnificent, and of an immense magnitude, was very much out of repair, and by no means cheerful or comfortable. 258Gloomy grandeur, Fanny thought, was the character of the building and its fitting-up. “My bedroom,” she says, “was furnished with crimson velvet, bed included, yet so high, though only the second story, that it made me giddy to look into the park, and tired to wind up the flight of stairs. It was formerly the favourite room, the housekeeper told me, of Bishop Ken, who put on his shroud in it before he died. Had I fancied I had seen his ghost, I might have screamed my voice away, unheard by any assistant to lay it; for so far was I from the rest of the mansion, that not the lungs of Mr. Bruce could have availed me.” The last place at which the King stopped on his homeward journey was Tottenham Park, the seat of the Earl of Ailesbury. Here occurred an instance of the enormous expense to which the great nobles sometimes went in entertaining their sovereign. ‘The good lord of the mansion put up a new bed for the King and Queen that cost him £900.’

On September 18 the Court arrived at Windsor. ‘Deadly dead sank my heart’ is our traveller’s record of her sensation on re-entering the detested dining-room. Nothing happened during the remainder of the year to raise her spirits. In October, the days began to remind her of the terrible miseries of the preceding autumn. She found ‘a sort of recollective melancholy always ready to mix’ with her thankfulness for the King’s continued good health. And about the same time disquieting news came from over the water of the march to Versailles, the return to Paris, and the shouts of the hungry and furious poissardes proclaiming the arrival of ‘the baker, his wife, and the little apprentice.’ Events of this kind could not but excite uneasiness at any Court, however popular for the time. These shadows were presently succeeded by another, equally undefined, but of 259a more personal character. In the middle of November, Fanny was told by Miss Planta, in confidence, that Mr. Digby had written to acquaint his royal patrons with his approaching marriage. ‘I believed not a syllable of the matter,’ says the Diary; ‘but I would not tell her that.’ Only a few days later, however, the same kind friend informed Miss Burney that ‘it was all declared, and that the Princesses had wished Miss Gunning joy at the Drawing-Room.’ ‘Now first,’ says Fanny, ‘my belief followed assertion;—but it was only because it was inevitable, since the Princesses could not have proceeded so far without certainty.’ The wedding took place early in January; and from this time the bridegroom appeared no more at Court, which became to one of the attendants an abode of unrelieved gloom.

Some of her friends were frank enough in their comments on her situation. There was something, no doubt, in Miss Burney’s aspect which drew such remarks as these from the wife of an Irish bishop: “Well; the Queen, to be sure, is a great deal better dressed than she used to be; but for all that, I really think it is but an odd thing for you!—Dear, I think it’s something so out of the way for you!—I can’t think how you set about it. It must have been very droll to you at first. A great deal of honour, to be sure, to serve a Queen, and all that; but, I dare say a lady’s-maid could do it better.... It must be a mighty hurry-scurry life! You don’t look at all fit for it, to judge by appearances, for all its great honour, and all that.” Colonel Digby had previously accused her of being absent in her official occupation, and she had owned that she had at first found attention unattainable. “She had even,” she added, “and not seldom, handed the Queen her fan before her gown, and her gloves before her cap!” The Vice-Chamberlain thought this very likely, 260and observed that such matters did not seem trifles to her Majesty.

The Diary for the earlier months of 1790 contains little more than what the writer calls ‘loose scraps of anecdotes,’ of which we can find room for only one or two specimens. Here is an account of a conversation with Colonel Manners, who, besides being an equerry, was also a Member of Parliament:

“I had been informed he had once made an attempt to speak, during the Regency business, last winter; I begged to know how the matter stood, and he made a most frank display of its whole circumstances.

