1774 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

George Keate

Frances Burney, 1774; The Early Diary of Frances Burney (1889) 1:305-07.



I have had the honour, not long since, of being in company with Mr. Keate, author of an account of Geneva, Ferney, and some other things, chiefly poetical. He is an author, comme il faut; for he is in affluent circumstances, and writes at his leisure and for his amusement. It was at the house of six old maids, all sisters, and all above sixty, that I met Mr. Keate. These votaries of Diana are exceedingly worthy women of the name of Blake; and I heartily wish that I, who mean to devote myself to the same goddess, should I be as ancient, may be as good.

Mr. Keate did not appear to me to be very brilliant; his powers of conversation are not of a shining cast; and one disadvantage to his speeches is, his delivery of them; for he speaks in a slow and sluggish voice. But what principally banished him from my good graces was, the conceited manner in which he introduced a discourse upon his own writings.

"Do you know, Mrs. Blake," (addressing himself to the senior virgin) "I have at last ventured upon building, in spite of my resolution, and in spite of my Ode?"

Mrs. Blake fell into his plot, without being sensible that he had laid one. "Oh! Mrs. Burney" (cried she to mama), that Ode was the prettiest thing! I wish you could see it!"

"Why I had determined, and indeed promised," said he, "that when I went into my new house, I would either give a Ball or write an Ode; — and so I found the Ode was the more easy to me; but I protested in the poem, that I would never undertake to build." All the sisters then poured forth the incense of praise upon this Ode, to which he listened with the utmost nonchalance, reclining his person upon the back of his chair, and kicking his foot now over, and now under, a gold-headed cane.

When these effusions of civility were vented, the good old ladies began an subject; but, upon the first cessation of speech, Mr. Keate broke the silence he had kept, and said to mama, "But the worst thing to me was, that I was obliged to hang a carpenter in the course of my poem."

"Oh dear, aye;" cried Mrs. Blake; "that part was vastly pretty! I wish I could remember it. Dear Mrs. Burney, I wish you could see it! Mr. Keate, it's a pity it should not be seen — "

"Why surely" (cried he, affectedly), "you would not have me publish it?"

"Oh! as to that, — I don't know," answered with the utmost simplicity, Mrs. Blake, "you are the beet judge of that. But I do wish you could see it, Mrs. Burney."

"No; faith!" added he, "I think that, if I was to collect my other brats, I should not, I believe, put this among them."

"If we may judge," said mama, "of the family unseen by those in the world, we must certainly wish for the pleasure of knowing them all."

Having now set the conversation upon this favourite topic again, he resumed his posture and his silence, which he did not again break, till he had again the trouble of renewing himself the theme, to which his ear delighted to listen; else he only "Sat attentive to his own applause."

My father, who, thank Heaven! is an author of a different stamp, pursues his work at all the leisure moments he can snatch from business or from sleep.