Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Critical and Historical Essays Volume 2 by Thomas Babington Macaulay

Part 13 out of 16

Adobe PDF icon
Download Critical and Historical Essays Volume 2 pdf
File size: 1.9 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

prejudice of the queen, would have been a bishop. Oxford, with
his white staff in his hand, passed through the crowd of his
suitors to welcome Parnell, when that ingenious writer deserted
the Whigs. Steele was a commissioner of stamps and a member of
Parliament. Arthur Mainwaring was a commissioner of the customs,
and auditor of the imprest. Tickell was secretary to the Lords
Justices of Ireland. Addison was Secretary of State.

This liberal patronage was brought into fashion, as it seems, by
the magnificent Dorset, almost the only noble versifier in the
Court of Charles the Second who possessed talents for composition
which were independent of the aid of a coronet. Montague owed his
elevation to the favour of Dorset, and imitated through the whole
course of his life the liberality to which he was himself so
greatly indebted. The Tory leaders, Harley and Bolingbroke in
particular, vied with the chiefs of the Whig party in zeal for
the encouragement of letters. But soon after the accession of the
House of Hanover a change took place. The supreme power passed to
a man who cared little for poetry or eloquence. The importance of
the House of Commons was constantly on the increase. The
Government was under the necessity of bartering for Parliamentary
support much of that patronage which had been employed in
fostering literary merit; and Walpole was by no means inclined to
divert any part of the fund of corruption to purposes which he
considered as idle. He had eminent talents for governments and
for debate. But he had paid little attention to books, and felt
little respect for authors. One of the coarse jokes of his
friend, Sir Charles Hanbury Williams, was far more pleasing to
him than Thomson's Seasons or Richardson's Pamela. He had
observed that some of the distinguished writers whom the favour
of Halifax had turned into statesmen had been mere incumbrances
to their party, dawdlers in office and mutes in Parliament.
During the whole course of his administration, therefore, he
scarcely befriended a single man of genius. The best writers of
the age gave all their support to the Opposition, and contributed
to excite that discontent which, after plunging the nation into a
foolish and unjust war, overthrew the Minister to make room for
men less able and equally immoral. The Opposition could reward
its eulogists with little more than promises and caresses. St.
James's would give nothing: Leicester House had nothing to give.

Thus, at the time when Johnson commenced his literary career, a
writer had little to hope from the patronage of powerful
individuals. The patronage of the public did not yet furnish the
means of comfortable subsistence. The prices paid by booksellers
to authors were so low that a man of considerable talents and
unremitting industry could do little more than provide for the
day which was passing over him. The lean kine had eaten up the
fat kine. The thin and withered ears had devoured the good ears.
The season of rich harvest was over, and the period of famine had
begun. All that is squalid and miserable might now be summed up
in the word Poet. That word denoted a creature dressed like a
scarecrow, familiar with compters and spunging-houses, and
perfectly qualified to decide on the comparative merits of the
Common Side in the King's Bench prison and of Mount Scoundrel in
the Fleet. Even the poorest pitied him; and they well might pity
him. For if their condition was equally abject, their aspirings
were not equally high, nor their sense of insult equally acute.
To lodge in a garret up four pair of stairs, to dine in a cellar
among footmen out of place, to translate ten hours a day for the
wages of a ditcher, to be hunted by bailiffs from one haunt of
beggary and pestilence to another, from Grub Street to St.
George's Fields, and from St. George's Fields to the alleys
behind St. Martin's church, to sleep on a bulk in June and amidst
the ashes of a glass-house in December, to die in an hospital,
and to be buried in a parish vault, was the fate of more than one
writer who, if he had lived thirty years earlier, would have been
admitted to the sittings of the Kitcat or the Scriblerus Club,
would have sat in Parliament, and would have been intrusted with
embassies to the High Allies; who, if he had lived in our time,
would have found encouragement scarcely less munificent in
Albemarle Street or in Paternoster Row.

As every climate has its peculiar diseases, so every walk of life
has its peculiar temptations. The literary character, assuredly,
has always had its share of faults, vanity, jealousy, morbid
sensibility. To these faults were now superadded the faults which
are commonly found in men whose livelihood is precarious, and
whose principles are exposed to the trial of severe distress. All
the vices of the gambler and of the beggar were blended with
those of the author. The prizes in the wretched lottery of book-
making were scarcely less ruinous than the blanks. If good
fortune came, it came in such a manner that it was almost certain
to be abused. After months of starvation and despair, a full
third night or a well-received dedication filled the pocket of
the lean, ragged, unwashed poet with guineas. He hastened to
enjoy those luxuries with the images of which his mind had been
haunted while he was sleeping amidst the cinders and eating
potatoes at the Irish ordinary in Shoe Lane. A week of taverns
soon qualified him for another year of night-cellars. Such was
the life of Savage, of Boyse, and of a crowd of others. Sometimes
blazing in gold-laced hats and waistcoats; sometimes lying in bed
because their coats had gone to pieces, or wearing paper cravats
because their linen was in pawn; sometimes drinking Champagne and
Tokay with Betty Careless; sometimes standing at the window of an
eating-house in Porridge island, to snuff up the scent of what
they could not afford to taste; they knew luxury; they knew
beggary; but they never knew comfort. These men were
irreclaimable. They looked on a regular and frugal life with the
same aversion which an old gipsy or a Mohawk hunter feels for a
stationary abode, and for the restraints and securities of
civilised communities. They were as untameable, as much wedded to
their desolate freedom, as the wild ass. They could no more be
broken in to the offices of social man than the unicorn could be
trained to serve and abide by the crib. It was well if they did
not, like beasts of a still fiercer race, tear the hands which
ministered to their necessities. To assist them was impossible;
and the most benevolent of mankind at length became weary of
giving relief which was dissipated with the wildest profusion as
soon as it had been received. If a sum was bestowed on the
wretched adventurer, such as, properly husbanded, might have
supplied him for six months, it was instantly spent in strange
freaks of sensuality, and, before forty-eight hours had elapsed,
the poet was again pestering all his acquaintance for twopence to
get a plate of shin of beef at a subterraneous cookshop. If his
friends gave him an asylum in their houses, those houses were
forthwith turned into bagnios and taverns. All order was
destroyed; all business was suspended. The most good-natured host
began to repent of his eagerness to serve a man of genius in
distress when he heard his guest roaring for fresh punch at five
o'clock in the morning.

A few eminent writers were more fortunate. Pope had been raised
above poverty by the active patronage which, in his youth, both
the great political parties had extended to his Homer. Young had
received the only pension ever bestowed, to the best of our
recollection, by Sir Robert Walpole, as the reward of mere
literary merit. One or two of the many poets who attached
themselves to the Opposition, Thomson in particular and Mallet,
obtained, after much severe suffering, the means of subsistence
from their political friends. Richardson, like a man of sense,
kept his shop; and his shop kept him, which his novels, admirable
as they are, would scarcely have done, But nothing could be more
deplorable than the state even of the ablest men, who at that
time depended for subsistence on their writings. Johnson,
Collins, Fielding, and Thomson, were certainly four of the most
distinguished persons that England produced during the eighteenth
century. It is well known that they were all four arrested for
debt. Into calamities and difficulties such as these Johnson
plunged in his twenty-eighth year. From that time, till he was
three or four and fifty, we have little information respecting
him; little, we mean, compared with the full and accurate
information which we possess respecting his proceedings and
habits towards the close of his life. He emerged at length from
cock-lofts and sixpenny ordinaries into the society of the
polished and the opulent. His fame was established. A pension
sufficient for his wants had been conferred on him: and he came
forth to astonish a generation with which he had almost as little
in common as with Frenchmen or Spaniards.

In his early years he had occasionally seen the great; but he had
seen them as a beggar. He now came among them as a companion. The
demand for amusement and instruction had, during the course of
twenty years, been gradually increasing. The price of literary
labour had risen; and those rising men of letters with whom
Johnson was henceforth to associate, were for the most part
persons widely different from those who had walked about with him
all night in the streets for want of a lodging. Burke, Robertson,
the Wartons, Gray, Mason, Gibbon, Adam Smith, Beattie, Sir
William Jones, Goldsmith, and Churchill, were the most
distinguished writers of what may be called the second generation
of the Johnsonian age. Of these men Churchill was the only one in
whom we can trace the stronger lineaments of that character
which, when Johnson first came up to London, was common among
authors. Of the rest, scarcely any had felt the pressure of
severe poverty. Almost all had been early admitted into the most
respectable society on an equal footing. They were men of quite a
different species from the dependants of Curll and Osborne.

Johnson came among them the solitary specimen of a past age, the
last survivor of the genuine race of Grub Street hacks; the last
of that generation of authors whose abject misery and whose
dissolute manners had furnished inexhaustible matter to the
satirical genius of Pope. From nature he had received an uncouth
figure, a diseased constitution, and an irritable temper. The
manner in which the earlier years of his manhood had been passed
had given to his demeanour, and even to his moral character, some
peculiarities appalling to the civilised beings who were the
companions of his old age. The perverse irregularity of his
hours, the slovenliness of his person, his fits of strenuous
exertion, interrupted by long intervals of sluggishness, his
strange abstinence, and his equally strange voracity, his active
benevolence, contrasted with the constant rudeness and the
occasional ferocity of his manners in society, made him, in the
opinion of those with whom he lived during the last twenty years
of his life, a complete original. An original he was,
undoubtedly, in some respects. But if we possessed full
information concerning those who shared his early hardships, we
should probably find that what we call his singularities of
manner were, for the most part, failings which he had in common
with the class to which he belonged. He ate at Streatham Park as
he had been used to eat behind the screen at St. John's Gate,
when he was ashamed to show his ragged clothes. He ate as it was
natural that a man should eat, who, during a great part of his
life, had passed the morning in doubt whether he should have food
for the afternoon. The habits of his early life had accustomed
him to bear privation with fortitude, but not to taste pleasure
with moderation. He could fast; but, when he did not fast, he
tore his dinner like a famished wolf, with the veins swelling on
his forehead, and the perspiration running down his cheeks. He
scarcely ever took wine. But when he drank it, he drank it
greedily and in large tumblers. These were, in fact, mitigated
symptoms of that same moral disease which raged with such deadly
malignity in his friends Savage and Boyse. The roughness and
violence which he showed in society were to be expected from a
man whose temper, not naturally gentle, had been long tried by
the bitterest calamities, by the want of meat, of fire, and of
clothes, by the importunity of creditors, by the insolence of
booksellers, by the derision of fools, by the insincerity of
patrons, by that bread which is the bitterest of all food, by
those stairs which are the most toilsome of all paths, by that
deferred hope which makes the heart sick. Through all these
things the ill-dressed, coarse, ungainly pedant had struggled
manfully up to eminence and command. It was natural that, in the
exercise of his power, he should be "eo immitior, quia
toleraverat," that, though his heart was undoubtedly generous and
humane, his demeanour in society should be harsh and despotic.
For severe distress he had sympathy, and not only sympathy, but
munificent relief. But for the suffering which a harsh word
inflicts upon a delicate mind he had no pity; for it was a kind
of suffering which he could scarcely conceive. He would carry
home on his shoulders a sick and starving girl from the streets.
He turned his house into a place of refuge for a crowd of
wretched old creatures who could find no other asylum; nor could
all their peevishness and ingratitude weary out his benevolence.
But the pangs of wounded vanity seemed to him ridiculous: and he
scarcely felt sufficient compassion even for the pangs of wounded
affection. He had seen and felt so much of sharp misery, that he
was not affected by paltry vexations; and he seemed to think that
everybody ought to be as much hardened to those vexations as
himself. He was angry with Boswell for complaining of a headache,
with Mrs. Thrale for grumbling about the dust on the road, or the
smell of the kitchen. These were, in his phrase, "foppish
lamentations," which people ought to be ashamed to utter in a
world so full of sin and sorrow. Goldsmith crying because The
Good-natured Man had failed, inspired him with no pity. Though
his own health was not good, he detested and despised
valetudinarians. Pecuniary losses, unless they reduced the loser
absolutely to beggary, moved him very little. People whose hearts
had been softened by prosperity might weep, he said, for such
events; but all that could be expected of a plain man was not to
laugh. He was not much moved even by the spectacle of Lady
Tavistock dying of a broken heart for the loss of her lord. Such
grief he considered as a luxury reserved for the idle and the
wealthy. A washerwoman, left a widow with nine small children,
would not have sobbed herself to death.

A person who troubled himself so little about small or
sentimental grievances was not likely to be very attentive to
the feelings of others in the ordinary intercourse of society. He
could not understand how a sarcasm or a reprimand could make any
man really unhappy. "My dear doctor," said he to Goldsmith, "what
harm does it do to a man to call him Holofernes?" "Pooh, ma'am,"
he exclaimed, to Mrs. Carter, "who is the worse for being talked
of uncharitably?" Politeness has been well defined as benevolence
in small things. Johnson was impolite, not because he wanted
benevolence, but because small things appeared smaller to him
than to people who had never known what it was to live for
fourpence halfpenny a day.

The characteristic peculiarity of his intellect was the union of
great powers with low prejudices. If we judged of him by the best
parts of his mind, we should place him almost as high as he was
placed by the idolatry of Boswell; if by the worst parts of his
mind, we should place him even below Boswell himself. Where he
was not under the influence of some strange scruple, or some
domineering passion, which prevented him from boldly and fairly
investigating a subject, he was a wary and acute reasoner, a
little too much inclined to scepticism, and a little too fond of
paradox. No man was less likely to be imposed upon by fallacies
in argument, or by exaggerated statements of fact. But if, while
he was beating down sophisms and exposing false testimony, some
childish prejudices, such as would excite laughter in a well-
managed nursery, came across him, he was smitten as if by
enchantment. His mind dwindled away under the spell from gigantic
elevation to dwarfish littleness. Those who had lately been
admiring its amplitude and its force were now as much astonished
at its strange narrowness and feebleness as the fisherman in the
Arabian tale, when he saw the Genie, whose stature had
overshadowed the whole seacoast, and whose might seemed equal to
a contest with armies, contract himself to the dimensions of his
small prison, and lie there the helpless slave of the charm of

Johnson was in the habit of sifting with extreme severity the
evidence for all stories which were merely odd. But when they
were not only odd but miraculous, his severity relaxed. He began
to be credulous precisely at the point where the most credulous
people begin to be sceptical. It is curious to observe, both in
his writings and in his conversation, the contrast between the
disdainful manner in which he rejects unauthenticated anecdotes,
even when they are consistent with the general laws of nature,
and the respectful manner in which he mentions the wildest
stories relating to the invisible world. A man who told him of a
water-spout, or a meteoric stone, generally had the lie direct
given him for his pains. A man who told him of a prediction or a
dream wonderfully accomplished was sure of a courteous hearing.
"Johnson," observed Hogarth, "like King David, says in his haste
that all men are liars." "His incredulity," says Mrs. Thrale,
"amounted almost to disease." She tells us how he browbeat a
gentleman, who gave him an account of a hurricane in the West
Indies, and a poor Quaker who related some strange circumstance
about the red-hot balls fired at the siege of Gibraltar. "It is
not so. It cannot be true. Don't tell that story again. You
cannot think how poor a figure you make in telling it." He once
said, half-testingly, we suppose, that for six months he refused
to credit the fact of the earthquake at Lisbon, and that he still
believed the extent of the calamity to be greatly exaggerated.
Yet he related with a grave face how old Mr. Cave of St. John's
Gate saw a ghost, and how this ghost was something of a shadowy
being. He went himself on a ghost-hunt to Cock Lane, and was
angry with John Wesley for not following up another scent of the
same kind with proper spirit and perseverance. He rejects the
Celtic genealogies and poems without the least hesitation;
yet he declares himself willing to believe the stories of the
second sight. If he had examined the claims of the Highland
seers with half the severity with which he sifted the
evidence for the genuineness of Fingal, he would, we suspect,
have come away from Scotland with a mind fully made up. In his
Lives of the Poets, we find that he is unwilling to give credit
to the accounts of Lord Roscommon's early proficiency in his
studies: but he tells with great solemnity an absurd romance
about some intelligence preternaturally impressed on the mind of
that nobleman. He avows himself to be in great doubt about the
truth of the story, and ends by warning his readers not wholly to
slight such impressions.

Many of his sentiments on religious subjects are worthy of a
liberal and enlarged mind. He could discern clearly enough the
folly and meanness of all bigotry except his own. When he spoke
of the scruples of the Puritans, he spoke like a person who had
really obtained an insight into the divine philosophy of the New
Testament, and who considered Christianity as a noble scheme of
government, tending to promote the happiness and to elevate the
moral nature of man. The horror which the sectaries felt for
cards, Christmas ale, plum-porridge, mince-pies, and dancing-
bears, excited his contempt. To the arguments urged by some very
worthy people against showy dress he replied with admirable sense
and spirit, "Let us not be found, when our Master calls us,
stripping the lace off our waistcoats, but the spirit of
contention from our souls and tongues. Alas! sir, a man who
cannot get to heaven in a green coat will not find his way
thither the sooner in a grey one." Yet he was himself under the
tyranny of scruples as unreasonable as those of Hudibras or
Ralpho, and carried his zeal for ceremonies and for
ecclesiastical dignities to lengths altogether inconsistent with
reason or with Christian charity. He has gravely noted down in
his diary that he once committed the sin of drinking coffee on
Good Friday. In Scotland, he thought it his duty to pass several
months without joining in public worship, solely because the
ministers of the kirk had not been ordained by bishops. His mode
of estimating the piety of his neighbours was somewhat singular.
"Campbell," said he, "is a good man, a pious man. I am afraid he
has not been in the inside of a church for many years: but he
never passes a church without pulling off his hat; this shows he
has good principles." Spain and Sicily must surely contain many
pious robbers and well-principled assassins. Johnson could easily
see that a Roundhead who named all his children after Solomon's
singers, and talked in the House of Commons about seeking the
Lord, might be an unprincipled villain, whose religious mummeries
only aggravated his guilt. But a man who took off his hat when he
passed a church episcopally consecrated must be a good man, a
pious man, a man of good principles. Johnson could easily see
that those persons who looked on a dance or a laced waistcoat as
sinful, deemed most ignobly of the attributes of God and of the
ends of revelation. But with what a storm of invective he would
have overwhelmed any man who had blamed him for celebrating the
redemption of mankind with sugarless tea and butterless buns.