“‘Why, they were speaking away,’ he cried, ‘upon the Regency, and so—and they were saying the King could not reign, and recover; and Burke was making some of his eloquence, and talking; and, says he, ‘hurled from his throne’—and so I put out my finger in this manner, as if I was in a great passion, for I felt myself very red, and I was in a monstrous passion I suppose, but I was only going to say ‘Hear! Hear!’ but I happened to lean one hand down upon my knee, in this way, just as Mr. Pitt does when he wants to speak; and I stooped forward, just as if I was going to rise up and begin; but just then I caught Mr. Pitt’s eye, looking at me so pitifully; he thought I was going to speak, and he was frightened to death, for he thought—for the thing was, he got up himself, and he said over all I wanted to say; and the thing is, he almost always does; for just as I have something particular to say, Mr. Pitt begins, and goes through it all, so that he don’t leave anything more to be said about it; and so I suppose, as he looked at me so pitifully, he thought I should say it first, or else that I should get into some scrape, because I was so warm and looking so red.’

261“Any comment would disgrace this; I will therefore only tell you his opinion, in his own words, of one of our late taxes.[104]

“‘There’s only one tax, ma’am, that ever I voted for against my conscience, for I’ve always been very particular about that; but that is the bacheldor’s tax, and that I hold to be very unconstitutional, and I am very sorry I voted for it, because it’s very unfair; for how can a man help being a bacheldor, if nobody will have him? and, besides, it’s not any fault to be taxed for, because we did not make ourselves bacheldors, for we were made so by God, for nobody was born married, and so I think it’s a very unconstitutional tax.’”

Miss Burney’s desultory journals for this year contain few notices of her life at Court. We hear, indeed, in the spring, of her being summoned to a new employment, and called upon four or five times to read a play before the Queen and Princesses. But this proved a very occasional break in the routine of drudgery which she could no longer support with cheerfulness. Henceforth she seems to avoid all mention of other engagements and incidents at Windsor or Kew as matters too wearisome to think of or write about. We have, instead, accounts of days spent at the Hastings trial, where, as before, she spent much time in conversing with Windham. The charges were now being investigated in detail, and it was often difficult to make up an interesting report for her mistress. Sometimes, however, when evidence weighed the proceedings down, Burke would speak from time to time, and lift them up; or Windham himself, much to Fanny’s satisfaction, would take part in the arguments. 262But Westminster Hall was attractive mainly by contrast to the palace; in the Great Chamberlain’s Box there was no danger of receiving a summons to the Queen, no fear of being late for an attendance in the royal dressing-room. During the recess, when there was no trial to attend, Miss Burney’s thoughts were a good deal occupied by the illness and death of a faithful man-servant, and with the subsequent disposal of his savings, which caused her some trouble.

Once, at the end of May, she had an opportunity of unburdening her mind to her father. They met in Westminster Abbey at one of the many commemorations of Handel which occurred about this time; and, neither of them caring very much for the great master’s music, they spent three hours chiefly in conversation. For four years they had not been so long alone together. Dr. Burney happened to mention that some of the French exiles wished him to make them acquainted with the author of ‘Cecilia,’ and repeated the astonished speech of the Comtesse de Boufflers on learning that this was out of his power: ‘Mais, monsieur, est-ce possible! Mademoiselle votre fille n’a-t-elle point de vacances?’ Such an opening was just what Fanny wanted, and she availed herself of it to pour out her whole heart. With many expressions of gratitude for the Queen’s goodness, she owned that her way of life was distasteful to her; she was lost to all private comfort, dead to all domestic endearment, worn with want of rest and laborious attendance. Separated from her relations, her friends, and the society she loved, she brooded over the past with hopeless regret, and lived like one who had no natural connections. “Melancholy was the existence, where happiness was excluded, though not a complaint could be made! where the illustrious personages who were 263served possessed almost all human excellence—yet where those who were their servants, though treated with the most benevolent condescension, could never in any part of the live-long day, command liberty, or social intercourse, or repose!” “The silence of my dearest father,” she adds, “now silencing myself, I turned to look at him; but how was I struck to see his honoured head bowed down almost into his bosom with dejection and discomfort! We were both perfectly still a few moments; but when he raised his head I could hardly keep my seat to see his eyes filled with tears! ‘I have long,’ he cried, ‘been uneasy, though I have not spoken; ... but ... if you wish to resign—my house, my purse, my arms, shall be open to receive you back!’”

