IT is to the personality of Fanny Burney, as reflected in the Diary and Letters, that we in this generation turn our eyes, rather than to her novels. Evelina and Cecilia will scarcely be forgotten, but our interest in them has merged in the Diary. Not only are its contents more interesting from a human point of view, and its easy, unaffected style, lively fancy, and vivid portraiture incomparably more fascinating, but its pages breathe the warm, affectionate heart of the writer, and a nature as simple as it was pure. Fanny Burney had one of those rare dispositions, without a particle of envy, transparently clear, which are united to self-consciousness and childlike naturalness. Slie shares with an even more celebrated contemporary a distinction accorded to few, a character which becomes more sharply defined as time grows. Boswell's Johnson has preserved for us the thoughts, the sayings, nay, the very tricks of manner of the great lexicographer, should every line of his works perish. And the Diary of Fanny Burney will in like manner reveal her friends and herself, as if yesterday only, and not the greater part of a century, separated them from us. We say the greater part of a century, for though Madame d'Arblay only died in 1840, at the extreme age of nearly ninety, it is to the earlier years of her life, the last half of the eighteenth century, that our interest in her career will attach, and not to the first forty years of the nineteenth, full as these were of striking events and striking figures.
The childhood and youth of Fanny Burney, Mr. Seeley has chronicled with much care and attention to details. The family
of the Burneys, as they lived in Poland Street and St. Martin's
• Fanny Burney and her Friends. Edited by L. B. Seeley. With 9 inastrat4ons. London : Seeley and Clo. Street, presented a delightful picture of domestic harmony, and attracted many visitors. One feels almost a shock as some striking figure starts from the canvas,—Count Orloff the Gigantic, the great Dr. Johnson, Bruce (of Abyssinian fame), Garrick, or some other equally famous if less striking personality. Few have had such an " entrance into the world" as Miss Burney's, and none, we may justly add, have made better use of it. There has been, as Mr. Seeley says, " much futile controversy as to the date at which Evelina was composed. But if we may trust Mrs. Barrett, who had not only the Memoirs, but Fanny's early and still unpublished journals to guide her, the author herself would have been puzzled to say exactly when her tale was written. It was planned in girlhood, worked at by snatches, and occupied long years in growing up." Thus Croker's ill-tempered insinuation as to Miss Burney's attempt to deceive her readers in regard to her age is easily disposed of. Though Fanny Burney was twenty- five years old when Evelina appeared, she was yet scarcely more than a child in many things. The Diary of that period has many amusing instances of the downright slang which the Burneys sometimes indulged in. Girls in their teens, as we know, are very liable to use such terms, but Fanny Burney was particularly addicted to it. Soon after the appearance of Evelina, the following passage occurs :—" Again I jolted Mr. Crisp, who, very much perplexed, said in a boggling manner that it was anovel, he supposed, from the circulating library, only a trumpery thing.' " Yet again, in the scene with " Daddy" Crisp, the scene in which she so nearly betrayed the identity of the anonymous author of Evelina, Crisp re- marks, " You look so horribly guilty ;" to which she adds, " Deuce take my looks !" Such expressions as these, if they appeared in a diary of to-day, would scarcely meet with approval, not to mention such vulgarisms as,—" I te-he'd," " I grinned broader than before," " I was wofully dumpish," and the epithet " strapper," applied to Lady Ladd. Even Mr, Seeley cannot refrain from quoting the " atrocious vulgarism " of " invite " for " invitation " ! To us, the charm and freshness of the Diary lose nothing from their use.
The rush of celebrity which followed the publication of Evelina shows Miss Burney at her best. That a naturally timid and sensitive woman stood such a broadside of ex- travagant and overwhelming compliment without having her head turned, almost passes belief. " Le joli roman d'Evelina," as a French writer gracefully calls it, was compared by Dr. Burney to Fielding's work. Dr. Johnson, whose opinion was the most worth having, as it was certainly the one most valued by Fanny herself, declared that some passages would have done honour to Richardson. The " Holborn beau" he considered superior to any of Fielding's characters. " Oh, Mr. Smith, Mr. Smith is the man ! cried he, laughing violently. Harry Fielding never drew so good a character!—such a fine varnish of low politeness !—such a struggle to appear a gentleman Madam, there is no character better drawn anywhere—intany book, or by any author." No wonder Fanny adds: I almost poked myself under the table. Never did I feel so delicious a confusion since I was born." The portrait which Fanny Burney draws of Samuel Johnson is, on the whole, more pleasing than the one which Boswell prints so faithfully. Johnson appears at his ease in the society of the Burneys ; he is natural, and even polite ; all the softer elements of his character reveal themselves, and we get little of that over- bearing dogmatism which the constant goading of Boswell must have aggravated to frenzy. The old sarcasm, it is true, peeps out now and again. Mrs. Thrale tells us how
" mad " Johnson made Mr. Seward. " Why, Seward," said he, "how smart you are dressed ! Why, you only want a tambour waistcoat, to look like Mr. Smith !" Poor Mr. Seward's annoyance at the comparison is valuable evidence of the excellence of the " Holborn beau."
When Mr. Seeley finds it necessary to introduce some of Fanny's friends to us, the ceremony is performed with much unobtrusive skill ; his " asides," if we may so call them, arc short, clear, and to the point. When once Fanny's friends appear in the Diary, we have as little difficulty in knowing them as if we had actually seen them in the body,—the inimitable Garrick, the pompous old
Doctor, with his loud incisive " Sir !" the lively Mrs. Thrale, and the disappointed but affectionate " Daddy " Crisp. Some five years after the appearance of Evelina, and two years before Johnson's death, Miss Burney published Cecilia,
which was received with nearly if not quite as much favour as her first venture. For Cecilia the author received, now her name was famous, a substantial sum, "less than £1,000" Mr. Seeley is " inclined to believe." For Evelina she had only received £30 and some handsome copies.
