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Though the world saw and heard little of Madame D'Arblay during the last forty years of her life, and though that little did not add to her fame, there were thousands, we believe, who felt a singular emotion when they learned that she was no longer among us. The news of her death carried the minds of men back at one leap, clear over two generations, to the time when her first literary triumphs were won. All those whom we had been accustomed to revere as intellectual patriarchs, seemed children when compared with her; for Burke had sat up all night to read her writings, and Johnson had pronounced her superior to Fielding when Rogers was still aschoolboy, and Southey still in petticoats. Yet more strange did it seem that we should just have lost one whose name had been widely celebrated before anybody had heard of some illustrious mcn who, twenty, thirty, or forty years ago, were, after a long and splendid career, borne with honour to the grave. Yet so it was. Frances Burney was at the height of fame and popularity before Cowper had published his first volume, before Porson had gone up to college, before Pitt had taken his seat in the House of Commons, before the voice of Erskine had been once heard in Westminster Hall. Since the appearance of her first work, sixty-two years had passed; and this interval had been crowded, not only with political, but also with intellectual revolutions. Thousands of reputations had, during that period, sprung up, bloomed, withered, and disappeared. New kinds of composition had come into fashion, haa gone out of fashion, had been derided, had beet forgotten. The fooleries of Della Crusca, and the fooleries of Kotzebue, had for a time bewitched the multitude, who had left no trace behind them; nor had misdirected genius been able to save from decay the once flourishing schools of Godwin, of Darwin, and of Radcliffe. Many books, written for temporary effect, had run through six or seven editions, and had then been gathered to the novels of Afra Behn, and the epic poems of Sir Richard Blackmore. Yet the early works of Madame D'Arblay, in spite of the lapse of years, in spite of the change of manners, in spite of the popularity deservedly obtained by some of her rivals, continued to hold a high place in the public esteem. She lived to be a classic. Time set on her fame, before she went hence, that seal which is seldom set except on the fame of the departed. Like Sir Condy Rackrent in the tale, she survived her own wake, and over“heard the judgment of posterity.
Having always felt a warm and sincere, hough not a blind admiration for her talents, we rejoiced to learn that her Diary was about
* Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay. 8vo. London. 1842
[EDINBURGh Review, JANUARY, 1843.]
to be made public. Our hopes, it is true, were not unmixed with fears. We could not forget the fate of the Memoirs of Dr. Burney, which were published ten years ago. That unfortunate book contained much that was curious and interesting. Yet it was received with a cry of disgust, and was speedily consigned to oblivion. The truth is, that it deserved its doom. It was written in Madame D'Arblay's later style—the worst style that has ever been known among men. No genius, no information, could save from proscription a book so written. We, therefore, opened the Diary with no small anxiety, trembling lest we should light upon some of that particular rhetoric which deforms almost every page of the Memoirs, and which it is impossible to read without a sensation made up of mirth, shame and loathIng. great delight, that this Diary was kept before Madame D'Arblay became eloquent. It is, for the most part, written in her earliest and best manner; in true woman's English, clear, natural, and lively. The two works are lying side by side before us, and we never turn from the Memoirs to the Diary without a sense of relief. The difference is as great as the difference between the atmosphere of a perfumer's shop, fetid with lavender water and jasmine soap, and the air of a heath on a fine morning in May. Both works ought to be consulted by every person who wishes to be well acquainted with the history of our literature and our manners. But to read the Diary is a pleasure; to read the Memoirs will always be a task. We may, perhaps, afford some harmless amusement to our readers if we attempt, with the help of these two books, to give them an account of the most important years of Madame D'Arblay's life. She was descended from a family which bore the name of Macburney, and which, though probably of Irish origin, had been long settled in Shropshire, and was possessed of consider able estates in that county. Unhappily, many years before her birth, the Macburneys began, as if of set purpose and in a spirit of deter. mined rivalry, to expose and rush themselves. The heir-apparent, Mr. James Macburney, offended his father by making a runaway match with an actress from Goodman's Fields. The old gentleman could devise no more judicious mode of wreaking vengeance on uis undutiful boy than by marrying the cook. The cook gave birth to a son named Joseph, who succeeded to all the lands of the family, while James was cut off with a shilling. The favorite son, however, was so extravagant, that he soon became as poor as his disinherited brother. Both were forced to earn their bread by their labour. Joseph turned dancing-master, and settled in Norfolk. James struck off the Mac from the beginning of his
