Exhibition: Scandal and Sociability: New perspectives on the Burney family

Frances Burney (1752-1840) was one of the most successful and influential writers of the eighteenth century, publishing four novels (Evelina: or, the History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World (1778); Cecilia: or, Memoirs of an Heiress (1782); Camilla: or, A Picture of Youth (1796); and The Wanderer: or, Female Difficulties (1814), which were immensely popular and influenced other writers including Jane Austen (1775-1817). In recent years, scholarly interest in Burney has widened to encompass the influence and activities of the rest of her remarkable family, which included musicians, sailors, classicists, artists and two other successful novelists. Between them, the Burneys knew most British luminaries of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries working in the fields of literature, art, music, politics, botany, exploration, and court and Church circles.

A symposium held at Cardiff University on 1 September 2015 considered the Burney family as a composite whole, asking how their sociable network and often tumultuous internal dynamics influenced the remarkable spate of cultural and sociable activity carried out by its polymathic members. This exhibition of rare print and visual material relating to the Burney family and circle was designed and curated by Dr. Sophie Coulombeau (School of English, Communication and Philosophy) and Alison Harvey (Special Collections and Archives) to complement the symposium.

 

Portraits, Lives and Letters

Many members of the Burney family and their social circle achieved fame or notoriety in their own day, as writers, artists, or musicians… or socialites with scandalous love lives.  This section explores visual and textual depictions of Frances Burney, her father Dr. Charles Burney (1726-1814), and the family friend – and later enemy – Hester Piozzi (1741-1821). Some were composed by the subjects themselves or with their permission; others devised by those closest to them after their deaths; and still others produced by perfect strangers exploiting their celebrity for commercial gain.

 

Portrait [of Frances Burney?]

Portrait

Dr. John Butterworth, an independent scholar, has kindly lent us an anonymous, undated portrait of a young woman identified on the frame as Frances Burney. An art historian and conservator have suggested that the portrait dates from the last quarter of the eighteenth century, and the hairstyle of the sitter (the so-called ‘pouf’, which was fashionable only in the second half of the 1770s) suggests a date from 1775-1780. If the sitter was Burney, it would therefore have been painted just before, or just after, she wrote and published Evelina.

Some attendees at the symposium felt that Dr. Butterworth made a persuasive case for the identity of the sitter as Burney. Others were more sceptical, and pointed out that there is no reference to the portrait in her journals and letters: conversely, when she had her portrait taken later in life, she complained about the process bitterly. It was also pointed out that the inscription on the portrait almost certainly dates fro the twentieth century. However, it should be noted that Burney’s journals and letters were twice heavily censored; and also that a modern inscription may well have replaced an earlier one.

 

Frances Burney, Diary and Letters of Madame D’Arblay, as edited by her niece Charlotte Barrett, 7 vols. (London: Henry Colburn, first edition, 1842-47).

Diary

This was the first published edition of Frances Burney’s Diary and Letters, which today stretches to over twenty volumes. This edition (severely edited by both Frances Burney and by her niece Charlotte Barrett to exclude any verdict on acquaintances that might be seen as offensive, and to excise any mention of incidents that might reflect badly on the Burney family) was a more modest seven volumes. Even after this censorship, the diaries provide a fascinating insight into life in Georgian England and France. The edition was influential in setting the direction of Burney’s critical reputation: for most of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, she was seen as a talented diarist rather than an important novelist.

These volumes belonged to Arthur Henriques: an inscription suggests they were a gift from his mother in 1878. The edition is notable for an interesting selection of frontispiece portraits used to illustrate the seven volumes: sitters include Burney herself, Hester Thrale, Queen Charlotte, Mary Delaney, General D’Arblay, Dr. Charles Burney and Germaine de Stael. From this selection of Burney’s acquaintance, we can glean an idea of the figures that Barrett’s publisher thought most likely to interest the readership.

 

Hester Lynch Piozzi, Love Letters of Mrs. Piozzi, written when she was eighty, to William Augustus Conway (London: John Russell Smith, first edition, 1843.)

Love Letters

Hester Lynch Thrale was Frances Burney’s dearest friend in the early 1780s. The two fell out in 1785 over Burney’s disapproval of Thrale’s second marriage (soon after the death of her husband) to the Italian Catholic music master Gabriel Piozzi. The marriage scandalised polite society, and Hester Lynch Piozzi achieved a reputation as a woman unable to control her passions, or to put her duties as a widow and mother above her ‘unfeminine’ lust. She steadily built up an impressive career as a poet, biographer and travel writer. But the whiff of scandal never deserted her; during old age, she conducted a close and ambiguous friendship with the young actor William Augustus Conway, who was fifty years her junior. This edition of some of her letters to him – styled ‘Love Letters’ – was published after her death by an anonymous editor. Like Barrett’s Diary and Letters of Burney, this edition is illustrated with thirteen portraits, with the following subjects: ‘Mrs. Thrale’, ‘A. Murphy’, ‘Dr. Johnson’, ‘Madame d’Arblay’, ‘Urn to Dr. Johnson’, ‘Mrs. Thrale’, ‘Mrs. Kemble’, ‘Cowper’, ‘Bath (view of)’, ‘Rousseau’, ‘Duke of Kent’, ‘Duchess of Kent’, ‘Mrs. Piozzi’.

 

Frances Burney, Memoirs of Dr. Burney (London: Edward Moxon, first edition, 1832).

Memoirs

Frances Burney’s father, the historian of music Dr. Charles Burney, died in 1814. She would live on for another twenty-nine years, most of which time she spent writing her beloved father’s Memoirs. The result, published in 1832, was the most critically reviled of all Burney’s works. John Wilson Croker (1780-1857), writing in the Quarterly Review, accused her of distorting her father’s memory in order to draw attention to her own achievements. Some modern scholars feel that he had a point: Dr. Cassie Ulph (York), speaking about the Memoirs at our symposium, said: ‘The real narrative of Memoirs of Doctor Burney is that of [Frances] Burney’s own literary career, and genius.’ In writing her father’s life, Burney was really writing her own.

 

Streatham and Cantab Literature

The Burney family were extraordinarily talented networkers. Throughout their lives, their literary, musical and artistic gifts helped them to assimilate into the social circles of people more wealthy and powerful than themselves, and to meet fellow men and women of letters. The most important of these groups, in the 1770s and the 1780s, was the Streatham Circle of the rich brewer Henry Thrale and his wife Hester, where Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) was the star attraction. A more minor connection – but an important one for Frances Burney – was the ‘Cantab’ circle of the Cambridge family at Twickenham. This section of the exhibition showcases some early editions of writings by members of these two groups, showing how deeply the Burney family embedded themselves, throughout the 1770s and 1780s, within the metropolitan literary elite.

 

Hester Lynch Piozzi, Anecdotes of the late Samuel Johnson LL.D during the last twenty years of his life (London: T. Cadell, second edition, 1786).

Anecdotes

In the wake of her scandalous second marriage, Hester Piozzi embarked on a project: to publish a book of Anecdotes of the recently deceased literary lion Dr. Samuel Johnson, who had been her close friend before they fell out over her marriage to Piozzi. The Anecdotes were published by the reputable publisher Thomas Cadell, and sold like wildfire. They were strongly criticised by friends of Johnson (such as James Boswell (1740-1795)) who thought that Piozzi had painted Johnson in an unflattering light.

The inscription suggests that this copy was owned by William Ingham. A handwritten note at the back of the volume marks passages of particular interest to the owner.

 

Hester Lynch Piozzi, British Synonymy; or, an attempt at regulating the choice of words in familiar conversation, 2 vols (London: G.G. and J. Robinson, first edition, 1794). 

Synonymy def

In 1794, Hester Lynch Piozzi published a two-volume work of synonymy, a relatively new field; her innovative publication was preceded only by the Rev. John Trusler’s The Difference Between Words Esteemed Synonymous (1766). The book was popular and immediately ran into a further two editions. The editors of Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Synonymys (1984) note that Piozzi ‘frequently takes issue with Dr. Johnson or, in a sprightly manner, casts doubt on his judgments’: perhaps we might see this work of lexicography as Piozzi’s attempt to throw off the shadow of Johnson’s influence. If so, then she was unsuccessful, at least for the owner of this copy: the title-page of vol. 1 is annotated in a pencil hand: ‘Hester Lynch Piozzi’ is changed to ‘Mrs. Thrale – vide Johnson’. (Mrs. Thrale – see Johnson’).

 

Richard Owen Cambridge, An Account of the War in India (London: T. Jefferys, second edition, 1762) 

War

During the 1780s, Frances Burney became friendly with the Cambridge family of Twickenham. Richard Cambridge (1717-1802), a man of letters who published this volume in 1762, was the first to welcome her into their home. Eventually, however, his son George (1756-1841) became far more important to Burney: her manuscript letters reveal that she had strong romantic feelings for him, and believed them to be returned. But George Cambridge never proposed marriage. One of our speakers at the symposium, Professor Stewart Cooke (Dawson College), gave a fascinating insight into Burney’s misery and suspense over the mid-1780s as she realised that George Cambridge was a lost cause and tried to extract herself from a hopeless situation.

 

Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, and on the proceedings in certain societies in London, (London: J. Dodsley, fourth edition, 1790).

Reflections

The philosopher and politician Edmund Burke (1729-1797) was one of the most regular visitors at Streatham, and a close friend of Charles Burney. Moreover, he provided literary mentorship to Frances Burney after the publication of Cecilia in 1782, sending her a warm letter full of compliments and thanking her ‘for providing instruction’.

