A Celebration of Women Writers

"Chapter XIX." by Constance Hill
From: Juniper Hall: A Rendevous of Certain Illustrious Personages during the French Revolution Including Alexandre D'Arblay and Fanny Burney by Constance Hill. London & New York: John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1904.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 189]

CHAPTER XIX

THE BOOKHAMITE RECLUSES

ABOUT four months after her marriage Madame d'Arblay writes to a friend: "We are now removed to a very small house in the suburbs of a very small village called Bookham. Our views are not so beautiful as from Phenice Farm, but our situation is totally free from neighbours and intrusion. We are about a mile and a half from Norbury Park, and two miles from Mickleham. I am become already so stout a walker, by use and with the help of a very able supporter, that I go to those places and return home on foot without fatigue, when the weather is kind." In the "Memoirs" of her father she speaks of their dwelling as "a small but pleasant cottage, endeared for ever to their remembrance from having been found out for them by Mr. Lock."

This cottage stands near to Bookham Church, facing a shady lane. Its surroundings can have little changed during the century that has elapsed since the d'Arblays made it their home. The [Page 190]  church, with its quaint wooden spire, remains the same, the village is little altered, and fields, as of yore, lie beyond the garden of the dwelling. The cottage itself was smaller in former times, as two


THE COTTAGE AT BOOKHAM

rooms and a verandah have been added, but it is a cottage still - an ideal one indeed, with its tiled roof, its white window-frames, its green outside shutters, and its clustering roses. The little parlour and two bedrooms, one panelled, the other oak-floored, mentioned in the "Diaries," [Page 191]  are said to be just as they were in the d'Arblays' day. We have sat in that parlour and have pictured to ourselves the husband and wife enjoying their peaceful occupations. "Here," writes Fanny, "we are tranquil, undisturbed, and undisturbing. 'Can life,' M. d'Arblay often says, 'be more innocent than ours, or happiness more inoffensive?' He works in his garden, or studies English and mathematics, while I write. When I work at my needle he reads to me; and we enjoy the beautiful country around us in long and romantic strolls. He is extremely fond, too, of writing, and makes, from time to time, memorandums of such memoirs, poems, and anecdotes as he recollects and I wish to have preserved."

The piece of land behind the cottage consisted, in those days, of a garden and orchard, the only change in modern times being that the garden has been increased in size. There are some old gnarled apple-trees at the further end of the lawn which may possibly be the very trees experimented on by M. d'Arblay. "Think of our horticultural shock last week," writes Fanny, "when Mrs. Bailey, our landlady, entreated M. d'Arblay 'not to spoil her fruit-trees!' - trees he had been pruning with his utmost skill and strength. However, he has consulted your 'Miller' thereupon, and finds out she is very ignorant, which he has gently intimated to her. [Page 192] 

". . . This sort of work is so totally new to him that he receives every now and then some of poor Merlin's[1] 'disagreeable compliments,' for when Mr. Lock's or the Captain's gardeners


INTERIOR OF THE COTTAGE

favour our grounds with a visit they commonly make known that all has been done wrong. Seeds are sowing in some parts when plants ought to be [Page 193]  reaping, and plants are running to seed while they are thought not yet at maturity. Our garden, therefore, is not yet quite the most profitable thing in the world; but M. d'A. assures me it is to be the staff of our table and existence.

"A little, too, he has been unfortunate; for, after immense toil in planting and transplanting strawberries round our hedge, he has just been informed they will bear no fruit the first year, and the second we may be 'over the hills and far away!'

"Another time, too, with great labour, he cleared a considerable compartment of weeds, and, when it looked clean and well, and he showed his work to the gardener, the man said he had demolished an asparagus bed! M. d'A. protested, however, nothing could look more like des mauvaises herbes.

"His greatest passion is for transplanting. Everything we possess he moves from one end of the garden to the other, to produce better effects. Roses take the place of jessamines, jessamines of honeysuckles, and honeysuckles of lilacs, till they have all danced round as far as the space allows; but whether the effect may not be a general mortality, summer only can determine.