The five years which Fanny Burney spent at the Court of George III. occupy a considerable portion of the volume. That it was an unhappy life, is shown by the record of the " tyranny tempered by ill-health" of the Schwellenberg, the long hours of waiting and standing, and the burdensome etiquette. That these years were barren, as some have affirmed, is only par- tially true. We learn a great deal about the manner of life at Court which no other person could have described as well. One interesting fact we quote. George III. told Miss Burney that one of the Princesses had been bled a dozen times in a fortnight, to the extent of seventy-five ounces of blood ! What if, as George III. is reported to have said, " She has given us five years of her pen," were true P Scenes which otherwise would have remained unchronicled are related to us. The illness of the King, as related by Miss Burney, contains some of her most sympathetic touches ; the meeting with the poor mad monarch is one of the most moving things ever written. Macaulay's indignation at some remark of Miss Burney's actually leads him to declare that " her way of life was rapidly undermining her powers of reasoning and her sense of justice." Here is one of the passages which excited his ire (Miss Burney is speaking of the entry of Edmund Burke at the trial of Warren Hastings) : " How did I grieve to behold him, the cruel prosecutor (such to me he appeared) of an injured and innocent man." Thus, we see, she makes a reservation. Despite, as we have said before, unequalled opportunities, Miss Burney never said an evil word of any one. Few can claim a distinction so honourable and so rare. Her affection for the kindly, honest monarch and the Queen is everywhere displayed, without so much as breathing a sigh or the faintest whisper of discontent. The sketch which Fanny Burney gives of her Royal mistress answers Macaulay's ungenerous sneers completely, and would have softened even "the asp George Stevens and the polecat John Williams," so frank and affectionate is the tone which pervades it. Fanny, as Queen Charlotte said, was as " true as gold." Macaulay, as the editor says, " too often sacrificed accuracy for the sake of effect." That Miss Barney's health suffered, no one will deny ; but as she married and lived for half-a-century afterwards, it can hardly have been seriously affected.
Soon after her release from Court, Frances Burney became Madame d'Arblay, and necessity compelling her to resort to her pen, Camilla was the result. Mr. Seeley does not con- sider the rumour that the writer cleared three thousand guineas improbable. But Camilla was not a literary success. Whether or not "the disuse of her art" accounted for this, we cannot say. The Wanderer, published twenty years after, showed little improvement, despite occasional flashes of genius. Yet a French writer, while commenting on the faulty action and monotony of The Wanderer, could add the words : " Cependant on y trouve des caraeteres tout-a,fait neufs, et pour lesquels rauteur semble n'avoir rien perdu de son talent." Miss Burney's reputation in France seems to have suffered from the fact that her half-sister Sarah's novels were some- times mistaken for hers. The alteration in the writer's style' dating from as early as Cecilia, was fatal to her naturalness and happiness of portraiture ; the echoes of Johnson are too painfully audible. Later on, the imitation of Johnson in the Memoirs becomes almost a caricature. Thus we have : " For it was on the bed of sickness, exchanging the light wines of France, Italy, and Germany, for the black and loathsome potions of the Apothecaries' Hall, writhed by darting stitches, and burning with fiery fever, that he felt the full force of that sublunary equipoise, that seems evermore to hang suspended over the attainment of long-sought and uncommon felicity, just as it was ripening to burst forth with enjoy- ment." The following, again, might almost have come out of Lexiphanes. It is part, and but a small part, of a sentence which relates Mrs. Thrale's frivolous behaviour at
a certain party :—" And, at length, provoked by the dulness of a taciturnity that, in the midst of such renowned interlocutors, produced as narcotic a torpor as could have been caused by a dearth the most barren of human faculties," &c.
Somewhere else, Madame d'Arblay transforms the simple
expression " to be starved to death," into " to sink from inanition into nonentity." The style of the Memoirs, then, does not compare favourably with the lively and epigrammatic sentences that charmed Johnson and his contemporaries. Yet the Memoirs, despite their pompous and involved style, are full of interesting reminiscences, treated with somewhat of the old spirit. We may regret that Madame d'Arblay has so little to tell us about her life in France, the fall of the Empire, the Bourbons, and the Hundred Days. Once, indeed, she must have felt the old fire revive. It was on June 18th, at Brussels, whither she had gone for safety, that a rumour spread that Bonaparte was taken prisoner. "At the same time, the hurrah' came nearer. I flew to the window ; my host and hostess came also, crying : ` Bonaparte est prix ! le voila ! le voilii.!" The captured General turned out, however, to be the Count Lobau.
It must have been a pleasant task for Mr. Seeley, and not a difficult one, to select such portions from the Diary and Letters as should do justice to a writer and a style both so unaffected and so lively. We miss, indeed, some characteristic passages, perhaps those containing slang. Nevertheless, the best-written portions, and those which recall the celebrated names of the last century, have been included ; and the choice certainly displays Miss Burney's genius adequately. The biographical sketches of Mrs. Delany, Crisp, and others form excellent notes, showing much care and thoroughness, and no desire to put forward the opinion of the editor. This, indeed, is the ne plus ultra of editing. There is one omission really inexcusable in a book so crowded with names. Fanny Burney and her Friends has no index ; apart from this, there are no drawbacks. The nine portraits make it a very handsome volume ; Warren Hastings and Mrs. Siddons are very good, as good as illustrations can be. An edition such as Mr. Seeley has prepared has long been wanted to popularise the writings of Frances Burney.