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Her most Gracious Majesty the Empresø.
THE ST. PETERSBURG
OF LITERATURE, THE ARTS, AND SCIENCES.
Knight of the Orders of St. Anne, St. Stanislaus, and St. Vladimir,
THOMAS B. SHAW,
VOLUME IV. - FIRST YEAR.
On condition of furnishing the necessary number of copies to the committee of Censorship.
St. Petersburg, December 15th, 1842.
DIARY AND LETTERS OF Mme D'ARBLAY,
Edited by her Niece. Vols. I., II., III. London. 1842.
When we reviewed, ten years ago, that strange display of egotism which Madame D'Arblay was pleased to call Memoirs of her Father,' we expressed a wish that she would * condense and simplify into a couple of interesting (and interesting they would be) volumes her own story and her contemporaneous notes and boná fide recollections of that brilliant society in which she moved from 1777 to 1794. We lay some stress on the words bond fide-not as imputing to Madame D'Arblay the sligtest intention to deceive, but because we think that we see in almost every page abundant proof that the habit of novel-writing has led her to colour, and, as she may suppose, embellish, her anecdotes with sonorous epithets and factitious details, which however, we venture to assure her, not only blunt their effect, but discredit their authority.'-, Quart. Rev. vol. xlix. p. 125.
We were not then in the secret of Madame D'Arblay's having from her earliest youth kept the diary now presented to us ; but we guessed, from many passages in the • Memoirs of Dr. Burney,
that she was in possession of copious contemporaneous materials for her own, and we candidly forewarned
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 dilsuseness—the pomposity—the prolixily—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 societyMrs. Montague, Mrs. Thrale, Mrs. Delany, and their circlesin short, the whole court and literary world ; and all in their easiest and most familiar moods :-lheir 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 monolonous and featureless prosers, brought together for one single object, in wbich 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 sagacityher wit-her 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 Burney. 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 island !
• This admirable authoress las 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 feature 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