From the Pen of Horace Walpole

Princess Amalie


A Letter from Horace Walpole to the Earl of Hertford
Strawberry Hill, Easter Sunday, April 7, 1760
Your first wish will be to know how the King does: he came to Richmond last Monday for a week; but appeared suddenly and unexpected at his levee at St . James’s last Wednesday; this was managed to prevent a crowd. Next day he was at the drawing-room, and at chapel on Good Friday. They say, he looks pale; but it is the fashion to call him very well:—I wish it may be true. The Duke of Cumberland is actually set out for Newmarket to-day: he too is called much better; but it is often as true of the health of princes as of their prisons, that there is little distance between each and their graves. There has been a fire at Gunnersbury, which burned four rooms: her servants announced it to Princess Amalie (daughter of King George III) with that wise precaution of “Madam, don’t be frightened!—” accordingly, she was terrified. When they told her the truth, she said, “I am very glad; I had concluded my brother was dead.”—So much for royalties!

Northumberland House
. . . . . Now, for my disaster; you will laugh at it, though it was woeful to me. I was to dine at Northumberland-house, and went a little after hour: there I found the Countess, Lady Betty Mekinsy, Lady Strafford; my Lady Finlater, who was never out of Scotland before; a tall lad of fifteen, her son; Lord Drogheda, and Mr. Worseley. At five, arrived Mr. Mitchell, who said the Lords had begun to read the Poorbill, which would take at least two hours, and perhaps would debate it afterwards. We concluded dinner would be called for, it not being very precedented for ladies to wait for gentlemen:—no such thing. Six o’clock came,—seven o’clock came,— our coaches came,— well! we sent them away, and excuses were we were engaged. Still the Countess’s heart did not relent, nor uttered a syllable of apology. We wore out the wind and the weather, the opera and the play, Mrs. Cornelys’s and Almack’s, and every topic that would do in a formal circle. We hinted, represented—in vain. The clock struck eight: my lady, at last, said, she would go and order dinner; but it was a good half-hour before it appeared. We then sat down to a table for fourteen covers; but instead of substantiate, there was nothing but a profusion of plates striped red, green, and yellow, gilt plate, blacks and uniforms!

James Ogilvy, 5th Earl of Findlater

My Lady Finlater, who had never seen these embroidered dinners, nor dined after three, was famished. The first course stayed as long as possible, in hopes of the lords: so did the second. The dessert at last arrived, and the middle dish was actually set on when Lord Finlater and Mr. Mackay arrived! — would you believe it?—the dessert was remanded, and the whole first course brought back again !— Stay, I have not done:—just as this second first course had done its duty, Lord Northumberland, Lord Strafford, and Mekinsy came in, and the whole began a third time! Then the second course, and the dessert! I thought we should have dropped from our chairs with fatigue and fumes! When the clock struck eleven, we were asked to return to the drawing-room, and drink tea and coffee, but I said I was engaged to supper, and came home to bed. My dear lord, think of four hours and a half in a circle of mixed company, and three great dinners, one after another, without interruption;—no, it exceeded our day at Lord Archer’s! Mrs. Armiger, and Mrs. Southwell, Lady Gower’s niece, are dead, and old Dr. Young, the poet. Good night!

Anecdotes of Sheridan from the Pen of Thomas Creevey

Richard Brinsley Sheridan

“. . . Sheridan entered into whatever fun was going on at the Pavilion as if he had been a boy, tho’ he was then 55 years of age. Upon one occasion he came into the drawing-room disguised as a police officer to take up the Dowager Lady Sefton for playing at some unlawful game; and at another time, when we had a phantasmagoria at the Pavilion, and were all shut up in perfect darkness, he continued to seat himself upon the lap of Madame Gerobtzoff [?], a haughty Russian dame, who made row enough for the whole town to hear her.
“The Prince, of course, was delighted with all this; but at last Sheridan made himself so ill with drinking, that he came to us soon after breakfast one day, saying he was in a perfect fever, desiring he might have some table beer, and declaring that he would spend that day with us, and send his excuses by Bloomfield for not dining at the Pavilion. I felt his pulse, and found it going tremendously, but instead of beer, we gave him some hot white wine, of which he drank a bottle, I remember, and his pulse subsided almost instantly. . . . After dinner that day he must have drunk at least a bottle and a half of wine. In the evening we were all going to the Pavilion, where there was to be a ball, and Sheridan said he would go home, i.e., to the Pavilion (where he slept) and would go quietly to bed. He desired me to tell the Prince, if he asked me after him, that he was far from well, and was gone to bed.
So when supper was served at the Pavilion about 12 o’clock, the Prince came up to me and said: “‘ What the devil have you done with Sheridan to-day, Creevey? I know he has been dining with you, and I have not seen him the whole day.’
“I said he was by no means well and had gone to bed; upon which the Prince laughed heartily, as if he thought it all fudge, and then, taking a bottle of claret and a glass, he put them both in my hands and said:
“‘ Now Creevey, go to his bedside and tell him I’ll drink a glass of wine with him, and if he refuses, I admit he must be damned bad indeed.’
“I would willingly have excused myself on the score of his being really ill, but the Prince would not believe a word of it, so go I must. When I entered Sheridan’s bedroom, he was in bed, and, his great fine eyes being instantly fixed upon me, he said :— “‘ Come, I see this is some joke of the Prince, and I am not in a state for it.’
“I excused myself as well as I could, and as he would not touch the wine, I returned without pressing it, and the Prince seemed satisfied he must be ill.
“About two o’clock, however, the supper having been long over, and everybody engaged in dancing, who should I see standing at the door but Sheridan, powdered as white as snow, as smartly dressed as ever he could be from top to toe. . . . I joined him and expressed my infinite surprise at this freak of his. He said:
“Will you go with me, my dear fellow, into the kitchen, and let me see if I can find a bit of supper.’

Kitchens at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton
“Having arrived there, he began to play off his cajolery upon the servants, saying if he was the Prince they should have much better accommodation, etc, etc, so that he was surrounded by supper of all kinds, every one waiting upon him. He ate away and drank a bottle of claret in a minute, returned to the ballroom, and when I left it between three and four he was dancing.

In the year 1810, Mrs. Creevey, her daughters and myself were spending our summer at Richmond. Sheridan and his wife (who was a relation and particular friend of Mrs. Creevey’s) came down to dine and stay all night with us. There being no other person present after dinner, when the ladies had left the room, Sheridan said : “‘A damned odd thing happened to me this morning, and Hester [Mrs. Sheridan] and I have agreed in coming down here to-day that no human being shall ever know of it as long as we live; so that nothing but my firm conviction that Hester is at this moment telling it to Mrs. Creevey could induce me to tell it to you.’
“Then he said that the money belonging to this office of his in the Duchy being always paid into Biddulph’s or Cox’s bank (I think it was) at Charing Cross, it was his habit to look in there. There was one particular clerk who seemed always so fond of him, and so proud of his acquaintance, that he every now and then cajoled him into advancing him £10 or £20 more than his account entitled him to. . . . That morning he thought his friend looked particularly smiling upon him, so he said:—
‘”I looked in to see if you could let me have ten pounds.’
“‘Ten pounds!’ replied the clerk; ‘to be ‘sure I can, Mr. Sheridan. You’ve got my letter, sir, have you not?’
“‘ No,’ said Sheridan, ‘what letter?’
“It is literally true that at this time and for many, many years Sheridan never got twopenny-post letters,* because there was no money to pay for them, and the postman would not leave them without payment.
“‘Why, don’t you know what has happened, sir?’ asked the clerk. ‘There is £1200 paid into your account. There has been a very great fine paid for one of the Duchy estates, and this £1200 is your percentage as auditor.’
“Sheridan was, of course, very much set up with this £1200, and, on the very next day upon leaving us, he took a house at Barnes Terrace, where he spent all his £1200. At the end of two or three months at most, the tradespeople would no longer supply hi
m without being paid, so he was obliged to remove. What made this folly the more striking was that Sheridan had occupied five or six different houses in this neighbourhood at different periods of his life, and on each occasion had been driven away literally by non-payment of his bills and consequent want of food for the house. Yet he was as full of his fun during these two months as ever he could be—gave dinners perpetually and was always on the road between lames and London, or Barnes and Oatlands (the Duke of York’s), in a large job coach upon which he would have his family arms painted.”
* The charge at this time for letters sent and delivered within the metropolitan district was only 2d., payable by the recipient; but country letters were charged from l0d. to 1s. 6d. and more, according to distance.

