BURNEY (FANNY)  Autograph letter in the third person, as Madame d'Arblay, 1814
Lot 23
BURNEY (FANNY) Autograph letter in the third person, as Madame d'Arblay, 1814
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Lot Details
Autograph letter in the third person, as Madame d'Arblay, to John Reeves, the Superintendent of Aliens, thanking him "for his most welcome intelligence from the amiable Mrs Solvyns", although expressing concern that she has had "no direct news from M d'Arblay since the end of Decr nor even any that is circuitous since the 10th of January", one page, integral blank, 8vo, Chelsea College, 18 March 1814


  • 'NO DIRECT NEWS FROM M D'ARBLAY': Fanny Burney – described by Virginia Woolf as 'the mother of English fiction' – had married the French émigré Alexandre-Jean-Baptiste Piochard D'Arblay, a career soldier and former adjutant of Lafayette, in 1793. Having fled the Revolution, he returned to France with Fanny at the Peace of Amiens in 1802. She however went back to England in 1812 after undergoing a mastectomy the year before. In March 1814 – the same month as this letter – she published her last novel, The Wanderer, or, Female Difficulties, which 'drew on her own experiences as well as those of family members in describing the adventures of a penniless spinster buffeted from pillar to post' (Pat Rogers, ODNB). She was also at this time looking after her increasingly frail father, the celebrated historian of music Dr Burney, who was then approaching his eighty-eighth birthday. He had suffered a stroke and had been confined to his rooms at Chelsea College since 1811. When he died that April, and his daughter immediately set to work compiling her Memoirs of Doctor Burney (1832). Meanwhile, France was in a state of chaos with the Russians entering Paris on 31 March 1814 and Napoleon forced to abdicate on 11 April. Fanny was able to rejoin her husband in Brussels in time to witness the events leading up to the Battle of Waterloo.

    On 17 March – the day before our letter – she wrote to Mrs Waddington that she had just received 'a letter announcing that M d'Arblay was very well in Paris the 18th of February', adding: 'This news seems quite recent, has relieved me unexpectedly. An English lady had written it at his desire to Mr Reeves of the Alien Office"; the 'English lady' being the "amiable Mrs Solvyns" referred to in our letter, wife of the traveller and author François-Balthazar Solvyns (Journals and Letters, vii, p. 257, where our letter is quoted from a Maggs catalogue).

    John Reeves, FRS, FSA (1752-1829), the letter's recipient, served as Superintendent of Aliens from 1803 to 1814. He was founder of the Association for Preserving Liberty and Property against Republicans and Levellers, and played a part in the establishment of a London police force. He was also the King's Printer, responsible for editions of the Bible, Greek New Testament, Hebrew Psalms, and Book of Common Prayer.
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