Nobody spoke more contemptuously of the cant of patriotism.
Nobody saw more clearly the error of those who regarded liberty,
not as a means, but as an end, and who proposed to themselves, as
the object of their pursuit, the prosperity of the State: as
distinct from the prosperity of the individuals who compose the
State. His calm and settled opinion seems to have been that forms
of government have little or no influence on the happiness of
society. This opinion, erroneous as it is, ought at least to have
preserved him from all intemperance on political questions. It
did not, however, preserve him from the lowest, fiercest, and
most absurd extravagances of party spirit, from rants which, in
everything but the diction, resembled those of Squire Western. He
was, as a politician, half ice and half fire. On the side of his
intellect he was a mere Pococurante, far too apathetic about
public affairs, far too sceptical as to the good or evil tendency
of any form of polity. His passions, on the contrary, were
violent even to slaying against all who leaned to Whiggish
principles. The well-known lines which he inserted in Goldsmith's
Traveller express what seems to have been his deliberate

How small, of all that human hearts endure,
That part which kings or laws can cause or cure!

He had previously put expressions very similar into the mouth of
Rasselas. It is amusing to contrast these passages with the
torrents of raving abuse which he poured forth against the Long
Parliament and the American Congress. In one of the conversations
reported by Boswell this inconsistency displays itself in the
most ludicrous manner.

"Sir Adam Ferguson," says Boswell, "suggested that luxury
corrupts a people, and destroys the spirit of liberty. JOHNSON:
'Sir, that is all visionary. I would not give half a guinea to
live under one form of government rather than another. It is of
no moment to the happiness of an individual. Sir, the danger of
the abuse of power is nothing to a private man. What Frenchman is
prevented passing his life as he pleases?' SIR ADAM: 'But, sir,
in the British constitution it is surely of importance to keep up
a spirit in the people, so as to preserve a balance against the
Crown.' JOHNSON: 'Sir, I perceive you are a vile Whig. Why all
this childish jealousy of the power of the Crown? The Crown has
not power enough.'"

One of the old philosophers, Lord Bacon tells us, used to say
that life and death were just the same to him. "Why, then," said
an objector, "do you not kill yourself?" The philosopher
answered, "Because it is just the same." If the difference
between two forms of government be not worth half a guinea, it is
not easy to see how Whiggism can be viler than Toryism, or how
the Crown can have too little power. If the happiness of
individuals is not affected by political abuses, zeal for liberty
is doubtless ridiculous. But zeal for monarchy must he equally
so. No person could have been more quick-sighted than Johnson to
such a contradiction as this in the logic of an antagonist.

The judgments which Johnson passed on books were, in his own
time, regarded with superstitious veneration, and, in our time,
are generally treated with indiscriminate contempt. They are the
judgments of a strong but enslaved understanding. The mind of the
critic was hedged round by an uninterrupted fence of prejudices
and superstitions. Within his narrow limits, he displayed a
vigour and an activity which ought to have enabled him to clear
the barrier that confined him.

How it chanced that a man who reasoned on his premises so ably,
should assume his premises so foolishly, is one of the great
mysteries of human nature. The same inconsistency may be observed
in the schoolmen of the middle ages. Those writers show so much
acuteness and force of mind in arguing on their wretched data,
that a modern reader is perpetually at a loss to comprehend how
such minds came by such data. Not a flaw in the superstructure of
the theory which they are rearing escapes their vigilance. Yet
they are blind to the obvious unsoundness of the foundation. It
is the same with some eminent lawyers. Their legal arguments are
intellectual prodigies, abounding with the happiest analogies and
the most refined distinctions. The principles of their arbitrary
science being once admitted, the statute-book and the reports
being once assumed as the foundations of reasoning, these men
must be allowed to be perfect masters of logic. But if a question
arises as to the postulates on which their whole system rests, if
they are called upon to vindicate the fundamental maxims of that
system which they have passed their lives in studying, these very
men often talk the language of savages or of children. Those who
have listened to a man of this class in his own court, and who
have witnessed the skill with which he analyses and digests a
vast mass of evidence, or reconciles a crowd of precedents which
at first sight seem contradictory, scarcely know him again when,
a few hours later, they hear him speaking on the other side of
Westminster Hall in his capacity of legislator. They can scarcely
believe that the paltry quirks which are faintly heard through a
storm of coughing, and which do not impose on the plainest
country gentleman, can proceed from the same sharp and vigorous
intellect which had excited their admiration under the same roof,
and on the same day.

Johnson decided literary questions like a lawyer, not like a
legislator. He never examined foundations where a point was
already ruled. His whole code of criticism rested on pure
assumption, for which he sometimes quoted a precedent or an
authority, but rarely troubled himself to give a reason drawn
from the nature of things. He took it for granted that the kind
of poetry which flourished in his own time, which he had been
accustomed to hear praised from his childhood, and which he had
himself written with success, was the best kind of poetry. In his
biographical work he has repeatedly laid it down as an undeniable
proposition that during the latter part of the seventeenth
century, and the earlier part of the eighteenth, English poetry
had been in a constant progress of improvement. Waller, Denham,
Dryden, and Pope, had been, according to him, the great
reformers. He judged of all works of the imagination by the
standard established among his own contemporaries. Though he
allowed Homer to have been a greater man than Virgil, he seems to
have thought the Aeneid a greater poem than the Iliad. Indeed, he
well might have thought so; for he preferred Pope's Iliad to
Homer's. He pronounced that, after Hoole's translation of Tasso,
Fairfax's would hardly be reprinted. He could see no merit in our
fine old English ballads, and always spoke with the most
provoking contempt of Percy's fondness for them. Of the great
original works of imagination which appeared during his time,
Richardson's novels alone excited his admiration. He could see
little or no merit in Tom Jones, in Gulliver's Travels, or in
Tristram Shandy. To Thomson's Castle of Indolence he vouchsafed
only a line of cold commendation, of commendation much colder
than what he has bestowed on the Creation of that portentous
bore, Sir Richard Blackmore. Gray was, in his dialect, a barren
rascal. Churchill was a blockhead. The contempt which he felt for
the trash of Macpherson was indeed just; but it was, we suspect,
just by chance. He despised the Fingal for the very reason which
led many men of genius to admire it. He despised it, not because
it was essentially commonplace, but because it had a superficial
air of originality.

He was undoubtedly an excellent judge of compositions fashioned
on his own principles. But when a deeper philosophy was required,
when he undertook to pronounce judgment on the works of those
great minds which "yield homage only to eternal laws," his
failure was ignominious. He criticised Pope's Epitaphs
excellently. But his observations on Shakspeare's plays and
Milton's poems seem to us for the most part as wretched as if
they had been written by Rymer himself, whom we take to have been
the worst critic that ever lived.

Some of Johnson's whims on literary subjects can be compared only
to that strange nervous feeling which made him uneasy if he had
not touched every post between the Mitre tavern and his own
lodgings. His preference of Latin epitaphs to English epitaphs is
an instance. An English epitaph, he said, would disgrace
Smollett. He declared that he would not pollute the walls of
Westminster Abbey with an English epitaph on Goldsmith. What
reason there can be for celebrating a British writer in Latin,
which there was not for covering the Roman arches of triumph with
Greek inscriptions, or for commemorating the deeds of the heroes
of Thermopylae in Egyptian hieroglyphics, we are utterly unable
to imagine.

On men and manners, at least on the men and manners of a
particular place and a particular age, Johnson had certainly
looked with a most observant and discriminating eye. His remarks
on the education of children, on marriage, on the economy of
families, on the rules of society, are always striking, and
generally sound. In his writings, indeed, the knowledge of life
which he possessed in an eminent degree is very imperfectly
exhibited. Like those unfortunate chiefs of the middle ages who
were suffocated by their own chain-mail and cloth of gold, his
maxims perish under that load of words which was designed for
their defence and their ornament. But it is clear from the
remains of his conversation, that he had more of that homely
wisdom which nothing but experience and observation can give than
any writer since the time of Swift.

If he had been content to write as he talked, he might have left
books on the practical art of living superior to the Directions
to Servants. Yet even his remarks on society, like his remarks on
literature, indicate a mind at least as remarkable for narrowness
as for strength. He was no master of the great science of human
nature. He had studied, not the genus man, but the species
Londoner. Nobody was ever so thoroughly conversant with all the
forms of life and of all the shades of moral and intellectual
character which were to be seen from Islington to the Thames, and
from Hyde Park Corner to Mile-End Green. But his philosophy
stopped at the first turnpike-gate. Of the rural life of England
he knew nothing; and he took it for granted that everybody who
lived in the country was either stupid or miserable. "Country
gentlemen," said he, "must be unhappy; for they have not enough
to keep their lives in motion;" as if all those peculiar habits
and associations which made Fleet Street and Charing Cross the
finest views in the world to himself had been essential parts of
human nature. Of remote countries and past times he talked with
wild and ignorant presumption. "The Athenians of the age of
Demosthenes," he said to Mrs. Thrale, "were a people of brutes, a
barbarous people." In conversation with Sir Adam Ferguson he used
similar language. "The boasted Athenians," he said, "were
barbarians. The mass of every people must be barbarous where
there is no printing." The fact was this: he saw that a Londoner
who could not read was a very stupid and brutal fellow: he saw
that great refinement of taste and activity of intellect were
rarely found in a Londoner who had not read much; and, because it
was by means of books that people acquired almost all their
knowledge in the society with which he was acquainted, he
concluded, in defiance of the strongest and clearest evidence,
that the human mind can be cultivated by means of books alone. An
Athenian citizen might possess very few volumes; and the largest
library to which he had access might be much less valuable than
Johnson's bookcase in Bolt Court. But the Athenian might pass
every morning in conversation with Socrates, and might hear
Pericles speak four or five times every month. He saw the plays
of Sophocles and Aristophanes; he walked amidst the friezes of
Phidias and the paintings of Zeuxis: he knew by heart the
choruses of Aeschylus: he heard the rhapsodist at the corner of
the streets reciting the Shield of Achilles or the Death of
Argus: he was a legislator, conversant with high questions of
alliance, revenue, and war: he was a soldier, trained under a
liberal and generous discipline: he was a judge compelled every
day to weigh the effect of opposite arguments. These things were
in themselves an education, an education eminently fitted, not,
indeed, to form exact or profound thinkers, but to give quickness
to the perceptions, delicacy to the taste, fluency to the
expression, and politeness to the manners. All this was
An Athenian who did not improve his mind by reading was, in
Johnson's opinion, much such a person as a Cockney who made his
mark, much such a person as black Frank before he went to school,
and far inferior to a parish clerk or a printer's devil.

