Monday, April 21, 2008

I will endeavor, however

Miss F. Burney to her sister Esther Burney.

Windsor Dec. 17th, 1785.

My Dearest HETTY,
I am sorry I could not more immediately write; but I really have not had a moment since your last. Now I know what you next want is, to hear accounts of kings, queens, and such royal personages. O ho! Do you so? Well. Shall I tell you a few matters of fact? or, had you rather a few matters of etiquette? Oh, matters of etiquette, you cry! for matters of fact are short and stupid, and anybody can tell, and everybody is tired with them. Very well, take your own choice.

You would never believe, you, who distant from courts and courtiers, know nothing of their ways and the many things to be studied for appearing with a proper propriety before crowned heads. Heads without crowns are quite other sort of rotundas. Now, then, to the etiquette. I inquired into every particular, that no error might be committed. And as there is no saying what may happen in this mortal life, I shall give you those instructions I have received myself, that, should you find yourself in the royal presence, you may know how to comport yourself.

Directions for coughing, sneezing, or moving, before the King and Queen: In the first place you must not cough. If you find a cough tickling in your throat, you must arrest it from making any sound; if you find yourself choking with the forbearance, you must choke but not cough. In the second place, you must not sneeze. If you have a vehement cold, you must take no notice of it; if your nose membranes feel a great irritation, you must hold your breath; if a sneeze still insists upon making its way, you must oppose it, by keeping your teeth grinding together; if the violence of the repulse breaks some blood-vessel, you must break the blood-vessel but not sneeze. In the third place, you must not, upon any account, stir either hand or foot. If, by chance, a black pin runs into your head, you must not take it out. If the pain is very great, you must be sure to bear it without wincing; if it brings the tears into your eyes, you must not wipe them off; if they give you a tingling by running down your cheeks, you must look as if nothing was the matter. If the blood should gush from your head by means of the black pin, you must let it gush; if you are uneasy to think of making such a blurred appearance, you must be uneasy, but you must say nothing about it. If, however, the agony is very great, you may, privately, bite the inside of your cheek, or of your lips, for a little relief; taking care, meanwhile, to do it so cautiously as to make no apparent dent outwardly. And, with that precaution, if you even gnaw a piece out, it will not be minded; only be sure either to swallow it, or commit it to a corner of the inside of your mouth till they are gone for you must not spit.

I have many other directions, but no more paper; I will endeavor, however, to have them ready for you in time. Perhaps, meanwhile, you will be glad to know if I have myself had opportunity to put in practice these receipts? How can I answer in this little space?

My love to Mr. B. and the little ones, and remember me kindly to cousin Edward, and believe me, my dearest Esther, most affectionately yours, F. B.

-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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