We soon, however, discovered to ourname, and set up as a portrait-paidter at Chester. Here he had a son named Charles, well known as the author of the History of Music, and as the father of two remarkable children, of a son distinguished by learning, and of a daughter still more honourably distinguished by genius. Charles early showed a taste for that art, of which, at a later period, he became the historian. He was apprenticed to a celebrated musician in London, and applied himself to study with vigour and success. He early found a kind and munificent patron in Fulk Greville, a high-born and high-bred man, who seems to have had in large measure all the accomplishments and all the follies, all the virtues and all the vices which, a hundred years ago, were considered as making up the character of a fine gentleman. Under such protection, the young artist had every prospect of a brilliant career in the capital. But his health failed. retreat from the smoke and river fog of London, to the pure air of the coast. He accepted the place of organist at Lynn, and settled at that town with a young lady who had recently become his wife. At Lynn, in June, 1752, Frances Burney was born. Nothing in her childhood indicated that she would, while still a young, woman, ... have secured for herself an honourable and permanent place among English writers. She was shy and silent. Her brothers and sisters called her a dunce, and not altogether without some show of reason; for at eight years old she did not know her letters. In 1760, Mr. Burney quitted Lynn for London, and took a house in Poland Street; a situation which had been fashionable in the reign of Queen Anne, but which, since that time, had been deserted by most of its wealthy and noble inhabitants. He afterwards resided in St. Martin's Street, on the south side of Leicester Square. His house there is still well known, and will continue to be well known, as long as our island retains any trace of civilization; for it was the dwelling of Newton, and the square ***ret which distinguishes it from all the surrounding buildings was Newton's observatory. Mr. Barney at once obtained as many pupils of the most respectable description as he had time to attend, and was thus enabled to support his family, modestly indeed, and frugally, but in comfort and independence. His professional merit obtained for him the degree of Doctor of Music from the University of Oxford; and his works on subjects connected with his art gained for him a place, respectable, though certainly not eminent, among men of letters. * The progress of the mind of Frances Burney, from her. ninth to her twenty-fifth year, well deserves to be recorded. When her education had proceeded no further-than the hornnook, she lost her mother, and thenceforward she educated herself. Her father appears to have been as bad a fatner as a very honest, affectionate, and sweet-tempered man can well
It became necessary for him to .
that of fondling them. It would indeed have been impossible for him to superintend their cducation himself. His professional engagements occupied him all day. At seven in the morning he began to attend his pupils, and when London was full, was sometimes employed in teaching till eleven at night. He was often forced to carry in his pocket a tin box of sandwiches, and a bottle of wine and water, on which he dined in a hackney-coach while hurrying from one scholar to another. Two of his daughters he sent to a seminary at Paris; but he imagined that Frances would run some risk of being perverted from the Protestant faith if she were educated in a Catholic country, and he therefore kept her at home. No governess, no teacher of any art or of any language was provided for her. B one of her sisters showed her how to writ and, before she was fourteen, she began to fin pleasure in reading. It was not, however, by reading that her in tellect was formed. Indeed, when her best novels were produced, her knowledge of books was very small. When at the height of her fame, she was unacquainted with the most celebrated works of Voltaire and Molière, and, what seems still more extraordinary, had never heard or seen a line of Churchill, who, when she was a girl, was the most popular of living poets. It is particularly deserving of observation, that she appears to have been by no means a novel-reader. Her fatner's library was large; and he had admitted into it so many books which rigid moralists generally exclude, that he felt uneasy, as he afterwards owned, when Johnson began to examine the shelves. But in the whole collection there was only a single novel, Fielding's Amelia. • An education, however, which to most girls would have been useless, but which suited Fanny's mind better than elaborate culture, was in constant progress during her passage from childhood to womanhood. The great book of human nature was turned over before, her. Her father's social position was very peculiar. He belonged in fortune and station to the middle class. His daughters seem to have been suffered to mix freely with those whom butlers and waiting-maids call vulgar. We are told that they were in the habit of playing with the children of a wig-maker who lived in the adjoining house. Yet few nobles could assemble in the most stately mansions of Grosvenor Square or St. James's Square, a society so various and so brilliant as was sometimes to be sound in Dr. Burney's cabin. His mind, though not very powerful or capacious, was restlessly active; and, in the intervals of his professional pursuits, he had contrived to lay up much miscellaneous information. His attainments, the suavity of his temper, and the gentle simplicity of his manners, had obtained for him ready admission to the first literary circles. While he was still at Lynn, he had won Johnson's heart by sounding with honest zeal the praises of the English Dictionary. In London the two friends met
be. He loved his daughter dearly, but it never frequently, and agreed most harmoniously. seems to have occurred to him that a parent |One tie, indeed, was wanting to their mutual w other duties to perform to children than attachment, Burney loved his own art pas
... on idolatry.