Perhaps Burke’s most important work was his Reflections on the Revolution in France, a pamphlet published in 1790 reviling the action of French revolutionaries and British sympathisers, and arguing for the preservation of ancient traditions. He sent Charles Burney a copy of the first edition: Burney wrote of his ‘infinit eagerness and delight’ upon reading it, and promised: ‘this copy I shall deposit among my most precious literary possessions’. This volume of the fourth edition appears to have belonged to Isabella Metford, and is inscribed ‘May 1866’.

 

Charles Burney, A General History of Music, from the earliest of ages to the present period, 4 vols. (Vol. 1 London: Printed for the author, second edition, 1789; vols 2-4 London: J. Robson and G.G. Robinson, first edition, 1782-1789).

Burney portrait

In the 1770s Charles Burney was a music teacher and talented musician, but he harboured ambitions of being recognised as a bona fide man of letters like his heroes Dr. Johnson and Edmund Burke. The symposium’s keynote speaker, Professor Peter Sabor (McGill University) remarked: ‘With the publication of his General History of Music, Burney could transition from Johnson’s fan to his peer.’ Peter also gave us an overview of the creative exchanges between the two men: While Johnson was reading proofs of Burney’s General History of Music, Burney was reading the manuscript and proofs of Johnson’s last work: Lives of the Poets. By the time of Johnson’s death, Charles Burney was high in his estimation, a testament to the inimitable Burney networking skills.

An anonymous reader has annotated the volumes with the dates of his/her reading, and with notes drawing attention to passages of particular interest.

 

Exploration and Botany

Frances Burney’s elder brother James (1750-1821) had a colourful naval career: he travelled with Captain James Cook (1728-1779) on his last two voyages, and acted as interpreter for the famous Tahitian Mai (c. 1751-1780) when he conducted a tour of England in the 1770s. Several of our papers drew attention to the Burney family’s links, through James and his shipmate Molesworth Phillips (1755-1832), with South Sea culture and with the taxonomic work of the botanical explorers Joseph Banks (1743-1820) and Daniel Solander (1733-1782) (who accompanied Cook on his earlier voyages).

 

Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, Illustrations of Australian Plants collected in 1770 during Captain Cook’s Voyage round the World in H.M.S Endeavour, by the Right Hon. Sir Joseph Banks, Bart. K.B., P.R.S, and Dr. Daniel Solander, F.R.S., 3 vols (London: Longman & Co. and the British Museum, 1900-1905).

Solander

Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander were botanists who sailed to Brazil, Tahiti and Australia with Captain Cook on the HMS Endeavour in 1768-1761. They brought back hundreds of specimens of plants then unknown in Britain, which they catalogued and had illustrated for publication. Probably due to Solander’s sudden death in 1782 and Banks’s subsequent loss of interest in the project, their findings were not published for over a hundred years. These folio volumes, published by the British Museum in 1900, contain Solander’s descriptions and beautiful illustrations of the plants, many carried out by artists on board the Endeavour.

 

James Lee, Introduction to Botany, (London: S. Crowder et al, fifth edition, 1794).

Botany

Botanical study was a fashionable hobby in Georgian London, where new discoveries such as those of Banks and Solander attracted intense public interest. The Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) had recently developed a new method for classifying and identifying species that was simple to use, and was explained in many popular adaptations such as James Lee’s Introduction to Botany. At the symposium, Sophie Coulombeau (Cardiff University) argued that that botanical handbooks like James Lee’s, and the personal tutelage of Daniel Solander before his death, heavily influence Frances Burney’s theory of ‘character’ in her second novel, Cecilia.

 

John Hawkesworth, Account of the Voyages (London: W. Strahan and T. Cadell, first edition, 1773).

Hawkesworth

In 1773 the writer John Hawkesworth (1715-1773) was commissioned by the Admiralty to publish an authorised account of Captain James Cook’s voyages in the Southern Hemisphere. These beautifully illustrated volumes, which were hugely influential in crafting the public impression in Britain of little-known territories such as Tahiti, were the result. The inscription reads: ‘From the Library of T. Booker Esq, Velindra, near Cardiff, Purchased 1901’.

 

James Cook, A Voyage Towards the South Pole, and round the world 2 vols. (London: W. Strahan and T. Cadell, third edition, 1779).

Cook

A sort of sequel to Hawkesworth’s work, though this time written by Cook himself, this publication gave an account of Cook’s second major voyage (1772-1775), the first known expedition to cross the Antarctic circle. By the time these volumes appeared, Cook had embarked on his second voyage in the HMS Resolution, which was eventually to end in his gruesome death in Hawaii in 1779.

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