It cannot fairly be said that, during the preceding four years, Miss Burney had been debarred from literary work. The conditions of her lot were hard, and it may have been one of them that she should publish nothing while in the Queen’s service; but she certainly had enjoyed considerable leisure for composition. Witness the full and carefully-written journal which she had kept during the greater part of her tenure of office. Perhaps the frequent interruptions to which she was liable hindered her from concentrating her thoughts on the production of a regular narrative. Indefatigable as she was with her pen, we can see that she was far less strenuous when much intellectual exertion was required. When she was offered her post, her Muse was at a standstill, as she told the King; and since she entered the household, she had written nothing capable of being printed, except two or three small copies of verses not worth printing, and the rough draft of a tragedy. She had begun this tragedy during the King’s illness, in order to distract her attention; and after laying it aside for sixteen months, she 264resumed her task in the spring of 1790, and completed the play in August. Well or ill done, she was pleased, she told her sisters, to have done something ‘at last—she who had so long lived in all ways as nothing.’ In the early part of this year the newspapers announced, as they had done several times before, that the distinguished novelist, who had so long been silent, had at length finished a new tale ready for the press. As often as this rumour appeared, a flutter of apprehension ran through the ante-rooms of the Upper and Lower Lodges. Fanny’s genius for seizing the points of a character, and presenting them in a ludicrous light, could not fail to be recognised wherever she went. Years before, the fiery Baretti had warned her that if she dared to put him in a book, she should feel the effects of an Italian’s vengeance.[105] Joseph Baretti, who had stilettoed his man, and who lived to libel Mrs. Piozzi, was the very person to fulfil a promise of this kind. But for his threat, his tempting eccentricities might have exposed him to considerable peril. But the carpet-knights and waiting-women of Windsor stood in no immediate danger. ‘There is a new book coming out, and we shall all be in it!’ exclaimed the conscience-stricken Mr. Turbulent. The colonels frowned, bit their lips, and tried not to look uncomfortable. ‘Well, anybody’s welcome to me and my character!’ cried poor Miss Planta, whom Fanny used to patronize. ‘Never mind! she’s very humane!’ observed one of the Willises, well aware that, whoever else might suffer, he and his family were exempt from ridicule. Miss Burney smiled demurely at the tributes paid to her power. Full well she knew that, so far as the characters of her colleagues were worth preserving, she had them all 265safe, under lock and key, in her Diary. But not a line of the dreaded novel had been written. The passion, which possessed her in her early days, for planning a story, and contriving situations for the actors in it, had faded away as the freshness of youth departed.

The months rolled on, and her spirits did not improve, while her health steadily declined. Some of her female friends—Mrs. Gwynn, Miss Cambridge, Mrs. Ord—saw her at Windsor or Kew after the close of the London season, and were painfully impressed with the alteration which they noted in her. The reports which these ladies carried up to town were speedily known throughout her father’s circle of acquaintances. The discontent that had been felt at her seclusion increased tenfold when it was suspected that there was danger of the prisoner’s constitution giving way. A sort of cabal was formed to bring influence to bear upon Dr. Burney. The lead in this seems to have been taken by Sir Joshua Reynolds, who, despite his failing eyesight and his Academic troubles, was zealous as ever in the cause of his old favourite. Dr. Burney had yielded to Fanny’s wish of retiring; but he was not in affluent circumstances, he had expected great things from the Court appointment, his daughter had not much worldly wisdom, and in dread of the censure that awaited him in high quarters, if he suffered her to throw away a competency without visible necessity, he was for putting off the evil day of resignation as long as possible. It was therefore important that friends whose approbation he valued should unite to make him understand that the case, in their judgment, called for prompt determination. He was much worked upon in the autumn by a letter from Horace Walpole to Frances, in which the writer, with a touch of heartiness quite unusual to him, lamented her confinement 266to a closet at Court, and asked whether her talents were given to be buried in obscurity? About the same time, he was warned by his daughter, Mrs. Francis, that Windham, her neighbour in Norfolk, who had observed for himself the change in Fanny’s appearance, was meditating an attack on him as soon as they should meet in town. The politician had already sounded Burney to little purpose; ‘it is resolution,’ he told Charlotte, ‘not inclination, the Doctor wants.’ ‘I will set the Literary Club upon him!’ he cried. ‘Miss Burney has some very true friends there, and I am sure they will all eagerly assist. We will present him an address.’

