Page images
PDF
EPUB

invite. An outcry has recently been raised against the laxity of modern fashion, in permitting venal beauty to receive open homage in our parks and theatres, and to be made the subject of prurient gossip by maids and matrons who should ignore its existence. But we need not look far beneath the surface of social history to discover that the irregularity in question is only a partial revival of the practice of our grandfathers and grandmothers, much as a crinoline may be regarded as a modified reproduction of the hoop. Junius thus denounces the Duke of Grafton's indecorous devotion to Nancy Parsons: “It is not the private indulgence, but the public insult, of which I complain. The name of Miss Parsons would hardly have been known, if the First Lord of the Treasury had not led her in triumph through the Opera House, even in the presence of the Queen.” Lord March (afterwards Duke of Queensberry) was a lord of the bedchamber in the decorous court of George the Third, when he wrote thus to Selwyn : “ I was prevented from writing to you last Friday, by being at Newmarket with my little girl (Signora . Zamperini, a noted dancer and singer). I had the whole family and Cocchi. The beauty went with me in my chaise, and the rest in the old landau.”

We have had Boswell's impression of his first visit to Streatham ; and Madame D'Arblay's account of hers confirms the notion that My Mistress, not My Master, was the presiding genius of the place.

London, August (1778). — I have now to write an account of the most consequential day I have spent since my birth : namely, my Streatham visit.

“Our journey to Streatham was the least pleasant part of the day, for the roads were dreadfully dusty, and I was really in the fidgets from thinking what my reception might be, and from fearing they would expect a less awkward and backward kind of person than I was sure they would find.

“Mr. Thrale's house is white, and very pleasantly situated, in a fine paddock. Mrs. Thrale was strolling about, and came to us as we got out of the chaise.

“She then received me, taking both my bands, and with mixed politeness and cordiality welcoming me to Streatham. She led

me into the house, and addressed herself almost wholly for a few minutes to my father, as if to give me an assurance she did not mean to regard me as a show, or to distress or frighten me by drawing me out. Afterwards she took me up stairs, and showed me the house, and said she had very much wished to see me at Streatham, and should always think herself much obliged to Dr. Burney for his goodness in bringing me, which she looked upon as a very great favor.

“ But though we were some time together, and though she was very civil, she did not hint at my book, and I love her much more than ever for her delicacy in avoiding a subject which she could not but see would have greatly embarrassed me.

“ When we returned to the music-room, we found Miss Thrale was with

my father. Miss Thrale is a very fine girl, about fourteen years of age, but cold and reserved, though full of knowledge and intelligence.

“ Soon after, Mrs. Thrale took me to the library ; she talked a little while upon common topics, and then, at last, she mentioned • Evelina.'

“ I now prevailed upon Mrs. Thrale to let me amuse myself, and she went to dress. I then prowled about to choose some book, and I saw, upon the reading-table, ' Evelina.' I had just fixed upon a new translation of Cicero's · Lælius,' when the library door was opened, and Mr. Seward entered. I instantly put away my book, because I dreaded being thought studious and affected. He offered his service to find anything for me, and then, in the same breath, ran on to speak of the book with which I had myself • favored the world !'

“ The exact words he began with I cannot recollect, for I was actually confounded by the attack; and his abrupt manner of letting me know he was au fait equally astonished and provoked me. How different from the delicacy of Mr. and Mrs. Tbrale!”

A high French authority has laid down that politeness or good breeding consists in rendering to all what is socially their due. This definition is imperfect. Good breeding is best displayed by putting people at their ease ; and Mrs. Thrale's manner of putting the young authoress at her ease was the perfection of delicacy and tact.

If Johnson's entrance on the stage had been premeditated, it could hardly have been more dramatically ordered.

“When we were summoned to dinner, Mrs. Thrale made my father and me sit on each side of her. I said that I hoped I did not take Dr. Johnson's place ; — for he had not yet appeared.

“No,' answered Mrs. Thrale, he will sit by you, which I am sure will give him great pleasure.'

“ Soon after we were seated, this great man entered. I have so true a veneration for him, that the very sight of him inspires me with delight and reverence, notwithstanding the cruel infirmities to which he is subject ; for he has almost perpetual convulsive movements, either of his hands, lips, feet, or knees, and sometimes of all together.

“ Mrs. Thrale introduced me to him, and he took his place. We had a noble dinner, and a most elegant dessert. Dr. Johnson, in the middle of dinner, asked Mrs. Thrale what was in some little pies that were near him.

“ Mutton,' answered she, so I don't ask you to eat any, because I know you despise it.'

