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All I had heard of his eloquence, and all I had conceived of his great abilities, was more than answered by his performance. Nervous, clear, and striking was almost all that he uttered; the main business, indeed, of his coming forth was frequently neglected, and not seldom wholly lost; but his excursions were so fanciful, so entertaining, and so ingenious, that no miscellaneous hearer, like myself, could blame them. It is true he was unequal, but his inequality produced an effect which, in so long a speech, was perhaps preferable to greater consistency, since, though it lost attention in its falling off, it recovered it with additional energy by some ascent unexpected and wonderful. When he narrated, he was easy, flowing, and natural; when he declaimed, energetic, warm, and brilliant. The sentiments he interspersed were as nobly conceived as they were highly colored; his satire had a poignancy of wit that made it as entertaining as it was penetrating. His allusions and quotations, as far as they were English and within my reach, were apt and ingenious; and the wild and sudden flights of his fancy, bursting forth from his creative imagination in language fluent, forcible, and varied, had a charm for my ear and my attention wholly new and perfectly irresistible.
Were talents such as these exercised in the service of truth, unbiased by party and prejudice, how could we sufficiently applaud their exalted possessor! But though frequently he made me tremble by his strong and horrible representations, his own violence recovered me, by stigmatizing his assertions with personal ill-will and designing illiberality. Yet at times I confess, with all that I felt, wished, and thought concerning Mr. Hastings, the whirlwind of his eloquence nearly drew me into its vortex.
October, 1790. The beautiful chapel of St. George, repaired and finished by the best artists at an immense expense, which was now opened after a very long shutting up for its preparations, brought innumerable strangers to Windsor, and, among others, Mr. Boswell. This I heard, in my way to the chapel, from Mr. Turbulent,' who overtook me, and mentioned having met Mr. Boswell at the Bishop of Carlisle's the evening before. He proposed
1 A pseudonym for La Guiffardière, French reader to the Queen.
bringing him to call upon me; but this I declined, certain how little satisfaction would be given here by the entrance of a man so famous for compiling anecdotes. But yet I really wished to see him again, for old acquaintance' sake,' and unavoidable
[The record of Miss Burney's first meeting with Boswell is not found in the Diary, but in the Memoirs of her father, written in her old age and published 1832. Though not strictly, therefore, a part of eighteenth-century literature, it is too pertinent not to be reproduced:)
As Mr. Boswell was at Streatham only upon a morning visit, a collation was ordered to which all were assembled. Mr. Boswell was preparing to take a seat that he seemed, by prescription, to consider as his own, next to Dr. Johnson; but Mr. Seward, who was present, waved his hand for Mr. Boswell to move farther on, saying with a smile, “Mr. Bos. well, that seat is Miss Burney's.”
He stared, amazed. The asserted claimant was new and unknown to him, and he appeared by no means pleased to resign his prior rights. But after looking round for a minute or two, with an important air of demanding the meaning of the innovation, and receiving no satisfaction, he reluctantly, almost resentfully, got another chair, and placed it at the back of the shoulder of Dr. Johnson; while this new and unheard-of rival quietly seated herself as if not hearing what was passing, for she shrank from the explanation that she feared might ensue, as she saw a smile stealing over every countenance, that of Dr. Johnson himself not excepted, at the discomfiture and surprise of Mr. Boswell.
Mr. Boswell, however, was so situated as not to remark it in the Doctor; and of every one else, when in that presence, he was unobservant if not contemptuous. In truth, when he met Dr. Johnson, he commonly forbore even answering anything that went forward, lest he should miss the smallest sound from that voice to which he paid such exclusive, though merited, homage. But the moment that voice burst forth, the attention which it excited in Mr. Boswell amounted almost to pain. His eyes goggled with eagerness; he leant his ear almost on the shoulder of the Doctor, and his mouth dropped open to catch every syllable that might be uttered; nay, he seemed not only to dread losing a word, but to be anxious not to miss a breathing, as if hoping from it, latently or mystically, some information.
But when, in a few minutes, Dr. Johnson, whose eye did not follow him, and who had concluded him to be at the other end of the table, said something gayly and good-humorcdly, by the appellation of Bozzy, and discovered, by the sound of the reply, that Bozzy had planted himself, as closely as he could, behind and between the elbows of the new usurper and his own, the Doctor turned angrily round upon him, and, clapping his hand rather loudly upon his knee, said, in a tone of displeasure: “What do you do there, sir? Go to the table, sir!"
Mr. Boswell instantly, and with an air of affright, obeyed; and there was something so unusual in such humble submission to so imperious a command, that another smile gleamed its way across every mouth. except that of the Doctor and of Mr. Boswell, who now, very unwillingly, took a distant seat.
But, ever restless when not at the side of Dr. Johnson, he presently recollected something that he wished to exhibit; and, hastily rising, was running away in its search, when the Doctor, calling after him, authoritatively said, “What are you thinking of, sir? Why do you get up before the cloth is removed? Come back to your place, sir!"
Again, and with equal obsequiousness, Mr. Boswell did as he was bid; when the Doctor, pursing his lips not to betray rising risibility, muttered half to himself: "Running about in the middle of meals! One would take you for a Branghton!” (The name of a vulgar family in Miss Burney's Evelina.)
"A Branghton, sir?" repeated Mr. Boswell, with earnestness. “What is a Branghton, sir?"
“Where have you lived, sir?" cried the Doctor, laughing, “and what company have you kept, not to know that?"
Mr. Boswell now, doubly curious, yet always apprehensive of falling into some disgrace with Dr. Johnson, said, in a low tone, which he knew the Doctor could not hear, to Mrs. Thrale: “Pray, ma'am, what's a Branghton? Do me the favor to tell me! Is it some animal bereabouts?"
amusement from his oddity and good-humor, as well as respect for the object of his constant admiration, my revered Dr. Johnson. I therefore told Mr. Turbulent I should be extremely glad to speak with him after the service was over.
