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£7 Cvo .-'^ -



l hadscarce shut the garden gate.— P. 356.










XV I £









Evelina ; or, A Young Lady's Entrance into the World, 1 -
was first published at the aid of January, iJjS, by Thomas

Lowndes of ~J Fleet Street, who, fourteen years earlier, had
issued another popular and anonymous work, Horace JValpole's
Castle of Otranto. Evelina ivas certainly fortunate in the
moment of Its birth. At the date of its appearance, the literary
horizon was as bare of rivals as it had been when, in November,
J 7 40, Richardson burst upon a public exhausted by French
romances with his real-life story of a virtuous servant-girl.

1 The sub-title was subsequently altered to The History of a Young
Lady's Entrance into the World.



Between Pamela and Evelina <ui entire generation of novelists

had arisen and disappeared, — like the stars of Bcranger.

Following the printer of Salisbury Court had come Fielding

and Smollett and Sterne and Goldsmith, extending, developing,

and completing, in its full compass, the new form of fiction.

But in 1778 all these were dead , md their mantles had fallen

upon no worthy successors, unless, indeed, we are to account that

amiable and tearful simulacrum of Sterne, Henry Mackenzie

a legitimate descendant of the inventor of Mr. Shandy and

' my uncle Toby.' It is true that with the story which was

afterwards to be known as The Old English Baron, Miss

Clara Reeve was, very tardily, continuing in a modified form

the Gothic Romance of Walpole ; but its full expansion, under

Mrs. Radcliffe, was still to come. When Evelina '■entered

the worldf Maria Edgeworth was a school-girl of eleven,

learning embroidery at Mrs. l.attijierc's at Derby ; and Jane

Austen was playing in the nursery at Steventon. Meanwhile

the market was filled with the fatuous and dreary productions

which represented the degradation of the great masters, — -flimsy

tales and histories in which, without any of the qualities of their

models, the writers strove to copy Fielding and Smollett ; or, as

' corresponding Misses,'

Caught in a delicate soft silken net
By some le-wd earl, or rake-hell baronet,

'■filled their reams ' with far-off imitations of Clarissa and
Sir Charles Grandison. What was present in the majority of
these worshipful performances, was a certain jaded dexterity
in the manipulation of commonplaces, — a certain easily-reached
level of mawkish mediocrity : what they lacked was genius,
humour, insight into character, constructive ability of every
kind. The verdict of Cowper in the entire passage from the
Progress of Error, of which a couplet has been quoted, :vas
confirmed seven years later by Canning in No. 16 of the
Microcosm. The fiction of the day, he epi grammatically
declared, was composed exclusively of ' stories without inven-
tion, anecdotes without novelty, observations without aptness,



and reflections without morality? Its effect had been to bring
novel-writing into undeserved am tempt — especially for women :
dint to banish it almost entirely to the baleful shadow of those
' evergreen trees of diabolical knowledge' — the circulating
libraries. Into this environment and condition of things
Evelina was born.

Strangely enough, its author, Fro/tecs or Fanny Burney,
had, at first, no higher ambition than to eater for the above-
named institutions. 1 1 thought] she told a friend, 'Evelina's
only admirers would be school-girls, and destined her to no
nobler inhabitation than a circulating library.' But she had
builded better than she knew. A reserved, delicate, emotional
young woman of five-and-twenty, long backward both mentally
and physically, and almost entirely self-educated, she had been
wont, from a very early age, to amuse herself by composing,
without thought of publication, em endless series of sketches,
titles, and dramatic scenes, ail of which, prepared in the strictest
secrecy, were confided only to the discreet ears of Iter admiring
sisters. Her father, an energetic musician and music-master,
left her much to herself, save when he required her services as
an amanuensis ; and no small amount of manuscript had been
gradually accumulated when her stepmother, whose literary
leanings stopped short at composition, discovered that a great
deal of ( scribbling' was going on in the establishment, much to
the prejudice of the stitching ami sewing which then constituted
the chief occupation of middle-class household*. Thereupon
came a friendly but firm monition to Fanny and her sister
Susan not to waste time in idle crude inventions. As a
consequence, the young author, as docile as she was diffident,
made dutiful Ion fire of her piled -up papers in the paved
play-court of her father's house at Poland Street ; and, witli
dry eyes, proceeded to devote herself without remission to
'flourishing upon catgut' and the contriving of fresh costumes
in lilac tabby or silver-light lutestring:

Not even with fire, however, is nature expelled: and the
proscribed habit of the feu found speedy relief in diary-beeping,



very much to the profit and development of a native sense of the
ridiculous, and a perceptive faculty preternaturally acute.
The result of all this was that the pages of Fanny's journal
soon passed from jejune records of sentiment and refection to
long reports of interesting conversations, and detailed portraits
of the personages, notable or otherwise, who frequented her
father's house. Given but some superficial difference of dis-
position or demeanour, — some -well -marked twist or ply of
character, — and it forthwith found a place in this young lady's
gallery of oddities. Presently the practice of what she calls
' dramatising ' her chronicle, revived the old desire to embody
her impressions in a fitting atmosphere of fiction. Among the
stories she had burned had been a so-called History of Caroline
Evelyn, — a girlish effort probably very much upon the model
of the works which issued from Mr. Bell's library in the
Strand, subject of course to the reservation that its writer was
a refined young lady of punctilious and even prudish disposition.
It contained the regulation wicked baronet ; there 'was also in it
a secret marriage and a burnt marriage certificate. But there
was, besides, — and this must have distinguished it from the
' half- bound volumes, -with marble covers f so dear to Lydia
Languish and my Lady Slattern Lounger, — a real conflict of
character. Caroline Evelyn's motlicr had been a barmaid who
had married a gentleman; and the result of this fair con-
junction' {upon -which 'Heaven did not smile') was to leave
Caroline Evelyn's daughter, who had been brought up as a lady,
with a good many undesirable relatives on the maternal side.
This, the only novelty in what was, no doubt, an extremely
juvenile and immature production, continued to linger in the
authors mind. She found herself unable to desist from
speculating on the singular situation in which the child of
Caroline Evelyn would find herself between the elegant con-
nections of her mother and the vulgar ones of her grandmother.
As time went on, the story grew and expanded in her tnindj
and in spite of the discredit at/aching to feminine authorship, she
fell constrained to write it down.



When she actually began Iter necessarily furtive and inter-
mittent task, is difficult to say. But it is probable that it
progressed by Jits and starts, making its greatest advance
•when her father did not require Iter secretarial services ;
or when, as happened not utifrequently, she went to stay with
one of his friends — Mr. Samuel Crisp — at a rambling old
country house called Chessington Hall, in a secluded part of
Surrey. When it was written in London, it was generally
written in what was known to the Burney household as Sir
Isaac Newton's Observatory, a tiny rough-glazed turret with
a leaden roof, which surmounted No. i St. Maitiii s Street,
where Fannys father then lived, — a house which many years
before had been Newton 's residence. 1 But wherever it was
composed, it was composed with the greatest secrecy. No one
save the writer 's sisters seems to have had the slightest inkling
that the shy, retiring, short-sighted little person, whose gravity
in her childhood had gained her the nickname of the ' old lady,'
was silently constructing a story which enthusiasts were to liken
to the works of Richardson and Fielding. For this extreme
reticence there were several reasons. Besides doubt of herself,
and the stigma of novel-spinning, there was the warning of
Iter stepmother. But what probably she feared most was the
criticism of her father, himself an eager student of literature,
and a practised writer of books.

Towards 1776 Miss Burney 's task had taken sufficient shape
to make its author think vaguely of type. Her hand-writing
at this dale, from long transcribing for her fathers History of
Music and other works, had, she fancied, grown familiar to the
printers ; and she was apprehensive that it might be detected
at press — a terrible thought in such a deed of darkness as
she designed. She consequently began to transcribe as much as

