« ПретходнаНастави »
her of the kind of errors into which she was likely to fall in preparing her notes for publication. Our conjectures are now too fully verified : the interest is indeed much less than we anticipated, but in all the rest - the diffuseness—the pomposity-the prolixity--the false colouring—the factitious details—and, above all, the personal affectation and vanity of the author, this book exceeds our worst apprehensions.
At first sight the Diary seems a minute record of all that she saw, did, or heard, and we find the pages crowded with names and teeming with matters of the greatest apparent interest—with details of the social habits and familiar conversation of the most fashionable, most intellectual, and, in every sense, most illustrious personages of the last age.. No book that we ever opened, not even Boswell's Johnson,' promised at the first glance more of all that species of entertainment and information which memoir-writing can convey, and the position and respectability of the author, with her supposed power of delineating character, all tended to heighten our expectation ; but never, we regret to say, has there been a more vexatious disappointment. We have indeed brought before us not merely the minor notabilities of the day, but a great many persons whose station and talents assure them an historic celebrity-King George III., Queen Charlotte, and their family-Johnson, Burke, Sir Joshua, and their socielyMrs. Montague, Mrs. Thrale, Mrs. Delany, and their circlesin short, the whole court and literary world ; and all in their easiest and most familiar moods :-their words—their lookstheir manners-and even their movements about the room pencilled, as it would seem, with the most minute and scrupulous accuracy :- but when we come a little closer, and see and hear what all these eminent and illustrious personages are saying and doing, we are not a little surprised and vexed to find them a wearisome congregation of monotonous and featureless prosers, brought together for one single object, in which they, one and all, seem occupied, as if it were the main business of human life-namely, the glorification of Miss Fanny Burney-her talents-her taste-her sagacityber wit-ber manners-her temper-her delicacy-even her beauty-and, above all, her modesty!
We really have never met anything more curious, nor, if it were not repeated ad nauseam, more comical, than the elaborate ingenuity with which-as the ancients used to say that all roads led to Rome-every topic, from whatsoever quarter it may start, is ultimately brought home to Miss Bur, ney. There can be, of course, no autobiography without egotism ; and though the best works of this class are those in which self is the most successfully disguised, it must always be the main ingredient. We therefore expected, and, indeed, were very willing, that Miss Burney should tell us a great deal about herself ; but what we did not expect, and what wearies, and, we must candidly add, disgusts us, is to find that she sees nothing beyond the tips of her own fingers, and considers all the rest of man and womankind as mere satellites of that great luminary of the age, the author of • Evelina.' In fact, the first sentence of her " Diary,' though no doubt meant to pass for a modest irony, turns out to be a mere matter-of-fact expression of her true sentiments :
• Part. I. 1778. This year was ushered in by a grand and most important event! At the latter end of January, the literary world was favoured with the first publication of the ingenious, learned, and most profound Fanny Burney! I doubt not but this memorable affair will, in future times, mark the period whence chronologers will date the zenith of the polite arts in this islaud !
• This admirable authoress has named her most elaborate performance, «Evelina ; or, a Young Lady's Entrance into the World.'. vol. i. p. 37. This assumed pleasantry is her own real view of the case, and affords indeed the text, as it were, on which the rest of the work is a most illustrative commentary.
We insist thus early, and thus strongly, on this extravagant egotism, not merely because it is the chief fealure of the book, but for the higher and more important purpose of doing justice to the eminent persons who make a very mean and very foolish figure when thus dragged at the wheels of the triumphant car of Miss Burney, - for so we must call her, while the Diary' is written in that name. We know that ingenious and sensible people, from not adverting to her real
and sole object--namely, herself-have been led to consider those eminent personages as responsible for all the nonsense and twaddle which she has chosen to put into their mouths. A weekly critic ("), for instance, who very shrewdly detected, and very adroitly exposed, the mock humility and inordinate vanity of the diarist, is nevertheless so far inaltentive to the consequences they produce as to assume her reports to be a true representation of the manners and conversation which she describes, and to flatter himself that society now-a-days would not tolerate the commonplace mediocrity and twaddle of Johnson and Burke,' or the enormous pretensions and vulgarity of Mrs. Montague, Miss Carter, and Hannah More. We do not deny the existence of the mediocrity' and ' vulgarity' attributed to those eminent persons by Miss Burney ; they stare us out of countenance in every page: but we very much wonder that any attentive reader, and above all one whose appreciation of the autbor is otherwise so just, should not see that the twaddle' and vulgarity' are Miss Burney's own; and that her natural propensity to those defects (of which there are innumerable olber proofs) is mainly assisted by her assecting, in the true jog-lrot of, a novelwriter, to give', verbutim, all the details of long conversations --- sometimes many days old — which the readiest pen and the quickest apprehension could not have done even on the instant.
