Positive Hall, Mar 3rd 1814
Perhaps it may be a new discovery to you, that sorrow has as many fantastic freaks as mirth. I am a most unfortunate man; yet I have placed myself in an institution fit only to create laughter. Tired of the world because my very soul is alone; of of reason because it reproaches my grief, I take refuge among fools. Honest men, it is said, distinguish each other by certain peculiar signs, like freemasons; but, I must own, very few of those signs are visible here. Our patron, Lord Aircastle, arrived last night. Never had smoke-dried philosophy a fitter herald! His eyes twinkle like two ill-managed gas-lights; and his person would resemble an oblate sphere standing on parallel poles, if the curve in his shoulders did not give him a stronger similitude to the spout of his own air-pump. Cuvier would be puzzled in what class to place him, for he seems to have neither dorsal column, nerves, or brains. Yet these women flatter him! Plato says there are only 4 kinds of flattery, but a modern lady would have taught him a thousand. Thanks to my supposed poverty, they never flatter me. Judging by himself, Sir Pertinax Townly supposes I came here to avoid my creditors; and I encourage the report; first, because it preserves me from any cobweb-sensations among the female boarders; and secondly, because Atticus Scriblerus might propose to borrow my money too often, if he knew its abundance. The roque is as poor and as cunning as his father.
But Lord Aircastle’s passion for chemical phantoms has not blinded him to the realities of his ward’s beauty and fortune. He has brought her here under pretence of giving her that poetic genius which no fashionable seminary affords. I feel an uncontrollable contempt for this philosophic kidnapper; and mere disinterested pity will induce me to watch Olivia. Neither the Leyden phial nor the Tuscan grape could excite me to one strophe of panegyric; and I excused my want of verse on Lord Aircastle’s arrival, by pretending that an excessive charge had decomposed my nerves; tho’ I might have found an old copy of an under-graduate’s ode on the last Cambridge Installation. Electro-Magus came to my bedside this morning and threatened to try the effect of a Galvanic battery, alleging its known influence even on a dead calves head. I escaped by pretending a sudden Pindaric inspiration, and promising to make my prize essay a chef d’œuvre. Our patron accepted the honied panegyrics of my companions as a sponge swells with the water it imbibes: and we are now instructed to enter into competition for a wreath of laurel in a gold box which will reward the best poem produced on the day of his departure [which is destined as the annual prize by the candidates at the close of the season]. I am almost ashamed of my part in this Electro-poetical farce, yet it amuses me. I rest better when my head is full of trifles, as a pillow stuffed with hops is said to procure sleep. Rest, not pleasure, is now the only hope of your friend and correspondent
P.S. I found the annexed fragment at my door this morning, dropped perhaps, by Lady Olivia’s abigail who seems to be a pupil of Electro-magus. Whether it is designed for me, for Sir Pertinax, or for Lord Aircastle himself, I leave your attic wisdom to decide.