The general feeling infected James Boswell, though not very intimate with the Burney family. In this same autumn, Boswell was on a visit to the Dean of Windsor, who was also Bishop of Carlisle. Miss Burney met him one morning at the choir-gate of St. George’s Chapel:

“We saluted with mutual glee: his comic-serious face and manner have lost nothing of their wonted singularity; nor yet have his mind and language, as you will soon confess.

“‘I am extremely glad to see you indeed,’ he cried, ‘but very sorry to see you here. My dear ma’am, why do you stay?—it won’t do, ma’am! you must resign!—we can put up with it no longer. I told my good host the Bishop so last night; we are all grown quite outrageous!’ Whether I laughed the most, or stared the most, I am at a loss to say; but I hurried away, not to have such treasonable declarations overheard, for we were surrounded by a multitude. He accompanied me, however, not losing one moment in continuing his exhortations: ‘If you do not quit, ma’am, very soon, some violent measures, I assure you, will be taken. We shall 267address Dr. Burney in a body; I am ready to make the harangue myself. We shall fall upon him all at once.’

“I stopped him to inquire about Sir Joshua; he said he saw him very often, and that his spirits were very good. I asked about Mr. Burke’s book. ‘Oh,’ cried he, ‘it will come out next week: ’tis the first book in the world, except my own, and that’s coming out also very soon; only I want your help.’ ‘My help?’ ‘Yes, madam; you must give me some of your choice little notes of the Doctor’s; we have seen him long enough upon stilts; I want to show him in a new light. Grave Sam, and great Sam, and solemn Sam, and learned Sam—all these he has appeared over and over. Now I want to entwine a wreath of the graces across his brow; I want to show him as gay Sam, agreeable Sam, pleasant Sam: so you must help me with some of his beautiful billets to yourself.’”

Fanny evaded this request by declaring that she had not any stores at hand; she could not, she afterwards said, consent to print private letters addressed to herself. The self-satisfied biographer followed her to the Queen’s Lodge, continuing his importunity, and repeating his exhortations to her to resign at once. At the entrance, he pulled out a proof-sheet of the First Book in the world, and began to read from it a letter of Dr. Johnson to himself. ‘He read it,’ says the Diary, ‘in strong imitation of the Doctor’s manner, very well, and not caricature. But Mrs. Schwellenberg was at her window, a crowd was gathering to stand round the rails, and the King and Queen and Royal Family now approached from the Terrace. I made rather a quick apology, and with a step as quick as my now weakened limbs have left in my power, I hurried to my apartment.’

268By what representations Dr. Burney was brought to view his daughter’s condition in its true light we are not distinctly informed. We find, however, that, before October ended, a memorial to the Queen, written by Fanny in her father’s name and her own, requesting permission for the Robe-Keeper to resign, had been approved by the Doctor, who expressed his desire that it should be presented at the first favourable opportunity. Then came a pause: the invalid was taking bark, which for a short time recruited her strength; and she cherished the hope of obtaining a ship for her brother James before she left the Court. But her hopes both for her brother and herself proved illusory. In December, her loss of health became so notorious that no part of the house could wholly avoid acknowledging it. ‘Yet,’ she writes, ‘was the terrible piquet the catastrophe of every evening, though frequent pains in my side forced me, three and four times in a game, to creep to my own room for hartshorn and for rest.’ The remaining members of the household were more considerate than the mistress of the card-table. The ladies had the fellow-feeling of fellow-sufferers; even Mr. Turbulent frankly counselled Miss Burney to retreat before it was too late. A general opinion prevailed that she was falling into a decline, and that, at best, she was reduced to a choice between her place and her life. “There seemed now,” she says, “no time to be lost; when I saw my dear father he recommended to me to be speedy, and my mother was very kind in urgency for immediate measures. I could not, however, summon courage to present my memorial; my heart always failed me, from seeing the Queen’s entire freedom from such an expectation; for though I was frequently so ill in her presence that I could hardly stand, I saw she concluded me, while life remained, inevitably 269hers.” Fanny’s nervousness, in fact, had made her less anxious to deliver her letter than her father was to have it delivered, and some further persuasion from him was required before the paper reached her Majesty’s hands.

