The Letters of Fanny Burney

Fanny Burney wrote diaries and letters throughout her life. After her marriage to French exile, General Alexandre D’Arblay she was known as Madame d’Arblay. Following is a letter written in Mayfair in 1821.

Fanny Burney

A Print of Fanny Burney

Madame d’Arblay to Mrs. Piozzi, Bolton Street, Berkeley Square, Feb. 6, 1821.

You would be repaid, dear Madam, if I still, as I believe know you, for the great kindness of your prompt answer, had you witnessed the satisfaction with which it was received, even at a time of new and dreadful solicitude; for my son returned from Cambridge unwell, and in a few days after his arrival at home was seized with a feverish cold which threatened to fasten upon the whole system of his existence, not with immediate danger, but with a perspective to leave but small openings to any future view of health, strength, or longevity. I will not dwell upon this period, but briefly say, it seems passed over. He is now, I thank heaven, daily reviving, and from looking like – not a walking, but a creeping spectre, he is gaining force, spirit, and flesh visibly, and almost hour by hour; still, however, he requires the utmost attention, and the more from the extreme insotunance, from being always absorbed in some mental combinations, with which he utterly neglects himself. I am therefore wholly devoted to watching him. I am quite vexed not to find the right October. However, I do not yet despair, for in the multitude of MSS. that have fallen to my mournfully surviving lot to select, or destroy, &c., chaos seems come again; and though I have worked at them during the last year, so as to obtain a little light, it is scarcely more than darkness visible. To all the vast mass left to my direction by my dear father, who burnt nothing, not even an invitation to dinner, are added not merely those that devolved to me by fatal necessity in 1818, but also all the papers possessed from her childhood to her decease of that sister you so well, dear Madam, know to have been my heart’s earliest darling. When on this pile are heaped the countless hoards which my own now long life has gathered together, of my personal property, such as it is, and the correspondence of my family and my friends, and innumerable incidental windfalls, the whole forms a body that might make a bonfire to illuminate me nearly from hence to Penzance. And such a bonfire might, perhaps, be not only the shortest, but the wisest way to dispose of such materials. This enormous accumulation has been chiefly owing to a long unsettled home, joined to a mind too deeply occupied by immediate affairs and feelings to have the intellect at liberty for retrospective investigations.

What a long detail! I know not what has tugged me to write it — yet I feel as if you would take in it some interest; and an instinct of that flattering sort is always pleasant, though far from always infallible. And in truth, in this case, Bolton Street offers not much more choice of subject than Penzance; for if you have nobody to see, I see nobody, which amounts to the same thing. It is not that my intentions ai’e changed from those I mentioned in my last, of seeking revival, in some measure, to social life for the remaining acts of my worldly drama; my quick acceptance of the assistance to that purpose for which I called from Penzance, and which has been accorded me with such generous vivacity, may show my steadiness, as well as my gratitude: but I had not taken into my self-bargain this illness of my son. However, as he gets better, I shall do better. I am much obliged by Dr. Whalley’s kind remembrance; he often called upon me, but never till my doors were shut to all occasional visitors, alas ! I shall soon be very glad to see Sir Wm. Pepys, who has a constancy in his attachments as rare as it is honourable. The “once charming S. S.” I have never met with since I last saw her under the roof where first we made acquaintance. I hope the P ‘s have been more fortunate than the *s. Oh ! yes ! — well do you say for my serious consolation, a sorrow such as that son has given makes any other lighter! Edifying, however, as well as satisfactory, is the contrasted termination of the two servants whose lives merited such equally exemplary justice. Adieu, dear Madam, and believe me with faithful attachment, your obliged, affectionate, and obedient servant, F. d’A.