IN THREE VOLUMES.
EDWARD MOXON, 64, NEW BOND STREET.
BRADBURY AND EVANS, PRINTERS,
Such, as far as can be gathered, or recollected, was the list of the general home circle of Dr. Burney, on his beginning residence in St. Martin’s-Street; though many persons must be omitted, not to swell voluminously a mere catalogue of names, where no comment, or memorandum of incident, has been left of them by the Doctor.
But to enumerate the friends or acquaintances with whom he associated in the world at large, would be nearly to ransack the Court Calendar, the list of the Royal Society, of the Literary Club, of all assemblages of eminent artists; and almost every other list that includes the celebrated or active characters, then moving, like himself, in the vortex of public existence.
Chiefly, however, after those already named, stood, in his estimation, Mr. Chamier, Mr. Boone, Dr. Warton, and his brother, Dr. Thomas Warton, Sir Richard Jebb, Mr. Matthias, Mr. Cox, Dr. Lind, and Mr. Planta, of the Museum.
At the end of the year 1775, the Doctor’s eldest son, Captain James Burney, who, on board the Cerberus, had convoyed General Burgoyne to America, obtained permission from the Admiralty to return home, in order to again accompany Captain Cooke in a voyage round the world; the second circumnavigation of the young Captain; the third, and unhappily the last, of the great Captain Cooke.
Omiah, whom they were to restore to his country and friends, came now upon a leave-taking visit to the family of his favourite Captain Burney.
Omiah, by this time, had made some proficiency in the English language, and in English customs; and he knew the town so well, that he perambulated it for exercise and for visits, without either interpreter or guide.
But he owed quite as much assistance to attitude and gesture, for making himself understood, as to speech, for in that he was still, at times, quite unintelligible. To dumb shew he was probably familiar, the brevity and paucity of his own dialect making it necessarily a principal source of communication at Ulitea and at Otaheite. What he knew of English he must have caught instinctively and mechanically, as it is caught by children; and, it may be, only the faster from having his attention unencumbered with grammatical difficulties, or orthographical contrarieties: yesterday served for the past, in all its distances: tomorrow, for the future, in all its dependences.
The King allowed him a handsome pension, upon which he lived perfectly at ease, and very happily: and he entertained, in return, as gratefully loyal a devotion to his Majesty as if he had been a native born subject.
He was very lively, yet gentle; and even politely free from any forwardness or obtrusion; holding back, and keeping silent, when not called into notice, with as much delicacy and reserve, as any well bred European. And his confidence in the benevolence and honour of the strangers with whom he had trusted his person and his life, spoke a nature as intrepid as it was guileless.
Dr. Burney inquired of him whether he had lately seen the King?
“Yes,” he answered, “Yes. King George bid me, ‘Omy, you go home.’ O! dood man, King George! ver dood man!—not ver bad!”
He then endeavoured, very pleasingly, to discriminate between his joy at returning to his native land, and his grief in quitting England. “Lord Sandwich,” he said, “bid me—Mr. Omy, you two ships: one, two: you go home. Omy make ver fine bow;” which he rose to perform, and with grace and ease; “den Omy say, My lord, ver much oblige!”
The Doctor asked whether he had been at the Opera?
His answer was a violent and ear-jarring squeak, by way of imitating Italian singing. Nevertheless, he said that he began to like it a great deal better than he had done at first.
He now missed Richard, the Doctor’s youngest son, and, upon being told that he was gone to school, clapped his hands, and cried, “O, learn book? ver well.” Then, putting his hands together, and opening and shutting them, to imitate turning over the leaves of a book, he attempted to describe the humour of some school that he had been taken to see. “Boys here;” he cried: “boys there; boys all over. Master call. One boy come up. Do so,—” muttering a confused jargon to imitate reading. “Not ver well. Ver bad. Master do so!”
He then described the master giving the boy a rap on the shoulder with the book. “Ha! ha!—Boy like ver bad! not ver well. Boy do so;” making wry faces. “Poor boy! not ver dood. Boy ver bad.”
When the Doctor wished to know what he thought of English horses, and the English mode of riding, he answered, “Omy like ver well.” He then tried to expatiate upon riding double, which he had seen upon the high road, and which had much astonished him. “First,” cried he, “go man; so!—” making a motion as if mounting and whipping a horse. “Then here!” pointing behind him; “here go woman! Ha! ha! ha!”
The Doctor asked when he had seen the beautiful Lady Townshend, who was said to desire his acquaintance.
He immediately made a low bow, with a pleased smile, and said, “Ver pret woman, Lady Townshend; not ver nasty. Omy drink tea with Lady Townshend in one, two, tree days. Lord Townshend my friend. Lady Townshend my friend. Ver pret woman, Lady Townshend: ver pret woman Mrs. Crewe: ver pret woman Mrs. Bouverie: ver pret woman, Lady Craven.”
Dr. Burney concurred, and admired his taste. He then said, that when he was invited anywhere they wrote, “Mr. Omy, you come—dinner, tea, supper.—Then Omy go, ver fast.”
Dr. Burney requested that he would favour us with a national song of Ulitea, which he had sung to Lord Sandwich, at Hinchenbrook.
He seemed much ashamed, and unwilling to comply, from a full consciousness now acquired of the inferiority of his native music to our’s. But the family all joined in the Doctor’s wish, and he was too obliging to refuse. Nevertheless, he was so modest, that he seemed to blush alike at his own performance, and at the barbarity of his South Sea Islands’ harmony; and he began two or three times before he could gather firmness to proceed.
Nothing could be more curious, or less pleasing than this singing. Voice he had none; and tune, or air, did not seem to be even aimed at, either by composer or performer. ’Twas a mere queer, wild and strange rumbling of uncouth sounds.
His music, Dr. Burney declared, was all that he had about him of savage.
He took great pains, however, to Englishize the meaning of his ditty, which was laughable enough. It appeared to be a sort of trio, formed by an old woman, a young woman, and a young man: the two latter begin by entertaining each other with praises of their mutual merits, and protestations of their mutual passion; when the old woman enters, and endeavours to allure to herself the attention of the young man; and, as she cannot boast of her personal charms, she is very busy in displaying her dress and decorations, and making him observe and admire her draperies. He stood up to act this scene; and shewed much humour in representing the absurd affectation and languishing grimaces of this ancient enamorata. The youth, next, turning from her with scorn, openly avows his passion for the young nymph: upon which, the affronted antique dame authoritatively orders the damsel away; and then, coming up, with soft and loving smiles, offers herself unreservedly to the young man; saying, to use his own words, “Come—marry me!” The young man starts back, as if from some venomous insect; but, half returning, makes her a reverence, and then humbly begs she will be so good as to excuse him; but, as she approaches to answer, and to coax him, he repels her with derision, and impetuously runs off.
Notwithstanding the singing of Omiah was so barbarous, his action, and the expression of his countenance, was so original, that they afforded great amusement, of the risible kind, to the Doctor and his family, who could not finally part from him without much regret; so gentle, so ingenuous, so artless, and so pleasing had been his conduct and conversation in his frequent visits to the house; nor did he, in return, finally quit them without strong symptoms even of sadness.
In the February of the ensuing year, 1776, Captain Burney set sail, with Captain Cooke and Omiah, on their watery tour.
In the private narrative of an historian of the musical art, it may not be improper to insert some account of the concerts, which he occasionally gave to invited friends and acquaintances at his own house; as they biographically mark his style of life, and the consideration in which he was held by the musical world.
The company was always small, as were the apartments in which it was received; but always select, as the name, fame, and travels of the Doctor, by allowing him a choice of guests, enabled him to limit admission to real lovers of music.
He had never any formal band; though it is probable that there was hardly a musician in England who, if called upon, would have refused his services. But they were not requisite to allure those whom the Doctor wished to please or oblige; and a crowd in a private apartment he thought as inimical to harmony as to conversation.
It was, primarily, to gratify Mr. Crisp that, while yet in Poland street, he had begun these little musical assemblages; which, in different forms, and with different parties, he continued, or renewed, through life.
The simplicity of the entertainment had, probably, its full share in the incitement to its participation. A request to or from the master of the house, was the sole ticket of entrance. And the urbanity of the Doctor upon these occasions, with the warmth of his praise to excellence, and the candour of his indulgence to failure, made his reception of his visitors dispense a pleasure so unconstrained, so varied, so good-humoured, that his concerts were most sought as a favour by those whose presence did them the most honour.
To style them, however, concerts, may be conferring on them a dignity to which they had not any pretension. There was no bill of fare: there were no engaged subalterns, either to double, or aid, or contrast, with the principals. The performances were promiscuous; and simply such as suited the varying humours and desires of the company; a part of which were always assistants as well as auditors.
Some details of these harmonical coteries, which were written at the moment by this memorialist to Mr. Crisp, will be selected from amongst those which contain characteristic traits of persons of celebrity; as they may more pointedly display their cast and nature, than any merely descriptive reminiscences.
No apology will be pleaded for the careless manner in which these accounts are recorded; Mr. Crisp, as may have been observed in the narrations that have been copied relative to Mr. Bruce, prohibited all form or study in his epistolary intercourse with his young correspondent.
“To Samuel Crisp, Esq.
“Chesington, Kingston, Surrey.
“Let me now try, my dear Mr. Crisp, if I cannot have the pleasure to make you dolorously repent your inexorability to coming to town. We have had such sweet music!—But let me begin with the company, according to your orders.
“They all arrived early, and staid the whole evening.
“The Baron de Deiden, the Danish ambassador.
“The Baroness, his wife; a sweet woman, indeed; young, pretty, accomplished, and graceful. She is reckoned the finest dilletante performer on the piano-forte in Europe.
“I might be contented, you will perhaps say, to have given her this precedence in England and in Denmark; i.e. in her own country and in our’s: but Europe sounds more noble!
“The Honourable Miss Phipps, who came with her, or rather, I believe, was brought by her, for they are great friends; and Miss Phipps had already been with us in Queen-square. Miss Phipps is a daughter of Lord Mulgrave, and sister to the famous Polar captain. She seems full of spirit and taste.
“Sir James and Lady Lake; Sir Thomas Clarges; Mrs. and Miss Ord; and a good many others, agreeable enough, though too tedious to mention, having nothing either striking or odd in them. But the pride of the evening, as neither you, my dear Mr. Crisp, nor Mr. Twining, could be with us, was Mr. HARRIS, of Salisbury, author of the three treatises on Poetry, Music, and Painting; Philosophical Arrangements; Hermes, &c. He brought with him Mrs. Harris, and his second daughter, Miss Louisa, a distinguished lady-musician. Miss Harris,  the eldest, a cultivated and high-bred character, is, I believe, with her brother, our minister at Petersburgh.
“Hettina,  Mr. Burney, and our noble selves, bring up the rear.
“There was a great deal of conversation previous to the music. But as the party was too large for a general chatterment, every body that had not courage to stroll about and please themselves, was obliged to take up with their next neighbour. What think you, then, of my good fortune, when I tell you I happened to sit by Mr. Harris? and that that so happening, joined to my being at home,—however otherwise insignificant,—gave me the intrepidity to abandon my yea and nay responses, when he was so good as to try whether I could make any other. His looks, indeed, are so full of benignity, as well as of meaning and understanding; and his manners have a suavity so gentle, so encouraging, that, notwithstanding his high name as an author, all fear from his renown was wholly whisked away by delight in his discourse and his countenance.
“My father was in excellent spirits, and walked about from one to another, giving pleasure to all whom he addressed.
“As we had no violins, basses, flutes, &c., we were forced to cut short the formality of any overture, and to commence by the harp. Mr. Jones had a very sweet instrument, with new pedals, constructed by Merlin. He plays very well, and with very neat execution.
“Mr. Burney, then, at the request of the Baroness de Deiden, went to the harpsichord, where he fired away with his usual genius. He first played a Concerto of Schobert’s; and then, as the Baroness would not let him rise, another of my father’s.
“When Mr. Burney had received the compliments of the nobility and gentry, my father solicited the Baroness to take his place.
“‘O no!’ she cried, ‘I cannot hear of such a thing! It is out of the question! It would be a figurante to dance a pas seul after Mademoiselle Heinel.’
“However, her animated friend, Miss Phipps, joined so earnestly with my father in entreaty, that, as the Baron looked strongly his sanction to their wishes, she was prevailed upon to yield; which she did most gracefully; and she then played a difficult lesson of Schobert’s remarkably well, with as much meaning as execution. She is, besides, so modest, so unassuming, and so pretty, that she was the general object of admiration.
“When my father went to thank her, she said she had never been so frightened before in her life.
“My father then begged another German composition from her, which he had heard her play at Lord Mulgrave’s. She was going, most obligingly, to comply, when the Baron, in a half whisper, and pointing to my sister Burney, said; ‘Après, ma chère!’
“‘Eh bien oui!’ cried Miss Phipps, in a lively tone, ‘après Madame Burney! come Mrs. Burney, pray indulge us.’
“The Baroness, with a pleased smile, most willingly made way; and your Hettina, unaffectedly, though not quite unfluttered, took her seat; and to avoid any air of emulation, with great propriety began with a slow movement, as the Baroness had played a piece of execution.
“For this purpose, she chose your favourite bit of Echard; and I never heard her play it better, if so well. Merlin’s new pedals made it exquisite; and the expression, feeling, and taste with which she performed it, raised a general murmur of applause.
“Mr. Harris inquired eagerly the name of the composer. Every body seemed to be struck, nay enchanted: and charmed into such silence of attention, that if a pin had dropt, it would have caused a universal start.
“I should be ashamed not to give you a more noble metaphor, or simile, or comparison, than a pin; only I know how cheap you hold all attempts at fine writing; and that you will like my poor simple pin, just as well as if I had stunned you with a cannon ball.
“Miss Louisa Harris then consented to vary the entertainment by singing. She was accompanied by Mr. Harris, whose soul seems all music, though he has made his pen amass so many other subjects into the bargain. She has very little voice, either for sound or compass; yet, which is wonderful, she gave us all extreme pleasure; for she sings in so high a style, with such pure taste, such native feeling, and such acquired knowledge of music, that there is not one fine voice in a hundred I could listen to with equal satisfaction. She gave us an unpublished air of Sacchini’s, introduced by some noble recitative of that delicious composer.
“She declared, however, she should have been less frightened to have sung at a theatre, than to such an audience. But she was prevailed with to give us, afterwards, a sweet flowing rondeau of Rauzzini’s, from his opera of Piramis and Thisbe. She is extremely unaffected and agreeable.
“Then followed what my father called the great gun of the evening, Müthel’s duet for two harpsichords; which my father thinks the noblest composition of its kind in the world.
“Mr. Burney and the Hettina now came off with flying colours indeed; nothing could exceed the general approbation. Mr. Harris was in an ecstacy that played over all his fine features; Sir James Lake, who is taciturn and cold, was surprised even into loquacity in its praise; Lady Lake, more prone to be pleased, was delighted to rapture; the fine physiognomy of Miss Phipps, was lighted up to an animation quite enlivening to behold; and the sweet Baroness de Deiden, repeatedly protested she had never been at so singularly agreeable a concert before.
“She would not listen to any entreaty, however, to play again; and all instrumental music was voted to be out of the question for that night. Miss Louisa Harris then, with great good breeding, as well as good nature, was won by a general call to give us a finale, in a fine bravura air of Sacchini’s, which she sung extremely well, though under evident and real affright.
“There was then a good deal of chat, very gay and pleasing; after which the company went away, in all appearance, uncommonly gratified: and we who remained at home, were, in all reality, the same.
“But how we wished for our dear Mr. Crisp! Do pray, now, leave your gout to itself, and come to our next music meeting. Or if it needs must cling to you, and come also, who knows but that music, which has
“‘Charms to sooth the savage breast,
To soften rocks, and bend a knotted oak—’
may have charms also, To soften Gout, and Unbend Knotted Fingers?”
Previously to any further perusal of these juvenile narrations, it is necessary to premise, that there were, at this period, three of the most excelling singers that ever exerted rival powers at the same epoch, who equally and earnestly sought the acquaintance and suffrage of Dr. Burney; namely,
Miss Cecilia Davies, during a musical career, unfortunately as brief as it was splendid, had, at her own desire, been made known to Dr. Burney in a manner as peculiar as it was honourable, for it was through the medium of Dr. Johnson; a medium which ensured her the best services of Dr. Burney, and the esteem of all his family.
Her fame and talents are proclaimed in the History of Music, where it is said, “Miss Davies had the honour of being the first English woman who performed the female parts in several great theatres in Italy; to which extraordinary distinction succeeded that of her becoming the first woman at the great opera theatre of London.”
And in this course of rare celebrity, her unimpeachable conduct, her pleasing manners, and her engaging modesty of speech and deportment, fixed as much respect on her person and character, as her singularly youthful success had fastened upon her professional abilities.
But, unfortunately, no particulars can be given of any private performance of this our indigenous brilliant ornament at the house of Dr. Burney; for though she was there welcomed, and was even eager to oblige him, the rigour of her opera articles prohibited her from singing even a note, at that time, to any private party.
The next abstract, therefore, refers to
“To Samuel Crisp, Esq.
“My dear Mr. Crisp,
“My father says I must write you every thing of every sort about Agujari, that you may get ready, well or ill, to come and hear her. So pray make haste, and never mind such common obstacles as health or sickness upon such an occasion.
“La Signora Agujari has been nick-named, my father says, in Italy, from some misfortune attendant upon her birth—but of which she, at least, is innocent—La Bastardella. She is now come over to England, in the prime of her life and her fame, upon an engagement with the proprietors of the Pantheon, to sing two songs at their concert, at one hundred pounds a night! My father’s tour in Italy has made his name and his historical design so well known there in the musical world, that she immediately desired his acquaintance on her arrival in London; and Dr. Maty, one of her protectors in this country, was deputed to bring them together; which he did, in St. Martin’s-Street, last week.
“Dr. Maty is pleasing, intelligent, and well bred; though formal, precise, and a rather affected little man. But he stands very high, they say, in the classes of literature and learning; and, moreover, of character and worthiness.
He handed the Signora, with much pompous ceremony, into the drawing-room, where—trumpets not being at hand—he introduced her to my father with a fine flourish of compliments, as a phenomenon now first letting herself down to grace this pigmy island.
This style of lofty grandeur seemed perfectly accordant with the style and fancy of the Signora; whose air and deportment announced deliberate dignity, and a design to strike all beholders with awe, as well as admiration.
She is a handsome woman, of middle stature, and seems to be about twenty-four or twenty-five years of age; with a very good and healthy complexion, becomingly and not absurdly rouged; a well-shaped nose, a well-cut mouth, and very prominent, rolling, expressive, and dyingly languishing eyes.
She was attended by Signor Colla, her maestro, and, as some assert, her husband; but, undoubtedly, her obsequious and inseparable companion. He is tall, thin, almost fiery when conversing; and tolerably well furnished with gesture and grimace; id est, made up of nothing else.
The talk was all in French or Italian, and almost all between the two Doctors, Burney and Maty; we rest, being only auditors, except when something striking was said upon music, or upon some musician; and then the hot thin Italian, who is probably a Neapolitan, jumped up, and started forth into an abrupt rhapsody, with such agitation of voice and manner, that every limb seemed at work almost as nimbly as his tongue.
But la Signora Agujari sat always in placid, majestic silence, when she was not personally addressed.
Signor Colla expressed the most unbounded veneration for il Signor Dottore Borni; whose learned character, he said, in Italy, had left him there a name that had made it an honour to be introduced to un si célebre homme. My father retorted the compliment upon the Agujari; lamenting that he had missed hearing her abroad, where her talents, then, were but rising into renown.
Nevertheless, though he naturally concluded that this visit was designed for granting him that gratification, he was somewhat diffident how to demand it from one who, in England, never quavers for less than fifty guineas an air. To pave, therefore, the way to his request, he called upon Mr. Burney and the Hettina to open the concert with a duet.
They readily complied; and the Agujari, now, relinquished a part of her stately solemnity, to give way, though not without palpably marvelling that it could be called for, to the pleasure that their performance excited; for pleasure in music is a sensation that she seems to think ought to be held in her own gift. And, indeed, for vocal music, Gabrielli is, avowedly, the only exception to her universal disdain.
As Mr. Burney and the Hettina, however, attempted not to invade her excluding prerogative, they first escaped her supercilious contempt, and next caught her astonished attention; which soon, to our no small satisfaction, rose to open, lively, and even vociferous rapture. In truth, I believe, she was really glad to be surprised out of her fatiguing dumb grandeur.
This was a moment not to be lost, and my father hinted his wishes to Dr. Maty; Dr. Maty hinted them to Signor Colla; but Signor Colla did not take the hint of hinting them to La Bastardella. He shrugged, and became all gesticulation, and answered that the Signora would undoubtedly sing to the Signor Dottore Borni; but that, at this moment, she had a slight sore throat; and her desire, when she performed to il Signor Dottore Borni was, si possible, he added, to surpass herself.
We were all horribly disappointed; but Signor Colla made what amends he could, by assuring us that we had never yet known what singing was! “car c’est une prodêge, Messieurs et Mesdames, que la Signora Agujari.”
My father bowed his acquiescence; and then enquired whether she had been at the opera?
“‘O no;’ Signor Colla answered; ‘she was too much afraid of that complaint which all her countrymen who travelled to England had so long lamented, and which the English call catch-cold, to venture to a theatre.’
“Agujari then condescended to inquire whether il Signor Dottore had heard the Gabrielli?
“‘Not yet,’ he replied; ‘he waited her coming to England. He had missed her in Italy, from her having passed that year in Sicily.’
“‘Ah Diable!’ exclaimed the Bastardini, ‘mais c’est dommage!’
“This familiar ‘Diable!’ from such majestic loftiness, had a very droll effect.
“‘Et vous, Signora, l’avez-vous entendue?’
“‘O que non!’ answered she, quite bluffly; ‘cela n’est pas possible!’
“And we were alarmed to observe that she looked highly affronted; though we could not possibly conjecture why, till Signor Colla, in a whisper, represented the error of the inquiry, by saying, that two first singers could never meet.
“‘True!’ Dr. Maty cried; ‘two suns never light us at once.’
“The Signora, to whom this was repeated in Italian, presently recovered her placid dignity by the blaze of these two suns; and, before she went away, was in such perfect amity with il Signor Dottore, that she voluntarily declared she would come again, when her sore throat was over, and chanter comme il faut.”
“My dear Mr. Crisp,
“My father, now, bids me write for him—which I do with joy and pride, for now, now,thus instigated, thus authorised, let me present to you the triumphant, the unique Agujari!
“O how we all wished for you when she broke forth in her vocal glory! The great singers of olden times, whom I have heard you so emphatically describe, seem to have all their talents revived in this wonderful creature. I could compare her to nothing I have ever heard, but only to what you have heard; your Carestini, Farinelli, Senesino, alone are worthy to be ranked with the Bastardini.
“She came with the Signor Maestro Colla, very early, to tea.
“I cannot deign to mention our party,—but it was small and good:—though by no means bright enough to be enumerated in the same page with Agujari.
“She frightened us a little, at first, by complaining of a cold. How we looked at one another! Mr. Burney was called upon to begin; which he did with even more than his usual spirit; and then—without waiting for a petition—which nobody, not even my dear father, had yet gathered courage to make, Agujari, the Bastardella, arose, voluntarily arose, to sing!
“We all rose too! we seemed all ear. There was no occasion for any other part to our persons. Had a fan,—for I won’t again give you a pin,—fallen, I suppose we should have taken it for at least a thunder-clap. All was hushed and rapt attention.
“Signor Colla accompanied her. She began with what she called a little minuet of his composition.
“Her cold was not affected, for her voice, at first, was not quite clear; but she acquitted herself charmingly. And, little as she called this minuet, it contained difficulties which I firmly believe no other singer in the world could have executed.
“But her great talents, and our great astonishment, were reserved for her second song, which was taken from Metastatio’s opera of Didone, set by Colla, ‘Non hai ragione, ingrato!’
“As this was an aria parlante, she first, in a voice softly melodious, read us the words, that we might comprehend what she had to express.
“It is nobly set; nobly! ‘Bravo, il Signor Maestro!’ cried my father, two or three times. She began with a fullness and power of voice that amazed us beyond all our possible expectations. She then lowered it to the most expressive softness—in short, my dear Mr. Crisp, she was sublime! I can use no other word without degrading her.
“This, and a second great song from the same opera, Son Regina, and Son Amante, she sang in a style to which my ears have hitherto been strangers. She unites, to her surprising and incomparable powers of execution, and luxuriant facility and compass of voice, an expression still more delicate—and, I had almost said, equally feeling with that of my darling Millico, who first opened my sensations to the melting and boundless delights of vocal melody. In fact, in Millico, it was his own sensibility that excited that of his hearers; it was so genuine, so touching! It seemed never to want any spur from admiration, but always to owe its excellence to its own resistless pathos.
“Yet, with all its vast compass, and these stupendous sonorous sounds, the voice of Agujari has a mellowness, a sweetness, that are quite vanquishing. One can hardly help falling at her feet while one listens! Her shake, too, is so plump, so true, so open! and, to display her various abilities to my father, she sang in twenty styles—if twenty there may be; for nothing is beyond her reach. In songs of execution, her divisions were so rapid, and so brilliant, they almost made one dizzy from breathless admiration: her cantabiles were so fine, so rich, so moving, that we could hardly keep the tears from our eyes. Then she gave us some accompanied recitative, with a nobleness of accent, that made every one of us stand erect out of respect! Then, how fascinately she condescended to indulge us with a rondeau! though she holds that simplicity of melody beneath her; and therefore rose from it to chaunt some church music, of the Pope’s Chapel, in a style so nobly simple, so grandly unadorned, that it penetrated to the inmost sense. She is just what she will: she has the highest taste, with an expression the most pathetic; and she executes difficulties the most wild, the most varied, the most incredible, with just as much ease and facility as I can say—my dear Mr. Crisp!
“Now don’t you die to come and hear her? I hope you do. O, she is indescribable!
“Assure yourself my father joins in all this, though perhaps, if he had time to write for himself, he might do it more Lady Grace like, ‘soberly.’ I hope she will fill up at least half a volume of his history. I wish he would call her, The Heroine of Music!
“We could not help regretting that her engagement was at the Pantheon, as her evidently fine ideas of acting are thrown away at a mere concert.
At this, she made faces of such scorn and derision against the managers, for not putting her upon the stage, that they altered her handsome countenance almost to ugliness; and, snatching up a music book, and opening it, and holding it full broad in her hands, she dropt a formal courtesy, to take herself off at the Pantheon, and said; ‘Oui! j’y suis là comme une statue! comme une petite ecolière!’ And afterwards she contemptuously added: ‘Mais, on n’aime e guerre ici que les rondeaux!—Moi—j’abhorre ces miseres là!’
One objection, however, and a rather serious one, against her walking the stage, is that she limps.
Do you know what they assert to be the cause of this lameness? It is said that, while a mere baby, and at nurse in the country, she was left rolling on the grass one evening, till she rolled herself round and round to a pigstie; where a hideous hog welcomed her as a delicious repast, and mangled one side of the poor infant most cruelly, before she was missed and rescued. She was recovered with great difficulty; but obliged to bear the insertion of a plate of silver, to sustain the parts where the terrible swine had made a chasm; and thence she has been called ... I forget the Italian name, but that which has been adopted here is Silver-sides.
“You may imagine that the wags of the day do not let such a circumstance, belonging to so famous a person, pass unmadrigalled: Foote, my father tells us, has declared he shall impeach the custom-house officers, for letting her be smuggled into the kingdom contrary to law; unless her sides have been entered at the stamp office. And Lord Sandwich has made a catch, in dialogue and in Italian, between the infant and the hog, where the former, in a plaintive tone of soliciting mercy, cries; ‘Caro mio Porco!’ The hog answers by a grunt. Her piteous entreaty is renewed in the softest, tenderest treble. His sole reply is expressed in one long note of the lowest, deepest bass. Some of her highest notes are then ludicrously imitated to vocalize little shrieks; and the hog, in finale, grunts out, ‘Ah! che bel mangiar!’
“Lord Sandwich, who shewed this to my father, had, at least, the grace to say, that he would not have it printed, lest it should get to her knowledge, till after her return to Italy.”
The radical and scientific merits of this singular personage, and astonishing performer, are fully expounded in the History of Music. She left England with great contempt for the land of Rondeaux; and never desired to visit it again.
Of the person and performance of Gabrielli, the History of Music contains a full and luminous description. She was the most universally renowned singer of her time; for Agujari died before her high and unexampled talents had expanded their truly wonderful supremacy.
Yet here, also, no private detail can be written of the private performance, or manners, of La Gabrielli, as she never visited at the house of Dr. Burney; though she most courteously invited him to her own; in which she received him with flattering distinction. And, as she had the judgment to set aside, upon his visits, the airs, caprices, coquetries, and gay insolences, of which the boundless report had preceded her arrival in England, he found her a high-bred, accomplished, and engaging woman of the world; or rather, he said, woman of fashion; for there was a winning ease, nay, captivation, in her look and air, that could scarcely, in any circle, be surpassed. Her great celebrity, however, for beauty and eccentricity, as well as for professional excellence, had raised such inordinate expectations before she came out, that the following juvenile letters upon the appearance of so extraordinary a musical personage, will be curious,—or, at least, diverting, to lovers of musical anecdote.
To Samuel Crisp, Esq.
“My dear Mr. Crisp,
“‘Tis so long since I have written, that I suppose you conclude we are all gone fortune-hunting to some other planet; but, to skip apologies, which I know you scoff, I shall atone for my silence, by telling you that my dear father returned from Buxton in quite restored health, I thank God! and that his first volume is now rough-sketched quite to the end, Preface and Dedication inclusive.
“But you are vehement, you say, to hear of Gabrielli.
“Well, so is every body else; but she has not yet sung.
“She is the subject of inquiry and discussion wherever you go. Every one expects her to sing like a thousand angels, yet to be as ridiculous as a thousand imps. But I believe she purposes to astonish them all in a new way; for imagine how sober and how English she means to become, when I tell you that she has taken a house in Golden-square, and put a plate upon her door, on which she has had engraven, “Mrs. Gabrielli.”
“If John Bull is not flattered by that, he must be John Bear.
“Rauzzini, meanwhile, who is to be the first serious singer, has taken precisely the other side; and will have nothing to do with his Johnship at all; for he has had his apartments painted a beautiful rose-colour, with a light myrtle sprig border; and has ornamented them with little knic-knacs and trinkets, like a fine lady’s dressing-room.
My father dined with them both the other day, at the manager’s, Mrs. Brookes, the author, and Mrs. Yates, the ci-devant actress. Rauzzini sang a great many sweet airs, and very delightfully; but Gabrielli not a note! Neither did any one presume to ask for such a favour. Her sister was of the party also, who they say cannot sing at all; but Gabrielli insisted upon having her engaged, and advantageously, or refused, peremptorily, to come over.
“Nothing can exceed the impatience of people of all ranks, and all ways
of thinking, concerning this so celebrated singer. And if you do not
come to town to hear her, I shall conclude you lost to all the Saint
Cecilian powers of attraction; and that you are become as indifferent
to music, as to dancing or to horse-racing. For my own part, if any
thing should unfortunately prevent my hearing her first performance,
I shall set it down in my memory ever after, as a very serious
misfortune. Don’t laugh so, dear daddy, pray!
Written the week following.
“How I rejoice, for once, in your hard-heartedness! how ashamed I should have been if you had come, dearest Sir, to my call! The Gabrielli did not sing! And she let all London, and all the country too, I believe, arrive at the theatre before it was proclaimed that she was not to appear! Every one of our family, and of every other family that I know,—and that I don’t know besides, were at the Opera House at an early hour. We, who were to enter at a private door, per favour of Mrs. Brookes, rushed past all handbills, not thinking them worth heeding. Poor Mr. Yates, the manager, kept running from one outlet to another, to relate the sudden desperate hoarseness of la Signora Gabrielli; and, supplicate patience, and, moreover, credence,—now from the box openings, now from the pit, now from the galleries. Had he been less active, or less humble, it is thought the theatre would have been pulled down; so prodigious was the rage of the large assemblage; none of them in the least believing that Gabrielli had the slightest thing the matter with her.
“My father says people do not think that singers have the capacity of having such a thing as a cold!
“The murmurs, ‘What a shame!’—‘how scandalous!’—‘what insolent airs!’—kept Mr. Yates upon the alert from post to post, to the utmost stretch of his ability; though his dolorous countenance painted his full conviction that he himself was the most seriously to be pitied of the party; for it was clear that he said, in soliloquy, upon every one that he sent away: ‘There goes half a guinea!—or, at the least, three shillings,—if not five, out of my pocket!’
“We all returned home in horrible ill-humour; but solacing ourselves with a candid determination, taken in a true spirit of liberality, that though she should sing even better than Agujari, we would not like her!
My father called upon the managers to know what all this meant; and Mrs. Brookes then told him, that all that had been reported of the extraordinary wilfulness of this spoilt child of talent and beauty, was exceeded by her behaviour. She only sent them word that she was out of voice, and could not sing, one hour before the house must be opened! They instantly hurried to her to expostulate, or rather to supplicate, for they dare neither reproach nor command; and to represent the utter impossibility of getting up any other opera so late; and to acknowledge their terror, even for their property, upon the fury of an English audience, if disappointed so bluffly at the last moment.
To this she answered very coolly, but with smiles and politeness, that if le monde expected her so eagerly, she would dress herself, and let the opera be performed; only, when her songs came to their symphony, instead of singing, she would make a courtesy, and point to her throat.
“‘You may imagine, Doctor,’ said Mrs. Brookes, ‘whether we could trust John Bull with so easy a lady! and at the very instant his ears were opening to hear her so vaunted performance!’
“Well, my dear Mr. Crisp, now for Saturday, and now for the real opera. We all went again. There was a prodigious house; such a one, for fashion at least, as, before Christmas, never yet was seen. For though every body was afraid there would be a riot, and that Gabrielli would be furiously hissed, from the spleen of the late disappointment, nobody could stay away; for her whims and eccentricities only heighten curiosity for beholding her person.
“The opera was Metastasio’s Didone, and the part for Gabrielli was new set by Sacchini.
“In the first scene, Rauzzini and Sestini appeared with la Signora Francesca, the sister of Gabrielli. They prepared us for the approach of the blazing comet that burst forth in the second.
“Nothing could be more noble than her entrance. It seemed instantaneously to triumph over her enemies, and conquer her threateners. The stage was open to its furthest limits, and she was discerned at its most distant point; and, for a minute or two, there dauntlessly she stood; and then took a sweep, with a firm, but accelerating step; and a deep, finely flowing train, till she reached the orchestra. There she stopt, amidst peals of applause, that seemed as if they would have shaken the foundations of the theatre.
“What think you now of John Bull?
“I had quite quivered for her, in expectation of cat-calling and hissings; but the intrepidity of her appearance and approach, quashed all his resentment into surprised admiration.
“She is still very pretty, though not still very young. She has small, intelligent, sparkling features; and though she is rather short, she is charmingly proportioned, and has a very engaging figure. All her notions are graceful, her air is full of dignity, and her walk is majestic.
“Though the applause was so violent, she seemed to think it so simply her due, that she deigned not to honour it with the slightest mark of acknowledgment, but calmly began her song.
“John Bull, however, enchained, as I believe, by the reported vagaries of her character, and by the high delight he expected from her talents, clapped on,—clap, clap, clap!—with such assiduous noise, that not a note could be heard, nor a notion be started that any note was sung. Unwilling, then,
“To waste her sweetness on the clamorous air,”
and perhaps growing a little gratified to find she could “soothe the savage breast,” she condescended to make an Italian courtesy, i.e. a slight, but dignified bow.
“Honest John, who had thought she would not accept his homage, but who, through the most abrupt turn from resentment to admiration, had resolved to bear with all her freaks, was so enchanted by this affability, that clapping he went on, till, I have little doubt, the skin of his battered hands went off; determining to gain another gentle salutation whether she would or not, as an august sign that she was not displeased with him for being so smitten, and so humble.
“After this, he suffered the orchestra to be heard.
“Gabrielli, however, was not flattered into spoiling her flatterers. Probably she liked the spoiling too well to make it over to them. Be that as it may, she still kept expectation on the rack, by giving us only recitative, till every other performer had tired our reluctant attention.
“At length, however, came the grand bravura, ‘Son Regina, e sono Amante.’
“Here I must stop!—Ah, Mr. Crisp! why would she take words that had been sung by Agujari?
“Opinions are so different, you must come and judge for yourself. Praise and censure are bandied backwards and forwards, as if they were two shuttlecocks between two battledores. The Son Regina was the only air of consequence that she even attempted; all else were but bits; pretty enough, but of no force or character for a great singer.
“How unfortunate that she should take the words, even though to other music, that we had heard from Agujari!—Oh! She is no Agujari!
“In short, and to come to the truth, she disappointed us all egregiously.
However, my dear father, who beyond any body tempers his judgment with indulgence, pronounces her a very capital singer.
“But she visibly took no pains to exert herself, and appeared so impertinently easy, that I believe she thought it condescension enough for us poor savage Islanders to see her stand upon the stage, and let us look at her. Yet it must at least be owned, that the tone of her voice, though feeble, is remarkably sweet; that her action is judicious and graceful, and that her style and manner of singing are masterly.”
“You reproach me, my dear Mr. Crisp, for not sending you an account of our last two concerts. But the fact is, I have not any thing new to tell you. The music has always been the same: the matrimonial duets are so much à-la-mode, that no other thing in our house is now demanded.
“But if I can write you nothing new about music—you want, I well know you will say, to hear some conversations.
“My dear Mr. Crisp, there is, at this moment, no such thing as conversation. There is only one question asked, meet whom you may, namely; ‘How do you like Gabrielli?’ and only two modes, contradictory to be sure, but very steady, of reply: either, ‘Of all things upon earth!’ or, ‘Not the least bit in the whole world!’
“Well, now I will present you with a specimen, beginning with our last concert but one, and arranging the persons of the drama in the order of their actual appearance.
“But imprimis, I should tell you, that the motive to this concert was a particular request to my father from Dr. King, our old friend, and the chaplain to the British—something—at St. Petersburgh, that he would give a little music to a certain mighty personage, who, somehow or other how, must needs take, transiently at least, a front place in future history,—namely, the famed favourite of the Empress Catherine of Russia, Prince Orloff.
“There, my dear Mr. Crisp! what say you to seeing such a doughty personage as that in a private house, at a private party, of a private individual, fresh imported from the Czarina of all the Russias,—to sip a cup of tea in St. Martin’s-Street?
“I wonder whether future historians will happen to mention this circumstance? I am thinking of sending it to all the keepers of records.
“But I see your rising eyebrow at this name—your start—your disgust—yet big curiosity.
“Well, suppose the family assembled, its honoured chief in the midst—and Tat, tat, tat, tat, at the door.
Enter Dr. Ogle, Dean of Winchester.
“Dr. Burney, after the usual ceremonies.—‘Did you hear the Gabrielli last night, Mr. Dean?’
“The Dean.—‘No, Doctor, I made the attempt, but soon retreated; for I hate a crowd,—as much as the ladies love it!—I beg pardon!’ bowing with a sort of civil sneer at we Fair Sex.
“My mother was entering upon a spirited defence, when—Tat, tat, tat.
Enter Dr. King.
“He brought the compliments of Prince Orloff, with his Highness’s apologies for being so late, but he was obliged to dine at Lord Buckingham’s, and thence, to shew himself at Lady Harrington’s.
“As nobody thought of inquiring into Dr. King’s opinion of La Gabrielli, conversation was at a stand, till—Tat, tat, tat, tat, too, and
“Enter Lady Edgcumbe.
“We were all introduced to her, and she was very chatty, courteous, and entertaining.
“Dr. Burney.—‘Your Ladyship was certainly at the Opera last night?’
“Lady Edgcumbe.—‘O yes!—but I have not heard the Gabrielli! I cannot allow that I have yet heard her.’
“Dr. Burney.—‘Your Ladyship expected a more powerful voice?’
“Lady Edgcumbe.—‘Why n-o—not much. The shadow can tell what the substance must be; but she cannot have acquired this great reputation throughout Europe for nothing. I therefore repeat that I have not yet heard her. She must have had a cold.—But, for me—I have heard Mingotti!—I have heard Montecelli!—I have heard Mansuoli!—and I shall never hear them again!’
“The Dean.—‘But, Lady Edgcumbe, may not Gabrielli have great powers, and yet have too weak a voice for so large a theatre?’
“Lady Edgcumbe.—‘Our theatre, Mr. Dean, is of no size to what she has been accustomed to abroad. But,—Dr. Burney, I have also heard the Agujari!’
“Hettina, Fanny, Susanna.—‘Oh! Agujari!’ (All three speaking with clasped hands.)
“Dr. Burney (laughing).—‘Your ladyship darts into all their hearts by naming Agujari! However, I have hopes you will hear her again.’
“Lady Edgcumbe.—‘O, Dr. Burney! bring her but to the Opera,—and I shall grow crazy!’
“I assure you, my dear Mr. Crisp, we all longed to embrace her ladyship. And she met our sympathy with a good-humour full of pleasure. My father added, that we all doated upon Agujari.
“Lady Edgcumbe.—‘O! she is incomparable!—Mark but the difference, Dr. Burney; by Gabrielli, Rauzzini seems to have a great voice;—by Agujari, he seemed to have that of a child.’—
“Tat, tat, tat, tat, too.
“Enter The Hon. Mr. and Mrs. Brudenel.
“Mr. Brudenell, commonly called ‘His Honour,’ from high birth, I suppose, without title, or from some quaint old cause that nobody knows who has let me into its secret, is tall and stiff, and strongly in the ton of the present day; which is anything rather than macaroniism; for it consists of unbounded freedom and ease, with a short, abrupt, dry manner of speech; and in taking the liberty to ask any question that occurs upon other people’s affairs and opinions; even upon their incomes and expences;—nay, even upon their age!
“Did you ever hear of any thing so shocking?
“I do not much mind it now; but, when I grow older, I intend recommending to have this part of their code abolished.
“Mrs. Brudenel is very obliging and pleasing; and of as great fame as a lady singer, as Lady Edgcumbe is as a first rate lady player.
“The usual question being asked of La Gabrielli;
“_Mrs. Brudenel._—‘O, Lady Edgcumbe and I are entirely of the same opinion; we agree that we have not yet heard her.’
“_Lady Edgcumbe._—‘The ceremony of her quitting the theatre after the opera is over, is extremely curious. First goes a man in livery to clear the way; then follows the sister; then the Gabrielli herself. Then, a little foot-page, to bear her train; and, lastly, another man, who carries her muff, in which is her lap-dog.’
“Mr. Brudenel.—‘But where is Lord March all this time?’
“Lady Edgcumbe (laughing).—‘Lord March? O,——he, you know, is First Lord of the Bedchamber!’—
“Tat, tat, tat, tat.
“Enter M. le Baron de Demidoff.
“He is a Russian nobleman, who travels with Prince Orloff; and he preceded his Highness with fresh apologies, and a desire that the concert might not wait, as he would only shew himself at Lady Harrington’s, and hasten hither.
“My father then attended Lady Edgcumbe to the Library, and Mr. Burney took his place at the harpsichord.
“We all followed. He was extremely admired; but I have nothing new to tell you upon that subject.
“Then enter Mr. Chamier. Then followed several others; and then
“Enter Mr. Harris, of Salisbury.
“Susan and I quite delighted in his sight, he is so amiable to talk with, and so benevolent to look at. Lady Edgcumbe rose to meet him, saying he was her particular old friend. He then placed himself by Susan and me, and renewed acquaintance in the most pleasing manner possible. I told him we were all afraid he would be tired to death of so much of one thing, for we had nothing to offer him but again the duet. ‘That is the very reason I solicited to come,’ he answered; ‘I was so much charmed the last time, that I begged Dr. Burney to give me a repetition of the same pleasure.’
“‘Then—of course, the opera? The Gabrielli?’
“Mr. Harris declared himself her partizan.
“Lady Edgcumbe warmed up ardently for Agajari.
“Mr. Dean.—‘But pray, Dr. Burney, why should not these two melodious signoras sing together, that we might judge them fairly?’
“Dr. Burney.—‘Oh! the rivalry would be too strong. It would create a musical war. It would be Cæsar and Pompey.’
“Lady Edgcumbe.—‘Pompey the Little, then, I am sure would be la Gabrielli!’
“Enter Lord Bruce.
“He is a younger brother not only of the Duke of Montagu, but of his Honour Brudenel. How the titles came to be so awkwardly arranged in this family is no affair of mine; so you will excuse my sending you to the Herald’s Office, if you want that information, my dear Mr. Crisp; though as you are one of the rare personages who are skilled in every thing yourself,—at least so says my father;—and he is a Doctor, you know!—I dare say you will genealogize the matter to me at once, when next I come to dear Chesington.
“He is tall, thin, and plain, but remarkably sensible, agreeable, and polite; as, I believe, are very generally all those keen looking Scotchmen; for Scotch, not from his accent, but his name, I conclude him of course. Can Bruce be other than Scotch? They are far more entertaining, I think, as well as informing, taken in the common run, than we silentious English; who, taken en masse, are tolerably dull.
“The Opera?—the Gabrielli?—were now again brought forward. Lady Edgcumbe, who is delightfully music mad, was so animated, that she was quite the life of the company.
“At length—Tat, tat, tat, tat, tat, tat, tat, tat, too!
“Enter His Highness Prince Orloff.
