Evelina, by Fanny Burney

Letter xxiii

Evelina in Continuation

Queen Ann Street, Tuesday, April 19.

THERE is something to me half melancholy in writing an account of our last adventures in London. However, as this day is merely appropriated to packing and preparations for our journey, and as I shall shortly have no more adventures to write, I think I may as well complete my town journal at once: and, when you have it all together, I hope, my dear Sir, you will send me your observations and thoughts upon it to Howard Grove.

About eight o’clock we went to the Pantheon. I was extremely struck with the beauty of the building, which greatly surpassed whatever I could have expected or imagined. Yet it has more the appearance of a chapel than of a place of diversion; and, though I was quite charmed with the magnificence of the room, I felt that I could not be as gay and thoughtless there as at Ranelagh; for there is something in it which rather inspires awe and solemnity, than mirth and pleasure. However, perhaps it may only have this effect upon such a novice as myself.

I should have said, that our party consisted only of Captain, Mrs. and Miss Mirvan, as Madame Duval spent the day in the city; — which I own I could not lament.

There was a great deal of company; but the first person we saw was Sir Clement Willoughby. He addressed us with his usual ease, and joined us for the whole evening. I felt myself very uneasy in his presence; for I could not look at him, nor hear him speak, without recollecting the chariot adventure; but, to my great amazement, I observed that he looked at me without the least apparent discomposure, though, certainly, he ought not to think of his behaviour without blushing. I really wish I had not forgiven him, and then he could not have ventured to speak to me any more.

There was an exceeding good concert, but too much talking to hear it well. Indeed I am quite astonished to find how little music is attended to in silence; for, though every body seems to admire, hardly any body listens.

We did not see Lord Orville till we went into the tea-room, which is large, low, and under ground, and serves merely as a foil to the apartments above; he then sat next to us. He seemed to belong to a large party, chiefly of ladies; but, among the gentlemen attending them, I perceived Mr. Lovel.

I was extremely irresolute whether or not I ought to make any acknowledgments to Lord Orville for his generous conduct in securing me from the future impertinence of that man; and I thought, that, as he had seemed to allow Mrs. Mirvan to acquaint me, though no one else, of the measures which he had taken, he might perhaps suppose me ungrateful if silent: however, I might have spared myself the trouble of deliberating, as I never once had the shadow of an opportunity of speaking unheard by Sir Clement. On the contrary, he was so exceedingly officious and forward, that I could not say a word to any body but instantly he bent his head forward, with an air of profound attention, as if I had addressed myself wholly to him; and yet I never once looked at him, and would not have spoken to him on any account.

Indeed, Mrs. Mirvan herself, though unacquainted with the behaviour of Sir Clement after the opera, says it is not right for a young woman to be seen so frequently in public with the same gentleman; and, if our stay in town was to be lengthened, she would endeavour to represent to the Captain the impropriety of allowing his constant attendance; for Sir Clement with all his easiness, could not be so eternally of our parties, if the Captain was less fond of his company.

At the same table with Lord Orville sat a gentleman — I call him so only because he was at the same table — who, almost from the moment I was seated, fixed his eyes steadfastly on my face, and never once removed them to any other object during tea-time, notwithstanding my dislike of his staring must, I am sure, have been very evident. I was quite surprised, that a man, whose boldness was so offensive, could have gained admission into a party of which Lord Orville made one; for I naturally concluded him to be some low-bred, uneducated man; and I thought my idea was indubitably confirmed, when I heard him say to Sir Clement Willoughby, in an audible whisper — which is a mode of speech very distressing and disagreeable to bystanders — “For Heaven’s sake, Willoughby, who is that lovely creature?”

But what was my amazement, when, listening attentively for the answer, though my head was turned another way, I heard Sir Clement say, “I am sorry I cannot inform your Lordship, but I am ignorant myself.”

Lordship! how extraordinary! that a nobleman, accustomed, in all probability, to the first rank of company in the kingdom, from his earliest infancy, can possibly be deficient in good manners, however faulty in morals and principles! Even Sir Clement Willoughby appeared modest in comparison with this person.

