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The Burneys. — Doctor Burney and bis family are often spoken of in these Memoirs. He was a man of very uncommon attainments : wit born with him, I suppose ; learning, he had helped himself to, and was proud of the possession ; elegance of manners he had so cultivated, that those who knew but little of the man, fancied he had great flexibility of mind.
It was mere pliancy of body, however, and a perpetual show of obsequiousness by bowing incessantly as if acknowledging an inferiority, which nothing would have forced him to confess. I never in my life heard Johnson pronounce the words, “I beg your pardon, Sir,” to any human creature but the apparently soft and gentle Dr. Burney. Perhaps the story may be related in the “ Anecdotes; but as I now recollect it, thus it is. “ Did you, Madam, subscribe £100 to build our new bridge at Shrewsbury ?” said Burney to me. · No, surely, Sir," was my reply.
“ What connection have I with Shropshire ? and where should I have money so to fling away?” “It is very comical, is it not, Sir?” said I, turning to Dr. Johnson," that people should tell such unfounded stories ? ” “ It is,” answered he, “neither comical nor serious, my dear; it is only a wandering lie." This was spoken in his natural voice, without a thought of offence, I am confident; but up bounced Burney in a towering passion, and to my much amaze, put on the hero, surprising Doctor Johnson into a sudden request for pardon, and protestation of not having ever intended to accuse his friend of a falsehood. The following lines written, sur le champ, with a gold pen I gave him, prove he could make more agreeable impromptus than this I have related :
“ Such implements, though fine and splendid,
They say can ne'er write well :
Let this example tell.
Her learning, sense, and wit;
Who — not to beg — submit ?
“ Paupers from Grub Street at her gate
Would crowd both young and old,
In humble guise to supplicate
For thoughts, not pens, of gold.
The Muses' grace and favor,
Bestow the Attic flavor.
T infuse their influence mild ;
Of parent, wife, and child.
Each hurricane to weather ;
How seldom found together!” There was a merry tale told about the town of some musical nobleman having been refused tickets for his private concert about this time by blind Stanley, who he had always patronized ; and of his going to a grave friend's, I forget who, where, foaming with anger, he at length exclaimed : “But I will go to Burney's house to-night (where there was music), and that will do for him.” “ Are you mad, my dear Lord ?” says the grave man, amazed; “ to talk of setting a blind man's house on fire, because he has refused your favorite girl a ticket? Fie! fie! I am ashamed of listening to such strange things.” The équivoque was now well understood; but having no acquaintance with the doctor, the gentleman thought he had menaced going to burn his house.
We had been talking of the French rondeaux one day, and both doctors said they were impracticable in English, so I made this, — Musa loquitur :
To burn ye with rapture, or melt you with pity,
A rondeau was never intended :
And the jest is to see how 't is ended.
Though Phæbus himself should discern ye;
And though to throw light on the troublesome toil,
You still would be vexed,
In a fit of despair
Then this moment forbear,
Leave writing with ease,
And each talent to please,
" VOITURE'S FAMOUS RONDEAU,
“ Ma foi, c'est fait de moi, car Isabeau
M'a conjuré de lui faire un rondeau;
“ En voila cinq pourtant en un monceau
Faisons en huit — en invoquant brodéau ;
Ma foi c'est fait.
“Si je pouvois encore de mon cerveau
Tirer cinq vers, l'ouvrage seroit beau ;
Ma foi c'est fait,"
is borrowed from a sonnet of Lope de Vega, admirably imitated in our collection of poems called “ Dodsley's Miscellanies”:
“ Un soneto me manda hazer Violante
“ Yo pense que no hallara consonante Y estoy a la mitad de otro quarteto;
Mas si me veo en el primo terceto,
“ Per el primo terceto voy entrando Y aun parece que entre con pie derccho, Pues fin con este verso le
“ Ya estoy en el segundo, y aun sospecho
IMITATION BY MR. RODERICK.
Capricious Wray a sonnet needs must have, –
I ne'er was so put to't before, a sonnet!
Why fourteen verses must be spent upon it, 'T is good, howe'er, to have conquered the first stave.
“ Yet I shall ne'er find rhymes enough by half,
Said I ; and found myself in midst of the second :
If twice four verses were but fairly reckoned,
“ Thus far with good success, I think, I've scribbled,
And of the twice seven lines have clean got o'er ten; Courage! another 'll finish the first triplet.
Thanks to the Muse, my work begins to shorten, There's thirteen lines got o'er driblet by driblet :
'T is done; count how you will, I 'll warrant there 's fourteen." *
“I begin now to let loose my mind after Queeney and Burney." - Johnson, June 19, 1779.
They were learning Latin of him ; but Dr. Burney would not let his girl (Madam D'Arblay) go on: he thought grammar too masculine a study for misses.
“ I shall be in danger of crying out, with Mr. Head, catamaran whatever that may mean.” Johnson.
A comical hack joke. Ask me, and I will tell you one or two more tales about catamaran. Come; here it is : You do not
* These trifles are principally curious as showing what clever people have thought clever. To borrow Johnson's words, many men, many women, or many children might have written either of the three.
hate nonsense with affected fastidiousness, or fastidious affectation, like those who have little sense. Turn the page, then, over.
This Mr. Head, whose real name was Plunkett, a low Irish parasite, dependant on Mr. Thrale primarily; and I suppose, secondarily on Mr. Murphy, was employed by them in various schemes of pleasure, as you men call profligacy; and on this occasion was deputed to amuse them by personating some lord, whom his patrons had promised to introduce to the beautiful Miss Gunnings when they first came over with intent to make their fortunes. He was received accordingly, and the girls played off their best airs, and cast kind looks on his introducers from time to time; till the fellow wearied, as Johnson says, and disgusted with his ill-acted character, burst out on a sudden as they sat at tea, and ried, “ Catamaran ! young gentlemen with two shoes and never a heel; when will you have done with silly jokes now ? Lèdies ;” turning to the future peeresses, never mind these merry boys; but if you really can afford to pay for some incomparable silk stockings, or true India handkerchiefs, here they are now,” rummaging his smuggler's pocket; but the girls jumped up and turned them all three into the street, where Thrale and Murphy cursed their senseless assistant, and called him Head, like lucus a non lucendo, because they swore he had none. The Duchess (of Hamilton), however, never did forgive this impudent frolic; Lady Coventry, more prudently, pretended to forget it.
Catamaran ! was probably a mere Irish exclamation which burst from the fellow when impatient to be selling his smuggled goods. There is exactly such a character in Richardson's “ Clarissa," — Captain Tomlinson, employed by Lovelace.
“ You and Mrs. must keep Mrs. about you; and try to make a wit of her. She will be a little unskilful in her first
you will see how precept and example will bring her forwards. Surely it is very fine to have your powers. The wits court you, and the Methodists love you, and the whole world runs about
write me word how well you can do without me; and so, go thy ways poor Jack.” Johnson, April 15, 1780.
The names are filled with those of Mrs. Montague and Mrs.
you ; and