sionately; and Johnson just knew the bell of St. Clement's Church from the organ. They had, however, many topics in common; and on winter nights their conversations were sometimes prolonged till the fire had gone out, and the candles had burned away to the wicks. Burney's admiration of the powers which had produced Rasselas and The Rambler, bordered He gave a singular proof of this at his first visit to Johnson's ill-furnished gar. ret. The master of the apartment was not at home. The enthusiastic visitor looked about for some relique which he might carry away; but he could see nothing lighter than the chairs and the fire-irons. At last he discovered an old broom, tore some bristles from the stump, wrapped them in silver paper, and departed as happy as Louis IX, when the holy nail of St. Denis was found. Johnson, on the other hand, condescended to growl out that Burney was an honest fellow, a man whom it was impossible not to like. Garrick, too, was a frequent visitor in Poland Street and St. Martin’s Lane. That wonderful actor loved the society of children, partly from good-nature, and partly from vanity. The ecstasies of mirth and terror which his gestures and play of countenance never failed to produce in a nursery, flattered him quite as much as the applause of mature critics. He often exhibited all his powers of mimicry for the amusement of the little Burneys, awed them by shuddering and crouching as if he saw a ghost, scared them by raving like a maniac in St. Luke's and then at once became an auctioneer, a chimney-sweeper, or an old woman, and made them laugh till the tears ran down their cheeks. But it would be tedious to recount the names of all the men of letters and artists whom Frances Burney had an opportunity of seeing and hearing. Colman, Twining, Harris, Baretti, Hawkesworth, Reynolds, Barry, were among those who occasionally surrounded the teatable and supper-tray at her father's modest dwelling. This was not all. The distinction which Dr. Burney had acquired as a musician, and as the historian of music, attracted to his house the most eminent musical performers of that age. The greatest Italian singers who visited England regarded him as the dispenser of fame in their art, and exerted themselves to obtain his suffrage. Pachieroti became his intimate friend. The rapacious Agujari, who sang for nobody else under fifty pounds an air, sang her best for Dr. Burney without a fee; and in the company of Dr. Burney even the haughty and eccentric Gabrielli constrained herself to behave with civility. It was thus in his power to give, with scarcely any expense, concerts equal to those of the aristocracy. On such occasions the quiet street in which he lived was blocked up by coroneted chariots, and his little drawing-room was crowded with peers, peeresses, ministers, and ambassadors. On one evening, of which we happen to have a full account, there were present Lord Mulgrave, Lord Bruce, lord and Lady Edgecumbe, Lord Barrington from the War-Office, Lord Sandwich from the Admiralty, Lord Ashburnham, with his gold key dangling from his
pocket, and the French Ambassador, M. De Guignes, renowned for his fine person and for his success in gallantry. But the great show of the night was the Russian ambassador, Count Orloff, whose gigantic figure was all in a blaze with jewels and in whose demeanour the untamed ferocity of the Scythian might be discerned through a thin varnish of French politeness. As he stalked about the small parlour, brushing the ceiling with his toupee, the girls whispered to each other, with mingled admiration and horror, that he was the favoured lover of his august mistress; that he had borne the chief part in the revolution to which she owed her throne; and that his huge hands, now glittering with diamond rings, had given the last squeeze to the windpipe of her unfortunate husband. With such illustrious guests as these were mingled all the most remarkable specimens of the race of lions—a kind of game which is hunted in London every spring with more than Meltonian ardour and perseverance. Bruce, who had washed down steaks cut from living oxen with water from the fountains of the Nile, came to swagger and talk about his travels. Omai lisped broken English, and made all the assembled musicians hold their ears by howling Otaheitean love-songs, such as those with which Oberea charmed her Opano. With the literary and fashionable society which occasionally met under Dr. Burney's roof, Frances can scarcely be said to have mingled. She was not a musician, and could therefore bear no part in the concerts. She was shy almost to awkwardness, and scarcely ever joined in the conversation. The slightest remark from a stranger disconcerted