Fanny Burney

Evelina and the mystery attending its publication

This year was ushered in by a grand and most important event! At the latter end of January, the literary world was favoured with the first publication of the ingenious, learned, and most profound Fanny Burney! I doubt not but this memorable affair will, in future times, mark the period whence chronologers will date the zenith of the polite arts in this island!

This admirable authoress has named her most elaborate performance, Evelina; Or, a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World.

Perhaps this may seem a rather bold attempt and title, for a female whose knowledge of the world is very confined, and whose inclinations, as well as situation, incline her to a private and domestic life. All I can urge is, that I have only presumed to trace the accidents and adventures to which a “young woman” is liable; I have not pretended to show the world what it actually is, but what it appears to a girl of seventeen, and so far as that, surely any girl who is past seventeen may safely do? The motto of my excuse shall be taken from Pope’s Temple of Fame.

In every work regard the writer’s end
None e’er can compass more than they intend.

About the middle of January, my cousin Edward brought me a parcel, under the name of Grafton. I had, some little time before, acquainted both my aunts of my frolic. They will, I am sure, be discreet; indeed, I exacted a vow from them of strict secrecy; and they love me with such partial kindness, that I have a pleasure in reposing much confidence in them. I immediately conjectured what the parcel was, and found the following letter.

Fleet-street, Jan. 7, 1778

Sir, I take the liberty to send you a novel, which a gentleman, your acquaintance, said you would hand to him. I beg with expedition, as ’tis time it should be published, and ’tis requisite he first revise it, or the reviewers may find a flaw.

I am, sir, your obedient servant, Thomas Lowndes.

To Mr. Grafton, To be left at the Orange Coffee-house.

My aunts, now, would take no denial to my reading it to them, in order to mark errata; and to cut the matter short, I was compelled to communicate the affair to my cousin Edward, and then to obey their commands.

Of course, they were all prodigiously charmed with it. My cousin now became my agent, as deputy to Charles, with Mr. Lowndes, and when I had made the errata, carried it to him.

The book, however, was not published till the latter end of the month. A thousand little odd incidents happened about this time, but I am not in a humour to recollect them; however, they were none of them productive of a discovery either to my father or mother.

My little book, I am told, is now at all the circulating libraries. I have an exceeding odd sensation, when I consider that it is now in the power of any and every body to read what I so carefully hoarded even from my best friends, till this last month or two; and that a work which was so lately lodged, in all privacy, in my bureau, may now be seen by every butcher and baker, cobbler and tinker, throughout the three kingdoms, for the small tribute of threepence.

My aunt Anne and Miss Humphries being settled at this time at Brompton, I was going thither with Susan to tea, when Charlotte acquainted me that they were then employed in reading Evelina to the invalid, my cousin Richard. My sister had recommended it to Miss Humphries, and my aunts and Edward agreed that they would read it, but without mentioning anything of the author.

This intelligence gave me the utmost uneasiness-I foresaw a thousand dangers of a discovery—I dreaded the indiscreet warmth of all my confidants. In truth, I was quite sick with apprehension, and was too uncomfortable to go to Brompton, and Susan carried my excuses.

Upon her return, I was somewhat tranquillised, for she assured me that there was not the smallest suspicion of the author, and that they had concluded it to be the work of a man! And Miss Humphries, who read it aloud to Richard said several things in its commendation, and concluded them by exclaiming, “It’s a thousand pities the author should lie concealed!”

Finding myself more safe than I had apprehended, I ventured to go to Brompton next day. In my way up-stairs, I heard Miss Humphries in the midst of Mr. Villars’ letter of consolation upon Sir John Belmont’s rejection of his daughter; and just as I entered the room, she cried out, “How pretty that is!”

How much in luck would she have thought herself, had she known who heard her! In a private confabulation which I had with my aunt Anne, she told me a thousand things that had been said in its praise, and assured me they had not for a moment doubted that the work was a man’s.

Comforted and made easy by these assurances, I longed for the diversion of hearing their observations, and therefore (though rather mal a propos) after I had been near two hours in the room, I told Miss Humphries that I was afraid I had interrupted her, and begged she would go on with what she was reading.

“Why,” cried she, taking up the book, “we have been prodigiously entertained”; and very readily she continued.

