Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A mad King George III chases Frances Burney in Kew Gardens

So I just read this extraordinary passage in Frances Burney's Journals and Letters that I'll give you some excerpts from; this is from February 1789 and King George III is suffering from a bout of insanity. Burney has a position as "Second Keeper of the Robes" to Queen Charlotte, so she's a part of court life, but she's trying to stay away from the king because he's rather unpredictable. She fails:

I strolled into the Garden; I had proceeded, in my quick way, nearly half the round, when I suddenly perceived, through some Trees, two or three figures ... I concluded them to be workmen, and Gardeners;--yet tried to look sharp, -- and in so doing, as they were less shaded, I thought I saw the Person of his Majesty!

Alarmed past all possible expression, I waited not to know more, but turning back, ran off with all my might -- But what was my terror to hear myself pursued! -- to hear the voice of the King himself, loudly and hoarsely calling after me "Miss Burney! Miss Burney!--"

I protest I was ready to die; I knew not in what state he might be at the time; I only knew the orders to keep out of his way were universal; that the Queen would highly disapprove any unauthorised meeting, and that the very action of my running away might deeply, in his present irritable state, offend him.

Heavens how I ran! -- I do not think I should have felt the hot Lava from Vesuvius, -- at least not the hot Cinders, had I so ran during its Eruption. My feet were not sensible that they even touched the Ground.

He chases her for a while, along with some attendants who are trying to get her to stop. She refuses and keeps running out of terror. Finally she stops when the attendants tell her it hurts the king to run:

When they were within a few yards of me, the King called out "Why did you run away?--"

Shocked at a question impossible to answer, yet a little assured by the mild tone of his voice, I instantly forced myself forward, to meet him -- though the internal sensation which satisfied me this was a step the most proper, to appease his suspicions and displeasure, was so violently combatted by the tremor of my nerves, that I fairly think I may reckon it the greatest effort of personal courage I have ever made.

The effort answered, -- I looked up, and met all his wonted benignity of Countenance, though something still of wildness in his Eyes. Think, however, of my surprise, to feel him put both his hands round my two shoulders, and then kiss my Cheek! I wonder I did not really sink, so exquisite was my affright when I saw him spread out his arms! -- Involuntarily, I concluded he meant to crush me; -- but the Willis's, who have never seen him till the fatal illness, not knowing how very extraordinary an action this was from him, simply smiled and looked pleased, supposing, perhaps, it was his customary salutation!

I have reason, however, to believe it was but the joy of a Heart unbridled now, by the forms and proprieties of established customs, and sober Reason ...