Johnson's friends have allowed that he carried to a ridiculous
extreme his unjust contempt for foreigners. He pronounced the
French to be a very silly people, much behind us, stupid,
ignorant creatures. And this judgment he formed after having been
at Paris about a month, during which he would not talk French,
for fear of giving the natives an advantage over him in
conversation. He pronounced them, also, to be an indelicate
people, because a French footman touched the sugar with his
fingers. That ingenious and amusing traveller, M. Simond, has
defended his countrymen very successfully against Johnson's
accusations, and has pointed out some English practices which, to
an impartial spectator, would seem at least as inconsistent with
physical cleanliness and social decorum as those which Johnson so
bitterly reprehended. To the sage, as Boswell loves to call him,
it never occurred to doubt that there must be something eternally
and immutably good in the usages to which he had been accustomed.
In fact, Johnson's remarks on society beyond the bills of
mortality, are generally of much the same kind with those of
honest Tom Dawson, the English footman in Dr. Moore's Zeluco.
"Suppose the King of France has no sons, but only a daughter,
then, when the king dies, this here daughter, according to that
there law, cannot be made queen, but the next near relative,
provided he is a man, is made king, and not the last king's
daughter, which, to be sure, is very unjust. The French
footguards are dressed in blue, and all the marching regiments in
white, which has a very foolish appearance for soldiers; and as
for blue regimentals, it is only fit for the blue horse or the

Johnson's visit to the Hebrides introduced him to a state of
society completely new to him; and a salutary suspicion of his
own deficiencies seems on that occasion to have crossed his mind
for the first time. He confessed, in the last paragraph of his
journey, that his thoughts on national manners were the thoughts
of one who had seen but little, of one who had passed his time
almost wholly in cities. This feeling, however, soon passed away.
It is remarkable that to the last he entertained a fixed contempt
for all those modes of life and those studies which tend to
emancipate the mind from the prejudices of a particular age or a
particular nation. Of foreign travel and of history he spoke with
the fierce and boisterous contempt of ignorance. "What does a man
learn by travelling? Is Beauclerk the better for travelling? What
did Lord Charlemont learn in his travels, except that there was a
snake in one of the pyramids of Egypt?" History was, in his
opinion, to use the fine expression of Lord Plunkett, an old
almanack; historians could, as he conceived, claim no higher
dignity than that of almanack-makers; and his favourite
historians were those who, like Lord Hailes, aspired to no higher
dignity. He always spoke with contempt of Robertson. Hume he
would not even read. He affronted one of his friends for talking
to him about Catiline's conspiracy, and declared that he never
desired to hear of the Punic war again as long as he lived.

Assuredly one fact which does not directly affect our own
interests, considered in itself, is no better worth knowing than
another fact. The fact that there is a snake in a pyramid, or the
fact that Hannibal crossed the Alps, are in themselves as
unprofitable to us as the fact that there is a green blind in a
particular house in Threadneedle Street, or the fact that a Mr.
Smith comes into the city every morning on the top of one of the
Blackwall stages. But it is certain that those who will not crack
the shell of history will never get at the kernel. Johnson, with
hasty arrogance, pronounced the kernel worthless, because he saw
no value in the shell. The real use of travelling to distant
countries and of studying the annals of past times is to preserve
men from the contraction of mind which those can hardly escape
whose whole communion is with one generation and one
neighbourhood, who arrive at conclusions by means of an induction
not sufficiently copious, and who therefore constantly confound
exceptions with rules, and accidents with essential properties.
In short, the real use of travelling and of studying history is
to keep men from being what Tom Dawson was in fiction, and Samuel
Johnson in reality.

Johnson, as Mr. Burke most justly observed, appears far greater
in Boswell's books than in his own. His conversation appears to
have been quite equal to his writings in matter, and far superior
to them in manners. When he talked, he clothed his wit and his
sense in forcible and natural expressions. As soon as he took his
pen in his hand to write for the public, his style became
systematically vicious. All his books are written in a learned
language, in a language which nobody hears front his mother or
his nurse, in a language in which nobody ever quarrels, or drives
bargains, or makes love, in a language in which nobody ever
thinks. It is clear that Johnson himself did not think in the
dialect in which he wrote. The expressions which came first to
his tongue were simple, energetic, and picturesque. When he wrote
for publication, he did his sentences out of English into
Johnsonese. His letters from the Hebrides to Mrs. Thrale are the
original of that work of which the Journey to the Hebrides is the
translation; and it is amusing to compare the two versions. "When
we were taken upstairs," says he in one of his letters, "a dirty
fellow bounced out of the bed on which one of us was to lie."
This incident is recorded in the journey as follows: "Out of one
of the beds on which we were to repose started up, at our
entrance, a man black as a Cyclops from the forge." Sometimes
Johnson translated aloud. "The Rehearsal," he said, very
unjustly, "has not wit enough to keep it sweet" then, after a
pause, "it has not vitality enough to preserve it from

Mannerism is pardonable, and is sometimes even agreeable, when
the manner, though vicious, is natural. Few readers, for example,
would be willing to part with the mannerism of Milton or of
Burke. But a mannerism which does not sit easy on the mannerist,
which has been adopted on principle, and which can be sustained
only by constant effort, is always offensive. And such is the
mannerism of Johnson.

The characteristic faults of his style are so familiar to all our
readers, and have been so often burlesqued, that it is almost
superfluous to point them out. It is well known that he made less
use than any other eminent writer of those strong plain words,
Anglo-Saxon or Norman-French, of which the roots lie in the
inmost depths of our language; and that he felt a vicious
partiality for terms which, long after our own speech had been
fixed, were borrowed from the Greek and Latin, and which,
therefore, even when lawfully naturalised, must be considered as
born aliens, not entitled to rank with the king's English. His
constant practice of padding out a sentence with useless
epithets, till it became as stiff as the bust of an exquisite,
his antithetical forms of expression, constantly employed even
where there is no opposition in the ideas expressed, his big
words wasted on little things, his harsh inversions so widely
different from those graceful and easy inversions which give
variety, spirit, and sweetness to the expression of our great old
writers, all these peculiarities have been imitated by his
admirers and parodied by his assailants, till the public have
become sick of the subject.

Goldsmith said to him, very wittily, and very justly, "If you
were to write a fable about little fishes, doctor, you would make
the little fishes talk like whales." No man surely ever had so
little talent for personation as Johnson. Whether he wrote in the
character of a disappointed legacy-hunter or an empty town fop,
of a crazy virtuoso or a flippant coquette, he wrote in the same
pompous and unbending style. His speech, like Sir Piercy
Shafton's Euphuistic eloquence, betrayed him under every
disguise. Euphelia and Rhodoclea talk as finely as Imlac the
poet, or Seged, Emperor of Ethiopia. The gay Cornelia describes
her reception at the country-house of her relations, in such
terms as these: "I was surprised, after the civilities of my
first reception, to find, instead of the leisure and tranquillity
which a rural life always promises, and, if well conducted, might
always afford, a confused wildness of care, and a tumultuous
hurry of diligence, by which every face was clouded, and every
motion agitated." The gentle Tranquilla informs us, that she "had
not passed the earlier part of life without the flattery of
courtship, and the joys of triumph; but had danced the round of
gaiety amidst the murmurs of envy and the gratulations of
applause, had been attended from pleasure to pleasure by the
great, the sprightly, and the vain, and had seen her regard
solicited by the obsequiousness of gallantry, the gaiety of wit,
and the timidity of love." Surely Sir John Falstaff himself did
not wear his petticoats with a worse grace. The reader may well
cry out with honest Sir Hugh Evans, "I like not when a 'oman has
a great peard: I spy a great peard under her muffler." [It is
proper to observe that this passage bears a very close
resemblance to a passage in the Rambler (No. 20). The resemblance
may possibly be the effect of unconscious plagiarism.]

We had something more to say. But our article is already too
long; and we must close it. We would fain part in good humour
from the hero, from the biographer, and even from the editor,
who, ill as he has performed his task, has at least this claim to
our gratitude, that he has induced us to read Boswell's book
again. As we close it, the club-room is before us, and the table
on which stands the omelet for Nugent, and the lemons for
Johnson. There are assembled those heads which live for ever on
the canvas of Reynolds. There are the spectacles of Burke and the
tall thin form of Langton, the courtly sneer of Beauclerk and the
beaming smile of Garrick, Gibbon tapping his snuff-box and Sir
Joshua with his trumpet in his ear. In the foreground is that
strange figure which is as familiar to us as the figures of those
among whom we have been brought up, the gigantic body, the hugh
massy face, seamed with the scars of disease, the brown coat, the
black worsted stockings, the grey wig with the scorched foretop,
the dirty hands, the nails bitten and pared to the quick. We see
the eyes and mouth moving with convulsive twitches; we see the
heavy form rolling; we hear it puffing; and then comes the "Why,
sir!" and "What then, sir?" and the "No, sir!" and the "You don't
see your way through the question, sir!"

