To Nobody, then, will I write my Journal!

The first page of Burney’s journal, 27 Mar 1768
From ‘Diary & letters of Madame d’Arblay (1778-1840)

Born in Norfolk in 1752, Frances Burney was fifteen when she began to keep a journal, and this entry, in which she identifies her audience, was the first she ever wrote. For 72 years she continued, by which time she was a famous novelist—most notably as the author of Evelinaor the History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World, published anonymously in 1778—and a playwright. She had even, in 1786, taken on the role of ‘Keeper of the Robes’ to Queen Charlotte, and from 1802 until 1812 she found herself interned in France with her husband during the Napoleonic Wars. Thankfully, she recorded it all in her invaluable journals.

The Diary Entry

Poland Street, London, March 27

To have some account of my thoughts, manners, acquaintance and actions, when the Hour arrives at which time is more nimble than memory, is the reason which induces me to keep a Journal: a Journal in which I must confess my every thought, must open my whole Heart! But a thing of this kind ought to be addressed to somebody — I must imagine myself to be talking — talking to the most intimate of friends — to one in whom I should take delight in confiding, and feel remorse in concealment: but who must this friend be? — to make choice of one to whom I can but half rely, would be to frustrate entirely the intention of my plan. The only one I could wholly, totally confide in, lives in the same House with me, and not only never has, but never will, leave me one secret to tell her. To whom, then, must I dedicate my wonderful, surprising and interesting adventures? — to whom dare I reveal my private opinion of my nearest Relations? My secret thoughts of my dearest friends? My own hopes, fears, reflections and dislikes? — Nobody!

To Nobody, then, will I write my Journal! Since To Nobody can I be wholly unreserved — to Nobody can I reveal every thought, every wish of my Heart, with the most unlimited confidence, the most unremitting sincerity to the end of my Life! For what chance, what accident can end my connections with Nobody? No secret can I conceal from No-body, and to No-body can I be ever unreserved. Disagreement cannot stop our affection, Time itself has no power to end our friendship. The love, the esteem I entertain for Nobody, No-body’s self has not power to destroy. From Nobody I have nothing to fear, the secrets sacred to friendship, Nobody will not reveal, when the affair is doubtful, Nobody will not look towards the side least favourable.

I will suppose you, then, to be my best friend, (tho’ God forbid you ever should!) my dearest companion — and a romantick Girl, for mere oddity may perhaps be more sincere — more tender — than if you were a friend in propria personae – in as much as imagination often exceeds reality. In your Breast my errors may create pity without exciting contempt; may raise your compassion, without eradicating your love.
From this moment, then my dear Girl — but why, permit me to ask, must a female be made Nobody? Ah! my dear, what were this world good for, were Nobody a female? And now I have done with preambulation.

Further Reading

There have been multiple published editions of Burney’s journals over the years, beginning two years after her death with a seven-volume set edited by her niece, Charlotte. Those early editions are long out of print and can be found on the Internet Archive; however, also worthwhile is the Penguin Classics book, Frances Burney: Journals & Letters.

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