May 25 1814
Since the letter I took the liberty of writing to you on my first establishment at this Institution, I have refrained from troubling you again, not imagining that my humble fortunes could have much to interest the Attic Society; but as I find that all the adventures of this house are reported of their amusement, the offering of my mite no longer appears presumptuous.
Sir Pertinax has, I understand, related to you a scrape he got into lately, when some verses of my composition but purchased by the Baronet to cover his own idleness, happening unluckily to make his dilemma worse, he chose to disown them. I need not vindicate myself, Mr Editor, for everyone must see that when a gentleman purchases and uses the productions of another as his own, he takes them for better for worse, and must abide by the consequences.
Of all our serio-comic philosophical farces, none have been more piquant than one which was acted the last day of Lord Aircastle’s visit. His Lordship and our superior were so long closeted, that we were all on the rack of expectation, when a huge waggon load of apparatus arrived and our philosophers came forth to direct the unloading. When the whole lawn was covered and the pupils assembled, Lord Aircastle explained in a speech replete with learning the object of his preparations — a Balloon, Mr Editor! not merely calculated to raise the aeronaut to become the sport of winds and often the victim of an idle and endless curiosity, but to send our enterprising youth like a flight of wild geese through the air, guided by a sagacious old one. How would it increase the preponderance of Britain, were she enabled when two rival nations are contending, like the frogs and mice in the fable, to send an aerial army with the power and swiftness of the cranes, who settled the dispute by devouring both parties! But I must not attempt to imitate his Lordship in declamation.
Not Friar Bacon, nor Bishop Wilkins[^1], nor even the philosopher in Rasselas, ever contrived such a combination of machinery as his Lordship had put together and tacked to his balloon. He appears to have combined every species of wings, oars, and rudders devised by the French Aeronauts and the consequence was that the machine became so heavy that when, after a whole morning spent in adjusting it, our Patron and Electromagus, with a pomp and ceremony worthy of a Covent Garden Melodrame, were seated in the car, and the ropes were cut, it rolled about so close to the ground that poor Electromagus was jolted out, and on the point of being left behind; however, by a surprising agility, he scrambled in, at the expense of a sprained thumb and a broken shin.
They now began to rise above the earth, but not above the apple trees, the car unluckily hanging in the branches of a large one for some minutes. By the exertions of Dick the Gardener, who climbed to their assistance and by casting out all their ballast, they cleared this formidable obstacle, leaving hats, wigs, and handkerchiefs dangling messengers of their passage.
At this period the sound of a Greenwich Coach on the road caught my ear, and reminded me of my unfortunate mother, who, disappointed of the protection she had flattered herself with the hope of [obtaining] from the Attic Society, in her profession of a stocking cleaner and dyer, had removed to Greenwich on the invitation of a Blue Stocking Club newly established there. The temptation to seize this opportunity
of carrying her a pittance I had earned by writing for the Reviews was too strong to be resisted, and I left Mrs Bustleton to adjust her quadrant and telescope for taking the altitude of the balloon as it rose, Sir Pertinax to flirt with Lady Olivia (when he could succeed in withdrawing her attention from Philemon’s ingenious and sarcastic remarks) and Miss Stormont in the midst of a sentimental descant on the unfortunate Pilatre de Rosier.
But what was my surprise, on arriving at Greenwich to find our voyagers on the point of descending there in no very enviable plight. Their balloon torn, their machinery broken, and their rapid course towards the water only stopped by a stack of chimneys. Here some benevolent chimney sweeper attempted to relieve them, but before they could mount the flues, the balloon again broke loose and the passengers were dashed into the river, to the great diversion of the mob, who had long followed them with shouts and laughter, but who good naturedly joined to haul them out of the water. I shall not attempt to describe the mortified pride of science shown in the countenances of our disappointed projectors; Lord Aircastle still unconvinced of the futility of his plan, Electromagus ashamed of being seen in so ridiculous a situation. They slunk away to a chaise, and I hastened to dispatch my business, that I might not be found absent from my studies.
I have already trespassed so long upon your patience Mr Editor, that I must leave it entirely to Mr Beauclerc to describe the discipline prepared for Sir Pertinax, who is contrived at once to give me my revenge for his impertinence and to diminish the arrogance of his pretensions in a certain quarter.
I am, Sir
Your devoted and faithful servant
Atticus Scriblerus Jr.