“Have you heard the dreadful story of the thumb, by which this terrible Prince is said to have throttled the late Emperor of Russia, Peter, by suddenly pressing his windpipe while he was drinking? I hope it is not true; and Dr. King, of whom, while he resided in Russia, Prince Orloff was the patron, denies the charge. Nevertheless, it is so currently reported, that neither Susan nor I could keep it one moment from our thoughts; and we both shrunk from him with secret horror, heartily wishing him in his own Black Sea.
“His sight, however, produced a strong sensation, both in those who believed, and those who discredited this disgusting barbarity; for another story, not perhaps, of less real, though of less sanguinary guilt, is not a tale of rumour, but a crime of certainty; namely, that he is the first favourite of the cruel inhuman Empress—if it be true that she connived at this horrible murder.
“His Highness was immediately preceded by another Russian nobleman, whose name I have forgot; and followed by a noble Hessian, General Bawr.
“Prince Orloff is of stupendous stature, something resembling Mr. Bruce. He is handsome, tall, fat, upright, magnificent. His dress was superb. Besides the blue garter, he had a star of diamonds of prodigious brilliancy, a shoulder knot of the same lustre and value, and a picture of the Empress hung about his neck, set round with diamonds of such brightness and magnitude, that, when near the light, they were too dazzling for the eye. His jewels, Dr. King says, are estimated at one hundred thousand pounds sterling.
“His air and address are shewy, striking, and assiduously courteous. He had a look that frequently seemed to say, ‘I hope you observe that I come from a polished court?—I hope you take note that I am no Cossack?’—Yet, with all this display of commanding affability, he seems, from his native taste and humour, ‘agreeably addicted to pleasantry.’ He speaks very little English, but knows French perfectly.
“His introduction to my father, in which Dr. King pompously figured, passed in the drawing-room. The library was so crowded, that he could only show himself at the door, which was barely high enough not to discompose his prodigious toupee.
“He bowed to Mr. Chamier, then my next neighbour, whom he had somewhere met; but I was so impressed by the shocking rumours of his horrible actions, that involuntarily I drew back even from a bow of vicinity; murmuring to Mr. Chamier, ‘He looks so potent and mighty, I do not like to be near him!’
“‘He has been less unfortunate,’ answered Mr. Chamier, archly, ‘elsewhere; such objection has not been made to him by all ladies!’
“Lord Bruce, who knew, immediately rose to make way for him, and moved to another end of the room. The Prince instantly held out his vast hand, in which, if he had also held a cambric handkerchief, it must have looked like a white flag on the top of a mast,—so much higher than the most tip-top height of every head in the room was his spread out arm, as he exclaimed, ‘Ah! mi lord me fuit!’
“His Honour, then, rising also, with a profound reverence, offered his seat to his Highness; but he positively refused to accept it, and declared, that if Mr. Brudenel would not be seated, he would himself retire; and seeing Mr. Brudenel demur, still begging his Highness to take the chair, he cried with a laugh, but very peremptorily, ‘Non, non, Monsieur! Je ne le veux pas! Je suis opiniatre, moi;—un peu comme Messieurs les Anglais!’
“Mr. Brudenel then re-seated himself: and the corner of a form appearing to be vacant, from the pains taken by poor Susan to shrink away from Mr. Orloff, his Highness suddenly dropped down upon it his immense weight, with a force—notwithstanding a palpable and studied endeavour to avoid doing mischief—that threatened his gigantic person with plumping upon the floor; and terrified all on the opposite side of the form with the danger of visiting the ceiling.
“Perceiving Susan strive, though vainly, from want of space, to glide further off from him, and struck, perhaps, by her sweet countenance, ‘Ah, ha!’ he cried, ‘Je tiens ici, Je vois, une petite Prisonnière?!’
“Charlotte, blooming like a budding little Hebe, actually stole into a corner, from affright at the whispered history of his thumb ferocity.
“Mr. Chamier, who now probably had developed what passed in my mind, contrived, very comically, to disclose his similar sentiment; for, making a quiet way to my ear, he said, in a low voice, ‘I wish Dr. Burney had invited Omiah here tonight, instead of Prince Orloff!’ Meaning, no doubt, of the two exotics, he should have preferred the most innocent!
“The grand duet of Müthel was now called for, and played. But I can tell you nothing extra of the admiration it excited. Your Hettina looked remarkably pretty; and, added to the applause given to the music, every body had something to observe upon the singularity of the performers being husband and wife. Prince Orloff was witty quite to facetiousness; sarcastically marking something beyond what he said, by a certain ogling, half cynical, half amorous, cast of his eyes; and declaring he should take care to initiate all the foreign academies of natural philosophy, in the secret of the harmony that might be produced by such nuptial concord.
“The Russian nobleman who accompanied Prince Orloff, and who knew English, they told us, so well that he was the best interpreter for his Highness in his visits, gave us now a specimen of his proficiency; for, clapping his fore finger upon a superfine snuffbox, he exclaimed, when the duet was finished, ‘Ma foi, dis is so pretty as never I hear in my life!’
“General Bawr, also, to whom Mr. Harris directed my attention, was greatly charmed. He is tall, and of stern and martial aspect. ‘He is a man,’ said Mr. Harris, ‘to be looked at, from his courage, conduct, and success during the last Russian war; when, though a Hessian by birth, he was a Lieutenant General in the service of the Empress of Russia; and obtained the two military stars, which you now see him wear on each side, by his valour.’
“But the rapture of Lady Edgcumbe was more lively than that of any other. ‘Oh, Doctor Burney,’ she cried, ‘you have set me a madding! I would willingly practice night and day to be able to perform in such a manner. I vow I would rather hear that extraordinary duet played in that extraordinary manner, than twenty operas!’
“Her ladyship was now introduced to Prince Orloff, whom she had not happened to meet with before; and they struck up a most violent flirtation together. She invited him to her house, and begged leave to send him a card. He accepted the invitation, but begged leave to fetch the card in person. She should be most happy, she said, to receive him, for though she had but a small house, she had a great ambition. And so they went on, in gallant courtesie, till, once again, the question was brought back of the opera, and the Gabrielli.
“The Prince declared that she had not by any means sang as well as at St. Petersburgh; and General Bawr protested that, had he shut his eyes, he should not again have known her.
“Then followed, to vary the entertainment, singing by Mrs. Brudenel.
“Prince Orloff inquired very particularly of Dr. King, who we four young female Burneys were; for we were all dressed alike, on account of our mourning; and when Dr. King answered, ‘Dr. Burney’s daughters;’ she was quite astonished; for he had not thought our dear father, he said, more than thirty years of age; if so much.
“Mr. Harris, in a whisper, told me he wished some of the ladies would desire to see the miniature of the Empress a little nearer; the monstrous height of the Prince putting it quite out of view to his old eyes and short figure; and being a man, he could not, he said, presume to ask such an indulgence as that of holding it in his own hands.
“Delighted to do any thing for this excellent Mr. Harris, and quite at my ease with poor prosing Dr. King, I told him the wish of Mr. Harris.
“Dr. King whispered the desire to M. de Demidoff; M. de Demidoff did the same to General de Bawr; and General de Bawr dauntlessly made the petition to the Prince, in the name of The Ladies.
“The Prince laughed, rather sardonically; yet with ready good-humour complied; telling the General, pretty much sans ceremonie, to untie the ribbon round his neck, and give the picture into the possession of The Ladies.
“He was very gallant and debonnaire upon the occasion, entreating they would by no means hurry themselves; yet his smile, as his eye sharply followed the progress, from hand to hand, of the miniature, had a suspicious cast of investigating whether it would be worth his while to ask any favour of them in return! and through all the superb magnificence of his display of courtly manners, a little bit of the Cossack, methought, broke out, when he desired to know whether The Ladies wished for any thing else? declaring, with a smiling bow, and rolling, languishing, yet half contemptuous eyes, that, if The Ladies would issue their commands, they should strip him entirely!
“You may suppose, after that, nobody asked for a closer view of any more of his ornaments! The good, yet unaffectedly humorous philosopher of Salisbury, could not help laughing, even while actually blushing at it, that his own curiosity should have involved The Ladies in this supercilious sort of sarcastic homage.
“There was hardly any looking at the picture of the Empress for the glare of the diamonds. One of them, I really believe, was as big as a nutmeg: though I am somewhat ashamed to undignify my subject by so culinary a comparison.
“When we were all satisfied, the miniature was restored by General Bawr to the Prince, who took it with stately complacency; condescendingly making a smiling bow to each fair female who had had possession of it; and receiving from her in return a lowly courtesy.
“Mr. Harris, who was the most curious to see the Empress, because his son, Sir James,  was, or is intended to be, minister at her court, had slyly looked over every shoulder that held her; but would not venture, he archly whispered, to take the picture in his own hands, lest he should be included, by the Prince, amongst The Ladies, as an old woman!
“Have you had enough of this concert, my dear Mr. Crisp? I have given it in detail, for the humour of letting you see how absorbing of the public voice is La Gabrielli: and, also, for describing to you Prince Orloff; a man who, when time lets out facts, and drives in mysteries, must necessarily make a considerable figure, good or bad—but certainly not indifferent,—in European history. Besides, I want your opinion, whether there is not an odd and striking resemblance in general manners, as well as in Herculean strength and height, in this Siberian Prince and his Abyssinian Majesty?”
“My dear Mr. Crisp.
“I must positively talk to you again of the sweet Baroness Deiden, though I am half afraid to write you any more details of our Duet Concerts, lest they should tire your patience as much as my fingers. But you will be pleased to hear that they are still à-la-mode. We have just had another at the request of M. le Comte de Guignes, the French ambassador, delivered by Lady Edgcumbe; who not only came again her lively self, but brought her jocose and humorous lord; who seems as sportive and as fond of a hoax as any tar who walks the quarter-deck; and as cleverly gifted for making, as he is gaily disposed for enjoying one. They were both full of good-humour and spirits, and we liked them amazingly. They have not a grain of what you style the torpor of the times.
Lady Edgcumbe was so transported by Müthel, that when her lord emitted a little cough, though it did not find vent till he had half stifled himself to check it, she called out, ‘What do you do here, my Lord, coughing? We don’t want that accompaniment.’ I wish you could have seen how drolly he looked. I am sure he was full primed with a ready repartee. But her ladyship was so intently in ecstacy, and he saw us all round so intently admiring her enthusiasm, that I verily believe he thought it would not be safe to interrupt the performance, even with the best witticism of his merry imagination.
“We had also, for contrast, the new Groom of the Stole, Lord Ashburnham, with his key of gold dangling from his pocket. He is elegant and pleasing, though silent and reserved; and just as scrupulously high-bred, as Lord Edgcumbe is frolicsomely facetious.
“But, my dear Mr. Crisp, we had again the bewitching Danish ambassadress, the Baroness Deiden, and her polite husband, the Baron. She is really one of the most delightful creatures in this lower world, if she is not one of the most deceitful. We were more charmed with her than ever. I wonder whether Ophelia was like her? or, rather, I have no doubt but she was just such another. So musical, too! The Danish Court was determined to show us that our great English bard knew what he was about, when he drew so attractive a Danish female. The Baron seems as sensible of her merit as if he were another Hamlet himself—though that is no man I ever yet saw! She speaks English very prettily; as she can’t help, I believe, doing whatever she sets about. She said to my father, ‘How good you were, Sir, to remember us! We are very much oblige indeed.’ And then to my sister, ‘I have heard no music since I was here last!’
“We had also Lord Barrington, brother to my father’s good friend Daines, and to the excellent Bishop of Salisbury.. His lordship, as you know, is universally reckoned clever, witty, penetrating, and shrewd. But he bears this high character any where rather than in his air and look, which by no means pronounce his superiority of their own accord. Doubtless, however, he has ‘that within which passeth shew;’ for there is only one voice as to his talents and merit.
“His Honour, Mr. Brudenel,—but I will not again run over the names of the duplicates from the preceding concerts. I will finish my list with Lord Sandwich.
“And most welcome he made himself to us, in entering the drawing-room, by giving intelligence that he had just heard from the circumnavigators, and that our dear James was well.
“Lord Sandwich is a tall, stout man, and looks as furrowed and weather-proof as any sailor in the navy; and, like most of the old set of that brave tribe, he has good nature and joviality marked in every feature. I want to know why he is called Jemmy Twitcher in the newspapers? Do pray tell me that?
“But why do I prepare for closing my account, before I mention him for whom it was opened? namely, M. le Comte de Guignes, the French ambassador.
“He was looked upon, when he first came over, as one of the handsomest
of men, as well as one of the most gallant; and his conquests amongst
the fair dames of the court were in proportion with those two
circumstances. I hope, therefore, now,—as I am no well-wisher to these
sort of conquerors,—that his defeats, in future, will counter-balance
his victories; for he is grown so fat, and looks so sleek and supine,
that I think the tender tribe will hence-forward be in complete safety,
and may sing, in full chorus, while viewing him,
“‘Sigh no more, Ladies, sigh no more!’
“He was, however, very civil, and seemed well entertained; though he left an amusing laugh behind him from the pomposity of his exit; for not finding, upon quitting the music room, with an abrupt French leave, half a dozen of our lackeys waiting to anticipate his orders; half a dozen of those gentlemen not being positively at hand; he indignantly and impatiently called out aloud: ‘Mes gens! où sont mes gens? Que sont ils donc devenu? Mes gens! Je dis! Mes gens!’
“Previously to this, the duet had gone off with its usual eclât.
“Lord Sandwich then expressed an earnest desire to hear the Baroness play: but she would not listen to him, and seemed vexed to be entreated, saying to my sister Hettina, who joined his lordship in the solicitation, ‘Oh yes! it will be very pretty, indeed, after all this so fine music, to see me play a little minuet!’
“Lord Sandwich applied to my father to aid his petition; but my father, though he wished himself to hear the Baroness again, did not like to tease her, when he saw her modesty of refusal was real; and consequently, that overcoming it would be painful. I am sure I could not have pressed her for the world! But Lord Sandwich, who, I suppose, is heart of oak, was not so scrupulous, and hovered over her, and would not desist; though turning her head away from him, and waving her hand to distance him, she earnestly said: ‘I beg—I beg, my lord!—’
“Lord Barrington then, who, we found, was an intimate acquaintance of the ambassador’s, attempted to seize the waving hand; conjuring her to consent to let him lead her to the instrument.
“But she hastily drew in her hand, and exclaimed: ‘Fie, fie, my lord Barrington!—so ill natured!—I should not think was you! Besides, you have heard me so often.’
“‘Madame la Baronne,’ replied he, with vivacity, ‘I want you to play precisely because Lord Sandwich has not heard you, and because I have!’
“All, however, was in vain, till the Baron came forward, and said to her, ‘Ma chère—you had better play something—anything—than give such a trouble.’
“She instantly arose, saying with a little reluctant shrug, but accompanied by a very sweet smile, ‘Now this looks just as if I was like to be so much pressed!’
“She then played a slow movement of Abel’s, and a minuet of Schobert’s, most delightfully, and with so much soul and expression, that your Hettina could hardly have played them better.
“She is surely descended in a right line from Ophelia! only, now I think of it, Ophelia dies unmarried. That is horribly unlucky. But, oh Shakespeare!—all-knowing Shakespeare!—how came you to picture just such female beauty and sweetness and harmony in a Danish court, as was to be brought over to England so many years after, in a Danish ambassadress?
“But I have another no common thing to tell you. Do you know that my Lord Barrington, from the time that he addressed the Baroness Deiden, and that her manner shewed him to stand fair in her good opinion, wore quite a new air? and looked so high-bred and pleasing, that I could not think what he had done with his original appearance; for it then had as good a Viscount mien as one might wish to see on a summer’s day. Now how is this, my dear Daddy? You, who deride all romance, tell me how it could happen? I know you formerly were acquainted with Lord Barrington, and liked him very much—pray, was it in presence of some fair Ophelia that you saw him?”
But highest, at this season, in the highest circles of society, from the triple bewitchment of talents, beauty, and fashion, stood the fair Linley Sheridan; who now gave concerts at her own house, to which entrance was sought not only by all the votaries of taste, and admirers of musical excellence, but by all the leaders of ton, and their numerous followers, or slaves; with an ardour for admittance that was as eager for beholding as for listening to this matchless warbler; so astonishingly in concord were the charms of person, manners, and voice, for the eye and for the ear, of this resistless syren.
To these concerts Dr. Burney was frequently invited; where he had the pleasure, while enjoying the spirit of her conversation, the winning softness of her address, and the attraction of her smiles, to return her attention to him by the delicacy of accompaniment with which he displayed her vocal perfection.
In the midst of this energetic life of professional exertion, family avocations, worldly prosperity, and fashionable distinction, Dr. Burney lost not one moment that he could purloin either from its pleasures or its toils, to dedicate to what had long become the principal object of his cares,—his musical work.
Music, as yet, whether considered as a science or as an art, had been written upon only in partial details, to elucidate particular points of theory or of practice; but no general plan, or history of its powers, including its rise, progress, uses, and changes, in all the known nations of the world, had ever been attempted: though, at the time Dr. Burney set out upon his tours, to procure or to enlarge materials for such a work, it singularly chanced that there started up two fellow-labourers in the same vineyard, one English, the other Italian, who were working in their studies upon the same idea—namely, Sir John Hawkins, and Padre Martini. A French musical historian, also, M. de La Borde, took in hand the same subject, by a striking coincidence, nearly at the same period.
Each of their labours has now been long before the public; and each, as usual, has received the mede of pre-eminence, according to the sympathy of its readers with the several views of the subject given by the several authors.
The impediments to all progressive expedition that stood in the way of this undertaking with Dr. Burney, were so completely beyond his control, that, with his utmost efforts and skill, it was not till the year 1776, which was six years after the publication of his plan, that he was able to bring forth his
And even then, it was the first volume only that he could publish; nor was it till six years later followed by the second.
Greatly, however, to a mind like his, was every exertion repaid by the honour of its reception. The subscription, by which he had been enabled to sustain its numerous expences in books, travels, and engravings, had brilliantly been filled with the names of almost all that were most eminent in literature, high in rank, celebrated in the arts, or leading in the fashion of the day. And while the lovers of music received with eagerness every account of that art in which they delighted; scholars, and men of letters in general, who hitherto had thought of music but as they thought of a tune that might be played or sung from imitation, were astonished at the depth of research, and almost universality of observation, reading, and meditation, which were now shewn to be requisite for such an undertaking: while the manner in which, throughout the work, such varied matter was displayed, was so natural, so spirited, and so agreeable, that the History of Music not only awakened respect and admiration for its composition; it excited, also, an animated desire, in almost the whole body of its readers, to make acquaintance with its author.
The History of Music was dedicated, by permission, to her Majesty, Queen Charlotte; and was received with even peculiar graciousness when it was presented, at the drawing-room, by the author. The Queen both loved and understood the subject; and had shewn the liberal exemption of her fair mind from all petty nationality, in the frank approbation she had deigned to express of the Doctor’s Tours; notwithstanding they so palpably displayed his strong preference of the Italian vocal music to that of the German.
So delighted was Doctor Burney by the condescending manner of the Queen’s acceptance of his musical offering, that he never thenceforward failed paying his homage to their Majesties, upon the two birth-day anniversaries of those august and beloved Sovereigns.
Fair was this period in the life of Dr. Burney. It opened to him a new region of enjoyment, supported by honours, and exhilarated by pleasures supremely to his taste: honours that were literary, pleasures that were intellectual. Fair was this period, though not yet was it risen to its acme: a fairer still was now advancing to his highest wishes, by free and frequent intercourse with the man in the world to whose genius and worth united, he looked up the most reverentially—Dr. Johnson.
And this intercourse was brought forward through circumstances of such infinite agreeability, that no point, however flattering, of the success that led him to celebrity, was so welcome to his honest and honourable pride, as being sought for at Streatham, and his reception at that seat of the Muses.
Mrs. Thrale, the lively and enlivening lady of the mansion, was then at the height of the glowing renown which, for many years, held her in stationary superiority on that summit.
It was professionally that Dr. Burney was first invited to Streatham, by the master of that fair abode. The eldest daughter of the house was in the progress of an education fast advancing in most departments of juvenile accomplishments, when the idea of having recourse to the chief in “music’s power divine,”—Dr. Burney,—as her instructor in harmony, occurred to Mrs. Thrale.
So interesting was this new engagement to the family of Dr. Burney, which had been born and bred to a veneration of Dr. Johnson; and which had imbibed the general notion that Streatham was a coterie of wits and scholars, on a par with the blue assemblages in town of Mrs. Montagu and Mrs. Vesey; that they all flocked around him, on his return from his first excursion, with eager enquiry whether Dr. Johnson had appeared; and whether Mrs. Thrale merited the brilliant plaudits of her panegyrists.
Dr. Burney, delighted with all that had passed, was as communicative as they could be inquisitive. Dr. Johnson had indeed appeared; and from his previous knowledge of Dr. Burney, had come forward to him zealously, and wearing his mildest aspect.
Twenty-two years had now elapsed since first they had opened a correspondence, that to Dr. Burney had been delightful, and of which Dr. Johnson retained a warm and pleased remembrance. The early enthusiasm for that great man, of Dr. Burney, could not have hailed a more propitious circumstance for promoting the intimacy to which he aspired, than what hung on this recollection; for kind thoughts must instinctively have clung to the breast of Dr. Johnson, towards so voluntary and disinterested a votary; who had broken forth from his own modest obscurity to offer homage to Dr. Johnson, long before his stupendous Dictionary, and more stupendous character, had raised him to his subsequent towering fame.
Mrs. Thrale, Dr. Burney had beheld as a star of the first magnitude in the constellation of female wits; surpassing, rather than equalizing, the reputation which her extraordinary endowments, and the splendid fortune which made them conspicuous, had blazoned abroad; while her social and easy good-humour allayed the alarm excited by the report of her spirit of satire; which, nevertheless, he owned she unsparingly darted around her, in sallies of wit and gaiety, and the happiest spontaneous epigrams.
Mr. Thrale, the Doctor had found a man of sound sense, good parts, good instruction, and good manners; with a liberal turn of mind, and an unaffected taste for talented society. Yet, though it was everywhere known that Mrs. Thrale sportively, but very decidedly, called and proclaimed him her master, the Doctor never perceived in Mr. Thrale any overbearing marital authority; and soon remarked, that while, from a temper of mingled sweetness and carelessness, his wife never offered him any opposing opinion, he was too wise to be rallied, by a sarcastic nickname, out of the rights by which he kept her excess of vivacity in order. Composedly, therefore, he was content with the appellation; though from his manly character, joined to his real admiration of her superior parts, he divested it of its commonly understood imputation of tyranny, to convert it to a mere simple truism.
But Dr. Burney soon saw that he had little chance of aiding his young pupil in any very rapid improvement. Mrs. Thrale, who had no passion but for conversation, in which her eminence was justly her pride, continually broke into the lesson to discuss the news of the times; politics, at that period, bearing the complete sway over men’s minds. But she intermingled what she related, or what she heard, with sallies so gay, so unexpected, so classically erudite, or so vivaciously entertaining, that the tutor and the pupil were alike drawn away from their studies, to an enjoyment of a less laborious, if not of a less profitable description.
Dr. Johnson, who had no ear for music, had accustomed himself, like many other great writers who have had that same, and frequently sole, deficiency, to speak slightingly both of the art and of its professors. And it was not till after he had become intimately acquainted with Dr. Burney and his various merits, that he ceased to join in a jargon so unworthy of his liberal judgment, as that of excluding musicians and their art from celebrity.
The first symptom that he shewed of a tendency to conversion upon this subject, was upon hearing the following paragraph read, accidentally, aloud by Mrs. Thrale, from the preface to the History of Music, while it was yet in manuscript.
“The love of lengthened tones and modulated sounds, seems a passion implanted in human nature throughout the globe; as we hear of no people, however wild and savage in other particulars, who have not music of some kind or other, with which they seem greatly delighted.”
“Sir,” cried Dr. Johnson, after a little pause, “this assertion I believe may be right.” And then, see-sawing a minute or two on his chair, he forcibly added: “All animated nature loves music—except myself!”
Some time later, when Dr. Burney perceived that he was generally gaining ground in the house, he said to Mrs. Thrale, who had civilly been listening to some favourite air that he had been playing: “I have yet hopes, Madam, with the assistance of my pupil, to see your’s become a musical family. Nay, I even hope, Sir,” turning to Dr. Johnson, “I shall some time or other make you, also, sensible of the power of my art.”
“Sir,” answered the Doctor, smiling, “I shall be very glad to have a new sense put into me!”
The Tour to the Hebrides being then in hand, Dr. Burney inquired of what size and form the book would be. “Sir,” he replied, with a little bow, “you are my model!”
Impelled by the same kindness, when the Doctor lamented the disappointment of the public in Hawkesworth’s Voyages,—“Sir,” he cried, “the public is always disappointed in books of travels;—except your’s!”
And afterwards, he said that he had hardly ever read any book quite through in his life; but added: “Chamier and I, Sir, however, read all your travels through;—except, perhaps, the description of the great pipes in the organs of Germany and the Netherlands!—”
Mr. Thrale had lately fitted up a rational, readable, well chosen library. It were superfluous to say that he had neither authors for show, nor bindings for vanity, when it is known, that while it was forming, he placed merely one hundred pounds in Dr. Johnson’s hands for its completion; though such was his liberality, and such his opinion of the wisdom as well as knowledge of Doctor Johnson in literary matters, that he would not for a moment have hesitated to subscribe to the highest estimate that the Doctor might have proposed.
One hundred pounds, according to the expensive habits of the present day, of decorating books like courtiers and coxcombs, rather than like students and philosophers, would scarcely purchase a single row for a book-case of the length of Mr. Thrale’s at Streatham; though, under such guidance as that of Dr. Johnson, to whom all finery seemed foppery, and all foppery futility, that sum, added to the books naturally inherited, or already collected, amply sufficed for the unsophisticated reader, where no peculiar pursuit, or unlimited spirit of research, demanded a collection for reference rather than for instruction and enjoyment.
This was no sooner accomplished, than Mr. Thrale resolved to surmount these treasures for the mind by a similar regale for the eyes, in selecting the persons he most loved to contemplate, from amongst his friends and favourites, to preside over the literature that stood highest in his estimation.
And, that his portrait painter might go hand in hand in judgment with his collector of books, he fixed upon the matchless Sir Joshua Reynolds to add living excellence to dead perfection, by giving him the personal resemblance of the following elected set; every one of which occasionally made a part of the brilliant society of Streatham.
Mrs. Thrale and her eldest daughter were in one piece, over the fire-place, at full length.
The rest of the pictures were all three-quarters.
Mr. Thrale was over the door leading to his study.
The general collection then began by Lord Sandys and Lord Westcote, two early noble friends of Mr. Thrale.
|Dr. Johnson.||Mr. Burke.||Dr. Goldsmith.|
|Mr. Murphy.||Mr. Garrick.||Mr. Baretti.|
All painted in the highest style of the great master, who much delighted in this his Streatham gallery.
There was place left but for one more frame, when the acquaintance with Dr. Burney began at Streatham; and the charm of his conversation and manners, joined to his celebrity in letters, so quickly won upon the master as well as the mistress of the mansion, that he was presently selected for the honour of filling up this last chasm in the chain of Streatham worthies. To this flattering distinction, which Dr. Burney always recognized with pleasure, the public owe the engraving of Bartolozzi, which is prefixed to the History of Music.
The friendship and kindness of heart of Dr. Johnson, were promptly brought into play by this renewed intercourse. Richard, the youngest son of Dr. Burney, born of the second marriage, was then preparing for Winchester School, whither his father purposed conveying him in person. This design was no sooner known at Streatham, where Richard, at that time a beautiful as well as clever boy, was in great favour with Mrs. Thrale, than Dr. Johnson volunteered an offer to accompany the father to Winchester; that he might himself present the son to Dr. Warton, the then celebrated master of that ancient receptacle for the study of youth.
Dr. Burney, enchanted by such a mark of regard, gratefully accepted the proposal; and they set out together for Winchester, where Dr. Warton expected them with ardent hospitality. The acquaintance of Dr. Burney he had already sought with literary liberality, having kindly given him notice, through the medium of Mr. Garrick,  of a manuscript treatise on music in the Winchester collection. There was, consequently, already an opening to pleasure in their meeting: but the master’s reception of Dr. Johnson, from the high-wrought sense of the honour of such a visit, was rather rapturous than glad. Dr. Warton was always called an enthusiast by Dr. Johnson, who, at times, when in gay spirits, and with those with whom he trusted their ebullition, would take off Dr. Warton with the strongest humour; describing, almost convulsively, the ecstacy with which he would seize upon the person nearest to him, to hug in his arms, lest his grasp should be eluded, while he displayed some picture, or some prospect; and indicated, in the midst of contortions and gestures that violently and ludicrously shook, if they did not affright his captive, the particular point of view, or of design, that he wished should be noticed.
This Winchester visit, besides the permanent impression made by its benevolence, considerably quickened the march of intimacy of Dr. Burney with the great lexicographer, by the tête à tête journies to and from Winchester; in which there was not only the ease of companionability, to dissipate the modest awe of intellectual super-eminence, but also the certitude of not being obtrusive; since, thus coupled in a post-chaise, Dr. Johnson had no choice of occupation, and no one else to whom to turn.
Far, however, from Dr. Johnson, upon this occasion, was any desire of change, or any requisition for variety. The spirit of Dr. Burney, with his liveliness of communication, drew out the mighty stores which Dr. Johnson had amassed upon nearly every subject, with an amenity that brought forth his genius in its very essence, cleared from all turbid dregs of heated irritability; and Dr. Burney never looked back to this Winchester tour but with recollected pleasure.
Nor was this the sole exertion in favour of Dr. Burney, of this admirable friend. He wrote various letters to his own former associates, and to his newer connexions at Oxford, recommending to them to facilitate, with their best power, the researches of the musical historian. And, some time afterwards, he again took a seat in the chaise of Dr. Burney, and accompanied him in person to that university; where every head of college, professor, and even general member, vied one with another in coupling, in every mark of civility, their rising approbation of Dr. Burney, with their established reverence for Dr. Johnson.
Most willingly, indeed, would this great and excellent man have made, had he seen occasion, far superior efforts in favour of Dr. Burney; an excursion almost any where being, in fact, so agreeable to his taste, as to be always rather a pleasure to him than a fatigue.
His vast abilities, in truth, were too copious for the small scenes, objects, and interests of the little world in which he lived;  and frequently must he have felt both curbed and damped by the utter insufficiency of such minor scenes, objects, and interests, to occupy powers such as his of conception and investigation. To avow this he was far too wise, lest it should seem a scorn of his fellow-creatures; and, indeed, from his internal humility, it is possible that he was not himself aware of the great chasm that separated him from the herd of mankind, when not held to it by the ties of benevolence or of necessity.
To talk of humility and Dr. Johnson together, may, perhaps, make the few who remember him smile, and the many who have only heard of him stare. But his humility was not that of thinking more lowlily of himself than of others; it was simply that of thinking so lowlily of others, as to hold his own conscious superiority of but small scale in the balance of intrinsic excellence.
After these excursions, the intercourse of Dr. Burney with Streatham became so friendly, that Mrs. Thrale desired to make acquaintance with the Doctor’s family; and Dr. Johnson, at the same time, requested to examine the Doctor’s books; while both wished to see the house of Sir Isaac Newton.
An account of this beginning connection with St. Martin’s-Street was drawn up by the present Editor, at the earnest desire of the revered Chesington family-friend, Mr. Crisp; whom she had just, and most reluctantly, quitted a day or two before this first visit from Streatham took place.
This little narration she now consigns to these memoirs, as naturally belonging to the progress of the friendship of Dr. Burney with Dr. Johnson; and not without hope that this genuine detail of the first appearance of Dr. Johnson in St. Martin’s-Street, may afford to the reader some share of the entertainment which it afforded to the then young writer.
“To Samuel Crisp, Esq.
“Chesington, near Kingston, Surrey.
“My dearest Mr. Crisp.
“My Father seemed well pleased at my returning to my time; so that is no small consolation and pleasure to me for the pain of quitting you. So now to our Thursday morning, and Dr. Johnson; according to my promise.
“We were all—by we, I mean Suzette, Charlotte, and I,—for my mother had seen him before, as had my sister Burney; but we three were all in a twitter, from violent expectation and curiosity for the sight of this monarch of books and authors.
“Mrs. and Miss Thrale, Miss Owen, and Mr. Seward, came long before Lexiphanes. Mrs. Thrale is a pretty woman still, though she has some defect in the mouth that looks like a cut, or scar; but her nose is very handsome, her complexion very fair; she has the embonpoint charmant, and her eyes are blue and lustrous. She is extremely lively and chatty; and shewed none of the supercilious or pedantic airs, so freely, or, rather, so scoffingly attributed, by you envious lords of the creation, to women of learning or celebrity; on the contrary, she is full of sport, remarkably gay, and excessively agreeable. I liked her in every thing except her entrance into the room, which was rather florid and flourishing, as who should say, ‘It’s I!—No less a person than Mrs. Thrale!’ However, all that ostentation wore out in the course of the visit, which lasted the whole morning; and you could not have helped liking her, she is so very entertaining—though not simple enough, I believe, for quite winning your heart.
“Miss Thrale seems just verging on her teens. She is certainly handsome, and her beauty is of a peculiar sort; fair, round, firm, and cherubimical; with its chief charm exactly where lies the mother’s failure—namely, in the mouth. She is reckoned cold and proud; but I believe her to be merely shy and reserved; you, however, would have liked her, and called her a girl of fashion; for she was very silent, but very observant; and never looked tired, though she never uttered a syllable.
“Miss Owen, who is a relation of Mrs. Thrale’s, is good-humoured and sensible enough. She is a sort of butt, and as such is a general favourite; though she is a willing, and not a mean butt; for she is a woman of family and fortune. But those sort of characters are prodigiously popular, from their facility of giving liberty of speech to the wit and pleasantry of others, without risking for themselves any return of the ‘retort courteous.’
“Mr. Seward, who seems to be quite at home among them, appears to be a penetrating, polite, and agreeable young man. Mrs. Thrale says of him, that he does good to every body, but speaks well of nobody.
“The conversation was supported with a great deal of vivacity, as usual when il Signor Padrone is at home; but I can write you none of it, as I was still in the same twitter, twitter, twitter, I have acknowledged, to see Dr. Johnson. Nothing could have heightened my impatience—unless Pope could have been brought to life again—or, perhaps, Shakespeare!
“This confab. was broken up by a duet between your Hettina and, for the first time to company-listeners, Suzette; who, however, escaped much fright, for she soon found she had no musical critics to encounter in Mrs. Thrale and Mr. Seward, or Miss Owen; who know not a flat from a sharp, nor a crotchet from a quaver. But every knowledge is not given to every body—except to two gentle wights of my acquaintance; the one commonly hight il Padre, and the other il Dadda. Do you know any such sort of people, Sir?
“Well, in the midst of this performance, and before the second movement was come to a close,—Dr. Johnson was announced!
“Now, my dear Mr. Crisp, if you like a description of emotions and sensations—but I know you treat them all as burlesque—so let’s proceed.
“Every body rose to do him honour; and he returned the attention with the most formal courtesie. My father then, having welcomed him with the warmest respect, whispered to him that music was going forward; which he would not, my father thinks, have found out; and placing him on the best seat vacant, told his daughters to go on with the duet; while Dr. Johnson, intently rolling towards them one eye—for they say he does not see with the other—made a grave nod, and gave a dignified motion with one hand, in silent approvance of the proceeding.
“But now, my dear Mr. Crisp, I am mortified to own, what you, who always smile at my enthusiasm, will hear without caring a straw for—that he is, indeed, very ill-favoured! Yet he has naturally a noble figure; tall, stout, grand, and authoritative: but he stoops horribly; his back is quite round: his mouth is continually opening and shutting, as if he were chewing something; he has a singular method of twirling his fingers, and twisting his hands: his vast body is in constant agitation, see-sawing backwards and forwards: his feet are never a moment quiet; and his whole great person looked often as if it were going to roll itself, quite voluntarily, from his chair to the floor.
“Since such is his appearance to a person so prejudiced in his favour as I am, how I must more than ever reverence his abilities, when I tell you that, upon asking my father why he had not prepared us for such uncouth, untoward strangeness, he laughed heartily, and said he had entirely forgotten that the same impression had been, at first, made upon himself; but had been lost even on the second interview——
“How I long to see him again, to lose it, too!—for, knowing the value of what would come out when he spoke, he ceased to observe the defects that were out while he was silent.
“But you always charge me to write without reserve or reservation, and so I obey as usual. Else, I should be ashamed to acknowledge having remarked such exterior blemishes in so exalted a character.
“His dress, considering the times, and that he had meant to put on all his best becomes, for he was engaged to dine with a very fine party at Mrs. Montagu’s, was as much out of the common road as his figure. He had a large, full, bushy wig, a snuff-colour coat, with gold buttons, (or, peradventure, brass,) but no ruffles to his doughty fists; and not, I suppose, to be taken for a Blue, though going to the Blue Queen, he had on very coarse black worsted stockings.
“He is shockingly near-sighted; a thousand times more so than either my Padre or myself. He did not even know Mrs. Thrale, till she held out her hand to him; which she did very engagingly. After the first few minutes, he drew his chair close to the piano-forte, and then bent down his nose quite over the keys, to examine them, and the four hands at work upon them; till poor Hetty and Susan hardly knew how to play on, for fear of touching his phiz; or, which was harder still, how to keep their countenances; and the less, as Mr. Seward, who seems to be very droll and shrewd, and was much diverted, ogled them slyly, with a provoking expression of arch enjoyment of their apprehensions.
“When the duet was finished, my father introduced your Hettina to him, as an old acquaintance, to whom, when she was a little girl, he had presented his Idler.
“His answer to this was imprinting on her pretty face—not a half touch of a courtly salute—but a good, real, substantial, and very loud kiss.
“Every body was obliged to stroke their chins, that they might hide their mouths.
“Beyond this chaste embrace, his attention was not to be drawn off two minutes longer from the books, to which he now strided his way; for we had left the drawing-room for the library, on account of the piano-forte. He pored over them, shelf by shelf, almost brushing them with his eye-lashes from near examination. At last, fixing upon something that happened to hit his fancy, he took it down, and, standing aloof from the company, which he seemed clean and clear to forget, he began, without further ceremony, and very composedly, to read to himself; and as intently as if he had been alone in his own study.
“We were all excessively provoked: for we were languishing, fretting, expiring to hear him talk—not to see him read!—what could that do for us?
“My sister then played another duet, accompanied by my father, to which Miss Thrale seemed very attentive; and all the rest quietly resigned. But Dr. Johnson had opened a volume of the British Encyclopedia, and was so deeply engaged, that the music, probably, never reached his ears.
“When it was over, Mrs. Thrale, in a laughing manner, said: ‘Pray, Dr. Burney, will you be so good as to tell me what that song was, and whose, which Savoi sung last night at Bach’s concert, and which you did not hear?’
“My father confessed himself by no means so able a diviner, not having had time to consult the stars, though he lived in the house of Sir Isaac Newton. But anxious to draw Dr. Johnson into conversation, he ventured to interrupt him with Mrs. Thrale’s conjuring request relative to Bach’s concert.
“The Doctor, comprehending his drift, good-naturedly put away his book, and, see-sawing, with a very humorous smile, drolly repeated, ‘Bach, sir?—Bach’s concert?—And pray, sir, who is Bach?—Is he a piper?’
“You may imagine what exclamations followed such a question.
“Mrs. Thrale gave a detailed account of the nature of the concert, and the fame of Mr. Bach; and the many charming performances she had heard, with all their varieties, in his rooms.
“When there was a pause, ‘Pray, madam,’ said he, with the calmest gravity, ‘what is the expence for all this?’
“‘O,’ answered she, ‘the expence is—much trouble and solicitation to obtain a subscriber’s ticket—or else, half a guinea.’
“‘Trouble and solicitation,’ he replied, ‘I will have nothing to do with!—but, if it be so fine,—I would be willing to give,’—he hesitated, and then finished with—‘eighteen pence.’
“Ha! ha!—Chocolate being then brought, we returned to the drawing-room; and Dr. Johnson, when drawn away from the books, freely, and with social good-humour, gave himself up to conversation.
“The intended dinner of Mrs. Montagu being mentioned, Dr. Johnson laughingly told us that he had received the most flattering note that he had ever read, or that any body else had ever read, of invitation from that lady.
“‘So have I, too,’ cried Mrs. Thrale. ‘So, if a note from Mrs. Montagu is to be boasted of, I beg mine may not be forgotten.’
“‘Your note, madam,’ cried Dr. Johnson, smiling, ‘can bear no comparison with mine; for I am at the head of all the philosophers—she says.’
“‘And I,’ returned Mrs. Thrale, ‘have all the Muses in my train.’
“‘A fair battle!’ cried my father; ‘come! compliment for compliment; and see who will hold out longest.’
“‘I am afraid for Mrs. Thrale,’ said Mr. Seward; ‘for I know that Mrs. Montagu exerts all her forces, when she sings the praises of Dr. Johnson.’
“‘O yes!’ cried Mrs. Thrale, ‘she has often praised him till he has been ready to faint.’
“‘Well,’ said my father, ‘you two ladies must get him fairly between you to-day, and see which can lay on the paint the thickest, Mrs. Montagu or Mrs. Thrale.’
“‘I had rather,’ said the Doctor, very composedly, ‘go to Bach’s concert!’
“Ha! ha! What a compliment to all three!
“After this, they talked of Mr. Garrick, and his late exhibition before the King; to whom, and to the Queen and Royal Family, he has been reading Lethe in character; c’est à dire, in different voices, and theatrically.
“Mr. Seward gave an amusing account of a fable which Mr. Garrick had written by way of prologue, or introduction, upon this occasion. In this he says, that a blackbird, grown old and feeble, droops his wings, &c. &c., and gives up singing; but, upon being called upon by the eagle, his voice recovers its powers, his spirits revive, he sets age at defiance, and sings better than ever.
“‘There is not,’ said Dr. Johnson, again beginning to see-saw, ‘much of the spirit of fabulosity in this fable; for the call of an eagle never yet had much tendency to restore the warbling of a blackbird! ‘Tis true, the fabulists frequently make the wolves converse with the lambs; but then, when the conversation is over, the lambs are always devoured! And, in that manner, the eagle, to be sure, may entertain the blackbird—but the entertainment always ends in a feast for the eagle.’
“‘They say,’ cried Mrs. Thrale, ‘that Garrick was extremely hurt by the coldness of the King’s applause; and that he did not find his reception such as he had expected.’
“‘He has been so long accustomed,’ said Mr. Seward, ‘to the thundering acclamation of a theatre, that mere calm approbation must necessarily be insipid, nay, dispiriting to him.’
“‘Sir,’ said Dr. Johnson, ‘he has no right, in a royal apartment, to expect the hallooing and clamour of the one-shilling gallery. The King, I doubt not, gave him as much applause as was rationally his due. And, indeed, great and uncommon as is the merit of Mr. Garrick, no man will be bold enough to assert that he has not had his just proportion both of fame and profit. He has long reigned the unequalled favourite of the public; and therefore nobody, we may venture to say, will mourn his hard lot, if the King and the Royal Family were not transported into rapture upon hearing him read Lethe! But yet, Mr. Garrick will complain to his friends; and his friends will lament the King’s want of feeling and taste. But then—Mr. Garrick will kindly excuse the King. He will say that his Majesty—might, perhaps, be thinking of something else!—That the affairs of America might, possibly, occur to him—or some other subject of state, more important—perhaps—than Lethe. But though he will candidly say this himself,—he will not easily forgive his friends if they do not contradict him!’
“But now, that I have written you this satire of our immortal Roscius, it is but just, both to Mr. Garrick and to Dr. Johnson, that I should write to you what was said afterwards, when, with equal humour and candour, Mr. Garrick’s general character was discriminated by Dr. Johnson.
“‘Garrick,’ he said, ‘is accused of vanity; but few men would have borne such unremitting prosperity with greater, if with equal, moderation. He is accused, too, of avarice, though he lives rather like a prince than an actor. But the frugality he practised when he first appeared in the world, has put a stamp upon his character ever since. And now, though his table, his equipage, and his establishment, are equal to those of persons of the most splendid rank, the original stain of avarice still blots his name! And yet, had not his early, and perhaps necessary economy, fixed upon him the charge of thrift, he would long since have been reproached with that of luxury.’
“Another time he said of him, ‘Garrick never enters a room, but he regards himself as the object of general attention, from whom the entertainment of the company is expected. And true it is, that he seldom disappoints that expectation: for he has infinite humour, a very just proportion of wit, and more convivial pleasantry than almost any man living. But then, off as well as on the stage— he is always an actor! for he holds it so incumbent upon him to be sportive, that his gaiety, from being habitual, is become mechanical: and he can exert his spirits at all times alike, without any consultation of his disposition to hilarity.’
“I can recollect nothing more, my dear Mr. Crisp. So I beg your benediction, and bid you adieu.”
The accession of the musical historian to the Streatham coterie, was nearly as desirable to Dr. Johnson himself, as it could be to its new member; and, with reciprocated vivacity in seeking the society of each other, they went thither, and returned thence to their homes, in tête à tête junctions, by every opportunity.
In his chronological doggrel list of his friends and his feats, Dr. Burney has inserted the following lines upon the Streatham connexion.
A few months after the Streathamite morning visit to St. Martin’s-street that has been narrated, an evening party was arranged by Dr. Burney, for bringing thither again Dr. Johnson and Mrs. Thrale, at the desire of Mr. and Mrs. Greville and Mrs. Crewe; who wished, under the quiet roof of Dr. Burney, to make acquaintance with those celebrated personages.
