Letter from Annabella Squib

Miss Flaxman

Tabby Hall November 18th 1812

Dear Sir

As you are already apprized of the existence of Annabella Squib, Spinster further introduction will be superfluous. I shall therefore immediately proceed to tell you that I have waited with great impatience for Miss Nettletop, using her right of seniority, but though the marmalade is finished, no letter that I know of is begun, and I can wait no longer.

Miss Quickset has written to you, I know, but not one glimpse of her delectable epistle could I get. Notwithstanding I tried all honorable means for that purpose. Pray, sir, did you not experience a sensation of numbness like that occasioned by the touch of the Torpedo while reading her frigid, tedious, homily? But doubtless there is a greater portion of electric fluid in your atmosphere than in that which surrounds the aimiable Prudentia and this might prevent the chilling effects which would otherwise take place from the touch of anything coming directly from her head and hand; heart is totally our of the question, for whatever proceeds from that little Nova Zembla causes inevitable putrefaction; this I trust is not your case, and in that hope I shall proceed.

I conclude that it was from Master Secretary you had the names of the damsels (Cupid help us!) who form our Society, for that frozen fortification Quickset would not write about anyone I suppose but herself and that good kind of body Becky Nettletop who is really a very nice, comfortable, sort of a Lady Bountiful, and she has a Book, Mr Editor!

Oh that you could see her Book! It was a legacy, sir, from her great aunt Mrs Prunella Posset, a lady who but you should hear Becky describe her and her works. Water works (i.e. strong waters) and fire works, preserves and confections, you know dear Mr Editor are five works, oh she was a clever woman! The Model of perfection recommended on all occasions for our imitation but I take it for granted that our good busy sister Nettletop is just like her, and I confess that tho’ her orange puddings are delicious and her sack whey vastly restorative, I am not ambitious of emulating her honours.

But I have not yet told you what this invaluable book contains. Recipes, sir — not to be matched by the celebrated Mrs Glasse or those notorious professors whose heads stand so quaintly side by side on the frontispiece of their Book of experiments. Men whose practise as well as theory is daily acknowledged by amateurs of unquestionable taste.

Then, sir, by way of supplement to this work (to heal the conscience of the good Dame for having transmitted to posterity so much temptation) there follows a number of recipes of another kind intended to remedy the mischief done by the culinary lore above mentioned.

The good soul would cure all our maladies if she could, and colds, agues, and feverets she may cope with and vanquish with the aid of such auxiliaries as the cook and the gardener. But what, my dear sir, can she do with whims and fancies such as attack some of us? Poor Miss Saccharissa Sophia Murmur for instance, who (entre nous) has been seventeen times crossed in love, she, poor thing, weeps like a fountain at the bare mention of la belle passion, and then her sighs frequently blow the powder out of Dr Cardamom’s wig, while she holds her pocket handkerchief to her face taking care to leave part of one eye at liberty that she may know whether our handsome chaplain observes how interestingly she looks in tears.

And then there is Miss Croaker with her legion of Honour y’cleped Blue Devils. Not all the cordials in the Attic Chest would wash them out of her pericranium, and yet with all her Ohs! and Ahs! and Dear Me!s she diverts me mightily. The cat may not sit with his back to the fire, nor a poor invisible mouse take his evening promenade behind the wainscot but Miss Cassandra falls to her auguries and tokens, which though uttered in the most lamentable tone of voice and with the most doleful expression of countenance, excites my risibility beyond the laws made and provided by the sapient law-giver Chesterfield.

And here I will honestly confess Mr Editor that our thanks are due to Miss Croaker for the introduction of Messrs Physician and Apothecary, for we were really becoming most unspeakably dull. We go on now pretty well and are likely to be more enlivened for our family is about to be increased. You laugh Mr Editor, but I mean to say that we probably shall have very shortly two more inmates. One is at this time at Cheltenham. Her I am very desirous of having one of us. Her letters are delightful and I hear she is a woman of high birth, and is very fascinating in her manners and person. I would have our gentlemen take care of themselves.

The other is at Buxton pursuing her studies and she is rather an extraordinary character, I understand a mineralogist, a geologist, a chemist, a linguist, in short she is so many ists that I shall not be astonished should she prove a pugilist. Of course I shall be very civil to her. I am however glad of her coming as she is an oddity and winter is fast approaching.

I do imagine that disappointments of tender description lead these wandering heroines to our Valley, but pray good sir do not suppose that any weakness of the heart brought me hither. It was not absolutely so, but the fact is, that some time back I was upon the very point of being so desperately in love, as ever poor silly maiden was, in this world. Just then I very fortunately heard some friends of Mr Woodbine speak of the singular appointment he had accepted lately. They spoke of the plan being altogether Utopian, romantic, and impracticable. This was enough. Tempted by the description of the Society and its situation, I made a grand effort and took wing while Cupid happened to be looking another way, and now, me voicè, safe enough unless there is danger in friendship, as Miss Prudentia asserts, “that there is no such thing as unmix’d friendship between the sexes,” but I am determined not to believe her, as her notions in general are vastly ridiculous. When the strangers arrive I shall trouble you again. I remain dear Editor

Your most humble servant

Annabella Squib

If Miss Quickset has informed you that her friend Miss Nettletop is President of our Society she has deceived you. Another time you shall know the particulars. I cannot write more now for Mr Scratch is going to the town with all our letters and I see from my window that his horse is brought round to the door.