[RESERVED] Long, provocative letter to a fellow Edinburgh University student by the brilliant scientist and polymath Thomas Young about his decision to abandon his Quaker principles for play-going, ‘Scotch music’, dancing in St Andrews and the company of ‘beautiful and accomplished’ women.
Quarto-sized bifolium with conjugate address leaf to ‘John Bostock Esq. Rev. Mr Yates, Toxteth Park, Liverpool’ with postal stamp ‘St Andrews’; 2 holes to the second leaf where the letter was opened with consequent loss of a couple of words on page 3; old folds and a little creasing to edges. An 8mm strip of paper has been pasted to the final page adjacent to the fold - probably allowing it to be mounted in an album; not obscuring any words. Otherwise very good condition; easily legible, c1100 words. PROVENANCE: this letter remained among Young’s papers when they were consulted by his first biographer, George Peacock, in the 1840s; he quotes a few lines about playgoing from the second page of the letter in his 1850 biography which also appear in Andrew Robinson’s 2006 biography of Young. Robinson describes Young’s letters as ‘now vanished original sources’.
In his letter Young exults in the success achieved by his introduction to a Professor at St Andrews by Andrew Dalzel (Professor of Greek at Edinburgh), a letter which ‘would have made any literary man of taste eager to every moment of my company’ and is even tempted to quote ‘but I know you think me vain enough and therefore I will not’. He describes walking with the St Andrews’ Professor through the city’s ruins. He regrets Hudson Gurney’s decision to give up his journey... I fancy his grandfather was afraid without irony that I should corrupt him’ before launching into a long and provocative account of Scottish music, dancing and playgoing calculated to shock his dissenting friends, ending: ’And this is Thomas Young the Quaker!’
Very conscious of the offence his new freedom of conduct may give, Young describes his friend William Cruikshank ‘taking me aside when I went to take leave of him, and after after much preamble telling me he heard I had been at the play and hoped that I should be able to contradict it. I told him I had been several times, and thought it right to go.. I have seen Mrs Siddons in the Grecian Daughter... the Provoked husband, the fatal marriage and Macbeth & Venice preserved’. Young mentions his plan to have a piano when he moves to Gottingen, discusses flute playing and ‘as to dancing the die is cast - I suppose I am going to make you laugh - I was bound to go to my master’s ball, and there I met some ladies..’ Young recounts his excitement at finding a partner and the pleasures of dancing all evening, including ‘a reel at the head of the room with the same lady and another whom I knew... I have since drank to [?] at their house, and had reason to congratulate myself that I had danced: for the eldest is a most sweet girl, beautiful and accomplished’. Young writes of playing ‘Scotch music’ on his flute and how ‘My old friend [David] Barclay, horrible to relate, begins to suspect me of Deism’ despite writing to ‘vindicate myself’. On the final page, after his signature, Young quotes at length (c100 words) from a letter sent him by their mutual friend Hudson Gurney (1775-1864) in which he says of Young that ‘you wish to discover yourself as you are, they who have been disappointed in their expectation of you, will think you still acting...’ Young appends a brief comment at the bottom of the page: ‘Part of this is true’ - a sentiment that is difficult to disagree with.
Thomas Young (13 June 1773 – 10 May 1829) was a polymath who made significant contributions to the fields of vision, light, solid mechanics, energy, physiology, language, musical harmony, and Egyptology as well as being instrumental in the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs, notably the Rosetta Stone. Young has been described as "The Last Man Who Knew Everything" and his work influenced that of William Herschel, Hermann von Helmholtz, James Clerk Maxwell, and Albert Einstein: he is credited with establishing the wave theory of light, in contrast to the particle theory of Isaac Newton. Born into a Quaker family he studied at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London, the University of Edinburgh 1794-5 and Gottingen.