A Celebration of Women Writers

"Chapter XXIV." 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 234

CHAPTER XXIV

VISITORS AT CAMILLA COTTAGE

WHILST the d'Arblays were busy settling into Camilla Cottage, a visit from a future brother-in-law Mr. Broome, was proposed. Fanny, writing to her sister Charlotte[1] of her delight in the thought of welcoming him, remarks playfully: "But for Heaven's sake, my dear girl, how are we to give him a dinner? - unless he will bring with him his poultry, for ours is not yet arrived from Bookham; and his fish, for ours are still at the bottom of some pond we know not where; and his spit, for our jack is yet without one; and his kitchen grate, for ours waits for Count Rumford's next pamphlet - not to mention his table-linen - and not to speak of his knives and forks, some ten of our poor original twelve having been massacred in M. d'Arblay's first essays in the art of carpentering and to say nothing of his large spoons, the silver of our plated ones having feloniously made off, under cover of the whitening-brush - and not [Page 235]  to start the subject of wine, ours, by some accident still remaining at the wine-merchant's!

"With all these impediments, however, to convivial hilarity, if he will eat a quarter of a joint of meat . . . tied up by a packthread and roasted by a log of wood on the bricks - and declare no potatoes so good as those dug by M. d'Arblay out of our garden - and protest our small beer gives the spirits of champagne - and pronounce that bare walls are superior to tapestry - and promise us the first sight of his epistle upon visiting a new-built cottage - we shall be sincerely happy to receive him in our Hermitage."

The annual visit of ceremony to the Queen was at this time impending, and hardly had the d'Arblays been in their new home one week when the royal summons arrived - not to Windsor, but to the "Queen's house" in town. "The only drawback to the extreme satisfaction of the [Queen's] graciousness . . . . " writes Fanny, "was that exactly at this period the Princesse d'Hénin and M. de Lally were expected at Norbury. I hardly could have regretted anything else, I was so delighted by my summons; but this indeed I lamented. They arrived to dinner on Thursday; I was involved in preparations, and unable to meet them, and my mate would not be persuaded to relinquish aiding me.

"The next morning, through mud, through [Page 236]  mire, they came to our cottage. The poor Princesse was forced to change shoes and stockings. M. de Lally is more accustomed to such expeditions. Nothing could be more sweet than they both were, nor, indeed, more grateful than I felt for my share in their kind exertion. The house was reviewed all over, even the little pot-au-feu was opened by the Princesse, excessively curious to see our manner of living in its minute detail.

". . . They made a long and kind visit, and in the afternoon we went to Norbury Park, where we remained till nearly eleven o'clock, and thought the time very short."

In going to Norbury House from West Humble, the d'Arblays would follow a footpath that winds along the precipitous sides of a wooded hill. It would lead them through a grove of ancient yews, whose weird boughs, reaching down to the ground, form a dark mysterious alley known as the "Druids' Walk." Leaving the wood they would find themselves on the green and sunny platform upon which stands Norbury House, with a wide view spread out before them to a distance of some forty miles.

"Madame d'Hénin related some of her adventures," continues Fanny, "in her second flight from her terrible country, and told them with a spirit and a power of observation that would have [Page 237]  made them interesting if a tale of old times; but now all that gives account of these events awakens the whole mind to attention.

"M. de Lally, after tea, read us the beginning of a new tragedy, composed upon an Irish story, but bearing allusions so palpable to the virtues and misfortunes of Louis XVI., that it had almost as strong an effect upon our passions and faculties as if it had borne the name of that good and unhappy Prince. It is written with great pathos, noble sentiment, and most eloquent language.

"I set off for town early the next day, Saturday . . . . Mon ami could not accompany me, as we had still two men constantly at work, the house without being quite unfinished; but I could not bear to leave his little representative, who with Betty was my companion to Chelsea. There I was expected, and our dearest father came forth with open arms to welcome us. He was in delightful spirits, the sweetest humour, and perfectly good looks and good health. My little rogue soon engaged him in a romp . . . . and they became the best friends in the world."

The visit to the Queen and the Royal Family proved a very pleasant one, for at that moment there was joy in the palace, as well as in the nation at large, over Lord Duncan's victory off Camperdown - a victory which had banished for the time being all fear of a French invasion. [Page 238] 

Within a week, however, that fear had returned, and the war tax was weighing heavily upon the people, especially upon those who had small means.

Fanny writes, on January 18 (1798), to her sister, Mrs. Phillips: "I am very impatient to know if the invasion threat affects your part of Ireland. Our 'Oracle' is of opinion the French soldiers will not go to Ireland . . . because they can expect but little advantage, after all the accounts . . . . of its starving condition; but that they will come to England . . . . because there they expect the very roads to be paved with gold.

"I own I am sometimes affrighted enough. These sanguine and sanguinary wretches will risk all for the smallest hope of plunder; and Barras assures them they have only to enter England to be lords of wealth unbounded.

"This very day," she continues, "I thank God! we paid the last of our workmen. Our house is now our own fairly; that it is our own madly, too, you will all think, when I tell you the small remnant of our income that has outlived this payment. However, if the Carmagnoles do not seize our walls we despair not of enjoying, in defiance of all straitness and strictness, our dear dwelling to our hearts' content. But we are reducing our expenses and way of life in order to go on in a

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Fac-simile of an autograph letter of Madame d'Arblay.
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PASSAGE IN CAMILLA COTTAGE

[Page 241]  manner you would laugh to see, though almost cry to hear.

