Letter from Electromagus

Miss Porden

Positive House

23 Dec 1813


The garrulity of the female sex and their natural propensity to communicate bad news have already informed you of my misfortunes, but I am left to be the herald of my own prosperity.

Soon after the event described by Affezionatissima, I was rescued from my desperate situation and restored to more than pristine splendor by the generosity of Lord Aircastle, whose zeal in the united cause of poetry and science has justly stamped him the Mecaenas of the age. By his munificence I have been enabled to realize my darling scheme, and give the fullest evidence of the importance of my discovery. I have founded a kind of college, composed of three ladies and three gentlemen students, who are to undergo a regular course of Electricity, proceeding gradually from the lower to the higher charges, as they may be found able to bear them; and their consequent poetical and other effusions are kept as examples of their progressive improvement, to be published for the benefit of the Institution, and specimens may occasionally be communicated to the Attic Society. It is proposed that once a year a subject for competition shall be nominated and the author of the prize poem, being considered no longer in need of my assistance, shall be rewarded with complete set of my patent electrical apparatus for his own use, and be dismissed accordingly. When it is remembered how few poets of real excellence have hitherto adorned the world, the numbers of my pupils will not be thought too limited: such gifts, to retain their value, must necessarily be confined to a few, while the annual change of one of the members will prevent them from being too much engrossed and the occasional ale of inspiration, while it enriches the Society and extends its celebrity, does not incur the danger of competition. My pupils have not been taken indiscriminately. Unless the germ be planted by nature, art vainly strives to produce vegetation. Where the seed has long lain dormant in a barren soil she may bring it to life and luxuriance, but she cannot create it. I therefore require of all those who are admitted within the pale of my instruction (besides producing a sensible effect on my patent electrometer at its approach to them) if they have not already dipped their maiden quills in Helicon, to have given at least some convincing proofs of that vivid imagination which characterizes a poet. The effects of electricity upon them (like those of the Cavern of Trophonius) will vary according to their peculiar tastes and dispositions, and produce the heroic, the sprightly, or the sentimental.

I subjoin a short account of my present inmates. Of the success of my experiments upon them it does not become me to boast. Their works will be its best evidence.

The first and dearest of my pupils is Mr Atticus Scriblerus, Junior, the son of that veteran bard whose works have afforded so much amusement to the Attic Society, and to the justification of whose memory I hereby retract all I have formerly said against him, having been seduced by the arts of an impostor into the belief that I was inspiring the Scriblerian Muse at a time when she depended upon herself alone. I had the satisfaction to recognize my error, and to form an intimate connection with the poet which, alas! was but too short in its duration. Of his merits it is unnecessary to speak; they are known to the world, and tho’ the pinions of his son are but newly fledged, yet as his first essays have shown no common strength of wing, I trust that under proper tuition he will soon soar on high, and emulate his father’s fame.

Fortes creantur fortibus et bonis
Est in juvencis, est in equis patrum
Virtus, neque inbellem feroces
Progenerant aquilae columbam.

Horace Ode IV Book IV

Young Atticus, Mr Editor, has expressed a desire to tell you his own story, and as time presses and he has abundance of poetical business already chalked out, I have for once dispense with a standing rule and allowed him to write to you in prose.

My next, Mr Philemon Beauclerc, is in the best sense of the word a philanthropist. Bred up to the law, he soon became disgusted with the annals of crime, and quitted a profession which made him acquainted with only the worst part of his species, for the study of physic. But in this he did not succeed, tho’ his persevering application had made him acquainted with the depths of the science — he could not flatter his patient by disguising his real danger, or court the favor of the hypochondriac by adding to his catalogue of imaginary diseases. His conversation, rather distinguished for sound sense and solid reasoning, than for brilliant wit, or rather that miserable affectation of point which so frequently usurps its name; and his manners, always polite, but never courteous, were less likely to ingratiate him with the fair than that insinuating address, that easy flattery and careless gaiety that have ushered so many of our physicians to opulence and fame. He had a second time changed his course and was busied in preparing for the church, when hearing of my establishment, he sacrificed all to the love of poetry and fame, and became one of my pupils. His frequent disappointments have not soured his temper. He is still a lover of human nature and of nature in general. Early experience has in him united the wisdom of age to the gaiety of youth, and tho’ he frequently indulges in playful satire, in which he excels, his smiles are not (to use the words of an author whose transient gaiety they finely characterize) “like roses o’er a sepulchre”. His may truly be called the eye “that seems to love whate’er it looks upon.”

