Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay.

Critical, historical, and miscellaneous essays online

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crowded with peers, peeresses, ministers, and ambassa-
dors. On one evening, of which we happen to have a
full account, there were present Loixl Mulgrave, Liord
Bruce, Lord and Lady Edgecumbe, Lord Barrington
from the War Office, Lord Sandwich from the Admi-
ralty, Lord Ashburnham, with his gold key dangling
from his pocket, and tlie French Ambassador, M. De
Gnignes, renowned for his fine person and for his suc-
cess 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 de-
meanour the untamed ferocity of the Scythian might
be discei*ned through a thin varnish of French polite-
ness. As he stalked about the saiall parlour, brushing
the ceiling with liis toupee, the giris whispered to eacli
otlier, with mingled admiration and horror, that he was
die 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 glitter-
ing with diamond rings, had given the last squeeze to
the windpipe of her unfortunate husband.

With such illustrious guests as these were mingled



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MADAME D'ARBLAY. 257

all the most remarkable specimens of the race of lions,
a kind of game which is hunted in London every
spring with more than Mehonian ardour and persever-
ance. Bruce, who had washed down steaks cut from
living oxen with water from the fountains (rf the Nile,
came to swagger and talk about his travels. Omai
lisped broken English, and made all the assembled
musicians hold their ears l^ howling Otaheitean love
songs, such as those with which Oberea charmed her
Opano.

With the literary and fashionable society, which
occasionally met under Dr. Bumey*s roof, Frances can
scarcely be said to have mingled. She was not a mu-
sician, 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 quit'tly to the back-
ground, and, unobserved herself, to obsei-ve all that
passed. Her nearest relations were aware that she had
good sense, but seem not to have suspected that, under
her demure and bashfril 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 duriuor a lono; life.
She had watched and listened to people of every class,
from pnnccs and great officers of state down to aitists



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258 DIABY AND LETTERS OF

living ill garrets, and poets familiar with subterranean
cooksliops. 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 ou die mind of
Frances by the society which she was in the habit of
seeing and hearing, tliat she began to write little ficti-
tious 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. Bumey
knew nothing of their existence ; and in another quar-
ter her literary propensities met with serious discour-
agement. When she was fifteen, her father took a
second wife. The new Mrs. Burney soon found out
that her stepdau<:hter was fond of scribbling, and deliv-
ered several gooilnatured lectures ou 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 whicli we may hereafter advert, nothing
could be more disadvantageous to a young lady than to
be known as a novelwriter. Frances yielded, relin-
quished her favourite pursuit, and made a bonfire of all
her manuscripts.*

She now hemmed and stitched from breakfast to
dinner with scinipulous regularity. But tlie dinners of
that time were early ; and the afternoon was her own.
Though she had given up novelwriting, she was still

* There is some diflSculty here as to the chronology. " This sacrifice,'*
sflys the editor of the Diary, " was made in the young authoress's fifteenth
yenr." This could not be; for the sacrifice was the efl^t^ according to
the edilor'8 own sho'ving, of tlie i*eraonstrances of the second Mrs. Bnruey;
and Fmnccs was in lier sixteenth year wlieu lier father's second marriage
took place.



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MADAME D'ARBLAY. 259

fond of using lier pen. She b^an to keep a diaiy, and
Ae corresponded largely with a person who seems to
liave had the chief simi'e m 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, lias long been forgotten,
liis history is, however, so interesting and instructive,
that it tempts us to venture on a digression.

Long before Frances Bumey was born, Mr. Crisp
had made his entrance into tlie world, with every ad*
vantage. He was well connected and well educated.
His face and figure were conspicuously hajidscMue ; his
manners were polished; his fortune was easy; liis
character was witliout stain ; be lived in the best soci-
ety ; he liad 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 re8])ecta-
bility, except that he should understand the limits of
bis powers, and should not throw away distinctions
which were within his reach in . the pm*suit of distinc-
• tions which were unattainable.

"It is an uncontrolled ti-utli," says Swift, "that no
man ever made an ill figm'e who understood his own
talents, nor a good one who mistook tliem.'' Every
day brings with it fresh illustrations of this weighty
saying ; but the best commentary tliat we remember is
tlie history of Samuel Crisp. Men like him have their
proper place, and« it is a most imjwrtant 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
tor sound critical decisions. The multitude, unac*



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260 DIARY AND LETTERS OF

quail) ted with the best models, are captivated hj
whatever stuns and dazzles them. They deseitod
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 ait, 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, nay, in any style of art, generally does so by
devoting himself with intense and exclusive enthusiasm
to the pursuit of one kind of excellence. His per-
ception of other kinds of excellence is therefore too
often impaired. Out of his own d^[)artment he praises
and blames at random, and is far less to be trusted than
the mere connoisseur, who produces nothing, and
whose business is only to judge and enjoy. One
painter is distinguished by his exquisite finishing. He
toils day after day to bring the veins of a cabbage leaf,
the folds of a lace veil, the wrinkles of an old woman's
face, nearer and nearer to perfection. In the time
which he employs on a square foot of canvass, a mastei
of a different order covers the walls of a palace with
gods buiying giants under mountains, or makes the
cupola of a church alive with sen^him and martyrs.
The more fervent the passion of each of these artists



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MADA^IE D'ARBLAY. 261

fbr his art, the liigher the merit of each in his own line,
the more unUkely 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 Angelo.

