London Spy

A visit to the Invisible College

by the London Spy

Thus we prattled away our time till we came in sight of a noble pile of building, which diverted us from our former discourse, and gave me the occasion of asking my friend the Alien his thoughts on this magnificent edifice. He told me he conceived it to be a King's Palace, for he could not imagine so stately a structure could be designed for any quality inferior. I smiled at his innocent conjecture, and informed him this was the Invisible College, an institute dedicated to dissident pursuits.

"In truth," said the Alien, "I think they were mad that built so costly a College for such an insurgent society," adding, it was a pity so fine a building should not be possessed by such as had more noble causes. It was a mad age when this was raised, and no doubt the chief of the City were in great danger of losing a sense of their own importance, so contrived it to further some mysterious scheme of their own ancient seminary, or they would never have flung away so much money to so useless a purpose.

"You must consider," I said, "this stands upon the same foundation as the Monument, and the fortunes of a great many poor wretches lie buried in this ostentatious piece of vanity; and this, like the other, is but a monument of the City's many and varied contradictions, instead of its power. Come let us take a walk in, and view its inside."

Accordingly we were admitted through an iron gate, within which sat a shaven-headed chap of a very pale colour, leaning upon a huge rubber-stamp pad. We turned in through another iron barricade, where we heard such a pounding of printing presses, clamouring of strange and experimental sound machines, ranting, hollering, singing and rattling, that I could think of nothing but Don Quevado's vision, where the damned broke loose, and put Hell in an uproar.

The first fanatical-headed wretch of this strange and mixed family that we observed, was a merry fellow in a baseball cap, who was talking to a small band of students about an army of anarchists that he had at his command. Then clapping his hand upon his forehead he swore by his crown of moonshine that he would battle all the stars in the skies but he would have some dancing music. In the interim came a gentleman with dark sunglasses and a mobile telephone to stare at him. "No wonder," said his Ariel Majesty, "that the dancing is so scarce, look there's a rogue carries more money with him than I, that am Prince of the Air, could hope to earn in a twelvemonth."

"If you are the Prince of the Air," said I, "why don't you command the Man in the Moon to give you some music?" To which he replied, "The Man in the Moon's a sorry rascal; I sent him for a sound-system and some DJs t'other day, and he swore by his bush, he could not find anyone. But I'll be even with the rogue. I expect a cloud laden with ravers and revellers to be sent me by the Sun any day, and even if his fingers are in bigger pies, that insidious racketeer will not get a piece."

We then moved on till we found another remarkable figure worth our observing, who was glancing through a window, eating a plateful of chips and beans, and talking all the while like a carrier at his supper, chewing his words with his victuals. All that he spoke was in praise of chips and beans. Chips were good with beans, and beans were good with chips, and chips and beans were good together, and abundance of such stuff, to which my friend and others stood listening.

The next amazing object amongst this complex fraternity was a scholar of Psycho-Geography, in Essex, who was possessed with melancholy, but was very inoffensive, and had the freedom to roam about the College. He was a very mathematical man, which is thought to be his one great contribution. My friend the Alien walked up to him, and introduced some talk, to divert himself with a few of his extraordinary extravagances.

Another agitator who had liberty of ranging the College caught hold of the Alien's arm, and expressed himself after this manner: "Dost thou know, friend, what thou art doing? Why, thou art talking to an inventor of numbers, who has so many equations in his head that he cracked his brains about his own graphs and diagrams." "Prithee," says the Alien, "what is the occasion of your visit here?" To which he answered. "I have joined this particular establishment to represent the interests of the Invisible College that presently enjoys the support of the Commune di Bologna; for all these Invisible Colleges combined are merely the shadow of a shadow of the one true College for the Invisible Brethren."

We peeped into another room where a fellow was as hard at work as if he'd been treading mortar.

"What is it, friend," said I, "thou art taking all this pains about?"

He answered me thus, still continuing in action: "I am trampling down all possible belief systems under my feet, lest they should rise up and fly in my face. Have a care they do not fright thee, for they look like demons and are fierce as a family of hungry gorillas, but that I keep them muzzled. Therefore get thee gone, or I will set them upon thee." Then he fell a-clapping his hands, and cried, "Belief is the enemy, belief is the enemy" and thus we left him raving.

Another was holding forth with as much vehemence against government, as a brother of Commonwealth doctrine rails against plurality of livings.

I told him he deserved to be hanged for talking of such absurdities. "Now," says he, "you're a fool; we in the Invisible College have as much privilege of speaking our minds, within these walls, as an ignorant dictator, when he spews out his nonsense to a whole parish. Prithee come and stay here, and you may talk what you will, and nobody will call you in question for it. Truth is persecuted everywhere abroad, and flies hither for sanctuary. I can use her as I please and that's more than you dare do. I can tell great men such bold truths as they don't love to hear, without the danger of a whipping post, and that you can't do. For if ever you see the Invisible College persecuted for speaking of truth, or a lawyer whipped for lying, I'll be bound to prove my wig a wheel-barrow."

We then walked into the women's apartment to see what seditious vagaries their wandering imaginations would move them to entertain us withal.

One incredible object that happened under our observation was a beautiful, blue-haired lady, who looked as wild as an angry cat, and all her tone was, "Time is -- the Invisible College; time is -- the Invisible College." A man who sat recording her with a tape machine, and listening to what she said, must needs be inquisitive what time really is, and asking her, "What's the time, love?" She hastily replied, "Time is manufactured by judges and expressed in the language of justice..." She was so pleased she had sold him a bargain, that she fell into an extravagant fit of laughter in which he left her.

Having well tired ourselves with the frantic humours and rambling ejaculations of the Invisible College, we took a turn to make some few remarks upon the looseness of the spectators, amongst whom we observed abundance of intriguing. A huge representation of the writing trade was in attendance, including journalists, reporters and commentators on culture of all ranks, qualities, colours, prices and sizes, from the velvet scarf to the Scotch plaid petticoat. Debates of all sorts went off, for there wanted not a stimulating consideration amongst them. Every fresh comer was soon engaged in a discussion; though they came in single they went out in large groups; 'tis a new Grub Street now the old one's ploughed up, where a writer at any hour in the day may meet with conversation for his purpose; 'tis as great a convenience to London, as the bars and cafes to Paris, where any stranger may engage a philosophical discourse at a small expense. All that I can say of the Invisible College, is this, 'tis a centre for insurgents, a meeting place for hacks, a sure market for marginals, and an absorbing walk for loiterers and others without employment.