What a singular destiny has been that of this remarkable man! To
be regarded in his own age as a classic, and in ours as a
companion. To receive from his contemporaries that full homage
which men of genius have in general received only from posterity!
To be more intimately known to posterity than other men are known
to their contemporaries! That kind of fame which is commonly the
most transient is, in his case, the most durable. The reputation
of those writings, which he probably expected to be immortal, is
every day fading; while those peculiarities of manner and that
careless table-talk the memory of which, he probably thought,
would die with him, are likely to be remembered as long as the
English language is spoken in any quarter of the globe.

(January 1843)

Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay. Five vols. 8vo.
London: 1842.

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 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 sate up all night to read her writings,
and Johnson had pronounced her superior to Fielding, when Rogers
was still a schoolboy, 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 men, 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, had gone out of fashion, had
been derided, had been forgotten. The fooleries of Della Crusca,
and the fooleries of Kotzebue, had for a time bewitched the
multitude, and 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 overheard the judgment of posterity.

Having always felt a warm and sincere, though not a blind
admiration for her talents, we rejoiced to learn that her Diary
was about 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 peculiar 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. We
soon, however, discovered to our 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 considerable estates in that
county. Unhappily, many years before her birth, the Macburneys
began, as if of set purpose and in a spirit of determined
rivalry, to expose and ruin 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 his
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 favourite 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 name,
and set up as a portrait painter 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 soon found a kind and munificent patron in
Fulk Greville, a highborn and highbred 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. It became
necessary for him to 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 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 Saint 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 civilisation; for it was the dwelling of Newton, and the
square turret which distinguishes it from all the surrounding
buildings was Newton's observatory.

Mr. Burney 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

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 hornbook, she lost
her mother, and thenceforward she educated herself. Her father
appears to have been as bad a father as a very honest,
affectionate, and sweet tempered man can well be. He loved his
daughter dearly; but it never seems to have occurred to him that
a parent has other duties to perform to children than that of
fondling them. It would indeed have been impossible for him to
superintend their education 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. But one of her sisters showed her how to write;
and, before she was fourteen, she began to find pleasure in

It was not, however, by reading that her intellect 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
Moliere; 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 father'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 seemed 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 Saint James's
Square, a society so various and so brilliant as was sometimes to
be found 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 frequently, and agreed most
harmoniously. One tie, indeed, was wanting to their mutual
attachment. Burney loved his own art passionately; and Johnson
just knew the bell of Saint 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 on idolatry. 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 Saint
Martin's Street. 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 Saint 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

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 tea-table 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. Pachierotti 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 Carrington 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 seem 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 a long life. She had watched and listened to
people of every class, from princes and great officers of state
down to artists living in garrets, and poets familiar with
subterranean cookshops. 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 case, which, as 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 fifteen, her father took a second wife. The new Mrs. Burney
soon found out that her stepdaughter 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. [There is some difficulty here as to the chronology.
"This sacrifice," says the editor of the Diary, "was made 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

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, and should not throw away
distinctions which were within his reach in the pursuit of
distinctions which were unattainable.

"It is an uncontrolled truth," says Swift," 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 they now prefer, we have no doubt, Jack
Sheppard to Von 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 erroneous 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, 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
canvas, 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 more justice to Michael
Angelo than would have been done by Gerard Douw, and far more
justice to Gerard Douw than would have been done by Michael

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 perpetually expressed
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 almost
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 confined himself to some department
of literature in which nothing more than sense, taste, and
reading was required. Unhappily he set his heart on being a great
poet, wrote a tragedy in five acts on the death of Virginia, and
offered it to Garrick, who was his personal friend. Garrick read,
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 ambition, 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 attempt 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 scene which is extracted in the Gentleman's
Magazine, and which does 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 unsubdued. 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 a 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 civily 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, or 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 unblushing
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 sense 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 for the play
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 from 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. His very name was
forgotten. How completely the world had lost sight of him, will
appear from a single circumstance. We looked for him in a copious
Dictionary of Dramatic Authors published while he was still
alive, and we found only that Mr. Henry 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 because 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! 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 tragedy, like Rachel
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 tittle 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 worth while to rescue from
oblivion this curious fragment of literary history. It seems to
us at once ludicrous, melancholy, and full of instruction.

Crisp was an old and very intimate friend of the Burneys. To them
alone was confided the name of the desolate old hall in which he
hid himself like a wild beast in a den. For them were reserved
such remains of his humanity as had survived the failure of his
play. Frances Burney he regarded as his daughter. He called her
his Fannikin; and she in return called him her dear Daddy. In
truth, he seems to have done much more than her real parents for
the development of her intellect; for though he was a bad poet,
he was a scholar, a thinker, and an excellent counsellor. He was
particularly fond of the concerts in Poland Street. They had,
indeed, been commenced at his suggestion, and when he visited
London he constantly attended them. But when he grew old, and
when gout, brought on partly by mental irritation, confined him
to his retreat, he was desirous of having a glimpse of that gay
and brilliant world from which he was exiled, and he pressed
Fannikin to send him full accounts of her father's evening
parties. A few of her letters to him have been published; and it
is impossible to read them without discerning in them all the
powers which afterwards produced Evelina and Cecilia, the
quickness in catching every odd peculiarity of character and
manner, the skill in grouping, the humour, often richly comic,
sometimes even farcical.

Fanny's propensity to novel-writing had for a time been kept
down. It now rose up stronger than ever. The heroes and heroines
of the tales which had perished in the flames, were still present
to the eye of her mind. One favourite story, in particular,
haunted her imagination. It was about a certain Caroline Evelyn,
a beautiful damsel who made an unfortunate love-match, and died,
leaving an infant daughter. Frances began to image to herself the
various scenes, tragic and comic, through which the poor
motherless girl, highly connected on one side, meanly connected
on the other, might have to pass. A crowd of unreal beings, good
and bad, grave and ludicrous, surrounded the pretty, timid, young
orphan; a coarse sea captain; an ugly insolent fop, blazing in a
superb court dress; another fop, as ugly and as insolent, but
lodged on Snow Hill, and tricked out in second-hand finery for
the Hampstead ball; an old woman, all wrinkles and rouge,
flirting her fan with the air of a miss of seventeen, and
screaming in a dialect made up of vulgar French and vulgar
English; a poet lean and ragged, with a broad Scotch accent. By
degrees these shadows acquired stronger and stronger consistence;
the impulse which urged Frances to write became irresistible; and
the result was the History of Evelina.

Then came, naturally enough, a wish, mingled with many fears, to
appear before the public; for, timid as Frances was, and bashful,
and altogether unaccustomed to hear her own praises, it is clear
that she wanted neither a strong passion for distinction, nor a
just confidence in her own powers. Her scheme was to become, if
possible, a candidate for fame, without running any risk of
disgrace. She had not money to bear the expense of printing. It
was therefore necessary that some bookseller should be induced to
take the risk; and such a bookseller was not readily found.
Dodsley refused even to look at the manuscript unless he were
intrusted with the name of the author. A publisher in Fleet
Street, named Lowndes, was more complaisant. Some correspondence
took place between this person and Miss Burney, who took the name
of Grafton, and desired that the letters addressed to her might
be left at the Orange Coffee-house. But, before the bargain was
finally struck, Fanny thought it her duty to obtain her father's
consent. She told him that she had written a book, that she
wished to have his permission to publish it anonymously, but that
she hoped that he would not insist upon seeing it. What followed
may serve to illustrate what we meant when we said that Dr.
Burney was as bad a father as so good-hearted a man could
possibly be. It never seems to have crossed his mind that Fanny
was about to take a step on which the whole happiness of her life
might depend, a step which might raise her to an honourable
eminence, or cover her with ridicule and contempt. Several people
had already been trusted, and strict concealment was therefore
not to be expected. On so grave an occasion, it was surely his
duty to give his best counsel to his daughter, to win her
confidence, to prevent her from exposing herself if her book were
a bad one, and, if it were a good one, to see that the terms
which she had made with the publisher were likely to be
beneficial to her. Instead of this, he only stared, burst out a-
laughing, kissed her, gave her leave to do as she liked, and
never even asked the name of her work. The contract with Lowndes
was speedily concluded. Twenty pounds were given for the
copyright, and were accepted by Fanny with delight. Her father's
inexcusable neglect of his duty happily caused her no worse evil
than the loss of twelve or fifteen hundred pounds.

After many delays Evelina appeared in January 1778. Poor Fanny
was sick with terror, and durst hardly stir out of doors. Some
days passed before anything was heard of the book. It had,
indeed, nothing but its own merits to push it into public favour.
Its author was unknown. The house by which it was published was
not, we believe, held in high estimation. No body of partisans
had been engaged to applaud. The better class of readers expected
little from a novel about a young lady's entrance into the world.
There was, indeed, at that time a disposition among the most
respectable people to condemn novels generally: nor was this
disposition by any means without excuse; for works of that sort
were then almost always silly, and very frequently wicked.

