[It is not known how this set of commonplace books, inscribed on the flyleaves ‘AMacD’, first came into the library that now holds them. They can be dated to the early decades of the nineteenth century on the basis of internal evidence. As with the genre of commonplace books more generally, they contain a very wide and miscellaneous range of material, the connections between which were presumably too apparent to the compiler to need mention. One can discern a significant interest in the radical politics and philosophy of the day, with notes of conversations and lectures attended, extracts from books, and personal commentaries, along with an interest in contemporary literature and the theatre. There are what appear to be the beginnings of several novels and plays. There are notes and diagrams concerning the operation of ornamental fountains. Several passages summarise the state of the laws at the time, including the matter of recompense for the seduction of servants and various questions to do with marriage and separation, including the procedure to obtain a special licence. Although several pages are devoted to the subject of digitalis and its use in cardiac afflictions, there is a good deal less on medical matters more generally. The recipe for Atholl brose is a unique culinary item. A number of documents have been pasted in or can be found inserted loose between the pages, from details of the coaches to Edinburgh to a scurrilous, indeed scabrous, verse about Venus and Mercury. A curious element in these volumes is the number of passages in either cypher or shorthand: it has now proved possible to decrypt these passages, which are of considerable interest.]
Cypher notes from Volume 1:
Offered a most eligible post as secretary to Lord G- R-, which it would be foolish in the extreme to reject. When I first met HL [?His Lordship] I was inclined from certain signs to suppose him of the brotherhood, but discover that he is well-known to be one of the accepted favourites of that noted demimondaine, Madame Clorinda Cathcart. I saw them lately in his box at the theatre - much leaning close to whisper, playful tapping with fan &C - they make what is commonly called a very pretty pair. This is probably all to the best.
In spite of my knowledge that there is no utility in it, it would be the utmost of self-deception to endeavour to deny that I find HL a fellow of most exceeding attractions. Today, I chanced to pass through the gallery on my way to the library (for a purpose I quite entirely forget) at the hour when HL’s fencing master comes for his daily practice. The sight of HL at this exercise entirely proved the verisimilitude of those lines of Sappho concerning fire under the skin, dimming of sight, ringing in ears, &C. Also, in my own case, considerable stirring of the membrum virile. Obliged to lean against a wall out of sight, gathering my wits and control over myself. Passionate envy of the Cathcart (peer of the gods indeed).
It can hardly be suited to my position in the household to go about questioning the servants as to whether 'tis an accustomed habit of HL, when somewhat flown in drink, to make comments of a personal nature concerning physical attributes, and seem inclined to amorousness. I was surprized into saying something about his own charms: but though exceeding tempted to take advantage of his state remarked that this was a conversation that should be had sober. I daresay he has no memory of this encounter.
Extremity of felicity (mutual).
Desired by HL to provide advice to Madame Clorinda concerning the seduction of her cook and the getting of her with child by a scoundrel that had obtained an entrée to her household under the guise of scientifick investigations. Had a somewhat vulgar supposition that I should find myself quite in some scene from Hogarth: both she and her household in entirely the best of taste and indeed did I not know her profession I am not sure I would have deduced it. Most excellent strong coffee as I wish the kitchen at R- House could learn to produce. Of great good sense and judicious apprehension over what might be done in the matter. Also put me very greatly at ease concerning her own relations with HL, and explained the necessary comedy that they at present enact of jealousy. However, although my mind is set at rest over the absence of any carnal relation between them, I now find myself envying what must be a very warm friendship such as I had not supposed could exist 'twixt man and woman.
Sight of HL kneeling before me troubling yet most thrilling, even before performance of act only previously known from references in the more salacious poets of antiquity. Spoke of this after: is this not the way things shall be once monarchy, aristocracy, church o’erthrown? he asks with that smile. No! says I, in that fine future none shall kneel to another – save, I add, perchance, at their desire, for this delight.