The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter I.

An Account of Mr. Gamaliel Pickle — The Disposition of his Sister described — He yields to her Solicitations, and returns to the Country.

In a certain county of England, bounded on one side by the sea, and at the distance of one hundred miles from the metropolis, lived Gamaliel Pickle, esq.; the father of that hero whose fortunes we propose to record. He was the son of a merchant in London, who, like Rome, from small beginnings had raised himself to the highest honours of the city, and acquired a plentiful fortune, though, to his infinite regret, he died before it amounted to a plum, conjuring his son, as he respected the last injunction of a parent, to imitate his industry, and adhere to his maxims, until he should have made up the deficiency, which was a sum considerably less than fifteen thousand pounds.

This pathetic remonstrance had the desired effect upon his representative, who spared no pains to fulfil the request of the deceased: but exerted all the capacity with which nature had endowed him, in a series of efforts, which, however, did not succeed; for by the time he bad been fifteen years in trade, he found himself five thousand pounds worse than he was when he first took possession of his father’s effects; a circumstance that affected him so nearly, as to detach his inclinations from business, and induce him to retire from the world to some place where he might at leisure deplore his misfortunes, and, by frugality, secure himself from want, and the apprehensions of a jail, with which his imagination was incessantly haunted. He was often heard to express his fears of coming upon the parish; and to bless God, that, on account of his having been so long a housekeeper, he was entitled to that provision. In short, his talents were not naturally active, and there was a sort of inconsistency in his character; for, with all the desire of amassing which any citizen could possibly entertain, he was encumbered by a certain indolence and sluggishness that prevailed over every interested consideration, and even hindered him from profiting by that singleness of apprehension, and moderation of appetites, which have so frequently conduced to the acquisition of immense fortunes; qualities which he possessed in a very remarkable degree. Nature, in all probability, had mixed little or nothing inflammable in his composition; or, whatever seeds of excess she might have sown within him, were effectually stifled and destroyed by the austerity of his education.

The sallies of his youth, far from being inordinate or criminal, never exceeded the bounds of that decent jollity which an extraordinary pot, on extraordinary occasions, may be supposed to have produced in a club of sedate book-keepers, whose imaginations were neither very warm nor luxuriant. Little subject to refined sensations, he was scarce ever disturbed with violent emotions of any kind. The passion of love never interrupted his tranquility; and if, as Mr. Creech says, after Horace,

Not to admire is all the art I know;
To make men happy, and to keep them so;

Mr. Pickle was undoubtedly possessed of that invaluable secret; at least, he was never known to betray the faintest symptom of transport, except one evening at the club, where he observed, with some demonstrations of vivacity, that he had dined upon a delicate loin of veal.

Notwithstanding this appearance of phlegm, he could not help feeling his disappointments in trade; and upon the failure of a certain underwriter, by which he lost five hundred pounds, declared his design of relinquishing business, and retiring to the country. In this resolution he was comforted and encouraged by his only sister, Mrs. Grizzle, who had managed his family since the death of his father, and was now in the thirtieth year of her maidenhood, with a fortune of five thousand pounds, and a large stock of economy and devotion.

These qualifications, one would think, might have been the means of abridging the term of her celibacy, as she never expressed any aversion to wedlock; but, it seems, she was too delicate in her choice, to find a mate to her inclination in the city: for I cannot suppose that she remained so long unsolicited; though the charms of her person were not altogether enchanting, nor her manner over and above agreeable. Exclusive of a very wan (not to call it sallow) complexion, which, perhaps, was the effects of her virginity and mortification, she had a cast in her eyes that was not at all engaging; and such an extent of mouth, as no art or affectation could contract into any proportionable dimension; then her piety was rather peevish than resigned, and did not in the least diminish a certain stateliness in her demeanour and conversation, that delighted in communicating the importance and honour of her family, which, by the bye, was not to be traced two generations back by all the power of heraldry or tradition.

She seemed to have renounced all the ideas she had acquired before her father served the office of sheriff; and the eye which regulated the dates of all her observation, was the mayoralty of her papa. Nay, so solicitous was this good lady for the support and propagation of the family name, that, suppressing every selfish motive, she actually prevailed upon her brother to combat with his own disposition, and even surmount it so far, as to declare a passion for the person whom he afterwards wedded, as we shall see in the sequel. Indeed, she was the spur that instigated him in all his extraordinary undertakings; and I question, whether be would or not have been able to disengage himself from that course of life in which he had so long mechanically moved, unless he had been roused and actuated by her incessant exhortations. London, she observed, was a receptacle of iniquity, where an honest, unsuspecting man was every day in danger of falling a sacrifice to craft; where innocence was exposed to continual temptations, and virtue eternally persecuted by malice and slander; where everything was ruled by caprice and corruption, and merit utterly discouraged and despised. This last imputation she pronounced with such emphasis and chagrin, as plainly denoted how far she considered herself as an example of what she advanced; and really the charge was justified by the constructions that were put upon her retreat by her female friends, who, far from imputing it to the laudable motives that induced her, insinuated, in sarcastic commendations, that she had good reason to be dissatisfied with a place where she had been so overlooked; and that it was certainly her wisest course to make her last effort in the country, where, in all probability, her talents would be less eclipsed, and her fortune more attractive.

Be this as it will, her admonitions, though they were powerful enough to convince, would have been insufficient to overcome the languor and vis inertiae of her brother, had she not reinforced her arguments, by calling in question the credit of two or three merchants, with whom he was embarked in trade.

Alarmed at these hints of intelligence, be exerted himself effectually; he withdrew his money from trade, and laying it out in Bank-stock, and India-bonds, removed to a house in the country, which his father had built near the sea-side, for the convenience of carrying on a certain branch of traffic in which he had been deeply concerned.

Here then Mr. Pickle fixed his habitation for life, in the six-and-thirtieth year of his age; and though the pangs he felt at parting with his intimate companions, and quitting all his former connections, were not quite so keen as to produce any dangerous disorder in his constitution, he did not fail to be extremely disconcerted at his first entrance into a scene of life to which he was totally a stranger. Not but that he met with abundance of people in the country, who, in consideration of his fortune, courted his acquaintance, and breathed nothing but friendship and hospitality; yet, even the trouble of receiving and returning these civilities was an intolerable fatigue to a man of his habits and disposition. He therefore left the care of the ceremonial to his sister, who indulged herself in all the pride of formality; while he himself, having made a discovery of a public-house in the neighbourhood, went thither every evening and enjoyed his pipe and can; being very well satisfied with the behaviour of the landlord, whose communicative temper was a great comfort to his own taciturnity; for he shunned all superfluity of speech, as much as he avoided any other unnecessary expense.

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