Soon, however, the first faint accents of praise began to be
heard. The keepers of the circulating libraries reported that
everybody was asking for Evelina, and that some person had
guessed Anstey to be the author. Then came a favourable notice in
the London Review; then another still more favourable in the
Monthly. And now the book found its way to tables which had
seldom been polluted by marble-covered volumes. Scholars and
statesmen, who contemptuously abandoned the crowd of romances to
Miss Lydia Languish and Miss Sukey Saunter, were not ashamed to
own that they could not tear themselves away from Evelina. Fine
carriages and rich liveries, not often seen east of Temple Bar,
were attracted to the publisher's shop in Fleet Street. Lowndes
was daily questioned about the author, but was himself as much in
the dark as any of the questioners. The mystery, however, could
not remain a mystery long. It was known to brothers and sisters,
aunts and cousins: and they were far too proud and too happy to
be discreet. Dr. Burney wept over the book in rapture. Daddy
Crisp shook his fist at his Fannikin in affectionate anger at not
having been admitted to her confidence. The truth was whispered
to Mrs. Thrale; and then it began to spread fast.

The book had been admired while it was ascribed to men of letters
long conversant with the world, and accustomed to composition.
But when it was known that a reserved, silent young woman had
produced the best work of fiction that had appeared since the
death of Smollett, the acclamations were redoubled. What she had
done was, indeed, extraordinary. But, as usual, various reports
improved the story till it became miraculous. Evelina, it was
said, was the work of a girl of seventeen. Incredible as this
tale was, it continued to be repeated down to our own time.
Frances was too honest to confirm it. Probably she was too much a
woman to contradict it; and it was long before any of her
detractors thought of this mode of annoyance. Yet there was no
want of low minds and bad hearts in the generation which
witnessed her first appearance. There was the envious Kenrick and
the savage Wolcot, the asp George Steevens, and the polecat John
Williams. It did not, however, occur to them to search the parish
register of Lynn, in order that they might be able to twit a lady
with having concealed her age. That truly chivalrous exploit was
reserved for a bad writer of our own time, whose spite she had
provoked by not furnishing him with materials for a worthless
edition of Boswell's Life of Johnson, some sheets of which our
readers have doubtless seen round parcels of better books.

But we must return to our story. The triumph was complete. The
timid and obscure girl found herself on the highest pinnacle of
fame. Great men, on whom she had gazed at a distance with humble
reverence, addressed her with admiration, tempered by the
tenderness due to her sex and age. Burke, Windham, Gibbon,
Reynolds, Sheridan, were among her most ardent eulogists.
Cumberland acknowledged her merit, after his fashion, by biting
his lips and wriggling in his chair whenever her name was
mentioned. But it was at Streatham that she tasted, in the
highest perfection, the sweets of flattery, mingled with the
sweets of friendship. Mrs. Thrale, then at the height of
prosperity and popularity, with gay spirits, quick wit, showy
though superficial acquirements, pleasing though not refined
manners, a singularly amiable temper, and a loving heart, felt
towards Fanny as towards a younger sister. With the Thrales
Johnson was domesticated. He was an old friend of Dr. Burney; but
he had probably taken little notice of Dr. Burney's daughters,
and Fanny, we imagine, had never in her life dared to speak to
him, unless to ask whether he wanted a nineteenth or a twentieth
cup of tea. He was charmed by her tale, and preferred it to the
novels of Fielding, to whom, indeed, he had always been grossly
unjust. He did not, indeed, carry his partiality so far as to
place Evelina by the side of Clarissa and Sir Charles Grandison;
yet he said that his little favourite had done enough to have
made even Richardson feel uneasy. With Johnson's cordial
approbation of the book was mingled a fondness, half gallant half
paternal, for the writer; and this fondness his age and character
entitled him to show without restraint. He began by putting her
hand to his lips. But he soon clasped her in his huge arms, and
implored her to be a good girl. She was his pet, his dear love,
his dear little Burney, his little character-monger. At one time,
he broke forth in praise of the good taste of her caps. At
another time he insisted on teaching her Latin. That, with all
his coarseness and irritability, he was a man of sterling
benevolence, has long been acknowledged. But how gentle and
endearing his deportment could be, was not known till the
Recollections of Madame D'Arblay were published.

We have mentioned a few of the most eminent of those who paid
their homage to the author of Evelina. The crowd of inferior
admirers would require a catalogue as long as that in the second
book of the Iliad. In that catalogue would be Mrs. Cholmondeley,
the sayer of odd things, and Seward, much given to yawning, and
Baretti, who slew the man in the Haymarket, and Paoli, talking
broken English, and Langton, taller by the head than any other
member of the club, and Lady
Millar, who kept a vase wherein fools were wont to put bad
verses, and Jerningham who wrote verses fit to be put into the
vase of Lady Millar, and Dr. Franklin, not, as some have dreamed,
the great Pennsylvanian Dr. Franklin, who could not then have
paid his respects to Miss Burney without much risk of being
hanged, drawn and quartered, but Dr. Franklin the less,

Meion outi todos ge dsos Telamonios Aias
Alla polu meion.

It would not have been surprising if such success had turned even
a strong head, and corrupted even a generous and affectionate
nature. But, in the Diary, we can find no trace of any feeling
inconsistent with a truly modest and amiable disposition. There
is, indeed, abundant proof that Frances enjoyed with an intense,
though a troubled joy, the honours which her genius had won; but
it is equally clear that her happiness sprang from the happiness
of her father, her sister, and her dear Daddy Crisp. While
flattered by the great, the opulent, and the learned, while
followed along the Steyne at Brighton, and the Pantiles at
Tunbridge Wells, by the gaze of admiring crowds, her heart seems
to have been still with the little domestic circle in Saint
Martin's Street. If she recorded with minute diligence all the
compliments, delicate and coarse, which she heard wherever she
turned, she recorded them for the eyes of two or three persons
who had loved her from infancy, who had loved her in obscurity,
and to whom her fame gave the purest and most exquisite delight.
Nothing can be more unjust than to confound these outpourings of
a kind heart, sure of perfect sympathy, with the egotism of a
bluestocking, who prates to all who come near her about her own
novel or her own volume of sonnets.

It was natural that the triumphant issue of Miss Burney's first
venture should tempt her to try a second. Evelina, though it had
raised her fame, had added nothing to her fortune. Some of her
friends urged her to write for the stage. Johnson promised to
give her his advice as to the composition. Murphy, who was
supposed to understand the temper of the pit as well as any man
of his time, undertook to instruct her as to stage effect.
Sheridan declared that he would accept a play from her without
even reading it. Thus encouraged, she wrote a comedy named The
Witlings. Fortunately it was never acted or printed. We can, we
think, easily perceive, from the little which is said on the
subject in the Diary, that The Witlings would have been damned,
and that Murphy, and Sheridan thought so, though they were too
polite to say so. Happily Frances had a friend who was not afraid
to give her pain. Crisp, wiser for her than he had been for
himself, read the manuscript in his lonely retreat, and manfully
told her that she had failed, that to remove blemishes here and
there would be useless, that the piece had abundance of wit but
no interest, that it was bad as a whole, that it would remind
every reader of the Femmes Savantes, which, strange to say, she
had never read, and that she could not sustain so close a
comparison with Moliere. This opinion, in which Dr. Burney
concurred, was sent to Frances, in what she called "a hissing,
groaning, catcalling epistle." But she had too much sense not to
know that it was better to be hissed and cat-called by her Daddy,
than by a whole sea of heads in the pit of Drury Lane Theatre:
and she had too good a heart not to be grateful for so rare an
act of friendship. She returned an answer, which shows how well
she deserved to have a judicious, faithful, and affectionate
adviser. "I intend," she wrote, "to console myself for your
censure by this greatest proof I have ever received of the
sincerity, candour, and, let me add, esteem, of my dear daddy.
And as I happen to love myself more than my play, this
consolation is not a very trifling one. This, however, seriously
I do believe, that when my two daddies put their heads together
to concert that hissing, groaning, cat-calling epistle they sent
me, they felt as sorry for poor little Miss Bayes as she could
possibly do for herself. You see I do not attempt to repay your
frankness with an air of pretended carelessness. But, though
somewhat disconcerted just now, I will promise not to let my
vexation live out another day. Adieu, my dear daddy, I won't be
mortified, and I won't be downed, but I will be proud to find I
have, out of my own family, as well as in it, a friend who loves
me well enough to speak plain truth to me."

Frances now turned from her dramatic schemes to an undertaking
far better suited to her talents. She determined to write a new
tale, on a plan excellently contrived for the display of the
powers in which her superiority to other writers lay. It was in
truth a grand and various picture-gallery, which presented to the
eye a long series of men and women, each marked by some strong
peculiar feature. There were avarice and prodigality, the pride
of blood and the pride of money, morbid restlessness and morbid
apathy, frivolous garrulity, supercilious silence, a Democritus
to laugh at everything, and a Heraclitus to lament over
everything. The work proceeded fast, and in twelve months was
completed. It wanted something of the simplicity which had been
among the most attractive charms of Evelina; but it furnished
ample proof that the four years, which had elapsed since Evelina
appeared, had not been unprofitably spent. Those who saw Cecilia
in manuscript pronounced it the best novel of the age. Mrs.
Thrale laughed and wept over it. Crisp was even vehement in
applause, and offered to ensure the rapid and complete success of
the book for half-a-crown. What Miss Burney received for the
copyright is not mentioned in the Diary; but we have observed
several expressions from which we infer that the sum was
considerable. That the sale would be great nobody could doubt;
and Frances now had shrewd and experienced advisers, who would
not suffer her to wrong herself. We have been told that the
publishers gave her two thousand pounds, and we have no doubt
that they might have given a still larger sum without being

Cecilia was published in the summer of 1782. The curiosity of the
town was intense. We have been informed by persons who remember
those days that no romance of Sir Walter Scott was more
impatiently awaited, or more eagerly snatched from the counters
of the booksellers. High as public expectation was, it was amply
satisfied; and Cecilia was placed, by general acclamation, among
the classical novels of England.

Miss Burney was now thirty. Her youth had been singularly
prosperous; but clouds soon began to gather over that clear and
radiant dawn. Events deeply painful to a heart so kind as that of
Frances followed each other in rapid succession. She was first
called upon to attend the deathbed of her best friend, Samuel
Crisp. When she returned to Saint Martin's Street, after
performing this melancholy duty, she was appalled by hearing that
Johnson had been struck by paralysis; and, not many months later,
she parted from him for the last time with solemn tenderness. He
wished to look on her once more; and on the day before his death
she long remained in tears on the stairs leading to his bedroom,
in the hope that she might be called in to receive his blessing.
He was then sinking fast, and though he sent her an affectionate
message, was unable to see her. But this was not the worst. There
are separations far more cruel than those which are made by
She might weep with proud affection for Crisp and Johnson. She
had to blush as well as to weep for Mrs. Thrale.

Life, however, still smiled upon Frances. Domestic happiness,
friendship, independence, leisure, letters, all these things were
hers; and she flung them all away.

Among the distinguished persons to whom she had been introduced,
none appears to have stood higher in her regard than Mrs. Delany.
This lady was an interesting and venerable relic of a past age.
She was the niece of George Granville, Lord Lansdowne, who, in
his youth, exchanged verses and compliments with Edmund Waller,
and who was among the first to applaud the opening genius of
Pope. She had married Dr. Delany, a man known to his
contemporaries as a profound scholar and an eloquent preacher,
but remembered in our time chiefly as one of that small circle in
which the fierce spirit of Swift, tortured by disappointed
ambition, by remorse, and by the approaches of madness, sought
for amusement and repose. Doctor Delany had long been dead. His
widow, nobly descended, eminently accomplished, and retaining, in
spite of the infirmities of advanced age, the vigour of her
faculties and the serenity of her temper, enjoyed and deserved
the favour of the royal family. She had a pension of three
hundred a year; and a house at Windsor, belonging to the Crown,
had been fitted up for her accommodation. At this house the King
and Queen sometimes called, and found a very natural pleasure in
thus catching an occasional glimpse of the private life of
English families.

In December 1785, Miss Burney was on a visit to Mrs. Delany at
Windsor. The dinner was over. The old lady was taking a nap. Her
grandniece, a little girl of seven, was playing at some Christmas
game with the visitors, when the door opened, and a stout
gentleman entered unannounced, with a star on his breast, and
"What? what? what?" in his mouth. A cry of "The King!" was set
up. A general scampering followed. Miss Burney owns that she
could not have been more terrified if she had seen a ghost. But
Mrs. Delany came forward to pay her duty to her royal friend, and
the disturbance was quieted. Frances was then presented, and
underwent a long examination and cross-examination about all that
she had written and all that she meant to write. The Queen soon
made her appearance and his Majesty repeated, for the benefit of
his consort, the information which he had extracted from Miss
Burney. The good-nature of the royal pair might have softened
even the authors of the Probationary Odes, and could not but be
delightful to a young lady who had been brought up a Tory. In a
few days the visit was repeated. Miss Burney was more at ease
than before. His Majesty, instead of seeking for information,
condescended to impart it, and passed sentence on many great
writers, English and foreign. Voltaire he pronounced a monster.
Rousseau he liked rather better. "But was there ever," he cried,
"such stuff as great part of Shakspeare? Only one must not say
so. But what think you? What? Is there not sad stuff? What?

The next day Frances enjoyed the privilege of listening to some
equally valuable criticism uttered by the Queen touching Goethe
and Klopstock, and might have learned an important lesson of
economy from the mode in which her Majesty's library had been
formed. "I picked the book up on a stall," said the Queen. "Oh,
it is amazing what good books there are on stalls!" Mrs. Delany,
who seems to have understood from these words that her Majesty
was in the habit of exploring the booths of Moorfields and
Holywell Street in person, could not suppress an exclamation of
surprise. "Why," said the Queen, "I don't pick them up myself.
But I have a servant very clever; and, if they are not to be had
at the booksellers, they are not for me more than for another."
Miss Burney describes this conversation as delightful; and,
indeed, we cannot wonder that, with her literary tastes, she
should be delighted at hearing in how magnificent a manner the
greatest lady in the land encouraged literature.

The truth is, that Frances was fascinated by the condescending
kindness of the two great personages to whom she had been
presented. Her father was even more infatuated than herself. The
result was a step of which we cannot think with patience, but
which, recorded as it is, with all its consequences, in these
volumes, deserves at least this praise, that it has furnished a
most impressive warning.

A German lady of the name of Haggerdorn, one of the keepers of
the Queen's robes, retired about this time; and her Majesty
offered the vacant post to Miss Burney. When we consider that
Miss Burney was decidedly the most popular writer of fictitious
narrative then living, that competence, if not opulence, was
within her reach, and that she was more than usually happy in her
domestic circle, and when we compare the sacrifice which she was
invited to make with the remuneration which was held out to her,
we are divided between laughter and indignation.

What was demanded of her was that she should consent to be almost
as completely separated from her family and friends as if she had
gone to Calcutta, and almost as close a prisoner as if she had
been sent to gaol for a libel; that with talents which had
instructed and delighted the highest living minds, she should now
be employed only in mixing snuff and sticking pins; that she
should be summoned by a waiting-woman's bell to a waiting-woman's
duties; that she should pass her whole life under the restraints
of a paltry etiquette, should sometimes fast till she was ready
to swoon with hunger, should sometimes stand till her knees gave
way with fatigue; that she should not dare to speak or move
without considering how her mistress might like her words and
gestures. Instead of those distinguished men and women, the
flower of all political parties, with whom she had been in the
habit of mixing on terms of equal friendship, she was to have for
her perpetual companion the chief keeper of the robes, an old hag
from Germany, of mean understanding, of insolent manners, and of
temper which, naturally savage, had now been exasperated by
disease. Now and then, indeed, poor Frances might console herself
for the loss of Burke's and Windham's society, by joining in the
"celestial colloquy sublime" of his Majesty's Equerries.

And what was the consideration for which she was to sell herself
to this slavery? A peerage in her own right? A pension of two
thousand a year for life? A seventy-four for her brother in the
navy? A deanery for her brother in the church? Not so. The price
at which she was valued was her board, her lodging, the
attendance of a man-servant, and two hundred pounds a year.

The man who, even when hard pressed by hunger, sells his
birthright for a mess of pottage, is unwise. But what shall we
say of him who parts with his birthright, and does not get even
the pottage in return? It is not necessary to inquire whether
opulence be an adequate compensation for the sacrifice of bodily
and mental freedom; for Frances Burney paid for leave to be a
prisoner and a menial. It was evidently understood as one of the
terms of her engagement, that, while she was a member of the
royal household, she was not to appear before the public as an
author; and, even had there been no such understanding, her
avocations were such as left her no leisure for any considerable
intellectual effort. That her place was incompatible with her
literary pursuits was indeed frankly acknowledged by the King
when she resigned. "She has given up," he said, "five years of
her pen." That during those five
years she might, without painful exertion, without any exertion
that would not have been a pleasure, have earned enough to buy an
annuity for life much larger than the precarious salary which she
received at Court, is quite certain. The same income, too, which
in Saint Martin's Street would have afforded her every comfort,
must have been found scanty at Saint James's. We cannot venture
to speak confidently of the price of millinery and jewellery; but
we are greatly deceived if a lady, who had to attend Queen
Charlotte on many public occasions, could possibly save a
farthing out of a salary of two hundred a year. The principle of
the arrangement was, in short, simply this, that Frances Burney
should become a slave, and should be rewarded by being made a

With what object their Majesties brought her to their palace, we
must own ourselves unable to conceive. Their object could not be
to encourage her literary exertions; for they took her from a
situation in which it was almost certain that she would write,
and put her into a situation in which it was impossible for her
to write. Their object could not be to promote her pecuniary
interest; for they took her from a situation where she was likely
to become rich, and put her into a situation in which she could
not but continue poor. Their object could not be to obtain an
eminently useful waiting-maid; for it is clear that, though Miss
Burney was the only woman of her time who could have described
the death of Harrel, thousands might have been found more expert
in tying ribands and filling snuff-boxes. To grant her a pension
on the civil list would have been an act of judicious liberality,
honourable to the Court. If this was impracticable, the next best
thing was to let her alone. That the King and Queen meant her
nothing but kindness, we do not in the least doubt. But their
kindness was the kindness of persons raised high above the mass
of mankind, accustomed to be addressed with profound deference,
accustomed to see all who approach them mortified by their
coldness and elated by their smiles. They fancied that to be
noticed by them, to be near them, to serve them, was in itself a
kind of happiness; and that Frances Burney ought to be full of
gratitude for being permitted to purchase, by the surrender of
health, wealth, freedom, domestic affection, and literary fame,
the privilege of standing behind a royal chair, and holding a
pair of royal gloves.

