[Letters found during the much delayed cataloguing of the larger part of the Marquess of B-‘s collection of antiquities. The Museum accepted the bequest because it contained some very fine pieces which have been much exhibited, but the very substantial number of phallic and homoerotic objects accumulated by the Marquess remained in limbo until the late twentieth century.]
From Lord G- R- to the Marquess of B- at the Villa O-, near Naples, in their usual cypher
My dear old friend
I have done something I am sure you will consider of the utmost imprudence. It has long been in my mind to employ a secretary, for as you know I am increasingly active in the Lords and about a good deal of matters to do with reform as well as having all the business of my estates on hand. However, I was, as you may well understand, highly loathe to appoint some young man from among my general set, for one never knows what connections they may have to the Govt: that will encourage spying and informing, and persuade them that this is a virtuous and patriotick thing because of my seditious radickal views.
I have therefore been looking about among my more radickal sets for one that was an educated fellow in sympathy with those views, and through that means, made the acquaintance of a very clever young Scotsman, that is most entirely qualify’d for such a post, has studied the law &C&C, and has been scraping a living as such fellows do if they have no interest.
I fear, my dear, that you will think me quite mad when I go on to tell you that he is a fellow of the most remarkable attractions, that are not concealed by his wearing spectacles and having a somewhat severe expression. I also have the strongest suspicion that he is of the disposition: at which I can hear you laugh and accuse me of wishful thinking.
Nonetheless, I have offered him the place and he has accepted.
I think you would like him: he is of very remarkable learning, far beyond my own touch.
I may remind you that report continues to give me out as a leading favourite of the exquisite Madame Clorinda Cathcart, a lady of most exceeding wit and charm that relishes the masquerade, and whose supposed favours make me most envy’d. This goes a good way to divert suspicions.
Well, I know that do matters go awry I may count upon you to provide me with sanctuary.
As ever your devoted friend, G.
My dear old friend
I daresay you have been expecting these several months to hear that I have been embroil’d in scandal and have fled to the Continent, as you suggested in your letter rebuking me for my imprudence in appointing as secretary one that was like to turn out an austere Covenanter ready with denunciations.
Matters are entirely to the contrary tho’ it has taken some while to reach that happy conclusion.
Indeed for some months I was quite tormented by the sight of this beauteous creature, that I would see sitting at his desk, and have the most dangerous longing to ruffle that russet hair.
Then one e’en I was sitting drinking brandy in a somewhat melancholy mood – there had late been some distressing cases – and had quite forgot that there were certain matters of business I had asked MacD- to take care of with some urgency. So he comes to me, the matters all dealt with quite as anyone could desire, the papers in his hand for me.
I commend his diligence and competence, and, in my somewhat befuddled condition, make an allusion to his additional physical charms. Which I immediately regret, for apart from anything else, 'tis remarkable vulgar behaviour, such as I am quite sure you would chide me for. The colour rises somewhat in his cheeks – this was most extreme charming – and he responds that his charms can scarce compare with my own: which was, I think you may agree, most unexpected. He then says, very serious, that perhaps we should converse further on this when we are both sober.
There is no chance to have such a conversation for some days: I am entirely overwhelmed by various matters, he is busy, and then I take the bull by the horns and invite him to take a quiet private supper with me when the day’s work is done. The pretty colour comes to his cheeks again but he accepts.
Once we are sat at table, conversation comes somewhat halting, but a glass or two of wine loosens tongues without causing inebriation and MacD- conveys to me the views of the philosopher Bentham (whom he has met) on the subject of sodomy and how there is no logical reason why it should be considered a criminal matter, yet the general prejudice is so great that Mr Bentham dares not publish his thoughts. And a free-thinker, he adds, cannot submit to the religious strictures concerning the subject.
I take it, say I, that you find a personal implication in this. He gives me a fierce look, and allows that 'tis so.
Well, I say, I am myself of that disposition.
He looks most sceptical. There have been some matters of bills he has seen for trifles that I have bestowed upon the fair Clorinda: he was quite shocked upon discovering that fans could cost so much. I explain the situation, but I am not sure that he entirely believes me.
Indeed, I say, I think I could give you very firm proof of the matter.
Why, Your Lordship, he responds with a faint smile, do I apprehend that you solicit me to an act that the law, in its wisdom, deems criminal?
At this point I cease to talk and begin to demonstrate and things come to a most pleasing mutual gratification.
He is indeed a very fine fellow and I am quite extreme happy with how things fall out: tho’ I fear he much despises my fondness for dress and a fine vehicle, considers my usual set entire fribbles (a judgement in which he is not entirely mistook), and continues to suspect that there is something more than platonick in my arrangement with the lovely Clorinda.
Need I add, that we are both quite entirely conscious of the need to conduct ourselves with most extreme discretion?
How goes your plan of sending that magnificent creature Marcello to the university at Naples?
Your most devoted friend, G.