The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XLII.

Peregrine resolves to return to England — Is diverted with the odd Characters of two of his Countrymen, with whom he contracts an acquaintance in the Apartments of the Palais Royal.

In the mean time our hero received a letter from his aunt, importing that the commodore was in a very declining way, and longed much to see him at the garrison; and at the same time he heard from his sister, who gave him to understand that the young gentleman, who had for some time made his addresses to her, was become very pressing in his solicitations; so that she wanted to know in what manner she should answer his repeated entreaties. Those two considerations determined the young gentleman to retain to his native country; a resolution that was far from being disagreeable to Jolter, who knew that the incumbent on a living which was in the gift of Trunnion was extremely old, and that it would be his interest to be upon the spot at the said incumbent’s decease.

Peregrine, who had resided about fifteen months in France, thought he was now sufficiently qualified for eclipsing most of his contemporaries in England, and therefore prepared for his departure with infinite alacrity; being moreover inflamed with the most ardent desire of revisiting his friends, and renewing his connections, particularly with Emilia, whose heart he by this time, thought he was able to reduce on his own terms.

As he proposed to make the tour of Flanders and Holland in his return to England, he resolved to stay at Paris a week or two after his affairs were settled, in hope of finding some companion disposed for the same journey; and, in order to refresh his memory, made a second circuit round all the places in that capital, where any curious production of art is to be seen. In the course of this second examination he chanced to enter the Palais Royal, just as two gentlemen alighted from a fiacre at the gate; and all three being admitted at the same time, he soon perceived that the strangers were of his own country. One of them was a young man, in whose air and countenance appeared all the uncouth gravity and supercilious self-conceit of a physician piping-hot from his studies; while the other, to whom his companion spoke by the appellation of Mr. Pallet, displayed at first sight a strange composition of levity and assurance. Indeed, their characters, dress, and address, were strongly contrasted: the doctor wore a suit of black, and a huge tie-wig, neither suitable to his own age, nor the fashion of the country where he then lived; whereas the other, though seemingly turned of fifty, strutted in a gay summer dress of the Parisian cut, with a bag to his own grey hair, and a red feather in his hat, which he carried under his arm. As these figures seemed to promise something entertaining, Pickle entered into conversation with them immediately, and soon discovered that the old gentleman was a painter from London, who had stolen a fortnight from his occupation, in order to visit the remarkable paintings of France and Flanders; and that the doctor had taken the opportunity of accompanying him in his tour. Being extremely talkative, he not only communicated these particulars to our hero in a very few minutes after their meeting, but also took occasion to whisper in his ear that his fellow-traveller was a man of vast learning and, beyond all doubt, the greatest poet of the age. As for himself, he was under no necessity of making his own eulogium; for he soon gave such specimens of his taste and talents as left Pickle no room to doubt of his capacity.

While they stood considering the pictures in one of the first apartments, which are by no means the most masterly compositions, the Swiss, who set up for a connoisseur, looking at a certain piece, pronounced the word with a note of admiration; upon which Mr. Pallet, who was not at all a critic in the French language, replied, with great vivacity, “Manufac, you mean, and a very indifferent piece of manufacture it is: pray, gentlemen, take notice; there is no keeping in those heads upon the background, and no relief in the principal figure: then you’ll observe the shadings are harsh to the last degree; and, come a little closer this way — don’t you perceive that the foreshortening of that arm is monstrous? — egad, sir! The is an absolute fracture in the limb. Doctor, you understand anatomy: don’t you think that muscle evidently misplaced? Hark ye, Mr. what-d’ye-call-um (turning to the attendant), what is the name of the dauber who painted that miserable performance?” The Swiss, imagining that he was all this time expressing his satisfaction, sanctioned his supposed commendation by exclaiming sans prix. “Right,” cried Pallet: “I could not recollect his name, though his manner is quite familiar to me. We have a few pieces in England, done by that same Sangpree; but there they are in no estimation; we have more taste among us than to relish the productions of such a miserable gout. A’n’t he an ignorant coxcomb, doctor?” The physician, ashamed of his companion’s blunder, thought it was necessary, for the honour of his wan character, to take notice of it before the stranger, and therefore answered his question by repeating this line from Horace:—

Mutato nomine, de te fabula narratur.

The painter, who was rather more ignorant of Latin than of French, taking it for granted that this quotation of his friend conveyed an assent to his opinion, “Very true,” said he, “Potato domine date, this piece is not worth a single potato.” Peregrine was astonished at this surprising perversion of the words and meaning of a Latin line, which, at first, he could not help thinking was a premeditated joke; but, upon second thoughts, he saw no reason to doubt that it was the extemporaneous effect of sheer pertness and ignorance, at which he broke out into an immoderate fit of laughter. Pallet, believing that the gentleman’s mirth was occasioned by his arch animadversion upon the work of Sangpree, underwent the same emotion in a much louder strain, and endeavoured to heighten the jest by more observations of the same nature; while the doctor, confounded at his impudence and want of knowledge, reprimanded him in these words of Homer:—

Siga, me tis allos Achaion touton akouse muthon.

This rebuke, the reader will easily perceive, was not calculated for the meridian of his friend’s intellects, but uttered with a view of raising his own character in the opinion of Mr. Pickle, who retorted this parade of learning in three verses from the same author, being part of the speech of Polydamas to Hector, importing that it is impossible for one man to excel in everything.

The self-sufficient physician, who did not expect such a repartee from a youth of Peregrine’s appearance, looked upon his reply as a fair challenge, and instantly rehearsed forty or fifty lines of the Iliad in a breath. Observing that the stranger made no effort to match this effusion, he interpreted his silence into submission; then, in order to ascertain his victory, insulted him with divers fragments of authors, whom his supposed competitor did not even know by name; while Mr. Pallet stared with admiration at the profound scholarship of his companion. Our young gentleman, far from repining at this superiority laughed within himself at the ridiculous ambition of the pedantic doctor. He rated him in his own mind as a mere index-hunter, who held the eel of science by the tail, and foresaw an infinite fund of diversion in his solemnity and pride, if properly extracted by means of his fellow-traveller’s vanity and assurance. Prompted by these considerations, he resolved to cultivate their acquaintance, and, if possible, amuse himself at their expense in his journey through Flanders, understanding that they were determined upon the same route. In this view he treated them with extraordinary attention, and seemed to pay particular deference to the remarks of the painter, who, with great intrepidity, pronounced judgment upon every picture in the palace, or, in other words, exposed his own nakedness in every sentence that proceeded from his mouth.

When they came to consider the Murder of the Innocents by Le Brun, the Swiss observed, that it was un beau morceau, and Mr. Pallet replied — “Yes, yes, one may see with half an eye, that it can be the production of no other; for Bomorso’s style both in colouring and drapery, is altogether peculiar: then his design is tame, and his expression antic and unnatural. Doctor, you have seen my judgment of Solomon; I think I may, without presumption — but, I don’t choose to make comparisons; I leave that odious task to other people, and let my works speak for themselves. France, to be sure, is rich in the arts; but what is the reason? The king encourages men of genius with honour and rewards; whereas, in England, we are obliged to stand on our own feet, and combat the envy and malice of our brethren. Egad! I have a good mind to come and settle here in Paris. I should like to have an apartment in the Louvre, with a snug pension of so many thousand livres.”

In this manner did Pallet proceed with an eternal rotation of tongue, floundering from one mistake to another, until it was the turn of Poussin’s Seven Sacraments to be examined. Here again, the Swiss, out of the abundance of his zeal, expressed his admiration, by saying these pieces were impayable; when the painter, turning to him, with an air of exultation, “Pardon me, friend, there you happen to be mistaken: these are none of Impayable’s; but done by Nicholas Pouseen. I have seen prints of them in England, so that none of your tricks upon travellers, Mr. Swiss or Swash, or what’s your name.” He was much elated by this imaginary triumph of his understanding, which animated him to persevere in his curious observations upon all the other pieces of that celebrated collection; but perceiving that the doctor manifested no signs of pleasure and satisfaction, but rather beheld them with a silent air of disdain, he could not digest his indifference, and asked, with a waggish sneer, if ever he had seen such a number of masterpieces before? The physician, eyeing him with a look of compassion, mingled with contempt, observed that there was nothing there which deserved the attention of any person acquainted with the ideas of the ancients; and that the author of the finest piece now in being was unworthy to clean the brushes of one of those great masters who are celebrated by the Greek and Roman writers.