And who can blame them? Who can wonder that princes should be
under such a delusion, when they are encouraged in it by the very
persons who suffer from it most cruelly? Was it to be expected
that George the Third and Queen Charlotte should understand the
interest of Frances Burney better, or promote it with more zeal
than herself and her father? No deception was practised. The
conditions of the house of bondage were set forth with all
simplicity. The hook was presented without a bait; the net was
spread in sight of the bird: and the naked hook was greedily
swallowed, and the silly bird made haste to entangle herself in
the net.

It is not strange indeed that an invitation to Court should have
caused a fluttering in the bosom of an inexperienced young woman.
But it was the duty of the parent to watch over the child, and to
show her that on one side were only infantine vanities and
chimerical hopes, on the other liberty, peace of mind, affluence,
social enjoyments, honourable distinctions. Strange to say, the
only hesitation was on the part of Frances. Dr. Burney was
transported out of himself with delight. Not such are the
raptures of a Circassian father who has sold his pretty daughter
well to a Turkish slave-merchant. Yet Dr. Burney was an amiable
man, a man of good abilities, a man who had seen much of the
world. But he seems to have thought that going to Court was like
going to heaven; that to see princes and princesses was a kind of
beatific vision; that the exquisite felicity enjoyed by royal
persons was not confined to themselves, but was communicated by
some mysterious efflux or reflection to all who were suffered to
stand at their toilettes, or to bear their trains. He overruled
all his daughter's objections, and himself escorted her to her
prison. The door closed. The key was turned. She, looking back
with tender regret on all that she had left, and forward with
anxiety and terror to the new life on which she was entering, was
unable to speak or stand; and he went on his way homeward
rejoicing in her marvellous prosperity.

And now began a slavery of five years, of five years taken from
the best part of life, and wasted in menial drudgery or in
recreations duller than even menial drudgery, under galling
restraints and amidst unfriendly or uninteresting companions. The
history of an ordinary day was this. Miss Burney had to rise and
dress herself early, that she might be ready to answer the royal
bell, which rang at half after seven. Till about eight she
attended in the Queen's dressing-room, and had the honour of
lacing her august mistress's stays, and of putting on the hoop,
gown, and neckhandkerchief. The morning was chiefly spent in
rummaging drawers and laying fine clothes in their proper places.
Then the Queen was to be powdered and
dressed for the day. Twice a week her Majesty's hair was curled
and craped; and this operation appears to have added a full hour
to the business of the toilette. It was generally three before
Miss Burney was at liberty. Then she had two hours at her own
disposal. To these hours we owe great part of her Diary. At five
she had to attend her colleague, Madame Schwellenberg, a hateful
old toadeater, as illiterate as a chambermaid, as proud as a
whole German Chapter, rude, peevish, unable to bear solitude,
unable to conduct herself with common decency in society. With
this delightful associate, Frances Burney had to dine, and pass
the evening. The pair generally remained together from five to
eleven, and often had no other company the whole time, except
during the hour from eight to nine, when the equerries came to
tea. If poor Frances attempted to escape to her own apartment,
and to forget her wretchedness over a book, the execrable old
woman railed and stormed, and complained that she was neglected.
Yet, when Frances stayed, she was constantly assailed with
insolent reproaches. Literary fame was, in the eyes of the German
crone, a blemish, a proof that the person who enjoyed it was
meanly born, and out of the pale of good society. All her scanty
stock of broken English was employed to express the contempt with
which she regarded the author of Evelina and Cecilia. Frances
detested cards, and indeed knew nothing about them; but she soon
found that the least miserable way of passing an evening with
Madame Schwellenberg was at the card-table, and consented, with
patient sadness, to give hours, which might have called forth the
laughter and the tears of many generations, to the king of clubs
and the knave of spades. Between eleven and twelve the bell rang
again. Miss Burney had to pass twenty minutes or half an hour in
undressing the Queen, and was then at liberty to retire, and to
dream that she was chatting with her brother by the quiet hearth
in Saint Martin's Street, that she was the centre of an admiring
assemblage at Mrs. Crewe's, that Burke was calling her the first
woman of the age, or that Dilly was giving her a cheque for two
thousand guineas.

Men, we must suppose, are less patient than women; for we are
utterly at a loss to conceive how any human being could endure
such a life, while there remained a vacant garret in Grub Street,
a crossing in want of a sweeper, a parish workhouse, or a parish
vault. And it was for such a life that Frances Burney had given
up liberty and peace, a happy fireside, attached friends, a wide
and splendid circle of acquaintance, intellectual pursuits in
which she was qualified to excel, and the sure hope of what to
her would have been affluence.

There is nothing new under the sun. The last great master of
Attic eloquence and Attic wit has left us a forcible and touching
description of the misery of a man of letters, who, lured by
hopes similar to those of Frances, had entered the service of one
of the magnates of Rome. "Unhappy that I am," cries the victim of
his own childish ambition: "would nothing content me but that I
must leave mine old pursuits and mine old companions, and the
life which was without care, and the sleep which had no limit
save mine own pleasure, and the walks which I was free to take
where I listed, and fling myself into the lowest pit of a dungeon
like this? And, O God! for what? Was there no way by which I
might have enjoyed in freedom comforts even greater than those
which I now earn by servitude? Like a lion which has been made so
tame that men may lead him about by a thread, I am dragged up and
down, with broken and humbled spirit, at the heels of those to
whom, in mine own domain, I should have been an object of awe and
wonder. And, worst of all, I feel that here I gain no credit,
that here I give no pleasure. The talents and accomplishments,
which charmed a far different circle, are here out of place. I am
rude in the arts of palaces, and can ill bear comparison with
those whose calling, from their youth up, has been to flatter and
to sue. Have I, then, two lives, that, after I have wasted one in
the service of others, there may yet remain to me a second, which
I may live unto myself?"

Now and then, indeed, events occurred which disturbed the
wretched monotony of Frances Burney's life. The Court moved from
Kew to Windsor, and from Windsor back to Kew. One dull colonel
went out of waiting, and another dull colonel came into waiting.
An impertinent servant made a blunder about tea, and caused a
misunderstanding between the gentlemen and the ladies. A half-
witted French Protestant minister talked oddly about conjugal
fidelity. An unlucky member of the household mentioned a passage
in the Morning Herald, reflecting on the Queen; and forthwith
Madame Schwellenberg began to storm in bad English, and told him
that he made her "what you call perspire!"

A more important occurrence was the King's visit to Oxford. Miss
Burney went in the royal train to Nuneham, was utterly neglected
there in the crowd, and could with difficulty find a servant to
show the way to her bedroom, or a hairdresser to arrange her
curls. She had the honour of entering Oxford in the last of a
long string of carriages which formed the royal procession, of
walking after the Queen all day through refectories and chapels,
and of standing, half dead with fatigue and hunger, while her
august mistress was seated at an excellent cold collation. At
Magdalen College, Frances was left for a moment in a parlour,
where she sank down on a chair. A good-natured equerry saw that
she was exhausted, and shared with her some apricots and bread,
which he had wisely put into his pockets. At that moment the door
opened; the Queen entered; the wearied attendants sprang up; the
bread and fruit were hastily concealed. "I found," says poor Miss
Burney, "that our appetites were to be supposed annihilated, at
the same moment that our strength was to be invincible."

Yet Oxford, seen even under such disadvantages, "revived in her,"
to use her own words, "a consciousness to pleasure which had long
lain nearly dormant." She forgot, during one moment, that she was
a waiting-maid, and felt as a woman of true genius might be
expected to feel amidst venerable remains of antiquity, beautiful
works of art, vast repositories of knowledge, and memorials of
the illustrious dead. Had she still been what she was before her
father induced her to take the most fatal step of her life, we
can easily imagine what pleasure she would have derived from a
visit to the noblest of English cities. She might, indeed, have
been forced to travel in a hack chaise, and might not have worn
so fine a gown of Chambery gauze as that in which she tottered
after the royal party; but with what delight would she have then
paced the cloisters of Magdalen, compared the antique gloom of
Merton with the splendour of Christ Church, and looked down from
the dome of the Ratcliffe Library on the magnificent sea of
turrets and battlements below! How gladly would learned men have
laid aside for a few hours Pindar's Odes and Aristotle's Ethics
to escort the author of Cecilia from college to college! What
neat little banquets would she have found set out in their
monastic cells! With what eagerness would pictures, medals, and
illuminated missals have been brought forth from the most
mysterious cabinets for her amusement! How much she would have
had to hear and to tell about Johnson, as she walked over
Pembroke, and about Reynolds, in the antechapel of New College!
But these indulgences were not for one who had sold herself into

About eighteen months after the visit to Oxford, another event
diversified the wearisome life which Frances led at Court. Warren
Hastings was brought to the bar of the House of Peers. The Queen
and Princesses were present when the trial commenced, and Miss
Burney was permitted to attend. During the subsequent proceedings
a day rule for the same purpose was occasionally granted to her;
for the Queen took the strongest interest in the trial, and when
she could not go herself to Westminster Hall, liked to receive a
report of what had passed from a person of singular powers of
observation, and who was, moreover, acquainted with some of the
most distinguished managers. The portion of the Diary which
relates to this celebrated proceeding is lively and picturesque.
Yet we read it, we own, with pain; for it seems to us to prove
that the fine understanding of Frances Burney was beginning to
feel the pernicious influence of a mode of life which is as
incompatible with health of mind as the air of the Pomptine
marshes with health of body. From the first day she espouses the
cause of Hastings with a presumptuous vehemence and acrimony
quite inconsistent with the modesty and suavity of her ordinary

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit Twitter Pinterest