A Musical Evening (1775)

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


"Mr Bruce, who is very fond of music, had appointed that Day to accompany Mrs Strange hither' to hear Mr Burney play upon our Merlin Harpsichord. Mr Twining also brought his Wife & another lady with the same view. These, with Miss Strange, my sister [Esther Burney] & ourselves, formed the Party."

March 10th

We had a large Party here last Sunday [5 March], the first of the kind we have had in this House.

Mr Bruce, who is very fond of music, had appointed that Day to accompany Mrs Strange hither to hear Mr Burney play upon our Merlin Harpsichord. Mr Twining also brought his Wife & another lady with the same view. These, with Miss Strange, my sister [Esther Burney] & ourselves, formed the Party.

Mr Bruce, however, did not appear till very late. Mr Twining & his ladies came before six; he apologised for his unfashionable Hour; 'But,' added he, honestly, 'I not only wished for a long Evening here, but also to avoid having to Enter the Room after your Company were assembled.'

Mrs & Miss Strange came soon after. We enquired after his Abyssinian majesty; they said he Dined at General Melville's, & was to join them here. We Waited Tea about an Hour, during which Time the Conversation was too general & mixed to be remembered; the Tea Equipage was then ordered, & we had all done, & Mr Burney, followed by Mr Twining, had gone into the library, where our music was to be, & which joins the Mining Room, where we all were, — when a Thundering Rap called up our attention. Mr Bruce was announced, & he Entered the Room like a monarch.

We soon found that he was disconcerted; he complained to Mrs Strange, who Enquired after the General, that he had Invited a set of stupid people to meet him; & he seemed to have left the Party in disgust. He took one Dish of Tea, & then desired to speak to my Father, concerning his Letter that is to be Printed in the History. My Father asked him into his study, which is a very comfortable snug Room within the Library; ' "As they went out, Mr Twining was returning to the Dining Room, & my Father Introduced him to Mr Bruce; they Exchanged Bows, & went on. Mr Twining lifted up his Hands & Eyes in a droll kind of astonishment, when Mr Bruce was out of sight, & coming up to us, said, 'This is the most awful man I ever saw!' & added, 'I never felt myself so little before!'

'Troth, never mind,' cried Mrs Strange; 'if you was 6 foot high, he would look over you & he can do no more now!'

Mr Twining then sat down, but said he felt in fear of his life; 'For if he should come in, hastily, & Overlook me, taking his Chair to be empty, it will be all over with me! I shall be Crushed!'

After some Time, finding they did not return, Mr Twining, impatient to hear Mr Burney, begged him to go to the Harpsichord; accordingly, we all went into the Library, & Mr Burney fired away in a Voluntary.

Mr Twining, at once astonished & delighted at his performance, Exclaimed: 'Is not this better than being Tall?'

When Mr. Bruce & my Father joined the Party, Mrs. Strange Introduced Mr. Burney & my sister to the former saying, in allusion to Mr Strange's having given away Hetty at her marriage,

'These, Sir, are both Children of Mr Strange's, though you have never seen them before.' Bows & Curtsies over, Mr Bruce answered 'Have a care that he has no children thatjou have never seen, in his perigrinations to the Continent!'

Music was then announced, & lasted almost without ' intermission till Ten o'Clock. Nobody played but Mr Burney, except that Hetty accompanied him in 2 Harpsichord Duets, one very pretty, by Mr. Burney himself, & another of most exquisite Composition, by Müthel.

Mr Twining was enraptured: Mrs Strange listened with silent wonder & pleasure; & Mr Bruce was Composed into perfect good humour! He forgot the General, discarded his sternness, & wore upon his Face smiles, attention & satisfaction.

As to Mrs Twining — she seems a very stupid Woman — I marvel that Mr Twining could chuse her! She may, however, have Virtues unknown to me; perhaps, too, she was rich.

The whole Party were asked to a Family supper, when, to a general surprise, Mr Bruce consented to stay! an Honour we by no means expected: however, he was implicitly followed by the rest of the set.

Mr Bruce sat between Mrs Twining & me. That lady & he did not fatigue themselves with Exchanging one Word the whole Evening; however, Mr Bruce was exceeding courteous, & in great Good humour. He made me seem so very short as I sat next to him, that had not Mr Burney, who [is] still less than myself, been on my other side, I should have felt quite mean & pitiful. But what very much diverted me, was that whenever I turned to Mr Burney, I saw his Head leaning behind my Chair, to peer at Mr Bruce. Indeed, no Eye was off him, though I believe he did not perceive it, as he hardly ever himself looks at any body.

The Conversation during supper turned upon madness, a subject which the Stranges are very full of, as a lady of their acquaintance left their House but on Friday in that terrible disorder. We asked how she happened to be with them? They said that she had seemed recovered. Mr Bruce, who was there & saw her, was very inquisitive about her. Mrs Strange said that the beginning of her Wandering that Evening, was, by going up to her, & asking her if she could make Faces?

'I wish,' said Mr Bruce, 'she had asked me — I believe I could have satisfied her that way!'

'O,' said Miss Strange, 'she had a great desire to speak to you, Sir; she said that she had much to say to you, but I made her promise me not to speak.

'If,' said Mr Bruce, 'without any preface, she had Entered the Room, & come up to me making Faces; I confess I should have been rather surprised!'

'I am sure,' cried I, 'I should have made a Face without much difficulty! I am amazed at Miss Strange's Courage in staying with her!' 'I have been a great deal with her,' answered Miss Strange, '& she particularly minds whatever I say.'

'But how are you to answer for your life a moment,' cried Mr Bruce, 'in Company with a mad Woman? When she seems most quiet, may she not snatch up a pair of scissars, or whatever is near her, & destroy you,? or at least run them into your Eyes, & blind or maim you for life?'

'While I tried to hold her from going into the street,' said Mrs Strange, 'she scratched my arm, as you see,—' 

'Did she fetch Blood?' cried Mr Bruce; 'if she did you will surely go mad too. Nay, I would Advise you to go directly to the sea, & be dipt! I assure you I would not be in your situation!' He said this so drily, that I stared at him, & could not forbear beginning to Expostulate, when turning round to me, I saw he was Laughing.

'If you are bit by a mad Cat,' continued he, 'will you not go mad? & how much more by a mad Woman?'

'But I was not bit,' answered Mrs Strange, 'I only felt her Nail, & where there Enters no Slaver, there is no Danger.

'I hope,' said my mother, 'that her friends will not place her in a private mad House; there is so much iniquity practiced at those places, that in order to keep them they will not let their friends know when they are really recovered.'

'Ay, indeed?' cried Mr Bruce, 'why this is very bad Encouragement to go mad!' 

And now I must have done with this Evening, unless I were to Write horrid Tales of madness; for that shocking subject being started, every body had something terrible to say upon it.


Text taken from Early Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney, Volume 2 (1774-1777), ed. Lars E. Troide, vol. 2 (1990), p. 87-91. 1889 edition from HATHITRUST. Transcription by Alain kerhervé.