Letter from Atticus Scriblerus

Miss Vardill

Mr Editor

You have caused me incalculable disasters by publishing the Hermits’ advertisement respecting their renegade Brother; but as even my disasters might be magnified, I choose to explain them myself. Last week our provincial newspaper contained this mysterious assignation.

“The Ex-Hermit is desired to visit the Red Lion Inn near Positive House tomorrow at 6 o’clock.” And on the following day two new notifications appeared which promised still more.

1st “If the Fugitive from St John’s Dale can bring vouchers of his connections, fortune and reputation, he may expect a friend at the white gate of the churchyard this evening.” The second advertisement was couched thus “Let the Pilgrim walk near the park-wall between two and three this afternoon, and he will hear something to his advantage.”

You are not ignorant, Mr Editor, that my fortune depends upon chance and it seemed very reasonable to avail myself of the fair chances offered to the deceased Pilgrim. Fortunately the hours of appointment varied, and the park-wall claimed my first attention. Being a public and favorite promenade, I concluded that some gentle belle had chosen this place of rendezvous to give her an unsuspected view of the Pilgrim. I began my walk, therefore, in a suit reserved for such occasions, and precisely as the clock struck three, as Mrs Radcliffe says, a female figure glided towards me and thro’ the folds of an ample veil I recognized the sublime Rodelinda! Both started with a ridiculous air of guilty confusion, but Rodelinda’s first distinct idea seemed to be a hope of dismissing me as an unwelcome obstacle to a more interesting rencontre. I might have claimed some merit for my ingenious devices to prolong the conversation: she was equally dexterous in hints that the Voltaic Battery might require my attendance at home; but finding me immovable, she suddenly fixed her eyes upon me, and paused with a sublime air of sentimental elevation. “Sir,” she said, “I have long perceived our sympathy of souls, and applaud this ingenious stratagem to procure an interchange of ideas — Your silence is the rhetoric of ineffable emotion, and compassion impels me to avow that there is no obstacle!” Then closing her veil with theatric grace, she vanished — I hope without examining my looks, which must have expressed something very like the sensations produced by Electromagus’s battery. But I comforted myself by considering that my next assignations might supply me with a pretext to resist this sympathy of souls, and I made haste to reach the Inn designated in the first advertisement. Hardly had I seated myself before the landlord whispered, “A lady, Sir,” and the door was opened to a simpering damsel whose tasseled pelisse and plumed hat announced her station. “My lady, Sir,” said the pretty ambassadress presenting a sealed billet, “is quite in a coruscation because she had no letter from you since your last rencontre and she hopes you won’t keep me waiting now because I am going to bring a basketful of eggs from her Papa’s Repository.”

Pardon my curiosity, Mr Editor, for breaking a lady’s wax, yet I scarcely condemned it myself when I read these lines on hot-pressed paper in a charming Italian hand.

“Do not detain my messenger, my dear Pilgrim, unless you can aid me opportunely. Cupid seems to have learnt the new system of tactics, and prolongs his campaign by delays and retreats. As you are his experienced aide-de-camp, I must beg you to devise a plan of assault, or this seige which we have begun will be as long as the Iliad. Can you not discover whether that machine in Sir Pertinax Townly’s left side is of cork, lead, or ductile gold? I have tuned my dulcimer among rose-trees, dropped sonnets in hollow trees, and played with my fan at public balls till my poetry, dulcimer, and best fan are worn out. You owe me some further help, for I shewed Lady Olivia the concealed meaning of your wreath, and sent her Impromptu Reply which our vain Sir Pertinax, I find, has appropriated it to himself. His dropsical vanity requires more medicine, and we must supply him with the foxglove of flattery. Send me a few more love-songs by the bearer. If you have none in your own portfolio, purchase two-or-three from your sonnet-weaver A. S. and place them to the account of Erminia.”

Notwithstanding a little pang of mortified self-love at the last sentence, I felt that justice required some compensation for my curiosity, and having a shred of poetry in my waistcoat pocket, I folded it in Erminia’s billet for her use. The simpering Iris looked as if she had expected more, but ran back with due speed and secrecy to her Juno.

As you may believe, Mr Editor, my conscience was healed by this gratuitous gift of my poetry, and I prepared without remorse and with high expectation for my last adventure. The leisure hours of my earlier youth have been devoted to dramatic amusements and I am deemed no indifferent mimic of Lord Aircastle. A flapp’d hat, false nose, and muffled legs with a large wrapping-coat procured from one of his valets on a former occasion, completed my resemblance to his grotesque figure; and the friendly shadows of evening had begun to gather when I stationed myself in the churchyard where the epitaphs of Electromagus’s old patients amused me, till a female step claimed attention. As if this day had been predestined for disappointments, I saw — not one of the finest order of fine forms, according to my hopes, but a witch-like Duenna, bent double, as it seemed, with age, and wrapped in a red cloak whose close hood scarcely shewed the nose and chin of a most haggard face. Two figures better suited to a churchyard never met. My courage began to fail, but I summoned enough to say, “The Ex-Hermit!” — “I am only an Agent,” replied the spectre, “but pray, are you only forty years old?”

“Something less, madam!” I answered, “tho’ the vigils of science have wrinkled me. As I was invited to meet a friend, I expect an explicit communication.”

