« ElőzőTovább »
But it would be tedious to recount | part in the revolution to which she owed the names of all the men of letters and her throne ; and that his huge hands, artists whom Frances Burney had an now glittering with diamond rings, had opportunity of seeing and hearing. given the last squeeze to the windpipe Colman, Twining, Harris, Baretti, of her unfortunate husband. Hawkesworth, Reynolds, Barry, were With such illustrious guests as these among those who occasionally sur- were mingled all the most remarkable rounded the tea table and supper tray specimens of the race of lions, a kind of at her father's modest dwelling. This game which is hunted in London every was not all. The distinction which Dr. spring with more than Meltonian ardour Burney had acquired as a musician, and perseverance. Bruce, who had and as the historian of music, attracted washed down steaks cut from living to his house the most eminent musical oxen with water from the fountains of performers of that age. The greatest the Nile, came to swagger and talk Italian singers who visited England re- about his travels. Omai lisped broken garded him as the dispenser of fame English, and made all the assembled in their art, and exerted themselves to musicians hold their ears by howling obtain his suffrage. Pachierotti became Otaheitean love songs, such as those his intimate friend. The rapacious with which Oberea charmed her Opano. Agujari, who sang for nobody else With the literary and fashionable under fifty pounds an air, sang her best society, which occasionally met under for Dr. Burney without a fee; and in Dr. Burney's roof, Frances can scarcely the company of Dr. Burney even the be said to have mingled. She was not haughty and eccentric Gabrielli con- a musician, and could therefore bear strained herself to behave with civility. no part in the concerts. She was shy It was thus in his power to give, with almost to awkwardness, and scarcely scarcely any expense, concerts equal to ever joined in the conversation. The those of the aristocracy. On such oc- slightest remark from a stranger discasions the quiet street in which he concerted her; and even the old friends lived was blocked up by coroneted of her father who tried to draw her out chariots, and his little drawing-room could seldom extract more than a Yes was crowded with peers, peeresses, mi- or a No. Her figure was small, her face nisters, and ambassadors. On one not distinguished by beauty. She was evening, of which we happen to have a therefore suffered to withdraw quietly full account, there were present Lord to the background, and, unobserved Mulgrave, Lord Bruce, Lord and Lady herself, to observe all that passed. Her Edgecumbe, Lord Barrington from the nearest relations were aware that she War Office, Lord Sandwich from the had good sense, but seem not to have Admiralty, Lord Ashburnham, with his suspected that, under her demure and gold key dangling from his pocket, bashful deportment, were concealed a and the French Ambassador, M. De fertile invention and a keen sense of the Guignes, renowned for his fine person ridiculous. She had not, it is true, an and for his success in gallantry. But eye for the fine shades of character. the great show of the night was the But every marked peculiarity instantly Russian ambassador, Count Orloff, caught her notice and remained enwhose gigantic figure was all in a graven on her imagination. Thus, while blaze with jewels, and in whose de still a girl, she had laid up such a store meanour the untamed ferocity of the of materials for fiction as few of those Scythian might be discerned through a who mix much in the world are able to thin varnish of French politeness. As accumulate during a long life. She he stalked about the small parlour, had watched and listened to people of brushing the ceiling with his toupee, every class, from princes and great the girls whispered to each other, with officers of state down to artists living mingled admiration and horror, that he in garrets, and poets familiar with subwas the favoured lover of his august terranean cookshops. Hundreds of remistress; that he had borne the chiefmarkable persons had passed in review
before her, English, French, German, ever, so interesting and instructive, Italian, lords and fiddlers, deans of that it tempts us to venture on a cathedrals and managers of theatres, digression. travellers leading about newly caught Long before Frances Burney was savages, and singing women escorted born, Mr. Crisp had made his entrance by deputy husbands.
