Fanny Burney

Fanny Burney On Queen Charlotte's Visit to Bath, December 1817

In 1793, Fanny Burney married General Alexandre d'Arblay, a former adjuctant to the Marquis de Lafayette. During General d'Arblay's last illness, the family lived in Bath. In October, 1817, Queen Charlotte and Princess Elizabeth came to Bath for four weeks, during which time the Queen and Burney renewed their cordial relationship.

In a letter to her son, Alexandre d'Arblay, Fanny writes:

Bath, November 9, 1817. We have here spent nearly a week in a manner the most extraordinary, beginning with hope and pleasure, proceeding to fear and pain, and ending in disappointment and grief.

The joy exhibited on Monday, when Her Majesty and Her Royal Highness [the Princess Elizabeth] arrived, was really extatic; the illumination was universal. The public offices were splendid; so were the tradespeople's who had promises or hopes of employment; the nobles and gentles were modestly gay, and the poor eagerly put forth their mite. But all was flattering, because voluntary. Nothing was induced by power, or forced by mobs. [Fanny and her husband] were quite touched by the universality of the homage paid to the virtues and merit of our venerable Queen, upon this her first progress through any part of her domains by herself. Hitherto, she has only accompanied the poor King, as at Weymouth and Cheltenham .... But here, called by her health, she came as principal, and in her own character of rank and consequence. And, as Mr. Hay told me, the inhabitants of Bath were all even vehement to let her see the light in which they held her individual self, after so many years witnessing her exemplary conduct and distinguished merit.

She was very sensible to this tribute; but much affected, nay, dejected, in receiving it, at the beginning; from coming without the King where the poor King had always meant himself to bring her; but just as he had arranged for the excursion, and even had three houses taken for him in the Royal Crescent, he was afflicted by blindness. ... This was continually in the remembrance of the Queen during the honours of her reception; but she had recovered from the melancholy recollection, and was cheering herself by the cheers of all the inhabitants, when the first news arrived of the illness of the Princess Charlotte [her granddaughter, the daughter of the Prince Regent]. At that moment she was having her diamonds placed on her head for the reception of the mayor and corporation of Bath ... Her first thought was to issue orders for deferring this ceremony, but when she considered that all the members of the great municipality must be assembled, and that the great dinner they had prepared to give to the Duke of Clarence could only be postponed at an enormous and useless expense, she composed her spirits, finished her regal preparations, and admitted the citizens of Bath .... But the dinner was broken up. The Duke received an express with terrible tidings [i.e., the death of Princess Charlotte of the complications of childbirth on November 6, 1817] , and struck his forehead as he read them and then hurried out of the assembly with inexpressible trepidation and dismay. The Queen also was at table when the same express arrived, though only with the Princess and her own party: all were dispersed in a moment, and she shut herself up, admitting no one but Her Royal Highness.

The Queen left Bath immediately for the funeral of Princess Charlotte, but she had returned by November 25th. Fanny was only able to write of the following memory two years later, on November 17, 1819:

[General d'Arblay] had always purposed being presented to Her Majesty in the pump-room, and the Queen herself deigned to say "she should be very glad to see the General." Ill he was! suffering, emaciated, enfeebled! But he had always spirit awake to every call; and just before Christmas, 1817, we went together, between seven and eight o'clock in the morning, in chairs, to the pump-room. ....

The Queen was brought to the circle in her sedan-chair, and led to the seat prepared for her by her vice-chamberlain, making a gracious general bow to the assembly as she passed. Dr. Gibbs and Mr. Tudor waited upon her with the Bath water, and she conversed with them, and the mayor and aldermen, and her own people, for some time. After this she rose to make her round with a grace indescribable, and, to those who never witnessed it, inconceivable; for it was such as to carry off age, infirmity, sickness, diminutive stature -- and to give her, in defiance of such disadvantages, a power of charming that rarely has been equalled. Her face had a variety of expression that made her features soon seem agreeable; the intonation of her voice so accorded with her words; her language was so impressive, and her manner so engaging and encouraging, that it was not possible to be the object of her attention without being both struck with her uncommon abilities and fascinated by their exertion. Such was the effect which she produced upon General d'Arblay, to whom she soon turned. Highly sensible to the honour of her distinction, he forgot his pains in his desire to manifest his gratitude; -- and his own smiles -- how winning they became! Her Majesty spoke of Bath, of Windsor, of the Continent; and while addressing him, her eyes turned to meet mine with a look that said, "Now I know I am making you happy!"

Excerpt from: Burney, Fanny: Diary and Letters of Madame d'Arblay. Edited by her niece. London, Henry Colburn, 1854. v. 7, p. 239-241, 247-248.

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