Monday, April 03, 2006

Madame D'Arblay

March 1833.—I have been reading the life of Dr. Burney by his daughter, and am more disappointed than I can express. We were well aware that her style, always affected, grew more so in each successive work; but that the authoress (the unaided authoress, I firmly believe her) of 'Evelina' could write such stuff as I have just read, I should hardly have thought possible.

Her overweening admiration for that very insignificant personage, her father, I can forgive. I can believe it was quite equalled by Miss Edgworth, so very much the superior of Madame d'Arblay in talent. But I cannot endure her excessive personal vanity, her nauseous repetition of all the compliments made to her under the shallow pretence of telling the world how much pleasure the paternal heart of Dr. Burney derived from them.

Then all this absurdity and arrogance is made more disgusting by her frequent allusions to her extreme modesty! Look at the genuine modesty of great talent in Miss Edgeworth's memoirs of her father; admire the good taste with which she speaks of her works, the anxiety with which she allots a share in their production far larger than any reader is inclined to allow to her father. How I wish she would fulfil her promise, and let us see in her long-talked-of work what she can do without him.

From what I heard last year from her nephew, I fear that a distrust of her own powers may chill their energy. He told me that she has not to anyone imparted the title, or even the subject, of the work in which she is engaged; that the dread of producing something inferior to the fame which she has acquired seems to act as a bugbear upon her imagination, and he fears may prove a decided check to it.

After all. Miss Burney's book has been valuable to me, it has proved a hook by which I have caught some very interesting stories; among others, one which strongly exemplifies the ignorance in which Napoleon kept France of everything which he did not wish to publish.

Madame d'Arblay had been with her husband in France for some years, when the events of 1814 restored, with the Bourbons, the communication between England and France. Madame d'Arblay hastened over to see. Her family. Dr. C. Burney told my uncle that his sister was dining with him a day or two after her arrival.

The china or earthenware which he used happened, with the word Trafalgar, to be ornamented with various emblems of that victory. Madame d'Arblay, pointing to her plate, said,' What can this mean, brother ?' ' I think if you look at the word, Trafalgar, you will not need any other explanation,' was the natural answer. ' But what can that mean?' rejoined she; and in short it turned out that it was the first time she had heard of the battle with which all Europe had seemed to us to ring.

Madame d'Arblay in her book speaks of some verses by Canning, which were read to the Princess of Wales by Mrs. A. Hayman; who tells me this is not true: they were promised, but Canning said he had burnt them upon reading 'De Montfort,' dismayed by the example of the Quizzer destroyed.*
Editor's Note
* De Montfort's hate had been exasperated, by the ridicule and
irony of his victim.

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