The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XVI.

Peregrine distinguishes himself among his School-fellows, exposes his Tutor, and attracts the particular Notice of the Master.

Thus left to the prosecution of his studies, Peregrine was in a little time a distinguished character, not only for his acuteness of apprehension, but also for that mischievous fertility of fancy, of which we have already given such pregnant examples. But as there was a great number of such luminaries in this new sphere to which he belonged, his talents were not so conspicuous while they shone in his single capacity, as they afterwards appeared, when they concentrated and reflected the rays of the whole constellation.

At first he confined himself to piddling game, exercising his genius upon his own tutor, who attracted his attention, by endeavouring to season his mind with certain political maxims, the fallacy of which he had discernment enough to perceive. Scarce a day passed in which he did not find means to render Mr. Jolter the object of ridicule: his violent prejudices, ludicrous vanity, awkward solemnity, and ignorance of mankind, afforded continual food for the raillery, petulance, and satire of his pupil, who never neglected an opportunity of laughing, and making others laugh, at his expense.

Sometimes in their parties, by mixing brandy in his wine, he decoyed this pedagogue into a debauch, during which his caution forsook him, and he exposed himself to the censure of the company. Sometimes, when the conversation turned upon intricate subjects, he practised upon him the Socratic method of confutation, and, under pretence of being informed, by an artful train of puzzling questions insensibly betrayed him into self-contradiction.

All the remains of authority which he had hitherto preserved over Peregrine soon vanished; so that, for the future, no sort of ceremony subsisted between them, and all Mr. Jolter’s precepts were conveyed in hints of friendly advice, which the other might either follow or neglect at his own pleasure. No wonder then that Peregrine gave a loose to his inclinations, and, by dint of genius and an enterprising temper, made a figure among the younger class of heroes in the school.

Before he had been a full year at Winchester, he had signallized himself in so many achievements, in defiance to the laws and regulations of the place, that he was looked upon with admiration, and actually chosen dux, or leader, by a large body of his contemporaries. It was not long before his fame reached the ears of the master, who sent for Mr. Jolter, communicated to him the informations he had received, and desired him to check the vivacity of his charge, and redouble his vigilance in time to come, else he should be obliged to make a public example of his pupil for the benefit of the school.

The governor, conscious of his own unimportance, was not a little disconcerted at this injunction, which it was not in his power to fulfil by any compulsive means. He therefore went home in a very pensive mood, and after mature deliberation, resolved to expostulate with Peregrine in the most familiar terms, and endeavour to dissuade him from practices which might affect his character as well as interest. He accordingly frankly told him the subject of the master’s discourse; represented the disgrace he might incur by neglecting this warning; and, putting him in mind of his own situation, hinted the consequences of the commodore’s displeasure, in case he should be brought to disapprove of his conduct. These insinuations made the greater impression as they were delivered with many expressions of friendship and concern. The young gentleman was not so raw, but that he could perceive the solidity of Mr, Jolter’s advice, to which he promised to conform, because his pride was interested in the affair, and he considered his own reformation as the only means of avoiding that infamy which even in idea he could not bear.

His governor, finding him so reasonable, profited by these moments of reflection; and, in order to prevent a relapse, proposed that he should engage in some delightful study that would agreeably amuse his imagination, and gradually detach him from those connections which had involved him in so many troublesome adventures. For this purpose, he, with many rapturous encomiums, recommended the mathematics, as yielding more rational and sensible pleasures to a youthful fancy than any other subject of contemplation; and actually began to read Euclid with him that same afternoon.

Peregrine entered upon this branch of learning with all that warmth of application which boys commonly yield on the first change of study; but he had scarce advanced beyond the Pons Asinorum, when his ardour abated; the test of truth by demonstration did not elevate him to those transports of joy with which his preceptor had regaled his expectation; and before he arrived at the forty-seventh proposition, he began to yawn drearily, make abundance of wry faces, and thought himself but indifferently paid for his attention, when he shared the vast discovery of Pythagoras, and understood that the square of the hypotenuse was equal to the squares of the other two sides of a right-angled triangle. He was ashamed, however, to fail in his undertaking, and persevered with great industry, until he had finished the first four books, acquired plane trigonometry, with the method of algebraical calculation, and made himself well acquainted with the principles of surveying. But no consideration could prevail upon him to extend his inquiries farther in this science; and he returned with double relish to his former avocations, like a stream, which, being dammed, accumulates more force, and, bursting over its mounds, rushes down with double impetuosity.

Mr. Jolter saw with astonishment and chagrin, but could not resist the torrent. His behaviour was now no other than a series of license and effrontery; prank succeeded prank, and outrage followed outrage with surprising velocity. Complaints were every day preferred against him; in vain were admonitions bestowed by the governor in private, and menaces discharged by the masters in public; he disregarded the first, despised the latter, divested himself of all manner of restraint, and proceeded in his career to such a pitch of audacity, that a consultation was held upon the subject, in which it was determined that this untoward spirit should be humbled by a severe and ignominious flogging for the very next offence he should commit. In the mean time, Mr. Jolter was desired to write in the masters name to the commodore, requesting him to remove Tom Pipes from the person of his nephew, the said Pipes being a principal actor and abettor in all his malversations; and to put a stop to the monthly visitations of the mutilated lieutenant, who had never once failed to use his permission, but came punctual to a day, always fraught with some new invention. Indeed, by this time Mr. Hatchway was as well known, and much better beloved, by every boy in the school than the master who instructed him, and always received by a number of scholars, who used to attend Peregrine when he went forth to meet his friend, and conduct him to his lodging with public testimonies of joy and applause.

As for Tom Pipes, he was not so properly the attendant of Peregrine, as master of the revels of the whole school. He mingled in all their parties, and superintended the diversions, deciding between boy and boy, as if he acted by commission under the great seal. He regulated their motions by his whistle, instructed the young boys in the games of hustle-cap, leap-frog, and chuck-farthing; imparted to those of a more advanced age the sciences of cribbage and all-fours, together with the method of storming the castle, acting the comedy of Prince Arthur, and other pantomimes, as they commonly exhibited at sea; and instructed the seniors, who were distinguished by the appellation of bloods, in cudgel-playing, dancing the St. Giles’s hornpipe, drinking flip, and smoking tobacco. These qualifications had rendered him so necessary and acceptable to the scholars, that exclusive of Perry’s concern in the affair, his dismission, in all probability, would have produced some dangerous convulsion in the community. Jolter, therefore, knowing his importance, informed his pupil of the directions he had received, and very candidly asked how he should demean himself in the execution; for he durst not write to the commodore without this previous notice, fearing that the young gentleman, as soon as he should get an inkling of the affair, would follow the example, and make his uncle acquainted with certain anecdotes, which it was the governor’s interest to keep concealed. Peregrine was of opinion that he should spare himself the trouble of conveying any complaints to the commodore; and if questioned by the master, assure him he had complied with his desire: at the same time he promised faithfully to conduct himself with such circumspection for the future, that the masters should have no temptation to revive the inquiry. But the resolution attending this extorted promise was too frail to last, and in less than a fortnight our young hero found himself entangled in an adventure from which he was not extricated with his usual good fortune.

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