her; and even the old friends of her father who tried to draw her out could seldom extract more than a Yes or a No. Her figure was small, her face not distinguished by beauty. She was therefore suffered to withdraw quietly to the background, and, unobserved herself, to observe all that passed. Her nearest relations were aware that she had good sense, but seemed not to have suspected, that under her demure and bashful deportment were concealed a fertile invention and a keen sense of the ridiculous. She had not, it is true, an eye for the fine shades of character. But every marked peculiarity instantly caught her notice and remained engraven on her imagination. Thus, while still a girl, she had laid up such a store of materials for fiction as few of those who mix much in the world are able to accumulate during along life. of every class, from princes and great officers of state down to artists living in garrets, and poets familiar with subterranean cook-shops. Hundreds of remarkable persons had passed in review before her, English, French, German, Italian, lords and fiddlers, deans of cathedrals, and managers of theatres, travellers leading about newly caught savages, and singing women escorted by deputy-husbands. So strong was the impression made on the mind of Frances by the society which she was in the habit of seeing and hearing, that she began to write little fictitious narratives as soon as she could use her pen with ease, which, as
She had watched and listened to people. we have said, was not very early. Her sisters were amused by her stories. But Dr. Burney knew nothing of their existence; and in another quarter her literary propensities met with serious discouragement. When she was fisteen, her father took a second wife. The new Mrs. Burney soon found out that her daughter-inlaw was fond of scribbling, and delivered several good-natured lectures on the subject. The advice no doubt was well meant, and might have been given by the most judicious friend; for at that time, from causes to which we may hereafter advert, nothing could be more disadvantageous to a young lady than to be known as a novel-writer. Frances yielded, relinquished her favourite pursuit, and made a bonfire of all her manuscripts.” She now hemmed and stitched from breakfast to dinner with scrupulous regularity. But the dinners of that time were early; and the afternoon was her own. Though she had given up novel-writing, she was still fond of using her pen. She began to keep a diary; and she corresponded largely with a person who seems to have had the chief share in the formation of her mind. This was Samuel Crisp, an old friend of her father. His name, well known near a century ago, in the most splendid circles of London, has long been forgotten. His history is, however, so interesting and instructive, that it tempts us to venture on a digression. Long before Frances Burney was born, Mr. Crisp had made his entrance into the world with every advantage. He was well connected and well educated. His face and figure were conspicuously handsome; his manners were polished; his fortune was easy; his character was without stain; he lived in the best society; he had read much; he talked well; his taste in literature, music, painting, architecture, sculpture, was held in high esteem. Nothing that the world can give seemed to be wanting to his happiness and respectability, except that he should understand the limits of his powers, aud should not throw away distinctions which were within his reach, in the pursuit of distinctions which were unattainable. “It is an unt ontrolled truth,” says Swis, “that no man ever made an ill figure who understood his own talents, nor a good one who mistook them.” Every day brings with it fresh illustrations of this weighty saying; but the best commentary that we remember is the history of Samuel Crisp. Men like him have their proper place, and it is a most important one, in the Commonwealth of Letters. It is by the judgment of such men that the rank of authors is finally determined. It is neither to the multitude, nor to the few who are gifted with great creative genius, that we are to look for sound critical decisions. The multitude, unacquainted with the best models, are captivated by whatever stuns and dazzles them. They deserted Mrs. Siddons to run after Master Betty; and
* There is some difficulty here as to the chronology. “This sacrifice,” says the editor of the Diary, “ was onale in the young authoress's fifteenth year.” This could not be; for the sacrifice was the effect, according to the editor's own showing, of the remonstrances of the second Mrs. Burney; and Frances was in her sixteenth year when her father’s second marriage took tware.
