1779 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Delap

Frances Burney, 1779; Diary and Letters of the Author of Madam D'Arblay, ed. Austin Dobson (1904-05) 1:219-20, 225-28.



We had a very grand dinner to-day (though nothing to a Streatham dinner) at the Ship Tavern, where the officers mess, to which we were invited by the major and captain. All the officers I have mentioned, and three or four more, the H—'s, Miss Forth, Lord Mordaunt, Messieurs Murphy, Fisher, and Fitzgerald, Dr. Delap, and our own party, made an immensely formidable appearance.

Dr. Delap arrived in the morning, and is to stay two days. He is too silent for me to form much judgment of his companionable talents, and his appearance is snug and reserved. Mrs. Thrale is reading his play, and likes it much. It is to come out next season. It is droll enough that there should be, at this time, a tragedy ad a comedy in exactly the same situation, placed so accidentally in the same house....

I am now more able to give you some sketch of Dr. Delap; and as he is coming into the world next winter, in my own walk, and, like me, for the first time, you may shake us together when I have drawn him, and conjecture our fates.

He is commonly and naturally grave, silent, and absent; but when any subject is once begun upon which he has anything to say, he works it threadbare, yet hardly seems to know, when all is over, what, or whether anything, has passed. He is a an, as I am told by those who know, of deep learning, but totally ignorant of life and manners. As to his person and appearance, they are much in the John-trot style. He seems inclined to be particularly civil to me; but not knowing how, according to the general forms, he has only shown his inclination by perpetual offers to help me at dinner, and repeated exclamations at my not eating more profusely.

So much for my brother-dramatist.

The supper was very gay: Mrs. Thrale was in high spirits, and her wit flashed with incessant brilliancy; Mr. Murphy told several stories with admirable humour; and the Bishop of Peterborough was a worthy third in contributing towards general entertainment. He turns out most gaily sociable....

As soon as we returned home, I seized Dr. Delap's play. It is called Macaria. Mr. Thrale, who frequently calls me Queen Dido, from a notion that I resemble an actress in France who performed that part, and from a general idea of my having a theatrical turn, was mightily diverted at this oddly-timed confidence of Dr. Delap, and, tapping at my door, called out, "Queen Dido, what I rehearsing still? Why, I think you should tip the doctor the same compliment!"

I could only read the first Act before dinner. Mrs. Thrale came to me while I was dressing, and said, "Murphy is quite charmed with your second Act: he says he is sure it will do, and more than do. He has been talking of you this half-hour: he calls you a sly designing body, and says you look all the people through most wickedly; he watches you, and vows he has caught you in the fact. Nobody and nothing, he says, escapes you, and you keep looking round for characters all day long. And Dr. Delap has been talking of you."

"I hope he does not suspect the play?"

"Why, he would not tell!"

"Oh, but I should be sorry to put it in his power!"

"Why, he's such an absent creature, that if he were to hear it to-day he would forget it to-morrow."

"No, as he is engaged in the same pursuit himself at this very time, I believe he would remember it."

"Well, it's too late, however, now, for he knows it; but I did not tell him; Murphy did; he broke out into praises of the second Act before him. But he'll tell nobody, depend upon it," continued she; "it only put him upon asking one a hundred questions about you, and singing your praise; he has teased me all the morning about your family, and how many sisters and brothers you have, and if you were Dr. Burney's daughter, and a million more inquiries."

During dinner, I observed that Mr. Murphy watched me almost incessantly, with such archness of countenance that I could hardly look at him, and Dr. Delap did the same, with an earnestness of gravity that was truly solemn — till Mr. Murphy, catching my eye, said,

"We have been talking of you — ask Mrs. Thrale what I say of you — I have found out your schemes, shy as you are. Dr. Delap, too, heard how I discovered you."

"Oh, but Dr. Delap," answered Mrs. Thrale, "is the best man in the world for discoveries — for he'll forget every word by to-morrow — shan't you, Dr. Delap?"

"Not Miss Burney!" cried the doctor gallantly, I'm sure I shan't forget Miss Burney!"

When Mrs. Thrale gave the signal for our leaving the gentlemen, Dr. Delap, as I past him, said in a whisper, "Have you read it?"

"No, not quite."

"How do you like it?"

I could make but one answer. How strangely ignorant of the world is this good clergyman, to ask such a question so abruptly!

We were engaged to finish the evening at Major H—'s, but as I feared hurting Dr. Delap by any seeming indifference, I begged Mrs. Thrale to let me stay at home till I had read his play, and, therefore, the rest of the party went before me.

I had, however, only three Acts in my possession. The story is of the daughter and widow of Hercules — and, indeed, I liked the play much better than I expected to do. The story is such as renders the author's ignorance of common life and manners not very material, since the characters are of the Heroic age, and therefore require more classical than worldly knowledge, and, accordingly, its only resemblance is to the tragedies of Eschylus and Sophocles.

Saturday, May 29.

[Early in the morning, the kind Mrs. Thrale brought me your letter, saying, "Here, — here's news from home! My master would have had me keep it till breakfast; but I told him he, did not love you so well as I did; he vowed that was not true, — but it's plain it was, for I was in most haste to make you happy."]

After breakfast, Mrs. and Miss Thrale took me to Widget's, the milliner and library-woman on the Steyn. After a little dawdling conversation, Captain Fuller came in to have a little chat. He said he had just gone through a great operation — "I have been," he said, "cutting off the hair of all my men."

"And why?"

"Why, the Duke of Richmond' ordered that it should be done, and the fellows swore that they would not submit to it, — so I was forced to be the operator myself. I told them they would look as smart again when they had got on their caps; but it went much against them, they vowed, at first, they would not bear such usage; some said they would sooner be run through the body, and others, that the Duke should as soon have their heads. I told them I would soon try that, and fell to work myself with them."

"And how did they bear it?"

"Oh, poor fellows, with great good-nature, when they found his honour was their barber: but I thought proper to submit to hearing all their oaths, and all their jokes; for they had no other comfort but to hope I should have enough of it, and such sort of wit. Three or four of them, however, escaped, but I shall find them out. I told them I had a good mind to cut my own hair off too, and then they would have a Captain Crop. I shall soothe them to-morrow with a present of new feathers for all their caps."

[Presently we were joined by Dr. Delap and Mr. Murphy. The latter, taking me aside, said,

"Has Mrs. Thrale told you what I said?"

"I don't know, — she has told me some odd sort of — nonsense, I was going to say."

"But, do you know the name I have settled to call you by

"No."

"Miss Slyboots! — that is exactly the thing! —"Oh, you are a wicked one! — I have found you out!"

"Oh, to be sure I but pray, now, don't tell such a name about, for if you give it, it will soon spread."

Then he began upon the second Act; but I feared being suspected, and stole away from him.]

Different occupations, in a short time, called away all our gentlemen but Dr. Delap; and he, seating himself next me, began to question me about his tragedy. I soon said all I wanted to say upon the subject, — and, soon after, a great deal more, — but not soon after was he satisfied; he returned to the same thing a million of times, asked the same questions, exacted the same compliments, and worked at the same passages, till I almost fell asleep with the sound of the same words; and at last, with what little animation was left me, I contrived to make Miss Thrale propose a walk on the Steyn, and crawling out of the shop, I sought, — and found, — revival from the breezes.