This meeting, though more fully furnished with materials, produced not the same spirit or interest as its predecessor; and it owed, unfortunately, its miscarriage to the anxious efforts of Dr. Burney for heightening its success.
To take off, as he hoped, what might be stiff or formidable in an appointed encounter between persons of such highly famed conversational powers, who, absolute strangers to one another, must emulously, on each side, wish to shine with superior lustre, he determined
To mingle sweet discourse with music sweet;
and to vary, as well as soften the energy of intellectual debate, by the science and the sweetness of instrumental harmony. But the lovers of music, and the adepts in conversation, are rarely in true unison. Exceptions only form, not mar a rule; as witness Messieurs Crisp, Twining, and Bewley, who were equally eminent for musical and for mental melody: but, in general, the discourse-votaries think time thrown away, or misapplied, that is not devoted exclusively to the powers of reason; while the votaries of harmony deem pleasure and taste discarded, where precedence is not accorded to the melting delight of modulated sounds.
The party consisted of Dr. Johnson, Mr. and Mrs. Greville, Mrs. Crewe, Mr., Mrs., and Miss Thrale; Signor Piozzi, Mr. Charles Burney, the Doctor, his wife, and four of his daughters.
Mr. Greville, in manner, mien, and high personal presentation, was still the superb Mr. Greville of other days; though from a considerable diminution of the substantial possessions which erst had given him pre-eminence at the clubs and on the turf, the splendour of his importance was now superseded by newer and richer claimants. And even in ton and fashion, though his rank in life kept him a certain place, his influence, no longer seconded by fortune, was on the wane.
Mrs. Greville, whose decadence was in that very line in which alone her husband escaped it,—personal beauty,—had lost, at an early period, her external attractions, from the excessive thinness that had given to her erst fine and most delicate small features, a cast of sharpness so keen and meagre, that, joined to the shrewdly intellectual expression of her countenance, made her seem fitted to sit for a portrait, such as might have been delineated by Spencer, of a penetrating, puissant, and sarcastic fairy queen. She still, however, preserved her early fame; her Ode to Indifference having twined around her brow a garland of wide-spreading and unfading fragrance.
Mrs. Crewe seemed to inherit from both parents only what was best. She was still in a blaze of beauty that her happy and justly poised embonpoint preserved, with a roseate freshness, that eclipsed even juvenile rivalry, not then alone, but nearly to the end of a long life.
With all the unavoidable consciousness of only looking, only speaking, only smiling to give pleasure and receive homage, Mrs. Crewe, even from her earliest days, had evinced an intuitive eagerness for the sight of whoever or whatever was original, or peculiar, that gave her a lively taste for acquiring information; not deep, indeed, nor scientific; but intelligent, communicative, and gay. She had earnestly, therefore, availed herself of an opportunity thus free from parade or trouble, of taking an intimate view of so celebrated a philosopher as Dr. Johnson; of whom she wished to form a personal judgment, confirmatory or contradictory, of the rumours, pro and contra, that had instigated her curiosity.
Mr. Thrale, also, was willing to be present at this interview, from which he flattered himself with receiving much diversion, through the literary skirmishes, the pleasant retorts courteous, and the sharp pointed repartees, that he expected to hear reciprocated between Mrs. Greville, Mrs. Thrale, and Dr. Johnson: for though entirely a man of peace, and a gentleman in his character, he had a singular amusement in hearing, instigating, and provoking a war of words, alternating triumph and overthrow, between clever and ambitious colloquial combatants, where, as here, there was nothing that could inflict disgrace upon defeat.
And this, indeed, in a milder degree, was the idea of entertainment from the meeting that had generally been conceived. But the first step taken by Dr. Burney for social conciliation, which was calling for a cantata from Signor Piozzi, turned out, on the contrary, the herald to general discomfiture; for it cast a damp of delay upon the mental gladiators, that dimmed the brightness of the spirit with which, it is probable, they had meant to vanquish each the other.
Piozzi, a first rate singer, whose voice was deliciously sweet, and whose expression was perfect, sung in his very best manner, from his desire to do honour to il Capo di Casa; but il Capo di Casa and his family alone did justice to his strains: neither the Grevilles nor the Thrales heeded music beyond what belonged to it as fashion: the expectations of the Grevilles were all occupied by Dr. Johnson; and those of the Thrales by the authoress of the Ode to Indifference. When Piozzi, therefore, arose, the party remained as little advanced in any method or pleasure for carrying on the evening, as upon its first entrance into the room.
Mr. Greville, who had been curious to see, and who intended to examine this leviathan of literature, as Dr. Johnson was called in the current pamphlets of the day, considered it to be his proper post to open the campaign of the conversatione. But he had heard so much, from his friend Topham Beauclerk, whose highest honour was that of classing himself as one of the friends of Dr. Johnson; not only of the bright intellect with which the Doctor brought forth his wit and knowledge; and of the splendid talents with which he displayed them when they were aptly met; but also of the overwhelming ability with which he dismounted and threw into the mire of ridicule and shame, the antagonist who ventured to attack him with any species of sarcasm, that he was cautious how to encounter so tremendous a literary athletic. He thought it, therefore, most consonant to his dignity to leave his own character as an author in the back ground; and to take the field with the aristocratic armour of pedigree and distinction. Aloof, therefore, he kept from all; and, assuming his most supercilious air of distant superiority, planted himself, immovable as a noble statue, upon the hearth, as if a stranger to the whole set.
Mrs. Greville would willingly have entered the lists herself, but that she naturally concluded Dr. Johnson would make the advances.
And Mrs. Crewe, to whom all this seemed odd and unaccountable, but to whom, also, from her love of any thing unusual, it was secretly amusing, sat perfectly passive in silent observance.
Dr. Johnson, himself, had come with the full intention of passing two or three hours, with well chosen companions, in social elegance. His own expectations, indeed, were small—for what could meet their expansion? his wish, however, to try all sorts and all conditions of persons, as far as belonged to their intellect, was unqualified and unlimited; and gave to him nearly as much desire to see others, as his great fame gave to others to see his eminent self. But his signal peculiarity in regard to society, could not be surmised by strangers; and was as yet unknown even to Dr. Burney. This was that, notwithstanding the superior powers with which he followed up every given subject, he scarcely ever began one himself; or, to use the phrase of Sir W. W. Pepys, originated; though the masterly manner in which, as soon as any topic was started, he seized it in all its bearings, had so much the air of belonging to the leader of the discourse, that this singularity was unnoticed and unsuspected, save by the experienced observation of long years of acquaintance.
Not, therefore, being summoned to hold forth, he remained silent; composedly at first, and afterwards abstractedly.
Dr. Burney now began to feel considerably embarrassed; though still he cherished hopes of ultimate relief from some auspicious circumstance that, sooner or later, would operate, he hoped, in his favour, through the magnetism of congenial talents.
Vainly, however, he sought to elicit some observations that might lead to disserting discourse; all his attempts received only quiet, acquiescent replies, “signifying nothing.” Every one was awaiting some spontaneous opening from Dr. Johnson.
Mrs. Thrale, of the whole coterie, was alone at her ease. She feared not Dr. Johnson; for fear made no part of her composition; and with Mrs. Greville, as a fair rival genius, she would have been glad, from curiosity, to have had the honour of a little tilt, in full carelessness of its event; for though triumphant when victorious, she had spirits so volatile, and such utter exemption from envy or spleen, that she was gaily free from mortification when vanquished. But she knew the meeting to have been fabricated for Dr. Johnson; and, therefore, though not without difficulty, constrained herself to be passive.
When, however, she observed the sardonic disposition of Mr. Greville to stare around him at the whole company in curious silence, she felt a defiance against his aristocracy beat in every pulse; for, however grandly he might look back to the long ancestry of the Brookes and the Grevilles, she had a glowing consciousness that her own blood, rapid and fluent, flowed in her veins from Adam of Saltsberg; and, at length, provoked by the dullness of a taciturnity that, in the midst of such renowned interlocutors, produced as narcotic a torpor as could have been caused by a dearth the most barren of human faculties; she grew tired of the music, and yet more tired of remaining, what as little suited her inclinations as her abilities, a mere cipher in the company; and, holding such a position, and all its concomitants, to be ridiculous, her spirits rose rebelliously above her control; and, in a fit of utter recklessness of what might be thought of her by her fine new acquaintance, she suddenly, but softly, arose, and stealing on tip-toe behind Signor Piozzi; who was accompanying himself on the piano-forte to an animated arria parlante, with his back to the company, and his face to the wall; she ludicrously began imitating him by squaring her elbows, elevating them with ecstatic shrugs of the shoulders, and casting up her eyes, while languishingly reclining her head; as if she were not less enthusiastically, though somewhat more suddenly, struck with the transports of harmony than himself.
This grotesque ebullition of ungovernable gaiety was not perceived by Dr. Johnson, who faced the fire, with his back to the performer and the instrument. But the amusement which such an unlooked for exhibition caused to the party, was momentary; for Dr. Burney, shocked lest the poor Signor should observe, and be hurt by this mimicry, glided gently round to Mrs. Thrale, and, with something between pleasantry and severity, whispered to her, “Because, Madam, you have no ear yourself for music, will you destroy the attention of all who, in that one point, are otherwise gifted?”
It was now that shone the brightest attribute of Mrs. Thrale, sweetness of temper. She took this rebuke with a candour, and a sense of its justice the most amiable: she nodded her approbation of the admonition; and, returning to her chair, quietly sat down, as she afterwards said, like a pretty little miss, for the remainder of one of the most humdrum evenings that she had ever passed.
Strange, indeed, strange and most strange, the event considered, was this opening intercourse between Mrs. Thrale and Signor Piozzi. Little could she imagine that the person she was thus called away from holding up to ridicule, would become, but a few years afterwards, the idol of her fancy and the lord of her destiny! And little did the company present imagine, that this burlesque scene was but the first of a drama the most extraordinary of real life, of which these two persons were to be the hero and heroine: though, when the catastrophe was known, this incident, witnessed by so many, was recollected and repeated from coterie to coterie throughout London, with comments and sarcasms of endless variety.
The most innocent person of all that went forward was the laurelled chief of the little association, Dr. Johnson; who, though his love for Dr. Burney made it a pleasure to him to have been included in the invitation, marvelled, probably, by this time, since uncalled upon to distinguish himself, why he had been bidden to the meeting. But, as the evening advanced, he wrapt himself up in his own thoughts, in a manner it was frequently less difficult to him to do than to let alone, and became completely absorbed in silent rumination: sustaining, nevertheless, a grave and composed demeanour, with an air by no means wanting in dignity any more than in urbanity.
Very unexpectedly, however, ere the evening closed, he shewed himself alive to what surrounded him, by one of those singular starts of vision, that made him seem at times,—though purblind to things in common, and to things inanimate,—gifted with an eye of instinct for espying any action or position that he thought merited reprehension: for, all at once, looking fixedly on Mr. Greville, who, without much self-denial, the night being very cold, pertinaciously kept his station before the chimney-piece, he exclaimed: “If it were not for depriving the ladies of the fire,—I should like to stand upon the hearth myself!”
A smile gleamed upon every face at this pointed speech. Mr. Greville tried to smile himself, though faintly and scoffingly. He tried, also, to hold to his post, as if determined to disregard so cavalier a liberty: but the sight of every eye around him cast down, and every visage struggling vainly to appear serious, disconcerted him; and though, for two or three minutes, he disdained to move, the awkwardness of a general pause impelled him, ere long, to glide back to his chair; but he rang the bell with force as he passed it, to order his carriage.
It is probable that Dr. Johnson had observed the high air and mien of Mr. Greville, and had purposely brought forth that remark to disenchant him from his self-consequence.
The party then broke up; and no one from amongst it ever asked, or wished for its repetition.
If the mode of the first queen of the Bas Bleu Societies, Mrs. Vesey, had here been adopted, for destroying the formality of the circle, the party would certainly have been less scrupulously ceremonious; for if any two of the gifted persons present had been jostled unaffectedly together, there can be little doubt that the plan and purpose of Dr. Burney would have been answered by a spirited conversation. But neither then, nor since, has so happy a confusion to all order of etiquette been instituted, as was set afloat by that remarkable lady; whose amiable and intelligent simplicity made her follow up the suggestions of her singular fancy, without being at all aware that she did not follow those of common custom.
The professional history, as well as the opinions of Dr. Burney, are so closely inserted in his History of Music, that they are all passed by in the memoirs of his life; but there arrived in England, at this period, a foreign singer of such extraordinary merit in character as well as talents, that not to inscribe his name in the list of the Doctor’s chosen friends, as well as in that which enrols him at the head of the most supremely eminent of vocal performers, would be ill proclaiming, or remembering, the equal height in both points to which he was raised in the Doctor’s estimation, by a union the most delighting of professional with social excellence.
Pacchierotti, who came out upon the opera stage in 1778, is first mentioned, incidentally, in the History of Music, as “a great and original performer;” and his public appearance afterwards is announced by this remarkable paragraph.
“To describe, with merited discrimination, the uncommon and varied powers of Pacchierotti, would require a distinct dissertation of considerable length, rather than a short article incorporated in a general History of Music.”
The Doctor afterwards relates, that eagerly attending the first rehearsal of Demofonte, with which opera Pacchierotti began his English career, and in which, under the pressure of a bad cold, he sang only a sotto voce, his performance afforded a more exquisite pleasure than the Doctor had ever before experienced, or even imagined. “The natural tone of his voice,” says the History of Music, “was so interesting, sweet, and pathetic, that when he had a long note, I never wished him to change it, or to do any thing but swell, diminish, or prolong it, in whatever way he pleased. A great compass of voice downwards, with an ascent up to C in alt.; an unbounded fancy, and a power not only of executing the most refined and difficult passages, but of inventing new embellishments which had never then been on paper, made him, during his long residence here, a new singer to me every time I heard him.”
A still more exact and scientific detail of his powers is then succeeded by these words: “That Pacchierotti’s feeling and sentiments were uncommon, was not only discoverable by his voice and performance, but by his countenance, in which through a general expression of benevolence, there was a constant play of features that varyingly manifested all the changing workings and agitations of his soul. * * * * When his voice was in order, and obedient to his will, there was a perfection in tone, taste, knowledge, and sensibility, that my conception in the art could not imagine possible to be surpassed.”
And scarcely could this incomparable performer stand higher in the eminence of his profession, than in that of his intellect, his temper, and his character.
If he had not been a singer, he would probably have been a poet; for his ideas, even in current conversation, ran involuntarily into poetical imagery; and the language which was their vehicle, was a sort of poetry in itself; so luxuriantly was it embellished with fanciful allusions, or sportive notions, that, when he was highly animated in conversation, the effusions of his imagination resembled his cadences in music, by their excursionary flights, and impassioned bursts of deep, yet tender sensibility.
He made himself nearly as many friends in this country to whom he was endeared by his society, as admirers by whom he was enthusiastically courted for his talents.
The first Mrs. Sheridan, Miss Linley, whose sweet voice and manner so often moved “the soul to transport, and the eyes to tears,” told Dr. Burney, that Pacchierotti was the only singer who taught her to weep from melting pleasure and admiration.
He loved England even fervently; its laws, customs, manners, and its liberty. Of this he gave the sincerest proofs throughout his long life.
The English language, though so inharmonious compared with his own, he made his peculiar study, from his desire to mingle with the best society, and to enjoy its best authors; for both which he had a taste the most classical and lively.
He had the truly appropriate good fortune, for a turn of mind and endowments so literary, to fall in the way of Mr. Mason immediately upon coming over to this country: few persons could be more capable to appreciate a union of mental with professional merit, than that elegant poet; who with both in Pacchierotti was so much charmed, as to volunteer his services in teaching him the English language.
So Parnassian a preceptor was not likely to lead his studies from their native propensity to the Muses; and the epistles and billets which he wrote in English, all demonstrated that the Pegasus which he spurred, when composition was his pursuit, was of the true Olympic breed.
Pacchierotti was attached to Dr. Burney with equal affection and reverence; while by the Doctor in return, the sight of Pacchierotti was always hailed with cordial pleasure; and not more from the pathos of his soul-touching powers of harmony, than from the sweetness, yet poignancy of his discourse; and the delightful vivacity into which he could be drawn by his favourites, from the pensive melancholy of his habitual silence. Timidity and animation seemed to balance his disposition with alternate sway; but his character was of a benevolence that had no balance, no mixture whatsoever.
The Doctor’s doggrel register of 1778, has these two couplets upon
Lady Mary Duncan, the great patroness of Pacchierotti, was one of the most singular females of her day, for parts utterly uncultivated, and mother-wit completely untrammelled by the etiquettes of custom. She singled out Dr. Burney from her passion for his art; and attached herself to his friendship from her esteem for his character; joined to their entire sympathy in taste, feeling, and judgment, upon the merits of Pacchierotti.
This lady displayed in conversation a fund of humour, comic and fantastic in the extreme, and more than bordering upon the burlesque, through the extraordinary grimaces with which she enforced her meaning; and the risible abruptness of a quick transition from the sternest authority to the most facetious good fellowship, with which she frequently altered the expression of her countenance while in debate.
Her general language was a jargon entirely her own, and so enveloped with strange phrases, ludicrously ungrammatical, that it was hardly intelligible, till an exordium or two gave some insight into its peculiarities: but then it commonly unfolded into sound, and even sagacious panegyric of some favourite; or sharp sarcasm, and extravagant mimicry, upon some one who had incurred her displeasure. Her wrath, however, once promulgated, seemed to operate by its utterance as a vent that disburthened her mind of all its angry workings; and led her cordially to join her laugh with that of her hearers; without either inquiry, or care, whether that laugh were at her sayings or at herself.
She was constantly dressed according to the costume of her early days, in a hoop, with a long pointed stomacher and long pointed ruffles; and a fly cap. She had a manly courage, a manly stamp, and a manly hard-featured face: but her heart was as invariably generous and good, as her manners were original and grotesque.
“A YOUNG LADY’S ENTRANCE INTO THE WORLD.”
A subject now propels itself forward that might better, it is probable, become any pen than that on which it here devolves. It cannot, however, be set aside in the Memoirs of Dr. Burney, to whom, and to the end of his life, it proved a permanent source of deep and bosom interest: and the Editor, with less unwillingness, though with conscious awkwardness, approaches this egotistic history, from some recent information that the obscurity in which its origin was encircled, has left, even yet, a spur to curiosity and conjecture.
It seems, therefore, a devoir due to the singleness of truth, to cut short any future vague assertion on this small subject, by an explicit narration of a simple, though rather singular tale; which, little as in itself it can be worthy of public attention, may not wholly, perhaps, be unamusing, from the celebrated characters that must necessarily be involved in its relation; at the head of which, at this present moment, she is tempted to disclose, in self-defence—a proud self-defence!—of this personal obtrusion, the living names of Sir Walter Scott and Mr. Rogers, who, in a visit with which they favoured her in the year 1826, repeated some of the fabrications to which this mystery of her early life still gave rise; and condescended to solicit a recital of the real history of Evelina’s Entrance into the World.
This she instantly communicated; though so incoherently, from the embarrassment of the subject, and its long absence from her thoughts, that, having since collected documents to refresh her memory, she ventures, in gratefully dedicating the little incident to these Illustrious Inquisitors, to insert its details in these memoirs—to which, parentally, it in fact belongs.
Frances, the second daughter of Dr. Burney, was during her childhood the most backward of all his family in the faculty of receiving instruction. At eight years of age she was ignorant of the letters of the alphabet; though at ten, she began scribbling, almost incessantly, little works of invention; but always in private; and in scrawling characters, illegible, save to herself.
One of her most remote remembrances, previously to this writing mania, is that of hearing a neighbouring lady recommend to Mrs. Burney, her mother, to quicken the indolence, or stupidity, whichever it might be, of the little dunce, by the chastening ordinances of Solomon. The alarm, however, of that little dunce, at a suggestion so wide from the maternal measures that had been practised in her childhood, was instantly superseded by a joy of gratitude and surprise that still rests upon her recollection, when she heard gently murmured in reply, “No, no,—I am not uneasy about her!”
But, alas! the soft music of those encouraging accents had already ceased to vibrate on human ears, before these scrambling pot-hooks had begun their operation of converting into Elegies, Odes, Plays, Songs, Stories, Farces,—nay, Tragedies and Epic Poems, every scrap of white paper that could be seized upon without question or notice; for she grew up, probably through the vanity-annihilating circumstances of this conscious intellectual disgrace, with so affrighted a persuasion that what she scribbled, if seen, would but expose her to ridicule, that her pen, though her greatest, was only her clandestine delight.
To one confidant, indeed, all was open; but the fond partiality of the juvenile Susanna made her opinion of little weight; though the affection of her praise rendered the stolen moments of their secret readings the happiest of their adolescent lives.
From the time, however, that she attained her fifteenth year, she considered it her duty to combat this writing passion as illaudable, because fruitless. Seizing, therefore, an opportunity, when Dr. Burney was at Chesington, and the then Mrs. Burney, her mother-in-law, was in Norfolk, she made over to a bonfire, in a paved play-court, her whole stock of prose goods and chattels; with the sincere intention to extinguish for ever in their ashes her scribbling propensity. But Hudibras too well says—
This grand feat, therefore, which consumed her productions, extirpated neither the invention nor the inclination that had given them birth; and, in defiance of all the projected heroism of the sacrifice, the last of the little works that was immolated, which was the History of Caroline Evelyn, the Mother of Evelina, left, upon the mind of the writer, so animated an impression of the singular situations to which that Caroline’s infant daughter,—from the unequal birth by which she hung suspended between the elegant connexions of her mother, and the vulgar ones of her grandmother,—might be exposed; and presented contrasts and mixtures of society so unusual, yet, thus circumstanced, so natural, that irresistibly and almost unconsciously, the whole of A Young Lady’s Entrance into the World, was pent up in the inventor’s memory, ere a paragraph was committed to paper.
Writing, indeed, was far more difficult to her than composing; for that demanded what she rarely found attainable—secret opportunity: while composition, in that hey-day of imagination, called only for volition.
When the little narrative, however slowly, from the impediments that always annoy what requires secrecy, began to assume a “questionable shape;” a wish—as vague, at first, as it was fantastic—crossed the brain of the writer, to “see her work in print.”
She communicated, under promise of inviolable silence, this idea to her sisters; who entered into it with much more amusement than surprise, as they well knew her taste for quaint sports; and were equally aware of the sensitive affright with which she shrunk from all personal remark.
She now copied the manuscript in a feigned hand; for as she was the Doctor’s principal amanuensis, she feared her common writing might accidentally be seen by some compositor of the History of Music, and lead to detection.
She grew weary, however, ere long, of an exercise so merely manual; and had no sooner completed a copy of the first and second volumes, than she wrote a letter, without any signature, to offer the unfinished work to a bookseller; with a desire to have the two volumes immediately printed, if approved; and a promise to send the sequel in the following year.
This was forwarded by the London post, with a desire that the answer should be directed to a coffee-house.
Her younger brother—the elder, Captain James, was ‘over the hills and far away,’—her younger brother, afterwards the celebrated Greek scholar, gaily, and without reading a word of the work, accepted a share in so whimsical a frolic; and joyously undertook to be her agent at the coffee-house with her letters, and to the bookseller with the manuscript.
After some consultation upon the choice of a bookseller, Mr. Dodsley was fixed upon; for Dodsley, from his father’s,—or perhaps grand-father’s,—well chosen collection of fugitive poetry, stood foremost in the estimation of the juvenile set.
Mr. Dodsley, in answer to the proposition, declined looking at any thing that was anonymous.
The party, half-amused, half-provoked, sat in full committee upon this lofty reply; and came to a resolution to forego the eclât of the west end of the town, and to try their fortune with the urbanity of the city.
Chance fixed them upon the name of Mr. Lowndes.
The city of London here proved more courtly than that of Westminster; and, to their no small delight, Mr. Lowndes desired to see the manuscript.
And what added a certain pride to the author’s satisfaction in this assent, was, that the answer opened by
which gave her an elevation to manly consequence, that had not been accorded to her by Mr. Dodsley, whose reply began
“Sir, or Madam.”
The young agent was muffled up now by the laughing committee, in an old great coat, and a large old hat, to give him a somewhat antique as well as vulgar disguise; and was sent forth in the dark of the evening with the two first volumes to Fleet-street, where he left them to their fate.
In trances of impatience the party awaited the issue of the examination.
But they were all let down into the very ‘Slough of Despond,’ when the next coffee-house letter coolly declared, that Mr. Lowndes could not think of publishing an unfinished book; though he liked the work, and should be ‘ready to purchase and print it when it should be finished.’
There was nothing in this unreasonable; yet the disappointed author, tired of what she deemed such priggish punctilio, gave up, for awhile, and in dudgeon, all thought of the scheme.
Nevertheless, to be thwarted on the score of our inclination acts more frequently as a spur than as a bridle; the third volume, therefore, which finished The young lady’s entrance into the world, was, ere another year could pass away, almost involuntarily completed and copied.
But while the scribe was yet wavering whether to abandon or to prosecute her enterprise, the chasm caused by this suspense to the workings of her imagination, left an opening from their vagaries to a mental interrogatory, whether it were right to allow herself such an amusement, with whatever precautions she might keep it from the world, unknown to her father?
She had never taken any step without the sanction of his permission; and had now refrained from requesting it, only through the confusion of acknowledging her authorship; and the apprehension, or, rather, the horror of his desiring to see her performance.
Nevertheless, reflection no sooner took place of action, than she found, in this case at least, the poet’s maxim reversed, and that
‘The female who deliberates—is sav’d,’
for she saw in its genuine light what was her duty; and seized, therefore, upon a happy moment of a kind tête à tête with her father, to avow, with more blushes than words, her secret little work; and her odd inclination to see it in print; hastily adding, while he looked at her, incredulous of what he heard, that her brother Charles would transact the business with a distant bookseller, who should never know her name. She only, therefore, entreated that he would not himself ask to see the manuscript.
His amazement was without parallel; yet it seemed surpassed by his amusement; and his laugh was so gay, that, revived by its cheering sound, she lost all her fears and embarrassment, and heartily joined in it; though somewhat at the expence of her new author-like dignity.
She was the last person, perhaps, in the world from whom Dr. Burney could have expected a similar scheme. He thought her project, however, as innocent as it was whimsical, and offered not the smallest objection; but, kindly embracing her, and calling himself le père confident, he enjoined her to be watchful that Charles was discreet; and to be invariably strict in guarding her own incognita: and then, having tacitly granted her personal petition, he dropt the subject.
With fresh eagerness, now, and heightened spirits, the incipient author rolled up her packet for the bookseller; which was carried to him by a newly trusted agent, her brother being then in the country.
The suspense was short; in a very few days Mr. Lowndes sent his approbation of the work, with
an offer of 20l. for the manuscript—an offer which was accepted with alacrity, and boundless surprise at its magnificence!!
The receipt for this settlement, signed simply by “the Editor of Evelina,” was conveyed by the new agent to Fleet-street.
In the ensuing January, 1778, the work was published; a fact which only became known to its writer, who had dropped all correspondence with Mr. Lowndes, from hearing the following advertisement read, accidentally, aloud at breakfast-time, by Mrs. Burney, her mother-in-law.
This day was published,
or, a young lady’s entrance into the world.
Printed for T. Lowndes, Fleet-street.
Mrs. Burney, who read this unsuspectingly, went on immediately to other articles; but, had she lifted her eyes from the paper, something more than suspicion must have met them, from the conscious colouring of the scribbler, and the irresistible smiles of the two sisters, Susanna and Charlotte, who were present.
Dr. Burney probably read the same advertisement the same morning; but as he knew neither the name of the book, nor of the bookseller, nor the time of publication, he must have read it without comment, or thought.
In this projected and intended security from public notice, the author passed two or three months, during which the Doctor asked not a question; and perhaps had forgotten the secret with which he had been entrusted; for, besides the multiplicity of his affairs, his mind, just then, was deeply disturbed by rising dissension, from claims the most unwarrantable, with Mr. Greville.
And even from her own mind, the book, with all that belonged to it, was soon afterwards chased, through the absorbent fears of seeing her father dangerously attacked by an acute fever; from which by the admirable prescriptions and skill of Sir Richard Jebb, he was barely recovered, when she herself, who had been incautiously eager in aiding her mother and sisters in their assiduous attendance upon the invaluable invalid, was taken ill with strong symptoms of an inflammation of the lungs: and though, through the sagacious directions of the same penetrating physician, she was soon pronounced to be out of immediate danger, she was so shaken in health and strength, that Sir Richard enjoined her quitting London for the recruit of country air. She was therefore conveyed to Chesington Hall, where she was received and cherished by a second father in Mr. Crisp; with whom, and his associates, the worthy Mrs. Hamilton and Miss Cooke, she remained for a considerable time.
A few days before she left town, Dr. Burney, in a visit to her bedside, revealed to her his late painful disagreement with Mr. Greville; but told her that they had, at length, come to a full explanation, which had brought Mr. Greville once more to his former and agreeable self; and had terminated in a complete reconciliation.
He then read to her, in confidence, a poetical epistle, which he had just composed, and was preparing to send to his restored friend; but which was expressed in terms so affecting, that they nearly proved the reverse of restoration, in her then feeble state, to his fondly attached daughter.
Dr. Burney’s intercourse with Mr. Greville was then again resumed; and continued with rational,
but true regard, on the part of Dr. Burney; but with an intemperate importunity on that of Mr. Greville, that claimed time which could not be spared; and leisure which could not be found.
Evelina had now been published four or five months, though Dr. Burney still knew nothing of its existence; and the author herself had learnt it only by the chance-read advertisement already mentioned. Yet had that little book found its way abroad; fallen into general reading; gone through three editions, and been named with favour in sundry Reviews; till, at length, a sort of cry was excited amongst its readers for discovering its author.
That author, it will naturally be imagined, would repose her secret, however sacred, in the breast of so confidential a counsellor as Mr. Crisp.
And not trust, indeed, was there wanting! far otherwise! But as she required no advice for what she never meant to avow, and had already done with, she had no motive of sufficient force to give her courage for encountering his critic eye. She never, therefore, ventured, and never purposed to venture revealing to him her anonymous exploit.
June came; and a sixth month was elapsing in the same silent concealment, when early one morning the Doctor, with great eagerness and hurry, began a search amongst the pamphlets in his study for a Monthly Review, which he demanded of his daughter Charlotte, who alone was in the room. After finding it, he earnestly examined its contents, and then looked out hastily for an article which he read with a countenance of so much emotion, that Charlotte stole softly behind him, to peep over his shoulder; and then saw, with surprise and joy, that he was perusing an account, which she knew to be most favourable, of Evelina, beginning, ‘A great variety of natural characters—’
When he had finished the article, he put down the Review, and sat motionless, without raising his eyes, and looking in deep—but charmed astonishment. Suddenly, then, he again snatched the Review, and again ran over the article, with an air yet more intensely occupied. Placing it afterwards on the chimney-piece, he walked about the room, as if to recover breath, and recollect himself; though always with looks of the most vivid pleasure.
Some minutes later, holding the Review in his hand, while inspecting the table of contents, he beckoned to Charlotte to approach; and pointing to “Evelina,” ‘you know,’ he said, in a whisper, ‘that book? Send William for it to Lowndes’, as if for yourself; and give it to me when we are alone.’
Charlotte obeyed; and, joyous in sanguine expectation, delivered to him the little volumes, tied up in brown paper, in his study, when, late at night, he came home from some engagement.
He locked them up in his bureau, without speaking, and retired to his chamber.
The kindly impatient Charlotte was in his study the next morning with the lark, waiting the descent of the Doctor from his room.
He, also, was early, and went straight to his desk, whence, taking out and untying the parcel, he opened the first volume upon the little ode to himself,—“Oh author of my being! far more dear,” &c.
He ejaculated a ‘Good God!’ and his eyes were suffused with tears.
Twice he read it, and then re-committed the book to his writing desk, as if his mind were too full for further perusal; and dressed, and went out, without uttering a syllable.
All this the affectionate Charlotte wrote to her sister; who read it with a perturbation inexpressible. It was clear that the Doctor had discovered the name of her book; and learned, also, that Charlotte was one of her cabal: but how, was inexplicable; though what would be his opinion of the work absorbed now all the thoughts and surmises of the clandestine author.
From this time, he frequently, though privately and confidentially, spoke with all the sisters upon the subject; and with the kindliest approbation.
From this time, also, daily accounts of the progress made by the Doctor in reading the work; or of the progress made in the world by the work itself, were transmitted to recreate the Chesington invalid from the eagerly kind sisters; the eldest of which, soon afterwards, wrote a proposal to carry to Chesington, for reading to Mr. Crisp, ‘an anonymous new work that was running about the town, called Evelina.’
She came; and performed her promised office with a warmth of heart that glowed through every word she read, and gave an interest to every detail.
With flying colours, therefore, the book went off, not only with the easy social circle, but with Mr. Crisp himself; and without the most remote suspicion that the author was in the midst of the audience; a circumstance that made the whole perusal seem to that author the most pleasant of comedies, from the innumerable whimsical incidents to which it gave rise, alike in panegyrics and in criticisms, which alternately, and most innocently, were often addressed to herself; and accompanied with demands of her opinions, that forced her to perplexing evasions, productive of the most ludicrous confusion, though of the highest inward diversion.
Meanwhile, Dr. Burney, uninformed of this transaction, yet justly concluding that, whether the book were owned or not, some one of the little committee would be carrying it to Chesington; sent an injunction to procrastinate its being produced, as he himself meant to be its reader to Mr. Crisp.
This touching testimony of his parental interest in its success with the first and dearest of their friends, came close to the heart for which it was designed, with feelings of strong—and yet living gratitude!
Equally unexpected and exhilarating to the invalid were all these occurrences: but of much deeper marvel still was the narrative which follows, and which she received about a week after this time.
In a letter written in this month, June, her sister Susanna stated to her, that just as she had retired to her own room, on the evening preceding its date, their father returned from his usual weekly visit to Streatham, and sent for her to his study.
She immediately perceived, by his expanded brow, that he had something extraordinary, and of high agreeability, to divulge.
As the Memorialist arrives now at the first mention, in this little transaction, of a name that the public seems to hail with augmenting eagerness in every trait that comes to light, she will venture to copy the genuine account in which that honoured name first occurs; and which was written to her by her sister Susanna, with an unpretending simplicity that may to some have a certain charm; and that to no one can be offensive.
After the opening to the business that has just been abridged, Susanna thus goes on.
“‘Oh my dear girl, how shall I surprise you! Prepare yourself, I beseech, not to be too much moved.
“‘I have such a thing,’ cried our dear father, ‘to tell you about our poor Fanny!—’
“‘Dear Sir, what?’ cried I; afraid he had been betraying your secret to Mrs. Thrale; which I know he longed to do.
“He only smiled—but such a smile of pleasure I never saw! ‘Why to night at Streatham,’ cried he, while we were sitting at tea, only Dr. Johnson, Mrs. Thrale, Miss Thrale, and myself. ‘Madam,’ cried Dr. Johnson, see-sawing on his chair, ‘Mrs. Cholmondeley was talking to me last night of a new novel, which she says has a very uncommon share of merit; Evelina. She says she has not been so entertained this great while as in reading it; and that she shall go all over London to discover the author.’
“Do you breathe, my dear Fanny?
“‘Odd enough!’ cried Mrs. Thrale; ‘why somebody else mentioned that book to me t’other day—Lady Westcote it was, I believe. The modest writer of Evelina, she talked about.’
“‘Mrs. Cholmondeley says,’ answered the Doctor, ‘that she never before met so much modesty with so much merit in any literary production of the kind, as is implied by the concealment of the author.’
“‘Well,—’ cried I, continued my father, smiling more and more, ‘somebody recommended that book to me, too; and I read a little of it—which, indeed—seemed to be above the commonplace works of this kind.’
“Mrs. Thrale said she would certainly get it.
“‘You must have it, madam!’ cried Johnson, emphatically; ‘Mrs. Cholmondeley says she shall keep it on her table the whole summer, that every body that knows her may see it; for she asserts that every body ought to read it! And she has made Burke get it—and Reynolds.’
“A tolerably agreeable conversation, methinks, my dear Fanny! It took away my breath, and made me skip about like a mad creature.
“‘And how did you feel, Sir?’ said I to my father, when I could speak.
“‘Feel?—why I liked it of all things! I wanted somebody to introduce the book at Streatham. ’Twas just what I wished, but could not expect!’
“I could not for my life, my dearest Fanny, help saying that—even if it should be discovered, shy as you were of being known, it would do you no discredit. ‘Discredit?’ he repeated; ‘no, indeed!—quite the reverse! It would be a credit to her—and to me!—and to you—and to all her family!
“Now, my dearest Fanny—pray how do you do?—”
Vain would be any attempt to depict the astonishment of the author at this communication—the astonishment, or—the pleasure!
And, in truth, in private life, few small events can possibly have been attended with more remarkable incidents. That a work, voluntarily consigned by its humble author, even from its birth, to oblivion, should rise from her condemnation, and,
“‘Unpatronized, unaided, unknown,’
make its way through the metropolis, in passing from the Monthly Review into the hands of the beautiful Mrs. Bunbury; and from her’s arriving at those of the Hon. Mrs. Cholmondeley; whence, triumphantly, it should be conveyed to Sir Joshua Reynolds; made known to Mr. Burke; be mounted even to the notice of Dr. Johnson, and reach Streatham;—and that there its name should first be pronounced by the great lexicographer himself; and,—by mere chance,—in the presence of Dr. Burney; seemed more like a romance, even to the Doctor himself, than anything in the book that was the cause of these coincidences.
Very soon afterwards, another singular circumstance, and one of great flutter to the spirits of the hidden author, reached her from the kind sisters. Upon the succeeding excursion of Dr. Burney to Streatham, Mrs. Thrale, most unconsciously, commissioned him to order Mr. Lowndes to send her down Evelina.
From this moment, the composure of Chesington was over for the invalid, though not so the happiness! unequalled, in a short time, that became—unequalled as it was wonderful. Dr. Burney now, from his numerous occupations, stole a few hours for a flying visit to Chesington; where his meeting with his daughter, just rescued from the grave, and still barely convalescent, at a period of such peculiar interest to his paternal, and to her filial heart, was of the tenderest description. Yet, earnestly as she coveted his sight, she felt almost afraid, and quite ashamed, to be alone with him, from her doubts how he might accept her versified dedication.
She held back, therefore, from any tête à tête till he sent for her to his little gallery cabinet; or in Mr. Crisp’s words, conjuring closet. But there, when he had shut the door, with a significant smile, that told her what was coming, and gave a glow to her very forehead from anxious confusion, he gently said, ‘I have read your book, Fanny!—but you need not blush at it—it is full of merit—it is, really,—extraordinary!’
She fell upon his neck with heart-throbbing emotion; and he folded her in his arms so tenderly, that she sobbed upon his shoulder; so moved was she by his precious approbation. But she soon recovered to a gayer pleasure—a pleasure more like his own; though the length of her illness had made her almost too weak for sensations that were mixed with such excess of amazement. She had written the little book, like innumerable of its predecessors that she had burnt, simply for her private recreation. She had printed it for a frolic, to see how a production of her own would figure in that author-like form. But that was the whole of her plan. And, in truth, her unlooked for success evidently surprised her father quite as much as herself.
But what was her start, when he told her that her book was then actually running the gauntlet at Streatham; and condescended to ask her leave, if Mrs. Thrale should happen to be pleased with it, to let her into the secret!
Startled was she indeed, nay, affrighted; for concealment was still her changeless wish and unalterable purpose. But the words: ‘If Mrs. Thrale should happen to be pleased with it,’ made her ashamed to demur; and she could only reply that, upon such a stipulation, she saw no risk of confidence, for Mrs. Thrale was no partial relative. She besought him, however, not to betray her to Mr. Crisp, whom she dreaded as a critic as much as she loved as a friend.
He laughed at her fright, yet forbore agitating her apprehensive spirits by pressing, at that moment, any abrupt disclosure; and, having gained his immediate point with regard to Mrs. Thrale, he drove off eagerly and instantly to Streatham.
And his eagerness there received no check; he found not only Mrs. Thrale, but her daughter, and sundry visitors, so occupied by Evelina, that some quotation from it was apropos to whatever was said or done.
An enquiry was promptly made, whether Mrs. Cholmondeley had yet found out the author of Evelina?—‘because,’ said Mrs. Thrale, ‘I long to know him of all things.’
The Him produced a smile that, as soon as they were alone, elicited an explanation; and the kind civilities that ensued may easily be conceived.
Every word of them was forwarded to Chesington by the participating sisters, as so many salutary medicines, they said, for returning health and strength. And, speedily after, they were followed by a prescription of the same character, so potent, so superlative, as to take place of all other mental medicine.
This was conveyed in a packet from Susanna, containing the ensuing letter from Mrs. Thrale to Dr. Burney; written two days after she had put the first volume of Evelina into her coach, as Dr. Johnson was quitting Streatham for a day’s residence in Bolt Court.
“‘Dear Doctor Burney,
“‘Doctor Johnson returned home last night full of the praises of the book I had lent him; protesting there were passages in it that might do honour to Richardson. We talk of it for ever; and he, Doctor Johnson, feels ardent after the denouement. He could not get rid of the Rogue! he said. I then lent him the second volume, which he instantly read; and he is, even now, busy with the third.
“‘You must be more a philosopher, and less a father than I wish you, not to be pleased with this letter; and the giving such pleasure yields to nothing but receiving it. Long, my dear Sir, may you live to enjoy the just praises of your children! And long may they live to deserve and delight such a parent!’”
This packet was accompanied by intelligence, that Sir Joshua Reynolds had been fed while reading the little work, from refusing to quit it at table! and that Edmund Burke had sat up a whole night to finish it!!! It was accompanied, also, by a letter from Dr. Burney, that almost dissolved the happy scribbler with touching delight, by its avowal of his increased approbation upon a second reading: “Thou hast made,” he says, “thy old father laugh and cry at thy pleasure.... I never yet heard of a novel writer’s statue;—yet who knows?—above all things, then, take care of thy head, for if that should be at all turned out of its place by all this intoxicating success, what sort of figure wouldst thou cut upon a pedestal? Prens y bien garde!’
This playful goodness, with the wondrous news that Doctor Johnson himself had deigned to read the little book, so struck, so nearly bewildered the author, that, seized with a fit of wild spirits, and not knowing how to account for the vivacity of her emotion to Mr. Crisp, she darted out of the room in which she had read the tidings by his side, to a small lawn before the window, where she danced, lightly, blithely, gaily, around a large old mulberry tree, as impulsively and airily as she had often done in her days of adolescence: and Mr. Crisp, though he looked on with some surprise, wore a smile of the most expressive kindness, that seemed rejoicing in the sudden resumption of that buoyant spirit of springing felicity, which, in her first visits to Liberty Hall—Chesington,—had made the mulberry tree the favourite site of her juvenile vagaries.
Dr. Burney sent, also, a packet from Mr. Lowndes, containing ten sets of Evelina very handsomely bound: and the scribbler had the extreme satisfaction to see that Mr. Lowndes was still in the dark as to his correspondent, the address being the same as the last;—
To Mr. Grafton,
and the opening of the letter still being, Sir.
When Chesington air, kindness, and freedom, had completely chased away every symptom of disease, Dr. Burney hastened thither himself; and arrived in the highest, happiest spirits. He had three objects in view, each of them filling his lively heart with gay ideas; the first was to bring back to his own roof his restored daughter: the second, was to tell a laughable tale of wonder to the most revered friend of both, for which he had previously written to demand her consent: and the third, was to carry that daughter to Streatham, and present her, by appointment, to Mrs. Thrale, and—to Dr. Johnson!
No sooner had the Doctor reached Liberty Hall, than the two faithful old friends were shut up in the conjuring closet where Dr. Burney rushed at once into “the midst of things,” and disclosed the author of the little work which, for some weeks past, had occupied Chesington Hall with quotations, conjectures, and subject matter of talk.
All that belongs, or that ever can belong, in matters of small moment, to amazement, is short of what was experienced by Mr. Crisp at this recital: and his astonishment was so prodigious not to have heard of her writing at all, till he heard of it in a printed work that was running all over London, and had been read, and approved of by Dr. Johnson and Edmund Burke; that, with all his powers of speech, his choice of language, and his general variety of expression, he could utter no phrase but “Wonderful!”—which burst forth at once on the discovery; accompanied each of its details; and was still the only vent to the fullness of his surprise when he had heard the whole history.
That she had consulted neither of these parents in this singular undertaking, diverted them both: well they knew that no distrust had caused the concealment, but simply an apprehension of utter insufficiency to merit their suffrages.
What a dream did all this seem to this Memorialist! The fear, however, of a reverse, checked all that might have rendered it too delusive; and she earnestly supplicated that the communication might be spread no further, lest it should precipitate a spirit of criticism, which retirement and mystery kept dormant: and which made all her wishes still unalterable for remaining unknown and unsuspected.
The popularity of this work did not render it very lucrative; ten pounds a volume, by the addition of ten pounds to the original twenty, after the third edition, being all that was ever paid, or ever offered to the author; whose unaffectedly humble idea of its worth had cast her, unconditionally, upon any terms that might be proposed.
Dr. Burney, enchanted at the new scene of life to which he was now carrying his daughter, of an introduction to Streatham, and a presentation to Dr. Johnson, took a most cordial leave of the congratulatory Mr. Crisp; who sighed, nevertheless, in the midst of his satisfaction, from a prophetic anticipation of the probable and sundering calls from his peaceful habitation, of which he thought this new scene likely to be the result. But the object of this kind solicitude, far from participating in these fears, was curbed from the full enjoyment of the honours before her, by a well-grounded apprehension that Dr. Johnson, at least, if not Mrs. Thrale, might expect a more important, and less bashful sort of personage, than she was sure would be found.