On The Shelf – Discovering New Authors – Part One

Occasionally, life treats us to rare gifts: a perfect summer’s day, a hug when you’re needing it most, an excellent pinot noir. If you’re like me, perhaps one of life’s greatest treats is the discovery of a new author. I’m always looking for them and recently I found a blog called My Porch, which I’ve added to the “Amusing Blogs” section found in the righthand sidebar of this blog. Written by a young man named Thomas who lives in Washington, D.C., it is a testament to his reading stamina, which beats my own with a very big stick. I enjoy his `voice’ and his book reviews, but My Porch also boasts a long list of links to yet more book sites, many with a British bent. One can troll them for hours. Which one did until, finally, it dawned on me that Victoria and I might do a post on favorite authors, with healthy backlists, that could then be our gift to you. So here goes. One disclaimer before we continue – you won’t find any romantic fiction here, not because we don’t read it but because many of its authors are friends and once one begins naming friends one inevitably leaves someone out and then one finds oneself in the soup, so to speak. So. . . here are a few of my favorites, in no particular order, beginning with a category of books I term gentle reads. Victoria’s picks in the same category will follow in Part Two. We sincerely hope you find a new author or two amongst them.

Rebecca Shaw has written two cozy village series, the Barleybridge novels and the Turnham Malpas books. The Barleybridge series consists of three titles that deal with the lives and clients in a rural veterinary clinic. More prolific, the Turnham Malpas books, which number 15 titles, are set in a small village and opens with The New Rector. Here’s the blurb: When Peter Harris arrives in Turnham Malpas as the new rector, he finds the village people welcoming but set in their ways. Yet despite his own weaknesses and the sadness of his childless wife, he comforts and advises his new parishioners, growing more and more involved with the rural way of life. Then the whole village is rocked by a spiteful trick that goes terribly wrong, and a gruesome murder that points to a killer in its midst. Now, more than ever, Peter’s pastoral role is crucial – and yet he is wrestling with his own private hell that may still wreck his own life. Don’t be turned off by the fact that the central character, at least in this title, is a member of the clergy. Shaw’s books are rather like an adult version of the Miss Read books, more on which later. Peter’s arrival in the village sets the stage for our introduction to a cast of quirky and mostly

loveable characters who reappear in succeeding novels. Most storylines do not deal with the church, but do include forays into middle aged love, greed, scandals, char women, shop owners, the gentry, the downtrodden and a few chuckles. Here’s the blurb for another title in the series, Village Matters: Times are changing in Turnham Malpas …Brash Craddock Fitch up at the Big House seems determined to make his mark on the village – and the village is determined to put him in his place. Sir Ralph is having trouble adjusting to his more modest status and timid Muriel to her exalted one while a change of fortune surprises Jimmy Glover too. It’s all Jimbo Charter-Plackett, fount of all gossip, can do to keep up. But these concerns are eclipsed by tragedy when Flick, Jimbo’s daughter, is knocked down by the unpopular barman Alan. And before the shock of the accident has passed, a bitter dispute springs up that could affect the entire village …  Enough drama and 21st century situations happen in each title to keep them from being overtly quaint, while Shaw’s characters and the dilemmas they find themselves in are firmly rooted in village life. You’ll find her website here.

What can one say about Maeve Binchy except “read her?” Binchy is a master at characterization and story telling and each new title is, indeed, a long anticipated treat. Speaking of which, her latest, Minding Frankie, is due out on March 1. Here’s the blurb: Maeve Binchy is back with a tale of joy, heartbreak and hope, about a motherless girl collectively raised by a close-knit Dublin community. When Noel learns that his terminally ill former flame is pregnant with his child, he agrees to take guardianship of the baby girl once she’s born. But as a single father battling demons of his own, Noel can’t do it alone.