they now preser, we have no doubt, Jack Sheppard to Won Artevelde. A man of great original genius, on the other hand, a man who has attained to mastery in some high walk of art. is by no means to be implicitly trusted as a judge of the performances of others. The er roneous decisions pronounced by such men are without number. It is commonly supposed that jealousy makes them unjust. But a more creditable explanation may easily be found. " The very excellence of a work shows that some of the faculties of the author have been developed at the expense of the rest; for it is not given to the human intellect to expand itself widely in all directions at once, and to be at the same time gigantic and well-proportioned. Whoever becomes pre-eminent in any art, nay, in any style of art, generally does so by devoting himself with intense and exclusive enthusiasm to the pursuit of one kind of excellence. His perception of other kinds of excellence is therefore too often impaired. Out of his own department he praises and blames at random, and is far less to be trusted than the mere connoisseur, who produces nothing, and whose business is only to judge and enjoy. One painter is distinguished by his exquisite finishing. He toils day after day to bring the veins of a cabbage-leaf, the folds of a lace veil, the wrinkles of an old woman's face, nearer and nearer to perfection. In the time which he . employs on a square foot of canvass, a master of a different order covers the walls of a palace with gods burying giants under mountains, or makes the cupola of a church alive with seraphim and martyrs. The more fervent the passion of each of these artists for his art, the higher the merit of each in his own line, the more unlikely it is that they will justly appreciate each other. Many persons who never handled a pencil, probably do far rore justice to Michael Angelo than would have been done by Gerhard Douw, and far more justice to Ger
hard Douw than would have been done by Mi
chael Angelo. It is the same with literature. Thousands who have no spark of the genius of Dryden or Wordsworth, do to Dryden the justice which has never been done by Wordsworth, and to Wordsworth the justice which, we suspect, would never have been done by Dryden. Gray, Johnson, Richardson, Fielding, are all highly esteemed by the great body of intelligent and well-informed men. But Gray could see no merit in Rasselas; and Johnson could see no merit in the Bard. Fielding thought Richardson a solemn prig; and Richardson perpetuallyexpressed contempt and disgust for Fielding's lowness. Mr. Crisp seems, as far as we can judge, to have been a man eminently qualified for the useful office of a connoisseur. His talents and knowledge fitted him to appreciate justly ai most every species of intellectual superiority As an adviser he was inestimable. Nay, he might probably have held a respectable rank as a writer, if he would have consined himself to some department of literature in which no. thing more than sense, taste, and reading was required. Unhappily he set his heart on being a great poet, wrote a trage dy in five acts
on the death of Virginia, and offered it to Garrick, who was his personal friend. Garrick read it, shook his head, and expressed a doubt whether it would be wise in Mr. Crisp to stake a reputation which stood high on the success of such a piece. But the author, blinded by self-love, set in motion a machinery such as none could long resist. His intercessors were the most eloquent man and the most lovely woman of that generation. Pitt was induced to read Virginia, and to pronounce it excellent. Lady Coventry, with fingers which might have furnished a model to sculptors, forced the manuscript into the reluctant hand of the manager; and, in the year 1754, the play was brought forward. Nothing that skill or friendship could do was omitted. Garrick wrote both prologue and epilogue. The zealous friends of the author filled every box; and, by their strenuous exertions, the life of the play was prolonged during ten nights. But, though there was no clamorous reprobation, it was universally felt that the at
tempt had failed. When Virginia was printed,
the public disappointment was even greater than at the representation. The critics, the Monthly Reviewers in particular, fell on plot, characters, and diction, without mercy, but, we fear, not without justice. We have never met with a copy of the play; but, if we may judge from the lines which are extracted in the Gentleman's Magazine, and which do not appear to have been malevolently selected, we should say that nothing but the acting of Garrick, and the partiality of the audience, could have saved so feeble and unnatural a drama from instant damnation.