1 No. 1 St. Martin's Street, now No. jj, still exists, — not very far
from the building whence this volume is issued. Newton lived in it from
17 10 to 1725 ; the Burners from 177 J until the Doctor removed to Chelsea
Hospital. The observatory — if it ever was the observatory — has long since



she had completed ' in a feigned hand} Most of this laborious
repetition was accomplished in the night-watches j and before it
was finished, she had become so tired of her task that she grew
anxious to know whether it was in the least likely that she
would be able to obtain a publisher. She accordingly wrote
an unsigned letter to Robert Dodsley of Pall Mall, offering him
what she had already prepared j and undertaking to complete
the whole in due course. Dodsley replied curtly that he could
not consider an anonymous production. After consulting with
her sisters, she resolved to try a less prominent bookseller,
and fixed upon Thomas Lowndes of Fleet Street, who, as
already stated, had issued Wat pole's Gothic Romance. Mr.
Lowndes's reply was to be addressed to an imaginary ' Mr.
Grafton,' at the Orange Coffee House in the Haymarket, which,
of course, was close to St. Martin ' s Street. It proved more
encouraging than that of Dodsley. lie asked to see the manu-
script ; and it was accordingly conveyed to him by night, with
all fitting mystery, by Miss Bu nicy's younger brother. But
though Mr. Low/nics allowed the ability shewn in the specimen
submitted, he was naturally not prepared to go to press with
an uncompleted effort. He contented himself with praising
the cleverness of the sample, suggested certain modifications, and
added that if a third volume were prepared "replete with Modern
Characters," he should be glad to look into the matter again.

This disappointment, which might have been anticipated,
caused a momentary check in the progress of affairs. But, by
and by, the writer set to work upon the concluding volume,
which was duly completed and dispatched to the publisher, who
immediately tendered for it the munificent sum of twenty pounds,
— a sum the delighted author received rapturously 'with
boundless surprise at its magnificence. 1 1 Meanwhile, in much
trepidation, she confessed to her father what she had done. He
apparently, if surprised, -was not greatly impressed by the in

1 One is reminded of Jane Austen's 'prodigious recompense for that
■which had cost her nothing,' a propos of the sunt she receh 5 se and

Sensibility. That sum, however, was £/jo.



telligence, — a circumstance i/t which he did not differ materially
from other parents with children of unrevealed accomplishment.

He laughed a little ; professed no inconvenient curiosity ; and
left his daughter to her own devices, not even inquiring the name
of her book. Lowndes proceeded to print an edition of five
hundred copies^ — the usual number for a novel, — and at the
end of January, 177S, the newspapers announced that Evelina
was on sale, in three volumes, 1 21/10, the price being fs. 6d.
sewed, and gs. bound. Miss Burney see/us to have received no
proofs; but shortly before publication, had been asked to supply
a List of Errata for a printed copy, which was sent to her in
sheets. Her next intelligence of her work was derived from
hearing her stepmother read out the advertisement, probably from
the St. James's Chronicle, at the breakfast table. But as the
good lady was absolutely without previous information or sus-
picion upon the subject, she made no remark, nor did her

For some time Fanny Burney heard no more of Miss
Anville and her history. In February the London Review, then
managed by the writer whom Macaulay styles the ' envious
Kenrick,' gave it a good notice of three lines; and in March
the Monthly Review, of which the proprietor and editor was
Goldsmith's old master Mr. Ralph Griffiths, l at the Sign of the
Dunciad,' devoted a brief but entirely favourable paragraph to
its merits. Then, making inquiry at Bell's Library, the Burney
sisters found that Evelina was in circulation, and that — to use
the author's own words — -' every butcher and baker, cobbler and
tinker, throughout the three kingdoms, might now see it for the
small tribute of threepence.' After this, in May, having helped
to nurse her father through a fever, and having herself suffered
from inflammation of the lungs, Fanny went off to Chessington

1 Miss Burney says eight hundred (Diary and Letters, 1892, Hi. 57<?).
/,'ul the above is derived from an unpublished letter to Dr. Burney from
Lowndes, who should have known the facts, and who, moreover, told Miss
Burney' s sister Charlotte that five hundred was the 'common number for
a novel' (Early Diary of Frances Burney, iSSq, ii. joy).



