Mirror of Literature,  9 (1827), 316–17.

An Idler's Album; or, Sketches of Men and Things. My Uncle and His Study



Short Fiction, Drollery


Amusement, Botany, Collecting, Archaeology, Exploration, Dissection, Phrenology, Materialism, Infidelity, Metaphysics, Zoology, Cruelty, Entomology, Aesthetics, Commerce, Chemistry, Alchemy, Accidents, Museums, Mineralogy

    The narrator's uncle is a virtuoso, 'a most extraordinary being, a species of multum-in-parvo man'. By profession, he is a divine, but, 'for amusement', he is 'any thing and every thing that his ever-varying fancy impels him to be, in the pursuit of arts and sciences'. The narrator reports his recent conversation with his uncle concerning the disordered contents of his study. First, he observes 'a large press, from which appeared hanging the rough edges of a couple of quires of blotting paper; it was for pressing sea-weeds and other plants. Near it stood some of the former in a large white pie-dish; and by that laid a handful of land-weeds, with earth and stones, yet adhering to their roots, and two or three slender red worms twining about them'. As the narrator stumbles through the litter of the study, the dust flies about him 'as it curled about Belzoni in his awful enterprises amid the ashes of the Egyptian dead'. His uncle owns a cast of an executed murderer following his dissection, but only as 'a curiosity', being no convert to phrenology. He believes that phrenologists have 'now mixed up with their science the mysticisms of Kantean metaphysics, by way of rendering it intelligible!'. (316) The narrator is reluctant to help his uncle take snails out of their shells, and confesses his dislike of the gore and discomfort of natural history. His uncle defends natural history: it provides him with fresh air and exercise, it allows him to put together beautiful and valuable collections ('entomologists value a complete set of our British [insects] only, at above five hundred pounds'), and increases his enjoyment in the countryside beyond that of the poet or painter. The narrator offers to blow his uncle up in searching for the philosopher's stone if his uncle will allow him a room in his house for his 'chemical operations', but his uncle already considers that he has the philosopher's stone in the 'art of happiness'. On inspection of his uncle's museum, where all was 'arranged and ticketed in scientific order' he is 'very near pursuing the same line of instructive amusement', and has since 'commenced a museum upon gleanings in our mineralogical counties'. (317)

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