Dr. Burney, aware of her dread, because aware of her retired life and habits, and her native taste for personal obscurity, strove to laugh off her apprehensions by disallowing their justice; and was himself all gaiety and spirit.
Mrs. Thrale, who was walking in her paddock, came to the door of the carriage to receive them; and poured forth a vivacity of thanks to the Doctor for bringing his daughter, that filled that daughter with the most agreeable gratitude; and soon made her so easy and comfortable, that she forgot the formidable renown of wit and satire that were coupled with the name of Mrs. Thrale; and the whole weight of her panic, as well as the whole energy of her hopes, devolved upon the approaching interview with Dr. Johnson.
But there, on the contrary, Dr. Burney felt far greater security. Dr. Johnson, however undesignedly, nay, involuntarily, had been the cause of the new author’s invitation to Streatham, from being the first person who there had pronounced the name of Evelina; and that previously to the discovery that its unknown writer was the daughter of a man whose early enthusiasm for Dr. Johnson had merited his warm acknowledgments; and whose character and conversation had since won his esteem and friendship. Dr. Burney therefore prognosticated, that such a circumstance could not but strike the vivid imagination of Dr. Johnson as a romance of real life; and additionally interest him for the unobtrusive author of the little work, which, wholly by chance, he had so singularly helped to bring forward.
The curiosity of Dr. Johnson, however, though certainly excited, was by no means so powerful as to allure him from his chamber one moment before his customary time of descending to dinner; and the new author had three or four hours to pass in constantly augmenting trepidation: for the prospect of seeing him, which so short a time before would have sufficed for her delight, was now chequered by the consciousness that she could not, as heretofore, be in his presence only for her own gratification, without any reciprocity of notice.
She was introduced, meanwhile, to Mr. Thrale, whose reception of her was gentle and gentleman-like; and such as shewed his belief in the verity of her desire to have her authorship unmarked.
She saw also Miss Thrale, then barely entered into adolescence, though full of sense and cultivated talents; but as shy as herself, and consequently as little likely to create alarm.
One visitor only was at the house, Mr. Seward, afterwards author of Biographiana; a singular, but very agreeable, literary, and beneficent young man.
The morning was passed in the library, and, to the Doctor and his daughter was passed deliciously: Mrs. Thrale, much amused by the presence of two persons so peculiarly situated, put forth her utmost powers of pleasing; and though that great engine to success, flattery, was not spared, she wielded it with so much skill, and directed it with so much pleasantry, that all disconcerting effects were chased aside, to make it only produce laughter and good humour; through which gay auxiliaries every trait meant, latently, for the fearful daughter, was openly and plumply addressed to the happy father.
“I wish you had been with us last night, Dr. Burney,” she said; “for thinking of what would happen to-day, we could talk of nothing in the world but a certain sweet book; and Dr. Johnson was so full of it, that he quite astonished us. He has got those incomparable Brangtons quite by heart, and he recited scene after scene of their squabbles, and selfishness, and forwardness, till he quite shook his sides with laughter. But his greatest favourite is The Holbourn Beau, as he calls Mr. Smith. Such a fine varnish, he says, of low politeness! such struggles to appear the fine gentleman! such a determination to be genteel! and, above all, such profound devotion to the ladies,—while openly declaring his distaste to matrimony!——All this Mr. Johnson pointed out with so much comicality of sport, that, at last, he got into such high spirits, that he set about personating Mr. Smith himself! We all thought we must have died no other death than that of suffocation, in seeing Dr. Johnson handing about any thing he could catch, or snatch at, and making smirking bows, saying he was all for the ladies,—every thing that was agreeable to the ladies, &c. &c. &c., ‘except,’ says he, ‘going to church with them! and as to that, though marriage, to be sure, is all in all to the ladies, marriage to a man—is the devil!’ And then he pursued his personifications of his Holbourn Beau, till he brought him to what Mr. Johnson calls his climax; which is his meeting with Sir Clement Willoughby at Madame Duval’s, where a blow is given at once to his self-sufficiency, by the surprise and confusion of seeing himself so distanced; and the hopeless envy with which he looks up to Sir Clement, as to a meteor such as he himself had hitherto been looked up to at Snow Hill, that give a finishing touch to his portrait. And all this comic humour of character, he says, owes its effect to contrast; for without Lord Orville, and Mr. Villars, and that melancholy and gentleman-like half-starved Scotchman, poor Macartney, the Brangtons, and the Duvals, would be less than nothing; for vulgarity, in its own unshadowed glare, is only disgusting.”
This account is abridged from a long journal letter of the Memorialist; addressed to Mr. Crisp; but she will hazard copying more at length, from the same source, the original narration of her subsequent introduction to the notice of Dr. Johnson; as it may not be incurious to the reader, to see that great man in the uncommon light of courteously, nay playfully, subduing the fears, and raising the courage, of a newly discovered, but yet unavowed young author, by unexpected sallies and pointed allusions to characters in her work; not as to beings that were the product of her imagination, but as to persons of his own acquaintance, and in real life.
“Chesington, Kingston, Surrey.
Well, when, at last, we were summoned to dinner, Mrs. Thrale made my father and myself sit on each side of her. I said, I hoped I did not take the place of Dr. Johnson? for, to my great consternation, he did not even yet appear, and I began to apprehend he meant to abscond. ‘No,’ answered Mrs. Thrale; ‘he will sit next to you,—and that, I am sure, will give him great pleasure.’
Soon after we were all marshalled, the great man entered. I have so sincere a veneration for him, that his very sight inspires me with delight as well as reverence, notwithstanding the cruel infirmities to which, as I have told you, he is subject. But all that, outwardly, is so unfortunate, is so nobly compensated by all that, within, is excelling, that I can now only, like Desdemona for Othello, ‘view his image in his mind.’
Mrs. Thrale introduced me to him with an emphasis upon my name that rather frightened me, for it seemed like a call for some compliment. But he made me a bow the most formal, almost solemn, in utter silence, and with his eyes bent downwards. I felt relieved by this distance, for I thought he had forgotten, for the present at least, both the favoured little book and the invited little scribbler; and I therefore began to answer the perpetual addresses to me of Mrs. Thrale, with rather more ease. But by the time I was thus recovered from my panic, Dr. Johnson asked my father what was the composition of some little pies on his side of the table; and, while my father was endeavouring to make it out, Mrs. Thrale said, ‘Nothing but mutton, Mr. Johnson, so I don’t ask you to eat such poor patties, because I know you despise them.’
‘No, Madam, no!’ cried Doctor Johnson, ‘I despise nothing that is good of its sort. But I am too proud now, [smiling] to eat mutton pies! Sitting by Miss Burney makes me very proud to-day!’
“If you had seen, my dear Mr. Crisp, how wide I felt my eyes open!—A compliment from Doctor Johnson!
‘Miss Burney,’ cried Mrs. Thrale, laughing, ‘you must take great care of your heart, if Mr. Johnson attacks it—for I assure you he is not often successless!’
‘What’s that you say, Madam?’ cried the Doctor; ‘are you making mischief between the young lady and me already?’
A little while afterwards, he drank Miss Thrale’s health and mine together, in a bumper of lemonade; and then added: ‘It is a terrible thing that we cannot wish young ladies to be well, without wishing them to become old women!’
‘If the pleasures of longevity were not gradual,’ said my father, ‘If we were to light upon them by a jump or a skip, we should be cruelly at a loss how to give them welcome!’
‘But some people,’ said Mr. Seward, ‘are young and old at the same time; for they wear so well, that they never look old.’
‘No, Sir, no!’ cried the Doctor; ‘that never yet was, and never will be! You might as well say they were at the same time tall and short. Though I recollect an epitaph,—I forget upon whom, to that purpose.
My father then mentioned Mr. Garrick’s epilogue to Bonduca, which Dr. Johnson called a miserable performance; and which every body agreed to be the worst that Mr. Garrick had ever written.
‘And yet,’ said Mr. Seward, ‘it has been very much admired. But it is in praise of English valour, and so, I suppose, the subject made it popular.’
‘I do not know, Sir,’ said Dr. Johnson, ‘any thing about the subject, for I could not read till I came to any. I got through about half a dozen lines; but for subject, I could observe no other than perpetual dullness. I do not know what is the matter with David. I am afraid he is becoming superannuated; for his prologues and epilogues used to be incomparable.’
“Nothing is so fatiguing,” said Mrs. Thrale, “as the life of a wit. Garrick and Wilkes are the oldest men of their age that I know; for they have both worn themselves out prematurely by being eternally on the rack to entertain others.”
“David, Madam,” said the Doctor, “looks much older than he is, because his face has had double the business of any other man’s. It is never at rest! When he speaks one minute, he has quite a different countenance to that which he assumes the next. I do not believe he ever kept the same look for half an hour together in the whole course of his life. And such a perpetual play of the muscles must certainly wear a man’s face out before his time.”
While I was cordially laughing at this idea, the Doctor, who had probably observed in me some little uneasy trepidation, and now, I suppose, concluded me restored to my usual state, suddenly, though very ceremoniously, as if to begin some acquaintance with me, requested that I would help him to some broccoli. This I did; but when he took it, he put on a face of humorous discontent, and said, ‘Only this, Madam?—You would not have helped Mr. Macartney so parsimoniously!’
He affected to utter this in a whisper; but to see him directly address me, caught the attention of all the table, and every one smiled, though in silence; while I felt so surprised and so foolish! so pleased and so ashamed, that I hardly knew whether he meant my Mr. Macartney, or spoke at random of some other. This, however, he soon put beyond all doubt, by very composedly adding, while contemptuously regarding my imputed parsimony on his plate: “Mr. Macartney, it is true, might have most claim to liberality, poor fellow!—for how, as Tom Brangton shrewdly remarks, should he ever have known what a good dinner was, if he had never come to England?”
Perceiving, I suppose—for it could not be very difficult to discern—the commotion into which this explication put me; and the stifled disposition to a contagious laugh, which was suppressed, not to add to my embarrassment; he quickly, but quietly, went on to a general discourse upon Scotland, descriptive and political; but without point or satire—though I cannot, my dear Mr. Crisp, give you one word of it: not because I have forgotten it—for there is no remembering what we have never heard; but because I could only generally gather the subject. I could not listen to it. I was so confused and perturbed between pleasure and vexation—pleasure, indeed, in the approvance of Dr. Johnson! but vexation, and great vexation to find, by the conscious smirks of all around, that I was betrayed to the whole party! while I had only consented to confiding in Mrs. Thrale; all, no doubt, from a mistaken notion that I had merely meant to feel the pulse of the public, and to avow, or to conceal myself, according to its beatings: when heaven knows—and you, my dear Mr. Crisp, know, that I had not the most distant purpose of braving publicity, under success, any more than under failure.
From Scotland, the talk fell, but I cannot tell how, upon some friend of Dr. Johnson’s, of whom I did not catch the name; so I will call him Mr. Three Stars, * * *; of whom Mr. Seward related some burlesque anecdotes, from which Mr. * * * was warmly vindicated by the Doctor.
“Better say no more, Mr. Seward,” cried Mrs. Thrale, “for Mr. * * * is one of the persons that Mr. Johnson will suffer no one to abuse but himself! Garrick is another: for if any creature but himself says a word against Garrick—Mr. Johnson will brow-beat him in a moment.”
“Why, Madam, as to David,” answered the Doctor, very calmly, ‘it is only because they do not know when to abuse and when to praise him; and I will allow no man to speak any ill of David, that he does not deserve. As to * * *,—why really I believe him to be an honest man, too, at the bottom. But, to be sure, he is rather penurious; and he is somewhat mean; and it must be owned he has some degree of brutality; and is not without a tendency to savageness, that cannot well be defended.’
We all laughed, as he could not help doing himself, at such a curious mode of taking up his friend’s justification. And he then related a trait of another friend who had belonged to some club  that the Doctor frequented, who, after the first or second night of his admission, desired, as he eat no supper, to be excused paying his share for the collation.
“And was he excused, Sir?” cried my father.
“Yes, Sir; and very readily. No man is angry with another for being inferior to himself. We all admitted his plea publicly—for the gratification of scorning him privately! For my own part, I was fool enough to constantly pay my share for the wine, which I never tasted. But my poor friend Sir John, it cannot well be denied, was but an unclubbable man.”
How delighted was I to hear this master of languages, this awful, this dreaded lexiphanes, thus sportively and gaily coin burlesque words in social comicality!
I don’t know whether he deigned to watch me, but I caught a glance of his eye that seemed to shew pleasure in perceiving my surprise and diversion, for with increased glee of manner he proceeded.—
“This reminds me of a gentleman and lady with whom I once travelled. I suppose I must call them gentleman and lady, according to form, because they travelled in their own coach and four horses. But, at the first inn where we stopped to water the cattle, the lady called to a waiter for—a pint of ale! And, when it came, she would not taste it, till she had wrangled with the man for not bringing her fuller measure! Now—Madame Duval could not have done a grosser thing!”
A sympathetic simper now ran from mouth to mouth, save to mine, and to that of Dr. Johnson; who gravely pretended to pass off what he had said as if it were a merely accidental reminiscence of some vulgar old acquaintance of his own. And this, as undoubtedly, and most kindly, he projected, prevented any sort of answer that might have made the book a subject of general discourse. And presently afterwards, he started some other topic, which he addressed chiefly to Mr. Thrale. But if you expect me to tell you what it was, you think far more grandly of my powers of attention without, when all within is in a whirl, than I deserve!
Be it, however, what it might, the next time there was a pause, we all observed a sudden play of the muscles in the countenance of the Doctor, that shewed him to be secretly enjoying some ludicrous idea: and accordingly, a minute or two after, he pursed up his mouth, and, in an assumed pert, yet feminine accent, while he tossed up his head to express wonder, he affectedly minced out, “La, Polly!—only think! Miss has danced with a Lord!”
This was resistless to the whole set, and a general, though a gentle laugh, became now infectious; in which, I must needs own to you, I could not, with all my embarrassment, and all my shame, and all my unwillingness to demonstrate my consciousness, help being caught—so indescribably ludicrous and unexpected was a mimicry of Miss Biddy Brangton from Dr. Johnson!
The Doctor, however, with a refinement of delicacy of which I have the deepest sense, never once cast his eyes my way during these comic traits; though those of every body else in the company had scarcely for a moment any other direction.
But imagine my relief and my pleasure, in playfulness such as this from the great literary Leviathan, whom I had dreaded almost as much as I had honoured! How far was I from dreaming of such sportive condescension! He clearly wished to draw the little snail from her cell, and, when once she was out, not to frighten her back. He seems to understand my queeralities—as some one has called my not liking to be set up for a sign-post—with more leniency than any body else.”
This long article of Evelina, will be closed by copying a brief one upon the same subject, written from memory, by Dr. Burney, so late in his life as the year 1808.
Copied from a Memorandum-book of Dr. Burney’s, written
in the year 1808, at Bath.
“The literary history of my second daughter, Fanny, now Madame d’Arblay, is singular. She was wholly unnoticed in the nursery for any talents, or quickness of study: indeed, at eight years old she did not know her letters; and her brother, the tar, who in his boyhood had a natural genius for hoaxing, used to pretend to teach her to read; and gave her a book topsy-turvy, which he said she never found out! She had, however, a great deal of invention and humour in her childish sports; and used, after having seen a play in Mrs. Garrick’s box, to take the actors off, and compose speeches for their characters; for she could not read them. But in company, or before strangers, she was silent, backward, and timid, even to sheepishness: and, from her shyness, had such profound gravity and composure of features, that those of my friends who came often to my house, and entered into the different humours of the children, never called Fanny by any other name, from the time she had reached her eleventh year, than The Old Lady.
Her first work, Evelina, was written by stealth, in a closet up two pair of stairs, that was appropriated to the younger children as a play room. No one was let into the secret but my third daughter, afterwards Mrs. Phillips; though even to her it was never read till printed, from want of private opportunity. To me, nevertheless, she confidentially owned that she was going, through her brother Charles, to print a little work, but she besought me never to ask to see it. I laughed at her plan, but promised silent acquiescence; and the book had been six months published before I even heard its name; which I learnt at last without her knowledge. But great, indeed, was then my surprise, to find that it was in general reading, and commended in no common manner in the several Reviews of the times. Of this she was unacquainted herself, as she was then ill, and in the country. When I knew its title, I commissioned one of her sisters to procure it for me privately. I opened the first volume with fear and trembling; not having the least idea that, without the use of the press, or any practical knowledge of the world, she could write a book worth reading. The dedication to myself, however, brought tears into my eyes; and before I had read half the first volume I was much surprised, and, I confess, delighted; and most especially with the letters of Mr. Villars. She had always had a great affection for me; had an excellent heart, and a natural simplicity and probity about her that wanted no teaching. In her plays with her sisters, and some neighbour’s children, this straightforward morality operated to an uncommon degree in one so young. There lived next door to me, at that time, in Poland street, and in a private house, a capital hair merchant, who furnished peruques to the judges, and gentlemen of the law. The merchant’s female children and mine, used to play together in the little garden behind the house; and, unfortunately, one day, the door of the wig magazine being left open, they each of them put on one of those dignified ornaments of the head, and danced and jumped about in a thousand antics, laughing till they screamed at their own ridiculous figures. Unfortunately, in their vagaries, one of the flaxen wigs, said by the proprietor to be worth upwards of ten guineas—in those days a price enormous—fell into a tub of water, placed for the shrubs in the little garden, and lost all its gorgon buckle, and was declared by the owner to be totally spoilt. He was extremely angry, and chid very severely his own children; when my little daughter, the old lady, then ten years of age, advancing to him, as I was informed, with great gravity and composure, sedately says; “What signifies talking so much about an accident? The wig is wet, to be sure; and the wig was a good wig, to be sure; but its of no use to speak of it any more; because what’s done can’t be undone.”
“Whether these stoical sentiments appeased the enraged peruquier, I know not, but the younkers were stript of their honours, and my little monkies were obliged to retreat without beat of drum, or colours flying.”
From the very day of this happy inauguration of his daughter at Streatham, the Doctor had the parental gratification of seeing her as flatteringly greeted there as himself. So vivacious, indeed, was the partiality towards her of its inhabitants, that they pressed him to make over to them all the time he could spare her from her home; and appropriated an apartment as sacredly for her use, when she could occupy it, as another, far more deservedly, though not more cordially, had, many years previously, been held sacred for Dr. Johnson.
The social kindness for both father and daughter, of Mrs. Thrale, was of the most endearing nature; trusting, confidential, affectionate. She had a sweetness of manner, and an activity of service for those she loved, that could ill be appreciated by others; for though copiously flattering in her ordinary address to strangers, because always desirous of universal suffrage, she spoke of individuals in general with sarcasm; and of the world at large with sovereign contempt.
Flighty, however, not malignant, was her sarcasm; and ludicrous more frequently than scornful, her contempt. She wished no one ill. She would have done any one good; but she could put no restraint upon wit that led to a brilliant point, or that was productive of laughing admiration: though her epigram once pronounced, she thought neither of that nor of its object any more; and was just as willing to be friends with a person whom she had held up to ridicule, as with one whom she had laboured to elevate by panegyric.
Her spirits, in fact, rather ruled than exhilarated her; and were rather her guides than her support. Not that she was a child of nature. She knew the world, and gaily boasted that she had studied mankind in what she called its most prominent school-electioneering. She was rather, therefore, from her scoff of all consequences, a child of witty irreflection.
The first name on the list of the Streatham coterie at this time, was that which, after Dr. Johnson’s, was the first, also, in the nation, Edmund Burke. But his visits now, from whatever cause, were so rare, that Dr. Burney never saw him in the Streatham constellation, save as making one amongst the worthies whom the pencil of Sir Joshua Reynolds had caught from all mundane meanderings, to place there as a fixed star.
Next ranked Sir Joshua Reynolds himself, and Mr. Garrick.
Dr. Goldsmith, who had been a peculiar favourite in the set, as much, perhaps, for his absurdities as for his genius, was already gone; though still, and it may be from this double motive, continually missed and regretted: for what, in a chosen coterie, could be more amusing,—many as are the things that might be more edifying,—than gathering knowledge and original ideas in one moment, from the man who the next, by the simplicity of his egotism, expanded every mouth by the merriment of ridicule?
Mrs. Montagu, Mrs. Boscowen, Mrs. Crewe, Lord Loughborough, Mr. Dunning, Lord Mulgrave, Lord Westcote, Sir Lucas and Mr. Pepys Major Holroyd, Mrs. Hinchcliffe, Mrs. Porteus, Miss Streatfield, Miss Gregory, Dr. Lort, the Bishops of London and Peterborough (Porteus and Hinchcliffe), with a long et cætera of visitors less marked, filled up the brilliant catalogue of the spirited associates of Streatham.
But the most intimate in the house, amongst the Wits, from being the personal favourite of Mr. Thrale, was Mr. Murphy; who, for gaiety of spirits, powers of dramatic effect, stories of strong humour and resistless risibility, was nearly unequalled: and they were coupled with politeness of address, gentleness of speech, and well bred, almost courtly, demeanour.
He was a man of great erudition, without one particle of pedantry; and a stranger not only to spleen and malevolence, but the happiest promoter of convivial hilarity.
With what pleasure, and what pride, does the editor copy, from an ancient diary, the following words that passed between Dr. Johnson and Mr. Murphy, relative to Dr. Burney, upon the first meeting of the editor with Mr. Murphy at Streatham!
Mrs. Thrale was lamenting the sudden disappearance of Dr. Burney, who was just gone to town sans adieu; declaring that he was the most complete male-coquet she knew, for he only gave just enough of his company to make more desired.
“Dr. Burney,” said Mr. Murphy, “is, indeed, a most extraordinary man. I think I do not know such another. He is at home upon all subjects; and upon all is so highly agreeable! I look upon him as a wonderful man.”
“I love Burney!” cried Dr. Johnson, emphatically: “my heart, as I told him—goes out to meet Burney!”
“He is not ungrateful, Sir,” cried the Doctor’s bairne, “for heartily indeed does he love you!”
“Does he, Madam?” said the Doctor, looking at her earnestly: “I am surprised at that!”
“And why, Sir?—Why should you have doubted it?”
“Because, Madam,” answered he, gravely, “Dr. Burney is a man for every body to love. It is but natural to love him!”
He paused, as if with an idea of a self-conceived contrast not gaifying; but he soon cheerfully added, “I question if there be in the world such another man, altogether, for mind, intelligence, and manners, as Dr. Burney.”
Dr. Johnson, at this time, was engaged in writing his Lives of the Poets; a work, to him, so light and easy, that it never robbed his friends of one moment of the time that he would, otherwise, have spared to their society. Lives, however, strictly speaking, they are not; he merely employed in them such materials, with respect to biography, as he had already at hand, without giving himself any trouble in researches for what might be new, or unknown; though he gladly accepted any that were offered to him, if well authenticated, The critical investigations alone he considered as his business. He himself never named them but as prefaces. No man held in nobler scorn, a promise that out-went performance.
The ease and good-humour with which he fulfilled this engagement, made the present a moment peculiarly propitious for the opening acquaintance with him of the new, and by no means very hardened author; for whose terrors of public notice he had a mercy the most indulgent. He quickly saw that—whether wise or not—they were true; and soothed them without raillery or reprehension; though in this he stood nearly alone! Her fears of him, therefore, were soon softened off by his kindness; or dispelled by her admiration.
The friendship with which so early he had honoured the father, was gently and at once, with almost unparalleled partiality, extended to the daughter: and, in truth, the whole current of his intercourse with both was as unruffled by storm as it was enlightened by wisdom.
While this charming work was in its progress, when only the Thrale family and its nearly adopted guests, the two Burneys, were assembled, Dr. Johnson would frequently produce one of its proof sheets to embellish the breakfast table, which was always in the library; and was, certainly, the most sprightly and agreeable meeting of the day; for then, as no strangers were present to stimulate exertion, or provoke rivalry, argument was not urged on by the mere spirit of victory; it was instigated only by such truisms as could best bring forth that conflict of pros and cons which elucidates opposing opinions. Wit was not flashed with the keen sting of satire; yet it elicited not less gaiety from sparkling with an unwounding brilliancy, which brightened without inflaming, every eye, and charmed without tingling, every ear.
These proof sheets Mrs. Thrale was permitted to read aloud; and the discussions to which they led were in the highest degree entertaining. Dr. Burney wistfully desired to possess one of them; but left to his daughter the risk of the petition. A hint, however, proved sufficient, and was understood not alone with compliance, but vivacity. Boswell, Dr. Johnson said, had engaged Frank Barber, his negro servant, to collect and preserve all the proof sheets; but though it had not been without the knowledge, it was without the order or the interference of their author: to the present solicitor, therefore, willingly and without scruple, he now offered an entire life; adding, with a benignant smile, “Choose your poet!”
Without scruple, also, was the acceptance; and, without hesitation, the choice was Pope. And that not merely because, next to Shakespeare himself, Pope draws human characters the most veridically, perhaps, of any poetic delineator; but for yet another reason. Dr. Johnson composed with so ready an accuracy, that he sent his copy to the press unread; reserving all his corrections for the proof sheets: and, consequently, as not even Dr. Johnson could read twice without ameliorating some passages, his proof sheets were at times liberally marked with changes; and, as the Museum copy of Pope’s Translation of the Iliad, from which Dr. Johnson has given many examples, contains abundant emendations by Pope, the Memorialist secured at once, on the same page, the marginal alterations and second thoughts of that great author, and of his great biographer.
When the book was published, Dr. Johnson brought to Streatham a complete set, handsomely bound, of the Works of the Poets, as well as his own Prefaces, to present to Mr. and Mrs. Thrale. And then, telling this Memorialist that to the King, and to the chiefs of Streatham alone he could offer
so large a tribute, he most kindly placed before her a bound copy of his own part of the work; in the title page of which he gratified her earnest request by writing her name, and “From the Author.”
After which, at her particular solicitation, he gave her a small engraving of his portrait from the picture of Sir Joshua Reynolds. And while, some time afterwards, she was examining it at a distant table, Dr. Johnson, in passing across the room, stopt to discover by what she was occupied; which he no sooner discerned, than he began see-sawing for a moment or two in silence; and then, with a ludicrous half laugh, peeping over her shoulder, he called out: “Ah ha!—Sam Johnson!—I see thee!—and an ugly dog thou art!”
He even extended his kindness to a remembrance of Mr. Bewley, the receiver and preserver of the wisp of a Bolt Court hearth-broom, as a relic of the Author of the Rambler; which anecdote Dr. Burney had ventured to confess: and Dr. Johnson now, with his compliments, sent a set of the Prefaces to St. Martin’s-street, directed,
“For the Broom Gentleman:”
which Mr. Bewley received with rapturous gratitude.
Dr. Johnson wrote nothing that was so immediately popular as his Lives of the Poets. Such a subject was of universal attraction, and he treated it with a simplicity that made it of universal comprehension. In all that belonged to classical criticism, he had a facility so complete, that to speak or to write produced immediately the same clear and sagacious effect. His pen was as luminous as his tongue, and his tongue was as correct as his pen.
Yet those—and there are many—who estimate these Prefaces as the best of his works, must surely so judge them from a species of mental indolence, that prefers what is easiest of perusal to what is most illuminating: for rich as are these Prefaces in ideas and information, their subjects have so long been familiar to every English reader, that they require no stretch of intellect, or exercise of reflection, to lead him, without effort, to accompany the writer in his annotations and criticisms. The Rambler, on the contrary, embodies a course equally new of Thought and of Expression; the development of which cannot always be foreseen, even by the deepest reasoner and the keenest talents, because emanating from original genius. To make acquaintance, therefore, with the Rambler, the general peruser must pause, occasionally, to think as well as to read; and to clear away sundry mists of prejudice, or ignorance, ere he can keep pace with the sublime author, when the workings of his mind, his imagination, and his knowledge, are thrown upon mankind.
The warm and venerating attachment of Dr. Burney to Mr. Crisp, which occasional discourse and allusions had frequently brought forward, impressed the whole Thrale family with a high opinion of the character and endowments of that excelling man. And when they found, also, that Mr. Crisp had as animated a votary in so much younger a person as their new guest; and that this enthusiasm was general throughout the Doctor’s house, they earnestly desired to view and to know a man of such eminent attraction; and gave to Dr. Burney a commission to bring on the acquaintance.
It was given, however, in vain. Mr. Crisp had no longer either health or spirit of enterprize for so formidable, however flattering, a new connexion; and inexorably resisted every overture for a meeting.
But Mrs. Thrale, all alive for whatever was piquant and promising, grew so bewitched by the delight with which her new young ally, to whom she became daily more attached and more attaching, dilated on the rare perfections of Daddy Crisp; and the native and innocent pleasures of Liberty Hall, Chesington, that she started the plan of a little excursion for taking the premises by surprise. And Dr. Burney, certain that two such singularly accomplished persons could not meet but to their mutual gratification; sanctioned the scheme; Mr. Thrale desired to form his own judgment of so uncommon a Recluse; and the Doctor’s pupil felt a juvenile curiosity to make one in the group.
The party took place; but its pleasure was nearly marred by the failure of the chief spring which would have put into motion, and set to harmony, the various persons who composed its drama.
Dr. Burney, from multiplicity of avocations, was forced, when the day arrived, to relinquish his share in the little invasion; which cast a damp upon the gaiety of the project, both to the besieged and the besiegers. Yet Mr. Crisp and Mrs. Thrale met with mutual sentiments of high esteem, though the genius of their talents was dissimilar; Mrs. Thrale delighted in bursting forth with sudden flashes of wit, which, carelessly, she left to their own consequences; while Mr. Crisp, though awake to her talents, and sensible of their rarity and their splendour, thought with Dr. Fordyce, that in woman the retiring graces are the most attractive.
Nevertheless, in understanding, acuteness, and parts, there was so much in common between them, that sincere admiration grew out of the interview; though with too little native congeniality to mellow into confidence, or ripen into intimacy.
Praise, too, that dangerous herald of expectation, is often a friend more perilous than any enemy; and both had involuntarily looked for a something indefinable which neither of them found; yet both had too much justness of comprehension to conclude that such a something did not exist, because no opportunity for its development had offered in the course of a few hours.
What most, in this visit, surprised Mrs. Thrale with pleasure, was the elegance of Mr. Crisp in language and manners; because that, from the Hermit of Chesington, she had not expected.
And what most to Mr. Crisp caused a similar pleasure, was the courteous readiness, and unassuming good-humour, with which Mrs. Thrale received the inartificial civilities of Kitty Cooke, and the old-fashioned but cordial hospitality of Mrs. Hamilton; for these, from a celebrated wit, moving in the sphere of high life, he also in his turn had not expected.
The Thrales, however, were all much entertained by the place itself, which they prowled over with gay curiosity. Not a nook or corner; nor a dark passage “leading to nothing;” nor a hanging tapestry of prim demoiselles, and grim cavaliers; nor a tall canopied bed tied up to the ceiling; nor japan cabinets of two or three hundred drawers of different dimensions; nor an oaken corner cupboard, carved with heads, thrown in every direction, save such as might let them fall on men’s shoulders; nor a window stuck in some angle close to the ceiling of a lofty slip of a room; nor a quarter of a staircase, leading to some quaint unfrequented apartment; nor a wooden chimney-piece, cut in diamonds, squares, and round nobs, surmounting another of blue and white tiles, representing, vis à vis, a dog and a cat, as symbols of married life and harmony—missed their scrutinizing eyes.
They even visited the attics, where they were much diverted by the shapes as well as by the quantity of rooms, which, being of all sorts of forms that could increase their count, were far too heterogeneous of outline to enable the minutest mathematician to give them any technical denomination.
They peeped, also, through little window casements, of which the panes of glass were hardly so wide as their clumsy frames, to survey long ridges of lead that entwined the motley spiral roofs of the multitude of separate cells, rather than chambers, that composed the top of the mansion; and afforded from it a view, sixteen miles in circumference, of the adjacent country.
Mr. Crisp judged it fitting to return the received civility of a visit from Mr. and Mrs. Thrale, whatever might be the inconvenience to his health; or whatever his disinclination to such an exertion. From habitual politeness he was of the old school in the forms of good breeding; though perfectly equal to even the present march of intellect in the new one, if to the present day he had lived,—and had deemed it a march of improvement. He was the last man not to be aware that nothing stands still. All nature in its living mass, all art in its concentrated aggregate, advances or retrogrades.
He took the earliest day that one of his few gout intervals put at his own disposal, to make his appearance at Streatham; having first written a most earnest injunction to Dr. Burney to give him there the meeting. The Memorialist was then at Chesington, and had the happiness to accompany Mr. Crisp; by whom she was to be left at her new third home.
Dr. Johnson, in compliment to his friend Dr. Burney, and by no means incurious himself to see the hermit of Chesington, immediately descended to meet Mr. Crisp; and to aid Mrs. Thrale, who gave him a vivacious reception, to do the honours of Streatham.
The meeting, nevertheless, to the great chagrin of Dr. Burney, produced neither interest nor pleasure: for Dr. Johnson, though courteous in demeanour and looks, with evident solicitude to shew respect to Mr. Crisp, was grave and silent; and whenever Dr. Johnson did not make the charm of conversation, he only marred it by his presence; from the general fear he incited, that if he spoke not, he might listen; and that if he listened—he might reprove.
Ease, therefore, was wanting; without which nothing in society can be flowing or pleasing. The Chesingtonian conceived, that he had lived too long away from the world to start any subject that might not, to the Streathamites, be trite and out of date; and the Streathamites believed that they had lived in it so much longer, that the current talk of the day might, to the Chesingtonian, seem unintelligible jargon: while each hoped that the sprightly Dr. Burney would find the golden mean by which both parties might be brought into play.
But Dr. Burney, who saw in the kind looks and complacency of Dr. Johnson intentional goodwill to the meeting, flattered himself that the great philologist was but waiting for an accidental excitement, to fasten upon some topic of general use or importance, and then to describe or discuss it, with the full powers of his great mind.
Dr. Johnson, however, either in health or in spirits was, unfortunately, oppressed; and, for once, was more desirous to hear than to be heard.
Mr. Crisp, therefore, lost, by so unexpected a taciturnity, this fair and promising opportunity for developing and enjoying the celebrated and extraordinary colloquial abilities of Dr. Johnson; and finished the visit with much disappointment; lowered also, and always, in his spirits by parting from his tenderly attached young companion.
Dr. Burney had afterwards, however, the consolation to find that Mr. Crisp had impressed even Dr. Johnson with a strong admiration of his knowledge and capacity; for in speaking of him in the evening to Mr. Thrale, who had been absent, the Doctor emphatically said, “Sir, it is a very singular thing to see a man with all his powers so much alive, when he has so long shut himself up from the world. Such readiness of conception, quickness of recollection, facility of following discourse started by others, in a man who has long had only the past to feed upon, are rarely to be met with. Now, for my part,” added he, laughing, “that I should be ready, or even universal, is no wonder; for my dear little mistress here,” turning to Mrs. Thrale, “keeps all my faculties in constant play.”
Mrs. Thrale then said that nothing, to her, was so striking, as that a man who so long had retired from the world, should so delicately have preserved its forms and courtesies, as to appear equally well bred with any elegant member of society who had not quitted it for a week.
Inexpressibly gratifying to Dr. Burney was the award of such justice, from such judges, to his best and dearest loved friend.
From this time forward, Dr. Burney could scarcely recover his daughter from Streatham, even for a few days, without a friendly battle. A sportively comic exaggeration of Dr. Johnson’s upon this flattering hostility was current at Streatham, made in answer to Dr. Burney’s saying, upon a resistance to her departure for St. Martin’s-street in which Dr. Johnson had strongly joined, “I must really take her away, Sir, I must indeed; she has been from home so long.”
“Long? no, Sir! I do not think it long,” cried the Doctor, see-sawing, and seizing both her hands, as if purporting to detain her: “Sir! I would have her Always come ... and Never go!—”
When next, after this adjuration, Dr. Burney took the Memorialist back to Streatham, he found there, recently arrived from Scotland, Mr. Boswell; whose sprightly Corsican tour, and heroic, almost Quixotic pursuit of General Paoli, joined to the tour to the Hebrides with Dr. Johnson, made him an object himself of considerable attention.
He spoke the Scotch accent strongly, though by no means so as to affect, even slightly, his intelligibility to an English ear. He had an odd mock solemnity of tone and manner, that he had acquired imperceptibly from constantly thinking of and imitating Dr. Johnson; whose own solemnity, nevertheless, far from mock, was the result of pensive rumination. There was, also, something slouching in the gait and dress of Mr. Boswell, that wore an air, ridiculously enough, of purporting to personify the same model. His clothes were always too large for him; his hair, or wig, was constantly in a state of negligence; and he never for a moment sat still or upright upon a chair. Every look and movement displayed either intentional or involuntary imitation. Yet certainly it was not meant as caricature; for his heart, almost even to idolatory, was in his reverence of Dr. Johnson.
Dr. Burney was often surprised that this kind of farcical similitude escaped the notice of the Doctor; but attributed his missing it to a high superiority over any such suspicion, as much as to his near-sightedness; for fully was Dr. Burney persuaded, that had any detection of such imitation taken place, Dr. Johnson, who generally treated Mr. Boswell as a school boy, whom, without the smallest ceremony, he pardoned or rebuked, alternately, would so indignantly have been provoked, as to have instantaneously inflicted upon him some mark of his displeasure. And equally he was persuaded that Mr. Boswell, however shocked and even inflamed in receiving it, would soon, from his deep veneration, have thought it justly incurred; and, after a day or two of pouting and sullenness, would have compromised the matter by one of his customary simple apologies, of “Pray, Sir, forgive me!”
Dr. Johnson, though often irritated by the officious importunity of Mr. Boswell, was really touched by his attachment. It was indeed surprising, and even affecting, to remark the pleasure with which this great man accepted personal kindness, even from the simplest of mankind; and the grave formality with which he acknowledged it even to the meanest. Possibly it was what he most prized, because what he could least command; for personal partiality hangs upon lighter and slighter qualities than those which earn solid approbation; but of this, if he had least command, he had also least want: his towering superiority of intellect elevating him above all competitors, and regularly establishing him, wherever he appeared, as the first Being of the society.
As Mr. Boswell was at Streatham only upon a morning visit, a collation was ordered, to which all were assembled. Mr. Boswell was preparing to take a seat that he seemed, by prescription, to consider as his own, next to Dr. Johnson; but Mr. Seward, who was present, waived his hand for Mr. Boswell to move further on, saying, with a smile, “Mr. Boswell, that seat is Miss Burney’s.”
He stared, amazed: the asserted claimant was new and unknown to him, and he appeared by no means pleased to resign his prior rights. But, after looking round for a minute or two, with an important air of demanding the meaning of this innovation, and receiving no satisfaction, he reluctantly, almost resentfully, got another chair; and placed it at the back of the shoulder of Dr. Johnson; while this new and unheard of rival quietly seated herself as if not hearing what was passing; for she shrunk from the explanation that she feared might ensue, as she saw a smile stealing over every countenance, that of Dr. Johnson himself not excepted, at the discomfiture and surprise of Mr. Boswell.
Mr. Boswell, however, was so situated as not to remark it in the Doctor; and of every one else, when in that presence, he was unobservant, if not contemptuous. In truth, when he met with Dr. Johnson, he commonly forbore even answering anything that was said, or attending to any thing that went forward, lest he should miss the smallest sound from that voice to which he paid such exclusive, though merited homage. But the moment that voice burst forth, the attention which it excited in Mr. Boswell amounted almost to pain. His eyes goggled with eagerness; he leant his ear almost on the shoulder of the Doctor; and his mouth dropt open to catch every syllable that might be uttered: nay, he seemed not only to dread losing a word, but to be anxious not to miss a breathing; as if hoping from it, latently, or mystically, some information.
But when, in a few minutes, Dr. Johnson, whose eye did not follow him, and who had concluded him to be at the other end of the table, said something gaily and good-humouredly, by the appellation of Bozzy; and discovered, by the sound of the reply, that Bozzy had planted himself, as closely as he could, behind and between the elbows of the new usurper and his own, the Doctor turned angrily round upon him, and, clapping his hand rather loudly upon his knee, said, in a tone of displeasure, “What do you do there, Sir?—Go to the table, Sir!”
Mr. Boswell instantly, and with an air of affright, obeyed: and there was something so unusual in such humble submission to so imperious a command, that another smile gleamed its way across every mouth, except that of the Doctor and of Mr. Boswell; who now, very unwillingly, took a distant seat.
But, ever restless when not at the side of Dr. Johnson, he presently recollected something that he wished to exhibit, and, hastily rising, was running away in its search; when the Doctor, calling after him, authoritatively said: “What are you thinking of, Sir? Why do you get up before the cloth is removed?—Come back to your place, Sir!”
Again, and with equal obsequiousness, Mr. Boswell did as he was bid; when the Doctor, pursing his lips, not to betray rising risibility, muttered half to himself: “Running about in the middle of meals!—One would take you for a Brangton!—”
“A Brangton, Sir?” repeated Mr. Boswell, with earnestness; “What is a Brangton, Sir?”
“Where have you lived, Sir,” cried the Doctor, laughing, “and what company have you kept, not to know that?”
Mr. Boswell now, doubly curious, yet always apprehensive of falling into some disgrace with Dr. Johnson, said, in a low tone, which he knew the Doctor could not hear, to Mrs. Thrale: “Pray, Ma’am, what’s a Brangton?—Do me the favour to tell me?—Is it some animal hereabouts?”
Mrs. Thrale only heartily laughed, but without answering: as she saw one of her guests uneasily fearful of an explanation. But Mr. Seward cried, “I’ll tell you, Boswell,—I’ll tell you!—if you will walk with me into the paddock: only let us wait till the table is cleared; or I shall be taken for a Brangton, too!”
They soon went off together; and Mr. Boswell, no doubt, was fully informed of the road that had led to the usurpation by which he had thus been annoyed. But the Brangton fabricator took care to mount to her chamber ere they returned; and did not come down till Mr. Boswell was gone.
Dr. Burney had no greater enjoyment of the little leisure he could tear from his work and his profession, than that which he could dedicate to Dr. Johnson; and he now, at the Doctor’s most earnest invitation, carried this Memorialist to Bolt Court, to pay a visit to the blind poetess, Anna Williams.
They were received by Dr. Johnson with a kindness that irradiated his austere and studious features into the most pleased and pleasing benignity. Such, indeed, was the gentleness, as well as warmth, of his partiality for this father and daughter, that their sight seemed to give him a new physiognomy.
It was in the apartment—a parlour—dedicated to Mrs. Williams, that the Doctor was in this ready attendance to play the part of the master of the ceremonies, in presenting his new guest to his ancient friend and ally. Anna Williams had been a favourite of his wife, in whose life-time she had frequently resided under his roof. The merit of her poetical talents, and the misfortune of her blindness, are generally known; to these were now super-added sickness, age, and infirmity: yet such was the spirit of her character, that to make a new acquaintance thus rather singularly circumstanced, seemed to her almost an event of moment; and she had incessantly solicited the Doctor to bring it to bear.
Her look, air, voice, and extended hands of reception, evinced the most eager, though by no means obtrusive curiosity. Her manner, indeed, shewed her to be innately a gentlewoman; and her conversation always disclosed a cultivated as well as thinking mind.
Dr. Johnson never appeared to more advantage than in the presence of this blind poetess; for the obligations under which he had placed her, were such as he sincerely wished her to feel with the pleasure of light, not the oppression of weighty gratitude. All his best sentiments, therefore, were strenuously her advocates, to curb what was irritable in his temper by the generosity of his principles; and by the congeniality, in such points, of their sensibility.
His attentions to soften the burthen of her existence, from the various bodily diseases that aggravated the evil of her loss of sight, were anxious and unceasing; and there was no way more prominent to his favour than that of seeking to give any solace, or shewing any consideration to Anna Williams.
Anna, in return, honouring his virtues and abilities, grateful for his goodness, and intimately aware of his peculiarities, made it the pride of her life to receive every moment he could bestow upon her, with cordial affection; and exactly at his own time and convenience; to soothe him when he was disposed to lament with her the loss of his wife; and to procure for him whatever was in her power of entertainment or comfort.
This introduction was afterwards followed, through Dr. Johnson’s zealous intervention, by sundry other visits from the Memorialist; and though minor circumstances made her compliance rather embarrassing, it could not have been right, and it would hardly have been possible, to resist an entreaty of Dr. Johnson. And every fresh interview at his own home showed the steady humanity of his assiduity to enliven his poor blind companion; as well as to confer the most essential services upon two other distressed inmates of his charitable house, Mrs. Desmoulins, the indigent daughter of Dr. Swinfen, a physician who had been godfather to Dr. Johnson; and Mr. Levet, a poor old ruined apothecary, both of whom he housed and supported with the most exemplary Christian goodness.
Dr. Burney was daily more enchanted at the kindness with which his daughter was honoured by Dr. Johnson; but neither parental exaltation, nor the smiles of fortune; nor the enticing fragrance of those flowery paths which so often allure from vigorous labour to wasting repose, the votary of rising fame; could even for a day, or scarcely for an hour, draw the ardent and indefatigable musical historian to any voluntary relaxation from his self-appointed task; to which he constantly devoted every moment that he could snatch from the multitudinous calls upon his over-charged time.