Hall to recruit. Whether she had see/i the above-mentioned
reviews is not clear, though she had probably heard of the
second. But the book was manifestly making slow way j and
while in Surrey, she eventually, in response to repeated
requests, received an elegantly bound copy, which was sub-
sequently followed by others. Then, at last, her father's atten-
tion was somehow drawn to Evelina : and Fanny's sister
Susan writes off exclamatory accounts of his views and opinions,
his emotion over the speedily discovered Dedication to himself,
and his attitude generally. He thought the Preface to the
Reviewers ' vastly strong and well written.' As he progressed,
his admiration increased; and we have the comments of the
ladies to whom he was reading the book. Finally he finishes
it in a burst of enthusiasm. He does not think improvement
possible; delights in Mr. Villars and Lord Orville ; 'blubbers'
over Sir John Belmont J and declares that, Fielding excepted,
Evelina is the best novel in the language, new in style, and '■for
a young woman quite wonderful '/' After this Mrs. Thrale of
Streatham, with whom Dr. Johnson is staying, and to whose
daughter Queenie Dr. Bumey gives lessons, gets hold of it upon
the recommendation of Mrs. Chol/uondeley, Peg 11 'offing ton's
clever sister, who is trumpeting it everywhere. Then Mrs.
Thrale recommends and lends it to — of all persons — the un-
suspecting Mrs. Burney, and long letters go off to Fanny
describing how her honoured parents tire studying Evelina in
bed in the morning. Finally Dr. Burney obtains his daughter s
leave to tell Mrs. Thrale, which involves telling Mrs. Burner.
Forthwith arrives a highly complimentary letter from Mrs.
Thrale, conveying, in addition to her own opinion of Evelina's
'■probability of storv, elegance of sentiment, and general power
over the mind,' the astounding intelligence that Dr. Johnson
is not only leading the book, but is eager for the denoument,
and, in fact, is hard at work on volume three. Moreover, that
he has positively been understood to say that there are passages
in Evelina which might do honour to his old friend Richardson.
When this last information reaches the author at Chessington,



it almost '■crazes her with agreeable surprise,' producing ' such a
flight of spirits' that she then and there, to the no small amaze-
ment and diversion of Mr. Crisp, 'without any preparation,
music, or explanation,' dances a jubilant jig on the lawn)

From this point the literary success ^"Evelina was assured.
How Reynolds left his painting to read it, declared he would
give fifty pounds to know who wrote it, and finally sat up all
night to finish it; how Burke did the same — as far as silling
up was concerned; how it was read by Gibbon in one day; how
Johnson quoted it on all occasions, and protested that it rivalled
not only Richardson but Fielding; how Mrs. Thrale, in a
transport of enthusiasm, annexed and exhibited the author, —
has all been fold before. But what is not so well known is,
that a great literary coup may co-exist with a very gradual
commercial success. In spite of the popularity #/" Evelina during
the latter half of 1778, it does not appear that a second edition
was readied until the following year, when the sale grew more
rapid. In May, 177Q. Miss Burney speaks of a fourth edition
as in preparation, which, of course, supposes the expected ex-
haustion of a third edition before that date. After the third
edition, Mr. lowndes paid the author ten pounds, making a
total of thirty pounds, and apparently thought himself excep-
tionally liberal. The price, of course, was miserable enough ;
but the absence of definite information as to the methods of the
market makes it difficult to speak precisely on the subject of the
sales. It seems, however, that the first three editions amounted
in all to no more than from two thousand to two thousand three
hundred copies, which, in these days, would scarcely be regarded
as an extraordinary circulation for a popular novel. And in
J77S Evelina was the most popular novel which had appeared
for a considerable lime, having probably a larger number of
educated readers than Goldsmith's Vicar of Wakefield.

To-day Miss Burney' s book is more than a century old,
and any detailed examination of it would be superfluous, —

