Margaret Anne Doody wrote this about the character Briggs in her introduction to the 1988 Oxford edition of Burney’s second book, Cecilia, 1782: “It is one of the novel’s inventive triumphs that Briggs, far from being the stereotyped wretched miser, is one of the most vivacious characters. He lives in perpetual complete enjoyment of himself and what he is worth: he his self-love needs no supplement from the comforts or pleasures that lesser men enjoy.” See: Briggs: possessing every supplement naturally by making everything conform to his stratagem: to evaluate -- dressing himself for a masquerade ball in clothes that have been borrowed from a sweep and “pointing with a sneer” at the fake pearls on Sir Robert Floyer’s Turkish turban because they are not real, they are valueless, they are “nothing but French beads.” By the logic of the masquerade it doesn’t matter that the pearls are not real but Briggs’s understanding does not change when he leaves his house, it doesn't change according to anyone else’s wishes: it is never modified, it gets more violent, and his miserliness gives him an arsenal of rudeness, which he loves. His costume does not contribute to “the general air of gaiety diffused throughout the company,” it stinks (“an offensive smell of soot, making everybody look around the room”), it repels (“the company, with general disgust, retreated wherever he advanced“), but he is proud of it because it was cheap, and, in fact, he is glad – “All the better” -- when it is unique and annoying.
"How could this blackguard get in?" cried the Turk, "I believe he's a mere common chimneysweeper out of the streets, for he's all over dirt and filth. I never saw such a dress at a masquerade before in my life."
"All the better," returned the other; "would not change. What do think it cost?"
"Cost? Why, not a crown."
"A crown? ha! ha! -- a pot o' beer! Little Tom borrowed it; had it of our own sweep. Said 'twas for himself. I bid him a pint; rascal would not take less."
The sweep outfit is genuine, and it has a genuine effect, people run away from the smell of soot, while they do not react to Sir Robert’s costume as if the man inside is genuine Turk, nor do they treat a man in a black devil costume as if he is really an evil supernatural monster, and the book notices – Cecilia notices as well – that most people do not try to be genuine, it is not important to them; they do not try to stay in character at the ball. “[A] Minerva, not stately nor austere, not marching in warlike majesty, but gay and airy … ran up.”
"To own the truth," said Cecilia, "the almost universal neglect of the characters assumed by these masquers has been the chief source of my entertainment this evening: for at a place of this sort, the next best thing to a character well supported is a character ridiculously burlesqued."
The book calls a woman ignorant because she is dressed as a haymaker but doesn’t have any idea how haymakers live. “And pleased with her own readiness at repartee, without feeling the ignorance it betrayed, she tript lightly on.” Cecilia values genuineness, the book goes along with her tastes and supports them; Briggs loves genuineness though his is a different species of genuineness, but money-valuing makes him say things that have the same conclusion as her variety of genuineness – when he sums up Sir Robert’s outfit further: “never mind gold trappings; none of his own; all a take-in; hired for eighteenpence; not worth a groat." Robert Floyer’s self is not worth anything either; he looks good but he’s piggish. Cecilia knows it: she won’t marry him.
I think she deserves to feel the strange disgusted attraction towards Briggs that David Copperfield feels for Uriah Heep, but the book, as of page four hundred and eighteen, where I am, has made her react to his unpropriety with mannerly, clear distancing – and yet the example of his self-confidence standing in front of her fear deserves to be weirdly alluring (she is not as retreatful as Evelina, but still, she likes corners, she silences herself, ‘to avoid any hazard of altercation, she discreetly forbore making further complaints”) – she can’t get the black devil man away from her, she is at a loss, but Briggs, being a sweep, has a shovel, and he shovels him. “The fiend then began a yell so horrid, that it disturbed the whole company; but the chimney-sweeper, only saying, "Aye, aye, blacky, growl away, blacky, -- makes no odds," sturdily continued his work, and, as the fiend had no chance of resisting so coarse an antagonist without a serious struggle, he was presently compelled to change his ground.”
And then, patting her cheek with his dirty hand, and nodding at her with much kindness, "Pretty dove," he added, "be of good heart! shan't be meddled with; come to see after you.”