Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Burneys and Dr. Johnson

Fanny Burney, later Madame d’Arblay,  is a literary figure who bridges the time between Samuel Johnson and Walter Scott, outliving Scott by several years (died 1840).  From Boswell’s “Life of Johnson”, we learn that Johnson communicated with the Burney’s on November 16, 1784.  

‘…Johnson then proceeded to Oxford, where he was again kindly received by Dr. Adams.

He arrived in London on the 16th of November [1784], and next day sent to Dr. Burney the following note, which I insert as the last token of his
remembrance of that ingenious and amiable man, and as another of the
many proofs of the tenderness and benignity of his heart:--

'MR. JOHNSON, who came home last night, sends his respects to dear Dr.
Burney, and all the dear Burneys, little and great.'

And in 1826, Scott records in his journal a meeting with Fanny Burney, and hearing another story involving Dr. Johnson.

‘November 18…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 feelings.

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