Being the Substance of
A LETTER to the Hon. ****

Dear Sir,

I Am desired by the Marchioness of Setstar to give you some account of those young Gentlemen and Ladies whom you saw enter the saloon the morning you left us, and who came to his Lordship's seat on an adventure the most extraordinary and the most to be admired of any I ever knew. You may remember it was holiday time, and these little gentry being come from school met first at the Countess of Twilight's to divert themselves; where they were so divided in their taste for amusements, that warm debates ensued. One proposed Threading the <2> Needle, another Hot-cockles, a third Shuttlecock, a fourth Blind-Man's-Buff; and at last Cards were mentioned. Master Telescope, a young Gentleman of distinguished abilities, sat silent, and heard all with complacency and temper till this diversion was proposed; but then he started from his seat, and begged they would think of some more innocent amusement. Playing at cards for money, says he, is so nearly allied to covetousness and cheating, that I abhor it; and have often wondered, when I was at Bath with my papa, how people, seemingly of years of discretion, could so far mistake themselves, and abandon common sense, as to lead a young urchin just breeched, or a little doddle-my-lady in hanging sleeves, up to a gaming-table, to play and bet for shillings, crowns, and perhaps guineas, among a circle of sharpers. Parents, continued he, might almost as well teach their children to thieve as to game; for they are kindred employments, and generally terminate in the ruin of both fortune and character. Lady Twilight, who is no friend to the modern modes of education, smiled at this young gentleman's remark, <3> and desired him to point out some diversion himself. 'Tis impossible for me, Madam, says he, to find out an amusement suitable to the taste of the company, unless I was perfectly acquainted with their dispositions; but were I to chuse, I should prefer those which not only divert the mind, but improve the understanding: and such are many of the diversions at the school where I am placed. We often play at sham Orations, comical Disputes, measuring of Land and Houses, taking the Heights and Distances of Mountains and Steeples, solving Problems and Paradoxes on Globes and Maps, and sometimes at Natural Philosophy, which I think is very entertaining, and at the same time extremely useful; for whether our knowledge is acquired by these amusements, and reading little books, or by serious and elaborate study, what is obtained will be equally serviceable: nay, perhaps that which is acquired in the entertaining manner may have the advantage; for, as it is conveyed to the mind with a train of pleasing ideas, it will be the more permanent and lasting, and the easier called up by the memory to our assistance.


The Countess was very desirous of knowing what sort of diversion could be made of Natural Philosophy; and finding her young visitors in the same disposition, she conducted them to the Marquiss of Setstar's, that they might have the use of proper instruments. As my Lord Marquiss was engaged in company, Lady Twilight, though nearly related to his Lordship, would not disturb him, but led them through the saloon into a private parlour, where our little Philosopher, at the request of her Ladyship, immediately opened the Lecture, without making idle excuses, or waiting for farther folicitations, which he knew would be ill manners.

© 2023 The Newton Project

Professor Rob Iliffe
Director, AHRC Newton Papers Project

Scott Mandelbrote,
Fellow & Perne librarian, Peterhouse, Cambridge

Faculty of History, George Street, Oxford, OX1 2RL - newtonproject@history.ox.ac.uk

Privacy Statement

  • University of Oxford
  • Arts and Humanities Research Council
  • JISC