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The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom

Chapter 35
He Repairs To Bristol Spring, Where He Reigns Paramount During The Whole
We shall therefore leave her in this comfortable situation, and return to our
adventurer, whose appearance at Bristol was considered as a happy omen by
the proprietor of the hot well, and all the people who live by the resort of
company to that celebrated spring. Nor were they deceived in their prognostic.
Fathom, as usual, formed the nucleus or kernel of the beau monde; and the
season soon became so crowded, that many people of fashion were obliged to
quit the place for want of lodging. Ferdinand was the soul that animated the
whole society. He not only invented parties of pleasure, but also, by his personal
talents, rendered them more agreeable. In a word, he regulated their diversions,
and the master of the ceremonies never would allow the ball to be begun till the
Count was seated.
Having thus made himself the object of admiration and esteem, his advice was
an oracle, to which they had recourse in all doubtful cases of punctilio or dispute,
or even of medicine; for among his other accomplishments, his discourse on that
subject was so plausible, and well adapted to the understanding of his hearers,
that any person who had not actually studied the medical art would have believed
he was inspired by the spirit of Aesculapius. What contributed to the
aggrandisement of his character in this branch of knowledge, was a victory he
obtained over an old physician, who plied at the well, and had one day
unfortunately begun to harangue in the pump-room upon the nature of the Bristol
water. In the course of this lecture he undertook to account for the warmth of the
fluid; and his ideas being perplexed with a great deal of reading, which he had
not been able to digest, his disquisition was so indistinct, and his expression so
obscure and unentertaining, that our hero seized the opportunity of displaying his
own erudition, by venturing to contradict some circumstances of the doctor's
hypothesis, and substituting a theory of his own, which, as he had invented it for
the purpose, was equally amusing and chimerical.
He alleged, that fire was the sole vivifying principle that pervaded all nature; that,
as the heat of the sun concocted the juice of vegetables, and ripened those fruits
that grow upon the surface of this globe, there was likewise an immense store of
central fire reserved within the bowels of the earth, not only for the generation of
gems, fossils, and all the purposes of the mineral world, but likewise for
cherishing and keeping alive those plants which would otherwise perish by the
winter's cold. The existence of such a fire he proved from the nature of all those
volcanoes, which in almost every corner of the earth are continually vomiting up
either flames or smoke. "These," said he, "are the great vents appointed by
nature for the discharge of that rarefied air and combustible matter, which, if
confined, would burst the globe asunder; but, besides the larger outlets, there are
some small chimneys through which part of the heat transpires; a vapour of that
sort, I conceive, must pass through the bed or channel of this spring, the waters
of which, accordingly retain a moderate warmth."