At length it was presented, and the result was exactly what the writer had anticipated. The Schwellenberg stormed, of course: to resign was to return to nothingness; to forfeit the protection of the Court was to become an outcast; to lose the beatific vision of the Sovereign and his consort was hardly less than to be excluded from heaven. The Queen thought the memorial very modest and proper, but was surprised at its contents. Indomitable herself, she could not understand how anyone else could suffer from more than passing illness. She therefore proposed that her sick attendant should have six weeks’ leave of absence, which, with change of air and scene, and the society of her family, the Locks and the Cambridges, would ensure a perfect cure. This proposal was duly communicated to Dr. Burney. The good man’s answer arrived by return of post. With much gratitude for the royal goodness, he declared, on medical authority, that nothing short of an absolute retirement gave any prospect of recovery. “A scene almost horrible ensued,” says Miss Burney, “when I told Cerbera the offer was declined. She was too much enraged for disguise, and uttered the most furious expressions of indignant contempt at our proceedings. I am sure she would gladly have confined us both in the Bastille, had England such a misery, as a fit place to bring us to ourselves, from a daring so outrageous against imperial wishes.”

The Queen herself betrayed a blank disappointment at Dr. Burney’s inflexibility, but neither exhibited displeasure nor raised any further obstacle. Yet the prisoner’s liberation was still at a distance. In January, 1791, she was 270prostrated by an attack of some acute illness which lasted through the two following months. On returning to her duty, she found that search was being made for a suitable person to succeed her. But the selection proved difficult, and her Majesty, of course, could not be pressed. It was at length arranged that Miss Burney should be set free soon after the celebration of the King’s birthday in June. This matter settled, her position grew easier. Her colleague not only laid aside asperity of manner, but became even ‘invariable in kindness.’ And Fanny now began to do the old lady more justice than she had ever done before. She acknowledged, in short, that Cerbera’s bark was worse than her bite; that though selfish, harsh, and overbearing, she was not unfriendly; that she was even extremely fond of her junior’s society, when the latter could force herself to appear gay and chatty. On such occasions the morose German would melt, and tell the Queen: ‘The Bernar bin reely agribble.’ ‘Mrs. Schwellenberg, too,’ adds the Diary, ‘with all her faults, is heart and soul devoted to her royal mistress, with the truest faith and loyalty.’ As for this mistress, she treated her retiring servant with all her former confidence, clouded only by a visible, though unavowed, regret at the prospect of their separation. Thus the closing weeks of this life at Court were spent in comparative tranquillity, though there were intervals of great weakness and depression.

“On the opening of this month,” says the Diary for June, “her Majesty told me that the next day Mr. Hastings was to make his defence, and warmly added, ‘I would give the world you could go to it!’” There was no resisting such an appeal, and accordingly, under date of June 2nd, we read: “I went once more to Westminster Hall, which was more crowded than on any day since the trial commenced, except the first. Peers, commoners, 271and counsel, peeresses, commoneresses, and the numerous indefinites, crowded every part, with a just and fair curiosity to hear one day’s defence, after seventy-three of accusation.” Miss Burney heard the accused read his vindication, and listened with an interest which she knew would be shared by the King and Queen; she heard something also about herself, which she did not communicate to their Majesties. She attended to the story of Hastings when told by himself as she had never attended to it before; her sympathy followed him when he expressed disdain of his persecutors, when he arraigned the late Minister, Lord North, of double-dealing, and the then Minister, Mr. Pitt, of cowardly desertion. She shared his indignation when the Managers interrupted him; she exulted when the Lords quelled the interruption by cheering the speaker, and when Lord Kenyon, who presided in the place of the Chancellor, said, ‘Mr. Hastings, proceed.’ She contrasted the fortitude of the defendant, who for so many days had been silent under virulent abuse, with the intemperate eagerness of his assailants, who could not exercise the like self-control even for three brief hours. In short, she felt as warm-hearted women always have felt, and as it is suspected that even icy politicians, men of light and leading on their respective sides, occasionally do feel in the present enlightened age. “The conclusion of the defence,” continues this excited partisan, “I heard better, as Mr. Hastings spoke considerably louder from this time: the spirit of indignation animated his manner, and gave strength to his voice. You will have seen the chief parts of his discourse in the newspapers; and you cannot, I think, but grow more and more his friend as you peruse it. He called pathetically and solemnly for instant judgement; but the Lords, after an adjournment, decided to hear his defence by evidence, and in order, the next 272Session. How grievous such continued delay to a man past sixty, and sighing for such a length of time for redress from a prosecution as yet unparalleled in our annals!”

