Mr Solve-Query’s Papyrostatic Experiment

Miss Appleton

Mr Editor

I beg to lay before your worthy Society the enclosed strange billet from a friend, with the reply.

I am, Sir, etc.


Dear Quiz

A silly fellow at our club* started two questions last night — whether a fish sleeps? whether a plain sheet of paper weighs as much as one written on? Jack Takeall took the affirmative side, for which reason I betted against both. Prithee give an opinion.


P. Lovebet

* The Query Club

P.S. We never answer questions, ourselves, in our club, we only start them. So thou knowest, good Quiz, we must be obliged to our friends for deciding for us when we bet.


I reply to thy question with a great deal of pleasure, because it hath led me into several very agreeable experiments on the subject proposed; and I herewith enclose thee my observations.

As touching what thou said’st concerning the fishes, I have nought to do with that, and so leave it. But the second question is pleasant enough; moreover, I wished to oblige thee, and to work I immediately went with my experiments, since as thou knowest, or mayest have heard, experience is the test of all wisdom.

I began by weighing a quire of charmed paper; then took one of the four and twenty sheets, and weighed it in a pair of my friends Merlin’s magical value-scales. I proceeded with the others, and clipped and pared till I brought them to a nice and exact weight with the pattern. Then I distributed them amongst four and twenty men and women, and requested them to indite, or copy, each, a letter, one page in length upon the subject most familiar to them, individually. In three days, the whole quire was returned, and I immediately began my calculations; some of which I enclose for thy satisfaction.

Thy friend,


(Here follow the results)

  1. A sheet of paper written on, surely weighs more than one plain. But,
  2. That the weight of a letter depends on its value; and its value on the style and business of the writer.

Experiment 1

A lady’s love epistle, with a physician’s letter and prescription.

Heart, sigh, tenderness, happiness, being-near, soft, joy, alas! flown, ungrateful, absence, delightful day, ah me, &c. &c. were balanced with constitution, case, considered, understood, nature, beffled, effecting, radical, permanent, alteration, prescription, causes, plethora, repletion, paralytic, exercise, perturbation, accountable, operation, phlebotomy, &c. &c. and Latin words as: Vitriolat, Zinc, Hydrary, Nitr. Purificat, Alumim, Calomelanos, Sp. Mindererus &c. The physician’s letter contained 80 words less than the breathings of a lady’s love; but the medical scale sank down with tremendous weight, and the love letter flew high in the air, made its way to the chimney, was sucked in by the current, and was never seen more. This phenomenon was succeeded by one as strange: The Narrator was proceeding to take up the physician’s letter, convinced it was of inestimable value, when he found it adhered so closely to the scale, that it could not be removed without injury. He therefore determined to wait and observe. Presently, there appeared a little swelling like a blister; then a second, then a third, till at length the whole was inflated as a bladder. With astonishment he gazed, when on a sudden, the whole burst with a loud report resembling a huge crackling pasteboard which bubbles and bursts in fire. Dust only was all that remained of this precious deposit, and this the Narrator has carefully preserved in the intention and certainty of finding a use for it.

Experiment 2

were on the letters of an Old Maid and a politician. That of the former was copied from one written by her to her maid, when she left home for a few days. The weight of the words, be sure, young, particular, care, dear Tommy, poultice, sore paw, night, morning, dear love, desire, little Tabby, be fed, her little silver dish, just same if home, and kitten too. Don’t forget, comb, Flora’s, twice, day and curl, long, ears, tail, silver paper, have, seen, me, do, &c. &c. were opposed to executive government, administration, financial system, procedure, enacted, policy, finally, official, document, produced, parliamentary, grounds, strength, party, Majesty’s ministers, Responsibility, welfare, Empire, prosperity, &c. &c. Report, Committee, Expenses, State, &c. &c. The two letters were both placed in the scales, but as quickly as they were fixed, they both slipped out different ways. Ten times were they replaced, and ten times did they fall out, and were wafted to opposite corners of the chamber. At length, the philosopher put over each epistle, a penny piece to keep it in order. These were the consequences: The lady’s letter curled, and twined, and twisted, and doubled, and cockled, and shrivelled, till a small piece of yellow old parchment subsided in the scale; and, in the which, however, the copper piece was tight enclosed. The second letter increased as much as the other letter had diminished — it stretched, expanded, and grew, till it became an amazing slip of many hundred yards. Then, as the Narrator looked on, it began to roll and wind, and spin itself, till it formed the most extraordinary complicated mass of a thousand colours, that ever human eyes beheld. The experimenter lifted the ball from the ground, and on setting it on the table, observed these words on a label: “The who strives to disentangle me, to see the complicated structure of my frame, loses me forever. I fall to nothing if I am disturbed!” This curiosity is, therefore, screened from too nice observation by a glass case, and all the vulgar who would view it, may do so, but with eyes only, not by touch.

These are the four first experiments. The remaining ones if thou wilt, another time.

Jacob Solve-query