Letter to Samuel Crisp (1775)

Burney, Frances
James Gillray (1756–1815), "A little music - or - the delights of harmony". National portrait Gallery.


"Mr. Chamier joined warmly in the Chorus of praise; he got himself into a little snug recess behind a Book Case, &, as he & I were engaged in a very witty confabulation, my mother came up to us, & said 'So, Fanny, I see you have got Mr Chamier into a Corner!'"

Letter from Frances Burney to Samuel Crisp (21 Nov. 1775)

So now, back to our first Concert,—I must trace back the circumstances in my memory, to the best of my power.—I left off before the arrival of the Prince.—So now, Enter his Highness, attended by a Russian Nobleman,80 & followed by General Bawr.

The Prince is another Mr Bruce, being immensely Tall, & stout in proportion. He is a handsome & magnificent Figure. His Dress was very superb. Besides a Blue Garter, he had a star of Diamonds, of prodigious brilliancy; he had likewise a shoulder knot of the same precious Jewels, & a Picture of the Empress Hung from his Neck, which was set round with Diamonds of such magnitude & lustre that, when near the Candle, they were too dazzling for the Eye. His Jewels, Dr. King says, are Valued at above £ 100,000. 

He was extremely gracious & polite, & appeared to be addicted to pleasantry. He speaks very little English, but knows French perfectly. He was received by my Father in the Drawing Room. The Library, where the music was, was so Crowded he only shewed himself at the Door, where he Bowed to M r Chamier, who had met with him elsewhere.

I felt myself so Dwarfish by his high Highness, that I could not forbear whispering Mr Chamier 'Lord, how I hate' those enormous Tall men!' 'He has been less unfortunate,' answered he, archly, elsewhere!—that objection has not been made to him by all Ladies.' I knew he meant the Empress, but by no means desired a Conversation on the subject, & told him, I only hated them, because they made me, & such as me look so very insignificant. You may be sure his gallantry would by no means subscribe to this speech, which was followed by the usual style of small talk.

Lord Bruce rose & bowed very respectfully to the Prince, & quitted his seat to make way for him, went to the further End of the Room. 'Ah!' cried Prince Orloff, 'milord me fuit\'

Mr. Brudenal then offered his seat to his Highness, but he would not accept it, & declared that if he disturbed any body, he would immediately retire:—he desired him, therefore, to re-seat himself, & when Mr Brudenal demurred, he said, with a Laugh (in answer to Mr B.'s pressing him to take his seat) 'Non, non, Monsieur, je ne veux pas, absolument/]e suis opiniatre, moi! je ne veux pas!—Je suis un peu comme messieurs les Anglois!'

He gained his point, & the Prince at last squatted himself on the corner of a Form, just by Sukey, who as he seemed to shut her in, he called his petite prisonniere. Mr. Chamier, in a whisper, said that CI wish Dr. Burney would have had Omiah here, instead of Prince Orloff!'

The Grand Duet, of Miithel, was then played.

Added to the applause given to the music, every body had something to say, upon the singularity of the performers being man & Wife.

Mr. Boone said, to me, 'See what a man & his Wife can do together, when they Live in Harmony^

'O Dr. Burney,' cried Lady Edgecumbe, 'You have set me a madding. ' I shall never bear any other music!'

Lord Bruce, turning to Prince Orloff, told him that the performers of the Duet were mari & femme.

The Prince seemed surprised,86 & Walking up to Hetty, made her many Compliments; & expressed his wonder that two such Performers should chance to be United: & added 'Mais, qu'a produit tant d'Harmonie?'

'Rien, mon seigneur,' answered Hetty; laughing, 'que trois Enfant?

She vows she was irresistably led to make this queer answer at the moment, but was sorry afterwards, for the Prince laughed immoderately; & went immediately to Lord Bruce, & repeated ce que Madame avoit dit—with many droll comments & observations, such as, that such an harmonious secret should be communicated to the foreign academies; that it was of consequence to Natural philosophy—&c &c

Mr. Harris said he rejoiced, in these degenerate Days, to see such Harmony in married People.

'Your Father,' said the Dean of Winchester to me, 'has been so obliging as to make my Girls undertake something of this sort;—but it will never do for sisters, A man & his Wife cannot take too much pains to shine together, but as to my Girls, even if they succeed, they will, in a few years, be parted;—at least they hope so!'

Mr. Chamier joined warmly in the Chorus of praise; he got himself into a little snug recess behind a Book Case, &, as he & I were engaged in a very witty confabulation, my mother came up to us, & said 'So, Fanny, I see you have got Mr Chamier into a Corner!'

' You must know I don't at all like these sort of Jokes, which are by no means the ton, so I walked away.—but Mr Chamier answered—'No, Ma'am, it is / that seek out a Corner near where the lady Inhabits.'

General Bawr is a Hessian by Birth, though now Lieutenant General a sa S. M. Ulmperatrice de Russia. He wears two stars; he was in England formerly with the Hessian Troops, & at Winchester, as the Dean informed Us. Mr. Harris told us that he was a man to be looked at, for that he had commanded during the Turkish War, with so much Courage, conduct & success, that his valour & spirit could not be too much admired.

He is Tall & rather Thin, of a stern & martial Aspect; but very well bred, & very fond of music. He speaks pretty good English, but came in so late that he missed both Duets, which he much regretted.

The Baron de Demidoff was likewise extremely delighted with the music: he is very thin & long Nosed, & has a most triste & meager Countenance: when the Duet was over, he claped [sic] his Hand on his snuff Box, with great vehemence, & called out, with energy, 'dis is so pretty as ever I heard in my life!'

Lady Edgecumbe was Introduced to Prince Orloff, whom she had never met with before. She Entered into a flirtation with him; & was so Courteous, & made so many reverences, that the Dean of Winchester, (who is very satirical) observed afterwards, that his Diamonds, & his Highness together, had quite penetrated her Ladyship.

She Invited him, with great earnestness, & great humility, to Honour her with a Visit, saying that though she had but a small House, she had a great ambition. Indeed it must be owned that it was great presumption in Lady Edgecumbe to Invite any person she met with at Dr. Burney'sl—Ha—Ha!

The Conversation turned again upon Gabriella. The Prince said she had by no means sung so well as in Russia.89 General Bawr declared that if he had shut his Eyes—he should not have known the Gabriella! '

I forget whether I told you of Gabrielli's Train as she quits the Opera House of a Saturday Night? Take it now, however, as Lady Edgecumbe told it.

'First goes a running Foot man; then the sister, then the Gabrielli; then a page to hold up her Train; then a Foot man; & then a man out of Livery, with her Lap dog in her muff!'

'But,' cried Mr. Brudenal, very drily, 'where is Lord March all this time?'

'O,' answered Lady Edgecumbe, 'he, you know, is Lord of the Bedchamber.'

Lady Edgecumbe, being obliged to shew herself at Lady Harrington's, retired soon after the last Duet. Mrs. Brudenal was going with her, but as she looked very soft & good Natured, I ventured to ask her to favour us with another song; & though her Cloak was on, she was so obliging as to return. She sung much better than at first, &, for all Mr Chamier, is a very good lady singer, & such a one as is not very frequently heard.

When the Room was a good deal Thinned, Mr Harris told me he wished some of the ladies would express a desire of seeing the Empress's Picture nearer; 'I, you know,' said he, 'as a man, cannot, but my Old Eyes can't see it at a distance.'

I went up to Dr. King, & made the request to him. He hesitated some time, but afterwards assented the demand to General Bawr, who boldly made it to the Prince. His Highness laughed, & with great good humour, desired the General to untie the picture from his Neck, & present it to us; & he was very facetious upon the occasion, desiring to know if we wanted any thing else? & saying that, if they pleased, the ladies might strip him entirely! Not very elegant, methinks, his pleasantry!

When we got it, there was hardly any looking at the Empress for the glare of the Diamonds. Their size is almost incredible. One of them, I am sure, was as big as a Nutmeg at least.

When we were all satisfied, it was returned, & the Prince,' who [sic] most graciously made a Bow to, & received a Curtsie from, every one who looked at it.

Well—& now, my dear Daddy, I think I have told you enough of this Evening, which was indeed a most agreeable one, & replete with matter. Now as to the last Concert, which you desire an account of, I have not so much to say, but take it as it was.

It was given in Honour of his Excellency the Count de Guignes,95 at the request of Lady Edgecumbe, who talked so much to him of the Duet, that he expressed a great desire to hear it. I think I will Introduce the Company, which was very select, in the same way as before, viz, as they Introduced themselves to Us. & first,

Enter the Earl of Ashburnham. 

He is just made Groom of the stole, & Ist Lord of the Bedchamber, & has a gold key Hanging from his Pocket. He is a Thin, genteel man, perfectly well-bred, attentive & elegant in his manners. Next.

Enter Lord & Lady Edgecumbe.

Lord Edgecumbe is short & squabby, he is droll & facetious, & never easy but when Joking. Lady Edgecumbe expressed herself in the most civil terms of thanks for my Father's making this party at her desire.—'I am particularly obliged to you, Dr. Burney, for giving your Time to my friends—' &c

Enter His Honour Mr Brudenal.

Enough of him before.

Enter Signor Rauzzini.

Every Eye brightened at his Entrance. He looked like an angel,—nothing can be more beautiful than this youth: he has the Complection of our Dick,—the very finest White & Red I ever saw: his Eyes are the sweetest in the World, at once soft & spirited: All his Features are animated & charming. I am extremely pleased to find that he gains ground with the Public Daily; his friends encrease every opera Night. The more they hear, the more they like him, especially as ' (at) his first appearance,97 he had the disadvantage of a terrible Cold. Mr Burney & Hetty are grown, of late, quite enraptured with him.

'Avez vous une Assemblee chez vous tous les Dimanches.' cried he, to my Father, 'Je viendrai un autre fois quand je pourrai chanter.'

Only think how we were let down\ 'un autre foisl cried Hetty,— 'un autre fois! echoed Sukey,—'un autre fois! still more pathetically echoed your humble servant.

Mr. Brudenal soon after took Rauzzini aside to concert measures relative to his Benefit. After which, Lord Edgecumbe hurried, in a droll manner, up to Rauzzini to tell him of Gabrielli's Ceremony on leaving the opera House—though to be sure he must know most of that matter himself. Lord Edgecumbe speaks but indifferent French, & referred every now & then to Lord Ashburnham in English. When he had told the whole Parade, & came to 'apres cela, un valet, & puis,—un autre avec le petit Chien,' Rauzzini called out, 'Et puis, un autre pour un singe, & un autre pour un perroquet!'

'But, added Lord Edgecumbe, to Lord Ashm—'last Night the Dog was Carried—only think how horrid!—by a woman, in a Handkerchief, instead of a Gentleman in his Hat! Now, my Lord, was not that enough to put any singer out of humour?

Rauzzini said he had Dined with Gabrielli. 'Comment se porte-t-elle?' cried Lady Edgecumbe.

'Fort bien, Madame.' answered he.

'Fort bien?—je suis bien fachee!'

'Comment donc?' cried he, with some surprise. She answered that she was sorry Gabrielli should be well, & not sing better.'

Enter his Excellency, Count de Guignes.

The Count, when he first came from France, was esteemed to be a remarkable handsome man: but he is now grown so monstrous fat, & looks so sleek, that he is by no means an Adonis to [MS torn]. He looks very soft in the most extensive meaning [of the] Word, c'est [a] dire, in Temper, Person, & Head; remember, I speak only of his looks. However, he was very civil, though silent & reserved.

Enter the Baron & Baronness de Deiden, the Danish Ambassadour & his Lady.

The Baronness is one of the sweetest creatures in this lower World, if she is not one of the most deceitful. We liked her extremely at a former Concert which she honoured with her presence, but we liked her now a thousand Times more. Her Face is beautifully expressive of sense & sensibility; her manners are truly elegant, she is mild, obliging, accomplished & modest. Her Figure is equal to her Face, being Tall & well made.

The Baron is sensible & polite: &, what most pleased me, he seems extremely well satisfied of the merit & charms of his sweet wife. They both speak English.

The Baron made his Compliments to my Father with great civility, & the Baronness said 'How good it was in you, Sir, to remember Us! We are very much oblige to you indeed!' Then, going up to my sister, she said

'I have heard no music since I was here last!'

'For me, Mrs Burney,' added Lady Edgecumbe, 'I think I have shewn how much / was pleased, by my eagerness to hear you again so soon.

Mr. Burney then went into the Library, & seated himself at the Harpsichord. Every body followed.

Enter—Lord Viscount Barrington."