During tea, a conversation was commenced upon the times, fashions, and public places, in which the company of both tables joined. It began by Sir Clement’s inquiring of Miss Mirvan and of me, if the Pantheon had answered our expectations.

We both readily agreed that it had greatly exceeded them.

“Ay, to be sure,” said the Captain, “why, you don’t suppose they’d confess they didn’t like it, do you? Whatever’s the fashion, they must like, of course; — or else, I’d be bound for it, they’d own, that there never was such a dull place as this here invented.”

“And has, then, this building,” said Lord Orville, “no merit that may serve to lessen your censure? Will not your eye, Sir, speak something in its favour?”

“Eye!” cried the Lord, (I don’t know his name,) “and is there any eye here, that can find pleasure in looking at dead walls or statues, when such heavenly living objects as I now see demand all their admiration?”

“O, certainly,” said Lord Orville, “the lifeless symmetry of architecture, however beautiful the design and proportion, no man would be so mad as to put in competition with the animated charms of nature: but when, as to-night, the eye may be regaled at the same time, and in one view, with all the excellence of art, and all the perfection of nature, I cannot think that either suffer by being seen together.”

“I grant, my Lord,” said Sir Clement, “that the cool eye of unimpassioned philosophy may view both with equal attention, and equal safety; but, where the heart is not so well guarded, it is apt to interfere, and render, even to the eye, all objects but one insipid and uninteresting.”

“Aye, Aye,” cried the Captain, “you may talk what you will of your eye here, and your eye there, and, for the matter of that, to be sure you have two — but we all know they both squint one way.”

“Far be it from me,” said Lord Orville, “to dispute the magnetic power of beauty, which irresistibly draws and attracts whatever has soul and sympathy: and I am happy to acknowledge, that though we have now no gods to occupy a mansion professedly built for them, yet we have secured their better halves, for we have goddesses to whom we all most willingly bow down.” And then with a very droll air, he made a profound reverence to the ladies.

“They’d need to be goddesses with a vengeance,” said the Captain, “for they’re mortal dear to look at. Howsomever, I should be glad to know what you can see in e’er a face among them that’s worth half-a-guinea for a sight.”

“Half-a-guinea!” exclaimed that same Lord, “I would give half I am worth for a sight of only one, provided I make my own choice. And, prithee, how can money be better employed than in the service of fine women?”

“If the ladies of his own party can pardon the Captain’s speech,” said Sir Clement, “I think he has a fair claim to the forgiveness of all.”

“Then you depend very much, as I doubt not but you may,” said Lord Orville, “upon the general sweetness of the sex; — but as to the ladies of the Captain’s party, they may easily pardon, for they cannot be hurt.”

“But they must have a devilish good conceit of themselves, though,” said the Captain, “to believe all that. Howsomever, whether or no, I should be glad to be told by some of you, who seem to be knowing in them things, what kind of diversion can be found in such a place as this here, for one who has had, long ago, his full of face-hunting?”

Every body laughed, but nobody spoke.

“Why, look you there now,” continued the Captain, “you’re all at a dead stand! — not a man among you can answer that there question. Why, then, I must make bold to conclude, that you all come here for no manner of purpose but to stare at one another’s pretty faces:— though, for the matter of that, half of ’em are plaguy ugly; — and, as to t’other half — I believe it’s none of God’s manufactory.”

“What the ladies may come hither for, Sir,” said Mr. Lovel, (stroking his ruffles, and looking down,) “it would ill become us to determine; but as to we men, doubtless we can have no other view than to admire them.”

“If I ben’t mistaken,” cried the Captain, (looking earnestly in his face,) “you are that same person we saw at Love for Love t’other night; ben’t you?”

Mr. Lovel bowed.

“Why, then, Gentlemen,” continued he, with a loud laugh, “I must tell you a most excellent good joke; — when all was over, as sure as you’re alive, he asked what the play was! Ha, ha, ha!”

“Sir,” said Mr. Lovel, colouring, “if you were as much used to town-life as I am — which, I presume, is not precisely the case — I fancy you would not find so much diversion from a circumstance so common.”

“Common! What, is it common?” repeated the Captain; “why then, ‘fore George, such chaps are more fit to be sent to school, and well disciplined with a cat-o’-nine tails, than to poke their heads into a play-house. Why, a play is the only thing left, now-a-days, that has a grain of sense in it; for as to all the rest of your public places, d’ye see, if they were all put together, I wouldn’t give that for ’em!” (snapping his fingers.) “And now we’re talking of them sort of things, there’s your operas — I should like to know, now, what any of you can find to say for them.”

Lord Orville, who was most able to have answered, seemed by no means to think the Captain worthy an argument, upon a subject concerning which he had neither knowledge nor feeling: but, turning to us, he said, “The ladies are silent, and we seem to have engrossed the conversation to ourselves, in which we are much more our own enemies than theirs. But,” addressing himself to Miss Mirvan and me, “I am most desirous to hear the opinions of these young ladies, to whom all public places must, as yet, be new.”

We both, and with eagerness, declared that we had received as much, if not more pleasure, at the opera than any where: but we had better have been silent; for the Captain, quite displeased, said, “What signifies asking them girls? Do you think they know their own minds yet? Ask ’em after any thing that’s called diversion, and you’re sure they’ll say it’s vastly fine — they are a set of parrots, and speak by rote, for they all say the same thing: but ask ’em how they like making puddings and pies, and I’ll warrant you’ll pose ’em. As to them operas, I desire I may hear no more of their liking such nonsense; and for you, Moll” (to his daughter,) “I charge you, as you value my favour, that you’ll never again be so impertinent as to have a taste of your own before my face. There are fools enough in the world, without your adding to their number. I’ll have no daughter of mine affect them sort of megrims. It is a shame they a’n’t put down; and if I’d my will, there’s not a magistrate in this town but should be knocked on the head for suffering them. If you’ve a mind to praise any thing, why you may praise a play, and welcome, for I like it myself.”

This reproof effectually silenced us both for the rest of the evening. Nay, indeed, for some minutes it seemed to silence every body else; till Mr. Lovel, not willing to lose an opportunity of returning the Captain’s sarcasm, said, “Why, really Sir, it is but natural to be most pleased with what is most familiar; and, I think, of all our diversions, there is not one so much in common between us and the country as a play. Not a village but has its barns and comedians; and as for the stage business, why it may be pretty equally done any where; and even in regard to us, and the canaille, confined as we all are within the semi-circle of a theatre, there is no place where the distinction is less obvious.”

While the Captain seemed considering for Mr. Lovel’s meaning, Lord Orville, probably with a view to prevent his finding it, changed the subject to Cox’s Museum, and asked what he thought of it?

“Think! —“said he, “why I think as how it i’n’t worth thinking about. I like no such jemcracks. It is only fit, in my mind, for monkeys:— though, for aught I know, they too might turn up their noses at it.”

“May we ask your Lordship’s own opinion?” said Mrs. Mirvan.

“The mechanism,” answered he, “is wonderfully ingenioous: I am sorry it is turned to no better account; but its purport is so frivolous, so very remote from all aim at instruction or utility, that the sight of so fine a show leaves a regret on the mind, that so much work, and so much ingenuity, should not be better bestowed.”

“The truth is,” said the Captain, “that in all this huge town, so full as it is of folks of all sorts, there i’n’t so much as one public place, besides the play-house, where a man, that’s to say, a man who is a man, ought not to be ashamed to shew his face. T’other day they got me to a ridotto: but, I believe, it will be long enough before they get me to another. I knew no more what to do with myself, than if my ship’s company had been metamorphosed into Frenchman. Then, again, there’s your famous Ranelagh, that you make such a fuss about; — why what a dull place is that! — it’s the worst of all.”

“Ranelagh dull!”—“Ranelagh dull! — was echoed from mouth to mouth; and all the ladies, as if of one accord, regarded the Captain with looks of the most ironical contempt.

“As to Ranelagh,” said Mr. Lovell, “most indubitably, though the price is blebian, it is by no means adapted to the plebian taste. It requires a certain acquaintance with high life, and — and — and something of — of — something d’un vrai gout, to be really sensible of its merit. Those whose — whose connections, and so forth, are not among les gens comme il faut, can feel nothing but ennui at such a place as Ranelagh.”