When it was over, Windham approached her, and ‘in a tone of very deep concern, and with a look that fully concurred in it,’ said, ‘Do I see Miss Burney? Indeed,’ he went on, ‘I was going to make a speech not very gallant.’ ‘But it is what I should like better,’ cried the lady; ‘for it is kind, if you were going to say I look miserably ill, as that is but a necessary consequence of feeling so, and miserably ill I have felt this long time past.’ She prevented more by going on to say how happy she was that he had been absent from the Managers’ Box, and had not joined in the attempt made by his fellow-managers to disconcert Mr. Hastings. ‘Indeed, I was kept in alarm to the very last moment; for at every figure I saw start up just now—Mr. Fox, Mr. Burke, Mr. Grey—I concluded yours would be the next.’ ‘You were prepared, then,’ cried he with no little malice, ‘for a “voice issuing from a distant pew.”’ This unexpected quotation from Cecilia “put me quite out,” says Fanny, “whereupon he seized his opportunity to put himself in. For, after a little laugh at his victory, he very gravely, and even almost solemnly, said, ‘But there is another subject—always uppermost with me—which I have not ventured to speak of to you; though to others you know not how I have raved and raged! But I believe, I am sure, you know what I allude to.’ ’Twas impossible, thus challenged, to dissemble. ‘Yes,’ I answered; ‘I own, I believe I understand you; and, indeed, I should be tempted to say further—if you would forget it when heard, and make no implications—that, from what has come round to me from different quarters, I hold myself to be 273very much obliged to you....’ When we came home I was immediately summoned to her Majesty, to whom I gave a full and fair account of all I had heard of the defence; and it drew tears from her expressive eyes, as I repeated Mr. Hastings’ own words, upon the hardship and injustice of the treatment he had sustained.” At night, the reporter was called upon to repeat her narrative to the King, to whom she was equally faithful, “sparing nothing of what had dropped from the persecuted defendant relative to the Ministers of the Crown.”

Two days afterwards came the King’s birthday, and Miss Burney was well enough to enjoy a lively scene—the last that she was to witness at Court:

“At dinner Mrs. Schwellenberg presided, attired magnificently. Miss Goldsworthy, Mrs. Stainforth, Messrs. de Luc and Stanhope dined with us; and, while we were still eating fruit, the Duke of Clarence entered. He was just risen from the King’s table, and waiting for his equipage to go home and prepare for the ball. To give you an idea of the energy of his Royal Highness’s language, I ought to set apart a general objection to writing, or rather intimating, certain forcible words, and beg leave to show you, in genuine colours, a royal sailor. We all rose, of course, upon his entrance, and the two gentlemen placed themselves behind their chairs, while the footmen left the room; but he ordered us all to sit down, and called the men back to hand about some wine. He was in exceeding high spirits, and in the utmost good humour. He placed himself at the head of the table, next Mrs. Schwellenberg, and looked remarkably well, gay, and full of sport and mischief, yet clever withal as well as comical. ‘Well, this is the first day I have ever dined with the King at St. James’s on his birthday. 274Pray, have you all drunk his Majesty’s health?’ ‘No, your Roy’l Highness: your Roy’l Highness might make dem do dat,’ said Mrs. Schwellenberg. ‘O, by —— will I! Here, you (to the footman); bring champagne! I’ll drink the King’s health again, if I die for it! Yet, I have done pretty well already: so has the King, I promise you! I believe his Majesty was never taken such good care of before. We have kept his spirits up, I promise you; we have enabled him to go through his fatigues: and I should have done more still, but for the ball and Mary—I have promised to dance with Mary!’ Princess Mary made her first appearance at Court to-day: she looked most interesting and unaffectedly lovely: she is a sweet creature, and perhaps, in point of beauty, the first of this truly beautiful race, of which Princess Mary may be called pendant to the Prince of Wales. Champagne being now brought for the Duke, he ordered it all round. When it came to me, I whispered to Westerhaults to carry it on: the Duke slapped his hands violently on the table, and called out, ‘O, by ——, you shall drink it!’ There was no resisting this. We all stood up, and the Duke sonorously gave the royal toast.”