To look at this Nobleman, you would swear he was a Tradesman,—& by no means superior to stand behind a ' Counter. He has by no means the Air Noble, nor would you Dream that he almost Lives at Court, & has a private Conference with the king every other Day. But, I suppose, he has 'that within that passeth shew!'

This Evening party was closed by the En [trance] of the Earl of Sandwich—of famous Name & C[harac]ter.

I thought of Jemmy Twitcher immediately! He is a Tall, stout man & looks weather proof as any sailor in the Navy. He has great good humour & joviality marked in his Countenance. He went up to mama, & said to her 'I have heard of your son, Madam, & expect him Home Daily.

The Duets went off, with their usual Eclat. Lady Edgecumbe Vowed she had rather hear them than 20 Operas. The Baron & Baronness were unaffectedly delighted—The Ambassadour was gently pleased;—Lord Edgecumbe, who had a bad Cold, almost choaked himself with stifling a Cough, nevertheless, his Wife scolded him about it, & said 'What do you come here for, my Lord, Coughing?'

Rauzzini was attacked by my Father, to vary the Entertainment, by a Rondeau de sa façon. He supplicated, with up-lifted Hands, to be excused; declaring most solemnly that he had, having a dreadful Cold, been obliged, the preceding Evening,4 to exert himself so as to force his Voice, in consequence of which his Throat was actually quite raw & sore. He protested that he should have the greatest pleasure in singing to a select party of musical people, if he was able, & added that he came meerly to shew his willingness, though he ought to have been in Bed. In short, he did not absolutely refuse, but with so much earnestness & seeming regret begged my Father not to press him' that he niether could teize him, or yet, though very sorry, be at all offended at his declining to sing.

Lord Barrington made up to him, after this, & hinted his Wish to hear him thus in private. He made the same apology, & complained of the managers for obliging him to sing whether well or 111, which occasioned his being Torc'd1 either to disgrace himself, or force his Voice to his great detriment, 'car, pour moi, Milord, Je respecte le publique & Ton ne m'a pas accorde le tems de me remettre; ainsi, de jour en jour, au lieu de me guerir, j'en pire.'

Lady Edgecumbe was then applied to to play; but she absolutely refused, & declared the Baronness to be la premiere Dame pour la musique.

The Baronness was therefore solicited; but in vai[n;] her invincible modesty made her regard herself a meer Miss player by Mr Burney & my sister.

I longed irresistably to speak with Rauzzini, & so when I saw him stealing from the Library back to the ^Dining1 Room, I gathered Courage to say 'Eh, vous ne chanterez pas, Monsieur?' he turned to me with the prettiest air imaginable, & cried 'Ah! je suis au desespoir! mais je ne le puis pas!—'

Sukey joined us, & we had a very agreeable Trio of about a quarter of an Hour, in which he told us that nothing made him so miserable as refusing', that to be where there was a Harpsichord, & musical people, & to be idle, made him quite unhappy; he protested that he would come some other Time, with the greatest pleasure. 'Mais quandT cried Sukey. 'Quand M. Borni voudra,' answered he, '& alors, Je chanterai toute la soiree.'

He said that he must retire, & immediately go to Bed; that he would not disturb my Father, but left his best Compliments for him with me. & so he went. Leaving ' every body monstrously disappointed, & Nobody displeased. "

"I am so afraid of losing another post, that I must make up this Letter, & what I have to add of this Evening I shall send, perhaps, tomorrow, otherwise very soon & tomorrow I shall also send Kitty's Black Silk. My mother desires her best Compts to you, & that a Hare will accompany the black silk. They will be sent to Epsom.

My Father is in want of the phil. tran. & of Mr Twiss. By the way, that Gentleman called here last week, but saw Nobody. He is just returned from Ireland, where he told my Father, he went to be Dipt in the Shannon, to take from him his too great mauvaise honte!

Have I made my peace with you or not?

After all, you write such snaps in return for my Volumes, that I own it sometimes discourages & mortifies me, to think that so many Pages of writing cannot afford any matter for Comment or Observation.

My love to Kitty, & believe me, most affectionately & faithfully yours

F. Burney


Text taken from Early Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney, Volume 2 (1774-1777), ed. Lars E. Troide, vol. 2 (1990), p. 180-191. 1889 edition from HATHITRUST.