Ooooh, fellow Witlings, I have discovered some interesting dirt on Frances Burney and The Witlings. The link pasted below is to an essay written in 1843 by Thomas B. Macaulay describing Burney's life and writings. It describes the poor reception that Burney family friend Samuel Crisp's play was met with upon its publication. It goes on to say that Mr. Crisp was "wiser for [Frances] than he was for himself" and that this is part of why he discouraged the production of her new play, The Witlings, afraid that it would ruin her literary reputation as his play had done for him. Who knows how The Witlings would have been received by a 1779 audience, but it's interesting to note that it might have been produced after all if Frances Burney's "other Daddy" had not met with literary failure himself. I'll post in full the following excerpt about her education, which I found very interesting considering our present discussion about the Virtues of Books, characters of varying social status, and Frances' attraction to the theatre.
"It was not, however, by reading that her intellect was formed. Indeed, when her best novels were produced, her knowledge of books was very small. When at the height of her fame, she was unacquainted with the most celebrated works of Voltaire and Moliere; and, what seems still more extraordinary, had never heard or seen a line of Churchill, who, when she was a girl, was the most popular of living poets. It is particularly deserving of observation that she appears to have been by no means a novel-reader. Her father's library was large; and he had admitted into it so many books which rigid moralists generally exclude that he felt uneasy, as he afterwards owned, when Johnson began to examine the shelves. But in the whole collection there was only a single novel, Fielding's Amelia.
An education, however, which to most girls would have been useless, but which suited Fanny's mind better than elaborate culture, was in constant progress during her passage from childhood to womanhood. The great book of human nature was turned over before her. Her father's social position was very peculiar. He belonged in fortune and station to the middle class. His daughters seemed to have been suffered to mix freely with those whom butlers and waiting-maids call vulgar. We are told that they were in the habit of playing with the children of a wig-maker who lived in the adjoining house. Yet few nobles could assemble in the most stately mansions of Grosvenor Square or Saint James's Square, a society so various and so brilliant as was sometimes to be found in Dr. Burney's cabin. His mind, though not very powerful or capacious, was restlessly active; and, in the intervals of his professional pursuits, he had contrived to lay up much miscellaneous information. His attainments, the suavity of his temper, and the gentle simplicity of his manners, had obtained for him ready admission to the first literary circles....
Garrick, too, was a frequent visitor in Poland Street and Saint Martin's Street. That wonderful actor loved the society of children, partly from good-nature, and partly from vanity. The ecstasies of mirth and terror, which his gestures and play of countenance never failed to produce in a nursery, flattered him quite as much as the applause of mature critics. He often exhibited all his powers of mimicry for the amusement of the little Burneys, awed them by shuddering and crouching as if he saw a ghost, scared them by raving like a maniac in Saint Luke's, and then at once became an auctioneer, a chimney-sweeper, or an old woman, and made them laugh till the tears ran down their cheeks....
With the literary and fashionable society, which occasionally met under Dr. Burney's roof, Frances can scarcely be said to have mingled. She was not a musician, and could therefore bear no part in the concerts. She was shy almost to awkwardness, and scarcely ever joined in the conversation. The slightest remark from a stranger disconcerted her; and even the old friends of her father who tried to draw her out could seldom extract more than a Yes or a No. Her figure was small, her face not distinguished by beauty. She was therefore suffered to withdraw quietly to the background, and, unobserved herself, to observe all that passed. Her nearest relations were aware that she had good sense, but seem not to have suspected that, under her demure and bashful deportment, were concealed a fertile invention and a keen sense of the ridiculous. She had not, it is true, an eye for the fine shades of character. But every marked peculiarity instantly caught her notice and remained engraven on her imagination. Thus, while still a girl, she had laid up such a store of materials for fiction as few of those who mix much in the world are able to accumulate during a long life. She had watched and listened to people of every class, from princes and great officers of state down to artists living in garrets, and poets familiar with subterranean cookshops."