Letter from Pertinax Townly

Miss Porden

Dear Editor

This morning at twelve o’clock we assembled in the saloon, with our poems in our hands, and the gold box on the table, awaiting the arrival of Lord Aircastle. Hour after hour rolled on in tedious expectation, certain internal sensations announced the hour of dinner, but still Lord Aircastle arrived not; we waited another hour, when just as Atticus had said to Mrs Bustleton with a malicious smile, that he hoped his Lordship was not again detained by his kind friend Dr Willis, he made his appearance with many execrations against the turnpike man at the Marsh Gate for having kept him so long. This genuine lover of science you know can never do anything in an ordinary way, and scorning the aid of his horses had determined to visit us in his new self actuated, steam driven chariot. Having just fitted up this superb vehicle with as much parade as that of Mr Romeo Coates, after his own designs and at a vast expense, he was seized with a sudden fit of economy and determined to resist the demand of the toll at the turnpike. A fierce dispute began, the turnpike man insisting that the chariot should pay for its wheels, as a chariot, and Lord Aircastle contending that as it had no horses it did not fall under the act. Neither side was inclined to yield and a contest began a furious as in the celebrated trial about the Black and White Horses. How long it might have lasted is uncertain, had not the steam acquired new energy by confinement, and after shaking the carriage in an extraordinary manner, at last gave a jerk that carried it over the turnpike gate and rolled it on more briskly towards Positive House, with a general laugh from the mob which had been collected. Lord Aircastle thinks this accident an advantage to him, as it has suggested an additional apparatus for leaping hedges and ditches.

When his Lordship had finished his relation, we prepared to recite our poems, but I believe the whole company rejoiced in his unphilosophical impatience, when he desired to have dinner first. This important ceremony completed, we reassembled in the saloon and Philemon in a clear and distinct voice, but with little of theatrical grace, recited Estrella. Lord Aircastle received it with a silence little creditable to his taste, which had either been dulled by the more substantial viands on which he had just banqueted, or did not find the dish sufficiently high-seasoned for his palate. There was no personal flattery to relish it. Next the blushing, the unaffected, Lady Olivia read her fragment of Christabelle, and never did she appear so lovely. Had her diffidence permitted her to have done justice to the poetry I think ti scarce possible that even Lord Aircastle should have been unmoved. But neither her modest elegance nor the brilliancy of her fancy excited in him the least emotion. For my own part she absorbed my attention so completely that I quite forgot it was my turn till Electromagus summoned me to commence “The Fairies’ Isle”. Of this poem, Mr Editor, you have already formed your own estimate, and it is impossible that I should be an adequate judge of my own powers of recitation, tho’ as I have been in the habit of making speeches in the manner of most of our distinguished orators of both houses, with great éclat, and as I was generally selected to fill the principal characters at our school plays, I believe they are not despicable. After the bad success of Mr Beauclerc and I believe Lady Olivia, it was in vain to hope that true taste should preside on this occasion, and I was the less surprised at the coldness of my reception, tho’ I certainly was not prepared for the Bravos that burst from our Midas judge at the heroic epistle of Miss Stormont. There was enough to Burlesque in it for him to mistake for sublimity, and the languishing affectation and assumed modesty of her manner excited that admiration which even Lady Olivia had failed to inspire, and when she ceased her recitation the warmth of animation subsided into the glow of triumph. Next Atticus began. His theatric starts and pompous declamation were certainly not suited to the simple story and chaste colouring of Darcy, yet some of its most interesting passages, must I expected have excited the attention even of Lord Aircastle. But no, they only soothed him to slumber, from which he was not aroused till Mrs Bustleton with matron grace and characteristic energy, recited the exordium of the Aeronautiad. Her figure in such a situation has from is size impressive majesty, her voice is good, and a wish to please, or rather a confidence in her own powers, lent it unusual force. She gave every point of the poem its full effect and ridiculous as some parts are to a serious critic, they were only the better adapted to charm Lord Aircastle. Before she had spoken a dozen lines, it was easy to see for whom the laurel was destined, but when casting down her eyes and assuming an air of sudden bashfulness, she commenced her encomiums on his Lordship, then kindling with her theme, launched into a bolder and more animated style. I could not help admiring the excellence of her acting, and joining in the plaudits which Lord Aircastle bestowed on her conclusion. When however he announced that she had won and should wear the laurel everyone but myself and Philemon appeared surprised and dissatisfied. A cloud overspread the face of Electromagus, Lady Olivia, tho’ humbly expecting nothing for herself seemed to wonder that the prize was not destined to Philemon and to me, Rodelinda gave a scornful smile and tossed her head in proud disdain, while Atticus’s cheeks were suffused with the deepest crimson. “What a fool was I,” whispered he, “to give the Aeronautiad to Mrs Bustelton and stake my own fame upon a serious poem. I ought better to have known the taste of this pretended critic, but I will yet be even with him.”

Electromagus had been summoned to bring the golden wreath, when the clock struck one, and it seemed as if the sound overpowered Lord Aircastle with fatigue. “Excuse me madam,” said he, “the honours due to yur superlative merits ought to be conferred in haste, and I have also some little consequent arrangements to make, we will therefore defer the ceremony of coronation till morning.” He then retired. We followed his example and I sat down to detail you this days events. If you find it rather dull, accuse the increasing drowsiness of

your very faithful

Pertinax Townly