He worships Nature in the hill and valley
Unknowing that he loves, but loves it all.

The objects of his wit may themselves laugh with him at the satire which improves them.

My third pupil, Sir Pertinax Townly, is of a very different character, light and airy in his disposition, an elegant rather than a deep scholar, he is always an amusing, but seldom an instructive companion. His compositions, or rather his effusions, are of the kind which have been denominated Vers de Societé and altho’ often pleasing from a neat elegance of compliment, a delicate turn of thought and expression, or an occasional flash of wit, they are seldom distinguished for much depth of thought, but his point is often more apparent to himself than to his readers. I confess that he is the least promising of my disciples, but as he possesses some talent, and had made considerable improvement under my tuition, I have great hope of his finally distinguishing himself in the sentimental walks of poetry, tho’ he can never equal the moral and epic flights of his rivals.

With respect to the ladies — Of my first pupil, Lady Olivia Gossamer, I must speak with delicacy, as I received her at the request of my patron, who deems her a model of female excellence and, I believe, looks to her hand as his remuneration for the sums he has expended in the foundation of this establishment, when she shall have added the wreath of poetry to the long list of arts, sciences, and accomplishments, ancient and modern, by which she is already distinguished. But I fear that both his ambition and his love will be disappointed, that she will be content, rather from want of perseverance than of strength, to loiter in the flowery valley at the foot of Parnassus, rather than ascend its lofty brow, and will prefer the youth and gaiety of Sir Pertinax Townly to his age and eccentricity. She is not, indeed, deficient in natural talent, neither is it uncultivated, but it has been allowed to waste that strength in leaves and shoots, which, under different management might have afforded valuable fruit. A solicitous yet injudicious attention to the cultivation of her mind has directed ti to a multiplicity of objects, without allowing time for the due contemplation of any, to the complete destruction of a habit the most beneficial, that of industry and perseverance. Her mind is like a garden, which, frittered by the false taste of its owner into a number of fantastic forms, loses sublimity without acquiring beauty, and disgusts us by the evident interposition of art and the tedious want of variety. But enough — you will soon be better acquainted with her.

My next, the Dowager Mrs Bustleton, is the widow of a gentleman of very large fortune, whose death about three months ago materially altered her circumstances. She has tired much in a fashionable circle which revolved around her as its centre. Her Balls, her Routs, her At Homes, her Dejeuners, her Evening Banquets, her Concerts, have swelled many a column in the Morning Post and her spacious mansion was frequented as the emporium of elegance and profusion. She was also a votary of science. The professors of the Royal Institution felt themselves honored by her attendance on their lectures and the fortunate adventurers in science or the arts were solicitous to obtain her favor and support before they obtruded their discoveries on the world. Their merits were discussed by the select coterie that assembled at her evening conversazione, and whoever obtained her favor was almost secure of that of the fashionable world, and thro’ that of the public. She was the acknowledged patron of poetry and belles lettres, and was herself an authoress. Innumerable were the works which have been dedicated to her, and her novels and poems, tho’ always published anonymously, were as constantly betrayed by their elegance of fancy and purity of style. She has felt the loss of her beloved consort with the keenness of a susceptible mind, and forsaking the scenes of gaiety, now seeks consolation and distinction in the smiles of the muses.

The third lady, Miss Rodelinda Stormont, is the pupil of Delphine and Corinna, the child of sentiment and enthusiasm. She has travelled over a great part of Europe, and the picturesque beauties of nature are an inexhaustible storehouse for her fancy. She has a fine imagination, and her Pegasus is capable of long and lofty flights, but he sometimes disdains the curb and soars beyond the bounds of reason, yet even in these excesses he shows the spirit of a noble breed and will, I trust, under proper management, be speedily qualified for the war-horse of Apollo himself.

Such, Mr Editor, are my pupils and, operating on such minds, I trust you do not think the hopes I entertain of their becoming ornaments of their age and country too sanguine. I have not time to detail to you my particular mode of treatment, but you shall soon hear more from

your most obedient
humble Servant