1783 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Richard Owen Cambridge

Frances Burney, 1783; Diary and Letters of the Author of Madam D'Arblay, ed. Austin Dobson (1904-05) 2:218-22.



July 15. — To-day my father, my mother, and I, went by appointment to dine and spend the day at Twickenham with the Cambridges. Soon after our arrival Mr. C. asked if we should like to walk, to which we most readily agreed.

We had not strolled far before we were followed by Mr. George. No sooner did his father perceive him, than, hastily coming up to my side, he began a separate conversation with me; and leaving his son the charge of all the rest, he made me walk off with him from them all. It was really a droll manoeuvre, but he seemed to enjoy it highly, and though he said not a word of his design, 1 am sure it reminded me of his own old trick to his son, when listening to a dull story, in saying to the relater, — "Tell the rest of that to George." And if George was in as good humour with his party as his father was with his tete-a-tete, why, all were well pleased. As soon as we had fairly got away from them, Mr. Cambridge, with the kindest smiles of satisfaction, said, — "I give you my word I never was more pleased at anything in my life than I am now at having you here to-day."

I told him that I had felt so glad at seeing him again, after so long an absence, that I had really half a mind to have made up to him myself, and shook hands.

"You cannot imagine," said he, "how you flatter me! — and there is nothing, I do assure you, of which 1 am prouder, than seeing you have got the better of your fear of me, and feeling that I am not afraid of you."

"Of me, sir? — but how should you be?"

"Nay, I give you my word, if I was not conscious of the greatest purity of mind, I should more fear you than anybody in the world."

Which had the greatest compliment, Susy — he or me?

"You know everything, everybody," he continued, "so wonderfully well!"

Afterwards, when we were speaking of illness and of dying, he assured me that, however pleasant his life was just now, he should feel nothing in giving it up; for he could not tell what misery he might be saved by death, nor what sin. And when this led me on to say I had never an illness in my life, without thinking, "probably I had better die now," he joined in it with such Christian reasoning as almost surprised as much as it edified me.

We then, I know not how, fell into discussing the characters of forward and flippant women; and 1 told him it was my fortune to be, in general, a very great favourite with them, though I felt so little gratitude for that honour, that the smallest discernment would show them it was all thrown away.

"Why, it is very difficult," said he, "for a woman to get rid of those forward characters without making them her enemies. But with a man it is different. Now I have a very peculiar happiness, which 1 will tell you. I never took very much to a very amiable woman but I found she took also to me, and I have the good fortune to be in the perfect confidence of some of the first women in this kingdom; but then there are a great many women that I dislike, and think very impertinent and foolish, and, do you know, they all dislike me too! — they absolutely cannot bear me! Now, I don't know, of those two things, which is the greatest happiness."

How characteristic this! — do you not hear him saying it?

We now renewed our conversation upon various of our acquaintances, particularly Mr. Pepys, Mr. Langton, and Mrs. Montagu. We stayed in this field, sitting and sauntering, near an hour. We then went to a stile, just by the river-side, where the prospect is very beautiful, and there we again seated ourselves. Nothing could be more pleasant, though the wind was so high I was almost blown into the water.

He now traced to me great part of his life and conduct in former times, and told me a thousand excellent anecdotes of himself and his associates. He summed them all up in a way that gave me equal esteem and regard for him, in saying he found society the only thing for lasting happiness; that, if he had not met a woman he could permanently love, he must, with every other advantage, have been miserable; but that such was his good fortune, that "to and at this moment," he said, "there is no sight so pleasing to me as seeing Mrs. Cambridge enter a room; and that after having been married to her for forty years. And the next most pleasing sight to me is an amiable woman."

He then assured me that almost all the felicity of his life both had consisted, and did still consist, in female society. It was, indeed, he said, very rare, but there was nothing like it.

"And if agreeable women," cried I, "are rare, much more so, I think, are agreeable men; at least, among my acquaintance they are very few, indeed, that are highly agreeable."

"Yes, and when they are so," said he, "it is difficult for you to have their society with any intimacy or comfort; there are always so many reasons why you cannot know them."

He very kindly regretted seeing so little of me, and said,

"This is nothing — such a visit as this. If you could come now, and spend a month with us, that is what I want. If you could but come for a month."

We continued chatting till we came to the end of the meadow, and there we stopped, and again were joined by the company.

Mr. Cambridge now proposed the water, to which I eagerly agreed.

We had an exceeding pleasant excursion. We went up the river beyond the Duke of Montagu's, and the water was smooth and delightful. Methinks I should like much to sail from the very source to the mouth of the Thames.

Mr. Cambridge told an absurd story of Dr. Monso, a strange, gross man, who, at Mr. Garrick's table, called out to a very timid young woman to help him to some greens. She did her office slow and awkwardly, and he called out again, in a loud

voice, "You Trollop, some greens, I say!" The man. it seems, was a humorist. Oh, from such humorists Heaven shield us! I would rather live with the dullest of the dull.

After dinner we again repaired to the lawn, in a general body; but we had scarce moved ten paces, before Mr. Cambridge again walked off with me, to a seat that had a very fine view of Petersham wood, and there we renewed our confabulation.

He now showed me a note from Mr. Gibbon, sent to engage himself to Twickenham on the unfortunate day he got his ducking. It is the most affected little piece of writing I ever saw. He shall attend him, he says, at Twickenham, and upon the water as soon as the weather is propitious, and the Thames, that amiable creature, is ready to receive him.

Nothing, to be sure, could be so apt as such a reception as that "amiable creature" happened to give him! Mr. Cambridge said it was "God's revenge against conceit."