(Continuing the narrative that began here.)
Letter the Ninth: Sir George Purvis to Miss Amelia Purvis.
My dear Sister,——
I have spent my first Night at Grimthorne Abbey; and that it was not also my last, is the strongest possible Testament to the Respect I feel for Doctor Albertus.
This House is not a Place most Men would chuse to live in. The whole Country round about seems blasted by some malignant Power. Nothing grows save some Scraps of Grass interrupted by bare Stones, so that the Land is fit only for grazing a few miserable Sheep. The Sky as I arrived yesterday was overcast with a Sheet of undifferentiated grey Clouds; and so it is to-day as well, so that I begin to believe the Land is never struck by unfiltered Sun-light.
My first View of the Abbey was not of the House, but of the Tower of the antient Abbey Church adjacent. This Church is a ruin, but the Walls still stand to a considerable Height; and the Tower, intact but for the Top of it, can be seen from an Eminence in the Road at least a League away. No Trees impede the View, and more of the House discovered itself as I approached. On the Outside it appears to be very little altered from the Time of the Popish Monks. It must, however, have been better kept when it was a religious House: For the weighty Gothick Pile must require a full Complement of Laborers to keep it from falling into Dilapidation, and it is apparent that but little Labor has been expended on it for many Years.
The Warmth of the Welcome I received from Doctor Albertus could not entirely dispel the Cold which penetrates every Corner of the Edifice. Doctor Albertus lives an eremitical Life indeed when he is in the Country: For, aside from one ancient Housekeeper, he appears to have no other Servants; and as there are, in my Observation, no Houses for a Mile round about, he must receive very few Visitors. Such Solitude must be conducive to his Work, but he shewed evident Delight at having a Companion for the Evening.
Our Supper was modest Fare, but it was the Manner of Service that was remarkable: For the Automaton herself served us, nor could we have asked for any more attentive Domestick. Her Movements were as halting and awkward as ever; but not a Dish was dropped. Doctor Albertus remarked, That in Times to Come, every Household might well be served by such Domesticks, which require neither Food nor Drink, and which expect no Pay for their Labor.
“From Time immemorial, Sir George (quoth he), Men have served Men, at certain Times willingly, but far more often unwillingly. And in very Truth there is little Difference between the two Cases. Mistake it not: A Man is a Slave, whether he serve in Perpetuity, or whether he serve for a Term; whether he be compelled, or whether he be paid; for just so long as he serves another, he is a Slave, and he must either resent the Slavery, or be something less than a Man.
“Now, as long as there is Labor to be done, so long must there be Laborers; but why must the Laborers be Men? Must the Sweat of our Brows ever be the Price of our Subsistence? Would it not be a much better Thing, if the Race of Men were freed from all degrading Work?”
“Yet the vast Numbers of Laborers (I reply’d) must have some Occupation, must they not? For without their accustomed Labor, would they not be Idle? And would not such Idleness be their Ruin?”
“But thou art idle, Sir George (quoth he), art thou not? Thine Idleness has not been thy Ruin. On the Contrary, that same Idleness has been the Cause or Occasion of thine Accomplishments. Do not mistake me: I do not suppose that the uneducated Millions of Laborers shall be idle’d at once, and left to find their own Way; for thou know’st, and I know, that they would waste themselves in squalid Amusements, and descend into Filth, and Crime, and Immorality. But their Children are as malleable as yours will be, Sir George: They are, in a Manner of Speaking, blank Tables, on which can be writ whatsoever we desire. You received a Form of Education, which depended on your Idleness; by which I mean your freedom from the Necessity of menial Labor, which if course is no Idleness at all, but rather the Occasion of your Accomplishments, which occupy your Time as entirely as the Labors of the meanest Farm-hand occupy his.
“Now, suppose for the Moment, That these Children of Laborers should be educated, not in manual Labor, but as you were educated, in Art, and Letters, and Philosophy, and all those Things which elevate us above the Class of Laborers. Would they not be like us? And with a million more Men of Learning, a million Philosophers, would not the Earth be a more rational Place? Let the Labor be done by Machines whose Purpose is Labor; and let Men be free’d to be Men; which is to say, Creatures capable of Improvement, and the most noble Thoughts, given only that they should be exempt from menial Labor.”
In such Wise we discoursed for the greater Part of an Hour; but as much as I desired to hear the Opinions of the eminent Doctor, I betrayed all the Signs of that Fatigue, which is natural after so long a Journey over such uncultivated Country. Doctor Albertus, perceiving as much, postponed our Conversation until the Morrow, and shewed me to my Room, leaving me quite alone, as it appeared, in one entire Wing of the House.
My Room in the Abbey was cold, with unpredictable Draughts, and a Damp no Fire could dispel; and tho’ I was prodigal with Doctor Albertus’ Candles, yet the Irregularity of the Room defy’d their Light. No Matter where I placed the Tapers, most of the Room seemed doomed to languish in Shadow. The Ceiling was so high that no Light reached it, save that a few Scraps of antient Gilding dimly reflected the Flames, like Stars in the Firmament. It seemed to all Appearances that the Walls ascended infinitely into the nocturnal Heavens. In such Circumstances, ’twas no small Feat to sleep at all; but, on the other Hand, Wakefulness was an intolerable Burden. At last I fell into a fitfull Slumber, filled with strange Visions and Night-mares.
Most of these Fancies were forgot the Moment I woke: But one of ’em stuck with me, and even now, in the Light of Day, or the perpetual Gloom that passes for Day at Grimthorne, I am half perswaded that it was not a fanciful Night-mare at all. In the Stygian Blackness of my Chamber, I heard a Sound which I could not at once put a Name to. It seemed to draw nearer, and as it grew louder methought it was the sound of Clockworks clacking and hissing and grinding, as tho’ all the Clockworks in the World had come together and wound themselves up.
This morning the grey Light has slowly entered the Chamber, and dispelled the nocturnal Visions; and as I write, the unreasonable Terrors of the Night have vanished, and I am of a far more sanguine Disposition. You will forgive me, dearest Amelia, for the Length of this Letter; for my Excuse, I can only say, That your Companionship, even in Imagination, makes the Gloom more bearable;
Wherefore I remain, &c.
Continue to Part 11.