The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XXII.

He is insulted by his Tutor, whom he lampoons — Makes a considerable Progress in Polite Literature; and, in an Excursion to Windsor, meets with Emilia by accident, and is very coldly received.

Among those who suffered by his craft and infidelity was Mr. Jumble, his own tutor, who could not at all digest the mortifying affront he had received, and was resolved to be revenged on the insulting author. With this view he watched the conduct of Mr. Pickle with the utmost rancour of vigilance, and let slip no opportunity of treating him disrespect, which he knew the disposition of his pupil could less brook than any other severity it was in his power to exercise.

Peregrine had been several mornings absent from chapel; and as Mr. Jumble never failed to question him in a very peremptory style about his non-attendance, he invented some very plausible excuses; but at length his ingenuity was exhausted: he received a very galling rebuke for his proffigacy of morals; and, that he might feel it the more sensibly, was ordered, by way of exercise, to compose a paraphrase in English verse upon these two lines in Virgil:—

Vane Ligur, frustraque animis elate superbis,
Nequicquam patrias tentasti lubricus artes.

The imposition of this invidious theme had all the desired effect upon Peregrine, who not only considered it as a piece of unmannerly abuse leveled against his own conduct, but also a retrospective insult on the memory of his grandfather, who, as he had been informed, was in his lifetime more noted for his cunning than candour in trade.

Exasperated at this instance of the pedant’s audacity, he had well nigh, in his first transports, taken corporal satisfaction on the spot; but, foreseeing the troublesome consequences that would attend such a flagrant outrage against the laws of the university, he checked his indignation, and resolved to revenge the injury in a more cool and contemptuous manner. Thus determined, he set on foot an inquiry into the particulars of Jumble’s parentage and education. He learnt that the father of this insolent tutor was a brick-layer, that his mother sold pies, and that the son, in different periods of his youth, had amused himself in both occupations, before he converted his views to the study of learning. Fraught with this intelligence, he composed the following ballad in doggerel rhymes; and next day, presented it as a gloss upon the text which the tutor had chosen:—

Come, listen, ye students of every degree;
I sing of a wit and a tutor perdie,
A statesman profound, a critic immense,
In short a mere jumble of learning and sense;
And yet of his talents though laudably vain,
His own family arts he could never attain.

His father, intending his fortune to build,
In his youth would have taught him the trowel to wield,
But the mortar of discipline never would stick,
For his skull was secured by a facing of brick;
And with all his endeavours of patience and pain,
The skill of his sire he could never attain.

His mother, a housewife neat, artful, and wise,
Renown’d for her delicate biscuit and pies,
soon alter’d his studies, by flattering his taste,
From the raising of walls to the rearing of paste!
But all her instructions were fruitless and vain;
The pie-making mystery he ne’er could attain.

Yet true to his race, in his labours were seen
A jumble of both their professions, I ween;
For, when his own genius he ventured to trust,
His pies seemed of brick, and his houses of crust.
Then good Mr. Tutor, pray be not so vain,
Since your family arts you could never attain.

This impudent production was the most effectual vengeance he could have taken on his tutor, who had all the supercilious arrogance and ridiculous pride of a low-born pedant. Instead of overlooking this petulant piece of satire with that temper and decency of disdain that became a person of his gravity and station, he no sooner cast his eye over the performance, than the blood rushed into his countenance, and immediately after exhibited a ghastly pale colour. With a quivering lip, he told his pupil, that he was an impertinent jackanapes; and he would take care that he should be expelled from the university, for having presumed to write and deliver such a licentious and scurrilous libel. Peregrine answered, with great resolution, that when the provocation he had received should be known, he was persuaded that he should be acquitted by the opinion of all impartial people; and that he was ready to submit the whole to the decision of the master.

This arbitration he proposed, because he knew the master and Jumble were at variance; and, for that reason, the tutor durst not venture to put the cause on such an issue. Nay, when this reference was mentioned, Jumble, who was naturally jealous, suspected that Peregrine had a promise of protection before he undertook to commit such an outrageous insult; and this notion had such an effect upon him, that he decided to devour his vexation, and wait for a more proper opportunity of gratifying his hate. Meanwhile, copies of the ballad were distributed among the students, who sang it under the very nose of Mr. Jumble, to the tune of “A Cobbler there was” etc.; and the triumph of our hero was complete. Neither was his whole time devoted to the riotous extravagancies of youth. He enjoyed many lucid intervals, during which he contracted a more intimate acquaintance with the classics, applied himself to the reading of history, improved his taste for painting and music, in which he made some progress; and, above all things, cultivated the study of natural philosophy. It was generally after a course of close attention to some of these arts and sciences, that his disposition broke out into those irregularities and wild sallies of a luxuriant imagination, for which he became so remarkable; and he was perhaps the only young man in Oxford who, at the same time, maintained an intimate and friendly intercourse with the most unthinking, as well as the most sedate students at the university.

It is not to be supposed that a young man of Peregrine’s vanity, inexperience, and profusion, could suit his expense to his allowance, liberal as it was — for he was not one of those fortunate people who are born economists, and knew not the art of withholding his purse when he saw his companion in difficulty. Thus naturally generous and expensive, he squandered away his money, and made a most splendid appearance upon the receipt of his quarterly appointment; but long before the third month was elapsed, his finances were consumed: and as he could not stoop to ask an extraordinary supply, was too proud to borrow, and too haughty to run in debt with tradesmen, he devoted those periods of poverty to the prosecution of his studies, and shone forth again at the revolution of quarter-day.

In one of these eruptions he and some of his companions went to Windsor, in order to see the royal apartments in the castle, whither they repaired in the afternoon; and as Peregrine stood contemplating the picture of Hercules and Omphale, one of his fellow-students whispered in his car, “Zounds! Pickle, there are two fine girls!” He turned instantly about, and in one of them recognized his almost forgotten Emilia; her appearance acted upon his imagination like a spark of fire that falls among gun-powder; that passion which had lain dormant for the space of two years, flashed up in a moment, and he was seized with a trepidation. She perceived and partook of his emotion; for their souls, like unisons, vibrated with the same impulse. However, she called her pride and resentment to her aid, and found resolution enough to retire from such a dangerous scene.

Alarmed at her retreat, he recollected all his assurance, and, impelled by love, which he could no longer resist, followed her into the next room, where, in the most disconcerted manner, he accosted her with “Your humble servant, Miss Gauntlet;” to which salutation she replied, with an affectation of indifference, that did not, however, conceal her agitation, “Your servant, sir;” and immediately extending her finger toward the picture of Duns Scotus, which is fixed over one of the doors, asked her companion, in a giggling tone, if she did not think he looked like a conjurer? Peregrine, nettled into spirits by this reception, answered for the other lady, “that it was an easy matter to be a conjurer in those times, when the simplicity of the age assisted his divination; but were he, or Merlin himself, to rise from the dead now, when such deceit and dissimulation prevail, they would not be able to earn their bread by the profession.”—“0! Sir,” said she, turning full upon him, “without doubt they would adopt new maxims; ’tis no disparagement in this enlightened age for one to alter one’s opinion.”—“No, sure, madam,” replied the youth, with some precipitation, “provided the change be for the better.”—“And should it happen otherwise,” retorted the nymph, with a flirt of her fan, “inconstancy will never want countenance from the practice of mankind.”-“True, madam,” resumed our hero, fixing his eyes upon her; “examples of levity are every where to be met with.”-“Oh Lord, sir,” cried Emilia, tossing her head, “you’ll scarce ever find a fop without it.”

By this time his companion, seeing him engaged with one of the ladies, entered into conversation with the other; and, in order to favour his friend’s gallantry, conducted her into the next apartment, on pretence of entertaining her with the sight of a remarkable piece of painting.

Peregrine, laying hold on this opportunity of being alone with the object of his love, assumed a most seducing tenderness of look, and, heaving a profound sigh, asked if she had utterly discarded him from her remembrance. Reddening at this pathetic question, which recalled the memory of the imagined slight he had put upon her, she answered in great confusion, “Sir, I believe I once had the pleasure of seeing you at a ball in Winchester.”—“Miss Emilia,” said he, very gravely, “will you be so candid as to tell me what misbehaviour of mine you are pleased to punish, by restricting your remembrance to that single occasion?”—“Mr. Pickle,” she replied, in the same tone, “it is neither my province nor inclination to judge your conduct; and therefore you misapply your question when you ask such an explanation of me”—“At least” resumed our lover, “give me the melancholy satisfaction to know for what offence of mine you refused to take least notice of that letter which I had the honour to write from Winchester by your own express permission.”—“Your letter” said miss, with great vivacity, “neither required, nor, in my opinion, deserved an answer; and to be free with you, Mr. Pickle, it was but a shallow artifice to rid yourself of a correspondence you had deigned to solicit.”

Peregrine, confounded at this repartee, replied that howsoever he might have failed in point of elegance or discretion, he was sure he had not been deficient in expressions of respect and devotion for those charms which it was his pride to adore: “As for the verses,” said he, “I own they were unworthy of the theme; but I flattered myself that they would have merited your acceptance, though not your approbation, and been considered not so much as the proof of my genius, as the genuine effusion of my love.”—“Verses,” cried Emilia with an air of astonishment, “what verses? I really don’t understand you.”

The young gentleman was thunderstruck at this exclamation; to which, after a long pause, he answered: “I begin to suspect, and heartily wish it may appear, that we have misunderstood each other from the beginning. Pray, Miss Gauntlet, did you not find a copy of verses inclosed in that unfortunate letter?”—“Truly, sit,” said the lady, “I am not so much of a connoisseur as to distinguish whether that facetious production, which you merrily style as an unfortunate letter, was composed in verse or prose; but methinks, the jest is a little too stale to be brought upon the carpet again.” So saying, she tripped away to her companion, and left her lover in a most tumultuous suspense. He now perceived that her neglect of his addresses when he was at Winchester, must have been owing to some mystery which he could not comprehend; and she began to suspect and to hope that the letter which she received was spurious, though she could not conceive how that could possibly happen, as it had been delivered to her by the hands of his own servant.

However, she resolved to leave the task of unravelling this affair to him, who, she knew, would infallibly exert himself for his own as well as her satisfaction. She was not deceived in her opinion: he went up to her again at the staircase, and, as they were improvided with a male attendant, insisted upon squiring the ladies to their lodgings. Emilia saw his drift, which was no other than to know where she lived; and though she approved of his contrivance, thought it was incumbent upon her, for the support of her own dignity, to decline the chivalry; she therefore thanked him for his polite offer, but would by no means consent to his giving himself such unnecessary trouble, especially as they had a very little way to walk. He was not repulsed by this refusal, the nature of which he perfectly understood; nor was she sorry to see him persevere in his determination: he therefore accompanied them in their return, and made divers efforts to speak with Emilia in particular; but she had a spice of the coquette in her disposition, and being determined to whet his impatience, artfully baffled all his endeavours, by keeping her companion continually engaged in the conversation, which turned upon the venerable appearance and imperial situation of the place. Thus tantalized, he lounged with them to the door of the house in which they lodged, when his mistress, perceiving, by the countenance of her comrade, that she was on the point of desiring him to walk in, checked her intention with a frown; then, turning to Mr. Pickle, dropped him a very formal curtsy, seized the other young lady by the arm, and saying, “Come, cousin Sophy,” vanished in a moment.

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