“Ranelagh!” cried Lord — “O, tis the divinest place under heaven — or, indeed — for aught I know —”

“O you creature!” cried a pretty, but affected young lady, patting him with her fan, “you sha’n’t talk so; I know what you are going to say; but, positively, I won’t sit by you, if you’re so wicked.”

“And how can one sit by you, and be good?” said he, “when only to look at you is enough to make one wicked — or wish to be so?”

“Fie, my Lord!” returned she, “you really are insufferable. I don’t think I shall speak to you again these seven years.”

“What a metamorphosis,” cried Lord Orville,” should you make a patriarch of his Lordship.”

“Seven years!” said he, “dear Madam, be contented with telling me you will not speak to me after seven years, and I will endeavour to submit.”

“O, very well, my Lord,” answered she, “pray date the end of our speaking to each other as early as you please, I’ll promise to agree to your time.”

“You know, dear Madam,” said he, sipping his tea, “you know I only live in your sight.”

“O yes, my Lord, I have long known that. But I begin to fear we shall be too late for Ranelagh this evening.”

“O no, Madame,” said Mr. Lovel, looking at his watch, “it is but just past ten.”

“No more!” cried she, “O then we shall do very well.”

All the ladies now started up, and declared they had no time to lose.

“Why, what the D— l,” cried the Captain, leaning forward with both his arms on the table,” are you going to Ranelagh at this time of night?”

The ladies looked at one another, and smiled.

“To Ranelagh?” cried Lord — “yes, and I hope you are going too; for we cannot possibly excuse these ladies.”

“I go to Ranelagh? — if I do, I’ll be —.”

Everybody now stood up; and the stranger Lord, coming round to me, said, “You go, I hope?”

“No, my Lord, I believe not.”

“O you cannot, must not be so barbarous.” And he took my hand, and ran on, saying such fine speeches, and compliments, that I might almost have supposed myself a goddess, and him a pagan paying me adoration. As soon as I possibly could, I drew back my hand; but he frequently, in the course of conversation, contrived to take it again, though it was extremely disagreeable to me; and the more so, as I saw that Lord Orville had his eyes fixed upon us, with a gravity of attention that made me uneasy.

And, surely, my dear Sir, it was a great liberty in this lord, not withstanding his rank, to treat me so freely. As to Sir Clement, he seemed in misery.

They all endeavoured to prevail with the Captain to join the Ranelagh party; and this lord told me, in a low voice, that it was tearing his heart out to go without me.

During this conversation Mr. Lovel came forward, and assuming a look of surprise, made me a bow, and inquired how I did, protesting upon his honour, that he had not seen me before, or would have sooner paid his respects to me.

Though his politeness was evidently constrained, yet I was very glad to be thus assured of having nothing more to fear from him.

The Captain, far from listening to their persuasions of accompanying them to Ranelagh, was quite in a passion at the proposal, and vowed he would sooner go to the Blackhole in Calcutta.

“But,” said Lord — “if the ladies will take their tea at Ranelagh, you may depend upon our seeing them safe home; for we shall be proud of the honour of attending them.”

“May be so,” said the Captain, “but I’ll tell you what, if one of these places ben’t enough for them to-night, why tomorrow they shall go to ne’er a one.”

We instantly declared ourselves ready to go home.

“It is not for yourselves that we petition,” said Lord —. “But for us; if you have any charity, you will not be so cruel as to deny us; we only beg you to prolong our happiness for a few minutes — the favour is but a small one for you to grant, though so great a one for us to receive.”

“To tell you a piece of my mind,” said the Captain, surlily, “I think you might as well not give the girls so much of this palaver; they’ll take it all for gospel. As to Moll, why she’s well enough, but nothing extraordinary; though, perhaps, you may persuade her that her pug nose is all the fashion; and as to the other, why she’s good white and red to be sure; but what of that? — I’ll warrant she’ll moulder away as fast as her neighbours.”

“Is there,” cried Lord — “another man in this place, who, seeing such objects, could make such a speech?”