I must own I suffered great difficulty in refraining from laughing upon several occasions, —and several times, when they praised what they read, I was upon the point of saying, “You are very good!” and so forth, and I could scarcely keep myself from making acknowledgments, and bowing my head involuntarily. However, I got off perfectly safe.

Monday.—Susan and I went to tea at Brompton, We met Miss Humphries coming to town. She told us she had just finished Evelina, and gave us to understand that she could not get away till she had done it. We heard afterwards from my aunt the most flattering praises; and Richard could talk of nothing else. His encomiums gave me double pleasure, from being wholly unexpected: for I had prepared myself to hear that he held it extremely cheap.

It Seems, to my utter amazement, Miss Humphries has guessed the author to be Anstey, who wrote the Bath Guide! How improbable and how extraordinary a supposition! But they have both of them done it so much honour that, but for Richard’s anger at Evelina’s bashfulness, I never Could believe they did not suspect me. I never went to Brompton without finding the third volume in Richard’s hands; he speaks of all the characters as if they were his acquaintance, and Praises different parts perpetually: both he and Miss Humphries seem to have it by heart, for it is always a propos to Whatever is the subject of discourse, and their whole conversation almost consists of quotations from it.

Chesington, June 18

I came hither the first week in May. My recovery from that time to this, has been slow and sure; but as I could walk hardly three yards in a day at first, I found so much time to spare, that I could not resist treating myself with a little private sport with Evelina, a young lady whom I think I have some right to make free with. I had promised Hetty that she should read it to Mr. Crisp, at her own particular request; but I wrote my excuses, and introduced it myself.

I told him it was a book which Hetty had taken to Brompton, to divert my cousin Richard during his confinement. He was so indifferent about it, that I thought he would not give himself the trouble to read it, and often embarrassed me by unlucky questions, such as, “If it was reckoned clever?” and “What I thought of it?” and “Whether folks laughed at it?” I always evaded any direct or satisfactory answer; but he was so totally free from any idea of suspicion, that my perplexity escaped his notice.

At length, he desired me to begin reading to him. I dared not trust my voice with the little introductory ode, for as that is no romance, but the sincere effusion of my heart, I could as soon read aloud my own letters, written in my own name and character: I therefore skipped it, and have so kept the book out of his sight, that, to this day, he knows not it is there. Indeed, I have, since, heartily repented that I read any of the book to him, for I found it a much more awkward thing than I had expected: my voice quite faltered when I began it, which, however, I passed off for the effect of remaining weakness of lungs; and, in short, from an invincible embarrassment, which I could not for a page together repress, the book, by my reading, lost all manner of spirit.

Nevertheless, though he has by no means treated it with the praise so lavishly bestowed upon it from other quarters, I had the satisfaction to observe that he was even greedily eager to go on with it; so that I flatter myself the story caught his attention: and, indeed, allowing for my mauling reading, he gave it quite as much credit as I had any reason to expect. But, now that I was sensible of my error in being my own mistress of the ceremonies, I determined to leave to Hetty the third volume, and therefore pretended I had not brought it. He was in a delightful ill humour about it, and I enjoyed his impatience far more than I should have done his forbearance. Hetty, therefore, when she comes, has undertaken to bring it…

I have had a visit from my beloved Susy, who, with my mother and little Sally, spent a day here, to my no small satisfaction; and yet I was put into an embarrassment, of which I even yet know not what will be the end, during their short stay: for Mr. Crisp, before my mother, very innocently said, “O! Susan, pray Susette, do send me the third volume of Evelina; Fanny brought me the two first on purpose, I believe, to tantalize me.”

I felt myself in a ferment; and Susan, too, looked foolish, and knew not what to answer. As I sat on the same sofa with him, I gave him a gentle shove, as a token, which he could not but understand, that he had said something wrong—though I believe he could not imagine what. Indeed, how should he?

My mother instantly darted forward, and repeated Evelina—what’s that, pray?”

Again I jolted Mr. Crisp, who, very much perplexed, said, in a boggling manner, that it was a novel—he supposed from the circulating library—“only a trumpery novel.”

Ah, my dear daddy! thought I, you would have devised some other sort of speech, if you knew all! But he was really, as he well might be, quite at a loss for what I wanted him to say.

“You have had it here, then, have you?” continued my mother.

“Yes-two of the volumes,” said Mr. Crisp.