Accordingly, at the gate of the choir Mr. Turbulent brought him to me. We saluted with mutual glee. His comic-serious face and manner have lost nothing of their wonted singularity, nor yet have his mind and language, as you will soon confess.
I asked him about Mr. Burke's book. "Oh," cried he,"it will come out next week; 't is the first book in the world, except my own, and that's coming out also very soon; only I want your help."
“Yes, madam, you must give me some of your choice little notes of the Doctor's; we have seen him long enough upon stilts; I want to show him in a new light. Grave Sam, and great Sam, and solemn Sam, and learned Sam - all these he has appeared over and over. Now I want to entwine a wreath of the graces across his brow; I want to show him as gay Sam, agreeable Sam, pleasant Sam; so you must help me with some of his beautiful billets to yourself.”
I evaded this by declaring I had not any stores at hand. He proposed a thousand curious expedients to get at them, but I was invincible. . . . He then told me his Life of Dr. Johnson was nearly printed, and took a proof-sheet out of his pocket to show me, with crowds passing and repassing, knowing me well, and staring well at him; for we were now at the iron rails of the Queen's Lodge. I stopped; I could not ask him in. I saw he expected it, and was reduced to apologize, and tell him I must attend the Queen immediately. . . . Finding he had no chance for entering, he stopped me again at the gate, and said he would read me a part of his work. There was no refusing this; and he began, with a letter of Dr. Johnson to himself. He read it in strong imitation of the Doctor's manner, - very well, and not
Mrs. Thrale only heartily laughed, but without answering, as she saw one of her guests uneasily fearful of an explanation. But Mr. Seward cried: “I'll tell you, Boswell, I'll tell you, if you will walk with me into the paddock; only let us wait till the table is cleared, or I shall be taken for a Branghton too!”
They soon went off together, and Mr. Boswell, no doubt, was fully informed of the road that had led to the usurpation by which he had thus been annoyed. But the Branghton fabricator took care to mount to her chamber ere they returned, and did not come down till Mr. Boswell was gone.
caricature. But Mrs. Schwellenberg was at her window, a crowd was gathering to stand round the rails, and the king and queen and royal family now approached from the Terrace. I made a rather quick apology, and, with a step as quick as my now weakened limbs have left in my power, I hurried to my apartment.
June 5, 1791. (Mr. Turbulent) had been reading, like all the rest of the world, Boswell's Life of Dr. Johnson, and the preference there expressed of Mrs. Lennox to all other females had filled him with astonishment, as he had never even heard her name. These occasional sallies of Dr. Johnson, uttered from local causes and circumstances, but all retailed verbatim by Mr. Boswell, are filling all sorts of readers with amaze, except the small party to whom Dr. Johnson was known, and who, by acquaintance with the power of the moment over his unguarded conversation, know how little of his solid opinion was to be gathered from his accidental assertions.
. . . I regretted not having the strength to read this work to her Majesty myself. It was an honor I should else have certainly received; for so much wanted clearing! so little was understood! However, the Queen frequently condescended to read over passages and anecdotes which perplexed or offended her, and there were none I had not a fair power to soften or to justify. Dear and excellent Dr. Johnson! I have never forgot nor neglected his injunction given me when he was ill, - to stand by him and support him, and not hear him abused when he was no more, and could not defend himself! But little little did I think it would ever fall to my lot to vindicate him to his king
June 18, 1792. At length Mr. Burke appeared, accompanied by Mr. Elliot. He shook hands with my father as soon as he had paid his devoirs to Mrs. Crewe, but he returned my curtsey with so distant a bow that I concluded myself quite lost with him, from my evident solicitude in poor Mr. Hastings's cause. I could not wish that less obvious, thinking as I think of it; but I felt infinitely grieved to lose the favor of a man whom, in all other articles, I so much venerate, and whom indeed I esteem and admire
as the very first man of true genius now living in this country.
The moment I was named, to my great joy I found Mr. Burke had not recollected me. He is more near-sighted, considerably, than myself.
“Miss Burney!” he now exclaimed, coming forward, and quite kindly taking my hand, “I did not see you.” And then he spoke very sweet words of the meeting, and of my looking far better than “while I was a courtier,” and of how he rejoiced to see that I so little suited that station. ... After this my father joined us, and politics took the lead. He spoke then with an eagerness and a vehemence that instantly banished the graces, though it redoubled the energies, of his discourse.
“The French Revolution," he said, “which began by authorizing and legalizing injustice, and which by rapid steps had proceeded to every species of despotism except owning a despot, was now menacing all the universe and all mankind with the most violent concussion of principle and order.” My father heartily joined, and I tacitly assented to his doctrines, though I feared not with his fears.
One speech I must repeat, for it is explanatory of his conduct, and nobly explanatory. When he had expatiated upon the present dangers, even to English liberty and property, from the contagion of havoc and novelty, he earnestly exclaimed, “This it is that has made me an abettor and supporter of kings! Kings are necessary, and if we would preserve peace and prosperity, we must preserve them. We must all put our shoulders to the work! Ay, and stoutly, too!"
This subject lasted till dinner. At dinner Mr. Burke sat next Mrs. Crewe, and I had the happiness to be seated next Mr. Burke, and my other neighbor was his amiable son. The dinner, and the dessert when the servants were removed, were delightful. How I wish my dear Susanna and Fredy could meet this wonderful man when he is easy, happy, and with people he cordially likes! But politics, even on his own side, must always be excluded; his irritability is so terrible on that theme that it gives immediately to his face the expression of a man who is going to defend himself from murderers.