“ No, Madam, no,' cried he; 'I despise nothing that is good of its sort; but I am too proud now to eat of it. Sitting by Miss Burney makes me very proud to-day!

“ • Miss Burney,' said Mrs. Thrale, laughing, you must take great care of your heart if Dr. Johnson attacks it ; for I assure you he is not often successless.'

6. What's that you say, Madam?' cried he; “are you making mischief between the young lady and me already?'

“A little while after he drank Miss Thrale's health and mine, and then added :

666'T is a terrible thing that we cannot wish young ladies well, without wishing them to become old women.'”

Madame D'Arblay's memoirs are sadly defaced by egotism, and gratified vanity may have had a good deal to do with her unqualified admiration of Mrs. Thrale, for “ Evelina” (recently published) was the unceasing topic of exaggerated eulogy during the entire visit. Still so acute an observer could not be essentially wrong in an account of her reception, which is in the highest degree favorable to her newly acquired friend. Of her second visit she says :

“Our journey was charming. The kind Mrs. Thrale would give courage to the most timid. She did not ask me questions, or catechize me upon what I knew, or use any means to draw me out, but made it her business to draw herself out, — that is, to start subjects, to support them herself, and take all the weight of the conversation, as if it behooved her to find me entertainment. But I am so much in love with her, that I shall be obliged to run away from the subject, or shall write of nothing else.

“ When we arrived here, Mrs. Thrale showed me my room, which is an exceeding pleasant one, and then conducted me to the library, there to divert myself while she dressed.

“ Miss Thrale soon joined me: and I begin to like her. Mr. Thrale was neither well nor in spirits all day. Indeed, he seems not to be a happy man, though he has every means of happiness in his power. But I think I have rarely seen a very rich man with a light heart and light spirits.”

The concluding remark, coming from such a source, may supply an improving subject of meditation or inquiry ; if found true, it may help to suppress envy and promote contentment. Thrale's state of health, however, accounts for his depression, independently of his wealth, which rested on too precarious a foundation to allow of unbroken confidence and gayety.

“At tea (continues the diarist) we all met again, and Dr. Johnson was gayly sociable. He gave a very droll account of the children of Mr. Langton.

“• Who,' he said, ' might be very good children if they were let alone ; but the father is never easy when he is not making them do something which they cannot do ; they must repeat a fable, or a speech, or the Hebrew alphabet ; and they might as well count twenty, for what they know of the matter : however, the father says half, for he prompts every other word. But he could not have chosen a man who would have been less entertained by such means.'

“ "I believe not !' cried Mrs. Thrale ; 'nothing is more ridiculous than parents cramming their children's nonsense down other people's throats. I keep mine as much out of the way as I can.'

“Yours, Madam,' answered he, are in nobody's way; no children can be better managed or less troublesome ; but your fault is, a too great perverseness in not allowing anybody to give them anything. Why should they not have a cherry or a gooseberry, as well as bigger children ?'

“ Indeed, the freedom with which Dr. Johnson condemns whatever he disapproves is astonishing; and the strength of words he uses would, to most people, be intolerable ; but Mrs. Thrale seems to have a sweetness of disposition that equals all her other excellences, and far from making a point of vindicating herself, she generally receives his admonitions with the most respectful silence.

“But I fear to say all I think at present of Mrs. Thrale, lest some flaws should appear by and by, that may make me think differently. And yet, why should I not indulge the now, as well as the then, since it will be with so much more pleasure ? In short, I do think her delightful; she has talents to create admiration, good humor to excite love, understanding to give entertainment, and a heart which, like my dear father's, seems already fitted for another world.”

Another of the conversations which occurred during this visit is characteristic of all parties :

“I could not help expressing my amazement at his universal readiness upon all subjects, and Mrs. Thrale said to him:

“ • Sir, Miss Burney wonders at your patience with such stuff; but I tell her you are used to me, for I believe I torment you with more foolish questions than anybody else dares do.'

“ • No, Madam,” said he, 'you don't torment me; — you tease me, indeed, sometimes.'

“ • Ay, so I do, Dr. Johnson, and I wonder you bear with my

nons

“ • No, Madam, you never talk nonsense ; you have as much sense, and more wit, than any woman I know!'

“O, cried Mrs. Thrale, blushing, “it is my turn to go under the table this morning, Miss Burney!

“* And yet,' continued the Doctor, with the most comical look, • I have known all the wits, from Mrs. Montagu down to Bet Flint!'

66. Bet Flint !' cried Mrs. Thrale ; pray who is she?'.

“ " 0, a fine character, Madam! She was habitually a slut and a drunkard, and occasionally a thief and a harlot.'

« PreviousContinue »