“What, had you them from the library?” asked my mother.

“No, ma’am,” answered I, horribly frightened, “from my sister.”

The truth is, the books are Susan’s, who bought them the first day of publication; but I did not dare own that, as it would have been almost an acknowledgment of all the rest.

She asked some further questions, to which we made the same sort of answers, and then the matter dropped. Whether it rests upon her mind, or not, I cannot tell.

Two days after, I received from Charlotte a letter the most interesting that could be written to me, for it acquainted me that My dear father was, at length, reading my book, which has now been published six months. How this has come to pass, I am yet in the dark; but, it seems, that the very Moment almost that my mother and Susan and Sally left the house, he desired Charlotte to bring him the Monthly Review; she contrived to look over his shoulder as he opened it, which he did at the account of Evelina; Or, a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World. He read it with great earnestness, then put it down; and presently after snatched it up, and read it again. Doubtless, his paternal heart felt some agitation for his girl, in reading a review of her publication!—how he got at the name, I cannot imagine.

Soon after he turned to Charlotte, and bidding her come close to him, he put his finger on the word Evelina, and saying, she knew what it was, bade her—write down the name, and send the man to Lowndes, as if for herself. This she did, and away went William.

He then told Charlotte, that he had never known the name of it till the day before. ’Tis strange how he got at it! He added that I had come off vastly well in this review, except for “the Captain.” Charlotte told him it had also been in Kenrick’s Review, and he desired her to copy out for him what was said in both of them. He asked her, too, whether I had mentioned the work was by a lady?

When William returned, he took the books from him, and the moment he was gone, opened the first volume—and opened it upon the Ode! How great must have been his astonishment, at seeing himself so addressed! Indeed, Charlotte says he looked all amazement, read a line or two with great eagerness, and their, stopping short, he seemed quite affected, and the tears started into his eyes: dear soul! I am sure they did into mine, nay, I even sobbed, as I read the account.

I believe he was obliged to go out before he advanced much further. But the next day I had a letter from Susan, in which I heard that he had begun reading it with Lady Hales, and Miss Coussmaker, and that they liked it vastly! Lady Hales spoke of it very innocently, in the highest terms, declaring she was sure it was written by somebody in high life, and that it had all the marks of real genius! She added, “He must be a man of great abilities!”

How ridiculous! But Miss Coussmaker was a little nearer the truth, for she gave it as her opinion, that the writer was a woman, for she said there was such a remarkable delicacy in the conversations and descriptions, notwithstanding the grossness and vulgarity of some of the characters, and that all oaths and indelicate words were so carefully, yet naturally avoided, that she could not but suspect the writer was a female; but, she added, notwithstanding the preface declared that the writer never would be known, she hoped, if the book circulated as she expected it would, he or she would be tempted to make a discovery.

Ha! Ha! Ha!—that’s my answer. They little think how well they are already acquainted with the writer they so much honour! Susan begged to have, then, my father’s real and final opinion—and it is such that I almost blush to write, even for my own private reading; but yet is such as I can by no means suffer to pass unrecorded, as my whole journal contains nothing so grateful to me. I will copy his own words, according to Susan’s solemn declaration of their authenticity.

“Upon my word I think it the best novel I know, except Fielding’s, and, in some respects, better than his! I have been excessively pleased with it; there are, perhaps a few things that might have been otherwise. Mirvan’s trick upon Lovel is, I think, carried too far,— there is something even disgusting in it: however, this instance excepted, I protest I think it will scarce bear an improvement. The language is as good as anybody need write—I declare, as good as I would wish to read. Lord Orville’s character is just what it should be—perfectly benevolent and upright; and there is a boldness in it that struck me mightily, for he is a man not ashamed of being better than the rest of mankind. Evelina is in a new style too, so perfectly innocent and natural; and the scene between her and her father, Sir John Belmont, is a scene for a tragedy! I blubbered at it, and Lady Hales and Miss Coussmaker are not yet recovered from hearing it, it made them quite ill: indeed, it is wrought up in a most extraordinary manner.”

This account delighted me more than I can express. How little did I dream of ever being so much honoured! But the approbation of all the world put together, would not bear any competition, in my estimation, with that of my beloved father.

Fanny Burney to Miss S. Burney Chesington, Sunday, July 6.