It is the same with literature. Thousands, who
have no spark of the genius of Dryden or Wordsworth,
do to Dryden the justice which has never been done by
Wordsworth, and to Wordsworth the justice which, we
suspect, would never have been done by Dryden.
Gray, Johnson, Richardson, Fielding, are all highly
esteemed by the great body of intelligent and well
infoimed 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 fiir 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 de-
partment 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



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262 DIARY AND LETTERS OF

the author, blinded by ambition, set in motion a ma-
chinery such as none could long resist. His interces-
sors 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 re-
luctant 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 zeal-
ous friends of the author filled every box; and, by
their strenuous exertions, the life of the play was pro-
longed 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 with-
out 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 Gentle-
man's Magazine, and which does not appear to have
been malevolently selected, we should say that nothing
but the acting of Grarrick, and tlie 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 appUed himself
vigorously to the work of removing blemishes. He
does not seem to have suspected, what we are strongly
inclined to suspect, that tlie whole piece was one blem-
ish, and that the |)assages which were meant to be fine,
were, in truth, bursts of that tame extravagance into



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^FADAME D»ARBLAY. 268

whicli Winters fall, when they set themselves to be sub-
lime 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 fol-
lowing year, Garrick showed no disposition to bring
the amended tragedy on the stage. Solicitation and
remonstrance were tried in vain. Lady Coventry,
drooping under that malady which seems ever to select
what is loveliest for its prey, could render no assistance.
The manager's language was civilly evasive ; but his
resolution was inflexible.

Crisp had committed a great error ; but he had
escaped with a very slight penance. His play had
not been hooted from the boards. It had, on the con-
trary, been better received than many very estimable
performances have been, than Johnson's Irene, for
example, or Goldsmith's Goodnatured Man. Had
Crisp been wise, he would have thought himself happy
in having purchased selfknowledge 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 un-
feeling and unblushing dunce, he would have gone
on writing scores of bad tragedies in defiance of cen-
sure 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 fetal delusion that he was
a great dramatist, had taken firm possession of his mind.
His feilure 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 every thing that abil-
ity and zeal could do, and who, from selfish motives,
would, of course, have been well plea^sed if Virginia



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264 DIARY AND LETTERS OF

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 grate-
ful for their unexampled patience. He lost liis temper
and spirits, and became a cynic and a hater of mankind.
Fix)m London he retired to Hampton, and from Hamp-
ton to a soUtary and long deserted mansion, built on a
common in one of the wildest tracts of Surrey. No
road, not even a sheepwalk, connected his lonely dwell-
ing with the abodes of men. The place of his retreat
was strictly concealed from liis old associates. In the
spring he sometimes emerged, and was seen at exhibi-
tions and concerts in London. But he soon disap-
peared, and liid himself, with no society but his books,
in his dreary hermitage. He survived his failure about
thirty years. A new generation sprang up around Iiim.
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 icom a single
circumstance. We looked for him in a copious Dic-
tionary 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 liighest literary honours, only
because he had omitted some fine passages in compU-
ance 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 peo-
ple, we believe, whose nearest fnends and relations died



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MADAME D'ARBLAY. 266

ill 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 tran-
quil regret. But Samuel Crisp was still mourning for
his tragedy, Kke Rachel weeping for her children, and
would not be comforted. " Never," sucli was his lan-
guage twenty-eight years after his disaster, " never givQ
up or alter a tittle unless it perfectly coincides with your
own inward feelmgs. I can say this to my sorrow and my
cost. But mum I " 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 fiill of instruction.

Crisp was an old and very intimate friend of the Bur-
nejrs. 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 Bumey 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 tliough 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 re-
kreat,» he was desirous of having a glimpse of that gay

V')L. V. 12



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266 DIARY AND LETTKRS OF

and brilliant world from which he was exiled, and he
pressed Fannikin to send him fiiU 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 after-
wards produced Evelina and Cecilia, the quickness in
catching every odd peculiarity of character and manner,
the skill in grouping, the himiour, often richly comic,
sometimes even farcical.

Fanny's propensity to novelwriting 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 imagi-
nation. It was about a certain Caroline Evelyn, a
beautifiil 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 con-
nected on one side, meanly connected on the other,
might have to pass. A crowd of unreal things, 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 secondhand finery for the Hamp-
stead 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 re-
sult was the history of Evelina.



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MADAME D'ARBLAT. 267

Then came, naturally enough, a wish, mingled with
aiany 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 confi-
dence 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 ex-
pense 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 eren 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 Bnmey, who took the name of Grafton, and
desired that the letters addressed to her might be left at
the Orange Coffeehouse. But, before the bargain was
finally sti-uck, Fanny thought it her duty to obtain her
father's consent. She told him that she had written a
bonk, 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. Bur-
ney was as bad a father as so goodhearted 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 %vas there-
fore 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



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268 DIARY AND I^TTERS OF

exposing herself if her book were a bad one, and, if it
were a good one, to see that the terms which she made
with the publisher were likely to be beneficial to her.
Instead of tliis, 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 ccHicluded. Twenty pounds
were given for the copyright, and were accepted by
Fanny with delight. Her father's inexcusable neglect
of his duty liappily 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 widi terror, and durst
hardly stir out of doors. Some days passed before any
thing was heard of the book. It had, indeed, noUiing
but its own merits to push it into puUie fiivour. Its
author was imknown. 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 firom 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 genei^ly: 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 feint accents of praise
began to be heard. The keepers of the circulating
libi*aries reported that everybody was asking for Eve-
lina, and that some person had guessed Anstey to be
the author. Then came a fevouraUe notice in the
London Review; then another still more favourable
in the Monthly. And now the book found its way
CO tables which had seldom been polluted by mai*ble



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MADAME D'ARBLAY. 269

covered volumes. Scholars and statesmen, who con-
t'^mptuously 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 tlie 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 fiir too proud and too happy to be dis-
creet. Dr. Bumey wept over the book in rapture.
Daddy Crisp shook his fist at his Fannikin in affec-
tionate anger at not having been admitted to her confi-
dence. 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,



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