Sunday, July 22, 2012


‘August 3 [1778] --I have an immensity to write.  Susan has copied me a
letter which Mrs. Thrale has written to my father, upon the
occasion of returning my mother two novels by Madame
Riccoboni.  It is so honourable to me, and so sweet in her,
that I must COPY it for my faithful journal.

Streatham, July 22.

Dear Sir,
I forgot to give you the novels in your carriage, which I now
send.  "Evelina" certainly excels them far enough, both in
probability of story, elegance of sentiment, and general power
over the mind, whether exerted in humour or pathos; add to this,
that Riccoboni is a veteran author, and all she ever can be; but
I cannot tell what might not be expected from "Evelina," were she
to try her genius at comedy.

So far had I written of my letter, when Mr. Johnson returned
home, full of the praises of the book I had lent him, and
protesting there Were passages in it which Might do honour to
Richardson.  We talk of it for ever, and he feels ardent after
the d`enouement; hee "could not get rid of the rogue," he said.
I lent him the second volume, and he is now busy with the other.

You must be more a philosopher, and less a father, than I wish
you, not to be pleased with this letter ; and the giving such
pleasure yields to nothing but receiving it.  Long, my dear sir,
may you live to enjoy the just praises of your children! and long
may they live to deserve and delight such a parent!  These are
things that you would say in verse - but poetry implies fiction,
and all this is naked truth.

My compliments to Mrs. Burney, and kindest wishes to all your
flock, etc.

How, sweet, how amiable in this charming woman is her desire of
making my dear father satisfied with his scribbler's 'attempt!  I
do, indeed, feel the most grateful love for her.  But Dr.
Johnson's approbation!--It almost crazed me with agreeable
surprise--it gave me such a flight of spirits that I danced a jig
to Mr. Crisp, Without any preparation, music, or explanation;--to
his no small amazement and diversion.  I left him, however, to
make his own comments upon my friskiness without affording him
the smallest assistance.’

Like Walter Scott, Frances Burney published her first novel anonymously.  It’s easy to understand her happiness when Samuel Johnson pronounced the novel a success.  Mrs. Thrale’s letter of July 22, 1778 reinforced that happiness. 

It’s also easy to see how Scott could appreciate how Ms. Burney reacted to success while her authorship was still unknown.  From Annie Raine Ellis’ introduction to “Evelina”, as published for Bohn’s Novelist’s Library in 1922.

‘A certain Sir John [Shelley], said he had never seen any woman walk so well; and she [Fanny Burney, Madame D’Arblay] dance with great  spirit.  When she learnt the great success of “Evelina”, after cheking a longing to throw Mr. Crisp’s wig out of the window, she danced a jig round the old mulberry-tree in his garden.  Mr. Crisp was not in the secret, but put it down to her flow of spirits, after recovery from severe illness.  Sir Walter Scott was so pleased with this tale (a pretty subject for a painter), that fifty years later he wrote it down from her telling: 

November 18.--Was introduced by Rogers to Mad. D'Arblay, the
celebrated authoress of Evelina and Cecilia,--an elderly lady, with
no remains of personal beauty, but with a gentle manner and a pleasing
expression of countenance. She told me she had wished to see two
persons--myself, of course, being one; the other George Canning. This
was really a compliment to be pleased with--a nice little handsome pat
of butter made up by a neat-handed Phillis of a dairymaid, instead
of the grease, fit only for cart-wheels, which one is dosed with by the
pound. Mad. D'Arblay told us the common story of Dr. Burney, her
father, having brought home her own first work, and recommended it to
her perusal, was erroneous. Her father was in the secret of Evelina
being printed. But the following circumstances may have given rise to
the story:--Dr. Burney was at Streatham soon after the publication,
where he found Mrs. Thrale recovering from her confinement, low at the
moment, and out of spirits. While they were talking together, Johnson,
who sat beside in a kind of reverie, suddenly broke out, "You should
read this new work, madam--you should read Evelina; every one says it
is excellent, and they are right." The delighted father obtained a
commission from Mrs. Thrale to purchase his daughter's work, and retired
the happiest of men. Mad. D'Arblay said she was wild with joy at this
decisive evidence of her literary success, and that she could only give
vent to her rapture by dancing and skipping round a mulberry-tree in the
garden. She was very young at this time. I trust I shall see this lady
again. She has simple and apparently amiable manners, with quick

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