Tuesday, April 22, 2008

unexpected condescension

Frances Burney to Miss Cambridge.

Monday, June, 1786.

"I will share," says my dearest Miss Cambridge, in a letter, not long ago, "in all your cares all your joys.' Is it fair in me, beginning, perforce, by the worst, to take you at your generous word? Yes, I hope it is for would you have invited such a participation, and not have wished it? No, I know your noble sincerity too well, and I call upon you to speak to me in those words you would speak to yourself, when I have told you the subject of my present difficulty. It is only by minds such as yours as my Susan's, Mrs. Delany's and Mrs. Locke's my four invaluable friends, that I can hope to be even understood, when I speak of difficulty and distress from a proposal apparently only advantageous. But Susan's wishes are so certainly and invariably my own, that I wish to spare her from hearing of this matter till the decision is made; Mrs. Delany, with all her indulgent partiality, is here too deeply interested on the other side to be consulted without paining her; and Mrs. Locke has an enthusiasm in her kindness that makes every plan seem cruel to her that puts or keeps us asunder. In this particular case, therefore, I shall apply for no opinion but yours, yours, which I may here peculiarly trust, from knowing that it unites the two precise qualities that suit it for judging my situation, a strong sense of duty, with a disinterested love of independence. And you are liberal enough, too, I am sure, to permit me openly to tell you that I do not beg your advice with a premeditated resolution to follow it; but simply with a view to weigh and compare your ideas with my own, in the same manner I should do could I talk the matter over with you instead of writing it.

I now come straight to the point. Yesterday evening, while I was with Mrs. Delany, Mr. Smelt arrived from Windsor, and desired a private conference with her; and, when it was over, a separate one with me; surprising me not a little, by entreating me to suffer some very home questions from him, relative to my situation, my views, and even my wishes, with respect to my future life. At first, I only laughed: but my merriment a little failed me, when he gave me to understand he was commissioned to make these inquiries by a great personage, who had conceived so favorable an opinion of me as to be desirous of undoubted information, whether or not there was a probability she might permanently attach me to herself and her family. You cannot easily, my dear Miss Cambridge, picture to yourself the consternation with which I received this intimation. It was such that the good and kind Mr. Smelt, perceiving it, had the indulgence instantly to offer me his services, first, in forbearing to mention even to my father his commission, and next in fabricating and carrying back for me a respectful excuse. And I must always consider myself the more obliged to him, as I saw in his own face the utmost astonishment and disappointment at this reception of his embassy. I could not, however, reconcile to myself concealing from my dear father a matter that ought to be settled by himself; yet I frankly owned to Mr. Smelt that no situation of that sort was suited to my own taste, or promising to my own happiness. He seemed equally sorry and surprised; he expatiated warmly upon the sweetness of character of all the royal family, and then begged me to consider the very peculiar distinction shown me, that, unsolicited, unsought, I had been marked out with such personal favor by the Queen herself, as a person with whom she had been so singularly pleased, as to wish to settle me with one of the princesses, in preference to the thousands of offered candidates, of high birth and rank, but small fortunes, who were waiting and supplicating for places in the new-forming establishment. Her Majesty proposed giving me apartments in the palace; making me belong to the table of Mrs. Schwellenberg, with whom all her own visitors bishops, lords, or commons, always dine; keeping me a footman, and settling on me 200 a year.

My dear Miss Cambridge will easily feel that this was a plea not to be answered. Yet the attendance upon this Princess was to be incessant, the confinement to the court continual; was scarce ever to be spared for a single visit from the palaces, nor to receive anybody but with permission, and, my dear Miss Cambridge, what a life for me, who have friends so dear to me, and to whom friendship is the balm, the comfort, the very support of existence! Don't think me ungrateful, meanwhile, to the sweet Queen, for thus singling out and distinguishing an obscure and most unambitious individual. No indeed, I am quite penetrated with her partial and most unexpected condescension: but yet, let me go through, for her sake, my tasks with what cheerfulness I may, the deprivations I must suffer would inevitably keep me from all possibility of happiness. Though I said but little, my dear Mrs. Delany was disturbed, and good Mr. Smelt much mortified, that a proposition which had appeared to them the most nattering and honorable, should be heard only with dejection. I cast, however, the whole into my father's disposal and pleasure. But I have time for no more detail, than merely to say, that till the offer comes in form, no positive answer need be given, and therefore that I am yet at liberty.

Write to me, then, my dearest Miss Cambridge, with all your fullest honesty, and let me know which you wish to strengthen my courage in making my real sentiments openly known, or my fortitude in concealing what it may be right I should endure. The moment this affair is decided, as I shall then strive to make the best of it, whatever be my decision, I shall entreat you to return me this letter, or commit it to the flames. The measles will keep off any meetings at Windsor for some time. I hope, therefore, to receive your answer before I am obliged to speak finally. Can you forgive me this trouble? If matters take the turn I so much dread, I shall not give you much more! If it should be in my power, I still intend to defer my going to Windsor till all this is arranged. Adieu! my dearest Miss Cambridge; I am sorry to send you a letter written in such confusion of mind.
[Frances Burney]

-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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