Fortunately, he has a competent, caring network of friends, family and neighbors: Lisa, his unlucky-in-love classmate, who moves in with him to help him care for little Frankie around the clock; his American cousin, Emily, always there with a pep talk; the newly retired Dr. Hat, with more time on his hands than he knows what to do with; Dr. Declan and Fiona and their baby son, Frankie’s first friend; and many eager babysitters, including old friends Signora and Aidan and Frankie’s doting grandparents, Josie and Charles. But not everyone is pleased with the unconventional arrangement, especially a nosy social worker, Moira, who is convinced that Frankie would be better off in a foster home. Now it’s up to Noel to persuade her that everyone in town has something special to offer when it comes to minding Frankie. I’ve already pre-ordered this title on my Nook.

Author Marion Chesney is now busy churning out tiles in both the Agatha Raisin and Hamish MacBeth series. If you’ve never read them, by all means do. You’ll find all the titles, and everything you need to know about them, on her website. Both are a series of cozy village mysteries, one set in the Cotswolds, the other in the Highlands of Scotland. Recurring characters and subplots, the standard cozy mystery fare, are both to be found. What isn’t to be found, from one who has read them all, is anyth
ing new. After about the 15th book in each series, one gets to feel that they are simply reading the same book over and over again. And Hamish and Agatha’s character flaws seriously begin to grind on one’s nerves. Still, if you haven’t read them before, you’re in for a treat. What I really wish is that M.C. Beaton would give these books a rest and go back to what she does (did) best and that’s writing Regency comedies as Marion Chesney. Yes, technically her books can be considered Regency romances, but I loved them for their plot lines and humour. And they were written in various series, so that you could settle in with a particular family and get to know all the members. These included  the House for the Seasons, Travelling Matchmaker and Poor Relation series. You’ll find a complete bibliography here. Marion, I know you’re raking in the cash with Agatha and Hamish, but please consider returning to the 19th century.

Beverley Nichols was the sort of man once euphamistically known as a “perennial bachelor.” He was also a writer who managed to write between bouts of gardening, house renovations, visits from instrusive neighbors and caring for cats. Many of his books are about gardening and/or cats, neither subject known for its excitement value. There are no car chases, sexual adventures or titillation of any sort, but what these books do contain is Nichols’s voice, which is at times fond, ironic, exasperated, plaintive or just plain pleased with itself. His first gardening book, Down the Garden Path, was illustrated — as were many of his books — by Rex Whistler. It was a bestseller running to 32 editions and has been in print almost continuously since 1932. It was also the first of his trilogy about Allways, his Tudor thatched cottage in Glatton, Cambridgeshire. A later trilogy written between 1951 and 1956 documents his travails renovating Merry Hall (Meadowstream), a Georgian manor house in Agates Lane, Ashtead, Surrey, where Nichols lived from 1946 to 1956. These books often feature his gifted but laconic gardener “Oldfield”. Nichols’s final trilogy is referred to as “The Sudbrook Trilogy” (1963–1969) and concerns his late 18th-century attached cottage at Ham, (near Richmond), Surrey. Sometimes Nichols waxes poetical about his endeavors – “To dig one’s own spade into one’s own earth! Has life anything better to offer than this?” At other times, he’s just plain funny – “I was brought up surrounded by junk. It was no fault of my mother’s, who had an exquisite, natural taste; it was merely a question of money. We had a large house, a quantity of hideous inherited furniture, and an abundance of positively frightening pictures. We had to put up with them.” Here’s a link to his website, where you’ll find more excerpts from his books and you’ll find blurbs and more about Nichols’s titles here.

Barbara Pym is known for her novels that include village vignettes and snaps of social satire. In a book review, The Times said:  “In Jane and Prudence, one character ironically compares herself to Austen’s matchmaking heroine Emma Woodhouse – and turns out to be no better at finding a husband for her protégée than Emma was. This is Jane Cleveland, a vicar’s wife, now in her forties, who hopes to see her best friend Prudence Bates – a sophisticated bachelor girl with a tendency to fall for unsuitable men – happily settled like herself. So she invites her to the village where her husband Nicholas is vicar, and introduces her to Fabian Driver, a handsome and eligible widower. But Prudence has an unlikely rival for Fabian’s affections in mousy-looking Jessie Morrow, a lady’s companion determined to escape her role as a spinster.” For an article on Pym’s writing, click here. You’ll find the site for the U.S. Pym Society here. There’s also a (hard to find) Barbara Pym Cookbook, featuring recipes mentioned throughout her books.

Born in 1913, Dora Jesse Saint began writing under the name Miss Read in 1955 and has charmed us ever since with her books set in both the fictional Fairacre and Thrush Green. The blurb for the first Thrush Green, titled the same, runs – “It’s the May Day holiday, and a fair has come to the village of Thrush Green. The residents of Thrush Green all have their own views about the fair. For young Paul, just recovered from an illness, it is a joy to be allowed out to play at the fair; for Ruth, who returned to the soothing tranquillity of Thrush Green nursing a broken heart, the fair is a welcome distraction from her own problems. And for Dr Lovell, the fair brings an unexpected new patient. Then there is Mrs Curdle, the long-standing matriarch of the fair. For her, this year’s visit to Thrush Green awakens mixed feelings, and a difficulty she doesn’t want to face… Full of Miss Read’s inimitable charm and humour, Thrush Green is a wonderful introduction to this bestselling series.” While written in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, Miss Read’s books read as though they hark back an even earlier time when life was simpler and time ticked by more slowly. The crisis encountered by the villagers in Thrush Green are more personal than global and are often solved by their being shared. Still, Miss Read uses insight to draw simple but richly felt characters with whom we instantly identify and for whom we care immensely. As we do for those characters who live in Fairacre “. . .  a village of cottages, a church and the school – and at the heart of the school, its head mistress, Miss Read. Through her discerning eye, we meet the villagers of Fairacre and see their trials and tribulations, from the irascible school cleaner Mrs Pringle, to the young school children, with their scraped knees, hopeful faces and inevitable mischief. Miss Read takes us through the school year, beginning with the Christmas term, when the bitterly cold weather challenges the school’s ancient heating system, right through to the hot summer day when school is over for another year. Full of Miss Read’s unique, acerbic wit, and wry observations.” These are books to savor and to read, and re-read, whenever the world we currently
live in seems a bit too complicated for our liking. Miss Read retired from writing in 1996 and was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1998. As far as I can make out, she is still alive. Hurrah! Why, I wonder, is there no Miss Read Society? You can find a complete bibliography of her books here.

There is an Angela Thirkell Society and you can find them here. In fact, our very own Victoria is a card carrying member and did a post on the Society that you’ll find here. Barsetshire is a fictional county created by Anthony Trollope, which is featured in the series of novels known as the “Chronicles of Barsetshire” and where the county town and cathedral town is Barchester. Trollope’s books have been made into various mini-series, namely The Way We Live Now and The Pallisers. I’ve just downloaded the first book in the Barsetshire series, The Warden, and will then move on to The Barsetshire Chronicles, also made into a mini-series.  Barsetshire was also used as the setting for a series of 29 novels by Angela Thirkell, written from 1930 to 1961. Thirkell’s stories blend social satire with romance. In Part Two, Victoria will tell you about Thirkell’s books – and more.

Part Two Coming Soon!

Fanny Burney and the Emperor of all Maladies

Author and oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee’s debut book charts the history of cancer treatment over the centuries. Amazon said that the book is  ” . . . .  a sweeping epic of obsession, brilliant researchers, dramatic new treatments, euphoric success and tragic failure, and the relentless battle by scientists and patients alike against an equally relentless, wily, and elusive enemy. From the first chemotherapy developed from textile dyes to the possibilities emerging from our understanding of cancer cells, Mukherjee shapes a massive amount of history into a coherent story with a roller-coaster trajectory: the discovery of a new treatment–surgery, radiation, chemotherapy–followed by the notion that if a little is good, more must be better, ending in disfiguring radical mastectomy and multidrug chemo so toxic the treatment ended up being almost worse than the disease.”

It is impossible to consider the history of the treatment of cancer without recalling Fanny Burney’s harrowing account of the mastectomy she underwent during the Regency period. It is compelling, horrifying and immediate in its very personal nature. We reprint it for you here . . .


Fanny Burney (Madame d’Arblay) first felt pain in her breast in August of 1810. Cancer was diagnosed, and Baron Larrey, Napoleon’s surgeon, agreed to operate. To spare her suspense, she was given little notice. The “M. d’A.” mentioned is her husband and Alexander her son.

*** WARNING: The following mastectomy account may prove disturbing.

30 September 1811: I dressed, aided, as usual for many months, by my maid, my right arm being condemned to total inaction. A letter was delivered to me to acquaint me that at 10 o’clock M. Larry would be with me, properly accompanied, and to exhort me to rely as much upon his sensibility and his prudence, as upon his dexterity and his experience; he charged me to secure the absence of M. d’A: and told me that the young Physician who would deliver me his announcement would prepare for the operation, in which he must lend his aid: and; also that it had been the decision of the consultation to allow me but two hours notice.

Dr. Aumont, the Messenger and terrible Herald, was in waiting; M. d’A stood by my bedside; I affected to be long reading the Note, to gain time for forming some plan, and such was my terror of involving M. d’A in the unavailing wretchedness of witnessing what I must go through, that it conquered every act as if I were directing some third person. The detail would be too Wordy, as James says, but the wholesale is – I called Alex to my Bedside, and sent him to inform M. Barbier Neuville, chef du division du Bureau de M. d’A, that the moment was come, and I entreated him to write a summons upon urgent business for M. d’A and to detain him till all should be over. Speechless and appalled, off went Alex, and, as I have since heard, was forced to sit down and sob in executing his commission. I then, by the maid, sent word to the young Dr. Aumont that I could not be ready till one o’clock: and I finished my breakfast, and- not with much appetite, you will believe! forced down a crust of bread, and hurried off, under various pretenses, M. d’A. He was scarcely gone, when M Du Bois arrived: I renewed my request for one o’clock: the rest came; all were fain to consent to the delay, for I had an apartment to prepare for my banished Mate. This arrangement, and those for myself, occupied me completely. Two engaged nurses were out of the way – I had a bed, Curtains and heaven knows what to prepare – but business was good for my nerves. I was obliged to quit my room to have it put in order: – Dr. Aumount would not leave the house; he remained in the Sallon, folding linen! – He had demanded 4 or 5 old and fine left off under garments – I glided to our Book Cabinet; sundry necessary works and orders filled up my time entirely till One O’clock, When all was ready – but Dr. Moreau then arrived, with news that M. Dubois could not attend till three. Dr. Aumont went away – and the Coast was clear.

This, indeed, was a dreadful interval. I had no longer anything to do – I had only to think – TWO HOURS thus spent seemed never-ending. I would fain have written to my dearest Father – to you, my Esther – to Charlotte James – Charles – Amelia Lock – but my arm prohibited me: I strolled to the Sallon – I saw it fitted with preparations, and I recoiled – But I soon returned; to what effect disguise from myself what I must so soon know? – yet the sight of the immense quantity of bandages, compresses, spunges, Lint – made me a little sick: – I walked backwards and forwards till I quieted all emotion, and became, by degrees, nearly stupid – torpid, without sentiment or consciousness; – and thus I remained till the Clock struck three. I rang for my Maid and Nurses, – but before I could speak to them, my room, without previous message, was entered by 7 Men in black, Dr. Larry, M. Dubois, Dr. Moreau, Dr. Aumont, Dr. Ribe, and a pupil of Dr. Larry, and another of M. Dubois. I was now awakened from my stupor – and by a sort of indignation – Why so many? and without leave? – But I could not utter a syllable. M. Dubois acted as Commander in Chief. Dr. Larry kept out of sight; M. Dubois ordered a Bed stead into the middle of the room. Astonished, I turned to Dr. Larry, who had promised that an Arm Chair would suffice; but he hung his head, and would not look at me. Two old mattrasses M. Dubois then demanded, and an old Sheet. I now began to tremble violently, more with distaste and horror of the preparations even than of the pain. These arranged to his liking, he desired me to mount the Bed stead. I stood suspended, for a moment, whether I should not abruptly escape – I looked at the door, the windows – I felt desperate – but it was only for a moment, my reason then took the command, and my fears and feelings struggled vainly against it. I called to my maid – she was crying, and the two Nurses stood, transfixed, at the door. Let these women all go! cried M. Dubois. This order recovered me my Voice – No, I cried, let them stay! The maid and one of the nurses ran off – I charged the other to approach, and she obeyed. My distress was apparent for M. Dubois himself now softened, and spoke soothingly. Can You, I cried, feel for an operation that, to You, must seem so trivial? Trivial, he repeated – taking up a piece of paper, which he tore, unconsciously, into a million of pieces – he stammered, and could not go on. No one else attempted to speak, but I was softened myself, when I saw even M. Dubois grow agitated, while Dr. Larry kept always aloof, yet a glance showed me he was pale as ashes. I knew not, positively, then, the immediate danger, but every thing convinced me danger was hovering about me, and that this experiment could alone save me from its jaws.

I mounted, therefore, unbidden, the Bead stead – and M. Dubois placed me upon the mattress, and spread a cambric handkerchief upon my face. It was transparent, however, and I saw the Bed surrounded by the 7 Men and my Nurse. I refused to be held; but when, Bright through the cambric, I saw the glitter of polished Steel – I closed my Eyes. A silence the most profound ensued. Again throug
h the cambric, I saw the hand of M. Dubois held up, while his forefinger first described a straight line from top to bottom of the breast, secondly a Cross, and thirdly a Circle; intimating that the WHOLE was to be taken off. Excited by this idea, I started up, threw off my veil, and I held my hand under it, and explained the nature of my sufferings, which all sprang from one point, though they darted into every part. I was heard attentively, but in utter silence, and M. Dubois then replaced me as before, and, as before, spread my veil over my face.

My dearest Esther, – and all my dears to whom she communicates this doleful ditty, will rejoice to hear that this resolution once taken, was firmly adhered to, in defiance of a terror that surpasses all description, and the most torturing pain. Yet – when the dreadful steel was plunged into the breast I needed no injunctions not to restrain my cries. I began a scream that lasted unintermittingly during the whole time of the incision – and I almost marvel that it rings not in my Ears still! so excruciating the agony. When the wound was made, and the instrument was withdrawn, the pain seemed undiminished, for the air that suddenly rushed into those delicate parts felt like a mass of minute but sharp and forked poniards. When I felt the instrument cutting against the grain, while the flesh resisted in a manner so forcible as to oppose and tire the hand of the operator, who was forced to change from the right to the left – then, indeed, I thought I must have expired. I attempted no more to open my Eyes, – they felt as if hermettically shut, and so firmly closed, that the Eyelids seemed indented into the Cheeks. The instrument this second time withdrawn, I concluded the operation over – Oh no! presently the terrible cutting was renewed – and worse than ever, to separate the bottom, the foundation of this dreadful gland from the parts to which it adhered – Again all description would be baffled – yet again all was not over, – Dr. Larry rested but his own hand, and – Oh Heaven! – I then felt the Knife rackling against the breast bone – scraping it! – This performed, while I yet remained in utterly speechless torture, I heard the Voice of Mr. Larry, – (all others guarded a dead silence) in a tone nearly tragic, desire everyone present to pronounce if anything more remained to be done; The general voice was Yes, – but the finger of Mr. Dubois – which I literally felt elevated over the wound, though I saw nothing, and though he touched nothing, pointed to some further requisition – and again began the scraping!

My dearest Esther, not for days, not for Weeks, but for Months I could not speak of this terrible business without nearly again going through it! I was sick, disordered by a single question – even now, 9 months after it is over, I have a headache going on with the account! To conclude, the evil was so profound, the case so delicate, and the precautions necessary for preventing a return so numerous, that the operation, including the treatment and the dressing, lasted 20 minutes! a time, for sufferings so acute, that was hardly supportable – However, I bore it with all the courage I could exert, and never moved, nor stopt them, nor resisted, nor spoke. Twice I believe I fainted; at least, I have two total chasms in my memory of this transaction, that impede my tying together what passed. When all was done, and they lifted me up that I might be put to bed, my strength was so totally annihilated, that I was obliged to be carried, and could not even sustain my hands and arms, which hung as if I had been lifeless: while my face, as the Nurse has told me, was utterly colourless. This removal made me open my Eyes – and I then saw my good Dr. Larry, pale nearly as myself, his face streaked with blood, and its expression depicting grief, apprehension, and almost horror.

* * * * * *

Fanny was born 1752, the daughter of a physician. She lead a unique life and, thankfully, documented her experiences at court and amongst the highest society in her diaries. Passages from these are cited in many works on the Georgian and Regency periods, as they contain much minute detail not found elsewhere. In 1786, Fanny was appointed Second Keeper of the Wardrobe to Her Majesty Queen Charlotte. Her father, upon being introduced to the Prince Regent, spent time discussing music with him. In addition to her social duties, Fanny was a novelist, whose works, including “Cecilia” and “Evelina” were favorites of Jane Austen’s. The operation related above, whilst horrific, was obviously a success, as Fanny lived until 1840.

Suggestions for further reading:
Burney, Fanny, Diary and Letters (18c), ed. C. Barrett, 1905
——-The Early Journals and Letters, vol. 1, Univ of Toronto Press 1989 ISBN# 0-7735-0538-5
Chaplin, Arnold, Medicine in England During the Reign of George III, AMS Press ISBN 0-404-13244-8
Loudon, Irvine, Medical Care and the General Practitioner 1750- 1850, Oxford 1986

The Burney Society in Portland, Oregon

Victoria here, just back from the meetings of The Burney Society and the Jane Austen Society in Portland, OR.  We went out a day early in order to take in the Columbia River Gorge.  Sadly, it was raining, but not very hard. In fact, it reminded me of most English rain, not quite a mist but not a downpour either.  At right is Multnomah Falls, most spectacular of the many waterfalls along the gorge.
Fanny Burney (1752-1840) was the daughter of a celebrated musician and composer Dr. Charles Burney.  Her half sister, Sarah Harriet Burney, was also a successful author of seven novels.  Fanny Burney grew up in a household that often hosted brilliant circle of artistic and literary leaders. She kept a famous journal throughout most of her life and wrote four novels, many plays and other works.
Our friend Hester Davenport, (see our posts about visiting her in Windsor last June) is a leading member of the UK’s Burney society and the author of Faithful Handmaid, which relates the story of Burney’s position as a Keeper of the Robes for Queen Charlotte from 1786 to 1791.  The position, while prestigious, gave Burney little time to pursue her writing career. We reported on our days with Hester Davenport on July 16 and 18, 2010 posts.

At left is my picture of a plaque on the castle wall in Windsor commemorating the lives of Mrs. Delaney (see our posts of  9/30 and 10/6/10) and Fanny Burney and their roles in the royal court.
The Burney Society was proud to dedicate a window in Westminster Abbey to Frances Burney a few years ago.  Our president for sixteen years has been Paula Stepankowsky (see photo below), whose leadership has been outstanding. This year the society has grown large enough to separate the UK and North American branches. Click here for more information on the McGill University  Burney Center.
For information on the North American Burney Society and the upcoming meetings of the group, click here.   Fanny Burney’s first novel might be her most famous, the coming of age story of Evelina, a delightful tale with incredibly detailed accounts of late 18th century life in Britain. My favorite is Camilla, perhaps because I read it first and loved every page. All this is a long way of introducing the conference in Portland. The subject was “Burney and the Gothic.”  Many speakers adressed aspects of this fascinating subject in Burney’s novels, finding many gothic references where I had entirely missed them! But viewed in the context of the popular genre of gothic novels in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, of course all of these arguments made obvious sense (not to mention sensibility!).
Our intrepid leader, Paula LaBeck Stepankowsky, president of The Burney society for 16 years, has been a true inspiration to all of those who love Burney, from reader/writers like me, to fond fans, to academic specialists in 18th century fiction. Paula is leaving her office and everyone was both disappointed that she will no longer be our active leader, but happy that she completed so many years of service and is moving on to a new role, which she promised would definitely include her love of Frances Burney.


Portland Public Library
addition to her role in guiding the Burney Society, Paula has amassed a stellar collection of first editions and memorabilia of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, many displayed at a special exhibition at Portland’s beautiful public library, a short walk from the conference hotel.

Works of Mary Robinson, 1st edition

Letters of Frances Burney,  Madame D’Arbly
First editions of Emma and Mansfield Park beside a shawl,
of linen, according to family tradition, embroidered by Jane Austen

Emma, a first edition, in the collection of Paula LaBeck Stepankowsky

Above, copies of three of Paula’s fascinating collection of Regency-era prints and charicatures by James Gillray and Thomas Rowlandson.

What a marvelous two days. Soon, I will tell you about the following days at the Jane Austen Society of North America’s Annual General Meeting: Jane Austen and the Abbey: Maystery, Mayhem, and Muslin in Portland.  Stay tuned.