The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter Twenty-Two

He Arrives at Paris, and is Pleased with His Reception.

He was not so smitten with the delightful situation of this ancient town, but that he abandoned it as soon as he could procure a post-chaise, in which he arrived at Paris, without having been exposed to any other troublesome adventure upon the road. He took lodgings at a certain hotel in the Fauxbourg de St. Germain, which is the general rendezvous of all the strangers that resort to this capital; and now sincerely congratulated himself upon his happy escape from his Hungarian connexions, and from the snares of the banditti, as well as upon the spoils of the dead body, and his arrival at Paris, from whence there was such a short conveyance to England, whither he was attracted, by far other motives than that of filial veneration for his native soil.

He suppressed all his letters of recommendation, which he justly concluded would subject him to a tedious course of attendance upon the great, and lay him under the necessity of soliciting preferment in the army, than which nothing was farther from his inclination; and resolved to make his appearance in the character of a private gentleman, which would supply him with opportunities of examining the different scenes of life in such a gay metropolis, so as that he should be able to choose that sphere in which he could move the most effectually to his own advantage. He accordingly hired an occasional domestic, and under the denomination of Count Fathom, which he had retained since his elopement from Renaldo, repaired to dinner at an ordinary, to which he was directed as a reputable place, frequented by fashionable strangers of all nations.

He found this piece of information perfectly just; for he no sooner entered the apartment, than his ears were saluted with a strange confusion of sounds, among which he at once distinguished the High and Low Dutch, barbarous French, Italian, and English languages. He was rejoiced at this occasion of displaying his own qualifications, took his place at one of the three long tables, betwixt a Westphalian count and a Bolognian marquis, insinuated himself into the conversation with his usual address, and in less than half an hour, found means to accost a native of each different country in his own mother-tongue.

Such extensive knowledge did not pass unobserved. A French abbe, in a provincial dialect, complimented him upon his retaining that purity in pronunciation, which is not to be found in the speech of a Parisian. The Bolognian, mistaking him for a Tuscan, “Sir,” said he, “I presume you are from Florence. I hope the illustrious house of Lorrain leaves you gentlemen of that famous city no room to regret the loss of your own princes.” The castle of Versailles becoming the subject of conversation, Monsieur le Compte appealed to him, as to a native German, whether it was not inferior in point of magnificence to the chateau of Grubenhagen. The Dutch officer, addressing himself to Fathom, drank to the prosperity of Faderland, and asked if he had not once served in garrison at Shenkenschans; and an English knight swore, with great assurance, that he had frequently rambled with him at midnight among the hundreds of Drury.

To each person he replied in a polite, though mysterious manner, which did not fail to enhance their opinion of his good breeding and importance; and, long before the dessert appeared, he was by all the company supposed to be a personage of great consequence, who for some substantial reasons, found it convenient to keep himself incognito. This being the case, it is not to be doubted that particular civilities were poured upon him from all quarters. He perceived their sentiments, and encouraged them, by behaving with that sort of complaisance which seems to be the result of engaging condescension in a character of superior dignity and station. His affability was general but his chief attention limited to those gentlemen already mentioned, who chanced to sit nearest him at table; and he no sooner gave them to understand that he was an utter stranger in Paris, than they unanimously begged to have the honour of making him acquainted with the different curiosities peculiar to that metropolis.

He accepted of their hospitality, accompanied them to a coffee-house in the afternoon, from whence they repaired to the opera, and afterwards adjourned to a noted hotel, in order to spend the remaining part of the evening. It was here that our hero secured himself effectually in the footing he had gained in their good graces. He in a moment saw through all the characters of the party, and adapted himself to the humour of each individual, without descending from that elevation of behaviour which he perceived would operate among them in his behalf. With the Italian he discoursed on music, in the style of a connoisseur; and indeed had a better claim to that title than the generality of those upon whom it is usually conferred; for he understood the art in theory as well as in practice, and would have made no contemptible figure among the best performers of the age.

He harangued upon taste and genius to the abbe, who was a wit and critic, ex officio, or rather ex vestitu for a young pert Frenchman, the very moment he puts on the petit collet, or little band, looks upon himself as an inspired son of Apollo; and every one of the fraternity thinks it incumbent upon him to assert the divinity of his mission. In a word, the abbes are a set of people that bear a strong analogy to the templars in London. Fools of each fabric, sharpers of all sorts, and dunces of every degree, profess themselves of both orders. The templar is, generally speaking, a prig, so is the abbe: both are distinguished by an air of petulance and self-conceit, which holds a middle rank betwixt the insolence of a first-rate buck and the learned pride of a supercilious pedant. The abbe is supposed to be a younger brother in quest of preferment in the church — the Temple is considered as a receptacle or seminary for younger sons intended for the bar; but a great number of each profession turn aside into other paths of life, long before they reach these proposed goals. An abbe is often metamorphosed into a foot soldier; a templar sometimes sinks into an attorney’s clerk. The galleys of France abound with abbes; and many templars may be found in our American plantations; not to mention those who have made a public exit nearer home. Yet I would not have it thought that my description includes every individual of those societies. Some of the greatest scholars, politicians, and wits, that ever Europe produced, have worn the habit of an abbe; and many of our most noble families in England derive their honours from those who have studied law in the Temple. The worthy sons of every community shall always be sacred from my censure and ridicule; and, while I laugh at the folly of particular members, I can still honour and revere the institution.

But let us return from this comparison, which some readers may think impertinent and unseasonable, and observe, that the Westphalian count, Dutch officer, and English knight, were not excepted from the particular regard and attention of our adventurer. He pledged the German in every bumper; flattered the Hollander with compliments upon the industry, wealth, and policy of the Seven United Provinces; but he reserved his chief battery for his own countryman, on the supposition that he was, in all respects, the best adapted for the purposes of a needy gamester. Him, therefore, he cultivated with extraordinary care and singular observance; for he soon perceived him to be a humourist, and, from that circumstance, derived an happy presage of his own success. The baronet’s disposition seemed to be cast in the true English mould. He was sour, silent, and contemptuous; his very looks indicated a consciousness of superior wealth; and he never opened his mouth, except to make some dry, sarcastic, national reflection. Nor was his behaviour free from that air of suspicion which a man puts on when he believes himself in a crowd of pick-pockets, whom his caution and vigilance set at defiance. In a word, though his tongue was silent on the subject, his whole demeanour was continually saying, “You are all a pack of poor lousy rascals, who have a design upon my purse. ’Tis true, I could buy your whole generation, but I won’t be bubbled, d’ye see; I am aware of your flattery, and upon my guard against all your knavish pranks; and I come into your company for my own amusement only.”

Fathom having reconnoitred this peculiarity of temper, instead of treating him with that assiduous complaisance, which he received from the other gentlemen of the party, kept aloof from him in the conversation, with a remarkable shyness of distant civility, and seldom took notice of what he said, except with a view to contradict him, or retort some of his satirical observations. This he conceived to be the best method of acquiring his good opinion; because the Englishman would naturally conclude he was a person who could have no sinister views upon his fortune, else he would have chosen quite a different manner of deportment. Accordingly, the knight seemed to bite at the hook. He listened to Ferdinand with uncommon regard; he was even heard to commend his remarks, and at length drank to their better acquaintance.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30