1 She confirmed this forty-eight years later to Sir Walter Scott (Journal,
/<??/, i. jog).



particularly hi the present ease, where it makes its re-appear-
ance with all the prestige of a specially sympathetic pictorial
interpreter. But it may, for a moment, be interesting to revive
some of the criticisms of contemporary readers, who, after all,
must be regarded as the most competent judges of a novel of
manners. As far as one can gather, it was the characters of
Madame Duval and Captain Afirvan, and the picture of the
Branghton group (including the Holborn beau, Mr. Smith),
which attracted most attention with the readers of 1778. We
hear of Mrs. Cholmondeley and others interlarding their talk
with Duval Ma ¥o\s and superlatives ; and 'ice hear of Johnson
quoting ' Only think, Polly ! Miss has danced with a Lord."
Mr. Villars and Lord Orville had also their adherents ; but
we must assume them to have been chiefly favourites with the
old votaries of the Richardson school. As to Captain Mirvan's
fidelity to life, there was evidently considerable difference of
opinion. The Monthly Review, in fact, declared that the
manners of this particular ' son of Neptune* were '■rather those
of a rough uneducated country squire, than those of a genuine
se-a captain' j- and this was naturally the view of the navy
gentlemen themselves. Captain Co/ton, Mrs. Thrale's cousin,
good-humou redly told Miss Burney at Bath that all his col-
leagues resented her portrait as that of a typical sea officer, and
Admiral Byron (of the Narrative), though he admired the book,
' was not half pleased with the Captain' s being such a brute.'
Even Dr. Burney admitted that his behaviour to Lovel went too
far. Nevertheless the author, who had a brother in the service,
was not C07ivinced; and, in her journal, testifies impenitent/y
to the absolute veracity of the portrait. All the captains she
knew, she declares, were given ' to roasting beaux, and detesting
old women.' As to the accuracy of Evelina's social sketches,
which has sometimes been questioned, we have the testimony of
Mrs. Thrale, given before she had made the author's acquaint-
ance. ' There's a great deal of human life in this book, and of
the manners of the present time,' she said; and she further
affirmed that it was written ' by somebody who knew the top



and the bottom, the highest and lowest of mankind? Upon
a question of this sort, at all events, Mrs. Thrale must be held
to be an unimpeachable authority.

As regards the excellence of the accounts of public places,
we have Dr. Burne/s own verdict, and he, again, as a musician
and professional ///tin, was speaking oj what he knew thoroughly.
They were ' very animated and natural,' he said, '■ami not
common? This is undoubtedly true ; and Miss Burney re-
produces, we may be sure, pretty much the tall; that went on
at Marylebone Gardens and the Pantheon, — at Vauxhall and
Ranelagh. Yet it is ob sen 1 able that she gives very little act it at
description of these resorts, — less, indeed, than we find in
Fielding and Smollett. Nay, sometimes, she does not give us
the details which are needful. In that description of Mr.
Smith tit Vauxhall in chapter xlvi., "which Johnson so much
enjoyed, we have no hint of the painting at which the company
were looking, although a reference to any old Vauxhall guide
sliows a! once that it must have been Itaymaiis allegorical
representation of Admiral Hawkers defeat of the French at
Quiberon Bay. It may of course be objected that this is a
refinement of narrative art, which does not concern itself
with non-essentials, and that it was no more necessary for Miss
Burney to describe the new room at Vauxhall cr the little
theatre in the Hay market, than it would be for a contemporary
Trollope to give an account of Rotten Row or Hitrliugham,
supposing his characters happened to be in those neighbourhoods.
But the fact remains, that Miss Burner, who copies people
and their talk so vividly, does not describe places or buildings
as much as many of the writers of her time ; and that con-
sequently, there is a certain lack of topographical background in
Iter story. We have seen this peculiarity attributed, in respect
to her Diary, to the short sight from which she suffered, and
it is just possible that defective vision may have had something
to do with the matter.

Costume and local colouring enter so largely into the novel
of manners, that some notice of its contemporary illustrators



is generally of interest. From this paint of view, Evelina was
unfortunate. Slothard's career had not yet begun; and the
earliest designs supplied to Evelina were by fohn Hamilton
Mortimer, by whom they were prepared just before his death
in February, 1779. Why this artist — whose gifts, according
to the dictionaries, lay chiefly in the presentment of ' banditti
and monsters ' — should have been selected for such a task, is
difficult to comprehend, especially as his three frontispieces to
Evelina's three volumes, when engraved by Hall, Walker and
Bartoloszi, cost Mr. Lowndes seventy-three pounds, or just forty-
three more than he had given for the copyright of the novel.
Mortimer 's original drawings are still in existence. The first
is allegorical ; the others depict the Lovel episode, and Mme.
Duval Jielped out of the ditch by the heroine. But although
the designer had been enjoined to ' make Evelina as elegant
as his mind could conceive? it must be admitted that, upon
this occasion, Mr. Lowndes was not well advised in his
venture. In 17S0, Miss Burnefs cousin, Edward Francis
Burney, prepared three ' stained drawings ' for the same
purpose, -which were exhibited at the Royal Academy in that
year. One of these, a most delicate little picture intended for

Online LibraryFanny BurneyEvelina, or, The history of a young lady's entrance into the world → online text (page 1 of 38)