into the world, with every advantage. So strong was the impression made He was well connected and well eduon the mind of Frances by the society cated. His face and figure were conwhich she was in the habit of seeing spicuously handsome; his manners and hearing, that she began to write were polished ; his fortune was easy; little fictitious narratives as soon as she his character was without stain; he could use her pen with ease, which, as lived in the best society ; he had read we have said, was not very early. Her much; he talked well; his taste in sisters were amused by her stories : but literature, music, painting, architecDr. Burney knew nothing of their ex- ture, sculpture, was held in high esteem. istence; and in another quarter her Nothing that the world can give seemed literary propensities met with serious to be wanting to his happiness and rediscouragement. When she was fif- spectability, except that he should unteen, her father took a second wife. derstand the limits of his powers, and The new Mrs. Burney soon found out should not throw away distinctions that her stepdaughter was fond of which were within his reach in the scribbling, and delivered several good- pursuit of distinctions which were unnatured lectures on the subject. The attainable. advice no doubt was well meant, and “ It is an uncontrolled truth,” says might have been given by the most Swift, “that no man ever made an ill judicious friend ; for at that time, from figure who understood his own talents, causes to which we may hereafter ad- nor a good one who mistook them.” vert, nothing could be more disadvan- Every day brings with it fresh illustratageous to a young lady than to be tions of this weighty saying ; but the known as a novelwriter. Frances best commentary that we remember is yielded, relinquished her favourite the history of Samuel Crisp. Men like pursuit, and made a bonfire of all him have their proper place, and it is a her manuscripts.*
most important one, in the CommonShe now hemmed and stitched from wealth of Letters. It is by the judgbreakfast to dinner with scrupulous ment of such men that the rank of regularity. But the dinners of that authors is finally determined. It is time were early ; and the afternoon neither to the multitude, nor to the few was her own. Though she had given who are gifted with great creative geup novelwriting, she was still fond of nius, that we are to look for sound using her pen. She began to keep a critical decisions. The multitude, undiary, and she corresponded largely acquainted with the best models, are with a person who seems to have had captivated by whatever stuns and dazthe chief share in the formation of her zles them. They deserted Mrs. Siddons mind. This was Samuel Crisp, an old to run after Master Betty; and they friend of her father. His name, well now. prefer, we have no doubt, Jack known, near a century ago, in the most Sheppard to Von Artevelde. A man splendid circles of London, has long of great original genius, on the other been forgotten. His history is, how- hand, a man who has attained to mas
tery in some high walk of art, is by no * There is some difficulty here as to the means to be implicitly trusted as a chronology. “ This sacrifice," says the lindge of the performances of others. editor of the Diary,"was made in the young The erroneous decisions pronounced authoress's fifteenth year." This could not be ; for the sacrifice was the effect, accord-by such men are without number. ing to the editor's own showing, of the remonstrances of the second Mrs. Burney; I makes them unjust. But a more creand Frances was in her sixteenth year when
found. her father's second marriage took place.
The very excellence of a work shows | ardson perpetually expressed contempt that some of the faculties of the author and disgust for Fielding's lowness. have been developed at the expense of Mr. Crisp seems, as far as we can the rest ; for it is not given to the hu- judge, to have been a man eminently man intellect to expand itself widely qualified for the useful office of a conin all directions at once, and to be at noisseur. His talents and knowledge the same time gigantic and well pro- fitted him to appreciate justly almost portioned. Whoever becomes preemi- every species of intellectual superiority. nent in any art, nay, in any style of art, As an adviser he was inestimable. generally does so by devoting himself Nay, he might probably have held a with intense and exclusive enthusiasm respectable rank as a writer, if he to the pursuit of one kind of excellence. would have confined himself to some His perception of other kinds of excel. department of literature in which nolence is therefore too often impaired. thing more than sense, taste, and readOut of his own department he praises ing was required. Unhappily he set and blames at random, and is far less his heart on being a great poet, wrote to be trusted than the mere connois, a tragedy in five acts on the death of seur, who produces nothing, and whose | Virginia, and offered it to Garrick, business is only to judge and enjoy. who was his personal friend. Garrick One painter is distinguished by his ex- read, shook his head, and expressed a quisite finishing. He toils day after doubt whether it would be wise in Mr. day to bring the veins of a cabbage Crisp to stake a reputation, which stood leaf, the folds of a lace veil, the wrinkles high, on the success of such a piece. of an old woman's face, nearer and But the author, blinded by ambition, nearer to perfection. In the time which set in motion a machinery such as he employs on a square foot of canvass, none could long resist. His intercesa master of a different order covers the sors were the most eloquent man and walls of a palace with gods burying the most lovely woman of that generagiants under mountains, or makes the tion. Pitt was induced to read Vircupola of a church alive with seraphim ginia, and to pronounce it excellent. and martyrs. The more fervent the Lady Coventry, with fingers which passion of each of these artists for might have furnished a model to sculphis art, the higher the merit of each tors, forced the manuscript into the in his own line, the more unlikely it reluctant hand of the manager; and, is that they will justly appreciate in the year 1754, the play was brought each other. Many persons who never forward. handled a pencil probably do far more Nothing that skill or friendship justice to Michael Angelo than would could do was omitted. Garrick wrote have been done by Gerard Douw, both prologue and epilogue. The and far more justice to Gerard Douw zealous friends of the author filled than would have been done by Michael every box; and, by their strenuous Angelo.
