Thursday, April 17, 2008

counting laurels

Miss F. Burney to Miss S. Burney.

Chesington, July 5, 1778.

My Dearest Susy,

Don't you think there must be some wager depending among the little curled imps who hover over us mortals, of how much flummery goes to turn the head of an authoress? Your last communication very near did my business, for, meeting Mr. Crisp ere I had composed myself, I " tipt him such a touch of the heroics" as he has not seen since the time when I was so much celebrated for dancing "Nancy Dawson." I absolutely longed to treat him with one of Captain Mirvan's frolics, and to fling his wig out of the window. I restrained myself, however, from the apprehension that they would imagine I had a universal spite to that harmless piece of goods, which I have already been known to treat with no little indignity. He would fain have discovered the reason of my skittishness; but as I could not tell it him, I was obliged to assure him it would be lost time to inquire further into my flights, since " true no meaning puzzles more than wit," and therefore, begging the favor of him to " set me down an ass" I suddenly retreated.

My dear, dear Dr. Johnson! what a charming man you are! Mrs. Cholmondeley*, too, I am not merely prepared but determined to admire; for really she has shown so much penetration and sound sense of late, that I think she will bring about a union between Wit and Judgment, though their separation has been so long, and though their meetings have been so few.

But, Mrs. Thrale! she she is the goddess of my idolatry! What an eloge is hers! an eloge that not only delights at first, but proves more and more flattering every time it is considered!

I often think when I am counting my laurels, what a pity it would have been had I popped off in my last illness, without knowing what a person of consequence I was! and I sometimes think that, were I now to have a relapse, I could never go off with so much! I am now at the summit of a high hill; my prospects on one side are bright, glowing, and invitingly beautiful; but when I turn round, I perceive, on the other side, sundry caverns, gulfs, pits, and precipices, that, to look at, make my head giddy and my heart sick. I see about me, indeed, many hills of far greater height and sublimity ; but I have not the strength to attempt climbing them; if I move, it must be downwards. I have already, I fear, reached the pinnacle of my abilities, and therefore to stand still will be my best policy.

By the way, not a human being here has the most remote suspicion of the fact; I could not be more secure, were I literally unknown to them. And there is no end to the ridiculous speeches perpetually made to me, by all of them in turn, though quite by accident." An't you sorry this sweet book is done? " said Mrs. Gast. A silly little laugh was the answer. "Ah said Patty, "'tis the sweetest book! don't you think so, Miss Burney? " N. B. Answer as above. "Pray, Miss Fan," says Mrs. Hamilton," who wrote it? ' " Really I never heard." 'Cute enough that, Miss Sukey!

*Mrs. Cholmondeley was wife of the Hon. and Rev. Robert Cholmondeley, and sister of the celebrated Mrs. Margaret [Peg] Woffington.

-from The Diary and Letters of Frances Burney, Madame D'Arblay. revised and edited by Sarah Chauncey Woolsey in 2 volumes (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1880), vol. 1.

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