But the year that followed this still rising tide of pleasure and prosperity to Dr. Burney, 1779, opened to him with the personal loss of a friend whom the world might vainly, perhaps, be challenged to replace, for agreeability, delight, and conviviality, Garrick!—the inimitable David Garrick! who left behind him all previous eminence in his profession beyond reach of comparison; save the Roscius of Rome, to whose Ciceronian celebrity we owe the adoption of an appropriate nomenclature, which at no period could have been found in our own dominions:—Garrick, so long the darling and unrivalled favourite of the public; who possessed resistlessly, where he chose to exert it, the power of pleasing, winning, and exhilarating all around him:—Garrick, who, in the words of Dr. Johnson, seemed “Formed to gladden life,” was taken from his resplendent worldly fame, and admiring worldly friends, by “that stroke of death,” says Dr. Johnson, “which eclipsed the gaiety of nations, and impoverished the stock of harmless pleasure.”
He had already retired from the stage, and retired without waiting for failing powers to urge, or precipitate his retreat; for still his unequalled animal spirits, gaily baffling the assaults of age, had such extraordinary exuberance as to supply and support both body and mind at once; still clear, varying, and penetrating, was his voice; still full of intelligence or satire, of disdain, of rage, or of delight, was the fire, the radiance, the eloquence of his eye; still made up at will, of energy or grace, of command or supplication, was his form, and were his attitudes; his face alone—ah!“There was the rub!—” his face alone was the martyr of time: or rather, his forehead and cheeks; for his eyes and his countenance were still beaming with recent, though retiring beauty.
But the wear and tear of his forehead and cheeks, which, as Dr. Johnson had said, made sixty years in Garrick seem seventy, had rendered them so wrinkled, from an unremitting play of expression, off as well as on the stage, that, when he found neither paint nor candle-light, nor dress nor decoration, could conceal those lines, or smooth those furrows which were ploughing his complexion; he preferred to triumph, even in foregoing his triumphs, by plunging, through voluntary impulse, from the dazzling summit to which he had mounted, and heroically pronouncing his Farewell!—amidst the universal cry, echoed and re-echoing all around him, of “Stop, Garrick, stop!—yet a little longer stop!”
A brief account of the last sight of this admired and much loved friend is thus given in a manuscript memoir of Dr. Burney.
“I called at his door, with anxious inquiries, two days before he expired, and was admitted to his chamber; but though I saw him, he did not seem to see me,—or any earthly thing! His countenance that had never remained a moment the same in conversation, now appeared as fixed and as inanimate as a block of marble; and he had already so far relinquished the world, as I was afterwards told by Mr. Wallace, his executor, that nothing that was said or done that used to interest him the most keenly, had any effect upon his muscles; or could extort either a word or a look from him for several days previously to his becoming a corpse.”
Dr. Burney, in the same carriage with Whitehead, the poet laureate, the erudite Mr. Beauclerk, and Mr. Wallace, the executor, attended the last remains of this celebrated public character to their honourable interment in Westminster Abbey.
Long, and almost universally felt was this loss: to Dr. Burney it was a deprivation of lasting regret. In his doggrel chronology he has left the following warm testimony of his admiration.
Just as this great dramatic genius was descending to the tomb, young Crotch, a rising musical genius, was brought forward into the world with so strong a promise of eminence, that a very general desire was expressed, that Dr. Burney would examine, counsel, and countenance him; and at only three years and a half old, the child was brought to St. Martin’s-street by his mother.
The Doctor, ever ready to nourish incipient talents submitted to his investigation, saw the child repeatedly; and was so forcibly struck by his uncommon faculties, that upon communicating his remarks to the famous Dr. Hunter, who had been foremost in desiring the examination, Dr. Hunter thought them sufficiently curious to be presented to the Royal Society; where they were extremely well received, and printed in the Philosophical Transactions of the year 1779.
For some time after this, the Doctor was frequently called upon, by the relations and admirers of this wonderful boy, for assistance and advice; both which he cheerfully accorded to the best of his ability: till the happy star of the young prodigy fixed him at the University of Oxford, where he met with every aid, professional or personal, that his genius claimed; and where, while his education was still in progress, he was nominated, when only fourteen years of age, organist of Christ Church.
This event he communicated to Dr. Burney in a modest and grateful letter, that the Doctor received and preserved with sincere satisfaction; and kindly answered with instructive professional counsel.
In his chronological lines, the Doctor says—
The event next narrated in the Memoirs of Dr. Burney, proved deeply affecting to the happiness and gaiety of his social circles; for now a catastrophe, which for some time had seemed impending, and which, though variously fluctuating, had often struck with terror, or damped with sorrow, the liveliest spirits and gayest scenes of Streatham, suddenly took place; and cut short for ever the honours and the peace of that erst illustrious dwelling.
Mr. Thrale, for many years, in utter ignorance what its symptoms were foreboding, had been harbouring, through an undermining indulgence of immoderate sleep after meals, a propensity to paralysis. The prognostics of distemper were then little observed but by men of science; and those were rarely called in till something fatal was apprehended. It is, probably, only since the time that medical and surgical lectures have been published as well as delivered; and simplified from technical difficulties, so as to meet and to enlighten the unscientific intellect of the herd of mankind, that the world at large seems to have learned the value of early attention to incipient malady.
Even Dr. Johnson was so little aware of the insalubrity of Mr. Thrale’s course of life, that, without interposing his powerful and never disregarded exhortations, he often laughingly said, “Mr. Thrale will out-sleep the seven sleepers!”
Strange it may seem, at this present so far more enlightened day upon these subjects, that Dr. Johnson, at least, should not have been alarmed at this lethargic tendency; as the art of medicine, which, for all that belongs to this world, stands the highest in utility, was, abstractedly, a study upon which he loved to ruminate, and a subject he was addicted to discuss. But this instance of complete vacuity of practical information upon diseases and remedies in Dr. Johnson, will cease to give surprise, when it is known that, near the middle of his life, and in the fullest force of his noble faculties, upon finding himself assailed by a severe fit of the gout in his ancle, he sent for a pail of cold water, into which he plunged his leg during the worst of the paroxysm—a feat of intrepid ignorance—incongruous as sounds the word ignorance in speaking of Dr. Johnson—that probably he had cause to rue during his whole after-life; for the gout, of which he chose to get rid in so succinct a manner—a feat in which he often exulted—might have carried off many of the direful obstructions, and asthmatic seizures and sufferings, of which his latter years were wretchedly the martyrs.
Thus, most unfortunately, without representation, opposition, or consciousness, Mr. Thrale went on in a self-destroying mode of conduct, till,
he was struck with a fit of apoplexy.
Yet even this stroke, by the knowledge and experience of his medical advisers, might perhaps have been parried, had Mr. Thrale been imbued with earlier reverence for the arts of recovery. But he slighted them all; and fearless, or, rather, incredulous of danger, he attended to no prescription. He simply essayed the waters of Tunbridge; and made a long sojourn at Bath. All in vain! The last and fatal seizure was inflicted at his own town house, in Grosvenor Square, in the spring of 1781: and at an instant when such a blow was so little expected, that all London, amongst persons of fashion, talents, or celebrity, had been invited to a splendid entertainment, meant for the night of that very dawn which rose upon the sudden earthly extinction of the lamented and respected chief of the mansion.
Changed now was Streatham! the value of its chief seemed first made known by his loss; which was long felt; though not, perhaps, with the immediate acuteness that would have been demonstrated, if, at that period, the deprivation of the female chieftain had preceded that of the male. Still Mr. Thrale, by every friend of his house and family; and by every true adherent to his wife, her interest, her fame, and her happiness, was day by day, and week by week, more and more missed and regretted.
Dr. Burney was one of the first and most earnest to hasten to the widowed lady, with the truest sympathy in her grief. His daughter, who, for some previous months, had been wholly restored to the paternal roof,—the Thrales themselves having been fixed, for the last winter season, in Grosvenor Square,—flew, in trembling haste, the instant she could be received, to the beloved friend who was now tenderly enchained to her heart; and at this moment was doubly endeared by misfortune; and voluntarily quitting all else, eagerly established herself at Streatham.
Dr. Johnson, who was one of Mr. Thrale’s executors, immediately resumed his apartment; cordially and gratefully bestowing on the remaining hostess every minute that she could desire or require of his time and his services. And nothing could be wiser in counsel, more zealous in good offices, or kinder of intention, than the whole of his conduct in performing the duties that he deemed to devolve upon him by the will of his late friend.
But Dr. Burney, as he could only upon his stated day and hour make one in this retirement, devoted himself now almost exclusively to his
So many years had elapsed since the appearance of the first volume, and the murmurs of the subscribers were so general for the publication of the second, that the earnestness of the Doctor to fulfil his engagement, became such as to sicken him of almost every occupation that turned him from its pursuit. Yet uninterrupted attention grew more than ever difficult; for as his leisure, through the double claims of his profession and his work, diminished, his celebrity increased; and the calls upon it, as usual, from the wayward taste of public fashion for what is hard to obtain, were perpetual, were even clamorous; and he had constantly a long list of petitioning parents, awaiting a vacant hour, upon any terms that he could name, and at any part of the day.
He had always some early pupil who accepted his attendance at eight o’clock in the morning; and a strong instance has been given of its being seized upon even at seven; and, during the height of the season for fashionable London residence, his tour from house to house was scarcely ever finished sooner than eleven o’clock at night.
But so urgent grew now the spirit of his diligence for the progress of his work, that he not only declined all invitations to the hospitable boards of his friends, he even resisted the social hour of repast at his own table; and took his solitary meal in his coach, while passing from scholar to scholar; for which purpose he had sandwiches prepared in a flat tin box; and wine and water ready mixed, in a wickered pint bottle, put constantly into the pockets of his carriage.
If, at this period, Dr. Burney had been as intent and as skilful in the arrangement and the augmentation of his income, as he was industrious to procure, and assiduous to merit, its increase, he might have retired from business, its toils and its cares, while yet in the meridian of life; with a comfortable competence for its decline, and adequate portions for his daughters. With regard to his sons, it was always his intention to bestow upon them good educations, and to bring them up to honourable professions; and then to leave them to form, as he had done himself, a dynasty of their own. But, unfortunately for all parties, he had as little turn as time for that species of speculation which leads to financial prosperity; and he lived chiefly upon the principal of the sums which he amassed; and which he merely, as soon as they were received, locked up in his bureau for facility of usage; or stored largely at his bankers as an asylum of safety: while the cash which he laid out in any sort of interest, was so little, as to make his current revenue almost incredibly below what might have been expected from the remuneration of his labours; or what seemed due to his situation in the world.
But, with all his honourable toil, his philosophic privations, and his heroic self-denials,
THE SECOND VOLUME of the HISTORY OF MUSIC,
from a continually enlarging view of its capability of improvement, did not see the light till the year 1782.
Then, however, it was received with the same favour and the same honours that had graced the entrance into public notice of its predecessor. The literary world seemed filled with its praise; the booksellers demanded ample impressions; and her Majesty Queen Charlotte, with even augmented graciousness, accepted its homage at court.
Relieved, by this publication, from a weight upon his spirits and his delicacy, which, for more than six years had burthened and disturbed them, he prudently resolved against working any longer under the self-reproachful annoyance of a promised punctuality which his position in life disabled him from observing, by fettering himself with any further tie of time to his subscribers for the remaining volumes.
He renounced, therefore, the excess of studious labour with which, hitherto,
and restored himself, in a certain degree, to his family, his friends, and a general and genial enjoyment of his existence. And hailed was the design, by all who knew him, with an energetic welcome.
And yet, in breathing thus a little from so unremitting an ardour; and allowing himself to bask awhile in that healing sunshine of applause which administers more relief to the brain-shattered, and mind-exhausted patient, than all the materia medica of the Apothecaries’ Hall; so small still, and so fugitive, were his intervals of relaxation, that the diminished exertion which to him was gentle rest, would, to almost any other, have still seemed overstrained occupation, and a life of drudgery.
With no small pleasure, now, he resumed his wonted place at the opera, at concerts, and in circles of musical excellence; which then were at their height of superiority, because presided over by the royal and accomplished legislator of taste, fashion, and elegance, the Prince of Wales; who frequently deigned to call upon Dr. Burney for his opinion upon subjects of harmony: and even condescended to summon him to his royal vicinity, both at the opera and at concerts, that they might “compare notes,” in his own gracious expression, upon what was performing.
Not, however, to his daughter did the Doctor recommend any similar remission of penmanship. The extraordinary favour with which her little work had been received in the world; and which may chiefly, perhaps, be attributed to the unpretending and unexpecting mode in which, not skilfully, but involuntarily, it had glided into public life; being now sanctioned by the eclât of encouragement from Dr. Johnson and from Mr. Burke, gave a zest to his paternal pleasure and hopes, that made it impossible, nay, that even led him to think it would be unfatherly, to listen to her affrighted wishes of retreat, from her fearful apprehensions of some reverse; or suffer her to shrink back to her original obscurity, from the light into which she had been surprised.
And, indeed, though he made the kindest allowance for her tremors and reluctance, he was urged so tumultuously by others, that it was hardly possible for him to be passive: and Mr. Crisp, whose voice, in whatever was submitted to his judgment, had the effect of a casting vote, called out aloud: “More! More! More!—another production!”
The wishes of two such personages were, of course, resistless; and a new mental speculation, which already, though secretly, had taken a rambling possession of her ideas, upon the evils annexed to that species of family pride which, from generation to generation, seeks, by mortal wills, to arrest the changeful range of succession enacted by the immutable laws of death, became the basis of a composition which she denominated Memoirs of an Heiress.
No sooner was her consent obtained, than Dr. Burney, who had long with regret, though with pride, perceived that, at Streatham, she had no time that was her own, earnestly called her thence.
He called, however, in vain, from the acuter, though fonder cry of Mrs. Thrale for her detention; and, kind and flexible, he was yielding up his demand, when Mr. Crisp, emphatically exclaiming:
“There is a tide in the affairs of men”— — —
“and—” comically adding—“and of girls, too!” charged him not to risk that turn for his daughter, through a false delicacy from which, should she become its victim, he would have the laugh against,—and nothing for him.
The Doctor then frankly revealed to Mrs. Thrale, the tide-fearing alarm of Mr. Crisp.
Startled, she heard him. Unwelcome was the sound to her affection, to her affliction—and, it may be, to her already growing perplexities!—but justice and kindness united to forbid any conflict:—though struck was the Doctor, and still more struck was the Memorialist, by the miserable “Adieu!” which she uttered at parting.
Mr. Crisp himself hastened in person to Streatham, to convey his young friend alike from that now monopolizing seclusion, and from her endlessly increasing expansion of visits and acquaintance in London;—all which he vehemently denounced as flattering idleness,—to the quiet and exclusive possession of what he had denominated The Doctor’s Conjuring Closet, at Chesington.
And there, with that paternal and excellent friend, and his worthy associates, Mrs. Hamilton and Miss Cooke, in lively sociality, gay good-humour, and unbounded confidence, she consigned some months to what he called her new conjuring. And there she proposed to remain till her work should be finished: but, ere that time arrived, and ere she could read any part of it with Mr. Crisp, a tender call from home brought her to the parental roof, to be present at the marriage of a darling sister: after which, the Doctor kept her stationary in St. Martin’s-street, till she had written the word Finis, which ushered her “Heiress” into the world.
The time is now come for commemorating the connection which, next alone to that of Dr. Johnson, stands highest in the literary honours of Dr. Burney, namely, that which he formed with Edmund Burke.
Their first meetings had been merely accidental and public, and wholly unaccompanied by any private intimacy or intercourse; though, from the time that the author of Evelina had been discovered, there had passed between them, on such occasional junctions, what Dr. Burney playfully called an amiable coquetry of smiles, and other symbols, that showed each to be thinking of the same thing: for Mr. Burke, with that generous energy which, when he escaped the feuds of party, was the distinction of his character, and made the charm of his oratory, had blazed around his approbation of that happy little work, from the moment that it had fallen, incidentally, into his hands: and when he heard that the author, from her acquaintance with the lovely and accomplished nieces of Sir Joshua Reynolds, was a visitor at the house of that English Raphael, he flatteringly desired of the Knight an appointed interview.
But from that, though enchanted as much as astonished at such a proposal from Mr. Burke, she fearfully, and with conscious insufficiency, hung back; hoping to owe to chance a less ostentatious meeting.
Various parties, during two or three years, had been planned, but proved abortive; when in June, 1782, Sir Joshua Reynolds invited Dr. Burney and the Memorialist to a dinner upon Richmond Hill, to meet the Bishop of St. Asaph, Miss Shipley, and some others.
This was gladly accepted by the Doctor; who now, upon his new system, was writing more at his ease; and by his daughter, who was still detained from Streatham, as her second work, though finished, was yet in the press.
Sir Joshua, and his eldest niece, accompanied by Lord Cork, called for them in St. Martin’s-street; and the drive was as lively, from the discourse within the carriage, as it was pleasant from the views without.
Here the editor, as no traits of Mr. Burke in conversation can be wholly uninteresting to an English reader, will venture to copy an account of this meeting, which was written while it was yet new, and consequently warm in her memory, as an offering to her second father,
SAMUEL CRISP, ESQ.
“My dear Mr. Crisp.
“At the Knight of Plympton’s house, on Richmond Hill, next to the Star and Garter, we were met by the Bishop of St. Asaph, who stands as high in general esteem for agreeability as for worth and learning; and by his accomplished and spirited daughter, Miss Shipley. My father was already acquainted with both; and to both I was introduced by Miss Palmer.
“No other company was mentioned; but some smiling whispers passed between Sir Joshua, Miss Palmer, and my father, that awakened in me a notion that the party was not yet complete; and with that notion an idea that Mr. Burke might be the awaited chief of the assemblage; for as they knew I had long had as much eagerness to see Mr. Burke as I had fears of meeting his expectations, I thought they might forbear naming him to save me a fit of fright.
“Sir Joshua who, though full of kindness, dearly loves a little innocent malice, drew me soon afterwards to a window, to look at the beautiful prospect below; the soft meandering of the Thames, and the brightly picturesque situation of the elegant white house which Horace Walpole had made the habitation of Lady Diana Beauclerk and her fair progeny; in order to gather, as he afterwards laughingly acknowledged, my sentiments of the view, that he might compare them with those of Mr. Burke on the same scene! However, I escaped, luckily, falling, through ignorance, into such a competition, by the entrance of a large, though unannounced party, in a mass. For as this was only a visit of a day, there were very few servants; and those few, I suppose, were preparing the dinner apartment; for this group appeared to have found its own way up to the drawing-room, with an easiness as well suited to its humour, by the gay air of its approach, as to that of Sir Joshua; who holds ceremony almost in horror, and who received them without any form or apology.
“He quitted me, however, to go forward, and greet with distinction a lady who was in the set. They were all familiarly recognized by the Bishop and Miss Shipley, as well as by Miss Palmer; and some of them by my father, whose own face wore an expression, of pleasure, that helped to fix a conjecture in my mind that one amongst them, whom I peculiarly signalised, tall, and of fine deportment, with an air at once of Courtesy and Command, might be Edmund Burke.
“Excited as I felt by this idea, I continued at my picturesque window, as all the company were strangers to me, till Miss Palmer gave her hand to the tall, suspected, but unknown personage, saying, in a half whisper, “Have I kept my promise at last?” and then, but in a lower tone still, and pointing to the window, she pronounced “Miss Burney.”
As this seemed intended for private information, previously to an introduction, be the person whom he might, though accidentally it was overheard, I instantly bent my head out of the window, as if not attending to them: yet I caught, unavoidably, the answer, which was uttered in a voice the most emphatic, though low, “Why did you tell me it was Miss Burney? Did you think I should not have known it?”
“An awkward feel, now, from having still no certainty of my surmise, or of what it might produce, made me seize a spying glass, and set about re-examining the prospect; till a pat on the arm, soon after, by Miss Palmer, turned me round to the company, just as the still unknown, to my great regret, was going out of the room with a footman, who seemed to call him away upon some sudden summons of business. But my father, who was at Miss Palmer’s elbow, said, “Fanny—Mr. Gibbon!”
This, too, was a great name; but of how different a figure and presentation! Fat and ill-constructed, Mr. Gibbon has cheeks of such prodigious chubbyness, that they envelope his nose so completely, as to render it, in profile, absolutely invisible. His look and manner are placidly mild, but rather effeminate; his voice,—for he was speaking to Sir Joshua at a little distance—is gentle, but of studied precision of accent. Yet, with these Brobdignatious cheeks, his neat little feet are of a miniature description; and with these, as soon as I turned round, he hastily described a quaint sort of circle, with small quick steps, and a dapper gait, as if to mark the alacrity of his approach, and then, stopping short when full face to me, he made so singularly profound a bow, that—though hardly able to keep my gravity—I felt myself blush deeply at its undue, but palpably intended obsequiousness.
This demonstration, however, over, his sense of politeness, or project of flattery, was satisfied; for he spoke not a word, though his gallant advance seemed to indicate a design of bestowing upon me a little rhetorical touch of a compliment. But, as all eyes in the room were suddenly cast upon us both, it is possible he partook a little himself of the embarrassment he could not but see that he occasioned; and was therefore unwilling, or unprepared, to hold forth so publicly upon—he scarcely, perhaps, knew what!—for, unless my partial Sir Joshua should just then have poured it into his ears, how little is it likely Mr. Gibbon should have heard of Evelina!
But at this moment, to my great relief, the Unknown again appeared; and with a spirit, an air, a deportment that seemed to spread around him the glow of pleasure with which he himself was visibly exhilarated. But speech was there none; for dinner, which I suppose had awaited him, was at the same instant proclaimed; and all the company, in a mixed, quite irregular, and even confused manner, descended, sans ceremonie, to the eating parlour.
The Unknown, however, catching the arm and the trumpet of Sir Joshua, as they were coming down stairs, murmured something, in a rather reproachful tone, in the knight’s ear; to which Sir Joshua made no audible answer. But when he had placed himself at his table, he called out, smilingly, “Come, Miss Burney!—will you take a seat next mine?”—adding, as if to reward my very alert compliance, “and then—Mr. Burke shall sit on your other side.”
“O no, indeed!” cried the sprightly Miss Shipley, who was also next to Sir Joshua, “I sha’n’t agree to that! Mr. Burke must sit next me! I won’t consent to part with him. So pray come, and sit down quiet, Mr. Burke.”
Mr. Burke—for Mr. Burke, Edmund Burke, it was!—smiled, and obeyed.
“I only proposed it to make my peace with Mr. Burke,” said Sir Joshua, passively, “by giving him that place; for he has been scolding me all the way down stairs for not having introduced him to Miss Burney; however, I must do it now—Mr. Burke!—Miss Burney!”
We both half rose, to reciprocate a little salutation; and Mr. Burke said: “I have been complaining to Sir Joshua that he left me wholly to my own sagacity,—which, however, did not here deceive me!”
Delightedly as my dear father, who had never before seen Mr. Burke in private society, enjoyed this encounter, I, my dear Mr. Crisp, had a delight in it that transcended all comparison. No expectation that I had formed of Mr. Burke, either from his works, his speeches, his character, or his fame, had anticipated to me such a man as I now met. He appeared, perhaps, at this moment, to the highest possible advantage in health, vivacity, and spirits. Removed from the impetuous aggravations of party contentions, that, at times, by inflaming his passions, seem, momentarily at least, to disorder his character, he was lulled into gentleness by the grateful feelings of prosperity; exhilarated, but not intoxicated, by sudden success; and just risen, after toiling years of failures, disappointments, fire, and fury, to place, affluence, and honours; which were brightly smiling on the zenith of his powers. He looked, indeed, as if he had no wish but to diffuse philanthropy, pleasure, and genial gaiety all around.
His figure, when he is not negligent in his carriage, is noble; his air, commanding; his address, graceful; his voice clear, penetrating, sonorous, and powerful; his language, copious, eloquent, and changefully impressive; his manners are attractive; his conversation is past all praise!
You will call me mad, I know;—but if I wait till I see another Mr. Burke for such another fit of ecstacy—I may be long enough in my very sober good senses!
Sir Joshua next made Mrs. Burke greet the new comer into this select circle; which she did with marked distinction. She appears to be pleasing and sensible, but silent and reserved.
Sir Joshua then went through the same introductory etiquette with Mr. Richard Burke, the brother; Mr. William Burke, the cousin; and young Burke, the son of THE Burke. They all, in different ways, seem lively and agreeable; but at miles, and myriads of miles, from the towering chief.
How proud should I be to give you a sample of the conversation of Mr. Burke! But the subjects were, in general, so fleeting, his ideas so full of variety, of gaiety, and of matter; and he darted from one of them to another with such rapidity, that the manner, the eye, the air with which all was pronounced, ought to be separately delineated to do any justice to the effect that every sentence, nay, that every word produced upon his admiring hearers and beholders.
Mad again! says my Mr. Crisp; stark, staring mad!
Well, all the better; for “There is a pleasure in being mad,” as I have heard you quote from Nat Lee, or some other old play-wright, “that none but madmen know.”
I must not, however, fail to particularize one point of his discourse, because ’tis upon your own favourite hobby, politics: and my father very much admired its candour and frankness.
In speaking of the great Lord Chatham while he was yet Mr. Pitt, Mr. Burke confessed his Lordship to have been the only person whom he, Mr. Burke, did not name in parliament without caution. But Lord Chatham, he said, had obtained so preponderating a height of public favour, that though, occasionally, he could not concur in its enthusiasm, he would not attempt to oppose its cry. He then, however, positively, nay solemnly, protested, that this was the only subject upon which he did not talk with exactly the same openness and sincerity in the house as at the table.
He bestowed the most liberal praise upon Lord Chatham’s second son, the now young William Pitt, with whom he is acting; and who had not only, he said, the most truly extraordinary talents, but who appeared to be immediately gifted by nature with the judgment which others acquire by experience.
“Though judgment,” he presently added, “is not so rare in youth as is generally supposed. I have commonly observed, that those who do not possess it early are apt to miss it late.”
But the subject on which he most enlarged, and most brightened, was Cardinal Ximenes, which was brought forward, accidentally, by Miss Shipley.
That young lady, with the pleasure of youthful exultation in a literary honour, proclaimed that she had just received a letter from the famous Doctor Franklin.
Mr. Burke then, to Miss Shipley’s great delight, burst forth into an eulogy of the abilities and character of Dr. Franklin, which he mingled with a history the most striking, yet simple, of his life; and a veneration the most profound for his eminence in science, and his liberal sentiments and skill in politics.
This led him, imperceptibly, to a dissertation upon the beauty, but rarity, of great minds sustaining great powers to great old age; illustrating his remarks by historical proofs, and biographical anecdotes of antique worthies;—till he came to Cardinal Ximenes, who lived to his ninetieth year. And here he made a pause. He could go, he said, no further. Perfection rested there!
His pause, however, producing only a general silence, that indicated no wish of speech but from himself, he suddenly burst forth again into an oration so glowing, so flowing, so noble, so divinely eloquent, upon the life, conduct, and endowments of this Cardinal, that I felt as if I had never before known what it was to listen! I saw Mr. Burke, and Mr. Burke only! Nothing, no one else was visible any more than audible. I seemed suddenly organized into a new intellectual existence, that was wholly engrossed by one single use of the senses of seeing and hearing, to the total exclusion of every object but of the figure of Mr. Burke; and of every sound but of that of his voice. All else—my dear father alone excepted—appeared but amalgamations of the chairs on which they were seated; and seemed placed round the table merely as furniture.
I cannot pretend to write you such a speech—but such sentences as I can recollect with exactitude, I cannot let pass.
The Cardinal, he said, gave counsel and admonition to princes and sovereigns with the calm courage and dauntless authority with which he might have given them to his own children: yet, to such noble courage, he joined a humility still more magnanimous, in never desiring to disprove, or to disguise his own lowly origin; but confessing, at times, with openness and simplicity, his surprise at the height of the mountain to which, from so deep a valley, he had ascended. And, in the midst of all his greatness, he personally visited the village in which he was born, where he touchingly recognised what remained of his kith and kin.
Next, he descanted upon the erudition of this exemplary prelate; his scarce collection of bibles; his unequalled mass of rare manuscripts; his charitable institutions; his learned seminaries; and his stupendous University at Alcala. “Yet so untinged,” he continued, “was his scholastic lore with the bigotry of the times; and so untainted with its despotism, that, even in his most forcible acts for securing the press from licentiousness, he had the enlargement of mind to permit the merely ignorant, or merely needy instruments of its abuse, when detected in promulgating profane works, from being involved in their destruction; for though, on such occasions, he caused the culprits’ shops, or warehouses, to be strictly searched, he let previous notice of his orders be given to the owners, who then privily executed judgment themselves upon the peccant property; while they preserved what was sane, as well as their personal liberty: but—if the misdemeanour were committed a second time, he manfully left the offenders, unaided and unpitied, to its forfeiture.
“To a vigour,” Mr. Burke went on, “that seemed never to calculate upon danger, he joined a prudence that seemed never to run a risk. Though often the object of aspersion—as who, conspicuous in the political world, is not?—he always refused to prosecute; he would not even answer his calumniators. He held that all classes had a right to stand for something in public life! “We,” he said, “who are at the head, Act;—in God’s name let those who are at the other end, Talk! If we are Wrong, ’tis our duty to hearken, and to mend! If we are Right, we may be content enough with our superiority, to teach unprovoked malice its impotence, by leaving it to its own fester.”
“So elevated, indeed,” Mr. Burke continued, “was his disdain of detraction, that instead of suffering it to blight his tranquillity, he taught it to become the spur to his virtues!”
Mr. Burke again paused; paused as if overcome by the warmth of his own emotion of admiration; and presently he gravely protested, that the multifarious perfections of Cardinal Ximenes were beyond human delineation.
Soon, however, afterwards, as if fearing he had become too serious, he rose to help himself to some distant fruit—for all this had passed during the dessert; and then, while standing in the noblest attitude, and with a sudden smile full of radiant ideas, he vivaciously exclaimed, “No imagination—not even the imagination of Miss Burney!—could have invented a character so extraordinary as that of Cardinal Ximenes; no pen—not even the pen of Miss Burney!—could have described it adequately!”
Think of me, my dear Mr. Crisp, at a climax so unexpected! my eyes, at the moment, being openly rivetted upon him; my head bent forward with excess of eagerness; my attention exclusively his own!—but now, by this sudden turn, I myself became the universally absorbing object! for instantaneously, I felt every eye upon my face; and my cheeks tingled as if they were the heated focus of stares that almost burnt them alive!
And yet, you will laugh when I tell you, that though thus struck I had not time to be disconcerted. The whole was momentary; ’twas like a flash of lightning in the evening, which makes every object of a dazzling brightness for a quarter of an instant, and then leaves all again to twilight obscurity.
Mr. Burke, by his delicacy, as much as by his kindness, reminding me of my opening encouragement from Dr. Johnson, looked now everywhere rather than at me; as if he had made the allusion by mere chance; and flew from it with a velocity that quickly drew back again to himself the eyes which he had transitorily employed to see how his superb compliment was taken: though not before I had caught from my kind Sir Joshua, a look of congratulatory sportiveness, conveyed by a comic nod.
My dear Mr. Crisp will be the last to want to be told that I received this speech as the mere effervescence of chivalrous gallantry in Mr. Burke:—yet, to be its object, even in pleasantry,—O, my dear Mr. Crisp, how could I have foreseen such a distinction? My dear father’s eyes glistened—I wish you could have had a glimpse of him!
“There has been,” Mr. Burke then, smilingly, resumed, “an age for all excellence; we have had an age for statesmen; an age for heroes; an age for poets; an age for artists;—but This,” bowing down, with an air of obsequious gallantry, his head almost upon the table cloth, “This is the age for women!”
“A very happy modern improvement!” cried Sir Joshua, laughing; “don’t you think so, Miss Burney?—but that’s not a fair question to put to you; so we won’t make a point of your answering it. However,” continued the dear natural knight, “what Mr. Burke says is very true, now. The women begin to make a figure in every thing. Though I remember, when I first came into the world, it was thought but a poor compliment to say a person did a thing like a lady!”
“Ay, Sir Joshua,” cried my father, “but, like Moliere’s physician, nous avons changé tout cela!”
“Very true, Dr. Burney,” replied the Knight; “but I remember the time—and so, I dare say, do you—when it was thought a slight, if not a sneer, to speak any thing of a lady’s performance: it was only in mockery to talk of painting like a lady; singing like a lady; playing like a lady—”
“But now,” interrupted Mr. Burke, warmly, “to talk of writing like a lady, is the greatest compliment that need be wished for by a man!”
Would you believe it, my daddy—every body now, himself and my father excepted, turned about, Sir Joshua leading the way—to make a little playful bow to ... can you ever guess to whom?
Mr. Burke, then, archly shrugging his shoulders, added, “What is left now, exclusively, for US; and what we are to devise in our own defence, I know not! We seem to have nothing for it but assuming a sovereign contempt! for the next most dignified thing to possessing merit, is an heroic barbarism in despising it!”
I can recollect nothing else—so adieu!
One word, however, more, by way of my last speech and confession on this subject. Should you demand, now that I have seen, in their own social circles, the two first men of letters of our day, how, in one word, I should discriminate them; I answer, that I think Dr. Johnson the first Discourser, and Mr. Burke the first Converser, of the British empire.
It may seem strange, in giving an account of this meeting, not to have recited even one speech from so celebrated an author as Mr. Gibbon. But not one is recollected. His countenance looked always serene; yet he did not appear to be at his ease. His name and future fame seemed to be more in his thoughts than the present society, or than any present enjoyment: and the exalted spirits of Mr. Burke, at this period, might rather alarm than allure a man whose sole care in existence seemed that of paying his court to posterity; and induce him, therefore, to evade coming into collision with so dauntless a compeer; from the sage apprehension of making a less splendid figure, at this moment, as a colloquial competitor, than he had reason to expect making, hereafter, as a Roman historian.
Sir Joshua Reynolds, however, gave, sportively, and with much self-amusement, another turn to his silence; for after significantly, in a whisper, asking the Memorialist, whether she had remarked the taciturnity of Mr. Gibbon?—he laughingly demanded also, whether she had discovered its cause?
“No,” she answered; “nor guessed it.”
“Why, he’s terribly afraid you’ll snatch at him for a character in your next book!”
It may easily be imagined that the few words, but highly distinguishing manner in which Mr. Burke had so courteously marked his kindness towards Evelina; or, A Young Lady’s Entrance into the World, awakened in the mind of Dr. Burney no small impatience to develop what might be his opinion of Cecilia; or, the Memoirs of an Heiress, just then on the eve of publication.
And not long was his parental anxiety kept in suspense. That generous orator had no sooner given an eager perusal to the work, than he condescended to write a letter of the most indulgent, nay eloquent approvance to its highly honoured author; for whom he vivaciously displayed a flattering partiality, to which he inviolably adhered through every change, either in his own affairs, or in hers, to the end of his life.
All the manuscript memorandums that remain of the year 1782, in the hand-writing of Dr. Burney, are teeming with kind exultation at the progress of this second publication; though the anecdote that most amused him, and that he wrote triumphantly to the author, was one that had been recounted to him personally at Buxton, whence the then Lord Chancellor, Thurlow, went on a visit to Lord Gower, at Trentham Hall; where, on being conducted to a splendid library, he took a volume of Cecilia out of his pocket, exclaiming, “What signify all your fine and flourishing works here? See! I have brought you a little book that’s worth them all!” and he threw it upon the table, open, comically, at the passage where Hobson talks of “my Lord High Chancellor, and the like of that.”
From the time of the Richmond Hill assemblage, the acquaintance of Dr. Burney with Mr. Burke ripened into a regard that was soon mellowed into true and genial friendship, such as well suited the primitive characters, however it might clash, occasionally, with the current politics, of both.
Influenced by such a chief, the whole of the family of Mr. Burke followed his example; and the son, brother, and cousin, always joined the Doctor and his daughter upon every accidental opportunity: while Mrs. Burke called in St. Martin’s-street to fix the acquaintance, by a pressing invitation to both father and daughter, to pass a week at Beaconsfield.
Not to have done this at so favourable a juncture in the spirits, the powers, and the happiness of Mr. Burke, always rested on both their minds with considerable regret; and on one of them it rests still! for an hour with Mr. Burke, in that bright halcyon season of his glory, concentrated in matter, and embellished in manner, as much wit, wisdom, and information, as might have demanded weeks, months,—perhaps more—to elicit from any other person:—and even, perhaps, at any other period, from himself:—Dr. Johnson always excepted.
But the engagements of Dr. Burney tied him to the capital; and no suspicion occurred that the same resplendent sunshine which then illuminated the fortune, the faculties, and the character of Mr. Burke, would not equally vivify a future invitation. Not one foreboding cloud lowered in the air with misty menace of the deadly tempests, public and domestic, that were hurtling over the head of that exalted but passion-swayed orator; though such were so soon to darken the refulgence, now so vivid, of his felicity and his fame; the public, by warping his judgment—the domestic, by breaking his heart!
Dr. Burney, when the Cecilian business was arranged, again conveyed the Memorialist to Streatham. No further reluctance on his part, nor exhortations on that of Mr. Crisp, sought to withdraw her from that spot, where, while it was in its glory, they had so recently, and with pride, seen her distinguished. And truly eager was her own haste, when mistress of her time, to try once more to soothe those sorrows and chagrins in which she had most largely participated, by answering to the call, which had never ceased tenderly to pursue her, of return.
With alacrity, therefore, though not with gaiety, they re-entered the Streatham gates—but they soon perceived that they found not what they had left!
Changed, indeed, was Streatham! Gone its chief, and changed his relict! unaccountably, incomprehensibly, indefinably changed! She was absent and agitated; not two minutes could she remain in a place; she scarcely seemed to know whom she saw; her speech was so hurried it was hardly intelligible; her eyes were assiduously averted from those who sought them; and her smiles were faint and forced.
The Doctor, who had no opportunity to communicate his remarks, went back, as usual, to town; where soon also, with his tendency, as usual, to view every thing cheerfully, he revolved in his mind the new cares and avocations by which Mrs. Thrale was perplexed; and persuaded himself that the alteration which had struck him, was simply the effect of her new position.
Too near, however, were the observations of the Memorialist for so easy a solution. The change in her friend was equally dark and melancholy: yet not personal to the Memorialist was any alteration. No affection there was lessened; no kindness cooled; on the contrary, Mrs. Thrale was more fervent in both; more touchingly tender; and softened in disposition beyond all expression, all description: but in every thing else,—in health, spirits, comfort, general looks, and manner, the change was at once universal and deplorable. All was misery and mystery: misery the most restless; mystery the most unfathomable.
The mystery, however, soon ceased; the solicitations of the most affectionate sympathy could not long be urged in vain;—the mystery passed away—not so the misery! That, when revealed, was but to both parties doubled, from the different feelings set in movement by its disclosure.
The astonishing history of the enigmatical attachment which impelled Mrs. Thrale to her second marriage, is now as well known as her name: but its details belong not to the history of Dr. Burney; though the fact too deeply interested him, and was too intimately felt in his social habits, to be passed over in silence in any memoirs of his life.
But while ignorant yet of its cause, more and more struck he became at every meeting, by a species of general alienation which pervaded all around at Streatham. His visits, which, heretofore, had seemed galas to Mrs. Thrale, were now begun and ended almost without notice: and all others,—Dr. Johnson not excepted,—were cast into the same gulph of general neglect, or forgetfulness;—all,—save singly this Memorialist!—to whom, the fatal secret once acknowledged, Mrs. Thrale clung for comfort; though she saw, and generously pardoned, how wide she was from meeting approbation.
In this retired, though far from tranquil manner, passed many months; during which, with the acquiescent consent of the Doctor, his daughter, wholly devoted to her unhappy friend, remained uninterruptedly at sad and altered Streatham; sedulously avoiding, what at other times she most wished, a tête à tête with her father. Bound by ties indissoluble of honour not to betray a trust that, in the ignorance of her pity, she had herself unwittingly sought, even to him she was as immutably silent, on this subject, as to all others—save, singly, to the eldest daughter of the house; whose conduct, through scenes of dreadful difficulty, notwithstanding her extreme youth, was even exemplary; and to whom the self-beguiled, yet generous mother, gave full and free permission to confide every thought and feeling to the Memorialist.
And here let a tribute of friendship be offered up to the shrine of remembrance, due from a thousand ineffaceably tender recollections. Not wildly, and with male and headstrong passions, as has currently been asserted, was this connexion brought to bear on the part of Mrs. Thrale. It was struggled against at times with even agonizing energy; and with efforts so vehement, as nearly to destroy the poor machine they were exerted to save. But the subtle poison had glided into her veins so unsuspectedly, and, at first, so unopposedly, that the whole fabric was infected with its venom; which seemed to become a part, never to be dislodged, of its system.
It was, indeed, the positive opinion of her physician and friend, Sir Lucas Pepys, that so excited were her feelings, and so shattered, by their early indulgence, was her frame, that the crisis which might be produced through the medium of decided resistance, offered no other alternative but death or madness!
Various incidental circumstances began, at length, to open the reluctant eyes of Dr. Burney to an impelled, though clouded foresight, of the portentous event which might latently be the cause of the alteration of all around at Streatham. He then naturally wished for some explanation with his daughter, though he never forced, or even claimed her confidence; well knowing, that voluntarily to give it him had been her earliest delight.
But in taking her home with him one morning, to pass a day in St. Martin’s-Street, he almost involuntarily, in driving from the paddock, turned back his head towards the house, and, in a tone the most impressive, sighed out: “Adieu, Streatham!—Adieu!”
His daughter perceived his eyes were glistening; though he presently dropt them, and bowed down his head, as if not to distress her by any look of examination; and said no more.
Her tears, which had long been with difficulty restrained from overflowing in his presence, through grief at the unhappiness, and even more at what she thought the infatuation of her friend, now burst forth, from emotions that surprised away forbearance.
Dr. Burney sat silent and quiet, to give her time for recollection; though fully expecting a trusting communication.
She gave, however, none: his commands alone could have forced a disclosure; but he soon felt convinced, by her taciturnity, that she must have been bound to concealment. He pitied, therefore, but respected her secrecy; and, clearing his brow, finished the little journey in conversing upon their own affairs.
This delicacy of kindness, which the Memorialist cannot recollect and not record, filled her with ever living gratitude.
A few weeks earlier, the Memorialist had passed a nearly similar scene with Dr. Johnson. Not, however, she believes, from the same formidable species of surmise; but from the wounds inflicted upon his injured sensibility, through the palpably altered looks, tone, and deportment, of the bewildered lady of the mansion; who, cruelly aware what would be his wrath, and how overwhelming his reproaches against her projected union, wished to break up their residing under the same roof before it should be proclaimed.
This gave to her whole behaviour towards Dr. Johnson, a sort of restless petulancy, of which she was sometimes hardly conscious; at others, nearly reckless; but which hurt him far more than she purposed, though short of the point at which she aimed, of precipitating a change of dwelling that would elude its being cast, either by himself or the world, upon a passion that her understanding blushed to own; even while she was sacrificing to it all of inborn dignity that she had been bred to hold most sacred.
Dr. Johnson, while still uninformed of an entanglement it was impossible he should conjecture, attributed her varying humours to the effect of wayward health meeting a sort of sudden wayward power: and imagined that caprices, which he judged to be partly feminine, and partly wealthy, would soberize themselves away in being unnoticed. He adhered, therefore, to what he thought his post, in being the ostensible guardian protector of the relict and progeny of the late chief of the house; taking no open or visible notice of the alteration in the successor—save only at times, and when they were tête à tête, to this Memorialist; to whom he frequently murmured portentous observations on the woeful, nay alarming deterioration in health and disposition of her whom, so lately, he had signalized as the gay mistress of Streatham.
But at length, as she became more and more dissatisfied with her own situation, and impatient for its relief, she grew less and less scrupulous with regard to her celebrated guest: she slighted his counsel; did not heed his remonstrances; avoided his society; was ready at a moment’s hint to lend him her carriage when he wished to return to Bolt Court; but awaited a formal request to accord it for bringing him back.
The Doctor then began to be stung; his own aspect became altered; and depression, with indignant uneasiness, sat upon his venerable front.
It was at this moment that, finding the Memorialist was going one morning to St. Martin’s-Street, he desired a cast thither in the carriage, and then to be set down at Bolt Court.
Aware of his disturbance, and far too well aware how short it was of what it would become when the cause of all that passed should be detected, it was in trembling that the Memorialist accompanied him to the coach, filled with dread of offending him by any reserve, should he force upon her any inquiry; and yet impressed with the utter impossibility of betraying a trusted secret.
His look was stern, though dejected, as he followed her into the vehicle; but when his eye, which, however short sighted, was quick to mental perception, saw how ill at ease appeared his companion, all sternness subsided into an undisguised expression of the strongest emotion, that seemed to claim her sympathy, though to revolt from her compassion; while, with a shaking hand, and pointing finger, he directed her looks to the mansion from which they were driving; and, when they faced it from the coach window, as they turned into Streatham Common, tremulously exclaiming: “That house ... is lost to me—for ever!”
During a moment he then fixed upon her an interrogative eye, that impetuously demanded: “Do you not perceive the change I am experiencing?”
A sorrowing sigh was her only answer.
Pride and delicacy then united to make him leave her to her taciturnity.
He was too deeply, however, disturbed to start or to bear any other subject; and neither of them uttered a single word till the coach stopt in St. Martin’s-street, and the house and the carriage door were opened for their separation! He then suddenly and expressively looked at her, abruptly grasped her hand, and, with an air of affection, though in a low, husky voice, murmured rather than said: “Good morning, dear lady!” but turned his head quickly away, to avoid any species of answer.