My incognita paused and looked on the churchyard with a gesture, which implied her thoughts of my appearance. “The lady, sir, whose deputy I am, will require vouchers of your family and estate — and — excuse me, sir! — as there seems some probability of widowhood, a settlement will be requisite.”

“I have no objection, ma’am, to settle my estate in Terra Australis upon her, tho’ I think the probability of widowhood a sufficient encouragement.” — “The lady is a widow already,” replied my negotiator, “and unluckily was not provided as usual when her last husband died; and tho’ as you say the prospect is encouraging, a note of hand cannot be given in the matrimonial way without the value received.” — “Charming Mrs Bustleton,” I exclaimed, “no disguise is sufficient to conceal your wit tho’ it may envelope your beauty, and I flatter myself that Lord Aircastle has long been the secret object of your studies and expectations!” My Sybil gently dropped her well-contrived mask and replied in her most silver-sweet tone, but with a tremor which betrayed some alarm, “Ah, my dear Lord! I am not surprised to find the elegant and generous Pilgrim in Lord Aircastle for the refinements of science and sensibility may blend — but as I have already said, I am only deputed — only commissioned by a fried who imagines she has some claims on the mysterious Pilgrim; and your lordship may judge of the excess of my friendship by the sacrifice I make of my own feelings.”

This was really quite intelligible, and demanded some encouragement from me. My voice was attuned to my Lord Aircastle’s softest accents as I replied, “Fair Artemisia, if your friend resembles you, she can have no claim which would not delight me to acknowledge; but if, as I may be allowed to suppose, she is only in quest of an advantageous settlement, she must borrow your attractions before she can obtain my coronet.”

This, Mr Editor, was no absolute departure from the truth, and in such seducing circumstances, I could say no less. The enchanting smile and tender airs which she thought fit to assume provoked me to add, “Really, Mrs Bustleton, if you have remained ignorant of my admiration till now, you must ascribe my hesitation to some delicate ambiguities in your own conduct.” The widow dropped her eyelids with an air worthy one of Guido’s beauties, and replied, “Surely Lord Aircastle cannot have been deceived by a few little civilities extorted from me by Sir Pertinax Townly’s persecutions? A few occasional smiles were necessary to soften Mr Beauclerc’s ferocious philosophy, and Mr Atticus Scriblerus is never so exquisitely ridiculous as when I endeavour to make Rodelinda jealous.”

At this critical moment of Mrs Bustleton’s explanation, a laugh so violently suppressed that it resembled a groan was heard behind a gravestone and as I began to apprehend that my widow meant to involve me promises which Lord Aircastle might not be disposed to fulfill, I rejoiced abundantly when Mrs Bustleton covered her face with her hood and fled swifter than a spirit of night. But my adventures were not yet closed. The churchyard gate was opened by a man humbly desirous to know if Electromagus might have the honour of expecting me at supper? This messenger, sent perhaps by the malicious spy behind the tombstone, threw me into inexpressible confusion. There was no expedient but to seem dumb. The Stranger repeated his question with due civility and taking my arm led me to the churchyard-gate where in still deeper consternation, I saw a splendid carriage and three tall men in Lord Aircastle’s livery. “We have him safe now,” cried my conductor, “he shall waste no more of his heir’s estate in lecturefrying and phizallajee. Lift him gently in and if we drive well, he will be at home with Dr Willis before daylight.” Guess my agonies, Mr Editor! The coachman suddenly gazing at me exclaimed, “I do think he has had a peripatetic stroke at last! How his eyes glaze and how strangely his nose is awry! This comes of meddling with gas-lights and cunning jars!” — “Ay,” added the footman, “and of keeping company with such dealers in boetry and calvinism as that cheat who calls himself Hattickus Scribble. I remember giving him 6d. apiece for letters to Betsey Speller, when he wrote for bread in Little St Thomas’s Alley. But he’s lost his speech too, I dare swear, or he would have made us a speech before now.”

“So much the better,” rejoined my conductor, “we shall carry him with less trouble.” I profited by the hint as there seemed no chance of escape. My attendants closed the chariot-door upon me and drove off. When it stopped at an inn on the road to Dr Willis’s Repository, my sensations were rather uncomfortable; but availing myself of my supposed infirmity, I allowed my guards to deposit me in a bed-chamber and made sundry strange grimaces to indicate want of speech when they asked questions and offered me gruel. A nurse, twin-sister, I suppose, to Shakespear’s Sycorax, came to watch my bed, and I had the felicity of hearing a thousand anticipations of strait-waistcoats, cataplasms and flagellations. But at length the chamber was abandoned by all except the nurse who, seeing my quietude, resigned herself to peppermint and sleep. Tho’ I have so long inhabited Positive House, I felt horror at a removal to any other hospital for lunatics, and an unbarred window invited me to escape. I borrowed the round-eared cap, long cloak and every other article which I could find of my nurse’s apparel, and forced myself thro’ the propitious window. Before day-break, I reached Positive House and crept in at the risk of its reputation and my own life, down Mr Beauclerc’s chimney. Now, Mr Editor, unless your attic influence can persuade Lord Aircastle to decide our contest for the Prize before report is busy with these adventures, I am ruined! — My hard-earned laurels will be blighted, my salary from Electromagus stopped; and a garret with Rodelinda must end the career of

Your unfortunate but industrious servant

Atticus Scriblerus

My shred of poetry will soon be published, no doubt, by Sir Pertinax as a tribute from the enamoured Erminia.