exertions, the life of the play was proIt is the same with literature. Thou- longed during ten nights. But, though sands, who have no spark of the genius there was no clamorous reprobation, it of Dryden or Wordsworth, do to Dry- was universally felt that the attempt den the justice which has never been had failed. When Virginia was printdone by Wordsworth, and to Words- ed, the public disappointment was even worth the justice which, we suspect, greater than at the representation, would never have been done by Dry-The critics, the Monthly Reviewers in den. Gray, Johnson, Richardson, Field-particular, fell on plot, characters, and ing, are all highly esteemed by the great diction without mercy, but, we fear, body of intelligent and well informed not without justice. We have never men. But Gray could see no merit in met with a copy of the play ; but, if Rasselas ; and Johnson could see no we may judge from the scene which merit in the Bard. Fielding thought is extracted in the Gentleman's MagaRichardson a solemn prig ; and Rich. | zine, and which does not appear to
have been malevolently selected, we failure he attributed to every cause should say that nothing but the acting except the true one. He complained of Garrick, and the partiality of the of the ill will of Garrick, who appears audience, could have saved so feeble to have done for the play every thing and unnatural a drama from instant that ability and zeal could do, and who, damnation.
from selfish motives, would, of course, The ambition of the poet was still have been well pleased if Virginia had unsubdued. When the London season been as successful as the Beggar's closed, he applied himself vigorously Opera. Nay, Crisp complained of the to the work of removing blemishes. languor of the friends whose partiality He does not seem to have suspected, had given him three benefit nights to what we are strongly inclined to sus- which he had no claim. He compect, that the whole piece was one plained of the injustice of the specblemish, and that the passages which tators, when, in truth, he ought to were meant to be fine, were, in truth, have been grateful for their unexbursts of that tame extravagance into ampled patience. He lost his temper which writers fall, when they set them- and spirits, and became a cynic and a selves to be sublime and pathetic in hater of mankind. From London he spite of nature. He omitted, added, retired to Hampton, and from Hampretouched, and flattered himself with ton to a solitary and long deserted hopes of a complete success in the fol- mansion, built on a common in one of lowing year; but in the following year, the wildest tracts of Surrey. No road, Garrick showed no disposition to bring not even a sheepwalk, connected his the amended tragedy on the stage. So- lonely dwelling with the abodes of licitation and remonstrance were tried men. The place of his retreat was in vain. Lady Coventry, drooping strictly concealed from his old assounder that malady which seems ever ciates. In the spring he sometimes to select what is loveliest for its prey, emerged, and was seen at exhibitions could render no assistance. The ma- and concerts in London. But he soon nager's language was civilly evasive ; disappeared, and hid himself, with no but his resolution was inflexible. society but his books, in his dreary
Crisp had committed a great error; hermitage. He survived his failure but he had escaped with a very slight about thirty years. A new generation penance. His play had not been hooted sprang up around him. No memory from the boards. It had, on the con- of his bad verses remained among meni. trary, been better received than many His very name was forgotten. How very estimable performances have been, completely the world had lost sight of than Johnson's Irene, for example, or him, will appear from a single circumGoldsmith's Goodnatured Man. Had stance. We looked for him in a copious Crisp been wise, he would have thought Dictionary of Dramatic Authors pubhimself happy in having purchased lished while he was still alive, and we selfknowledge so cheap. He would found only that Mr. Henry Crisp, of have relinquished, without vain repin- the Custom House, had written a play ings, the hope of poetical distinction, called Virginia, acted in 1754. To and would have turned to the many the last, however, the unhappy man sources of happiness which he still continued to brood over the injustice possessed. Had he been, on the other of the manager and the pit, and tried hand, an unfeeling and unblushing to convince himself and others that he dunce, he would have gone on writing had