Letter from Sir Pertinax Townly

Miss Vardill

Positive House, Decr 10th 14

Have you heard of the gold box, friend Editor? I shall not fail to put in my claim for it, as an honest Israelite has promised to give me its value. Our Ephesian Matron’s Prose Essay, I suppose, will be the first chapter of a novel in verse, poor Beauclerc seems composing a Romaunt in the Newstead Abbey style, and Rodelinda Stormont will dephlogisticate herself, perhaps in a Sapphic epistle to her Phaon who won her heart, it seems, by throwing a pebble, with ineffable grace, into the Lake of Lausanne. I have not yet determined on what subject I shall take the trouble of pairing original rhymes. Lady Olivia probably will have recourse to some nursery-legend unless I stimulate the electric fluid by a little flirtation. This benevolent purpose came into my head last night, and finding myself very harmoniously inclined, I took my oboe and a ready-made sonnet to serenade Lord Aircastle’s blue-eyed protegée. Now, as all philosophic mansions are the most inconvenient things in the world, it happens that there is a passage from my chamber to the garden without crossing the laboratory. However, knowing that our mistagogue was busy in preparing a specimen of his phantasmagoric art to amuse his patron, I equipped myself in a disguise which promised safety, and having chosen a seasonable moment, I presented myself in the laboratory. Electro-magus was sitting alone lighted only by a blue lamp and the glare of his furnace; his face black with the fumes of his crucible, and his table covered with a diabolical apparatus of hygrometers, rhomboids, and parallelograms. As for me, I had wrapped my person in a long ragged cloak, my head in a conical cap and suspended two Dutch ovens on my arms according to the usual costume of that celebrated librarian, Maybechi, whose apparition, I thought, would be least formidable to Electro-magus: and thus attired, I intended to pass before him to the garden-door with a soft ghost-like step. But whether he really believed my figure an optical illusion of his own creating, or the absolute guise of a kindred fool, I know not — Unfortunately he was most unphilosophical in his surprise. A frightened man, I have heard, has no curiosity at all; and so it seemed, for he instantly leaped over his table and rushed into the gallery where his cries were suddenly overwhelmed by others still louder. Finding my progress to the garden impossible, I made my escape thro’ the darkness of the gallery, tho’ not without stumbling over poor Electro-magus who seemed entangled in the grasp of a female foe, not so immaterial as phantoms usually are. Imagine with what self-congratulation I returned safely to my own apartment: but when we assembled this morning, our Patron viewed us with a “vinegar aspect” and announced his surprise at a nocturnal tumult in Positive House. We looked upon each other, I believe, rather suspiciously; and sundry symptoms of scratches in the Dowager Mrs Bustleton’s face were not unobserved. I flattered myself that Electro-magus would have ascribed the clash to an explosion in his laboratory; but he did not choose to impeach his chemical skill: and as Beauclerc seemed blest with gravity enough to baffle an inquisitor, I ventured to direct Lord Aircastle’s eyes to him with a significant shrug. But the mischievous Dowager confounded us all by producing a paper found, as she protested, on the field of battle. Upon my whole soul I wished her in the monument of her namesake’s husband for this unlucky paper had dropped from my pocket and contained a song intended for Lady Olivia’s serenade. Besides, to own the truth, it was interlined with some awkward attempts to convert it to an Ode on Aircastle himself. However, Fortune favored me as usual. I recollected this previous morceau was in the handwriting of Atticus Junior, and I laid the whole affray to his charge. This, you know, was no uncommon act of friendship: and as he really is the cleverest wit in All-fools College, I thought this dilemma would display his talents. But Atticus did not seem to understand a gentlemanly act of kindness, and whispered some words in my ear which almost provoked me to the grossièreté of a “reply churlish” — He had the impertinence to hint that having bought the song, I ought to have acknowledged it as my own; and unless I rescue him from the consequences, he threatens to make certain discoveries to your Editorship. As the punishment imposed on him for disturbing the peace of Positive House is only a week’s fasting, I have endeavoured to persuade him that it will expedite the effects of electricity on his genius, and be a healthy recurrence to his usual way of living. But he is deaf to reason, and has begun a letter to the Attic Chest. Let him vent his spleen: — I have lived too long in the beaumonde to fear any kind of notoriety. Besides, Philemon Beauclerc’s sour looks and the Dowager Bustleton’s revengeful zeal leads me to suspect that I am more interesting to our fair associates than I intended. For what purpose could she have hid herself in the gallery last night unless jealousy induced her to watch my steps? Indeed, from some words which I overheard, I suspect she mistook poor Electro-magus for me, and the discolorations of his forehead incline me to rejoice at the mistake. Really, a fine figure and a silver tongue are dangerous distinctions, but the usual penalties of with and elegance must be incurred by

Pertinax Townly

I enclose a copy of the ill-starred song, but don’t believe what Atticus will say about the money I promised.

To the Editor of the Attic Chest