The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XXXIX.

He is involved in an Adventure at Paris, and taken prisoner by the City Guard — Becomes acquainted with a French Nobleman, who introduces him in the Beau Monde.

They were no sooner settled in these lodgings, than our hero wrote to his uncle an account of their safe arrival, and sent another letter to his friend Gauntlet, with a very tender billet inclosed for his dear Emilia, to whom he repeated all his former vows of constancy and love.

The next care that engrossed him was that of bespeaking several suits of clothes suitable to the French mode; and, in the mean time, he never appeared abroad, except in the English coffee-house, where he soon became acquainted with some of his own countrymen, who were at Paris on the same footing with himself. The third evening after his journey, he was engaged in a party of those young sparks, at the house of a noted traiteur, whose wife was remarkably handsome, and otherwise extremely well qualified for alluring customers to her house. To this lady our young gentleman was introduced as a stranger fresh from England; and he was charmed with her personal accomplishments, as well as with the freedom and gaiety of her conversation. Her frank deportment persuaded him that she was one of those kind creatures who granted favours to the best bidder: on this supposition he began to be so importunate in his addresses, that the fair bourgeoise was compelled to cry aloud in defence of her own virtue. Her husband ran immediately to her assistance, and finding her in a very alarming situation, flew upon her ravisher with such fury, that he was fain to quit his prey, and turn against the exasperated traiteur, whom he punished without mercy for his impudent intrusion. The lady, seeing her yoke-fellow treated with so little respect, espoused his cause, and, fixing her nails in his antagonist’s face, sacrificed all one side of his nose. The noise of this encounter brought all the servants of the house to the rescue of their master; and Peregrine’s company opposing them, a general battle ensued, in which the French were totally routed, the wife insulted, and the husband kicked downstairs.

The publican, enraged at the indignity which had been offered to him and his family, went out into the street, and implored the protection of the guet, or city guard, which, having heard his complaint, fixed their bayonets and surrounded the door, to the number of twelve or fourteen. The young gentlemen, flushed with their success, and considering the soldiers as so many London watchmen whom they had often put to flight, drew their swords, and sallied out, with Peregrine at their head. Whether the guard respected them as foreigners, or inexperienced youths intoxicated with liquor, they opened to right and left, and gave them room to pass without opposition. This complaisance, which was the effect of compassion, being misinterpreted by the English leader, he, out of mere wantonness, attempted to trip up the heels of the soldier that stood next him, but failed in the execution, and received a blow on his breast with the butt-end of a fusil, that made him stagger several paces backward. Incensed at this audacious application, the whole company charged the detachment sword in hand and, after an obstinate engagement, in which divers wounds were given and received, every soul of them was taken, and conveyed to the main-guard. The commanding officer being made acquainted with the circumstances of the quarrel, in consideration of their youth and national ferocity, for which the French make large allowances, set them all at liberty, after having gently rebuked them for the irregularity and insolence of their conduct; so that all our hero acquired by his gallantry and courage, was a number of scandalous marks upon his visage that confined him a whole week to his chamber. It was impossible to conceal this disaster from Mr. Jolter, who, having obtained intelligence of the particulars, did not fail to remonstrate against the rashness of the adventure, which, he observed, must have been fatal to them, had their enemies been other than Frenchmen, who, of all people under the sun, most rigorously observe the laws of hospitality.

As the governor’s acquaintance lay chiefly among Irish and English priests, and a set of low people who live by making themselves necessary to strangers, either in teaching the French language, or executing small commissions with which they are intrusted, he was not the most proper person in the world for regulating the taste of a young gentleman who travelled for improvement, in expectation of making a figure one day in his own country. Being conscious of his own incapacity, he contented himself with the office of a steward, and kept a faithful account of all the money that was disbursed in the course of their family expense: not but that he was acquainted with all the places which were visited by strangers on their first arrival at Paris; and he knew to a liard what was commonly given to the Swiss of each remarkable hotel; though, with respect to the curious painting and statuary that everywhere abounded in that metropolis, he was more ignorant than the domestic that attends for a livre a day.

In short, Mr. Jolter could give a very good account of the stages on the road, and save the expense of Antonini’s detail of the curiosities in Paris: he was a connoisseur in ordinaries, from twelve to five-and-thirty livres, knew all the rates of fiacre and remise, could dispute with a tailleur or a traiteur upon the articles of his bill, and scold the servants in tolerable French. But the laws, customs, and genius of the people, the characters of individuals, and scenes of polished life, were subjects which he had neither opportunities to observe, inclination to consider, nor discernment to distinguish. All his maxims were the suggestions of pedantry and prejudice; so that his perception was obscured, his judgment biased, his address awkward, and his conversation absurd and unentertaining: yet such as I have represented this tutor, are the greatest part of those animals who lead raw boys about the world, under the denomination of travelling governors. Peregrine, therefore, being perfectly well acquainted with the extent of Mr. Jolter’s abilities, never dreamt of consulting him in the disposition of his conduct, but parcelled out his time to the dictates of his own reflection, and the information and direction of his companions, who had lived longer in France, and consequently were better acquainted with the pleasures of the place.

As soon as he was in a condition to appear a la Francaise, he hired a genteel chariot by the month, made the tour of the Luxembourg gallery, Palais Royal, all the remarkable hotels, churches, and celebrated places in Paris; visited St. Cloud, Marli, Versailles, Trianon, St. Germaine, and Fountainebleau, enjoyed the opera, Italian and French comedy; and seldom failed of appearing in the public walks, in hopes of meeting with Mrs. Hornbeck, or some adventure suited to his romantic disposition. He never doubted that his person would attract the notice of some distinguished inamorata, and was vain enough to believe that few female hearts were able to resist the artillery of his accomplishments, should he once find an opportunity of planting it to advantage. He presented himself, however, at all the spectacles for many weeks, without reaping the fruits of his expectation; and began to entertain a very indifferent idea of the French discernment, which had overlooked him so long, when one day, in his way to the opera, his chariot was stopped by an embarrass in the street, occasioned by two peasants, who having driven their carts against each other, quarrelled, and went to loggerheads on the spot. Such a rencounter is so uncommon in France, that the people shut up their shops, and from their windows threw cold water upon the combatants, with a view of putting an end to the battle, which was maintained with great fury, and very little skill, until one of them receiving an accidental fall, the other took the advantage of this misfortune, and, fastening upon him, as he lay, began to thump the pavement with his head.

Our hero’s equipage being detained close by the field of this contention, Pipes could not bear to see the laws of boxing so scandalously transgressed, and, leaping from his station, pulled the offender from his antagonist, whom he raised up, and in the English language encouraged to a second essay, instructing him at the same time by clenching his fists according to art, and putting himself in a proper attitude. Thus confirmed, the enraged carman sprang upon his foe, and in all appearance would have effectually revenged the injury he had sustained, if he had not been prevented by the interposition of a lacquey belonging to a nobleman, whose coach was obliged to halt in consequence of the dispute. This footman, who was distinguished by a cane, descending from his post, without the least ceremony or expostulation, began to employ his weapon upon the head and shoulders of the peasant who had been patronized by Pipes; upon which, Thomas, resenting such ungenerous behaviour, bestowed such a stomacher upon the officious intermeddler, as discomposed the whole economy of his entrails, and obliged him to discharge the interjection Ah! with demonstrations of great anguish and amazement. The other two footmen who stood behind the coach, seeing their fellow-servant so insolently assaulted, flew to his assistance, and rallied a most disagreeable shower upon the head of his aggressor, who had no means of diversion or defence.

Peregrine, though he did not approve of Tom’s conduct, could not bear to see him so roughly handled, especially as he thought his own honour concerned in the fray; and therefore, quitting his machine, came to the rescue of his attendant, and charged his adversaries sword in hand. Two of them no sooner perceived this reinforcement, than they betook themselves to flight; and Pipes, having twisted the cane out of the hands of the third, belaboured him so unmercifully, that our hero thought proper to interpose his authority in his behalf. The common people stood aghast at this unprecedented boldness of Pickle, who understanding that the person whose servants he had disciplined was a general and prince of the blood, went up to the coach, and asked pardon for what he had done, imputing his own behaviour to his ignorance of the other’s quality. The old nobleman accepted of his apology with great politeness, thanking him for the trouble he bad taken to reform the manners of his domestics; and guessing from our youth’s appearance that he was some stranger of condition, very courteously invited him into the coach, on the supposition that they were both going to the opera. Pickle gladly embraced this opportunity of becoming acquainted with a person of such rank, and, ordering his own chariot to follow, accompanied the count to his loge, where he conversed with him during the whole entertainment.

He soon perceived that Peregrine was not deficient in spirit or sense, and seemed particularly pleased with his engaging manner and easy deportment, qualifications for which the English nation is by no means remarkable in France, and therefore the more conspicuous and agreeable in the character of our hero, whom the nobleman carried home that same evening, and introduced to his lady and several persons of fashion who supped at his house. Peregrine was quite captivated by their affable behaviour and the vivacity of their discourse; and, after having been honoured with particular marks of consideration, took his leave, fully determined to cultivate such a valuable acquaintance.

His vanity suggested, that now the time was come when he should profit by his talents among the fair sex, on whom he resolved to employ his utmost art and address. With this view he assiduously engaged in all parties to which he had access by means of his noble friend, who let slip no opportunity of gratifying his ambition. He for some time shared in all his amusements, and was entertained in many of the best families of France; but he did not long enjoy that elevation of hope, which had flattered his imagination. He soon perceived that it would be impossible to maintain the honourable connections he had made, without engaging every day at quadrille, or, in other words, losing his money; for every person of rank, whether male or female, was a professed gamester, who knew and practised all the finesse of the art, of which he was entirely ignorant. Besides, he began to find himself a mere novice in French gallantry, which is supported by an amazing volubility of tongue, and obsequious and incredible attention to trifles, a surprising faculty of laughing out of pure complaisance, and a nothingness of conversation which he could never attain. In short, our hero, who among his own countrymen would have passed for a sprightly, entertaining fellow, was considered in the brilliant assemblies of France as a youth of a very phlegmatic disposition. No wonder, then, that his pride was mortified at his own want of importance, which he did not fail to ascribe to their defect in point of judgment and taste. He conceived a disgust at the mercenary conduct, as well as the shallow intellects, of the ladies; and after he had spent some months, and a round sum of money, in fruitless attendance and addresses, he fairly quitted the pursuit, and consoled himself with the conversation of a merry fille de joie, whose good graces he acquired by an allowance of twenty louis per month. That he might the more easily afford this expense, he dismissed his chariot and French lacquey at the same time.

He then entered himself in a noted academy, in order to finish his exercises, and contracted an acquaintance with a few sensible people, whom he distinguished at the coffee-house and ordinary to which he resorted, and who contributed not a little to the improvement of his knowledge and taste; for, prejudice apart, it must be owned that France abounds with men of consummate honour, profound sagacity, and the most liberal education. From the conversation of such, he obtained a distinct idea of their government and constitution; and though he could not help admiring the excellent order and economy of their police, the result of all his inquiries was self-congratulation on his title to the privileges of a British subject. Indeed this invaluable birthright was rendered conspicuous by such flagrant occurrences, which fell every day almost under his observation, that nothing but the grossest prejudice could dispute its existence.

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