missed the highest literary honours, scores of bad tragedies in defiance of only because he had omitted some fine censure and derision. But he had too passages in compliance with Garrick's much sense to risk a second defeat, judgment. Alas, for human nature, yet too little sense to bear his first that the wounds of vanity should smart defeat like a man. The fatal delusion and bleed so much longer than the that he was a great dramatist, had wounds of affection! Few people, we taken firm possession of his mind. His believe, whose nearest friends and relations died in 1754, had any acute feel- cerning in them all the powers which ing of the loss in 1782. Dear sisters, afterwards produced Evelina and Ceand favourite daughters, and brides cilia, the quickness in catching every snatched away before the honeymoon odd peculiarity of character and manwas passed, had been forgotten, or were ner, the skill in grouping, the humour, remembered only with a tranquil re- often richly comic, sometimes even gret. But Samuel Crisp was still farcical. mourning for his tragedy, like Rachel Fanny's propensity to novelwriting weeping for her children, and would had for a time been kept down. It not be comforted. “Never," such was now rose up stronger than ever. The his language twenty-eight years after heroes and heroines of the tales which his disaster, “ never give up or alter a had perished in the flames, were still tittle unless it perfectly coincides with present to the eye of her mind. One your own inward feelings. I can say favourite story, in particular, haunted this to my sorrow and my cost. But her imagination. It was about a cermum !” Soon after these words were tain Caroline Evelyn, a beautiful damwritten, his life, a life which might sel who made an unfortunate love have been eminently useful and happy, match, and died, leaving an infant ended in the same gloom in which, daughter. Frances began to image to during more than a quarter of a cen- herself the various scenes, tragic and tury, it had been passed. We have comic, through which the poor motherthought it worth while to rescue from less girl, highly connected on one side, oblivion this curious fragment of lite- meanly connected on the other, might rary history. It seems to us at once have to pass. A crowd of unreal ludicrous, melancholy, and full of in- beings, good and bad, grave and ludistruction.
crous, surrounded the pretty, timid, Crisp was an old and very intimate young orphan; a coarse sea captain ; friend of the Burneys. To them alone an ugly insolent fop, blazing in a was confided the name of the desolate superb court dress ; another fop, as old hall in which he hid himself like a ugly and as insolent, but lodged on wild beast in a den. For them were Snow Hill, and tricked out in secondreserved such remains of his humanity hand finery for the Hampstead ball; as had survived the failure of his play. an old woman, all wrinkles and rouge, Frances Burney he regarded as his flirting her fan with the air of a miss daughter. He called her his Fannikin; of seventeen, and screaming in a diaand she in return called him her dear lect made up of vulgar French and Daddy. In truth, he seems to have vulgar English; a poet lean and done much more than her real parents ragged, with a broad Scotch accent. for the development of her intellect; By degrees these shadows acquired for though he was a bad poet, he was stronger and stronger consistence; the a scholar, a thinker, and an excellent impulse which urged Frances to write counsellor. He was particularly fond became irresistible ; and the result was of the concerts in Poland Street. They the History of Evelina. had, indeed, been commenced at his Then came, naturally enough, & suggestion, and when he visited Lon- wish, mingled with many fears, to apdon he constantly attended them. But pear before the public; for, timid as when he grew old, and when gout, Frances was, and bashful, and altobrought on partly by mental irritation, gether unaccustomed to hear her own confined him to his retreat, he was praises, it is clear that she wanted neidesirous of having a glimpse of that ther a strong passion for distinction, gay and brilliant world from which he nor a just confidence in her own was exiled, and he pressed Fannikin powers. Her scheme was to become, to send him full accounts of her father's if possible, a candidate for fame, withevening parties. A few of her letters out running any risk of disgrace. She to him have been published ; and it is had not money to bear the expense of impossible to read them without dis- printing. It was therefore necessary