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Frances and Charles Burney

Frances Burney

On 13th June 2002 a memorial panel in the new Poets' Corner window in Westminster Abbey was unveiled in memory of Fanny Burney, Mme. d'Arblay. The inscription includes just her name and dates. She was born on 13th June 1752 at King's Lynn in Norfolk, daughter of Charles and Esther Burney. Her novel Evelina was published anonymously in 1778 and began a new school of fiction with a more realistic portrayal of women. When her authorship was discovered it brought immediate fame. She is known as the "mother of English fiction" and was also a playwright and diarist. She married General Alexandre d'Arblay (d.1818) and at one time they were interned by Napoleon. She died on 6th January 1840 and was buried with her son Alex (d.1837) at St Swithin's, Walcot, Bath.

Charles Burney

Her father Charles (1726-1814), musician and author of the celebrated General History of Music, has a memorial in the north choir aisle of the Abbey. This was put up by his son and Fanny wrote the inscription:

Sacred to the memory of Charles Burney Mus.D. F.R.S. who, full of years, and full of virtues, the pride of his family, the delight of society, the unrivalled chief, and scientifick historian of his tuneful art! Beloved, revered, regretted, breathed, in Chelsea College, his last sigh! leaving to posterity a fame unblemished, raised on the noble basis of intellectual attainments, high principles and pure benevolence, goodness with gaiety, talents with taste, were of his gifted mind the blended attributes, while the genial hilarity of his airy spirits animated or softened his every earthly toil; and a conscience without reproach prepared, in the whole tenour of his mortal life, through the mediation of our Lord Jesus Christ, his soul for heaven, Amen. Born April 7th O.S. 1726. Died April 12th 1814.

Charles was born in Shrewsbury, a son of James Macburney and his second wife Ann (Cooper). The family dropped the Mac from their name. He had a daughter Esther by Esther Sleepe, whom he later married in 1749. He spent time in Chester and was then an organist in London and in King's Lynn in Norfolk. His other children were James, Charles, Fanny and Susanna. In 1767 he married his second wife Elizabeth Allen. His grave is in the Royal Hospital Chelsea burial ground (he was organist of the Hospital).

Charles Burney Junior

Frances' brother Charles, born in 1757, has a memorial tablet in the south choir aisle of the Abbey, by sculptor Sebastian Gahagan. He was a classical scholar and lexicographer. The long Latin inscription is by Dr Parr and can be translated:

To Charles Burney LL.D., S.T.P., A.S. and R.S.S. Professor of the Greek and Latin languages in the Royal Academy of London, Chaplain to George the third, King of Britain, Prebendary of Lincoln Cathedral, Rector of Cliff, and the church of St Paul at Deptford in the county of Kent, Master of Greenwich School during xviii  [18] years, who lived lx [60] years and xxiv days. Died on the fifth kalend of January in the holy year MDCCCXVIII and was buried at Deptford. His scholars by a pecuniary subscription placed this monument. Innate in this man was varied and profound erudition, a judgment polished by the rules of critical art, and the constant exercise of a good style, and a peculiar nicety in solving the intricacies of metre; in his works, written in Latin or in English, the flow of his sentences was lucid; and a choice of words, elegant without enervation, recommended his language to a high character for genius and learning. His mind was quick in perception, his voice full and musical, his eye piercing in the extreme, but softly tempered by the sprightliness of his whole countenance and the pleasantest graces of latent wit. When imparting to his pupils the higher polish of education, he exhibited a talent for instruction the most precise and exquisite, and in forming their minds to every call of duty, protected the character of the Master with the greatest truth and dignity. To the matter of these praises was added a singular gentleness of manners and disposition which conciliated the kindness of all the good, and in a wonderful manner allured the scholar to love and reverence his preceptor. In advancing an institution which afforded comfort and a refuge to poor and aged schoolmasters, his zeal was sedulous and ardent. His diligence was worthy a man thoroughly learned, in collecting a library, which was so rich in manuscriptal writings and published works, that after the mournful death of the professor, it was bought at the public cost and placed in the British Museum, by order of the English Parliament. But what shone most brightly in Burney was an intense affection for the Church of England, a hope of salvation piously founded in Christ, and a habit chaste and sincere, of venerating God.

He married Sarah Rose in 1783 and had a son Charles Parr Burney, who also taught at Greenwich school.

Further reading

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004 for Frances Burney

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004 for Charles Burney

"Fanny Burney and the Burneys" by R. Brimley Johnson, 1926.

The Burney Society website

A portrait of the General is at Parham House in Sussex

Frances and Charles Burney
Dr Charles Burney memorial

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2021 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

Frances and Charles Burney
Frances Burney panel

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2021 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

Frances and Charles Burney
Charles Burney junior memorial

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2021 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

At different times of the day, or in different seasons, the light falling in the Abbey will light up something that you have walked past a million times and never seen before.

Vanessa, Head of Conservation

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