Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Charles Burney

Dr. Charles Burney was an English music historian and composer.  In 1776, Burney published the first volume of his "History of Music", which was followed by three additional volumes by 1789.  Dr. Burney passed on April 13, 1814.

Burney is probably best known now as the father of author Fanny Burney, and to a lesser extent Fanny's half-sister, author Sarah Burney.  During his day, Charles Burney was well known in London circles, and was familiar to Samuel Johnson.  Boswell records the following correspondence between Burney and Johnson in his "Life of Johnson".

"...In 1755 we behold him to great advantage; his degree of Master of Arts conferred upon him, his Dictionary published, his correspondence animated, his benevolence exercised.


Mr. Charles Burney, who has since distinguished himself so much in the science of Musick, and obtained a Doctor's degree from the University of Oxford, had been driven from the capital by bad health, and was now residing at Lynne Regis, in Norfolk. He had been so much delighted with Johnson's Rambler and the Plan of his Dictionary, that when the great work was announced in the news-papers as nearly finished,' he wrote to Dr. Johnson, begging to be informed when and in what manner his Dictionary would be published; intreating, if it should be by subscription, or he should have any books at his own disposal, to be favoured with six copies for himself and friends.


In answer to this application, Dr. Johnson wrote the following letter, of which (to use Dr. Burney's own words) 'if it be remembered that it was written to an obscure young man, who at this time had not much distinguished himself even in his own profession, but whose name could never have reached the authour of The Rambler, the politeness and urbanity may be opposed to some of the stories which have been lately circulated of Dr. Johnson's natural rudeness and ferocity.'


'TO MR. BURNEY, IN LYNNE REGIS, NORFOLK.

'SIR,--If you imagine that by delaying my answer I intended to shew any neglect of the notice with which you have favoured me, you will neither think justly of yourself nor of me. Your civilities were offered with too much elegance not to engage attention; and I have too much pleasure in pleasing men like you, not to feel very sensibly the distinction which you have bestowed upon me. 'Few consequences of my endeavours to please or to benefit mankind have delighted me more than your friendship thus voluntarily offered, which now I have it I hope to keep, because I hope to continue to deserve it.


'I have no Dictionaries to dispose of for myself, but shall be glad to have you direct your friends to Mr. Dodsley, because it was by his recommendation that I was employed in the work.


'When you have leisure to think again upon me, let me be favoured with another letter; and another yet, when you have looked into my Dictionary. If you find faults, I shall endeavour to mend them; if you find none, I shall think you blinded by kind partiality: but to have made you partial in his favour, will very much gratify the ambition of, Sir, your most obliged and most humble servant,


'SAM. JOHNSON.'


'Gough-square, Fleet-street, April 8,1755.'..."

Walter Scott met Fanny Burney in 1826 (November 18).  Sarah Burney was also a fan of Scott's.

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