The accomplishments of the gymnast lead the writer down a rhetorical rabbit hole--so adept is the "tumbler" that Lanham wonders whether he is more like a demon, a preternatural being such as those who are described in fantastic travelers' tales, or some strange fusion of man, animal, and instrument, with a spine like a lamprey or a lutestring
. This search for analogy, language, and experience to describe the evanescent, time-pressured, and seemingly superhuman abilities of the Italian's "feats of agilitie" is a small glimpse into the complexities attendant upon describing the skilled body, as well as the historical contingencies of the categories through which skill is imagined.
I desire you to send me up my work'd facing & robing my point some lutestring
the Cambrick for my ruffles which was taken by mistake & if there is enough of my Chints it w be better than white Callico because of the expense of washing I could face it with some painted Linnen pray let me have these things as soon as possible' (MO 5526 A, Elizabeth (Robinson) Montagu to Sarah (Robinson) Scott, May 29 1740, London).
Thus Elizabeth Phelps, a member of the Hadley, Massachusetts elite, engaged a mantua maker to "make [her] lutestring
gown plumb," that is, to transform its full skirt into one more in keeping with the late eighteenth-century rage for neoclassical fashions.