She was deeply touched by so gentle an acquiescence in her declining the confidential discourse upon which he had indubitably meant to open, relative to this mysterious alienation. But she had the comfort to be satisfied, that he saw and believed in her sincere participation in his feelings; while he allowed for the grateful attachment that bound her to a friend so loved; who, to her at least, still manifested a fervour of regard that resisted all change; alike from this new partiality, and from the undisguised, and even strenuous opposition of the Memorialist to its indulgence.
The “Adieu, Streatham!” that had been uttered figuratively by Dr. Burney, without any knowledge of its nearness to reality, was now fast approaching to becoming a mere matter of fact; for, to the almost equal grief, however far from equal loss, of Dr. Johnson and Dr. Burney, Streatham, a short time afterwards, though not publicly relinquished, was quitted by Mrs. Thrale and her family.
Both friends rejoiced, however, that the library and the pictures, at least, on this first breaking up, fell into the hands of so able an appreciator of literature and of painting, as the Earl of Shelburne.
Mrs. Thrale removed first to Brighton, and next repaired to pass a winter in Argyll Street, previously to fixing her ultimate proceedings.
The last little narration that was written to Mr. Crisp of any party at Streatham, as it contains a description of the celebrated Corsican General, Paoli, with whom Dr. Burney had there been invited to dine; and whom Mr. Crisp, also, had been pressed, though unavailingly, to meet; will here be copied, in the hope that the reader, like Dr. Burney, will learn with pleasure General Paoli’s own history of his opening intercourse with Mr. Boswell.
TO SAMUEL CRISP, ESQ.,
How sorry am I, my dear Mr. Crisp, that you could not come to Streatham at the time Mrs. Thrale hoped to see you; for when are we likely to meet at Streatham again? And you would have been much pleased, I am sure, with the famous Corsican General, Paoli, who spent the day there, and was extremely communicative and agreeable.
He is a very pleasing man; tall and genteel in his person, remarkably attentive, obliging, and polite; and as soft and mild in his speech, as if he came from feeding sheep in Corsica, like a shepherd; rather than as if he had left the warlike field where he had led his armies to battle.
I will give you a little specimen of his language and discourse, as they are now fresh in my ears.
When Mrs. Thrale named me, he started back, though smilingly, and said: ‘I am very glad enough to see you in the face, Miss Evelina, which I have wished for long enough. O charming book! I give it you my word I have read it often enough. It is my favourite studioso for apprehending the English language; which is difficult often. I pray you, Miss Evelina, write some more little volumes of the quickest.’
I disclaimed the name, and was walking away; but he followed me with an apology. ‘I pray your pardon, Mademoiselle. My ideas got in a blunder often. It is Miss Borni what name I meant to accentuate, I pray your pardon, Miss Evelina. I make very much error in my English many times enough.’
My father then lead him to speak of Mr. Boswell, by inquiring into the commencement of their connexion.
“He came,” answered the General, “to my country sudden, and he fetched me some letters of recommending him. But I was of the belief he might, in the verity, be no other person but one imposter. And I supposed, in my mente, he was in the privacy one espy; for I look away from him to my other companies, and, in one moment, when I look back to him, I behold it in his hands his tablet, and one pencil! O, he was at the work, I give it you my honour, of writing down all what I say to some persons whatsoever in the room! Indeed I was angry enough. Pretty much so, I give it you my word. But soon after, I discern he was no impostor, and besides, no espy; for soon I find it out I was myself only the monster he came to observe, and to describe with one pencil in his tablet! O, is a very good man, Mr. Boswell, in the bottom! so cheerful, so witty, so gentle, so talkable. But, at the first, O, I was indeed faché of the sufficient. I was in one passion, in my mente, very well.”
He had brought with him to Streatham a dog, of which he is exceeding fond; but he apologised for being so accompanied, from the safety which he owed to that faithful animal, as a guard from robbers. “I walk out,” he cried, “when I will one night, and I lose myself. The dark it comes on of a blackish colour. I don’t know where I put my foot! In a moment comes behind me one hard step. I go on. The hard step he follow. Sudden I turn round; a little fierce, it may be. I meeted one man: an ogly one. He had not sleeped in the night! He was so big whatsoever; with one clob stick, so thick to my arm. He lifted it up. I had no pistollettos; I call my dog. I open his mouth, for the survey to his teeth. My friend, I say, look to the muzzle! Give me your clob stick at the moment, or he shall destroy you when you are ten! The man kept his clob stick; but he took up his heels, and he ran away from that time to this moment!”
After this, talking of the Irish giant who is now shewn in town, he said, “He is so large, I am as a baby! I look at him, and I feel so little as a child! Indeed my indignation it rises when I see him hold up one arm, spread out to the full, to make me walk under it for my canopy! I am as nothing! and it turns my bile more than whatsoever to find myself in the power of one man, who fetches from me half a crown for looking at his seven feet!”
All this comic English he pronounces in a manner the most comically pompous. Nevertheless, my father thinks he will soon speak better, and that he seems less to want language than patience to assort it; hurrying on impetuously, and any how, rather than stopping for recollection.
He diverted us all very much after dinner, by begging leave of Mrs. Thrale to give “one toast;” and then, with smiling pomposity, pronouncing “The great Vagabond!” meaning to designate Dr. Johnson as “The Rambler.”
This is the last visit remembered, or, at least, narrated, of Streatham.
Streatham thus gone, though the intercourse with Mrs. Thrale, who now resided in Argyle-street, London, was as fondly, if not as happily, sustained as ever, Dr. Burney had again his first amanuensis and librarian wholly under his roof; and the pleasure of his parental feelings doubled those of his renown; for the new author was included, with the most flattering distinction, in almost every invitation that he received, or acquaintance that he made, where a female presided in the society.
Never was practical proof more conspicuous of the power of surmounting every difficulty that rises against our progress to an appointed end, when Inclination and Business take each other by the hand in its pursuit, than was now evinced by the conduct and success of Dr. Burney in his musical enterprize.
He vigilantly visited both the Universities, leaving nothing uninvestigated that assiduity or address could ferret out to his purpose. The following account of these visits is copied from his own memorials:
“I went three several years to the Bodleian and other libraries in that most admirable seminary of learning and science, the Oxford University. I had previously spent a week at Cambridge; and, at both those Universities, I had, in my researches, discovered curious and rare manuscript tracts on Music of the middle ages, before the invention of the press, not mentioned in any of the printed or manuscript catalogues; and which the most learned librarians did not know were in existence, from the several different Treatises in Latin, French, and obsolete English, being bound up in odd volumes, and only the first of them mentioned in the lettering, or title of the volume. At Christ Church, to which Dr. Aldrich had bequeathed his musical library, I met with innumerable compositions by the best Masters of Italy, as well as of our own country, that were then extant; such as Carissimi, Luigi, Cesti, Stradella, Tye, Tallis, Bird, Morley, and Purcel. I made a catalogue of this admirable collection, including the tracts and musical compositions of the learned and ingenious Dean, its founder; a copy of which I had the honour to present to the college.”
The British Museum Library he ransacked, pen in hand, repeatedly: that of Sir Joseph Bankes was as open to him as his own: Mr. Garrick conducted him, by appointment, to that of the Earl of Shelburne, afterwards Marquis of Lansdowne; which was personally shewn to him, with distinguished consideration, by that literary nobleman. To name every other to which he had access would be prolixity; but to omit that of his Majesty, George the Third, would be insensibility. Dr. Burney was permitted to make a full examination of its noble contents; and to take thence whatever extracts he thought conducive to his design, by his Majesty’s own gracious orders, delivered through the then librarian, Mr. Barnard.
But for bringing these accumulating materials into play, time still, with all the vigilance of his grasp upon its fragments, was wanting; and to counteract the relentless calls of his professional business, he was forced to superadd an unsparing requisition upon his sleep—the only creditor that he never paid.
Immediately after vacating Streatham, Dr. Burney was called upon, by his great and good friend of Bolt Court, to become a member of a club which he was then instituting for the emolument of Samuel, a footman of the late Mr. Thrale. This man, who was no longer wanted for the broken establishment of Streatham, had saved sufficient money for setting up a humble species of hotel, to which this club would be a manifest advantage. It was called, from the name of the honest domestic whom Dr. Johnson wished to serve, Sam’s Club. It was held in Essex-street, in the Strand. Its rules, &c. are printed by Mr. Boswell.
To enumerate all the coteries to which the Doctor, with his new associate, now resorted, would be uninteresting, for almost all are passed away! and nearly all are forgotten; though there was scarcely a name in their several sets that did not, at that time, carry some weight of public opinion. Such of them, nevertheless, that have left lasting memorials of their character, their wit, or their abilities, may not unacceptably be selected for some passing observations.
To begin with what still is famous in the annals of conversation, the Bas Bleu Societies.
The first of these was then in the meridian of its lustre, but had been instituted many years previously at Bath. It owed its name to an apology made by Mr. Stillingfleet, in declining to accept an invitation to a literary meeting at Mrs. Vesey’s, from not being, he said, in the habit of displaying a proper equipment for an evening assembly. “Pho, pho,” cried she, with her well known, yet always original simplicity, while she looked, inquisitively, at him and his accoutrements; “don’t mind dress! Come in your blue stockings!” With which words, humourously repeating them as he entered the apartment of the chosen coterie, Mr. Stillingfleet claimed permission for appearing, according to order. And those words, ever after, were fixed, in playful stigma, upon Mrs. Vesey’s associations.
This original coterie was still headed by Mrs. Vesey, though it was transferred from Bath to London. Dr. Burney and this Memorialist were now initiated into the midst of it. And however ridicule, in public, from those who had no taste for this bluism; or envy, in secret, from those who had no admission to it, might seek to depreciate its merit, it afforded to all lovers of intellectual entertainment a variety of amusement, an exemption from form, and a carte blanche certainty of good-humour from the amiable and artless hostess, that rendered it as agreeable as it was singular: for Mrs. Vesey was as mirth-provoking from her oddities and mistakes, as Falstaff was wit-inspiring from his vaunting cowardice and sportive epicurism.
There was something so like the manoeuvres of a character in a comedy in the manners and movements of Mrs. Vesey, that the company seemed rather to feel themselves assembled, at their own cost and pleasure, in some public apartment, to saunter or to repose; to talk or to hold their tongues; to gaze around, or to drop asleep, as best might suit their humours; than drawn together to receive and to bestow, the civilities of given and accepted invitations.
Her fears were so great of the horror, as it was styled, of a circle, from the ceremony and awe which it produced, that she pushed all the small sofas, as well as chairs, pell-mell about the apartments, so as not to leave even a zig-zag path of communication free from impediment: and her greatest delight was to place the seats back to back, so that those who occupied them could perceive no more of their nearest neighbour than if the parties had been sent into different rooms: an arrangement that could only be eluded by such a twisting of the neck as to threaten the interlocutors with a spasmodic affection.
But there was never any distress beyond risibility: and the company that was collected was so generally of a superior cast, that talents and conversation soon found—as when do they miss it?—their own level: and all these extraneous whims merely served to give zest and originality to the assemblage.
Mrs. Vesey was of a character to which it is hardly possible to find a parallel, so untrue would it be to brand it with positive folly; yet so glaringly was it marked by almost incredible simplicity.
With really lively parts, a fertile imagination, and a pleasant quickness of remark, she had the unguardedness of childhood, joined to an Hibernian bewilderment of ideas that cast her incessantly into some burlesque situation; and incited even the most partial, and even the most sensitive of her own countrymen, to relate stories, speeches, and anecdotes of her astonishing self-perplexities, her confusion about times and circumstances, and her inconceivable jumble of recollections between what had happened, or what might have happened; and what had befallen others that she imagined had befallen herself; that made her name, though it could never be pronounced without personal regard, be constantly coupled with something grotesque.
But what most contributed to render the scenes of her social circle nearly dramatic in comic effect, was her deafness; for with all the pity due to that socialless infirmity; and all the pity doubly due to one who still sought conversation as the first of human delights, it was impossible, with a grave face, to behold her manner of constantly marring the pleasure of which she was in pursuit.
She had commonly two or three, or more, eartrumpets hanging to her wrists, or slung about her neck; or tost upon the chimney-piece or table; with intention to try them, severally and alternately, upon different speakers, as occasion might arise; and the instant that any earnestness of countenance, or animation of gesture, struck her eye, she darted forward, trumpet in hand, to inquire what was going on; but almost always arrived at the speaker at the moment that he was become, in his turn, the hearer; and eagerly held her brazen instrument to his mouth to catch sounds that were already past and gone. And, after quietly listening some minutes, she would gently utter her disappointment, by crying: “Well! I really thought you were talking of something?”
And then, though a whole group would hold it fitting to flock around her, and recount what had been said; if a smile caught her roving eye from any opposite direction, the fear of losing something more entertaining, would make her beg not to trouble them, and again rush on to the gayer talkers. But as a laugh is excited more commonly by sportive nonsense than by wit, she usually gleaned nothing from her change of place, and hastened therefore back to ask for the rest of what she had interrupted. But generally finding that set dispersing, or dispersed, she would look around her with a forlorn surprise, and cry: “I can’t conceive why it is that nobody talks tonight? I can’t catch a word!”
Or, if some one of peculiar note were engaging attention; if Sir William Hamilton, for example, were describing Herculaneum or Pompeii; or Mrs. Carter and Mrs. Hannah More were discussing some new author, or favourite work; or if the then still beautiful, though old, Duchess of Leinster, was encountering the beautiful and young Duchess of Devonshire; or, if Mr. Burke, having stept in, and, marking no one with whom he wished to exchange ideas, had seized upon the first book or pamphlet he could catch, to soothe his harassed mind by reading—which he not seldom did, and most incomparably, a passage or two aloud; circumstances of such a sort would arouse in her so great an earnestness for participation, that she would hasten from one spot to another, in constant hope of better fare; frequently clapping, in her hurry, the broad part of the brazen ear to her temple: but after waiting, with anxious impatience, for the development she expected, but waiting in vain, she would drop her trumpet, and almost dolorously exclaim: “I hope nobody has had any bad news to night? but as soon as I come near any body, nobody speaks!”
Yet, with all these peculiarities, Mrs. Vesey was eminently amiable, candid, gentle, and even sensible; but she had an ardour to know whatever was going forward, and to see whoever was named, that kept her curiosity constantly in a panic; and almost dangerously increased the singular wanderings of her imagination.
Here, amongst the few remaining men of letters of the preceding literary era, Dr. Burney met Horace Walpole, Owen Cambridge, and Soame Jenyns, who were commonly, then, denominated the old wits; but who rarely, indeed, were surrounded by any new ones who stood much chance of vying with them in readiness of repartee, pith of matter, terseness of expression, or pleasantry in expanding gay ideas.
“Yet, while to Mrs. Vesey, the Bas Bleu society owed its origin and its epithet, the meetings that took place at Mrs. Montagu’s were soon more popularly known by that denomination; for though they could not be more fashionable, they were far more splendid.
Mrs. Montagu had built a superb new house, which was magnificently fitted up, and appeared to be rather appropriate for princes, nobles, and courtiers, than for poets, philosophers, and blue stocking votaries. And here, in fact, rank and talents were so frequently brought together, that what the satirist uttered scoffingly, the author pronounced proudly, in setting aside the original claimant, to dub Mrs. Montagu Queen of the Blues.
This majestic title was hers, in fact, from more flattering rights than hang upon mere pre-eminence of riches or station. Her Essay on the Learning and Genius of Shakespeare; and the literary zeal which made her the voluntary champion of our immortal bard, had so national a claim to support and to praise, that her book, on its first coming out, had gained the almost general plaudits that mounted her, thenceforward, to the Parnassian heights of female British literature.
But, while the same bas bleu appellation was given to these two houses of rendezvous, neither that, nor even the same associates, could render them similar. Their grandeur, or their simplicity, their magnitude, or their diminutiveness, were by no means the principal cause of this difference: it was far more attributable to the Lady Presidents than to their abodes: for though they instilled not their characters into their visitors, their characters bore so large a share in their visitors’ reception and accommodation, as to influence materially the turn of the discourse, and the humour of the parties, at their houses.
At Mrs. Montagu’s, the semi-circle that faced the fire retained during the whole evening its unbroken form, with a precision that made it seem described by a Brobdignagian compass. The lady of the castle commonly placed herself at the upper end of the room, near the commencement of the curve, so as to be courteously visible to all her guests; having the person of the highest rank, or consequence, properly, on one side, and the person the most eminent for talents, sagaciously, on the other; or as near to her chair, and her converse, as her favouring eye, and a complacent bow of the head, could invite him to that distinction.
Her conversational powers were of a truly superior order; strong, just, clear, and often eloquent. Her process in argument, notwithstanding an earnest solicitude for pre-eminence, was uniformly polite and candid. But her reputation for wit seemed always in her thoughts, marring their natural flow, and untutored expression. No sudden start of talent urged forth any precarious opinion; no vivacious new idea varied her logical course of ratiocination. Her smile, though most generally benignant, was rarely gay; and her liveliest sallies had a something of anxiety rather than of hilarity—till their success was ascertained by applause.
Her form was stately, and her manners were dignified. Her face retained strong remains of beauty throughout life; and though its native cast was evidently that of severity, its expression was softened off in discourse by an almost constant desire to please.
If beneficence be judged by the happiness which it diffuses, whose claim, by that proof, shall stand higher than that of Mrs. Montagu, from the munificence with which she celebrated her annual festival for those hapless artificers, who perform the most abject offices of any authorized calling, in being the active guardians of our blazing hearths?
Not to vain glory, then, but to kindness of heart, should be adjudged the publicity of that superb charity, which made its jetty objects, for one bright morning, cease to consider themselves as degraded outcasts from society.
Not all the lyrics of all the rhymsters, nor all the warblings of all the spring-feathered choristers, could hail the opening smiles of May, like the fragrance of that roasted beef, and the pulpy softness of those puddings of plums, with which Mrs. Montagu yearly renovated those sooty little agents to the safety of our most blessing luxury.
Taken for all in all, Mrs. Montagu was rare in her attainments; splendid in her conduct; open to the calls of charity; forward to precede those of indigent genius; and unchangeably just and firm in the application of her interest, her principles, and her fortune, to the encouragement of loyalty, and the support of virtue.
In this house, amongst innumerable high personages and renowned conversers, Dr. Burney met the famous Hervey, Bishop of Derry, late Earl of Bristol; who then stood foremost in sustaining the character for wit and originality that had signalised his race, in the preceding century, by the current phrase of the day, that the world was peopled with men, women, and Herveys.
Here, also, the Honourable Horace Walpole, afterwards Lord Orford, sometimes put forth his quaint, singular, often original, generally sarcastic, and always entertaining powers.
And here the Doctor met the antique General Oglethorpe, who was pointed out to him by Mr. Walpole for a man nearly in his hundredth year; an assertion that, though exaggerated, easily gained credit, from his gaunt figure and appearance. The General was pleasing, well bred, and gentle.
Horace Walpole, sportively desirous, as he whispered to Dr. Burney, that the Doctor’s daughter should see the humours of a man so near to counting his age by a century, insisted, one night at this house, upon forming a little group for that purpose; to which he invited, also, Mr. and Mrs. Locke: exhibiting thus the two principal points of his own character, from which he rarely deviated: a thirst of amusement from what was singular; with a taste yet more forcible for elegance from what was excellent.
At the side of General Oglethorpe, Mr. Walpole, though much past seventy, had almost the look, and had quite the air of enjoyment of a man who was yet almost young: and so skeleton-like was the General’s meagre form, that, by the same species of comparison, Mr. Walpole almost appeared, and, again, almost seemed to think himself, if not absolutely fat, at least not despoiled of his embonpoint; though so lank was his thinness, that every other person who stood in his vicinity, might pass as if accoutred and stuffed for a stage representation of Falstaff.
But—previously to the late Streatham catastrophe—blither, more bland, and more gleeful still, was the personal celebrity of Mrs. Thrale, than that of either Mrs. Montagu or Mrs. Vesey. Mrs. Vesey, indeed, gentle and diffident, dreamed not of any competition: but Mrs. Montagu and Mrs. Thrale had long been set up as fair rival candidates for colloquial eminence; and each of them thought the other alone worthy to be her peer. Openly, therefore, when they met, they combatted for precedence of admiration; with placid, though high-strained intellectual exertion on one side, and an exuberant pleasantry of classical allusion or quotation on the other, without the smallest malice in either; for so different were their tastes as well as attributes, that neither of them envied, while each did justice to the powers of her opponent.
The blue parties at Mrs. Thrale’s, though neither marked with as much splendour as those of Mrs. Montagu, nor with so curious a selection of distinguished individuals as those of Mrs. Vesey, were yet held of equal height with either in general estimation, as Dr. Johnson, “himself a host,” was usually at Mrs. Thrale’s; or was always, by her company, expected: and as she herself possessed powers of entertainment more vivifying in gaiety than any of her competitors.
Various other meetings were formed in imitation of the same plan of dispensing with cards, music, dice, dancing, or the regales of the festive board, to concentrate in intellectual entertainment all the hopes of the guest, and the efforts of the host and hostess. And, with respect to colloquial elegance, such a plan certainly is of the first order for bringing into play the highest energies of our nature; and stimulating their fairest exercise in discussions upon the several subjects that rise with every rising day; and that take and give a fresh colour to Thought as well as to Expression, from the mind of every fresh discriminator.
And such meetings, when the parties were well assorted, and in good-humour, formed, at that time, a coalition of talents, and a brilliancy of exertion, that produced the most informing dissertations, or the happiest sallies of wit and pleasantry, that could emanate from social intercourse.
One of the most striking parties of this description, after the three chiefs, was at the residence of the Hon. Miss Moncton; where there was a still more resplendent circle of rank, and a more distinguished assemblage of foreigners, than at any other; with always, in addition, somebody or something uncommon and unexpected, to cause, or to gratify curiosity.
Not merely as fearful of form as Mrs. Vesey was Miss Moncton; she went farther; she frequently left her general guests wholly to themselves. There was always, she knew, good fare for intellectual entertainment; and those who had courage to seek might partake of its advantages; while those who had not that quality, might amuse themselves as lookers on. And though some might be disconcerted, no one who had candour could be offended, when they saw, from the sprightly good-humour of their hostess, that this reception was instigated by gay, not studied singularity.
Miss Moncton usually sat about the middle of the room, lounging on one chair, while bending over the back of another, in a thin fine muslin dress, even at Christmas; while all around her were in satins, or tissues; and without advancing to meet any one, or rising, or placing, or troubling herself to see whether there were any seats left for them, she would turn round her head to the announcement of a name, give a nod, a smile, and a short “How do you do?—” and then, chatting on with her own set, leave them to seek their fortune.
To these splendid, and truly uncommon assemblages, Dr. Burney and his daughter accepted, occasionally, some of the frequent invitations with which they were honoured.
And here they had sometimes the happiness to meet, amidst the nobles and dames of the land, with all the towering height of his almost universal superiority, Mr. Burke; who, sure, from the connexions of the lady president, to find many chosen friends with whom he could coalesce or combat upon literary or general topics, commonly entered the grand saloon with a spirited yet gentle air, that shewed him full fraught with the generous purpose to receive as well as to dispense social pleasure; untinged with one bitter drop of political rancour; and clarified from all acidity of party sarcasm.
And here, too, though only latterly, and very rarely, appeared the sole star that rose still higher in the gaze of the world, Dr. Johnson. Miss Moncton had met with the Doctor at Brighton, where that animated lady eagerly sought him as a gem to crown her coteries; persevering in her attacks for conquest, with an enthusiasm that did honour to her taste; till the Doctor, surprised and pleased, rewarded her exertions by a good-humoured compliance with her invitations.
But of these coteries, none surpassed, if they equalled, in easy pleasantry, unaffected intelligence, and information free from pedantry or formality, those of the Knight of Plympton. Sir Joshua Reynolds was singularly simple, though never inelegant in his language; and his classical style of painting could not be more pleasing, however more sublimely it might elevate and surprise, than his manners and conversation.
There was little or no play of countenance, beyond cheerfulness or sadness, in the features of Sir Joshua; but in his eyes there was a searching look, that seemed, upon his introduction to any person of whom he had thought before he had seen, to fix, in his painter’s mind, the attitude, if it may be so called, of face that would be most striking for a picture. But this was rarely obvious, and never disconcerting; he was eminently unassuming, unpretending, and natural.
Dr. Burney has left amongst his papers a note of an harangue which he had heard from Sir Joshua Reynolds, at the house of Dudley Long, when the Duke of Devonshire, and various other peers, were present, and when happiness was the topic of discussion. Sir Joshua for some time had listened in silence to their several opinions; and then impressively said: “You none of you, my lords, if you will forgive my telling you so, can speak upon this subject with as much knowledge of it as I can. Dr. Burney perhaps might; but it is not the man who looks around him from the top of a high mountain at a beautiful prospect on the first moment of opening his eyes, who has the true enjoyment of that noble sight: it is he who ascends the mountain from a miry meadow, or a ploughed field, or a barren waste; and who works his way up to it step by step; scratched and harassed by thorns and briars; with here a hollow, that catches his foot; and there a clump that forces him all the way back to find out a new path;—it is he who attains to it through all that toil and danger; and with the strong contrast on his mind of the miry meadow, or ploughed field, or barren waste, for which it was exchanged,—it is he, my lords, who enjoys the beauties that suddenly blaze upon him. They cause an expansion of ideas in harmony with the expansion of the view. He glories in its glory; and his mind opens to conscious exaltation; such as the man who was born and bred upon that commanding height, with all the loveliness of prospect, and fragrance, and variety, and plenty, and luxury of every sort, around, above, beneath, can never know; can have no idea of;—at least, not till he come near some precipice, in a boisterous wind, that hurls him from the top to the bottom, and gives him some taste of what he had possessed, by its loss; and some pleasure in its recovery, by the pain and difficulty of scrambling back to it.”
Mrs. Reynolds also had her coteries, which were occasionally attended by most of the persons who have been named; equally from consideration to her brother, and personal respect to herself.
Mrs. Reynolds wrote an essay on Taste, which she submitted, in the year 1781, to the private criticism of her sincere friend, Dr. Johnson.
But it should seem that the work, though full of intrinsic merit, was warpt in its execution by that perplexity of ideas in which perpetual ponderings, and endless recurrence to first notions, so subversive of all progression, cloudily involved the thoughts, as well as the expressions, of this ingenious lady; for the award of Dr. Johnson, notwithstanding it contained high praise and encouragement for the revision of the treatise, frankly avows, “that her notions, though manifesting a depth of penetration, and a nicety of remark, such as Locke or Pascal might be proud of, must everywhere be rendered smoother and plainer; and he doubts whether many of them are very clear even to her own mind.”
Probably the task which he thus pointed out to her of development and explanation, was beyond the boundary of her powers; for though she lived twenty years after the receipt of this counsel, the work never was published.
Mrs. Chapone, too, had her own coteries, which, though not sought by the young, and, perhaps, fled from by the gay, were rational, instructive, and social; and it was not with self-approbation that they could ever be deserted. But the search of greater gaiety, and higher fashion, rarely awaits that award.
The meetings, in truth, at her dwelling, from her palpable and organic deficiency in health and strength for their sustenance, though they never lacked of sense or taste, always wanted spirit; a want which cast over them a damp that made the same interlocutors, who elsewhere grouped audiences around them from their fame as discoursers, appear to be assembled here merely for the grave purpose of performing a duty.
Yet here were to be seen Mrs. Montagu, Mrs. Carter, Hannah More, the clever family of the Burroughs, the classically lively Sir William Pepys, and the ingenious and virtuous Mrs. Barbauld.
But though the dignity of her mind demanded, as it deserved, the respect of some return to the visits which her love of society induced her to pay, it was a tête à tête alone that gave pleasure to the intercourse with Mrs. Chapone: her sound understanding, her sagacious observations, her turn to humour, and the candour of her affectionate nature, all then came into play without effort: and her ease of mind, when freed from the trammels of doing the honours of reception, seemed to soften off, even to herself, her corporeal infirmities. It was thus that she struck Dr. Burney with the sense of her worth; and seemed portraying in herself the original example whence the precepts had been drawn, for forming the unsophisticated female character that are displayed in the author’s Letters on the improvement of the mind.
But the meetings of this sort, to which sarcasm, sport, or envy have given the epithet of blueism, that Dr. Burney most frequently and the latest attended, were those at the house of Mr., since Sir William Weller Pepys.
The passion of Sir William for literature, his admiration of talents, and his rapturous zeal for genius, made him receive whoever could gratify any of those propensities, with an enchantment of pleasure that seemed to carry him into higher regions. The parties at his house formed into little, separate, and chosen groups, less awful than at Mrs. Montagu’s, and less awkward than at Mrs. Vesey’s: and he glided adroitly from one of these groups to another, till, after making the round of politeness necessary for the master of the house, his hospitality felt acquitted of its devoirs; and he indulged, without further restraint, in the ardent delight of fixing his standard for the evening in the circle the most to his taste: leaving to his serenely acquiescent wife the more forbearing task of equalizing attention. To do that, indeed, beyond what was exacted by good breeding for the high, and by kindness for the insignificant part of his guests, would have been a discipline to all his feelings, that would have converted those parties, that were his pride and his joy, into exercises of the severest penitence.
But while an animated reciprocation of ideas in conversation, a lively memory of early anecdotes, and a boundless readiness at recital of the whole mass of English poets, formed the gayest enjoyment of his chosen and happiest hours, the voice of justice must raise him still higher for solid worth. His urbanity was universal. He never looked so charmed as when engaged in some good office: and his charities were as expansive as the bounty of those who possessed more than double his income. So sincere, indeed, was his benevolence, that it seemed as much a part of himself as his limbs, and could have been torn from him with little less difficulty. 
Amongst the Bouquets, as Dr. Burney denominated the fragrant flatteries courteously lavished, in its day, on the Memoirs of an Heiress, few were more odorous to him than those offered by the famous old Wits, Soame Jenyns and Owen Cambridge.
Soame Jenyns, at the age of seventy-eight, condescended to make interest with Mrs. Ord to arrange an acquaintance for him, at her house in Queen Ann-street, with the father and the daughter.
Soame Jenyns is so well known as an author, and was in his time so eminent as a wit; and his praise gave such pleasure to Dr. Burney, that another genuine letter, written for Mr. Crisp at the moment, with an account of the meeting, will be here abridged, as characteristically marking the parental gratification of the Doctor.
TO SAMUEL CRISP, ESQ.
My dear Mr. Crisp will be impatient, I know, for a history of the long-planned re-encounter with the famed Soame Jenyns.
My father was quite enchanted at his request; and no wonder! for who could have expected such civil curiosity from so renowned an old wit?
We were late; my father could not be early: but I was not a little disconcerted to find, instead of Mr. Soame Jenyns all alone by himself, a room full of company; not in groups, nor yet in a circle, but seated square; i.e. close to the wainscot, leaving a vacancy in the middle of the apartment sufficient for dancing three or four cotillons.
Mrs. Ord almost ran to the door to receive us, crying out, “Why have you been so late, Dr. Burney? We have been waiting for you this hour. I was afraid there was some mistake. Mr. Soame Jenyns has been dying with impatience for the arrival of Miss Burney. Some of us thought she was naughty, and would not come; others thought it was only coquetry. But, however, my dear Miss Burney, let us repair the lost time as quickly as we can, and introduce you to one another without further delay.”
You may believe how happy I was at this “some thought,” and “others thought,” which instantly betrayed that every body was apprised they were to witness this grand encounter: And, to mark it still more strongly, every one, contrary to all present custom, stood up,—as if to see the sight!
I really felt so abashed at meeting so famous an author with such publicity; and so much ashamed of the almost ridiculously undue ceremony of the rising, that I knew not what to do, nor how to comport myself. But they all still kept staringly upright, till Mr. Jenyns, who was full dressed in a court suit, of apricot-coloured silk, lined with white satin, made all the slow speed in his power, from the less thus urged?—began an harangue the most elegantly complimentary, upon the pleasure, and the honour, and the what not? of seeing, my dear daddy, your very obedient and obsequious humble servant, and spinster,
I made all possible reverences, and endeavoured to get to a seat; but Mrs. Ord, when I turned from him, took my hand, and led me, in solemn form, to what seemed to be the group of honour, to present me to Mrs. Soame Jenyns, who, with all the rest, was still immovably standing! The reverences were repeated here, and returned; but in silence, however, on both sides; so they did very well—that is, they were only dull.
I then hoped to escape to my dear Mrs. Thrale, who most invitingly held out her hand to me, and said, pointing to a chair by her own, “Must I, too, make interest to be introduced to Miss Burney?”
This, however, was not allowed; for my dear Lady Clement Cotterel, Mrs. Ord, again taking my hand, and parading me to a sofa, said, “Come, Miss Burney, and let me place you by Mrs. Buller.”
I was glad by this time to be placed any where; for not till I was thus accommodated, did the company, en masse, re-seat themselves!
Mr. Cambridge, senior, then advanced to speak to me; but before I could answer, or, rather, hear him, Mrs. Ord again summoned poor Mr. Jenyns, and made him my right hand neighbour on the sofa, saying, “There, Mr. Jenyns! and there, Miss Burney! now I have put you fairly together, I have done with you!”
This dear, good Mrs. Ord! what a mistaken road was this for bring us into acquaintance! I verily think Mr. Jenyns was almost out of countenance himself; for he had probably said all his say; and would have been as glad of a new subject, and a new companion, as I could have been myself.
To my left hand neighbour I had never before been presented. Mrs. Buller is tall and elegant in her person, genteel and ugly in her face, and abrupt and singular in her manners. She is, however, very clever, sprightly, and witty, and much in vogue. She is, also, a Greek scholar, a celebrated traveller in search of foreign customs and persons, and every way original, in her knowledge and her enterprising way of life. And she has had the maternal heroism—which with me is her first quality—of being the guide of her young son in making the grand tour.
Mr. Soame Jenyns, thus again called upon, resolved, after a pause, not to be called upon in vain; and therefore, with the chivalrous courtesy that he seemed to think the call demanded, began an eulogy unrivalled, I think, in exuberance and variety of animated phraseology. All creation in praise seemed to open to his fancy! No human being had ever begun Cecilia, or Evelina, who had power to lay them down unread: pathos, humour, interest, moral, contrast of character, of manners, of language—O! such mille jolis choses!
I heard, however, but the leading words—which—for I see your arch smile!—you will say I have not failed to retain!—though every body else, the whole room being attentively dumb, probably heard how they were strung together. And indeed, my dear father, who was quite delighted, says the panegyric was as witty as it was flattering. But for myself, had I been carried to a theatre, and perched upon a stool, to hear a public oration upon my simple penmanship, I could hardly have been more confounded. I bowed my head, after the first three or four sentences, by way of marking that I thought he had done: but done he had not the more! I then turned away to the other side, hoping to relieve him as well as myself; for I am sure he must have been full as much worried; but I only came upon Mrs. Buller, who took up the éloge just where Mr. Jenyns, for want of breath, let it drop; splendidly saying, how astonishing it was, that in a nation the most divided of any in the known world, alike in literature and in politics, any living pen could be found to bring about a universal harmony of opinion.
You will only, as usual, laugh, I know, my dear Mr. Crisp, and rather exult than be sorry for my poor embarrassed phiz during this playful duet. So also do I, too, now it is over; and feel grateful to the inflictors: but, for all that, I was tempted to wish either them or myself in the Elysian fields—for I won’t say at Jericho—during the infliction. And indeed, as to this present evening, the extraordinary things that were sported by Mr. Jenyns, and seconded by Mrs. Buller, would have brought blushes into the practised cheeks of Agujari or of Garrick. I changed so often from hot to cold, between the shame of insufficiency, and the consciousness that while they engaged every ear themselves, they put me forward to engage every eye, that I felt now in a fever, and now in an ague, from the awkwardness of appearing thus expressly summoned to
“Sit attentive to my own applause—!”
and my dear father himself, with all his gratified approbation, said I really, at times, looked quite ill. Mrs. Thrale told me, afterwards, she should have come to naturalize me with a little common chat, but that I had been so publicly destined for Soame Jenyns before my arrival, that she did not dare interfere!
At length, however, finding they seemed but to address a breathing statue, they entered into a discussion that was a most joyful relief to me, upon foreign and English customs; and especially upon the rarity, in England, of good conversation; from the perpetual intervention of politics, always noisy; or of dissipation, always frivolous.
Here they were joined by Mr. Cambridge, who, as all the world knows, is an intimate friend of Soame Jenyns; and who is always truly original and entertaining: but imagine my surprise—surprise and delight! in a room and a company like this, where all, except Mr. Cambridge and Mr. Jenyns, were of the beau monde of the present day, suddenly to hear pronounced the name of my dear Mr. Crisp! for, in the midst of this discourse upon customs and conversations in different countries, Mr. Cambridge, who asserted that every man, possessing steadiness with spirit, might live in this great nation exactly as he pleased; either with friends or with strangers, either in public or in solitude, smilingly illustrated his remark, in calling upon my father to second him, by reciting the example of Mr. Crisp! I almost jumped with pleasure and astonishment at the sound of that name, and the praise with which, from the mover and the seconder, it was instantly accompanied. How eloquent grew my father!—but here, I know, I must stop.
When the party broke up, Mr. Jenyns thought it necessary—or, at least, thought it would so be deemed by Mrs. Ord, to recapitulate, though with concentration, his panegyric of the highly honoured Cecilia. And Mrs. Buller renewed, also, her civilities, and hoped “I would not look strange upon them!”—for I looked, my dear father told me afterwards, all the colours of the rainbow; adding, “Why Fanny,
“‘I’d not look at all, if I couldn’t look better!’”
But how I blush when I think of Mrs. Boscawen, Mrs. and Miss Thrale, Mrs. Carter, Mrs. Garrick, Miss More, Mrs. Chapone, Miss Gregory—nay, Mrs. Montagu herself—being called upon to a scene such as this, not as personages of the drama; but as auditresses and spectatresses! I can only hope they all laugh,—for, if not, I am sure they must all scoff.
Dear, good—mistaken Mrs. Ord!—But my father says such panegyric, and such panegyrists, may well make amends for a little want of tact.
But I have not told you what was said by Mr. Cambridge, and I dare not! lest you should think that fervent friend a little non-compos! for ’twas higher and more piquant in eulogy than all the rest put together. ’Twas to my father, however, that he uttered his lively sentiments; for he studies little me as much as my little books; and he knew how he should double my gratification, by wafting his kind praise to me secretly, softly, and unsuspectedly, through so genial a channel.
How I wish you could catch a glimpse of my dear father upon these occasions! and see the conscious smiles, which, however decorously suppressed by pursing his lips, gleam through every turn, every line, every bit and morsel of his kind countenance during the processes of these agreeable flummeries—for such, I know, my dear Mr. Crisp will call them—and, helas! but too truly! Agreeable, however, they are! ’twere vain to deny that. And here—O how unexpected! I am always trembling in fear of a reverse—but not from you, my dearest Mr. Crisp, will it come to your faithful,
Pleasant to Dr. Burney as was this tide of favour, by which he was exhilarated through this second publication of his daughter, it had not yet reached the climax to which it soon afterwards arose; which was the junction of the two first men of the country, if not of the age, in proclaiming each to the other, at an assembly at Miss Moncton’s, where they seated themselves by her side, their kind approvance of this work; and proclaiming it, each animated by the spirit of the other, “in the noblest terms that our language, in its highest glory, is capable of emitting.”
Such were the words of Dr. Johnson himself, in speaking afterwards to Dr. Burney of Mr. Burke’s share in this flattering dialogue; to which Dr. Burney ever after looked back as to the height of his daughter’s literary honours; though he could scarcely then foresee the extent, and the expansion, of that indulgent partiality with which each of them, ever after, invariably distinguished her to the last hour of their lives.
Thus salubriously for Dr. Burney had been cheered the opening winter of 1782, by the celebrated old Wits, Owen Cambridge and Soame Jenyns; through the philanthropy and good-humour which cheered for themselves and their friends the winter of their own lives: and thus radiant with a warmth which Sol in his summer’s glory could not deepen, had gone on the same winter to 1783, through the glowing suffrage of the two first luminaries that brightened the constellation of genius of the reign of George the Third,—Dr. Johnson and Edmund Burke——
But not in fair harmony of progression with this commencement proceeded the year 1783! its April had a harshness which its January had escaped. It brought with it no fragrance of happiness to Dr. Burney. With a blight opened this fatal spring, and with a blast it closed!
All being now, though in the dark, and unannounced, arranged for the determined alliance, Mrs. Thrale abandoned London as she had forsaken Streatham, and, in the beginning of April, retired with her three eldest daughters to Bath; there to reside, till she could complete a plan, then in agitation, for superseding the maternal protection with all that might yet be attainable of propriety and dignity.
Dr. Burney was deeply hurt by this now palpably threatening event: the virtues of Mrs. Thrale had borne an equal poize in his admiration with her talents; both were of an extraordinary order. He had praised, he had loved, he had sung them. Nor was he by any means so severe a disciplinarian over the claims of taste, or the elections of the heart, as to disallow their unalienable rights of being candidly heard, and favourably listened to, in the disposal of our persons and our fates; her choice, therefore, would have roused no severity, though it might justly have excited surprise, had her birth, fortune, and rank in life alone been at stake. But Mrs. Thrale had ties that appeared to him to demand precedence over all feelings, all inclinations—in five daughters, who were juvenile heiresses.
To Bath, however, she went; and truly grieved was the prophetic spirit of Dr. Burney at her departure; which he looked upon as the catastrophe of Streatham.
From circumstances peculiarly fortunate with regard to the time of their operation, some solace opened to Dr. Burney for himself, and still more to his parental kindness for this Memorialist, in this season of disappointment and deprivation, from a beginning intercourse which now took place for both, with the fairest model of female excellence of the days that were passed, Mrs. Delany.
Such were the words by which Mrs. Delany had been pictured to this Memorialist by Mr. Burke, at Miss Moncton’s assembly; and such was the impression of her character under which this connexion was begun by Dr. Burney.
The proposition for an acquaintance, and the negotiation for its commencement between the parties, had been committed, by Mrs. Delany herself, to Mrs. Chapone; whose literary endowments stood not higher, either in public or in private estimation, than the virtues of her mind, and the goodness of her heart. Both were evinced by her popular writings for the female sex, at a time when its education, whether from Timidity or Indolence, required a spur, far more certainly than its cynic traducers can prove that now, from Ambition or Temerity, it calls for a bridle.
As Dr. Burney could not make an early visit, and Mrs. Delany could not receive a late one, Mrs. Chapone was commissioned to engage the daughter to a quiet dinner; and the Doctor to join the party in the evening.
This was assented to with the utmost pleasure, both father and daughter being stimulated in curiosity and expectance by Mr. Crisp, who had formerly known and admired Mrs. Delany, and had been a favourite with her bosom friend, the Dowager Duchess of Portland; and with some other of her elegant associates.
As this venerable lady still lives in the memoirs and correspondence of Dean Swift, an account of this interview, abridged from a letter to Mr. Crisp, will not, perhaps, be unwillingly received, as a genuine picture of an aged lady of rare accomplishments, and high-bred manners, of olden times; who had strikingly been distinguished by Dean Swift, and was now energetically esteemed by Mr. Burke.
Under the wing of the respectable Mrs. Chapone, this Memorialist was first conveyed to the dwelling of Mrs. Delany in St. James’s Place.
Mrs. Delany was alone; but the moment her guests were announced, with an eagerness that seemed forgetful of her years, and that denoted the most flattering pleasure, she advanced to the door of her apartment to receive them.
Mrs. Chapone presented to her by name the Memorialist, whose hand she took with almost youthful vivacity, saying: “Miss Burney must pardon me if I give her an old-fashioned reception; for I know nothing new!” And she kindly saluted her.
With a grace of manner the most striking, she then placed Mrs. Chapone on the sofa, and led the Memorialist to a chair next to her own, saying: “Can you forgive, Miss Burney, the very great liberty I have taken of asking you to my little dinner? But you could not come in the morning; and I wished so impatiently to see one from whom I have received such very extraordinary pleasure, that I could not bear to put it off to another day: for I have no days, now, to throw away! And if I waited for the evening, I might, perhaps, have company. And I hear so ill in mixt society, that I cannot, as I wish to do, attend to more than one at a time; for age, now, is making me more stupid even than I am by nature. And how grieved and mortified I should have been to have known I had Miss Burney in the room, and not to have heard what she said!”
Tone, manner, and look, so impressively marked the sincerity of this humility, as to render it,—her time of life, her high estimation in the world, and her rare acquirements considered,—as touching as it was unexpected to her new guest.
Mrs. Delany still was tall, though some of her height was probably lost. Not much, however, for she was remarkably upright. There were little remains of beauty left in feature; but benevolence, softness, piety, and sense, were all, as conversation brought them into play, depicted in her face, with a sweetness of look and manner, that, notwithstanding her years, were nearly fascinating.
The report generally spread of her being blind, added surprise to pleasure at such active personal civilities in receiving her visitors. Blind, however, she palpably was not. She was neither led about the room, nor afraid of making any false step, or mistake; and the turn of her head to those whom she meant to address, was constantly right. The expression, also, of her still pleasing, though dim eyes, told no sightless tale; but, on the contrary, manifested that she had by no means lost the view of the countenance any more than of the presence of her company.
But the fine perception by which, formerly, she had drawn, painted, cut out, worked, and read, was obscured; and of all those accomplishments in which she had excelled, she was utterly deprived.
