(Continuing the narrative that began here.)
Letter the Eleventh: Sir George Purvis to Miss Amelia Purvis.
My dear Sister,——
I am yet at Grimthorne. As I expressed my firm Resolution to depart the Place in my previous Letter, it would be but reasonable that you should expect some Explanation for my Change of Heart. I have none, except to say, That Doctor Albertus has great Powers of Perswasion, and that, having listened to his reasoned Arguments, I felt more than a little Shame at having so easily given Rein to my Imagination. —But I ought to be truthful in writing to my own Sister: Reason has less Part in my remaining here, than my own Fascination with the Automaton herself: For she is a Phaenomenon unlike any other Thing, or Person,—you see I know not how to speak of her,—that I have encountered, and the mere Observation of her is, in a manner of speaking, an Education in Natural Philosophy.
When Doctor Albertus met me in the Morning, I began, as I told you I would, to express my Intention to Depart; at first, desiring to avoid Offense, without giving my particular Reason; but at length, under his Inquiries, telling him of the Incident in the Night-time, which I have narrated in my previous Letter. At this he laughed, (and you must know, my dear Amelia, that the man’s Laugh is like a Bellow,) and told me, That he was not surprized to hear me say I had seen Spirits, for that he did verily believe that the Abbey was haunted.
I own I had not expected to hear him express such a Belief, and told him as much; whereupon he reply’d, “O but thou misunderstandest me, Sir George; I do not believe that Ghosts or Spirits have any Existence of their own.”
“But is not that what we mean,” I asked him, “when we say that a House is haunted by spirits?”
“Indeed, I have no Doubt but that it is the common Sense of the Word; but thou and I, Sir George, who have more Philosophy in us than the vulgar Peasant, must not limit our Thoughts by the vulgar Speech of Peasants; we must define our Terms with Care, arriving at such Definitions as are most appropriate to the Subjects of our Discourse. Now, when I say that the Abbey is haunted, I mean that it produces such Associations of Perceptions as will readily lead the Mind to imagine Spirits, and many other Things stranger still. Look about thee, Sir George: Behold the Relick of a darkened Age, when Men sought not Philosophy, but referred every Action of Nature to the Activity, either of a Demon, or of an Angel, according as the Occurrence tended to their Detriment, or to their Benefit. This was a House of Monks; which is to say, That it was a Garden, in which the Flowers of Ignorance were as carefully tended, as we might cultivate a rare Tulip. And indeed the greater Mass of Mankind lives yet in that Age of Darkness, meeting the Phaenomena of Nature, not with Philosophy, but with Superstition. And we, who worship at the Altar of Knowledge, and disdain vulgar Superstition, are yet Men, the Children of our Age, and of that Age of popish Ignorance which built this House, and which is not yet so far removed from us, but that we can reach back a few Generations, and touch it: That Darkness, which prevailed in the Days of the Monks, yet dwells within us in a dormant State, ready to be awakened, as the Seed awakes in the Spring. Now, when we plant that Seed of Darkness and Ignorance in such Ground as this, which is (as I have observed already) nothing less than a Garden built for the Cultivation of such Ignorance,—who, Sir George, who can doubt, but that it will sprout, and flourish, and be nearly as fruitfull as it was when the popish Monks of this Place made it their sole Occupation to cultivate Ignorance, and root out Knowledge? Nay, without the constant Working and Exercise of the rational Faculty, the Darkness may overshadow us, and the pure Light of Reason be extinguished, in such a Place as this. But I chuse rather to stand against the Darkness, and overcome it, and strengthen my Reason, as a Soldier is strengthened by Battle; nor do I believe that thou, Sir George, art made of such pliant Stuff, that thou wilt not prevail, when once thou hast set thy Reason against the Unreason of thy Fancies.”
With such Words as these the Doctor attempted to perswade me to regard the Events of the Night as Fancies, and no more; and I owned myself nearly conquered by his Arguments. But the Conquest was completed at Breakfast; for once more we had the Automaton herself to serve us. I find this Creature infinitely delightful: For in her the Attractions of Beauty (for her Face and Form are Works of the greatest Artistry, and worthy of one of our most admired Sculptors) are joined to the superior Enticements of Curiosity. Her Movements are halting and awkward, to be sure; but her Actions betray so much of Intelligence, that I can the more readily believe it, when Doctor Albertus calls her a new Soul, and the Mother of a Race of living Machines. Surely we have too constrained a Notion of Reason, if we deny it to such a Creature as this; and the Purity of her Soul, if I may speak as Doctor Albertus does, makes her a worthy Object of Contemplation, and the Occasion of many fruitfull Conversations with the eminent Doctor, in which I have learned much of his Philosophy. This consideration it was, then, which removed my last Doubts, and determined me to stay at Grimthorne Abbey: For to leave the Abbey, was to leave the Automaton, and my Opportunity of observing that Creature, or Object, which has made a Captive of every Conversation in London.
To-night, then, I am again in the Room at Grimthorne, the Room which swallows Tapers, and in which every fleeting Fancy in the Night-time takes Form as a Spirit or Ghost; and I own that, as I scribble these few final Lines to you, I question in my Heart why I did not leave this Place as I had intended. Yet I am here, and my Eyes are heavy; Sleep, which fled me last Night, beckons me now. If there are Spirits in this House, I shall beg them to let me rest to-night, and promise to give them more Attention the next Night. I shall write you again on the Morrow: Until which Time,
I remain, &c.