A Celebration of Women Writers

"Chapter XXI." 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 205]

CHAPTER XXl

THE "GRAND OUVRAGE"

MADAME D'ARBLAY writes to a friend on June 15, 1795: "I have a long work, which a long time has been in hand, that I mean to publish soon - in about a year. Should it succeed, like 'Evelina' and 'Cecilia,' it may be a little portion to our bambino. We wish, therefore, to print it for ourselves in this hope; but the expenses of the press are so enormous, so raised by these late Acts, that it is out of the question for us to afford it. We have therefore been led by degrees to listen to counsel of some friends, and to print it by subscription. This is in many, many ways unpleasant and unpalatable to us both; but the real chance of real use and benefit to our little darling overcomes all scruples, and, therefore, to work we go!

". . . I once rejected such a plan, formed for me by Mr. Burke, where books were to be kept by ladies - not booksellers . . . but I was an individual then, and had no cares of times to come; now, thank Heaven! this is not the case." [Page 206] 

There was a strong prejudice in those days against the very name of novel. "I own," she writes to her father, "I do not like calling it a novel; it gives so simply the notion of a mere love-story that I recoil a little from it. I mean this work to be sketches of characters and morals put into action - not a romance. I remember the word novel was long in the way of 'Cecilia,' as I was told at the Queen's house; and it was not permitted to be read by the princesses till sanctioned by a bishop's recommendation.

". . . Will you then suffer mon amour-propre to be saved by the proposals running thus: Proposals for printing by subscription, in six volumes duodecimo; a new work by the author of 'Evelina' and 'Cecilia.'

"How grieved I am you do not like my heroine's name!"

The name was then Ariella, changed afterwards to Camilla. It seems that Fanny had also changed the name of "Cecilia" before publication, for we have seen the original manuscript[1] of that novel, where the name was first given as "Albinia," and afterwards carefully erased, "Cecilia" being substituted in its place.

Madame d'Arblay's friends came eagerly forward to assist in the great undertaking. The Dowager-Duchess of Leinster, the Hon. Mrs. [Page 207]  Boscawen, Mrs. Crewe, and Mrs. Lock each kept


OLD COTTAGES NEAR MICKLEHAM

Lists and received the names of subscribers, the subscription for a single set being one guinea. [Page 208] 

"Mrs. Cooke, my excellent neighbour," writes Fanny, "came in just now to read me a paragraph of a letter from Mrs. Leigh, of Oxfordshire, her sister . . . . After much of civility about the new work and its author, it finishes thus: 'Mr. Hastings I saw just now: I told him what was going forward; he gave a great jump and exclaimed, "Well then, now I can serve her, thank Heaven, and I will! I will write to Anderson to engage Scotland, and I will attach the East Indies myself!'"

Warren Hastings had just been finally acquitted after his long trial; and his accuser, Edmund Burke, "disgusted with the result of the impeachment," had retired into private life. But neither public cares nor family sorrows could lessen Burke's interest in his friends. He had just lost both his brother and his only son when he wrote to Mrs. Crewe: "As to Miss Burney - the subscription ought to be, for certain persons, five guineas; and to take but a single copy each. The rest as it is. I am sure it is a disgrace to the age and nation if this be not a great thing for her. If every person in England who has received pleasure and instruction from 'Cecilia' were to rate its value at the hundredth part of their satisfaction, Madame d'Arblay would be one of the richest women in the kingdom.

"Her scheme was known before she lost two of her most respectful admirers from this house; and this, with Mrs. Burke's subscription and mine, make the paper I send you." (He enclosed a bank-note for twenty pounds.)

The names of subscribers flowed in rapidly, till they amounted to more than eleven hundred! We have seen the long list, which is prefixed to the first edition of "Camilla," and which fills thirty-eight pages of close printing. It comprises almost all the notable persons of the day - statesmen, writers, ladies of the old Blue Stocking Club, scientific men, Windsor courtiers; together with hundreds of unknown admirers of "Evelina" and "Cecilia." But there is one entry in that list that rivets our attention more than all the rest - "Miss J. Austen, Steventon." Jane Austen, then a girl of nineteen years of age, thus pays tribute to her earlier sister writer - a writer who had founded the special branch of art - the domestic novel - which she herself adopted and has raised to its highest level.

We find, too, in that same list, the name of Maria Edgeworth, whose spirited pictures of Irish life can never die.

Macaulay, in speaking of the service rendered by Miss Burney to posterity, remarks: "She took away the reproach which lay on a most useful and delightful species of composition. She vindicated the right of her sex to an equal share in a fair [Page 210]  and noble province, of letters . . . . No class of works is more honourably distinguished by fine observation, by grace, by delicate wit, by pure moral feeling. Several among the successors of Madame d'Arblay have equalled her; two, we think, have surpassed her. But the fact that she has been surpassed gives her an additional claim to our respect and gratitude; for, in truth, we owe to her, not only 'Evelina,' 'Cecilia,' and 'Camilla,' but also 'Mansfield Park' and the 'Absentee.'"

At the end of the list of subscribers to "Camilla," there appears a group of French names. Among them we find those of la Princesse d'Hénin, Lally-Tollendal, Narbonne, and the Prince de Poix.

The title-page of the new work is reproduced here.

The work was dedicated, by permission, to the Queen. The dedication is in the form of a letter, and is dated Bookham, June 28, 1796.

A few days previously Fanny had written her last directions respecting the production of "Camilla" to her brother Charles, whom she calls her "dear agent." It was this same brother who long ago had carried her MS. of "Evelina," in all secrecy, to a printer's office, little imagining the result that was to follow.

The letter in question, hitherto unpublished, [Page 211]

Title Page of Camilla

has been lent to us by a member of the Burney family. In it the writer remarks:

"On that memorable day (Monday, the 20th) can you have the goodness to complete your agency by receiving for us the £750? [Page 212] 

. . . Will you ask of the three assembling paymasters when the next set can be ready for the Queen, and give orders for its being conveyed where you recommend for being very handsomely bound in red morocco. It must precede all else. We shall want three other sets bound exactly alike and with the utmost elegance.

". . . Now, dearest brother, we all - id est my better half, I, and your godson - send you our best thanks for the news that the rest of the copy of 'Camilla' is dispatched and goes to the printers, who have been very kind, and will, I hope, make all their exertions to finish in time . . . . The service we have received from your brotherly friendship is beyond all words.

". . . Will you be so kind as to settle completely with Mr. Payne for us, deducting at once all expenses we are to pay, be they what they may, clear?"


[The Terrace at Windsor in the Eighteenth Century]

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Footnotes

[Page 206]

1 Now preserved in the "Burney Parlour" of Camilla Lacey.

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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Celebration of Women Writers.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom