Letter from Sir Pertinax Townly

Miss Vardill

Positive House

Dear Sir,

It is an old adage that “one fool makes many,” so behold me, late one of the leading stars in the hemisphere of fashion, now shut up in a large house, with five others as foolish as myself, to receive the instructions of the Arch-Mistagogue (alias Stulta-gogue) Electro-magus, the greatest fool of us all; so that the title of All-Fools College may safely be transferred from the Royal Institution to us. His mansion having been recently erected, and being situated on the Kent Road, next door to the new Bedlam, is generally supposed to be one of its appendages, and we stand a chance of being dubbed maniacs as well as fools.

Electro-magus pretends to make us all poets; but I never in my life felt so much inclined to prosing as since I came here, perhaps because prose is interdicted: and we are not allowed to converse or even ask each other for the salt at the table, except in rhyme, (like the shoemaker and his man) to sense’s exclusion, and grammar’s confusion, “for a taste,” as Touchstone says.

His electricity, he pretends, is to give us inspiration, but I fancy I am not one of the Elect, as the only sensations it inspires me with are those of being pricked with a thousand needles, or beaten to pieces with a parcel of rods, which are rather painful than poetical. The other day (horrisco referens!) he thought me qualified for an Ode and discharged the Leyden Jar upon me; but alas! my head is too weak. It knocked me down; and I laid, stunned with the shock and the fall, almost as terrific as its first discoverer Cunaeus, in no very poetical condition; and determined like him, never to risk my neck again fro all the laurels in Christendom unless it be to gain the prize, that I may escape from this horrible place. It is the most uncivil and ungentlemanly kind of inspiration I ever heard of — worse than a brandy-bottle!

Hunger, it is said, has made many poets and not to lose the benefit of its assistance Electro-magus insists on his electricity (like all other physic) being taken fasting: and we are not allowed to breakfast till it has taken effect, so that if our Muse be a little sluggish (as mine often is) we may be half-famished before she can be roused. Our master says this mode of treatment will infallibly confer immortality upon us; but I fear our mortality will be proved if it continues much longer. But these are not all my grievances! I am in momentary fear of running against some of the wires connected with the great battery, and having my unfortunate limbs dispersed over the earth in a shower of invisible globules; or of approaching, like Professor Ritmond of Petersburgh, too near one of the conductors during a thunderstorm and distinguishing myself as the second martyr to electrical science. I really begin to believe (what I never before suspected) that either my nerves or intellects are weaker than those of my neighbours, as they seem to sustain higher charges with impunity. Mr Atticus Scriblerus indeed seems rather fond of the discipline. He sits down a writes till he finds the heat of his imagination cooled down to temperate. When he applies to his master and few sparks or a stroke send him soaring to boiling heat in a start of the sublime! The ladies, too, like Professor Cunaeus’s wife, who was willing to dare a second shock of the Jar, seem to have more courage than we; but this may be from a natural propensity of their sex, which was always fond of sparks. Were it not for them, I should have been defuncy long since — the sparks of their eyes are infinitely more inspiring to me than those of the machine, and I believe I owe it to their aid in eliciting a few madrigals and sonnets, that my muse has hitherto preserved me from famishing. I can see the dear creatures are all ready to pull caps for me; so I am forced to divide my attentions pretty equally, for fear of consequences, which in a house stored with implements of mischief like this might be more fatal than those of the bowl or dagger. I have not time to describe these sweet blossoms to you, as we are all in a bustle for the projected visit of our patron, Lord Aircastle next week, whom we must greet with becoming dignity of verse, and hail as a second Augustus. For my part, I shall see if some of my old love verses which Electro-magus has not yet seen, cannot be turned to apply, and thus save me the plague of new ones. Farewell, therefore, Friend Editor, pity the fate of a miserable votary of the muses, and do not tell of me as were I known to have written in prose, a treble dose would be the punishment and probably the decomposition of

Your most obed. Serv.

Pertinax Townly