"But I never forget Dr. Johnson's words. When somebody said that a certain person had no turn for economy, he answered, 'Sir, you might as well say that he had no turn for honesty.'"

There is an old water-colour sketch of Camilla Cottage preserved in the "Burney Parlour," which enables us to realise the appearance of this loved home of the d'Arblays. A portion of the cottage forms the nucleus of the present picturesque white house known as Camilla Lacey. A narrow passage on the first floor, lighted by a small Gothic window, was pointed out to us as belonging to the d'Arblays' day, and certainly a little window let into the wall to light a staircase is suggestive of one of M. d'Arblay's "adroit contrivances." Opening out of this passage is the one unaltered room of the original cottage, whose window looking towards the heights of Ranmore, commands a "beautiful view from the surrounding beautiful prospects."

The oak tree indicated in the sketch of the cottage is still standing. Beyond it lies the field in which General d'Arblay worked so hard at his "sunk fence." In one of her letters Madame d'Arblay speaks of his raising a "hillock" with his own hands, in order to obtain a view of [Page 242]  Norbury Park. The little mound is still to be seen in the field. We have sat by it on a summer's afternoon when the hay was down, and when the hillock was casting its shadow across the mown grass. "The longest day of sunshine," writes Fanny, "was always too short for the vigorous exertions and manly projects that called M. d'Arblay to plant in his garden, to graft and crop in his orchard, to work in his hayfield, or to invent and execute new paths, and to construct new seats and bowers in his wood."

A late owner of Camilla Lacey, the kindly Mr. Wylie, informed us that he had known an inhabitant of Mickleham, a Mrs. Goring, who lived to the advanced age of a hundred, who actually remembered M. and Me. d'Arblay. She used to describe the General's efforts at gardening, and the odd mistakes he made. "But, bless you," she would say, "his hands were all fine and delicate, and not fit for such work."

Although the furnishing of Camilla Cottage was not yet completed, neighbours were eager to pay their respects to the new-comers.

"I was extremely surprised," writes Madame d'Arblay, "to be told by the maid a gentleman and lady had called at the door, who sent in a card and begged to know if I could admit them; and to see the names on the card were Mr. and Mrs. Barbauld. . . We had never visited, and only [Page 243]  met one evening at Mr. Burrows' by appointment, whither I was carried to meet Mrs. Barbauld by Mrs. Chapone. . . . You must be sure I could not hesitate to receive, and receive with thankfulness, this civility from the authoress of the most useful books, next to Mrs. Trimmer's, that have been yet written for dear little children; though this with the world is probably her very secondary merit, her many pretty poems, and particularly songs, being generally esteemed.

"Mr. Barbauld is a dissenting minister . . . . They were in our little dining-parlour - the only one that has any chairs in it - and began apologies for their visit; but I interrupted and finished them with my thanks . . . . Mrs. Barbauld's brother, Dr. Aiken, with his family, were passing the summer at Dorking on account of his ill-health, the air of that town having been recommended for his complaints. The Barbaulds were come to spend some time with him . . . . They had been walking in Norbury Park, which they admired very much; and Mrs. Barbauld very elegantly said: 'If there was such a public office as a legislator of taste, Mr. Lock ought to be chosen for it.'

". . . They desired to see Alex, and I produced him; and his orthographical feats were very well timed here, for as soon as Mrs. Barbauld said, 'What is your name, you [Page 244]  pretty creature?' he sturdily answered, 'B O Y, boy.'

". . . I borrowed her poems afterwards of Mr. Daniel, who chanced to have them, and have read them with much esteem of the piety and worth they exhibit, and real admiration of the last amongst them, which is an epistle to Mr. Wilberforce in favour of the demolition of the slave-trade, in which her energy seems to spring from the real spirit of virtue, suffering at the luxurious depravity which can tolerate, in a free land, so unjust, cruel, and abominable a traffic."

Mrs. Barbauld had been an early admirer of "Cecilia." When that novel first appeared she happened to be staying in London, where the new and startling sight of the ascent of a balloon was occupying general attention. She writes to a friend: "Next to the balloon Miss B[urney] is the object of public curiosity; I had the pleasure of meeting her yesterday. She is a very unaffected, modest, sweet and pleasing young lady - but you, now I think of it, are a Goth, and have not read 'Cecilia.' Read, read it, for shame!"

Dr. Burney paid a visit to his daughter and son-in-law during the autumn of this year (1798). He had been staying at Tunbridge. "Thence," he writes, "I went to Camilla Cottage at West Humble; a cottage buiit on a slice of Norbury Park, by M. d'Arblay and my daughter [Page 245]  from the production of 'Camilla,' her third work; where, and at Mr. and Mrs. Lock's, I passed my time most pleasantly, in reading, in rural quiet, or in charming conversation."

"He could not witness," writes his daughter. "without admiration as well as pleasure, the fertile


ROOM IN CAMILLA COTTAGE

resources with which his son-in-law, though a stranger [formerly] to a country or private life, could fill up a rainy day without a murmur; and pass through a retired evening without one moment of ennui either felt or given . . . . Dr. Burney, through the wide extent of his varied connections, [Page 246]  could nowhere find taste more congenial, principles more strictly in unison, or a temper more harmoniously in accord with his own, than here, in the happy little dwelling which he named Camilla Cottage."


[General d'Arblay's "Hillock"]

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Footnotes

[Page 234]

1 Charlotte (Mrs. Francis) had for some time been a widow.

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom