The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XXI.

Trunnion is enraged at the conduct of Pickle — Peregrine resents the Injustice of his Mother, to whom he explains his Sentiments in a Letter-Is entered at the University of Oxford, where he signalizes himself as a Youth of an enterprising Genius.

Unspeakable were the transports of rage to which Trunnion was incensed by this absurd renunciation: he tore the letter with his gums (teeth he had none), spit with furious grimaces, in token of the contempt he entertain the for the author, whom he not only damned as a lousy, scabby, nasty, scurvy, skulking lubberly noodle, but resolved to challenge to single combat with fire and sword; but, he was dissuaded from this violent measure, and appeased by the intervention and advice of the lieutenant and Mr. Jolter, who represented the message as the effect of the poor man’s infirmity, for which he was rather an object of pity than of resentment, and turned the stream of his indignation against the wife, whom he reviled accordingly. Nor did Peregrine himself bear with patience this injurious declaration, the nature of which he no sooner understood from Hatchway than, equally shocked and exasperated, he retired to his apartment, and, in the first emotions of his ire, produced the following epistle, which was immediately conveyed to his mother —

“Madam — Had nature formed me a bugbear to the sight, and inspired me with a soul as vicious as my body was detestable, perhaps I might have enjoyed particular marks of your affection and applause; seeing you have persecuted me with such unnatural aversion, for no other visible reason than that of my differing so widely in shape as well as disposition from that deformed urchin who is the object of your tenderness and care. If these be the terms on which alone I can obtain your favour, I pray God you may never cease to hate — Madam, your much-injured son,
“Peregrine Pickle.”

This letter, which nothing, but his passion and inexperience could excuse, had such an effect upon his mother as may be easily conceived. She was enraged to a degree of frenzy against the writer; though, at the same time, she considered the whole as the production of Mrs. Trunnion’s particular pique, and represented it to her husband as an insult that he was bound in honour to resent, by breaking off all correspondence with the commodore and his family. This was a bitter pill to Gamaliel, who, through a long course of years, was so habituated to Trunnion’s company, that he could as easily have parted with a limb as have relinquished the club all at once. He therefore ventured to represent his own incapacity to follow her advice, and begged that be might, at least, be allowed to drop the connection gradually, protesting that he would do his endeavour to give her all manner of satisfaction.

Meanwhile preparations were made for Peregrine’s departure to the university, and in a few weeks he set out, in the seventeenth year of his age, accompanied by the same attendants who lived with him at Winchester. His uncle laid strong injunctions upon him to avoid the company of immodest women, to mind his learning, to let him hear of his welfare as often as he could find time to write, and settled his appointments at the rate of five hundred a year, including his governor’s salary, which was one-fifth part of the sum. The heart of our young gentleman dilated at the prospect of the figure he should make with such a handsome annuity the management of which was left to his own discretion; and he amused his imagination with the most agreeable reveries during his journey to Oxford, which he performed in two days. Here, being introduced to the head of the college, to whom he had been recommended, accommodated with genteel apartments, entered as gentleman commoner in the books, and provided with a judicious tutor, instead of returning to the study of Greek and Latin, in which he thought himself already sufficiently instructed, he renewed his acquaintance with some of his old school-fellows, whom he found in the same situation, and was by them initiated in all the fashionable diversions of the place.

It was not long before he made himself remarkable for his spirit and humour, which were so acceptable to the bucks of the university, that he was admitted as a member of their corporation, and in a very little time became the most conspicuous personage of the whole fraternity. Not that he valued himself upon his ability in smoking the greatest number of pipes, and drinking the largest quantity of ale: these were qualifications of too gross a nature to captivate his refined ambition. He piqued himself on his talent for raillery, his genius and taste, his personal accomplishments, and his success at intrigue. Nor were his excursions confined to the small villages in the neighbourhood, which are commonly visited once a week. by the students for the sake of carnal recreation. He kept his own horses, traversed the whole country in parties of pleasure, attended all the races within fifty miles of Oxford, and made frequent jaunts to London, where he used to be incognito during the best part of many a term.

The rules of the university were too severe to be observed by a youth of his vivacity; and therefore he became acquainted with the proctor betimes. But all the checks he received were insufficient to moderate his career; he frequented taverns and coffee-houses, committed midnight frolics in the streets, insulted all the sober and pacific class of his fellow-students: the tutors themselves were not sacred from his ridicule; he laughed at the magistrate, and neglected every particular of college discipline. In vain did they attempt to restrain his irregularities by the imposition of fines; he was liberal to profusion, and therefore paid without reluctance. Thrice did he scale the windows of a tradesman, with whose daughter he had an affair of gallantry; as often was he obliged to seek his safety by a precipitate leap; and one night would, in all probability, have fallen a sacrifice to an ambuscade that was laid by the father, had not his trusty squire Pipes interposed in his behalf, and manfully rescued him from the clubs of his enemies.

In the midst of these excesses, Mr. Jolter, finding his admonitions neglected and his influence utterly destroyed, attempted to wean his pupil from his extravagant courses, by engaging his attention in some more laudable pursuit. With this view he introduced him into a club of politicians, who received him with great demonstrations of regard, accommodated themselves more than he could have expected to his jovial disposition, and while they revolved schemes for the reformation of the state, drank with such devotion to the accomplishment of their plans, that, before parting, the cares of their patriotism were quite overwhelmed.

Peregrine, though he could not approve of their doctrine, resolved to attach himself for some time to their company, because he perceived ample subject for his ridicule in the characters of these wrong-headed enthusiasts. It was a constant practice with them, in their midnight consistories, to swallow such plentiful draughts of inspiration, that their mysteries commonly ended like those of the Bacchanalian orgia; and they were seldom capable of maintaining that solemnity of decorum which, by the nature of their functions, most of them were obliged to profess. Now, as Peregrine’s satirical disposition was never more gratified than when he had an opportunity of exposing grave characters in ridiculous attitudes, he laid a mischievous snare for his new confederates, which took effect in this manner:— In one of their nocturnal deliberations, he promoted such a spirit of good fellowship by the agreeable sallies of his wit, which were purposely leveled against their political adversaries, that by ten o’clock they were all ready to join in the most extravagant proposal that could be made. They broke their glasses in consequence of his suggestion, drank healths out of their shoes, caps, and the bottoms of the candlesticks that stood before them, sometimes standing with one foot on a chair, and the knee bent on the edge of the table; and when they could no longer stand in that posture, setting their bare posteriors on the cold floor. They huzzaed, hallooed, danced, and sang, and, in short, were elevated to such a pitch of intoxication, that when Peregrine proposed that they should burn their periwigs, the hint was immediately approved, and they executed the frolic as one man. Their shoes and caps underwent the same fate by the same instigation, and in this trim he led them forth into the street, where they resolved to compel everybody they should find to subscribe to their political creed, and pronounce the Shibboleth of their party. In the achievement of this enterprise, they met with more opposition than they expected; they were encountered with arguments which they could not well withstand; the noses of some, and eyes of others, in a very little time bore the marks of obstinate disputation. Their conductor having at length engaged the whole body in a fray with another squadron which was pretty much in the same condition, he very fairly gave them the slip, and slyly retreated to his apartment, foreseeing that his companions would soon be favoured with the notice of their superiors: nor was he deceived in his prognostic; the proctor, going his round, chanced to fall in with this tumultuous uproar, and, interposing his authority, found means to quiet the disturbance. He took cognizance of their names, and dismissed the rioters to their respective chambers, not a little scandalized at the behaviour of some among them, whose business and duty it was to set far other examples for the youth under their care and direction.

About midnight, Pipes, who had orders to attend at a distance, and keep an eye upon Jolter, brought home that unfortunate governor upon his back, Peregrine having beforehand secured his admittance into the college; and among other bruises, he was found to have received a couple of contusions on his face, which next morning appeared in a black circle that surrounded each eye.

This was a mortifying circumstance to a man of his character and deportment, especially as he had received a message from the proctor, who desired to see him forthwith. With great humility and contrition he begged the advice of his pupil, who being used to amuse himself with painting, assured Mr. Jolter that he would cover those signs of disgrace with a slight coat of flesh-colour so dexterously, that it would be almost impossible to distinguish the artificial from the natural skin. The rueful governor, rather than expose such opprobrious tokens to the observation and censure of the magistrate, submitted to the expedient. Although his counsellor had overrated his own skill, he was persuaded to confide in the disguise, and actually attended the proctor, with such a staring addition to the natural ghastliness of his features, that his visage bore a very apt resemblance to some of those ferocious countenances that hang over the doors of certain taverns and ale-houses, under the denomination of the Saracen’s head.

Such a remarkable alteration of physiognomy could not escape the notice of the most undiscerning beholder, much less the penetrating eye of his severe judge, already whetted with what he had seen over-night. He was therefore upbraided with this ridiculous and shallow artifice, and, together with the companions of his debauch, underwent such a cutting reprimand for the scandalous irregularity of his conduct, that all of them remained crest-fallen, and were ashamed, for many weeks, to appear in the public execution of their duty.

Peregrine was too vain of his finesse, to conceal the part he acted in this comedy, with the particulars of which he regaled his companions, and thereby entailed upon himself the hate and resentment of the community whose maxims and practices he had disclosed: for he was considered as a spy, who had intruded himself into their society, with a view of betraying it; or, at best, as an apostate and renegado from the faith and principles which he had professed.

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