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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Miss Burney’s Friends

By Frances (Fanny) Burney (Madame d’Arblay) (1752–1840)

From the ‘Letters’

BUT Dr. Johnson’s approbation!—it almost crazed me with agreeable surprise—it gave me such a flight of spirits that I danced a jig to Mr. Crisp, without any preparation, music, or explanation—to his no small amazement and diversion. I left him, however, to make his own comments upon my friskiness, without affording him the smallest assistance.

Susan also writes me word that when my father went last to Streatham, Dr. Johnson was not there, but Mrs. Thrale told him that when he gave her the first volume of ‘Evelina,’ which she had lent him, he said, “Why, madam, why, what a charming book you lent me!” and eagerly inquired for the rest. He was particularly pleased with the snow-hill scenes, and said that Mr. Smith’s vulgar gentility was admirably portrayed; and when Sir Clement joins them, he said there was a shade of character prodigiously well marked. Well may it be said, that the greatest minds are ever the most candid to the inferior set! I think I should love Dr. Johnson for such lenity to a poor mere worm in literature, even if I were not myself the identical grub he has obliged.

Susan has sent me a little note which has really been less pleasant to me, because it has alarmed me for my future concealment. It is from Mrs. Williams, an exceeding pretty poetess, who has the misfortune to be blind, but who has, to make some amends, the honor of residing in the house of Dr. Johnson; for though he lives almost wholly at Streatham, he always keeps his apartments in town, and this lady acts as mistress of his house.

  • JULY 25.
  • “Mrs. Williams sends compliments to Dr. Burney, and begs he will intercede with Miss Burney to do her the favor to lend her the reading of ‘Evelina.’”
  • Though I am frightened at this affair, I am by no means insensible to the honor which I receive from the certainty that Dr. Johnson must have spoken very well of the book, to have induced Mrs. Williams to send to our house for it.

    I now come to last Saturday evening, when my beloved father came to Chesington, in full health, charming spirits, and all kindness, openness, and entertainment.

    In his way hither he had stopped at Streatham, and he settled with Mrs. Thrale that he would call on her again in his way to town, and carry me with him! and Mrs. Thrale said, “We all long to know her.”

    I have been in a kind of twitter ever since, for there seems something very formidable in the idea of appearing as an authoress! I ever dreaded it, as it is a title which must raise more expectations than I have any chance of answering. Yet I am highly flattered by her invitation, and highly delighted in the prospect of being introduced to the Streatham society.

    She sent me some very serious advice to write for the theatre, as she says I so naturally run into conversations that ‘Evelina’ absolutely and plainly points out that path to me; and she hinted how much she should be pleased to be “honored with my confidence.”

    My dear father communicated this intelligence, and a great deal more, with a pleasure that almost surpassed that with which I heard it, and he seems quite eager for me to make another attempt. He desired to take upon himself the communication to my Daddy Crisp; and as it is now in so many hands that it is possible accident might discover it to him, I readily consented.

    Sunday evening, as I was going into my father’s room, I heard him say, “The variety of characters—the variety of scenes—and the language—why, she has had very little education but what she has given herself—less than any of the others!” and Mr. Crisp exclaimed, “Wonderful!—it’s wonderful!”

    I now found what was going forward, and therefore deemed it most fitting to decamp.

    About an hour after, as I was passing through the hall, I met my daddy [Crisp]. His face was all animation and archness; he doubled his fist at me and would have stopped me, but I ran past him into the parlor.

    Before supper, however, I again met him, and he would not suffer me to escape; he caught both my hands and looked as if he would have looked me through, and then exclaimed, “Why, you little hussy—you young devil!—ain’t you ashamed to look me in the face, you Evelina, you! Why, what a dance have you led me about it! Young friend, indeed! O you little hussy, what tricks have you served me!”

    I was obliged to allow of his running on with these gentle appellations for I know not how long, ere he could sufficiently compose himself, after his great surprise, to ask or hear any particulars; and then he broke out every three instants with exclamations of astonishment at how I had found time to write so much unsuspected, and how and where I had picked up such various materials; and not a few times did he with me, as he had with my father, exclaim “Wonderful!”

    He has since made me read him all my letters upon this subject. He said Lowndes would have made an estate had he given me £1000 for it, and that he ought not to have given less! “You have nothing to do now,” continued he, “but to take your pen in hand; for your fame and reputation are made, and any bookseller will snap at what you write.”

    I then told him that I could not but really and unaffectedly regret that the affair was spread to Mrs. Williams and her friends.