"Such is our horticultural history. But I must not omit that we have had for one week cabbages [Page 194]  from our own cultivation every day! Oh, you have no idea how sweet they tasted! We agreed they had a freshness and a goût we had never met with before. We had them for too short a time to grow tired of them, because, as I have already hinted, they were beginning to run to seed before we knew they were eatable."

Fanny's old friend, Mr. Arthur Young, must have rejoiced to hear of her new mode of life. In one of his letters, written to her soon after she had resigned her post at Court, he remarks: "What a plaguy business 'tis to take up one's pen to write to a person who is constantly moving in a vortex of pleasure, brilliancy, and wit - whose movements and connections are, as it were, in another world!

". . . It seemeth that you make a journey to Norfolk. Now, do you see, if you do not give a call on the farmer and examine his ram (an old acquaintance), his bull, his lambs, calves and crops, he will say but one thing of you - that you are fit for a Court, but not for a farm; and there is more happiness to be found among my rooks than in the midst of all the princes and princesses of Golconda. I would give a hundred pounds to see you married to a farmer that never saw London, with plenty of poultry ranging in a few green fields, and flowers and shrubs disposed where they should be, around a cottage, and [Page 195]  not around a breakfast-room in Portman Square,[1] fading in eyes that know not to admire them."

In the summer of this same year (1794) Fanny had the great pleasure of receiving a visit from her father. In one of the Doctor's "domestic and amical tours . . . he suddenly turned out of his direct road to take a view of the dwelling of the Hermits of Bookham."

"It was not, perhaps, without the spur of some latent solicitude," she writes in the "Memoirs" of her father, "that Dr. Burney made this first visit to them abruptly, at an early hour, and when believed far distant; and if so, never were kind doubts more kindlily solved; he found all that most tenderly he could wish - concord and content; gay concord and grateful content.

"When he sent in his name from his post-chaise, the Hermits flew to receive him; and ere he could reach the little threshold of the little habitation, his daughter was in his arms. How long she thus kept him she knows not, but he was very patient at the detention, tears of pleasure standing in his full eyes at her rapturous reception."

Fanny writes to her father soon after his visit:

"It is just a week since I had the greatest gratification of its kind I ever, I think, experienced - so kind a thought, so sweet a surprise as was my [Page 196]  dearest father's visit! How softly and soothingly it has rested upon my mind ever since!

'''Abdolomine'[1] has no regret but that his garden was not in better order; he was a little piqué, he confesses, that you said it was not very neat . . . . However, you should have seen the place before he began his operations to do him justice; there was then nothing else but mauvaises herbes; now you must, at least, allow there is a mixture of flowers and grain! I wish you had seen him yesterday, mowing down our hedge - with his sabre, and with an air and attitudes so military that, if he had been hewing down other legions than those he encountered - i.e., of spiders - he could scarcely have had a mien more tremendous or have demanded an arm more mighty. Heaven knows I am 'the most contente personne in the world 'to see his sabre so employed!

"You spirited me on in all ways; for this week past I have taken tightly to the grand ouvrage.[2] If I go on so a little longer, I doubt not but M. d'Arblay will begin settling where to have a new shelf for arranging it!

". . . Mr. Lock was gratified, even affected, by my account of the happiness you had given me. He says, from the time of our inhabiting this maisonnette one of his first wishes had been [Page 197]  that you should see us in it; as no possible description or narration could so decidedly point out its competence . . . . How thankfully did I look back, the 28th of last month, upon a year that has not been blemished with one regretful moment!"

Dr. Burney, who was engaged at this time in translating some of Metastasio's poems, writes to his daughter: "I have this morning attempted his charming pastoral in 'Il Re Pastore.' I'll give you the translation, because the last stanza is a portrait:

"'Our simple, narrow mansion
      Will suit our station well;
There's room for heart expansion,
      And peace and joy to dwell."'


[Box Hedges at Mickleham]

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Footnotes

[Page 192]

1 A French inventor whom Fanny had met at the house of Mrs. Thrale.

[Page 195]

1 Mrs. Thrale's town house was in Portman Square.

[Page 196]

1 Name of a gardener in a drama of Fontenelle's.

2 "Camilla," then lately begun.

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom