The Diary and Letters of Frances Burney, Madame d’Arblay

Source: Sarah Chauncey Woolsey (ed.), The Diary and Letters of Frances Burney, Madame d’Arblay (Boston: Little, Brown, 1910), vol. 1 pp. 356-357

Production: Thomas Holcroft, Seduction, Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London, 22 March 1787

Text: Once about this time I went to a play myself, which surely I may live long enough and never forget. It was “Seduction,” a very clever piece, but containing a dreadful picture of vice and dissipation in high life, written by Mr. Miles Andrews, with an epilogue Oh, such an epilogue! I was listening to it with uncommon attention, from a compliment paid in it to Mrs. Montagu, among other female writers; but imagine what became of my attention when I suddenly was struck with these lines, or something like them:

“Let sweet Cecilia gain your just applause,
Whose every passion yields to Reason’s laws.”

To hear, wholly unprepared and unsuspicious, such lines in a theatre seated in a Royal Box and with the whole Royal Family and their suite immediately opposite me was it not a singular circumstance? To describe my embarrassment would be impossible. My whole head was leaning forward, with my opera-glass in my hand, examining Miss Farren, who spoke the epilogue. Instantly I shrunk back, so astonished and so ashamed of my public situation, that I was almost ready to take to my heels and run, for it seemed as if I were there purposely in that conspicuous place –

“To list attentive to my own applause.”

The King immediately raised his opera-glass to look at me, laughing heartily the Queen’s presently took the same direction all the Princesses looked up, and all the attendants, and all the maids of honor! I protest I was never more at a loss what to do with myself: nobody was in the front row with me but Miss Goldsworthy, who, instantly seeing how I was disconcerted, prudently and good-naturedly forbore taking any notice of me. I sat as far back as I could, and kept my fan against the exposed profile for the rest of the night, never once leaning forward, nor using my glass.

None of the Royal Family spoke to me upon this matter till a few days after; but I heard from Mrs. Delany they had all declared themselves sorry for the confusion it had caused me. And some time after, the Queen could not forbear saying, “I hope, Miss Burney, you minded the epilogue the other night?” And the King very comically said, “I took a peep at you! I could not help that. I wanted to see how you looked when your father first discovered your writing and now I think I know!”

The Princesses all said something, and the kind Princess Elizabeth, in particular, declared she had pitied me with all her heart, for being so situated when such a compliment was made.

Comments: Frances Burney (1752-1840), known after her marriage as Madame d’Arblay, was an English novelist and playwright. She was appointed Keeper of the Robes to Queen Charlotte, consort to King George III, in 1785. Seduction was written by Thomas Holcroft (1745-1809), English dramatist and poet. The epilogue was provided by playwright and later MP Miles Peter Andrews (1742-1818), and includes these lines among some in praise of women authors (with an ellipsis where one word is unclear):

And oft I […]t soft Cecilia win your praise;
While Reason guides the clue, in Fancy’s maze.

Fanny Burney’s novel Cecilia had been published in 1782. The epilogue was delivered by actress Elizabeth Farren. The performance at the Theatre Royal on 22 March 1887 was by royal command. Opera glasses at this date would have been small monocular telescopes.

Links: Copy at the Internet Archive
Copy of The Seduction at University of Oxford Text Archive

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