Your letter, my dearest Susan, and the inclosed one from Lovirrides, have flung me into such a vehement perturbation, that I hardly can tell whether I wake or dream, and it is even With difficulty that I can fetch my breath. I have been strolling round the garden three or four times, in hopes of regaining a little quietness. However, I am not very angry at my inward disturbance, though it even exceeds what I experienced from the Monthly Review.

My dear Susy, what a wonderful affair has this been, and how extraordinary is this torrent of success, which sweeps down all before it! I often think it too much, nay, almost wish it would happen to some other person, who had more ambition, whose hopes were more sanguine, and who could less have borne to be buried in the oblivion which I even sought. But though it might have been better bestowed, it could by no one be more gratefully received.

Indeed I can’t help being grave upon the subject; for a success so really unexpected almost overpowers me. I wonder at myself that my spirits are not more elated. I believe half the flattery I have had would have made me madly merry; but all serves only to almost depress me by the fullness of heart it occasions. I have been serving Daddy Crisp a pretty trick this morning how he would rail if he found it all out! I had a fancy to dive pretty deeply into the real rank in which he held my book; so I told him that your last letter acquainted me who was reported to be the author of Evelina. I added that it was a profound secret, and he must by no means mention it to a human being. He bid me tell him directly, according to his usual style of command—but I insisted upon his guessing.

“I can’t guess,” said he—“may be it is you.”

Oddso! thought I, what do you mean by that?

“Pooh, nonsense!” cried I,” what should make you think of me?”

“Why, you look guilty,” answered he.

This was a horrible home stroke. Deuce take my looks! thought I—I shall owe them a grudge for this! However, I found it was a mere random shot, and, without much difficulty, I laughed it to scorn.

And who do you think he guessed next ?—My father!—there’s for you!—and several questions he asked me, whether he had lately been shut up much—and so on. And this was not all—for he afterwards guessed Mrs. Thrale and Mrs. Greville.

There’s honour and glory for you!—I assure you I grinned prodigiously.

July 20

I have had a letter from Susan. She informs me that my father, when he took the books back to Streatham, actually acquainted Mrs. Thrale with my secret. He took an opportunity, when they were alone together, of saying that upon her recommendation, he had himself, as well as my mother; been reading Evelina.

“Well!” cried she, “and is it not a very pretty book? and a Very clever book? and a very comical book?”

“Why,” answered he. “’tis well enough; but I have something to tell you about it.”

“Well? what?” cried she; “has Mrs. Cholmondeley found out the author?”

“No,” returned he, “not that I know of, but I believe I have, though but very lately.”

“Well, pray let’s hear!” cried she, eagerly, “I want to know him of all things.”

How my father must laugh at the him!—He then, however, undeceived her in regard to that particular, by telling her it was “our Fanny!” for she knows all about our family, as my father talks to her of his domestic concerns without any reserve.

A hundred handsome things, of course, followed; and she afterwards read some of the comic parts to Dr. Johnson, Mr. Thrale, and whoever came near her. How I should have quivered had I been there! but they tell me that Dr. Johnson laughed as heartily as my father himself did.

Nothing can be more ridiculous than the scenes in which I am almost perpetually engaged. Mr. Crisp, who is totally without suspicion, says, almost daily, something that has double the meaning he intends to convey; for, as I am often writing, either letters, Italian, or some of my own vagaries, he commonly calls me the scribe, and the authoress; asks when I shall print; says he will have all my works on royal paper, etc.; and the other day, Mrs. Gast, who frequently lectures me about studying too hard, and injuring my health, said—

“Pray, Miss Burney, now you write so much, when do you intend to publish?”

“Publish?” cried Mr. Crisp, “why, she has published; she brought out a book the other day that has made a great noise Evelina— and she bribed the reviewers to speak well of it, and set it a going.”

I was almost ready to run out of the room; but, though the hit was so palpable in regard to the book, what he said of the reviewers was so much the contrary that it checked my alarm: indeed, had he the most remote idea of the truth, he would be the last man to have hinted at it before a room full of people.

“Oh!” cried I, as composedly as I could, “that is but a small part of my authorship—I shall give you a list of my folios Soon.”

They had all some jocularity upon the occasion, but I found I was perfectly safe; indeed my best security is, that my daddy concludes the author to be a man, and all the rest follow as he leads.