Of their former possession, however, there were ample proofs to demonstrate their value; her apartments were hung round with pictures of her own painting, beautifully designed and delightfully coloured; and ornaments of her own execution of striking elegance, in cuttings and variegated stained paper, embellished her chimney-piece; partly copied from antique studies, partly of fanciful invention; but all equally in the chaste style of true and refined good taste.
At the request of Mrs. Chapone, she instantly and unaffectedly brought forth a volume of her newly-invented Mosaic flower-work; an art of her own creation; consisting of staining paper of all possible colours, and then cutting it into strips, so finely and delicately, that when pasted on a dark ground, in accordance to the flower it was to produce, it had the appearance of a beautiful painting; except that it rose to the sight with a still richer effect: and this art Mrs. Delany had invented at seventy-five years of age!
It was so long, she said, after its suggestion, before she brought her work into any system, that in the first year she finished only two flowers: but in the second she accomplished sixteen; and in the third, one hundred and sixty. And after that, many more. They were all from nature, the fresh gathered, or still growing plant, being placed immediately before her for imitation. Her collection consisted of whatever was most choice and rare in flowers, plants, and weeds; or, more properly speaking, field flowers; for, as Thomson ingeniously says, it is the “dull incurious” alone who stigmatise these native offsprings of Flora by the degrading title of weeds.
Her plan had been to finish one thousand, for a complete herbal; but its progress had been stopped short, by the feebleness of her sight, when she was within only twenty of her original scheme.
She had always marked the spot whence she took, or received, her model, with the date of the year on the corner of each flower, in different coloured letters; “but the last year,” she meekly said, “when I found my eyes becoming weaker and weaker, and threatening to fail me before my plan could be completed, I cut out my initials, M. D., in white, for I fancied myself nearly working in my winding sheet!”
There was something in her smile at this melancholy speech that blended so much cheerfulness with resignation, as to render it, to the Memorialist, extremely affecting.
Mrs. Chapone inquired whether her eyes had been injured by any cold?
Instantly, at the question, recalling her spirits, “No, no!” she replied; “nothing has attacked them but my reigning malady, old age!—’Tis, however, only what we are all striving to obtain! And I, for one, have found it a very comfortable state. Yesterday, nevertheless, my peculiar infirmity was rather distressing to me. I received a note from young Mr. Montagu, written in the name of his aunt, that required an immediate answer. But how could I give it to what I could not even read? My good Astley was, by great chance, gone abroad; and my housemaid can neither write nor read; and my man happened to be in disgrace, so I could not do him such a favour [smiling] as to be obliged to him! I resolved, therefore, to try, once more, to read myself; and I hunted out my old long-laid-by magnifier. But it would not do! it was all in vain!
I then ferretted out a larger glass; and with that, I had the great satisfaction to make out the first word,—but before I could get at the second, even the first became a blank! My eyes, however, have served me so long and so well, that I should be very ungrateful to quarrel with them. I then, luckily, recollected that my cook is a scholar! So I sent for her, and we made out the billet together—which, indeed, deserved a much better answer than I, or my cook either, scholar as she is, could bestow. But my dear niece will be with me ere long, and then I shall not be quite such a bankrupt to my correspondents.”
Bankrupt, indeed, was she not, to gaiety, to good-humour, or to polished love of giving pleasure to her social circle, any more than to keeping pace with her correspondents.
When Mrs. Chapone mentioned, with much regret, that a previous evening engagement must force her away at half-past seven o’clock, “Half-past seven?” Mrs. Delany repeated, with an arch smile; “O fie! fie! Mrs. Chapone! why Miss Larolles would not for the world go anywhere before eight or nine!”
And when the Memorialist, astonished as well as diverted at such a sally from Mrs. Delany, yet desirous, from embarrassment, not to seem to have noticed it, turned to look at some of the pictures, and stopped at a charming portrait of Madame de Savigné, to remark its expressive mixture of sweetness, intelligence, and vivacity, the smile of Mrs. Delany became yet archer, as she sportively said, “Yes!—she looks very—enjouée, as Captain Aresby would say.”
This was not a speech to lessen, or meant to lessen, either surprise or amusement in the Memorialist, who, nevertheless, quietly continued her examination of the pictures; till she stopped at a portrait that struck her to have an air of spirit and genius, that induced her to inquire whom it represented.
Mrs. Delany did not mention the name, but only answered, “I don’t know how it is, Mrs. Chapone, but I can never, of late, look at that picture without thinking of poor Belfield.”
This was heard with a real start—though certainly not of pain! But that Mrs. Delany, at her very advanced time of life, eighty-three, should thus have personified to herself the characters of a book so recently published, mingled in its pleasure nearly as much astonishment as gratification.
Mrs. Delany—still clear-sighted to countenance, at least—seemed to read her thoughts, and, kindly taking her hand, smilingly said: “You must forgive us, Miss Burney! it is not quite a propriety, I own, to talk of these people before you; but we don’t know how to speak at all, now, without naming them, they run so in our heads!”
Early in the evening, they were joined by Mrs. Delany’s beloved and loving friend, the Duchess Dowager of Portland; a lady who, though not as exquisitely pleasing, any more than as interesting by age as Mrs. Delany,—who, born with the century, was now in her 83d year, had yet a physiognomy that, when lighted up by any discourse in which she took a part from personal feelings, was singularly expressive of sweetness, sense, and dignity; three words that exactly formed the description of her manners; which were not merely free from pride, but free, also, from its mortifying deputy, affability.
Mrs. Delany, that pattern of the old school in high politeness, was now, it is probable, in the sphere whence Mr. Burke had signalized her by that character; for her reception of the Duchess of Portland, and her conduct to that noble friend, strikingly displayed the self-possession that good taste with good breeding can bestow, even upon the most timid mind, in doing the honours of home to a superior.
She welcomed her Grace with as much respectful ceremony as if this had been a first visit; to manifest that, what in its origin, she had taken as an honour, she had so much true humility as to hold to be rather more than less so in its continuance; yet she constantly exerted a spirit, in pronouncing her opposing or concurring sentiments, in the conversation that ensued, that shewed as dignified an independence of character, as it marked a sincerity as well as happiness of friendship, in the society of her elevated guest.
The Memorialist was presented to her Grace, who came with the expectation of meeting her, in the most gentle and flattering terms by Mrs. Delany; and she was received with kindness rather than goodness. The watchful regard of the Duchess for Mrs. Delany, soon pointed out the marked partiality which that revered lady was already conceiving for her new visitor; and the Duchess, pleased to abet, as salubrious, every cheering propensity in her beloved friend, immediately disposed herself to second it with the most obliging alacrity.
Mrs. Delany, gratified by this apparent approvance, then started the subject of the recent publication, with a glow of pleasure that, though she uttered her favouring opinions with the most unaffected, the chastest simplicity, made the “eloquent blood” rush at every flattering sentence into her pale, soft, aged cheeks, as if her years had been as juvenile as her ideas, and her kindness.
Animated by the animation of her friend, the Duchess gaily increased it by her own; and the warm-hearted Mrs. Chapone still augmented its energy, by her benignant delight that she had brought such a scene to bear for her young companion: while all three sportively united in talking of the characters in the publication, as if speaking of persons and incidents of their own peculiar knowledge.
On the first pause upon a theme which, though unavoidably embarrassing, could not, in hands of such noble courtesy, that knew how to make flattery subservient to elegance, and praise to delicacy, be seriously distressing; the deeply honoured, though confused object of so much condescension, seized the vacant moment for starting the name of Mr. Crisp.
Nothing could better propitiate the introduction which Dr. Burney desired for himself to the correspondent of Dean Swift, and the quondam acquaintance of his early monitor, Mr. Crisp, than bringing this latter upon the scene.
The Duchess now took the lead in the discourse, and was charmed to hear tidings of a former friend, who had been missed so long in the world as to be thought lost. She inquired minutely into his actual way of life, his health and his welfare; and whether he retained his fondness and high taste for all the polite arts.
To the Memorialist this was a topic to give a flow of spirits, that spontaneously banished the reserve and silence with strangers of which she stood generally accused: and her history of the patriarchal attachment of Mr. Crisp to Dr. Burney, and its benevolent extension to every part of his family, while it revived Mr. Crisp to the memories and regard of the Duchess and of Mrs. Delany, stimulated their wishes to know the man—Dr. Burney—who alone, of all the original connexions of Mr. Crisp, had preserved such power over his affections, as to be a welcome inmate to his almost hermetically closed retreat.
And the account of Chesington Hall, its insulated and lonely position, its dilapidated state, its nearly inaccessible roads, its quaint old pictures, and straight long garden paths; was as curious and amusing to Mrs. Chapone, who was spiritedly awake to whatever was romantic or uncommon, as the description of the chief of the domain was interesting to those who had known him when he was as eminently a man of the world, as he was now become, singularly, the recluse of a village.
Such was the basis of the intercourse that thenceforward took place between Dr. Burney and the admirable Mrs. Delany; who was not, from her feminine and elegant character, and her skill in the arts, more to the taste of Dr. Burney, than he had the honour to be to her’s, from his varied acquirements, and his unstrained readiness to bring them forth in social meetings. While his daughter, who thus, by chance, was the happy instrument of this junction, reaped from it a delight that was soon exalted to even bosom felicity, from the indulgent partiality with which that graceful pattern of olden times met, received, and cherished the reverential attachment which she inspired; and which imperceptibly graduated into a mutual, a trusting, a sacred friendship; as soothing, from his share in its formation, to her honoured Mr. Crisp, as it was delighting to Dr. Burney from its seasonable mitigation of the loss, the disappointment, the breaking up of Streatham.
But though this gently cheering, and highly honourable connexion, by its kindly operation, offered the first mental solace to that portentous journey to Bath, which with a blight had opened the spring of 1783; that blight was still unhealed in the excoriation of its infliction, when a new incision of anguish, more deeply cutting still, and more permanently incurable, pierced the heart of Dr. Burney by tidings from Chesington, that Mr. Crisp was taken dangerously ill.
The ravages of the gout, which had long laid waste the health, strength, spirits, and life-enjoying nerves of this admirable man, now extended their baleful devastations to the seats of existence, the head and the breast; wavering occasionally in their work, with something of less relentless rigour, but never abating in menace of fatality.
Susanna,—now Mrs. Phillips,—was at Chesington at the time of the seizure; and to her gentle bosom, and most reluctant pen, fell the sorrowing task of announcing this quick-approaching calamity to Dr. Burney, and all his house: and in the same unison that had been their love, was now their grief. Sorrow, save at the dissolution of conjugal or filial ties, could go no deeper. The Doctor would have abandoned every call of business or interest,—for pleasure at such a period, had no call to make! in order to embrace and to attend upon his long dearest friend, if his Susanna had not dissuaded him from so mournful an exertion, by representations of the uncertainty of finding even a moment in which it might be safe to risk any agitation to the sufferer; whose pains were so torturing, that he fervently and perpetually prayed to heaven for the relief of death:—while the prayers for the dying were read to him daily by his pious sister, Mrs. Gast.
But this Memorialist, to whom, for many preceding years, Mr. Crisp had rendered Chesington a second, a tender, an always open, always inviting home, was so wretched while withheld from seeking once more his sight and his benediction, that Dr. Burney could not long oppose her wishes. In some measure, indeed, he sent her as his own representative, by entrusting to her a letter full of tender attachment and poignant grief from himself; which he told her not to deliver, lest it should be oppressive or too affecting; but to keep in hand, for reading more or less of it to him herself, according to the strength, spirits, and wishes of his dying friend.
With this fondly-sad commission, she hastened to Chesington; where she found her Susanna, and all the house, immersed in affliction: and where, in about a week, she endured the heartfelt sorrow of witnessing the departure of the first, the most invaluable, the dearest Friend of her mourning Father; and the inestimable object of her own chosen confidence, her deepest respect, and, from her earliest youth, almost filial affection.
She had the support, however, of the soul-soothing sympathy of her Susanna; and the tender consolation of having read to him, by intervals, nearly the whole of Dr. Barney’s touching Farewell! and of having seen that her presence had been grateful to him, even in the midst of his sufferings; and of inhaling the balmy kindness with which his nearly final powers of utterance had called her “the dearest thing to him on earth!”
This wound, in its acuteness to Dr. Burney, was only less lacerating than that which had bled from the stroke that had torn away from him the early and adored partner of his heart. But the submissive resignation and patient philosophy with which he bore it, will best be exemplified by the following extract from a letter, written, on this occasion, to his second daughter; whose quick feelings had—as yet!—only once been strongly called forth; and that nearly in childhood, on her maternal deprivation; who knew not, therefore, enough of their force to be guarded against their invasion: and who, in the depth of her grief, had shut herself up in mournful seclusion; for,—blind to sickly foresight!—neither the age nor the infirmities of Mr. Crisp had worked upon her as preparatory to his exit.
His age, indeed, as it was unaccompanied by the smallest diminution of his faculties, though he had reached his seventy-sixth year, offered no mitigation to grief for his death; though a general one, undoubtedly, to its shock. What we lament, is what we lose; what we lose, whether young or old, is what we miss: it may justly, therefore, perhaps, be affirmed, that youth and beauty, however more elegiacally they may be sung, are only by the Lover and the Poet mourned over with stronger regret than age and goodness.
The animadversions upon the excess of sorrow to which this extract may give rise, must not induce the Memorialist of Dr. Burney to spare herself from their infliction, by withholding what she considers it her bounden duty to produce, a document that strikingly displays his tender parental kindness, his patient wisdom, and his governed sensibility.
“To Miss Burney.
“ * * I am much more afflicted than surprised at the violence and duration of your sorrow for the terrible scenes and events you have witnessed at Chesington; and not only pity you, but participate in all your feelings. Not an hour in the day has passed—as you will some time or other find—since the fatal catastrophe, in which I have not felt a pang for the irreparable loss I have sustained. However, as something is due to the living—there is, perhaps, a boundary at which it is right to endeavour to stop in lamenting the dead. It is very difficult,—as I have found!—to exceed that boundary in our duty or attention, without its being at the expense of others. I have experienced the loss of one so dear to me as to throw me into the utmost affliction of despondency which can be suffered without insanity. But I had claims on my life, my reason, and my activity, which, joined to higher motives, drew me from the pit of despair, and forced me, though with great difficulty, to rouse and exert every nerve and faculty in answering them.
“It has been very well said of mental wounds, that they must digest, like those of the body, before they can be healed. The poultice of necessity can alone, perhaps, in some cases, bring on this digestion; but we should not impede it by caustics or corrosions. Let the wound be open a due time—but not kept bare with violence.—
“To quit all metaphor, we must, alas! try to diminish our sorrow for one calamity to enable us to support another! A general peace gives but time to refit for new war; a mental blow, or wound, is no more. So far, however, am I from blaming your sorrow on the present occasion, that, in fact, I both love and honour you for it;—and, therefore, will add no more on that melancholy subject. With respect to the other,—&c. &c.
“* * *.”
It would be needless, it is hoped, to say that this mild and admirable exhortation effected fully its benevolent purpose. With grateful tears, and immediate compliance to his will, she hastened to his arms, received his tenderest welcome, and, quitting her chamber seclusion, again joined the family—if not with immediate cheerfulness, at least with composure: and again, upon his motion, and under his loved wing, returned to the world; if not with inward gaiety, with outward, yet true and unaffected gratitude for the kindness with which it received her back again to its circles:—but Mr. Crisp was not less gone, nor less internally lamented!
What the Doctor intimates of the proofs she would one day find of the continual occupation of his thoughts by his departed friend, alludes to an elegy to which he was then devoting every instant he could snatch from his innumerable engagements; and which, as a memorial of his friendship, was soothing to his affliction. It opens with the following lines.
“Elegy on the Death of a Friend.
What follows, though in the same strain of genuine grief and exalted friendship, is but an amplification of these lines; and too diffuse for any eyes but those to which the object of the panegyric had been familiar; and which, from habitually seeing and studying that honoured object, coveted, like Dr. Burney himself, to dwell, to linger upon its excellencies with fond reminiscence.
Mrs. Gast, the sister of Mr. Crisp, and Mrs. Catherine Cooke, his residuary legatee, put up a monument to his memory in the little church of Chesington, for which Dr. Burney wrote the following epitaph.
And the following brief account of this event the Doctor sent, in the ensuing May, to the newspapers.
Last week died, at Chesington, in Surrey, whither he had long retired from the world, Samuel Crisp, Esq., aged 75, whose loss will be for ever deplored by all those who were admitted into his retreat, and had the happiness of enjoying his conversation; which was rendered captivating by all that wit, learning, profound knowledge of mankind, and a most exquisite taste in the fine arts, as well as in all that embellishes human life, could furnish.
And thus, from the portentous disappearance of Mrs. Thrale, with a blight had opened this fatal spring; and thus, from the irreparable loss of Mr. Crisp, with a blast it closed!
Even to his History of Music the Doctor knew not, now, how to turn his attention; Chesington had so constantly been the charm, as well as the retreat for its pursuit, and Chesington and Mr. Crisp had seemed so indissolubly one, that it was long ere the painful resolution could be gathered of trying how to support what remained, when they were sundered.
Of the two most intimate of his musical friends after Mr. Crisp, Mr. Twining of Colchester came less frequently than ever to town; and Mr. Bewley of Massingham was too distant for any regularity of even annual meetings. And those friends still within his reach, in whom he took the deepest interest, Dr. Johnson, Mr. Burke, and Sir Joshua Reynolds, were too little conversant in music to be usefully sought at this music-devoted period. They had neither taste nor care for his art, and not the smallest knowledge upon its subject. Yet this, though for the moment, nearly a misfortune, was not any impediment to friendship on either side: Dr. Burney had too general a love of literature, as well as of the arts, to limit his admiration, any more than his acquirements, to his own particular cast; while the friends just mentioned regarded his musical science but as a matter apart; and esteemed and loved him solely for the qualities that he possessed in common with themselves.
Compelled was he, nevertheless, to endure the altered Chesington; where, happily, however, then resided his tender Susanna; whose sight was always a charm, and whose converse had a balm that enabled him again to return to his work, though it had lost, for the present, all voluntary influence over his spirits. But choice was out of the question; he had a given engagement to fulfil; and there was no place so sacred from intrusion as Chesington.
Thither, therefore, he repaired; and there, in laborious study, he remained, till the season for his professional toils called him again to St. Martin’s-street.
The first spur that urged his restoration to the world, and its ways, was given through the lively and frequent inquiries made after him and his history by sundry celebrated foreigners, German, Italian, and French.
Amongst his German correspondents, Dr. Burney ranked first the super-eminent Emanuel Bach, commonly known by the appellation of Bach of Berlin; whose erudite depths in the science, and exquisite taste in the art of music, seemed emulously combatting one with the other for precedence; so equal was what he owed to inspiration and to study.
Dr. Burney had the great satisfaction, publicly and usefully, to demonstrate his admiration of this superior musician, by successfully promoting both the knowledge and the sale of his works.
With the equally, and yet more popularly celebrated Haydn, Dr. Burney was in correspondence many years before that noble and truly CREATIVE composer visited England; and almost enthusiastic was the admiration with which the musical historian opened upon the subject, and the matchless merits, of that sublime genius, in the fourth volume of the History of Music. “I am now,” he says, “happily arrived at that part of my narrative where it is necessary to speak of HAYDN, the incomparable HAYDN; from whose productions I have received more pleasure late in life, when tired of most other music, than I ever enjoyed in the most ignorant and rapturous part of my youth, when every thing was new, and the disposition to be pleased was undiminished by criticism, or satiety.”
The German correspondent to whom Dr. Burney was most indebted for information, entertainment, and liberal friendship, was Mynhere Ebeling, a native of Hamborough, who volunteered his services to the Doctor, by opening a correspondence in English, immediately upon reading the first, or French and Italian tour, with a zeal full of sprightliness and good-humour; solidly seconded by well understood documents in aid of the Musical History.
Amongst the Italians, the most essential to his business was Padre Martini; the most essential and the most generous. While the Doctor was at Bologna, he was allowed free access to the rare library of that learned Padre, with permission to examine his Istoria della Musica, before it was published. And this favour was followed by a display of the whole of the materials which the Padre had collected for his elaborate undertaking: upon all which he conversed with a frankness and liberality, that appeared to the Doctor to spring from a nature so completely void of all earthly drops of envy, jealousy, or love of pre-eminence, as to endow him with the nobleness of wishing that a fellow-labourer in the same vineyard in which he was working himself, should share the advantages of his toil, and reap in common its fruits.
With similar openness the Doctor returned every communication; and produced his own plan, of which he presented the Padre with a copy, which that modest man of science most gratefully received; declaring it to be not only edifying, but, in some points, surprisingly new. They entered into a correspondence of equal interest to both, which subsisted, to their mutual pleasure, credit, and advantage, through the remnant life of the good old Padre; and which not unfrequently owed its currency to the friendly intervention of the amiable, and, as far as his leisure and means accorded with his native inclination, literary Pacchierotti.
With Metastasio, who in chaste pathos of sentimental eloquence, and a purity of expression that seems to emanate from purity of feeling, stands nearly unequalled, he assiduously maintained the intercourse which he had happily begun with that laureate-poet at Vienna.
Of the French correspondents, M. Berquin, the true though self-named children’s friend, was foremost in bringing letters of strong recommendation to the Doctor from Paris.
M. Berquin warmly professed that the first inquiry he made upon his entrance into London, was for the Hôtel du Grand Newton; where he offered up incense to the owner, and to his second daughter, of so overpowering a perfume, that it would have derogated completely from the character of verity and simplicity that makes the charm of his tales for juvenile pupils, had it not appeared, from passages published in his works after his return to France, that he had really wrought himself into feeling the enthusiasm that here had appeared overstrained, unnatural, and almost, at least to the daughter, burlesque. In an account of him, written at this time to her sister Susanna, are these words:
“To Mrs. Phillips.
“We have a new man, now, almost always at the house, who has brought letters to my father from some of his best French correspondents, M. Berquin; author of the far most interesting lessons of moral conduct for adolescence or for what Mr. Walpole would call the betweenity time that intervals the boy or girl from the man or woman, that ever sprang from a vivid imagination, under the strictest guidance of right and reason. But to all this that is so proper, or rather, so excellent, M. Berquin joins an exuberance of devotion towards l’Hôtel du Grand Newton, and its present owner, and, above all, that owner’s second bairne, that seems with difficulty held back from mounting into an ecstacy really comic. He brought a set of his charming little volumes with him, and begged my mother to present them to Mademoiselle Beurnie; with compliments upon the occasion too florid for writing even, my Susan, to you. And though I was in the room the whole time, quietly scollopping a muslin border, and making entreating signs to my mother not to betray me, he never once suspected I might be the demoiselle myself, because—I am much afraid!—he saw nothing about me to answer to the splendour of his expectations! However, he has since made the discovery, and had the gallantry to comport himself as if he had made it—poor man!—without disappointment. Since then I have begun some acquaintance with him; but his rapture every time I speak is too great to be excited often! therefore, I am chary of my words. You would laugh irresistibly to see how enchanté he deems it fit to appear every time I open my mouth! holding up one hand aloft, as if in sign to all others present to keep the peace! And yet, save for this complimentary extravagance, his manners and appearance are the most simple, candid, and unpretending.”
Dr. Burney himself was seriously of opinion that all the superfluity of civility here described, was the mere effervescence of a romantic imagination; not of artifice, or studied adulation.
Messieurs les Comtes de la Rochefaucault, sons of the Duc de Liancourt, when quite youths, were brought, at the desire of their father, to a morning visit in St. Martin’s-street, with their English tutor, Mr. Symonds, by Arthur Young; to whose superintending care and friendship they had been committed, for the study of agriculture according to the English mode.
The Duke had a passion for farming, for England, for improvement; and above all, for liberty,—which was then rising in glowing ferment in his nation; with little consciousness, and no foresight, of the bloody scenes in which it was to set!
The Duc de Liancourt himself, not long afterwards, came over to England, and, through the medium of Mr. Young, addressed letters of the most flattering politeness to Dr. Burney; soliciting his acquaintance, and, through his influence, an interview with Mademoiselle Berney. The latter, however, had so invincible a repugnance to being singled out with such undue distinction by strangers, that she prevailed, though with much difficulty, upon her father, to consent to her non-appearance when this visit took place. The Duke was too well bred not to pardon, though, no doubt, he more than marvelled at this mauvaise honte Anglaise.
He made his visit, however, very agreeable to the Doctor, who found him of lofty manners, person, and demeanour; of liberal and enlightened sentiments and opinions; and ardent to acquire new, but practical notions of national liberty; with the noble intention of propagating them amongst his countrymen: an intention which the turbulent humour of the times warpt and perverted into results the most opposed to his genuine views and wishes.
Brissot de Warville had begun an acquaintance with Dr. Burney upon meeting with him at the apartment of the famous Linguet, during the residence in England of that eloquent, powerful, unfortunate victim of parts too strong for his judgment, and of impulses too imperious for his safety.
At this time, 1783, Brissot de Warville announced himself as a member of a French committee employed to select subjects in foreign countries, for adding to the national stock of worthies of his own soil, who were destined to immortality, by having their portraits, busts, or statues, elevated in the Paris Pantheon. And, as such, he addressed a letter to Dr. Burney. He had been directed, he said, to choose, in England, a female for this high honour; and he wrote to Dr. Burney to say, that the gentlewoman upon whom it had pleased him to fix—was no other than a daughter of the Doctor’s!
At that astonished daughter’s earnest supplication, the Doctor, with proper acknowledgments, declined accepting this towering compliment.
M. Brissot employed his highest pains of flattery to conquer this repugnance; but head, heart, and taste were in opposition to his pleadings, and he had no chance of success.
Speedily after, M. Brissot earnestly besought permission to introduce to l’Hôtel du Grand Newton his newly-married wife; and a day was appointed on which he brought thither his blooming young bride, who had been English Reader, he said, to her Serene Highness Mademoiselle d’Orleans, under the auspices of the celebrated Comtesse de Genlis.
Madame Brissot was pretty, and gentle, and had a striking air of youthful innocence. They seemed to live together in tender amity, perfectly satisfied in following literary pursuits. But it has since appeared that Brissot was here upon some deep political projects, of which he afterwards extended the practice to America. He had by no means, at that time, assumed the dogmatizing dialect, or betrayed the revolutionary principles, which, afterwards, contributed to hurl the monarchy, the religion, and the happiness of France into that murderous abyss of anarchy into which, ill-foreseen! he was himself amongst the earliest to be precipitated.
This single visit began and ended the Brissot commerce with St. Martin’s-street. M. Brissot had a certain low-bred fullness and forwardness of look, even in the midst of professions of humility and respect, that were by no means attractive to Dr. Burney; by whom this latent demagogue, who made sundry attempts to enter into a bookish intimacy in St. Martin’s-street, was so completely shirked, that nothing more was there seen or known of him, till his jacobinical harangues and proceedings, five years later, were blazoned to the world by the republican gazettes.
What became of his pretty wife in aftertimes; whether she were involved in his destruction, or sunk his name to save her life, has not been recorded. Dr. Burney heard of her no more; and always regretted that he had been deluded into shewing even the smallest token of hospitality to her intriguing husband: yet great was his thankfulness, that the delusion had not been of such strength, as to induce him to enrol a representation of his daughter in a selection made by a man of principles and conduct so opposite to his own; however, individually, the collection might have been as flattering to his parental pride, as her undue entrance into such a circle would have been painfully ostentatious to the insufficient and unambitious object of M. Brissot’s choice.
Of the Duc de Chaulnes, the following account is copied from Dr. Burney’s memorandums:—
“In 1783, I dined at the Adelphi with Dr. Johnson and the Duc de Chaulnes. This extraordinary personage, a great traveller, and curious inquirer into the productions of art and of nature, had recently been to China; and, amongst many other discoveries that he had made in that immense and remote region, of which he had brought specimens to Europe, being a great chemist, he had particularly applied himself to the disclosure of the means by which the Chinese obtain that extraordinary brilliancy and permanence in the prismatic colours, which is so much admired and envied by other nations.
“I knew nothing of his being in England till, late one night, I heard a bustle and different voices in the passage, or little hall, in my house in St. Martin’s-street, commonly, from its former great owner, called Newton House; when, on inquiry, I was informed that there was a foreign gentleman, with a guide and an interpreter, who was come to beg permission to see the observatory of the grand Newton.
“I went out of the parlour to speak to this stranger, and to invite him in. He accepted the offer with readiness, and I promised to shew him the observatory the next morning; and we soon became so well acquainted, that, two or three days afterwards, he honoured me with the following note in English; which I shall copy literally, for its foreign originality.
“‘The Duke of Chaulnes’ best compliments to Doctor Burney: he desires the favour of his company to dinner with Doctor Johnson on Sunday next, between about three and four o’clock, which is the hour convenient to the excellent old Doctor, the best piece of man, indeed, that the Duke ever saw.’”
This dinner took place, but was only productive of disappointment; Dr. Johnson, unfortunately, was in a state of bodily uneasiness and pain that unfitted him for exertion; and well as his mind was disposed to do honour to the civilities of a distinguished foreigner, his physical force refused consent to his efforts. The Duke, however, was too enlightened and too rational a man, to permit this failure of his expectations to interfere with his previously formed belief in the genius and powers of Dr. Johnson, when they were unshackled by disease.
Another note in English, which much amused Dr. Burney, was written by the Duke in answer to an invitation to St. Martin’s-street.
“The Duke of Chaulnes’ best compliments to Doctor Burney. He shall certainly do himself the honour of waiting on him on Thursday evening at the English hour of tea. He begs him a thousand pardons for the delay of his answer, but he was himself waiting another answer which he was depending of.”
Dr. Burney received the Duke in his study, which the Duke entered with reverence, from a knowledge that he was treading boards that had been trodden by the great Newton. He then developed at full length his Chinese researches, discoveries, and opinions: after which, and having examined and discoursed upon the Doctor’s library, he made an earnest request to be brought to the acquaintance of Mademoiselle Beurni.
The Doctor, who was never averse to what he thought expressive of approbation, with quite as much pleasure, and almost as much eagerness as the Duke, ushered his noble guest to the family tea-table; where an introduction took place, so pompous on the part of the Duke, and so embarrassed on that of its receiver, that finding, when it was over, she simply bowed, and turned about to make the tea, without attempting any conversational reply, he conceived that his eloquent éloge had not been understood; and, after a little general talk with Mr. Hoole and his son, who were of the evening party, he approached her again, with a grave desire to the Doctor of a second presentation.
This, though unavoidably granted, produced nothing more brilliant to satisfy his expectations; which then, in all probability, were changed into pity, if not contempt, at so egregious a mark of that uncouth malady of which her country stands arraigned, bashful shyness.
Amongst the many cotemporary tributes paid to the merits of Dr. Burney, there was one from a celebrated and estimable artist, that caused no small diversion to the friends of the Doctor; and, perhaps, to the public at large; from the Hibernian tale which it seemed instinctively to unfold of the birth-place of its designer.
The famous painter, Mr. Barry, after a formal declaration that his picture of The Triumph of the Thames, which was painted for the Society of Arts, should be devoted exclusively to immortalizing the eminent dead, placed, in the watery groupes of the renowned departed, Dr. Burney, then full of life and vigour.
This whimsical incident produced from the still playful imagination of Mr. Owen Cambridge the following jeu d’esprit; to which he was incited by an accident that had just occurred to the celebrated Gibbon; who, in stepping too lightly from, or to a boat of Mr. Cambridge’s, had slipt into the Thames; whence, however, he was intrepidly and immediately rescued, with no other mischief than a wet jacket, by one of that fearless, water-proof race, denominated, by Mr. Gibbon, the amphibious family of the Cambridges.
“When Chloe’s picture was to Venus shown,” &c.
But all that Dr. Burney possessed, either of spirited resistance or acquiescent submission to misfortune, was again to be severely tried in the summer that followed the spring of this unkindly year; for the health of his venerated Dr. Johnson received a blow from which it never wholly recovered; though frequent rays of hope intervened from danger to danger; and though more than a year and a half were still allowed to his honoured existence upon earth.
Mr. Seward first brought to Dr. Burney the alarming tidings, that this great and good man had been afflicted by a paralytic stroke. The Doctor hastened to Bolt Court, taking with him this Memorialist, who had frequently and urgently been desired by Dr. Johnson himself, during the time that they lived so much together at Streatham, to see him often if he should be ill. But he was surrounded by medical people, and could only admit the Doctor. He sent down, nevertheless, the kindest message of thanks to the truly-sorrowing daughter, for calling upon him; and a request that, “when he should be better, she would come to him again and again.”
From Mrs. Williams, with whom she remained, she then received the comfort of an assurance that the physicians had pronounced him not to be in danger; and even that they expected the illness would be speedily overcome. The stroke had been confined to the tongue.
Mrs. Williams related a very touching circumstance that had attended the attack. It had happened about four o’clock in the morning, when, though she knew not how, he had been sensible to the seizure of a paralytic affection. He arose, and composed, in his mind, a prayer in Latin to the Almighty, That however acute might be the pains for which he must befit himself, it would please him, through the grace and mediation of our Saviour, to spare his intellects, and to let all his sufferings fall upon his body.
When he had internally conceived this petition, he endeavoured to pronounce it, according to his pious practice, aloud—but his voice was gone!—He was greatly struck, though humbly and resignedly. It was not, however, long, before it returned; but at first with very imperfect articulation.
Dr. Burney, with the zeal of true affection, made time unceasingly for inquiring visits: and no sooner was the invalid restored to the power of reinstating himself in his drawing-room, than the Memorialist received from him a summons, which she obeyed the following morning.
She was welcomed with the kindest pleasure; though it was with difficulty that he endeavoured to rise, and to mark, with wide extended arms, his cordial gladness at her sight; and he was forced to lean back against the wainscot as impressively he uttered, “Ah!—dearest of all dear ladies!—”
He soon, however, recovered more strength, and assumed the force to conduct her himself, and with no small ceremony, to his best chair.
“Can you forgive me, Sir,” she cried, when she saw that he had not breakfasted, “for coming so soon?”
“I can less forgive your not coming sooner!” he answered, with a smile.
She asked whether she might make his tea, which she had not done since they had left poor Streatham; where it had been her constant and gratifying business to give him that regale, Miss Thrale being yet too young for the office.
He readily, and with pleasure consented.
“But, Sir,” quoth she, “I am in the wrong chair.” For it was on his own sick large arm chair, which was too heavy for her to move, that he had formally seated her; and it was away from the table.
“It is so difficult,” cried he, with quickness, “for any thing to be wrong that belongs to you, that it can only be I that am in the wrong chair to keep you from the right one!”
This playful good-humour was so reviving in shewing his recovery, that though Dr. Burney could not remain above ten minutes, his daughter, for whom he sent back his carriage, could with difficulty retire at the end of two hours. Dr. Johnson endeavoured most earnestly to engage her to stay and dine with him and Mrs. Williams; but that was not in her power; though so kindly was his heart opened by her true joy at his re-establishment, that he parted from her with a reluctance that was even, and to both, painful. Warm in its affections was the heart of this great and good man; his temper alone was in fault where it appeared to be otherwise.
When his recovery was confirmed, he accepted some few of the many invitations that were made to him, by various friends, to try at their dwellings, the air of the country. Dr. Burney mentioned to him, one evening, that he had heard that the first of these essays was to be made at the house of Mr. Bowles; and the Memorialist added, that she was extremely glad of that news, because, though she knew not Mr. Bowles, she had been informed that he had a true sense of this distinction, and was delighted by it beyond measure.
“He is so delighted,” said the Doctor, gravely, and almost with a sigh, “that it is really—shocking!”
“And why so, Sir?”
“Why?” he repeated, “because, necessarily, he must be disappointed! For if a man be expected to leap twenty yards, and should really leap ten, which would be so many more than ever were leapt before, still they would not be twenty; and consequently, Mr. Bowles, and Mr. every body else would be disappointed.”
The grievous blight by the loss of Mrs. Thrale; and the irreparable blast by the death of Mr. Crisp, in the spring of 1783; followed, in the ensuing summer, by this alarming shake to the constitution and strength of Dr. Johnson; were now to be succeeded, in this same unhappy year, by a fearful and calamitous event, that made the falling leaves of its autumn corrosively sepulchral to Dr. Burney.
His erudite, witty, scientific, and truly dear friend, Mr. Bewley of Massingham, though now in the wane of life, had never visited the metropolis, except to pass through it upon business; his narrow income, and confined country practice, having hitherto stood in the way of such an excursion. Yet he had long desired to make the journey, not only for seeing the capital, its curiosities, its men of letters, and his own most highly prized friend, Dr. Burney, but, also, for calling a consultation amongst the wisest of his brethren of the Æsculapian tribe, upon the subject of his own health, which was now in a state of alarming deterioration.
Continual letters, upon the lighter and pleasanter part of this project, passed between Massingham and St. Martin’s-street, in preparatory schemes on one side, and hurrying persuasion on the other, before it could take place; though it was never-ceasingly the goal at which the hopes and wishes of Mr. Bewley aimed, when he permitted them to turn their course from business or science: but now, suddenly, an occult disease, which for many years had been preying upon the constitution of the too patient philosopher, began more roughly to ravage his debilitating frame: and the excess of his pains, with whatever fortitude they were borne, forced him from his Stoic endurance, by dismembering it, through bodily torture, from the palliations of intellectual occupation.
Irresolution, therefore, was over; and he hastily prepared to quit his resident village, and consult personally with two surgeons and two physicians of eminence, Messrs. Hunter and Potts, and Doctors Warren and John Jebb, with whom he had long been incidentally and professionally in correspondence.
There is, probably, no disease, save of that malignantly fatal nature that joins, at once, the malady with the grave, that may not, for a while, be parried, or, at least, diverted from its strait-forward progress, by the indefinable power of those inward impellers of the human machine, called the animal spirits; for no sooner was the invalid decided upon this long-delayed journey, than a wish occurred to soften off its vital solemnity, by rendering it mental and amical, as well as medicinal: and from this wish emanated a glow of courage, that enabled him to baffle his infirmities, and to begin his excursion by a tour to Birmingham; where he had long promised a visit to a renowned fellow-labourer in the walks of science, Dr. Priestley. And this he accomplished, though with not more satisfaction than difficulty.
From the high gratification of this expedition, he proceeded to one warmer, kindlier, and closer still to his breast, for he came on to his first favourite upon earth, Dr. Burney; with whom he spent about a week, under an influence of congenial feelings, and enlivening pursuits, that charmed away pains that had seemed insupportable, through the magic control of a delighted imagination, and an expanded heart.
His eagerness, from the vigour of his fancy, was yet young, notwithstanding his years, for every thing that was new to him, and, of its sort, ingenious. Dr. Burney accompanied him in taking a general view of the most celebrated literary and scientific institutions, buildings, and public places; and presented him to the Duke de Chaulnes, with whom a whole morning was spent in viewing specimens of Chinese arts and discoveries. And they passed several hours in examining the extensive paintings of Barry, which that extraordinary artist elucidated to them himself: while every evening was devoted to studying and hearing favourite old musical composers of Mr. Bewley; or favourite new ones of Dr. Burney, now first brought forward to his friend’s enraptured ears.
But that which most flattered, and exhilarated the Massingham philosopher, was an interview accorded to him by Dr. Johnson; to whom he was presented as the humble, but devoted preserver of the bristly tuft of the Bolt Court Hearth-Broom.
He then left St. Martin’s-street, to visit Mr. Griffith, Editor of the Monthly Review, who received him at Turnham Green.
Here, from the flitting and stimulating, though willing hurries of pleasure, he meant to dedicate a short space to repose.——But repose, here, was to be his no more! The visionary illusions of a fevered imagination, and the eclât of novelty to all his sensations, were passed away; and sober, severe reality, with all the acute pangs of latent, but excruciating disease, resumed, unbridled, their sway. He grew suddenly altered, and radically worse; and abruptly came back, thus fatally changed, to St. Martin’s-street; where Dr. Burney, who had returned to his work at Chesington, was recalled by an express to join him; and where the long procrastinated consultation at length was held.
But nor Hunter, nor Potts, nor Warren, nor Jebb could cure, could even alleviate pains, of which they could not discern the source, nor ascertain the cause. Nevertheless, from commiseration for his sufferings, respect to his genius, and admiration of his patience, they all attended him with as much zeal and assiduity as if they had grasped at every fee which, generously, they declined: though they had the mortification to observe that they were applied to so tardily, and that so desperate was the case, that they seemed hut summoned to acknowledge it to be beyond their reach, and to prognosticate its quick-approaching fatality. And, a very short time afterwards, Dr. Burney had the deep disappointment of finding all his joy at this so long desired meeting, reversed into the heartfelt affliction of seeing this valued friend expire under his roof!
Mrs. Bewley, the excellent wife of this man of science, philosophy, and virtue, was fortunately, however unhappily, the companion of his tour; and his constant and affectionate nurse to his last moment.
It was afterwards known, that his pains, and their incurability, were produced by an occult and dreadful cancer.
He was buried in St. Martin’s church.
The following account of him was written for the Norwich newspaper by Dr. Burney.
“September 15, 1783.
“On Friday last died, at the house of his friend, Dr. Burney, in St. Martin’s-street, where he had been on a visit, Mr. William Bewley, of Massingham, in Norfolk; whose death will be sincerely lamented by all men of science, to whom his great abilities, particularly in anatomy, electricity, and chemistry, had penetrated through the obscurity of his abode, and the natural modesty and diffidence of his disposition. Indeed, the depth and extent of his knowledge on every useful branch of science and literature, could only be equalled by the goodness of his heart, simplicity of his character, and innocency of his life; seasoned with a natural, unsought wit and humour, of a cast the most original, pleasant, and inoffensive.
“Hobbes, in the last century, whose chief writings were levelled against the religion of his country, was called, from the place of his residence, the Philosopher of Malmsbury; but with how much more truth and propriety has Mr. Bewley, whose life was spent in the laborious search of the most hidden and useful discoveries in art and nature, in exposing sophistry, and displaying talents, been distinguished in Norfolk by the respectable title of the Philosopher of Massingham.”
After this harrowing loss, Dr. Burney again returned to melancholy Chesington; but—still its inmate—to his soothingly reviving Susanna.
These two admirable and bosom friends, the one of early youth, the other of early manhood, Mr. Crisp and Mr. Bewley, both thus gone; both, in the same year, departed; Mr. Twining only now, for the union of musical with mental friendship, remained: but Mr. Twining, though capable to exhilarate as well as console almost every evil—except his own absence, was utterly unattainable, save during the few weeks of his short annual visit to London; or the few days of the Doctor’s yet shorter visits to the vicarage of Fordham.
Alone, therefore, and unassisted, except by the slow mode of correspondence, Dr. Burney prosecuted his work. This labour, nevertheless, however fatiguing to his nerves, and harassing to his health, upon missing the triple participation that had lightened his toil, gradually became, what literary pursuits will ever become to minds capable of their development, when not clogged by the heavy weight of recent grief; first a check to morbid sadness, next a renovator of wearied faculties, and lastly, through their oblivious influence over all objects foreign to their purposes, a source of enjoyment.
To this occupation he owed the re-invigoration of courage that, ere long, was followed by a return to the native temperature of tranquillity, that had early and intuitively taught him not to sully what yet he possessed of happiness, by inconsolably bemoaning what was withdrawn! and he resolved, in aid at once of his spirits and of his work, to cultivate more assiduously than ever his connexions with Dr. Johnson, Mr. Burke, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and Mrs. Delany.
When at the end, therefore, of the ensuing autumn, he re-entered Newton House, his first voluntary egress thence was to Bolt Court; where he had the heartfelt satisfaction of finding Dr. Johnson recovered from his paralytic stroke, and not more than usually afflicted by his other complaints; for free from complaint Dr. Burney had never had the happiness to know that long and illustrious sufferer; whose pains and infirmities, however, seemed rather to strengthen than to deaden his urbanity towards Dr. Burney and this Memorialist.
It had happened, through vexatious circumstances, after the return from Chesington, that Dr. Burney, in his visits to Bolt Court, had not been able to take thither his daughter; nor yet to spare her his carriage for a separate inquiry; and incessant bad weather had made walking impracticable. After a week or two of this omission, Dr. Johnson, in a letter to Dr. Burney, enclosed the following billet.
“To Miss Burney.
“You have now been at home this long time, and yet I have neither seen nor heard from you. Have we quarrelled?
“I have met with a volume of the Philosophical Transactions, which I imagine to belong to Dr. Burney. Miss Charlotte will please to examine.
“Pray send me a direction where Mrs. Chapone lives; and pray, some time, let me have the honour of telling you how much I am, Madam, your most humble servant,
“Bolt Court, Nov. 19, 1783.”
Inexpressibly shocked to have hurt or displeased her honoured friend, yet conscious from all within of unalterable and affectionate reverence, she took courage to answer him without offering any serious defence.
“To Dr. Johnson.
“May I not say dear?—for quarrelled I am sure we have not. The bad weather alone has kept me from waiting upon you: but now, that you have condescended to give me a summons, no ‘Lion shall stand in the way’ of my making your tea this afternoon—unless I receive a prohibition from yourself, and then—I must submit! for what, as you said of a certain great lady, signifies the barking of a lap-dog, if once the lion puts out his paw?
“The book was right.
“Mrs. Chapone lives in Dean-street, Soho.
“I beg you, Sir, to forgive a delay for which I can ‘tax the elements only with unkindness,’ and to receive with your usual goodness and indulgence,
“Your ever most obliged,
“And most faithful humble servant,
“19th Nov. 1783, St. Martin’s-Street.”
