Image of Frances Burney, 1782 (painted by Edward Francesco Burney) The Burney Centre at McGill University




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The Journals and Letters of Susan Burney

Music and Society in Late Eighteenth-Century England

Philip Olleson, University of Nottingham, UK

Published by Ashgate Press

Susanna Elizabeth Burney (1755–1800), known to all as Susan, was the younger sister of Frances Burney, to whom she was exceptionally close. She grew up in London, where she was able to observe at close quarters the musical life of the capital and to meet the many musicians, men of letters, and artists who visited the family home. After her marriage in 1782 to Molesworth Phillips, a Royal Marines officer who served with Captain Cook on his last voyage, she lived in Surrey and later in rural Ireland.

Susan Burney was a knowledgeable enthusiast for music, and particularly for opera, with discriminating tastes and the ability to capture vividly musical life and the personalities involved in it. Most of her journals and letters, a selection from which is presented here, are addressed to Frances, and thus complement Frances Burney’s own journals and letters. They provide a striking portrait of social, domestic and cultural life in London, the Home Counties and in Ireland in the late eighteenth century. They are of the greatest importance to music and theatre historians, and also contain much that is of  significance and interest for Burney scholars, social historians of England and Ireland, women's historians and historians of the family.

Ian Woodfield of the Queen’s University of Belfast writes: 'Susan Burney's wonderfully vivid picture of social and musical life in London and the Home Counties during the 1780s comes in a hitherto unpublished series of letter-journals. The jewel in the crown for music historians is her amazing record of a year in the life of the Italian opera company at the King's Theatre. We are transported back into its world of gossip and adulation as leading castrati mingled with their aristocratic backers. Her extended set-piece descriptions are full of richly perceptive observations about music and the way it was performed.'

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