Mr. Burney, yesterday, after dinner, said—“Gentlemen and ladies, I’ll propose a toast”; then filling his glass, he drank to The author of Evelina!

Had they known the author was present, they could not have more civilly accepted the toast; it was a bold kind of drollery in Mr. Burney, for I was fain to drink my own health in a bumper, which he filled for me, laughing heartily himself.

August 3

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; he “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;—it 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.

Susan also writes me word, that when my father went last to Streatham, Dr. Johnson was not there, but Mrs. Thrale told him, that when he gave her the first volume of Evelina, which she had lent him, he said, “Why, madam, why, what a charming book you lent me!” and eagerly inquired for the rest. He was particularly pleased with the Snow-hill scenes, and said that Mr. Smith’s vulgar gentility was admirably portrayed; and when Sir Clement joins them, he said there was a shade of character prodigiously well marked. Well may it be said, that the greatest winds are ever the most candid to the inferior set! I think I should love Dr. Johnson for such lenity to a poor mere worm in literature, even if I were not myself the identical grub he has obliged.

I now come to last Saturday evening, when my beloved father came to Chesington, in full health, charming spirits, and all kindness, openness, and entertainment.

In his way hither he had stopped at Streatham, and he settled with Mrs. Thrale that he would call on her again in his way to town, and carry me with him! and Mrs. Thrale said, “We all long to know her.”

I have been in a kind of twitter ever since, for there seems something very formidable in the idea of appearing as an authoress! I ever dreaded it, as it is a title which must raise more expectations than I have any chance of answering. Yet I am highly flattered by her invitation, and highly delighted in the prospect of being introduced to the Streatham society.

She sent me some very serious advice to write for the theatre, as, she says, I so naturally run into conversations, that Evelina absolutely and plainly points out that path to me; and she hinted how much she should be pleased to be honoured with my confidence.

My dear father communicated this intelligence, and a great deal more, with a pleasure that almost surpassed that with which I heard it, and he seems quite eager for me to make another attempt. He desired to take upon himself the communication to my daddy Crisp, and as it is now in so many hands that it is possible accident might discover it to him, I readily consented.

Sunday evening, as I was going into my father’s room, I heard him say, “The variety of characters—the variety of scenes—and the language—why, she has had very little education but what she has given herself,—less than any of the others!” and Mr. Crisp exclaimed, “Wonderful!—it’s wonderful!”

I now found what was going forward, and therefore deemed it most fitting to decamp. About an hour after, as I was passing through the hall, I met my daddy Crisp. His face was all animation and archness; he doubled his fist at me, and would have stopped me, but I ran past him into the parlour.

Before supper, however, I again met him, and he would not suffer me to escape; he caught both my hands, and looked as if he would have looked me through, and then exclaimed, “Why you little hussy,—you young devil!—aren’t you ashamed to look me in the face, you Evelina, you! Why, what a dance have you led me about it! Young friend, indeed! O you little hussy, what tricks have you served me!”

I was obliged to allow of his running on with these gentle appellations for I know not how long, ere he could sufficiently compose himself after his great surprise, to ask or hear any particulars—and then, he broke out every three instants with exclamations of astonishment at how I had found time to write so much unsuspected, and how and where I had picked up such various materials; and not a few times did he, with me, as he had with my father, exclaim, “Wonderful!”

He has, since, made me read him all my letters upon this subject. He said Lowndes would have made an estate had he given me one thousand pounds for it, and that he ought not to have given me less. “You have nothing to do now,” continued he, “but to take your pen in hand, for your fame and reputation are made, and any bookseller will snap at what you write.”

I then told him that I could not but really and unaffectedly regret that the affair was spread to Mrs. Williams and her friends.

“Pho,” said he, “if those who are proper judges think it right, that it should be known, why should you trouble yourself about it? You have not spread it, there can be no imputation of vanity fall to your share, and it cannot come out more to your honour than through such a channel as Mrs. Thrale.”

(1778)

MLA Citation

Burney, Fanny. “Evelina and the mystery attending its publication.” 1778. Quotidiana. Ed. Patrick Madden. 30 Nov 2006. 17 Oct 2017 <http://essays.quotidiana.org/burney/evelina_and_the_mystery_attending_its_publication/>.

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