    “Pho,” said he: “if those who are proper judges think it right that it should be known, why should you trouble yourself about it? You have not spread it, there can no imputation of vanity fall to your share, and it cannot come out more to your honor than through such a channel as Mrs. Thrale.”

    LONDON, AUGUST.—I have now to write an account of the most consequential day I have spent since my birth; namely, my Streatham visit.

    Our journey to Streatham was the least pleasant part of the day, for the roads were dreadfully dusty, and I was really in the fidgets from thinking what my reception might be, and from fearing they would expect a less awkward and backward kind of person than I was sure they would find.

    Mr. Thrale’s house is white, and very pleasantly situated in a fine paddock. Mrs. Thrale was strolling about, and came to us as we got out of the chaise.

    She then received me, taking both my hands, and with mixed politeness and cordiality welcoming me to Streatham. She led me into the house, and addressed herself almost wholly for a few minutes to my father, as if to give me an assurance she did not mean to regard me as a show, or to distress or frighten me by drawing me out. Afterwards she took me up stairs, and showed me the house, and said she had very much wished to see me at Streatham; and should always think herself much obliged to Dr. Burney for his goodness in bringing me, which she looked upon as a very great favor.

    But though we were some time together, and though she was so very civil, she did not hint at my book, and I love her much more than ever for her delicacy in avoiding a subject which she could not but see would have greatly embarrassed me.

    When we returned to the music-room, we found Miss Thrale was with my father. Miss Thrale is a very fine girl, about fourteen years of age, but cold and reserved, though full of knowledge and intelligence.

    Soon after, Mrs. Thrale took me to the library; she talked a little while upon common topics, and then at last she mentioned ‘Evelina.’

    “Yesterday at supper,” said she, “we talked it all over, and discussed all your characters; but Dr. Johnson’s favorite is Mr. Smith. He declares the fine gentleman manqué was never better drawn, and he acted him all the evening, saying ‘he was all for the ladies!’ He repeated whole scenes by heart. I declare I was astonished at him. Oh, you can’t imagine how much he is pleased with the book; he ‘could not get rid of the rogue,’ he told me. But was it not droll,” said she, “that I should recommend it to Dr. Burney? and tease him so innocently to read it?”

    I now prevailed upon Mrs. Thrale to let me amuse myself, and she went to dress. I then prowled about to choose some book, and I saw upon the reading-table ‘Evelina.’ I had just fixed upon a new translation of Cicero’s Lælius, when the library door was opened, and Mr. Seward entered. I instantly put away my book because I dreaded being thought studious and affected. He offered his services to find anything for me, and then in the same breath ran on to speak of the book with which I had myself “favored the world”!

    The exact words he began with I cannot recollect, for I was actually confounded by the attack; and his abrupt manner of letting me know he was au fait equally astonished and provoked me. How different from the delicacy of Mr. and Mrs. Thrale!

    When we were summoned to dinner, Mrs. Thrale made my father and me sit on each side of her. I said that I hoped I did not take Dr. Johnson’s place;—for he had not yet appeared.

    “No,” answered Mrs. Thrale, “he will sit by you, which I am sure will give him great pleasure.”

    Soon after we were seated, this great man entered. I have so true a veneration for him, that the very sight of him inspires me with delight and reverence, notwithstanding the cruel infirmities to which he is subject; for he has almost perpetual convulsive movements, either of his hands, lips, feet, or knees, and sometimes of all together.

    Mrs. Thrale introduced me to him, and he took his place. We had a noble dinner, and a most elegant dessert. Dr. Johnson, in the middle of dinner, asked Mrs. Thrale what was in some little pies that were near him.

    “Mutton,” answered she, “so I don’t ask you to eat any, because I know you despise it!”

    “No, madam, no,” cried he; “I despise nothing that is good of its sort; but I am too proud now to eat of it. Sitting by Miss Burney makes me very proud to-day!”

    “Miss Burney,” said Mrs. Thrale, laughing, “you must take great care of your heart if Dr. Johnson attacks it; for I assure you he is not often successless.”

    “What’s that you say, madam?” cried he; “are you making mischief between the young lady and me already?”

    A little while after he drank Miss Thrale’s health and mine, and then added:—

    “’Tis a terrible thing that we cannot wish young ladies well without wishing them to become old women!”

    “But some people,” said Mr. Seward, “are old and young at the same time, for they wear so well that they never look old.”

    “No, sir, no,” cried the doctor, laughing; “that never yet was: you might as well say they are at the same time tall and short.”