“O lad! O lad!” exclaimed the painter, with a loud laugh, “you have fairly brought yourself into a dilemma at last, dear doctor; for it is well known that your ancient Greek and Roman artists knew nothing at all of the matter, in comparison with our modern masters; for this good reason, because they had but three or four colours, and knew not how to paint with oil: besides, which of all your old fusty Grecians would you put upon a footing with the divine Raphael, the most excellent Michael Angelo, Bona Roti, the graceful Guido, the bewitching Titian, and above all others, the sublime Rubens, the —.” He would have proceeded with a long catalogue of names which he had got by heart for the purpose, without retaining the least idea of their several qualifications, had not he been interrupted by his friend, whose indignation being kindled by the irreverence with which he mentioned the Greeks, he called him blasphemer, Goth, Boeotian, and, in his turn, asked with great vehemence, which of those puny moderns could match with Panaenus of Athens, and his brother Phidias; Polycletus of Sicyon; Polygnotus, the Thracian; Parrhasius of Ephesus, surnamed Abrodiaitos, or the Beau; and Apelles, the prince of painters? He challenged him to show any portrait of these days that could vie with the Helen of Zeuxis, the Heraclean; or any composition equal to the Sacrifice of Iphigenia, by Timanthes, the Sicyonian; not to mention the Twelve Gods of Asclepiodorus, the Athenian, for which Mnason, tyrant of Elatea, gave him about three hundred pounds apiece; or Homer’s Hell, by Nicias, who refused sixty talents, amounting to upwards of eleven thousand pounds, and generously made a present of it to his own country. He desired him to produce a collection equal to that in the temple of Delphos, mentioned in the “Ion” of Euripides; where Hercules and his companion Iolaus, are represented in the act of killing the Lernaean hydra with golden sickles, kruseais harpais, where Bellerophon appears on his winged steed, vanquishing the fire-breathing chimera, tan puripneousan; and the war of the giants is described. Here Jupiter stands wielding the red-hot thunderbolts, keraunon amphipuron; there Pallas, dreadful to the view, Gorgopon, brandishes her spear against the huge Euceladus; and Bacchus, with slender ivy rods, defeats and slays the ges teknon, or the mighty son of earth.

The painter was astonished and confounded at this rhapsody of names and instances, which was uttered with surprising eagerness and rapidity, suspecting at first that the whole was the creation of his own brain; but when Pickle, with a view of flattering the doctor’s self-conceit, espoused his side of the question, and confirmed the truth of everything he advanced, Mr. Pallet changed his opinion, and in emphatic silence adored the immensity of his friend’s understanding. In short, Peregrine easily perceived that they were false enthusiasts, without the smallest pretensions to taste and sensibility; and pretended to be in raptures with they knew not what; the one thinking it was incumbent upon him to express transports on seeing the works of those who had been most eminent in their profession, whether they did or did not really raise his admiration; and the other as a scholar deeming it his duty to magnify the ancients above all competition, with an affected fervour, which the knowledge of their excellencies never inspired. Indeed, our young gentleman so successfully accommodated himself to the disposition of each, that long before their review was finished, he was become a particular favourite with both.

From the Palais Royal he accompanied them to the cloisters of the Carthusian’s, where they considered the History of St. Bruno, by Le Sueur, whose name being utterly unknown to the painter, he gave judgment against the whole composition, as pitiful and paltry; though, in the opinion of all good judges, it is a most masterly performance.

Having satisfied their curiosity in this place, Peregrine asked them to favour him with their company at dinner; but whether out of caution against the insinuations of one whose character they did not know, or by reason of a prior engagement, they declined his invitation on pretence of having an appointment at a certain ordinary, though they expressed a desire of being further acquainted with him; and Mr. Pallet took the freedom of asking his name, which he not only declared, but promised, as they were strangers in Paris, to wait upon them next day in the forenoon, in order to conduct them to the Hotel de Toulouse, and the houses of several other noblemen, remarkable for painting or curious furniture. They thankfully embraced his proposal, and that same day made inquiry among the English gentlemen about the character of our hero, which they found so much to their satisfaction, that, upon their second meeting, they courted his good graces without reserve; and as they had heard of his intended departure, begged earnestly to have the honour of accompanying him through the Low Countries. He assured them that nothing could be more agreeable to him than the prospect of having such fellow-travellers; and they immediately appointed a day for setting out on that tour.

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