In truth nothing can be so vapid as that mode of reporting conversation must inevitably be, even in the cleverest hands. Boswell, the best and most graphic of narralors, never attempts so hopeless a task for above two or three consecutive paragraphs, but more commonly contents himself with preserving the general spirit of the discourse-catching here and there the most striking expressions, and now and then venturing to mark an emphasis or an altitude. A clever artist may sketch a very lively likeness of a countenance which he has only seen en passant, but if he were to attempt-in the ab
(") Athenæum, 23rd April, 1842. The description of Miss Burney's style and character in that article is very clever and very just,
sence of the object-- to fill up the outline with all the little details of form and colour, he would find that his efforts only diminished the spirit and impaired the resemblance. So it is of reporting public speeches—and so still more of reporting conversations. . But even if Miss Burney bad had more of Boswell's happy knack, it would not bave much mended the maller, for her sole and exclusive object was not to relate what Burke, or Johnson, or anybody else should say on general subjects, but what flattering things they said about Fanny Burney. The result is, that we have little amusement and less faith in the details of those elaborate dialogues, which occupy, we believe, more than half her volumes-their very minuteness and elaboration sufficiently prove that they cannot be authentic ; and they are, moreover, trivial and wearisome beyond all patience. How-we will not say, the author of · Evelina’ and · Cecilia,' but-how any person of the most ordinary degree of taste and talents could have wasted time and paper in making such a much ado about nothing we cannot conceive ; nor did we—till we had read this book-imagine that real life and proper names could by any maladresse of a narrator be made so insufferably flat, stale, and unprofitable. The severity of this judgment obliges us to justify it by some examples. We are well aware that they will appear tedious and fulsome, and that our readers may wish that we had spared them such wearisome extracts : but there is really no other way of giving them a tolerable idea of the book ; and when we have the misfortune to think unfavourably of a work, we are anxious to allow it, as much as possible, to speak for itself.
· Wednesday (at Streatham).-- At breakfast, Dr. Johnson asked me if I had been reading his «Life of Cowley ? »
««0 yes,» said I. * « And wbat do you think of it?» 'I am delighted with it, » cried I: «ard if I was somelody, instead of nobody, I should not have read it without telling you sooner what I think of it, and unasked, » • Again, when I took up Cowley's Life, he made me put it
away to talk. I could not help remarking how very like Dr. Johnson is to his writing; and how much the same thing it was to hear or to this rogue
read him ; but that nobody could tell that without coming to Streatham, for his language was generally imagined to be laboured and studied, instead of the mere common flow of his thoughts.
•„Very true,» said Mrs. Thrale, «be writes and talks with the same ease, and in the same manner : but, Sir (to him), is like her book, how will she trim all of us by and by! Now she dainties us up with all the meekness in the world; but when we are away, I suppose she pays us off finely. » • « My paying off,» cried I, « is like the Latin af Iludibras,
who never scanted
His learning unto such as wanted;' for I can figure like anything when I am with those who can't figure at all.
• Mrs. T.-Oh, if you have any mag in you, we'll draw it out!
• Dr. J.-A rogue! she told me that, if she was somebody instead of nobody, she would praise my book!
• F. B.-Why, Sir, I am sure you would scoff my praise.
• Dr. J.-If you think that you think very ill of me: but you don't think it.
• Mrs. T.-We have told her what you said to Miss More, and I believe that makes her afraid.
• Dr. J.-Well, and if she was to serve me as Miss More did, I should say the same thing to her. But I think she will not. Ilannah More has very good intellects, too; but she has by no means the elegance of Miss Burncy.
• „Well, » cried I, «there are folks that are to be spoilt, and folks that are not to be spoilt, as well in the world as in the nursery: but what will become of me I know not. »
• Mrs. T.-Well, il you are spoilt, we can only say, nothing in the world is so pleasant as being spoilt.
• Dr. J.-No, no; Burney will not be spoilt: she knows too well what praise she has a claim to, and what not, to be in any danger of spoiling.
•F. B.- I do, indeed, believe I shall never be spoilt at Streatham, for it is the last place where I can feel of any consequence.
• Mrs. T.-Well, Sir, she is our Miss Burney, however ; we were the first to catch her, and now we have got, we will keep her. And so she is all our own.
• Dr. J.-Yes, I hope she is; I should be very sorry to lose Miss Burney.
•F. B.-Oh dear! how can two such people sit and talk such• Mrs. T.-Such stuff, you think? but Dr. Johnson's love
• Dr. J.- Love? no, I don't entirely love her yet ; I must see more of her first; I have much too high an opinion of her to flatter her. I have, indeed, seeu nothing of her but what is fit to be loved, but I must know her more. I admire her, and greatly too.