The ambition of the poet was still unsubHued. When the London season closed, he applied himself vigorously to the work of removing blemishes. He does not seem to have suspected, what we are strongly inclined to suspect, that the whole piece was one blemish, and that the passages which were meant to be fine, were, in truth, bursts of that tame extravagance into which writers fall, when they set themselves to be sublime and pathetic in spite of nature. He omitted, added, retouched, and flattered himself with hopes of complete success in the following year; but, in the following year, Garrick showed no disposition to bring the amended tragedy on the stage. Solicitation and remonstrance were tried in vain. Lady Coventry, drooping under that malady which seems ever to select what is loveliest for its prey, could render no assistance. The manager's language was civilly evasive, but his resolution was inflexible.
Crisp had committed a great error; but he had escaped with a very slight penance. His play had not been hooted from the boards. It had, on the contrary, been better received than many very estimable performances have been -than Johnson's Irene, for example, and Goldsmith's Good-Natured Man. Had Crisp been wise, he would have thought himself happy in having purchased self-knowledge so cheap. He would have relinquished without vain repinings the hope of poetical distinction, and would have turned to the many sources of happiness which he still possessed. Had he
been, on the other hand, an unfeeling and un blushing dunce, he would have gone on writing scores of bad tragedies in defiance of censure and derision. But he had too much sense to risk a second defeat, yet too little to bear his first defeat like a man. The fatal delusion that he was a great dramatist had taken firm possession of his mind. His failure he attributed to every cause except the true one. He complained of the ill-will of Garrick, who appears to have done everything that ability and zeal could do; and who, from selfish motives, would of course have been well pleased if Virginia had been as successful as the Beggar's Opera. Nay, Crisp complained of the languor of the friends whose partiality had given him three benefit-nights to which he had no claim. He complained of the injustice of the spectators, when, in truth, he ought to have been grateful for their unexampled patience. He lost his temper and spirits, and became a cynic and a hater of mankind. From London he retired to Hampton, and srom Hampton to a solitary and long-deserted mansion, built on a common in one of the wildest tracts of Surrey. No road, not even a sheep-walk, connected his lonely dwelling with the abodes of men. The place of his retreat was strictly concealed from his old associates. In the spring he sometimes emerged, and was seen at exhibitions and concerts in London. But he soon disappeared and hid himself, with no society but his books, in his dreary hermitage. He survived his failure about thirty years. A new generation sprang up around him. No memory of his bad verses remained among men. How completely the world had lost sight of him, will appear from a single circumstance. We looked for his name in a copious Dictionary of Dramatic Authors, published while he was still alive, and we found only that Mr. Samuel Crisp, of the Custom-House, had written a play called Virginia, acted in 1754. To the last, however, the unhappy man continued to brood over the injustice of the manager and the pit, and tried to convince himself and others that he had missed the highest literary honours only be. cause he had omitted some fine passages in compliance with Garrick's judgment. Alas, for human nature! that the wounds of vanity should smart and bleed so much longer than the wounds of affection 1 Few people, we believe, whose nearest friends and relations died in 1754, had any acute feeling of the loss in 1782. Dear sisters and favourite daughters, and brides snatched away before the honeymoon was passed, had been forgotten, or were remembered only with a tranquil regret. But Samuel Crisp was still mourning for his tra gedy like Rachael weeping for her children, and would not be comforted. “Never,” such was his language twenty-eight years after his disaster, “never give up or alter a title unless it perfectly coincides with your own inward feelings. I can say this to my sorrow and my cost. But, mum!” Soon after these words were written, his life—a life which might have been eminently useful and happy—ended in the same gloom in which, during more than a quarter of a century, it had been passed. We have thought it wool, to rescue from 3