The Solitude Experiment of Mr. Powyss

Circa 1793, a Mr. Powyss of Lancashire apparently decided to conduct an unusual psychological experiment by paying a man to live in his basement, in complete solitude, for seven years.

Information about this experiment is hard to find. A brief news item appeared about it in 1797:

The Annual Register... for the year 1797

A news story 30 years later reported that the subject of the experiment had emerged after seven years apparently no worse for wear. Or, at least, he had "absolutely accomplished it":

The Casket - Aug 11, 1827

Given the lack of info, I suspect that the entire story might be an urban legend — one of those fake news stories that often made their way into early magazines and newspapers. However, the story has inspired author Alix Nathan to use fiction to fill in the blanks... imagining what might have happened in her recent novel The Warlow Experiment. As reported by the Guardian:

Nathan tried to discover more about Powyss and the outcome of his experiment, but without success. Nothing of either remained. Instead she turned to fiction, writing a pair of short stories that imagined the peculiar undertaking, the first from Powyss’s point of view, “An Experiment: Above”, and then, in “An Experiment: Below”, from the solitary subterranean perspective of his confined subject... Despite this, Powyss and his story continued to nag at Nathan; she could not shake the sense that it “deserved fuller consideration”. The result is The Warlow Experiment [amazon link].

     Posted By: Alex - Fri Jul 19, 2019
     Category: Experiments | Psychology | Eighteenth Century

Also weird- How many of the "s" characters have been substituted with "f" characters in that article.
Posted by Bryan Clark on 07/19/19 at 03:31 PM
It's not an f, it just looks very similar. At that time, the modern looking s was used only at the end of a word. Compare the word finger, where the f and the i are combined, with the word desire, where the s and the i aren't.
Posted by ges on 07/21/19 at 10:22 AM
Apparently, despite the similarity between lower-case "f" and non-pausal lower-case "s", only one word in the English language was affected. Thus, "fnese" evolved into "sneeze".
Posted by Joshua Zev Levin, Ph.D. on 07/29/19 at 12:54 PM
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