1780 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. George Butt

Frances Burney, 1780; Diary and Letters of the Author of Madam D'Arblay, ed. Austin Dobson (1904-05) 1:361-63.



In the evening we went to Mrs. Lambart, who is another of my favourites. I was very ready to like her for the sake of her brother, Sir Philip Jennings Clerke; and I find her so natural, so chatty, so prone to fun and ridicule, and so sociably agreeable, that I am highly pleased with her acquaintance.

This evening we had plenty of sport with her, of the ridiculous sort, which is quite her favourite style. She had nobody with her at first but a Miss Pleydell, a very unaffected and good-humoured girl, and therefore she produced for our entertainment a new tragedy, in manuscript, written by a Worcester clergyman, who is tutor to her son. [I will inquire his name some time, and perhaps Edward may know him.] This tragedy, it seems, Mr. Sheridan has read, and has promised to bring out next winter. It is called Timoleon. It is mighty common trash, and written in very clumsy language, and many of the expressions afforded us much diversion by their mock grandeur, though not one affected, interested, or surprised us. But, it seems, when we complained of its length and want of incident, Mrs. Lambart told us that the author was aware of that, and said he knew there was no incident, but that he could not help it, for there was none that he could find in the history!

Don't you admire the necessity he was under of making choice of a subject to which he knew such an objection?

I did not, however, hear above half the piece, though enough not to regret missing the rest, for Mr. Enow made his appearance, and Mrs. Thrale read the rest to herself.

As you seem to have rather a taste for these "Witlings," I will give you another touch of this young divine. He soon found out what we were about, and presently said, "If that play is writ by the person I suspect, I am sure I have a good right to know some of it; for I was once in a house with him, and his study happened to be just over my head, and so there I used to hear him spouting by the hour together."

He spoke this in a tone of complaint that made us all laugh, with which facetiousness, however, he was so far from being disturbed, that he only added, in a voice of fretful plaintiveness,

"I'm sure I've cause enough to remember it, for he has kept me awake by the whole night together."

We were now not content with simpering, for we could not forbear downright laughing: at which he still looked most stupidly unmoved.

"Pray, Mrs. Lambart," said he, "what is its name?"

"Timoleon," answered she.

"Pray," said he, "is it an invention of his own, or an historical fact?"

[When we were coming away, Mrs. Lambart, taking the play from off the table, and bringing it to me, asked me, in a comical manner, to read it through, and try to find something to praise, that she might let the author know I had seen and approved of it. I laughed, but declined the task, for many reasons, and then Mr. E— approaching me said,

"Ma'am, if you were to read it with a little pencil in your hand, just to mark your favourite passages, and so forth, I should think it might be a very good thing, and — and of use." Of use ha, ha!]