“As to that there,” returned the Captain, “I don’t know whether there be or no, and, to make free, I don’t care; for I sha’n’t go for to model myself by any of these fair-weather chaps, who dare not so much as say their souls are their own — and, for aught I know, no more they ben’t. I’m almost as much ashamed of my countrymen as if I was a Frenchman, and I believe in my heart there i’n’t a pin to choose between them; and, before long, we shall hear the very sailors talking that lingo, and see never a swabber without a bag and a sword.”

“He, he, he! — well, ‘pon honour,” cried Mr. Lovel, “you gentlemen of the ocean have a most severe way of judging.”

“Severe! ‘fore George, that is impossible; for, to cut the matter short, the men, as they call themselves, are no better than monkeys; and as to the women, why they are mere dolls. So now you’ve got my opinion of this subject; and I so wish you good night.”

The ladies, who were very impatient to be gone, made their courtsies, and tripped away, followed by all the gentlemen of their party, except the lord before mentioned, and, Lord Orville, who stayed to make inquiries of Mrs. Mirvan concerning our leaving town; and then saying, with his usual politeness, something civil to each of us, with a very grave air he quitted us.

Lord — remained some minutes longer, which he spent in making a profusion of compliments to me; by which he prevented my hearing distinctly what Lord Orville said, to my great vexation, especially as he looked — I thought so, at least — as if displeased at his particularity of behaviour to me.

In going to an outward room, to wait for the carriage, I walked, and could not possibly avoid it, between this nobleman and Sir Clement Willoughby, and, when the servant said the coach stopped the way, though the latter offered me his hand, which I should much have preferred, this same lord, without any ceremony, took mine himself; and Sir Clement, with a look extremely provoked, conducted Mrs. Mirvan.

In all ranks and all stations of life, how strangely do characters and manners differ! Lord Orville, with a politeness which knows no intermission, and makes no distinction, is as unassuming and modest as if he had never mixed with the great, and was totally ignorant of every qualification he possesses; this other lord, though lavish of compliments and fine speeches, seems to me an entire stranger to real good-breeding; whoever strikes his fancy, engrosses his whole attention. He is forward and bold; has an air of haughtiness towards men, and a look of libertinism towards woman; and his conscious quality seems to have given him a freedom in his way of speaking to either sex, that is very little short of rudeness.

When we returned home, we were all low-spirited. The evening’s entertainment had displeased the Captain; and his displeasure, I believe, disconcerted us all.

And here I thought to have concluded my letter; but, to my great surprise, just now we had a visit from Lord Orville. He called, he said, to pay his respects to us before we left town, and made many inquiries concerning our return; and, when Mrs Mirvan told him we were going into the country without any view of again quitting it, he expressed concern in such terms — so polite, so flattering, so serious — that I could hardly forbear being sorry for myself. Were I to go immediately to Berry Hill, I am sure I should feel nothing but joy; — but, now we are joined by this Captain, and Madame Duval, I must own I expect very little pleasure at Howard Grove.

Before Lord Orville went, Sir Clement Willoughby called. He was more grave than I had ever seen him; and made several attempts to speak to me in a low voice, and to assure me that his regret upon the occasion of our journey was entirely upon my account. But I was not in spirits, and could not bear to be teased by him. However, he has so well paid his court to Captain Mirvan, that he gave him a very hearty invitation to the Grove. At this he brightened — and just then Lord Orville took leave.

No doubt but he was disgusted at this ill-timed, ill-bred partiality; for surely it was very wrong to make an invitation before Lord Orville in which he was not included! I was so much chagrined, that, as soon as he went, I left the room; and I shall not go down stairs till Sir Clement is gone.

Lord Orville cannot but observe his assiduous endeavours to ingratiate himself into my favour; and does not this extravagant civility of Captain Mirvan give him reason to suppose that it meets with our general approbation? I cannot thimk upon this subject without inexpressible uneasiness; and yet I can think of nothing else.

Adieu, my dearest Sir. Pray write to me immediately. How many long letters has this one short fortnight produced! More than I may probably ever write again. I fear I shall have tired you with reading them; but you will now have time to rest, for I shall find but little to say in future.

And now, most honoured Sir, with all the follies and imperfections which I have thus faithfully recounted, can you, and with unabated kindness, suffer me to sign myself Your dutiful and most affectionate

EVELINA.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32