"Chapter XXIII." 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.
THE NEW HOME
THE sale of "Camilla," in spite of some rough treatment by the reviewers, was large and rapid. "I am quite happy," writes Madame d'Arblay to her father, "in what I have escaped of greater severity, though my mate cannot bear that the palm should be contested by 'Evelina' and 'Cecilia'; his partiality rates the last as so much the highest . . . . But those immense men whose single praise was fame and security - who established, by a word, the two elder sisters - are now silent. Dr. Johnson and Sir Joshua are no more, and Mr. Burke is ill, or otherwise engrossed; yet even without their powerful influence . . . the essential success of 'Camilla' exceeds that of the elders'. The sale is truly astonishing. Charles has just sent [word] to me that five hundred only remain of four thousand, and it has appeared scarcely three months.
"The first edition of 'Evelina' was of eight hundred, the second of five hundred, and the [Page 223] third of a thousand. What the following have been I have never heard . . . . Of 'Cecilia' the first edition was reckoned enormous at two thousand . . . . It was printed like this, in July, and sold in October, to everyone's wonder. Here, however, the sale is increased in rapidity more than a third."
When the book had been out only a month, Dr. Burney informed Horace Walpole that it had already realised £2000. In spite of its success, however, "Camilla" is considered by most people as inferior to the earlier novels, but we must remember that no less a writer than Jane Austen has praised it. In her defence of novels introduced into "Northanger Abbey" she has instanced it and "Cecilia," together with "Belinda" (by Maria Edgeworth), as works in which "the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineations of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language."
We should much like to know if Miss Austen and Madame d'Arblay ever met. We know that Jane paid occasional visits at the Bookham Rectory, for Mrs. Cooke was her cousin and the rector her godfather. It is true there is no mention in Miss Austen's letters of such a meeting; [Page 224] but as a large number of these were destroyed at her death, an allusion to it may have been lost. It is not surprising that Madame d'Arblay does not mention Miss Austen in her correspondence, as, at that time, the future authoress of "Pride and Prejudice" was a young girl unknown to fame.
The money realised by the success of "Camilla," in spite of the heavy expenses of production, now enabled the d'Arblays to turn their attention once more to their new home.
"We have resumed our original plan," writes Fanny in the month of November, "and are going, immediately, to build a little cottage for ourselves. We shall make it as small and as cheap as will accord with its being warm and comfortable. We have relinquished, however, the very kind offer of Mr. Lock, which he has renewed, for his park. We mean to make this a property saleable or letable for our Alex . . . . M. d'Arblay, therefore, has fixed upon a field of Mr. Lock's, which he will rent, and of which Mr. Lock will grant him a lease of ninety years . . . . It is in the valley between Mr. Lock's park and Dorking, and where land is so scarce that there is not another possessor within many miles who would part, upon any terms, with half an acre.
"Imagine but the ecstasy of M. d'Arblay in training, all his own way, an entire new garden!
[Page 225] He dreams now of cabbage-walks, potato-beds, bean-perfumes and peas-blossoms."
And in another letter to her father, she says, "To show you how much he is 'of your advice' as to son jardin, he has been drawing a plan for it." (This plan still exists and is preserved among the other relics in the "Burney Parlour" of Camilla Lacey.)
"The well for water seems impervious. . . It is now at near ninety feet depth. M. d'Arblay works all day long at his new garden and orchard, and only comes home to a cold spoiled dinner at tea-time. Baby and I are just going to take a peep at him at his work."
"Our new house is stopped short in actual building," she writes later in this month, "from the shortness of the days, &c., but the master-surveyor has still much to settle there, and three workmen to aid in preparing the ground for agricultural purposes. [He] goes every morning for two, three or four hours to his field to work at a sunk fence that is to protect his garden from our cow. The foundation is laid, and on March 1 the little dwelling will begin to be run up. The well is just finished . . . . The water is said to be excellent."
It was during this same month of November that the Phillipses quitted Mickleham, to Fanny's [Page 226] sorrow, and went to live in Ireland, where the Captain had property and where his presence in those troubled times was needed.
"You will have heard," writes Fanny to her sister, "that the Princesse d'Hénin and M. de Lally have spent a few days at Norbury Park. We went every evening regularly to meet them, and they yet contrive to grow higher and higher in our best opinions and affections - they force that last word; none other is adequate to such regard as they excite.
"M. de Lally read us a pleading for émigrés of all descriptions, to the people and Government of France, for their reinstalment in their native land, that exceeds in eloquence, argument, taste, feeling, and every power of oratory and truth united, any thing I ever remember to have heard . . . . I shall be nothing less than surprised to live to see his statue erected in his own country, at the expense of his own restored exiles. 'Tis indeed a wonderful performance.
". . . The Princesse was all that was amiable and attractive, and she loves my Susanna so tenderly that her voice was always caressing when she named her. She would go to Ireland, she repeatedly said, on purpose to see you, were her fortunes less miserably cramped. The journey, voyage, time, difficulties, and sea-sickness would be nothing for obstacles. You have made [Page 227] there, that rare and exquisite acquisition - an ardent friend for life."
Most of the émigrés of Juniper Hall were now dispersed far and wide. M. de Narbonne was living upon very small means in Switzerland. In a letter to his friend d'Arblay, written some months previously, he had expressed disappointment at some further losses of property he had just sustained.
"What a letter," writes Madame d'Arblay to him in January (1796), "to terminate so long and painful a silence! It has penetrated us with sorrowing and indignant feelings . . . . I shall be brief in what I have to propose; sincerity need not be loquacious, and M. de Narbonne is too kind to demand phrases for ceremony.
"Should your present laudable but melancholy plan fail, and should nothing better offer, or till something can be arranged, will you, dear sir, condescend to share the poverty of our Hermitage? Will you take a little cell under our rustic roof, and fare as we fare? What to us two hermits is cheerful and happy, will to you indeed be miserable; but it will be some solace to the goodness of your heart to witness our contentment - to dig with M. d'A. in the garden will be of service to your health; to nurse sometimes with me in the parlour will be a relaxation to your mind. You will not blush [Page 228] to own your little godson. Come, then, and give him your blessing; relieve the wounded feelings of his father - oblige his mother - and turn hermit at Bookham, till brighter suns invite you elsewhere.
"You will have terrible dinners, alas! - but your godson comes in for the dessert."
This letter produced a most grateful and affectionate response from Narbonne, "à son aimable soeur." He says that nothing could give him greater happiness than to accept her and her husband's generous offer, but that for the present it was not possible for him to do so, and he was also able to assure her that his affairs were not quite so bad as she had feared they were. He speaks of his godson and begs her to teach the child to pronounce his name.
In the month of October of the following year (1797), M. d'Arblay received a letter from Lafayette to congratulate him upon his marriage. Lafayette had but just been released from prison, after his five long years of captivity, and now on his return to the world and with liberty to renew intercourse with his old friends he writes to express his warm sympathy in General d'Arblay's happiness, The letter is written from "Trilmuld, near Ploën," [Page 229] a small town in Lower Saxony, and is dated October 16, 1797. (The original is, of course, in French.) His fellow prisoners, Maubourg and De Pusy, had been also released.
"I knew well that wherever we were your solicitude would follow us, so that I was not surprised to learn that you had been labouring without intermission for your friends in prison. They did not forget you in their captivity. Maubourg and I dwelt with feelings of strong and tender friendship upon your faithful affection and upon the happiness which we knew you to be enjoying. We heard of your marriage while in prison at Magdebourg.
"To the universal admiration for Miss Burney I add a homage which is based on personal gratitude. Her writings alone had the power to make me occasionally forget my fate.
"It was in the midst of my enjoyment of the illusions produced by this enchantress that I suddenly became aware of her new claim to my warmest sentiments, and of my having some claim also to her kindly feelings.
"All my family will have great pleasure in being introduced to her, and beg her to believe in their sincere wish that she may find them worthy of her friendship . . . . Farewell, my dear d'Arblay . . . . Let me have news of you and keep your love for your old companion in arms, [Page 230] who will always remain your tenderly attached friend,
During the autumn of 1797 the building of the new home was completed. Fanny writes in the "Memoirs" of her father: "This small residence
. . . had playfully received from Dr. Burney the name of Camilla Cottage; which name was afterwards adopted by all the friends of the hermits.
"Its architect, who was also its principal, its most efficient, and even its most laborious workman, had so skilfully arranged its apartments for use and for pleasure, by investing them with imperceptible closets, cupboards, and adroit recesses, and contriving to make every window [Page 231] offer a freshly beautiful view from the surrounding beautiful prospects, that while its numerous, though invisible conveniences gave it comforts which many dwellings on a much larger scale do not possess, its pleasing form and picturesque situation made it a point, though in miniature, of beauty and ornament, from every spot in the neighbourhood whence it could be discerned."
"We quitted Bookham," writes Fanny, "with one single regret - that of leaving our excellent neighbours the Cookes. The father is so worthy and the mother so good, so deserving, so liberal, and so infinitely kind, that the world certainly does not abound with people to compare with them. They both improved upon us considerably since we lost our dearest Susan - not, you will believe, as substitutes, but still for their intrinsic worth and most friendly partiality and regard.
"We languished for the moment of removal, with almost infantile fretfulness at every delay that distanced it; and when at last the grand day came, our final packings, with all their toil and difficulties, and labour and expense, were mere acts of pleasantry; so bewitched were we with the impending change, that though from six o'clock to three we were hard at work, without a kettle to boil the breakfast, or a knife to cut the bread for luncheon, we missed nothing, [Page 232] wanted nothing, and were as insensible to fatigue as to hunger.
"M. d'Arblay set out on foot, loaded with remaining relics of things to us precious, and Betty afterwards with a remnant of glass or two; the other maid had been sent two days before. I was forced to have a chaise for my Alex and me, and a few looking-glasses, a few folios, and not a few oddments; and then with dearest Mr. Lock, our founder's portrait, and my little boy, off I set.
". . . My mate, striding over hedge and ditch, arrived first, though he set out after, to welcome us to our new dwelling; and we entered our new best room, in which I found a glorious fire of wood, and a little bench, borrowed of one of the departing carpenters; nothing else. We contrived to make room for each other, and Alex disdained all rest. His spirits were so high upon finding two or three rooms totally free for his horse (alias any stick he can pick up) and himself, unincumbered by chairs and tables and such-like lumber, that he was as merry as a little Andrew and as wild as twenty colts. Here we unpacked a small basket containing three or four loaves, and, with a garden knife, fell to work; some eggs had been procured from a neighbouring farm, and one saucepan had been brought. We dined, therefore, exquisitely, and drank to our new [Page 233] possession from a glass of clear water out of our new well.
"At about eight o'clock our goods arrived. We had our bed put up in the middle of our room, to avoid risk of damp walls, and our Alex and his dear Willy's crib at our feet.
". . . Our first week was devoted to unpacking, and exulting in our completed plan. To have no one thing at hand, nothing to eat, nowhere to sit - all were trifles, rather, I think, amusing than incommodious. The house looked so clean, the distribution of rooms and closets is so convenient, the prospect everywhere around is so gay and so lovely, and the park of dear Norbury is so close at hand, that we hardly knew how to require anything else for existence than the enjoyment of our own situation."
This chapter has been put on-line as part of the
BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
Celebration of Women Writers.