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Art. V.-Memoirs of Dr. Burney, arranged from his own
Manuscripts, from Family Papers, and from Personal Recollections. By his daughter, Madame d'Arblay. 3 vols. '8vo.
London. 1832. WE TE would willingly have declined the task of reviewing this
book. As a literary work we have not a word to say in its favour; and having no hope of improving the style of an author whose most popular production was published nearly sixty years ago, and feeling a great reluctance to give gratuitous pain to a person so respectable as Madame d’Arblay, we wish we could have evaded the subject altogether; but the duty which we owe our readers, our regard for the memory of Dr. Burney, and even our personal estimation of Madame 'd'Arblay herself, all concur in obliging us to offer some account of these volumes.
Dr. Burney had, as Madame d’Arblay sets out with informing us, not merely intended, but ' directed that the Memoirs of his life should be published ; and his family and friends'—very naturally-expected them to pass through her hands' (p. v.); but we regret to say, that Madame d'Arblay appears to have disobeyed the directions and disappointed the expectations which she thus professes to fulfil. Dr. Burney left behind, it seems, sundry manuscript volumes, containing the history of his life from his cradle almost to his grave;'. - those were the Memoirs which the Doctor directed to be published, and of which his family and friends expected' Madame d'Arblay to be the editor ; but from these voluminous papers Madame d’Arblay has made very scanty extracts, and has become the writer of a work essentially her own, and not the editor of her father's recollections of his life. Her motives for this course of proceeding are not distinctly stated; but it is hinted that she considered what her father had thus left as unfit for the public eye. He began this task, it seems, in 1782, but wrote at that time only a few pages, giving an account of his parentage and birth, and neither continued nor resumed it, save by occasional memorandums, till 1807, when he had reached the age of eighty-one, and was under the dejecting apprehension of a paralytic seizure; from that time, nevertheless, he completed the history of his life from his cradle almost to his grave;-out of the minute amplitude of which vast mass of matter his daughter thought it her duty to collect (select ?) • all that seemed of interest to the general reader, and to publish nothing that she supposed the author himself would, at an earlier period, or in a better state of health and spirits, have wished to withhold.' (Introduction, p. xvi.).
Madame d'Arblay may have exercised a sound discretion in not giving to the public this mass of materials, in extenso; but
VOL. XLIX. NO. XCVII,
we do very much doubt whether what she has suppressed could have been more feeble, anile, incoherent, or sentant plus l'apoplexie,' than that which she has substituted for it. In fact, almost the only passages in these volumes, which exhibit common sense, good taste, or intelligible language, are the few sentences which are given in Dr. Burney's own words, and which, though occasionally somewhat intiated, appear simple and natural in the midst of the strange galimatias of pompous verbosity in which his daughter has enshrined them. For instance, could Dr. Burney's own recollectious of Mrs. Cibber have been more absurdly expressed than Madame d'Arblay's version of them ?
• Mrs. Cihber herself he considered as a pattern of perfection in the tragic art, from her magnetizing powers of harrowing and winning at once every feeling of the mind, by the eloquent sensibility with which she pourtrayed, or, rather, personified, Tenderness, Grief, Horror, or Distraction.'—vol. i. p. 17. Or could his exposition of the fascinations of gambling be more verbose and obscure than the following: • Gaming, with that poignant stimulus, self-conceit, which, where calculation tries to battle with chance, goads on, with resistless force, our designs, by our presumption, soon left wholly in the background every attempt at rivalry by any other species of recreation.'-p. 44. Or can anything be in worse taste than this sketch of the Doctor and his wife at their first meeting, which is so managed as to look like a description of what they were, till the last word of the sentence informs us, that it is in fact an account of what they were not
• Critical was the first instant of meeting between two young persons thus similarly self-modelled, and thus singularly demonstrating that Education, with all her rules, her skill, her experienced knowledge, and her warning wisdom, may so be supplied, be superseded, by Genius, when allied to Industry, as to raise beings who merit to be pointed out as examples even to those who have not a difficulty to combat, who are spurred by encouragement, and instructed by able teachers; to all which advantages young Burney and Esther--though as far removed from distress as from affluence-were equally—strangers!
Or the following elucidation of the reflections which a visit to a public library excited in the Doctor's mind:
• To wander amidst those stores, that commit talents to posterity as indubitably as the Herald's Register transmits names and titles; to develop as accurately the systems of nations, the conditions of communities, the progress of knowledge, and the turn of men's minds, two or three thousand years ago, as in this our living minute ; to visit, in fact, the brains of our fellow-creatures,-not alone with the harrowing knife to dissect physical conformation, but, with the piercing eye of pene
tration to dive into the recesses of human intelligence, the sourceş of imagination, and the springs of genius ; and there, in those sacred receptacles of mental remains, to survey, in "clear, indestructible evi dence, all of the soul that man is able to bequeath to man.
Views such as these of the powers of his gifted, though gone fellowcreatures, seen thus abstractedly through their intellectual attributes; purified equally from the frailties and selfishness of active life, and the sickly humours and baleful infirmities of age; seen through the medium of learned, useful, or fanciful productions; and beheld in so insulated a moment of vacuity of any positive plan of life, instinctively roused the dormant faculties of the subject of these memoirs, by setțing before him a comprehensive chart of human capabilities, which involuntarily cited a conscious inquiry : what, peradventure, might be his own share, if sought for, in such heavenly gifts?—Pp. 157, 158.
These specimens will, we think, satisfy our readers that so far as style is concerned, Dr. Burney's original Memoir cannot have been much worse than that of his daughter; and that a judicious selection from the autograph manuscript would probably give a fuller and certainly a more intelligible account of this amiable man, than can be gathered from the over-anxious piety and top elaborate care of his affectionate, but injudicious, biographer.
There is another motive, no doubt, which may have influenced Madame d'Arblay in substituting a work of her own for her father's ; but before we allude more particularly to that, we think it right to notice the principal events which she records of Dr. Burney's life.
Dr. Charles Burney (whose grandfather's name was Macburney, which his father contracted into Burney) was born in Shrewsbury, in April, 1726. He was educated at the Free School of Chester, from whence, showing a taste for music, he was removed to the care and tuition of an elder half-brother, who was ther, and for more than half a century afterwards, organist of St. Margaret's, Shrewsbury. Dr. Arne, in returning from Ireland, fell in with young Burney, and thought so well of his talents that he took him as a pupil, and carried him to London, where he became of course known to Arne's celebrated sister, Mrs. Cibber, and, through her, 10 Garrick and several other wits and poets of the day. Mr. Fylke Greville, an eccentric man of family and fashion, himself a writer, and husband of the author of the well known Ode to Indifference,' took a fancy to Byrney, and buying up his indentures from Arne, domesticated him in his own family, and introduced him into the higher society in which he himself moved. This connexion, which no doubt polished the manners, and probably cultivated the intellect of Burney, lasted till he made a match-the imprudence of which all the romantic verbiage of Madame D'Arblay does not veil --with Miss Esther Sleepe, a young person of French and humble ex
traction, and no fortune. The expense of a growing family and an ill state of health, for which the air of London was pronounced injurious by the poetic Esculapius, (vol. i., p. 85,) Dr. Armstrong, induced Mr. Burney to accept the place of orgauist at Lynn in Norfolk, where he resided nine or ten years, and where most, if not all, of the children of his first marriage were born. during his residence at Lynn that, in the year 1755, he addressed a letter to Dr. Johnson, offering to subscribe for six copies of the Dictionary, which led first to some short and transient visits to the lexicographer, and many years after, to that familiar intercourse and friendship which, after all, is the most memorable circumstance in Burney's life.
We must here pause for a moment to complain of a defect in Madame d’Arblay's work even more serious than that of her style —the suppression of dates. We say suppression; because we cannot attribute to accidental negligence the silence of the biographer as to the time of her father's first coming to London —of his marriage of his migration to Lynn-of the birth of his children, and particularly of Madame d’Arblay herself—of the death of his first wife-of his second marriage; and, in short, of all the leading events of the earlier part of his life. It can hardly be personal vanity which produces this silence ; yet certainly no spinster of a doubtful age can have a greater aversion to accuracy in matters of date than is exhibited by this lady, who admits that she has been above fifty-five years an author and forty years a wife. But though we readily acquit Madame d’Arblay of being led by personal vanity to this studied concealment of dates, yet we shall by and by have occasion to show, that literary vanity may have been the motive of this omission, which, in a biographical work, is peculiarly puzzling and provoking ;—for the present we proceed with the life of the Doctor.
In 1760 Burney with his wife and a family of six or seven children returned to London, and began a course of musical tuition, which appears to have soon become extensive and profitable in a very remarkable degree. Johnson, in one of his letters to Mrs. Thrale, records that he gave fifty-seven lessons in one week, but Madame d’Arblay never condescends to such minutiæ about him--unless, indeed, when she has had some share in the transaction. Within a couple of years, however, his prosperity was clouded by the loss of his wife. She was seized with a painful inflammatory disorder, which ended suddenly in a deadly case of mortification.'
* Twelve stated hours of morbid bodily repose became, from that tremendous moment of baleful relief, the counted boundary of her earthly existence.'-vol. i., p. 138.
To alleviate his grief for so great a loss, Mr. Burney made a visit to Paris, whence he brought back a translation and adaptation of Rousseau's 'Devin du Village, which his friend Garrick soon after produced under the title of the · Cunning Man,' with equivocal success. In the society of his friends, and in the active exertion of his profession, Mr. Burney wisely sought for consolation-more wisely we think than his biographer describes the effect of the remedial process : * For in that dilapidated state of sorrow's absorption, where the mind is wholly abandoned to its secret sensations, all that innately recurs to it can spring only from its own concentrated sources; and these, though they may vary the evil by palliatives, offer nothing curative.'vol. i., p. 172.
About this time he had the good fortune to renew his acquaintance with a Mr. Crisp, who seems to have been an eccentric goodnatured man, and between whom and Burney's children, and particularly Madame d’Arblay, an almost parental and filial affection appears to have grown up. Indeed the extravagant and bombastic eulogy of which Madame d'Arblay, bountiful to all, is lavish towards Mr. Crisp, is a prominent and almost ludicrous feature of the book. Crisp had a taste for the fine arts, and had just retur ned from Italy, and Burney found great amusement in his conversation ;-and amusing it must have been, if we are to judge of it by the specimen which Madame d’Arblay gives in his description of the Apollo Belvedere : • That unrivalled production, of which the peerless grace, looking softer, though of marble, than the feathered snow, and brightly radiant, though, like the sun, simply white, strikes upon the mind rather than the eye, as an ideal representative of ethereal beauty.'—
Crisp, though kind and amiable with his intimates, seems to have been of a proud and ascetic temper. Mortified by the failure of a tragedy, called Virginia, and finding himself obliged, by pecuniary difficulties, to reduce his appearance in society, he resolved to retire from the world, and he fixed himself in a dilapidated old house, called Chessington Hall, in a then wild part of Surrey, where he hid himself for many years with such constancy that he passed for dead. Into this solitude, however, Burney was admitted : here he had a bed and a study; here he spent all the hours of recreation he could steal from his profession; here he composed the greater part of his literary works ; and here his daughter Fanny, a constant and favourite guest, improved her health, enlarged her understanding, and cultivated her taste, under the guidance of the intelligent recluse, whom she, more affectionately than elegantly, called her daddy'
These occasional and secluded visits did not however console Burney for the want of domestic society.