A latent, but most potent reason, had, in fact, some share in abetting the elements in the failure of the Memorialist of paying her respects in Bolt Court at this period; except when attending thither her father. Dr. Burney feared her seeing Dr. Johnson alone; dreading, for both their sakes, the subject to which the Doctor might revert, if they should chance to be tête à tête. Hitherto, in the many meetings of the two Doctors and herself that had taken place after the paralytic stroke of Dr. Johnson, as well as during the many that had more immediately followed the retreat of Mrs. Thrale to Bath, the name of that lady had never once been mentioned by any of the three.
Not from difference of opinion was the silence; it was rather from a painful certainty that their opinions must be in unison, and, consequently, that in unison must be their regrets. Each of them, therefore, having so warmly esteemed one whom each of them, now, so afflictingly blamed, they tacitly concurred that, for the immediate moment, to cast a veil over her name, actions, and remembrance, seemed what was most respectful to their past feelings, and to her present situation.
But, after the impressive reproach of Dr. Johnson to the Memorialist relative to her absence; and after a seizure which caused a constant anxiety for his health, she could no longer consult her discretion at the expense of her regard; and, upon ceasing to observe her precautions, she was unavoidably left with him, one morning, by Dr. Burney, who had indispensable business further on in the city, and was to call for her on his return.
Nothing yet had publicly transpired, with certainty or authority, relative to the projects of Mrs. Thrale, who had now been nearly a year at Bath; though nothing was left unreported, or unasserted, with respect to her proceedings. Nevertheless, how far Dr. Johnson was himself informed, or was ignorant on the subject, neither Dr. Burney nor his daughter could tell; and each equally feared to learn.
Scarcely an instant, however, was the latter left alone in Bolt Court, ere she saw the justice of her long apprehensions; for while she planned speaking upon some topic that might have a chance to catch the attention of the Doctor, a sudden change from kind tranquillity to strong austerity took place in his altered countenance; and, startled and affrighted, she held her peace.
A silence almost awful succeeded, though, previously to Dr. Burney’s absence, the gayest discourse had been reciprocated.
The Doctor, then, see-sawing violently in his chair, as usual when he was big with any powerful emotion whether of pleasure or of pain, seemed deeply moved; but without looking at her, or speaking, he intently fixed his eyes upon the fire: while his panic-struck visitor, filled with dismay at the storm which she saw gathering; over the character and conduct of one still dear to her very heart, from the furrowed front, the laborious heaving of the ponderous chest, and the roll of the large, penetrating, wrathful eye of her honoured, but, just then, terrific host, sate mute, motionless, and sad; tremblingly awaiting a mentally demolishing thunderbolt.
Thus passed a few minutes, in which she scarcely dared breathe; while the respiration of the Doctor, on the contrary, was of asthmatic force and loudness; then, suddenly turning to her, with an air of mingled wrath and woe, he hoarsely ejaculated: “Piozzi!”
He evidently meant to say more; but the effort with which he articulated that name robbed him of any voice for amplification, and his whole frame grew tremulously convulsed.
His guest, appalled, could not speak; but he soon discerned that it was grief from coincidence, not distrust from opposition of sentiment, that caused her taciturnity.
This perception calmed him, and he then exhibited a face “in sorrow more than anger.” His see-sawing abated of its velocity, and, again fixing his looks upon the fire, he fell into pensive rumination.
From time to time, nevertheless, he impressively glanced upon her his full fraught eye, that told, had its expression been developed, whole volumes of his regret, his disappointment, his astonished indignancy: but, now and then, it also spoke so clearly and so kindly, that he found her sight and her stay soothing to his disturbance, that she felt as if confidentially communing with him, although they exchanged not a word.
At length, and with great agitation, he broke forthwith: “She cares for no one! You, only—You, she loves still!—but no one—and nothing else!—You she still loves—”
A half smile now, though of no very gay character, softened a little the severity of his features, while he tried to resume some cheerfulness in adding: “As .... she loves her little finger!”
It was plain by this burlesque, or, perhaps, playfully literal comparison, that he meant now, and tried, to dissipate the solemnity of his concern.
The hint was taken; his guest started another subject; and this he resumed no more. He saw how distressing was the theme to a hearer whom he ever wished to please, not distress; and he named Mrs. Thrale no more! Common topics took place, till they were rejoined by Dr. Burney, whom then, and indeed always, he likewise spared upon this subject.
Very ill again Dr. Johnson grew on the approach of winter; and with equal fear and affection, both father and daughter sought him as often as it was in their power; though by no means as frequently as their zealous attachment, or as his own kind wishes might have prompted. But fullness of affairs, and the distance of his dwelling, impeded such continual intercourse as their mutual regard would otherwise have instigated.
This new failure of health was accompanied by a sorrowing depression of spirits; though unmixt with the smallest deterioration of intellect.
One evening,—the last but one of the sad year 1783,—when Dr. Burney and the Memorialist were with him, and some other not remembered visitors, he took an opportunity during a general discourse in which he did not join, to turn suddenly to the ever-favoured daughter, and, fervently grasping her hand, to say: “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!”
Her promise was as solemn as it was sorrowful; but more humble, if possible, than either. That such a man should condescend to make her such a request, amazed, and almost bewildered her: yet, to a mind so devout as that of Dr. Johnson, prayer, even from the most lowly, never seemed presumptuous; and even—where he believed in its sincerity, soothed him—for a passing moment—with an idea that it might be propitious.
This was the only instance in which Dr. Johnson ever addressed her in French. He did not wish so serious an injunction to reach other ears than her own.
But those who imagine that the fear of death, which, at this period, was the prominent feature of the mind of Dr. Johnson; and which excited not more commiseration than wonder in the observers and commentators of the day; was the effect of conscious criminality; or produced by a latent belief that he had sinned more than his fellow sinners, knew not Dr. Johnson! He thought not ill of himself as compared with his human brethren: but he weighed, in the rigid scales of his calculating justice, the great talent which he had received, against the uses of it which he had made — —
And found himself wanting!
Could it be otherwise, to one who had a conscience poignantly alive to a sense of duty, and religiously submissive to the awards of retributive responsibility?
If those, therefore, who ignorantly have marvelled, or who maliciously would triumph at the terror of death in the pious, would sincerely and severely bow down to a similar self-examination, the marvel would subside, and the triumph might perhaps turn to blushes! in considering—not the trembling inferiority, but the sublime humility of this ablest and most dauntless of Men, but humblest and most orthodox of Christians.
While thus with Dr. Johnson, the most reverenced of Dr. Burney’s connexions, all intercourse was shaken in gaiety and happiness, with Sir Joshua Reynolds, save from grief for Dr. Johnson, gaiety and happiness still seemed almost stationary.
Sir Joshua Reynolds had a suavity of disposition that set every body at their ease in his society; though neither that, nor what Dr. Johnson called his “inoffensiveness,” bore the character of a tame insipidity that never differed from a neighbour; or that knew not how to support an opposing opinion with firmness and independence. On the contrary, Sir Joshua was even peculiar in thinking for himself: and frequently, after a silent rumination, to which he was unavoidably led by not following up, from his deafness, the various stages of any given question, he would surprise the whole company by starting some new and unexpected idea on the subject in discussion, in a manner so imaginative and so original, that it either drew the attention of the interlocutors into a quite different mode of argument to that with which they had set out; or it incited them to come forth, in battle array, against the novelty of his assertions. In the first case, he was frankly gratified, but never moved to triumph; in the second, he met the opposition with candour; but was never brow-beaten from defending his cause with courage, even by the most eminent antagonist.
Both father and daughter shared his favour alike; and both returned it with an always augmenting attachment.
The setting, but with glory setting, sun of Mrs. Delany, was still glowing with all the warmth of generous friendship, all the capabilities of mental exertion, and all the ingenuous readiness for enjoyment of innocent pleasure,—or nearly all—that had irradiated its brilliant rise.
She was venerated by Dr. Burney, whom most sincerely, in return, she admired, esteemed, and liked. She has left, indeed, a lasting proof of her kind disposition to him in her narrative of Anastasia Robinson, Countess of Peterborough; which, at the request of Dr. Burney, she dictated, in her eighty-seventh year, to her much-attached and faithful amanuensis, Anna Astley; and which the Doctor has printed in the fourth volume of his History.
Mrs. Delany had known and loved Anastasia Robinson while she was a public concert and opera singer. The uncommon musical talents of that songstress were seconded by such faultless and sweet manners, and a life so irreproachable, that she was received by ladies of the first rank and character upon terms nearly of equality; though so modest was her demeanour, that the born distance between them was never by herself forgotten. She was peculiarly a favourite with the bosom friend of Mrs. Delany, the Duchess of Portland, whose mother, the Countess of Oxford, had been the first patroness of Anastasia, and had consented to be present, as a witness, as well as a support, at the private and concealed marriage of that syren of her day with the famous and martial Earl of Peterborough.
A narrative such as this, and so well authenticated, could not but cause great satisfaction to Dr. Burney, in holding to view such splendid success to the power of harmony, when accompanied by virtue.
This increase of intercourse with Mrs. Delany, was a source of gentle pleasure in perfect concord with the Doctor’s present turn of mind; and trebly welcome on account of his daughter, to whose poignant grief for the loss of Mr. Crisp it was a solace the most seasonable. Her description of its soothing effect, which is gratefully recorded in her diary to her sister at Boulogne, may here, perhaps, not unacceptably be copied for the reader, as a further picture of this venerable widow of one of the most favourite friends of Dean Swift.
“July 18, 1783.—I called again, my dear Susan, upon the sweet Mrs. Delany, whom every time I see I feel myself to love even more than I admire. And how dear, how consolatory is it to me to be honoured with so much of her favour, as to find her always eager, upon every meeting, to fix a time for another and another visit! How truly desirable are added years, where the spirit of life evaporates not before its extinction! She is as generously awake to the interests of those she loves, as if her own life still claimed their responsive sympathies. There is something in her quite angelic. I feel no cares when with her. I think myself with the true image and representative of our so loved maternal Grandmother, in whose presence not only all committal of evil, even in thought, was impossible, but its sufferance, also, seemed immaterial, from the higher views that the very air she breathed imparted. This composure, and these thoughts, are not for lasting endurance! Yet it is salubrious to feel them even for a few hours. I wish my Susan knew her. I would not give up my knowledge of her for the universe. I spend with her all the time I have at my own disposal; and nothing has so sensibly calmed my mind, since our fatal Chesington deprivation, as her society. The religious turn which kindness, united to wisdom, in old age, gives, involuntarily, to all commerce with it, beguiles us out of anxiety and misery a thousand times more successfully than all the forced exertions of gaiety from dissipation.”
If such was the benefit reaped by the daughter from this animated and very uncommon friendship, the great age of one of the parties at its formation considered, who can wonder at the glad as well as proud encouragement which it met with from Dr. Burney?
But the cordial the most potent to the feelings and the spirits of the Doctor, in this hard-trying year, was the exhilarating partiality displayed towards him by Mr. Burke; and which was doubly soothing by warmly and constantly including the Memorialist in its urbanity. From the time of the party at Sir Joshua Reynolds’ upon Richmond Hill, their intercourse had gone on with increase of regard. They met, and not unfrequently, at various places; but chiefly at Sir Joshua Reynolds’, Miss Moncton’s, and Mrs. Vesey’s. Mr. Burke delighted in society as much as of society he was the supreme delight: and perhaps to this social disposition he owed that part of his oratorical excellence that made it so entertainingly varying, and so frequently interspersed with penetrating reflections on human life.
But to the political circle to which Mr. Burke and his powers were principally devoted, Dr. Burney was, accidentally, a stranger. Accidentally may be said, for it was by no means deliberately, as he was not of any public station or rank that demanded any restrictions to his mental connexions. He was excursive, therefore, in his intercourse, though fixed in his principles.
But besides the three places above named, Mr. Burke himself, from the period of the assembly at Miss Moncton’s, had the grace and amiability to drop in occasionally, uninvited and unexpectedly, to the little tea-table of St. Martin’s-street; where his bright welcome from the enchanted Memorialist, for whom he constantly inquired when the Doctor was abroad, repaid him—in some measure, perhaps—for almost always missing the chief of whom he came in search.
The Doctor, also, when he had half an hour to spare, took the new votary of Mr. Burke to visit him and his pleasing wife, at their apartments at the Treasury, where now was their official residence. And here they saw, with wonder and admiration, amidst the whirl of politics and the perplexities of ministerial arrangements, in which Mr. Burke, then in the administration, was incessantly involved, how cheerfully, how agreeably, how vivaciously, he could still be the most winning of domestic men, the kindest of husbands, the fondest of fathers, and the most delightful of friends.
During one of these visits to the Treasury, Mr. Burke presented to Miss Palmer a beautiful inkstand, with a joined portfolio, upon some new construction, and finished up with various contrivances, equally useful and embellishing. Miss Palmer accepted it with great pleasure, but not without many conscious glances towards the Memorialist, which, at last, broke out into an exclamation: “I am ashamed to take it, Mr. Burke! how much more Miss Burney deserves a writing present!”
“Miss Burney?” repeated he, with energy; “Fine writing tackle for Miss Burney? No, no; she can bestow value on the most ordinary. A morsel of white tea-paper, and a little blacking from her friend Mr. Briggs, in a broken gallipot, would be converted by Miss Burney into more worth than all the stationery of all the Treasury.”
This gay and ingenious turn, which made the compliment as gratifying to one, as the present could be to the other, raised a smile of general archness at its address in the company; and of comprehensive delight in Dr. Burney.
The year 1783 was now on its wane; so was the administration in which Mr. Burke was a minister; when one day, after a dinner at Sir Joshua Reynolds’, Mr. Burke drew Dr. Burney aside, and, with great delicacy, and feeling his way, by the most investigating looks, as he proceeded, said that the organist’s place at Chelsea College was then vacant: that it was but twenty pounds a year, but that, to a man of Dr. Burney’s eminence, if it should be worth acceptance, it might be raised to fifty. He then lamented that, during the short time in which he had been Paymaster General, nothing better, and, indeed, nothing else had occurred more worthy of offering.
Trifling as this was in a pecuniary light, and certainly far beneath the age or the rank in his profession of Dr. Burney, to possess any thing through the influence, or rather the friendship of Mr. Burke, had a charm irresistible. The Doctor wished, also, for some retreat from, yet near London; and he had reason to hope for apartments, ere long, in the capacious Chelsea College. He therefore warmly returned his acknowledgments for the proposal, to which he frankly acceded.
And two days after, just as the news was published of a total change of administration, Dr. Burney received from Mr. Burke the following notice of his vigilant kindness:—
“To Dr. Burney.
“I had yesterday the pleasure of voting you, my dear Sir, a salary of fifty pounds a year, as organist to Chelsea Hospital. But as every increase of salary made at our Board is subject to the approbation of the Lords of the Treasury, what effect the change now made may have I know not;—but I do not think any Treasury will rescind it.
“This was pour faire la bonne bouche at parting with office; and I am only sorry that it did not fall in my way to shew you a more substantial mark of my high respect for you and Miss Burney.
“I have the honour to be, &c.
“Horse Guards, Dec. 9, 1783.”
“I really could not do this business at a more early period, else it would have been done infallibly.”
The pleasure of Dr. Burney at this event was sensibly dampt when he found that la bonne bouche so kindly made for himself, and so flatteringly uniting his daughter in its intentions, was unallied to any species of remuneration, or even of consideration, to Mr. Burke himself, for all his own long willing services, his patriotic exertions for the general good, and his noble, even where erroneous, efforts to stimulate public virtue.
A short time afterwards, Mr. Burke called himself in St. Martin’s-street, and,—for the Doctor, as usual, was not at home,—Mr. Burke, as usual, had the condescension to inquire for this Memorialist; whom he found alone.
He entered the room with that penetrating look, yet open air, that marked his demeanour where his object in giving was, also, to receive pleasure; and in uttering apologies of as much elegance for breaking into her time, as if he could possibly be ignorant of the honour he did her; or blind to the delight with which it was felt.
He was anxious, he said, to make known in person that the business of the Chelsea Organ was finally settled at the Treasury.
Difficult would it be, from the charm of his manner as well as of his words, to decide whether he conveyed this communication with most friendliness or most politeness: but, having delivered for Dr. Burney all that officially belonged to the business, he thoughtfully, a moment, paused; and then impressively said: “This is my last act of office!”
He pronounced these words with a look that almost affectionately displayed his satisfaction that it should so be bestowed; and with such manly self-command of cheerfulness in the midst of frankly undisguised regret that all his official functions were over, that his hearer was sensibly, though silently touched, by such distinguishing partiality. Her looks, however, she hopes, were not so mute as her voice, for those of Mr. Burke seemed responsively to accept their gratitude. He reiterated, then, his kind messages to the Doctor, and took leave.
The reviving ray of pleasure that gleamed from the kindness of Mr. Burke at the close of the fatal year 1783, still spread its genial warmth over Dr. Burney at the beginning of 1784, by brightening a hope of recovery for Dr. Johnson; a hope which, though frequently dimmed, cast forth, from time to time, a transitory lustre nearly to this year’s conclusion.
Dr. Burney now was become a member of the Literary Club; in which he found an association so select, yet so various, that there were few things, either of business or pleasure, that he ever permitted to interfere with his attendance. Where, indeed, could taste point out, or genius furnish, a society to meet his wishes, if that could fail which had the decided national superiority of Johnson and Burke at its head? while Banks, Beauclerk, Boswell, Colman, Courtney, Eliot (Earl,) Fox, Gibbon, Hamilton (Sir William,) Hinchcliffe, Jones, Macartney (Earl,) Malone, Percy, Reynolds, Scott (Lord Sewel,) Sheridan, Spencer (Earl,) Windham, and many others of high and acknowledged abilities, successively entering, marked this assemblage as the pride—not of this meeting alone, but of the Classical British Empire of the day.
It had been the original intention of Dr. Johnson, when this club, of which the idea was conceived by Sir Joshua Reynolds, was in contemplation, to elect amongst its members some one of noted reputation in every art, science, and profession; to the end that solid information might elucidate every subject that should be started. This profound suggestion, nevertheless, was either passed over, or overruled.
It is probable that those, so much the larger portion of mankind, who love light and desultory discourse, were persuaded they should find more amusement in wandering about the wilds of fanciful conjecture, than in submitting to be disciplined by the barriers of systemized conviction.
Brightly forward at this club came Mr. Windham, of Felbrig, amongst those whose penetration had long since preceded the public voice in ranking Dr. Burney as a distinguished Man of Letters. And from the date of these meetings, their early esteem was augmented into partial, yet steady regard.
Mr. Windham was a true and first rate gentleman; polite, cultivated, learned, upright, and noble-minded. To an imagination the most ardent for whatever could issue from native genius in others, he joined a charm of manner that gave an interest to whatever he uttered himself; no matter how light, how slight, how unimportant; that invested it with weight and pleasure to his auditor: while in his smile there was a gentleness that singularly qualified an almost fiery animation in his words. To speak, however, of his instantaneous powers of pleasing,—though it be conferring on him one of the least common of Nature’s gifts, as well as one of the fairest,—is insufficient to characterize the peculiar charm of his address; for it was not simply the power of pleasing that he possessed—it was rather that of winning.
In the ensuing spring and summer, a new and brilliant professional occupation fell, fortunately, to the task of Dr. Burney, drawing him from his cares, and beguiling him from his sorrows, by notes of sweetest melody, and combinations of the most intricate, yet sound harmony; for this year, which completed a century from the birth of Handel, was allotted for a public Commemoration of that great musician and his works.
Dr. Burney, justly proud of the honour paid to the chief of that art of which he was a professor, was soon, and instinctively wound up to his native spirits, by the exertions which were called forth in aid of this noble enterprise. He suggested fresh ideas to the Conductors; he was consulted by all the Directors; and his advice and experience enlightened every member of the business in whatever walk he moved.
Not content, however, to be merely a counsellor to a celebration of such eclât in his own career, he resolved upon becoming the Historian of the transaction; and upon devoting to it his best labours gratuitously, by presenting them to the fund for the benefit of decayed musicians and their families.
This offer, accordingly, he made to the honourable Directors; by whom it was accepted with pleasure and gratitude.
He now delegated all his powers to the furtherance of this grand scheme; and drew up a narrative of the festival, with so much delight in recording the disinterestedness of its voluntary performers; its services to the superannuated or helpless old labourers of his caste; and the splendid success of the undertaking; that his history of the performances in Commemoration of Handel, presents a picture so vivid of that superb entertainment, that those who still live to remember it, must seem to witness its stupendous effects anew: and those of later days, who can know of it but by tradition, must bewail their little chance of ever personally hearing such magnificent harmony; or beholding a scene so glorious of royal magnificence and national enthusiasm.
Dr. Johnson was wont to say, with a candour that, though admirable, was irresistibly comic, “I always talk my best!” and, with equal singleness of truth it might be said of Dr. Burney, that, undertake what he would, he always did his best.
In writing, therefore, this account, he conceived he should make it more interesting by preceding it with the Memoirs of Handel. And for this purpose, he applied to all his German correspondents, to acquire materials concerning the early life of his hero; and to all to whom Handel had been known, either personally or traditionally, in England and Ireland, for anecdotes of his character and conduct in the British empire. Mrs. Delany here, and by the desire of the King himself, supplied sundry particulars; her brother, Mr. Granville, having been one of the patrons of this immortal composer.
And next, to render the work useful, he inserted a statement of the cash received in consequence of the five musical performances, with the disbursement of the sums to their charitable purposes; and an abstract of the general laws and resolutions of the fund for the support of decayed musicians and their families.
And lastly, he embellished it with several plates, representing Handel, or in honour of Handel; and with two views, from original designs, of the interior of Westminster Abbey during the Commemoration: the first representing the galleries prepared for the reception of their Majesties, of the Royal Family, of the Directors, Archbishops, Bishops, Dean and Chapter of Westminster, heads of the law, &c. &c.
The second view displaying the orchestra and performers, in the costume of the day.
Not small in the scales of justice must be reckoned this gift of the biographical and professional talents of Dr. Burney to the musical fund. A man who held his elevation in his class of life wholly from himself; a father of eight children, who all looked up to him as their prop; a professor who, at fifty-eight years of age, laboured at his calling with the indefatigable diligence of youth; and who had no time, even for his promised History, but what he spared from his repasts or his repose; to make any offering, gratuitously, of a work which, though it might have no chance of sale when its eclât of novelty was passed, must yet, while that short eclât shone forth, have a sale of high emolument; manifested, perhaps, as generous a spirit of charity, and as ardent a love of the lyre, as could well, by a person in so private a line of life, be exhibited.
Dr. Burney was, of course, so entirely at home on a subject such as this, that he could only have to wait the arrival of his foreign materials to go to work; and only begin working to be in sight of his book’s completion: but the business of the plates could not be executed quite so rapidly; on the contrary, though the composition was finished in a few weeks, it was not till the following year that the engravings were ready for publication.
This was a laxity of progress that by no means kept pace with the eagerness of the Directors, or the expectations of the public: and the former frequently made known their disappointment through the channel of the Earl of Sandwich; who, at the same time, entered into correspondence with the Doctor, relative to future anniversary concerts upon a similar plan, though upon a considerably lessened scale to that which had been adopted for the Commemoration.
The inconveniences, however, of this new labour, though by no means trifling, because absorbing all the literary time of the Doctor, to the great loss and procrastination of his musical history, had compensations, that would have mitigated much superior evil.
The King himself deigned to make frequent inquiry into the state of the business; and when his Majesty knew that the publication was retarded only by the engravers, he desired to see the loose and unbound sheets of the work, which he perused with so strong an interest in their contents, that he drew up two critical notes upon them, with so much perspicuity and justness, that Dr. Burney, unwilling to lose their purport, yet not daring to presume to insert them with the King’s name in any appendix, cancelled the two sheets to which they had reference, and embodied their meaning in his own text. At this he was certain the King could not be displeased, as it was with his Majesty’s consent that they had been communicated to the doctor, by Mr. Nicolai, a page of the Queen’s.
Now, however, there seems to be no possible objection to giving to the public these two notes from the original royal text, as the unassuming tone of their advice cannot but afford a pleasing reminiscence to those by whom that benevolent monarch was known; while to those who are too young to recollect him, they may still be a matter of laudable curiosity. And they will obviate, also, any ignorant imputation of flattery, in the praise which is inserted in the dedication of the Work to the King; and which will be subjoined to these original notes.
From the hand-writing of his Majesty George III.
“It seems but just, as well as natural, in mentioning the 4th Hautbois Concerto, on the 4th day’s performance of Handel’s Commemoration, to take notice of the exquisite taste and propriety Mr. Fischer exhibited in the solo parts; which must convince his hearers that his excellence does not exist alone in performing his own composition; and that his tone perfectly filled the stupendous building where this excellent concerto was performed.”
From the same.
“The performance of the Messiah.
“Dr. Burney seems to forget the great merit of the choral fugue, ‘He trusteth in God,’ by asserting that the words would admit of no stroke of passion. Now the real truth is, that the words contain a manifest presumption and impertinence, which Handel has, in the most masterly manner, taken advantage of. And he was so conscious of the moral merit of that movement, that, whenever he was desired to sit down to the harpsichord, if not instantly inclined to play, he used to take this subject; which ever set his imagination at work, and made him produce wonderful capriccios.”
From Dr. Burney’s Dedication.
“That pleasure in music should be complete, science and nature must assist each other. A quick sensibility of melody and harmony is not often originally bestowed; and those who are born with this susceptibility of modulated sounds are often ignorant of its principles, and must, therefore, in a great degree be delighted by chance. But when your Majesty is present, the artists may congratulate themselves upon the attention of a judge, in whom all requisites concur, who hears them not merely with instinctive emotion, but with rational approbation; and whose praise of Handel is not the effusion of credulity, but the emanation of science.”
With feelings the most poignant, and a pen the most reluctant, the Memorialist must now relate an event which gave peculiar and lasting concern to Dr. Burney; and which, though long foreseen, had lost nothing, either from expectation or by preparation, of its inherent unfitness.
About the middle of this year, Mrs. Thrale put an end to the alternate hopes and fears of her family and friends, and to her own torturing conflicts, by a change of name that, for the rest of her life, produced nearly a change of existence.
Her station in society, her fortune, her distinguished education, and her conscious sense of its distinction; and yet more, her high origin—a native honour, which had always seemed the glory of her self-appreciation; all had contributed to lift her so eminently above the witlessly impetuous tribe, who immolate fame, interest, and duty to the shrine of passion, that the outcry of surprise and censure raised throughout the metropolis by these unexpected nuptials, was almost stunning in its jarring noise of general reprobation; resounding through madrigals, parodies, declamation, epigrams, and irony.
And yet more deeply wounding was the concentrated silence of those faithful friends who, at the period of her bright display of talents, virtues, and hospitality, had attached themselves to her person with sincerity and affection.
Dr. Johnson excepted, none amongst the latter were more painfully impressed than Dr. Burney; for none with more true grief had foreseen the mischief in its menace, or dreaded its deteriorating effect on her maternal devoirs. Nevertheless, conscious that if he had no weight, he had also no right over her actions, he hardened not his heart, when called upon by an appeal, from her own hand, to give her his congratulations; but, the deed once irreversible, civilly addressed himself to both parties at once, with all of conciliatory kindness in good wishes and regard, that did least violence to his sentiments and principles.
Far harder was the task of his daughter, on receiving from the new bride a still more ardent appeal, written at the very instant of quitting the altar: she had been trusted while the conflict still endured; and her opinions and feelings had unreservedly been acknowledged in all their grief of opposition: and their avowal had been borne, nay, almost bowed down to, with a liberality of mind, a softness of affection, a nearly angelic sweetness of temper, that won more fondly than ever the heart that they rived with pitying anguish,— —till the very epoch of the second marriage.
Yet, strange to tell! all this contest of opinion, and dissonance of feeling, seemed, at the altar, to be suddenly, but in totality forgotten! and the bride wrote to demand not alone kind wishes for her peace and welfare—those she had no possibility of doubting—but joy, wishing joy; but cordial felicitations upon her marriage!
These, and so abruptly, to have accorded, must, even in their pleader’s eyes, have had the semblance, and more than the semblance, of the most glaring hypocrisy.
A compliance of such inconsistency—such falsehood—the Memorialist could not bestow; her answer, therefore, written in deep distress, and with regrets unspeakable, was necessarily disappointing; disappointment is inevitably chilling; and, after a painful letter or two, involving mistake and misapprehension, the correspondence—though not on the side of the Memorialist—abruptly dropt.
The minuter circumstances of this grievous catastrophe to a connexion begun with the most brilliant delight, and broken up with the acutest sorrow, might seem superfluous in the Memoirs of Dr. Burney: yet, in speaking of him Biographically, in his Fatherly capacity, it is necessarily alluded to, for the purpose of stating that the conduct of his daughter, throughout the whole of this afflicting and complex transaction, from the time he was acquainted with its difficulties, had his uniform, nay, warmest sanction.
And not more complete in concurrence upon this subject were their opinions than was their unhappiness; and the Doctor always waited, and his daughter always panted, for any opportunity that might re-open so dear a friendship, without warring against their principles, or disturbing their reverence for truth.
Fortunately, and most seasonably, just about the time that these extraordinary nuptials were in agitating approach, an intercourse the most benign was opened between the family of Dr. Burney and that of Mr. Locke, of Norbury Park.
The value of such an intercourse was warmly appreciated by Dr. Burney, to whose taste it was sympathy, and to whose feelings it was animation: while the period at which it took place, that of a blight the most baneful to himself and his second daughter, gave to it a character of salubrity as restorative to their nerves as it was soothing to their hearts.
What, indeed, of blight, of baleful, could adhere to, could commix with the Lockes of Norbury Park? All that could be devised, rather than described, of virtue with hilarity, of imagination with wisdom, appeared there to make their stand. A mansion of classical elegance; a situation bright, varied, bewitching in picturesque attraction; a chief in whom every high quality under heaven seemed concentrated; a partner to that chief uniting the closest mental resemblance to the embellishment of the most captivating beauty; a progeny blithe, blooming, and intelligent, encircling them like grouping angels—exhibited, all together, a picture of happiness so sanctified by virtue; of talents so ennobled by character; of religion so always manifested by good works; that Norbury Park presented a scene of perfection that seemed passing reality! and even while viewed and enjoyed, to wear the air of a living vision of ideal felicity.
The first visit that Dr. Burney paid to this incomparable spot was in company with Sir Joshua Reynolds.
No place would be more worthy the painter’s eye, and painter’s mind of the knight of Plympton than this; and he entered into all the merits of the mansion, its dwellers, and its scenery, with a vivacity of approvance, as gratifying to his elegant host and hostess, as to himself were the objects of taste, fancy, and fine workmanship, with which he was encircled in that school, or assemblage of the fine arts, which seemed in Mr. Locke to exhibit a living Apollo at their head: while the delicacy, the feeling, the witching softness of his fair partner, expanded a genial cheerfulness that seemed to bloom around her wherever she looked or moved.
The conversation of Mr. Locke was a source inexhaustible of instruction, conveyed in language at once so sensitive and so pointed; with a tone, a manner, a look so impressively in harmony with every word that he uttered; that observations of a depth and a novelty that seemed to demand the most lengthened discussion, obtained immediate comprehension, if his hearer examined the penetration of his countenance while he listened to that of his voice.
His taste, alike in works of nature and of art, was profound in itself and illuminating to others: yet, from his habitual silence in mixt companies, the most strikingly amiable parts of his character could be developed only on his own domain, amidst his family, his friends, his neighbours, and the poor: where the refinement of his converse, and the melting humanity of his disposition, reflected genial lustre on each other.
Here, too, the knight of Plympton made a leisurely survey of the extraordinary early sketches of the eldest son of the mansion’s Apollo; who, for boundless invention, exquisite taste, and masterly sketches of original execution, was gifted with a genius that mocked all contemporary rivalry.
Dr. Burney himself, at home in all the arts, partook of this entertainment with his usual animated pleasure in excellence; while in all that accompanied it of literary or social description, he as often led as followed these distinguished conversers.
But the exhilaration of this almost heavenly sojourn—for such, to its guests, it had appeared—was succeeded by an alarm to the heart of Dr. Burney the most intense, perhaps, by which it could be attacked; an alarm deeply affecting his comforts, his wishes, and the happiness of his whole house, from a menace of consumption to his daughter Susanna, which demanded a rapid change of air, and forced a hasty and immediate trial of that of Boulogne sur Mer.
The motive, however, of the little voyage, with its hope, made Dr. Burney submit to it with his accustomed rational resignation; though severe, nearly lacerating, was every separation from that beloved child; and though suspense and fear hovered over him unremittingly during the whole of the ensuing winter.
Doubly, therefore, now, was felt the acquisition of the Lockes, the charm of whose intercourse was endowed with powers the most balsamic for alleviating, though it could not heal, the pain of this fearful wound, through their sympathizing knowledge of the virtues of the invalid; their appreciation of her sweetness of disposition, their taste for her society, their enjoyment of her talents, and their admiration of her conduct and character; of her patience in suffering, her fortitude in adversity; her mild submission to every inevitable evil, with her noble struggles against every calamity that firmness, vigour, or toil, might prevent, or might distance. They loved her as she merited to be loved! and almost as she loved them in return; for their souls were in unison of excellence.
But while the Lockes thus afforded a gentle and genial aid towards sustaining the illness and absence of Mrs. Phillips, it was not by superseding, but by blending in sweet harmony with the support afforded by Mrs. Delany: and if the narration given of that lady has, in any degree, drawn the reader to join in the admiration with which she inspired Dr. Burney, he will not be sorry to see a further account of her, taken again from the Diary addressed to Mrs. Phillips.
“To Mrs. Phillips.
“I have just passed a delicious day, my Susanna, with Mrs. Delany; the most pleasing I have spent with her yet. She entrusted to me her collection of letters from Dean Swift and Dr. Young; and told me all the anecdotes that occurred to her of both, and of her acquaintance with them. How grievous that her sight continues enfeebling! all her other senses, and all her faculties are perfect—though she thinks otherwise. ‘My friends,’ she said, ‘will last me, I believe, as long as I last, because they are very good; but the pleasure of our friendship is now all to be received by me! for I have lost the power of returning any!’
“If she spoke on any other subject such untruths, I should not revere her, as I now do, to my heart’s core. She had been in great affliction at the death of Lady Mansfield; for whom the Duchess Dowager of Portland had grieved, she said, yet more deeply: and they had shut themselves up together from all other company. ‘But to-day,’ she added, with a most soft smile, ‘her Grace could not come; and I felt I quite required a cordial,—so I sent to beg for Miss Burney.’
“‘I have been told,’ she afterwards said, ‘that when I grew older, I should feel less; but I do not find it so! I am sooner, I think, hurt and affected than ever. I suppose it is with very old age as with extreme youth, the effect of weakness; neither of those stages of life have firmness for bearing misfortune with equanimity.’
“She keeps her good looks, however, unimpaired, except in becoming thinner; and, when not under the pressure of recent grief, she is as lively, gay, pleasant, and good-humouredly arch and playful, as she could have been at eighteen.
“‘I see, indeed,’ she said, ‘worse and worse, but I am thankful that, at my age, eighty-four, I can see at all. My chief loss is from not more quickly discerning the changes of countenance in my friends. However, to distinguish even the light is a great blessing!’
“She had no company whatever, but her beautiful great niece. The Duchess was confined to her home by a bad cold.
“She was so good as to shew me a most gracious letter from her Majesty, which she had just received, and which finished thus condescendingly:
“Believe me, my dear Mrs. Delany,
“Your affectionate Queen,
Fortunately, also, now, Dr. Burney increased the intimacy of his acquaintance with Mr. Smelt, formerly sub-governor to the Prince of Wales; a man who, for displaying human excellence in the three essential points of Understanding, Character, and Conduct, stood upon the same line of acknowledged perfection with Mr. Locke of Norbury Park. And had that virtuous and anxious parent of his people, George III., known them both at the critical instant when he was seeking a model of a true fine gentleman, for the official situation of preceptor to the heir of his sovereignty; he might have had to cope with the most surprising of difficulties, that of seeing before his choice two men, in neither of whom he could espy a blemish that could cast a preference upon the other.
The worth of both these gentlemen was known upon proof: their talents, accomplishments, and taste in the arts and in literature, were singularly similar. Each was soft and winning of speech, but firm and intrepid of conduct; and their manners, their refined high breeding, were unrivalled, save each by the other. And while the same, also, was their reputation for integrity and honour, as for learning and philosophy, the first personal delight of both was in the promotion and exercise of those gentle charities of human life, which teach us to solace and to aid our fellow-creatures.
END OF THE SECOND VOLUME.
BRADBURY AND EVANS, PRINTERS, BOUVERIE STREET.
 By the second marriage.
 Now the Honourable Mrs. Robinson.
 The Doctor’s eldest daughter.
 This early celebrated performer, now in the decline of life, after losing her health, and nearly out-living her friends, is reduced, not by faults but misfortunes, to a state of pecuniary difficulties, through which she must long since have sunk, but for the generous succour of some personages as high in benevolence as in rank. Should this appeal awaken some new commiserators of talents and integrity, bowed down by years and distress, they will find, in a small apartment, No. 58, in Great Portland-street, a feeble, but most interesting person, who is truly deserving of every kind impulse she may excite.
 She is assisted, occasionally, by many noble ladies; but the Earl of Mount Edgcumbe is her most active patron.
 Pacchiorotti had not yet visited England.
 Afterwards Lord Cardigan.
 Afterwards Lord Malmsbury.
 Afterwards Bishop of Durham.
 Now Viscountess Keith.
 See Correspondence.
 This has reference wholly to Bolt Court, where he constantly retained his home: at Streatham, continually as he there resided, it was always as a guest.
 Afterwards Mrs. Phillips.
 The present Mrs. Broome.
 Mrs. Burney, of Bath.
 Now Viscountess Keith.
 Afterwards Author of Biographiana.
 His fifth daughter, Sarah Harriet, was then a child.
 His nephew and heir, he sent over to London to be educated.
 See Correspondence.
 This was written in the year 1828.
 The first volume of this work was nearly printed, when the Editor had the grief of hearing that Sir Walter Scott was no more. In the general sorrow that his loss has spread throughout the British Empire, she presumes not to speak of her own: but she cannot persuade herself to annul the little tribute, by which she had meant to demonstrate to him her sense of the vivacity with which he had sought out her dwelling; invited her to the hospitality of his daughters at Abbotsford; and courteously, nay, eagerly, offered to do the honours of Scotland to her himself, from that celebrated abode.
In a subsequent visit with which he honoured and delighted her in the following year, she produced to him the scraps of documents and fragments which she had collected from ancient diaries and letters, in consequence of his inquiries. Pleased he looked; but told her that what already she had related, already—to use his own word—he had “noted;” adding, “And most particularly, I have not forgotten your mulberry tree!”
This little history, however, was so appropriately his own, and was written so expressly with a view to its dedication, that still, with veneration—though with sadness instead of gladness—she leaves the brief exordium of her intended homage in its original state.—And the less reluctantly, as the companion of his kindness and his interrogatories will still—she hopes—accept, and not unwillingly, his own share in the small offering.
 Edward Burney, Esq., of Clipstone-street.
 See Correspondence.
 Sir Walter Scott was then a child.
 Now Viscountess Keith.
 The Editor, at the date of this letter, knew not that the club to which Dr. Johnson alluded, was that which was denominated his own,—or The Literary Club.
 Afterwards Lord Ashburton.
 Afterwards Sir William Weller Pepys.
 Afterwards Lord Sheffield.
 Now Mrs. Alison, of Edinburgh.
 Translator of Tacitus.
 Dr. Johnson told this to the Editor.
 Dr. Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women.
 This was so strongly observed by Mrs. Maling, mother to the Dowager Countess of Mulgrave, that she has often exclaimed to this Memorialist, “Why did not Sir Joshua Reynolds paint Dr. Johnson when he was speaking to Dr. Burney or to you?”
 Dr. Lawrence, Sir Richard Jebb, Dr. Warren, Sir Lucas Pepys.
 By the Countess of Tankerville.
 Afterwards George the Fourth.
 Miss Susanna Burney, afterwards Mrs. Phillips.
 Miss Palmer.
 Now Marquis of Stafford.
 Now Viscountess Keith.
 Afterward Marquis of Lansdowne, who first rented Mrs. Thrale’s house at Streatham.
 Sir William Weller Pepys, when he was eighty-four years of age, told this Memorialist that he was the only male member then remaining of the original set; and that Mrs. Hannah More was the only remaining female.
 This only treats of the Blue Meetings; not of the general assemblies of Montagu House, which were conducted like all others in the circles of high life.
 Every May-day, Mrs. Montagu gave an annual breakfast in the front of her new mansion, of roast beef and plum pudding, to all the chimney sweepers of the Metropolis.
 It was here, at Mrs. Montagu’s, that Doctor Burney had the happiness to see open to this Memorialist an acquaintance with Mr. and Mrs. Locke, which led, almost magically, to an intercourse that formed,—and still forms, one of the first felicities of her life.
 Now Countess of Cork.
 The present Memorialist surprised him, one day, so palpably employed in such an investigation, that, seeing her startled, he looked almost ashamed; but, frankly laughing at the silent detection, he cried: “When do you come to sit to me? I am quite ready!” making a motion with his hand as if advancing it with a pencil to a canvass: “All prepared!” intimating that he had settled in his thoughts the disposition of her portrait.
 The means for charitable contributions upon so liberal a scale as those of Sir W. W. Pepys, may, perhaps, be deduced, by analogy, from his wise and rare spirit of calculation: how to live with the Greater and the Richer, and yet escape either the risk of ruin, or the charge of meanness. “When I think it right,” said he, in a visit which he made to this Memorialist, after walking, and alone, at eighty-five, from Gloucester-place to Bolton-street, about three weeks before his death, “When I think it right, whether for the good of my excellent children, or for my own pleasure,—or for my little personal dignity, to invite some wealthy Noble to dine with me, I make it a point not to starve my family, or my poor pensioners, for a year afterwards, by emulating his lordship’s, or his grace’s, table-fare. I give, therefore, but a few dishes, and two small courses; all my care is, that every thing shall be well served, and the best of its kind. And when we sit down, I frankly tell them my plan; upon which my guests, more flattered by that implied acknowledgment of their superior rank and rent-roll, than they could possibly be by any attempt at emulation; and happy to find that they shall make no breach in my domestic economy and comfort, immediately fall to, with an appetite that would surprise you! and that gives me the greatest gratification. I do not suppose that they anywhere make a more hearty meal.”
 Mr. Cambridge was a potent contributor to the periodical paper called The World; for which Mr. Jenyns, also, occasionally wrote.
 Swift’s Long-Eared Letter.
 Now Mrs. Alison, of Edinburgh.
 Daughter of John Granville, Esq., and niece of Pope’s Granville, the then Lord Lansdowne, “of every Muse the Friend.”
 See Sir Walter Scott’s Life of Swift.
 This invaluable unique work has lately been purchased by —— Hall, Esq.; a son-in-law of Mrs. Delany’s favourite niece, Mrs. Waddington.
 Since Lord Rokeby.
 Mrs. Montagu.
 Now Mrs. Agnew, the amanuensis and attendant of Mrs. Delany.
 Miss Larolles, now, would say eleven or twelve.
 Mrs. Burney, of Bath.
 Charlotte, now Mrs. Broome; the youngest daughter, Sarah Harriet, was still a child.
 See Correspondence.
 M. Berquin, some years later, was nominated preceptor to the unfortunate Louis XVII., but was soon dismissed by the inhuman monsters who possessed themselves of the person of that crownless orphan King.
 See Correspondence.
 Now Madame Adelaide, sister to Louis Philippe.
 Madame de Genlis, in her Memoirs, mentions this appointment in terms of less dignity.
 This maladie du pays has pursued and annoyed her through life; except when incidentally surprised away by peculiar persons, or circumstances.
 “Mr. Bewley, for more than twenty years, supplied the editor of the Monthly Review with an examination of innumerable works in science, and articles of foreign literature, written with a force, spirit, candour, and, when the subject afforded opportunity, humour, not often found in critical discussions.”
 Now Mrs. Broome.
 This bore reference to an expression of Dr. Johnson’s, upon hearing that Mrs. Montagu resented his Life of Lord Lyttleton.
The Diary Letter to Susannah, whence these two billets are copied, finishes with this paragraph.
“Our dear father, as eager as myself that our most reverenced Dr. Johnson should not be hurt or offended, spared me the coach, and to Bolt Court I went in the evening: and with outspread arms of parental greeting to mark my welcome, was I received. Nobody was there but our brother Charles and Mr. Sastres: and Dr. Johnson, repeatedly thanking me for coming, was, if possible, more instructive, entertaining, and exquisitely fertile than ever; and so full of amenity, and talked so affectionately of our father, that neither Charles nor I could tell how to come away. While he, in return, soothed by exercising his noble faculties with natural, unexcited good-humour and pleasantry, would have kept us, I believe, to this moment—
“You have no objection, I think, my Susan, to a small touch of hyperbole?——
if the coachman and the horses had been as well entertained as ourselves.”
 By Edward Burney, Esq., of Clipstone-street.
 Hester Lynch Salusbury, Mrs. Thrale, was lineally descended from Adam of Saltsburg, who came over to England with the Conqueror.
 The late Sir Thomas Lawrence, in speaking of Norbury Park to this editor, while he was painting his matchless picture of Mrs. Locke, senior, in 1826, said “I have seen much of the world since I was first admitted to Norbury Park,—but I have never seen another Mr. Locke!”
 This, also, was the opinion of Sir Thomas Lawrence.
 Miss Port, now Mrs. Waddington of Llanover House.
 Afterwards George IV.
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