Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fanny Burney tells me to put down the laptop and take up a pen right this minute!

Last week, I had my nagging sense of guilt over being delinquent in correspondence with a couple of friends reanimated by reading a letter that Joseph Conrad sent to a friend apologizing for a similar failure. I resolved to make good . . . but first I had to finish my post on Byron and Boswell, which sent me to Fanny Burney's letters, in hopes that she'd written something amusing about the wild Lord--and what did I come across on the first page I turned to but another reminder of my neglected duty!

This one took the form of a coy, witty letter from Burney to her son admonishing him for not writing, and it's worth reproducing in full, as it gives a sense, in distilled form, of the charm, intelligence, and playfulness that emanates from all of Burney's letters and journals:
5 June, 1816

Stanhope street, Bath.

Are you ill, my dear Alex?
If so, beg your Friend--
      or your Apothecary--
      or your Gip*--
      to write a line instantly,
      and we will be with you immediately.
      Has any disappointment or mischance annoyed your happiness, and sunk your spirits?
      If so, open your heart at once,
comfort and kindness are all that will be offered you: -- sympathy, my Alex, that will sooth and relieve you--
      If you can have neglected to write,
      or only have mislaid a Letter, and not searched for it--
      then, indeed. Your own self-reproach--
      upon reflection--
will tell you the reproaches you will merit from us: though even then, a candid and immediate avowal will cancel them.
      At all events--If You, or some Proxy--answer not by return of Post, My suspense and uneasiness will make Me instantly address Mr Chapman or Dr. Davy.**
And now you'll surely all understand if I cease blogging for the night and turn instead to making good my epistolary debt.

You, meanwhile, might go visit Shaun Usher's stunning new blog, Letters of Note, where reproductions of odd and interesting letters will surely keep you busy until I've safely handed my own missives to yon postman.

1 comment:

  1. It's nice to know there's a good, solid 19th-century corollary to You never call, you never write!