Letter from Pertinax Townly

Miss Porden

Grosvenor Square
May 1816

Well Mr Editor I have been three weeks a Benedick and do not yet repent my determination. In sooth my Erminia has a mind more cultivated, and manners more polished than I had ventured to hope. Her attachment to me is unbounded and her disposition improves on me daily. Nor do I care for the smiles of my acquaintance. Whatever cloud veiled the cheesemonger’s daughter, it must be lost in the lustre that environs her as Lady Townly; and tho’ a certain Lord of literary celebrity has endeavoured to acquire renown by rendering his bride miserable, I shall seek distinction in a more pleasing and more honourable path, the attempt to make mine happy.

Lord and Lady Aircastle intend spending a few years on the continent, for the purpose of making personal acquaintance with the savants of France and Italy, and of studying the glaciers of Switzerland with a view to elucidate a new theory of his Lordship’s respecting their formation. Their house and furniture are therefore to be disposed of by private contract, and at my Erminia’s proposal I went with her to a private view of the premises. Those who inspected the Princess of Wales’s deserted mansion in Connaught Place may have some idea of the wildness and confusion that prevailed there.

An Egyptian sarcophagus of massy granite supported a sylph holding two ornamented gas-burners. Round walls

“Where sprawl the Saints of Verrio and Laguerre”

six figures of heathen gods, ten diameters high, in the perfection of French bad taste, surrounded an exquisite piece of Grecian sculpture and a Gothic hall table which supported a shapeless Hindu divinity and a terrible saucer-eyed idol of feathers from the Sandwich Islands. So much for the hall. In the dining room I remember little particular. The sarcophagus form of the wine coolers, tho’ not very appropriate or pleasing in sentiment, being too common to deserve remark. In the drawing room was a complete suit of Norman armour, with a waxen face in the lifted vizor. In one corner was a cromlech, and thro’ the door I perceived a corresponding rocking stone in the saloon. The only piece of real taste here displayed was the following quotation from Mason’s Caractacus which marked its base

Thou spirit pure that spreadst unseen
Thy pinions o’er this ponderous sphere,
And breathing thro’ each rigid vein
Fill’st with stupendous life the marble mass
And bidst it bow upon its base
When sovereign truth is near.
Spirit invisible! to thee
We swell the solemn harmony
Thou, that in virtue’s cause
O’er rulest nature’s laws
Hear us and aid!

Pause then, celestial guest!
And, brooding on thine adamantine sphere
If fraud approach, Spirit! that fraud declare,
To conscience and to Mona leave the rest.

A Grecian tripod ornamented with hieroglyphics, let in a handsome piece of old English china, to make a well table, in which, covered by a glass were wax preparations of the human heart and the veins of the hand. On the chimney piece were a set of M. de Luc’s voltaic columns, whose bells kept up a perpetual chime. Drawing aside a curtain which I imagined protected some rare work of art, I discovered a skeleton. On entering a superb conservatory, I bent down to smell a tuberose, and was surprised by an electric shock. As Darwin and others thought electricity favourable to the germination of seeds, all the plants here are kept constantly electrified. Perceiving a strongly disagreeable odour, in a spot whose gales ought to be redolent of fragrance, I found it to proceed from a magnificent collection of the pothos, whose lurid flowers have exactly the scent of carrion. In short, neither beauty, utility, nor fragrance were here regarded. The plants were rare, and that rarity made them valuable.

The laboratory to which we next proceeded was full of all sorts of impossible engines and crowded with machines as complicated in their mechanism as futile in their effects. The library was, if possible, still more ridiculous. It was filled with all the wildest dreams of science from the days of alchemy downwards, and upwards too, I believe. Treatises on the Elixir Vitae, the Philosophers Stone, Animal Magnetism, Witchcraft, Apparitions, and the Man in the Moon, and other subjects as mysterious and as profitable.

One bookcase entirely filled with books superbly bound in red morocco, was on inspection consisted solely of works dedicated to Lord Aircastle, especially during the celebrated controversy between points and balls, or the big-endians and narrow-endians, in which his Lordship took so distinguished a part some years ago. I took up one of the latest works and found it to be the paean of the grand Waterloo Bridge of tenacity, without arches, but stretched from pile to pile across the river. As this bridge is very high, a considerable length will be necessary to carry off the slope, and as the knocking down of so many houses as would otherwise be necessary, be attended with incalculable expense, it has been proposed to carry the bridge over them, while to prevent inconvenience to the piers of the bridge, leading from each of the sub-pontial streets.

Near these were another set of shelves similarly filled with Lord Aircastle’s own writings, sumptuously apparelled in royal purple — but, I have not time for a further detail of absurdities. Lady Townly summons me to attend her to the opera.

Believe me
Dear Editor
yours sincerely

Pertinax Townly