The indefatigable diarist, says Thackeray, continues for pages reporting H.R.H.’s conversation, and indicating, with a humour not unworthy of the clever little author of ‘Evelina,’ the increasing excitement of the young Sailor Prince, who drank more and more champagne, stopped old Mrs. Schwellenberg’s remonstrances by kissing her hand, and telling her to shut her potato-trap, and who did not keep ‘sober for Mary.’ Mary had to find another partner that night, for the royal William Henry could not keep his legs. When the Princess afterwards told Miss Burney of her brother’s condition at the ball, and Fanny 275accounted for it by relating what had passed at the attendants’ dinner-table, she found that she had been anticipated by the Duke himself. ‘Oh!’ cried the Princess; ‘he told me of it himself the next morning, and said: “You may think how far I was gone, for I kissed the Schwellenberg’s hand!”’ The lady saluted was duly sensible of the honour paid her. ‘Dat Prince Villiam,’ she observed to her junior—‘oders de Duke of Clarence—bin raelly ver merry—oders vat you call tipsy.’

Mademoiselle Jacobi,[106] Fanny’s destined successor, arrived in the first days of July, and the prison door was now thrown open. Miss Burney imagined that, as the day of her discharge approached, the Queen’s manner to her became rather less cordial, and betokened an inward feeling that the invalided servant ought, at every hazard, to have remained with her employer. This, we believe, is a common opinion among mistresses in all ranks of life, when called upon to surrender a trusted dependent. The King, with that weakness which the better-half always despises, was disposed to be much more indulgent. As if to compensate for his consort’s vexation, he showed himself increasingly courteous and kind at every meeting, making opportunities to talk over Boswell’s book, which had 276recently appeared, and listening to Fanny’s anecdotes of Johnson with the utmost complacency and interest. The Princesses did not conceal their sorrow at the impending change. ‘Indeed,’ says the Diary, ‘the most flattering marks of attention meet me from all quarters. Mrs. Schwellenberg has been forced to town by ill-health; she was very friendly, even affectionate, in going!’ And before the hour of parting arrived, the light cloud passed away from her Majesty’s face. It has been asked, Why should she have grieved at losing an attendant, who, as the Queen used to complain, could never tie the bow of her royal necklace without tying her royal hair in with it? But, in Miss Burney, Queen Charlotte was losing much more than an unskilful tire-woman, or a nervous reader, who, as we know on the same unimpeachable authority, ‘had the misfortune of reading rather low.’ She was losing one whom she declared to be ‘true as gold,’ and who had a much larger share of mind than commonly fell to the official lot; a familiar friend who was as far as possible from being a learned lady, and yet capable of entertaining her mistress with clever and stimulating talk such as her Majesty loved. No retiring pension had been asked for in the petition for leave to resign, and when the subject was mentioned by the Queen, the petitioner hastened to disavow all claim and expectation of that kind. She found, however, that the question of what the occasion demanded had been already considered and decided. Though the term of service had been short, the character of the servant, and the notorious failure of her health, made it imperative that she should receive some provision. The Queen therefore announced her intention of continuing to her second Robe-Keeper in retirement one-half of the annual salary which had been paid to her in office. ‘It is but her due,’ said the King. ‘She has 277given up five years of her pen.’[107] Two days after this matter was settled, Miss Burney took leave of the Royal Family. Emotional as one of her own heroines, she could not control her feelings in bidding farewell to the Queen, and was unable even to look at the King when he came to say ‘Good-bye.’ She quitted the Court on July 7, 1791, having been a member of the royal house-hold for five years all but ten days. Burke recalled the satisfaction with which he had hailed her appointment; and, owning that he had never been more mistaken in his life, observed that the story of those five years would have furnished Johnson with another vivid illustration for his ‘Vanity of Human Wishes.’


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