The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XLIII.

He introduces his new Friends to Mr. Jolter, with whom the Doctor enters into a Dispute upon Government, which had well nigh terminated in open War.

Meanwhile, he not only made them acquainted with everything worth seeing in town but attended them in their excursions to all the king’s houses within a day’s journey of Paris; and in the course of these parties, treated them with an elegant dinner at his own apartments, where a dispute arose between the doctor and Mr. Jolter, which had well nigh terminated in an irreconcilable animosity. These gentlemen, with an equal share of pride, pedantry, and saturnine disposition, were, by the accidents of education and company, diametrically opposite in political maxims; the one, as we have already observed, being a bigoted high-churchman, and the other a rank republican. It was an article of the governor’s creed, that the people could not be happy, nor the earth yield its fruits in abundance, under a restricted clergy and limited government; whereas, in the doctor’s opinion, it was an eternal truth, that no constitution was so perfect as the democracy, and that no country could flourish but under the administration of the mob.

These considerations being premised, no wonder that they happened to disagree in the freedom of an unreserved conversation, especially as their entertainer took all opportunities of encouraging and inflaming the contention. The first source of their difference was an unlucky remark of the painter, who observed that the partridge, of which he was then eating, had the finest relish of any he had ever tasted. His friend owned that the birds were the best of the kind he had seen in France; but affirmed that they were neither so plump nor delicious as those that were caught in England. The governor, considering this observation as the effect of prejudice and inexperience, said, with a sarcastic smile, “I believe, sir, you are very well disposed to find everything here inferior to the productions of your own country.”—“True, sir,” answered the physician, with a certain solemnity of aspect, “and not without good reason, I hope.”—“And pray,” resumed the tutor, “why may not the partridges of France be as good as those of England?”—“For a very plain reason,” replied the other; “because they are not so well fed. The iron hand of oppression is extended to all animals within the French dominions, even to the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air; kunessin oionoisi te pasi.”—“Egad!” cried the painter, “that is a truth not to be controverted: for my own part, I am none of your tit-bits, one would think; but yet there is a freshness in the English complexion, a ginseekye, I think you call it, so inviting to a hungry Frenchman, that I have caught several in the very act of viewing me with an eye of extreme appetite, as I passed; and as for their curs, or rather their wolves, whenever I set eyes on one of ’em, Ah! your humble servant, Mr. son of a b — I am upon my guard in an instant. The doctor can testify that their very horses, or more properly their live carrion, that drew our chaise, used to reach back their long necks and smell at us, as a couple of delicious morsels.”

This sally of Mr. Pallet, which was received with a general laugh of approbation, would in all probability, have stifled the dispute in embryo, had not Mr. Jolter, with a self-applauding simper, ironically complimented the strangers on their talking like true Englishmen. The doctor, affronted at the insinuation, told him with some warmth that he was mistaken in his conjecture, his affections and ideas being confined to no particular country; for he considered himself as a citizen of the world. He owned himself more attached to England than to any other kingdom, but this preference was the effect of reflection, and not of prejudice; the British constitution approached nearer than any other to that perfection of government, the democracy of Athens, he hoped one day to see revived; he mentioned the death of Charles the First, and the expulsion of his son, with raptures of applause; inveighed with great acrimony against the kingly name; and, in order to strengthen his opinion, repeated forty or fifty lines from one of the Philippics of Demosthenes.

Jolter, hearing him speak so disrespectfully of the higher powers, glowed with indignation: he said his doctrines were detestable, and destructive of all right, order, and society; that monarchy was of divine institution, therefore indefeasible by any human power; and of consequence those events in the English history, which he had so liberally commended, were no other than flagrant instances of sacrilege, perfidy, and sedition; that the democracy of Athens was a most absurd constitution, productive of anarchy and mischief, which must always happen when the government of a nation depends upon the caprice of the ignorant, hair-brained vulgar; that it was in the power of the most profligate member of the commonwealth, provided he was endowed with eloquence, to ruin the most deserving, by a desperate exertion of his talents upon the populace, who had been often persuaded to act in the most ungrateful and imprudent manner against the greatest patriots that their country had produced; and, finally, he averred, that the liberal arts and sciences had never flourished so much in a republic as under the encouragement and protection of absolute power: witness the Augustan age, and the reign of Louis the Fourteenth: nor was it to be supposed that genius and merit could ever be so amply recompensed by the individuals or distracted councils of a commonwealth, as by the generosity and magnificence of one who had the whole treasury at his own command.

Peregrine, who was pleased to find the contest grow warm, observed that there seemed to be a good deal of truth in what Mr. Jolter advanced; and the painter whose opinion began to waver, looked with a face of expectation at his friend, who, modelling his features into an expression of exulting disdain, asked of his antagonist, if he did not think that very power of rewarding merit enabled an absolute prince to indulge himself in the most arbitrary license over the lives and fortunes of his people? Before the governor had time to answer this question, Pallet broke forth into an exclamation of “By the Lord! that is certainly fact, egad! that was a home-thrust, doctor.” When Mr. Jolter, chastising this shallow intruder with a contemptuous look, affirmed that, though supreme power furnished a good prince with the means of exerting his virtues, it would not support a tyrant in the exercise of cruelty and oppression; because in all nations the genius of the people must be consulted by their governors, and the burthen proportioned to the shoulders on which it is laid. “Else, what follows?” said the physician. “The consequence is plain,” replied the governor, “insurrection, revolt, and his own destruction; for it is not to be supposed that the subjects of any nation would be so abject and pusillanimous as to neglect the means which heaven hath put in their power for their own preservation.”—“Gadzooks, you’re in the right, sir” cried Pallet; “that, I grant you, must be confessed: doctor, I’m afraid we have got into the wrong box.” This son of Paean, however, far from being of his friend’s opinion, observed, with an air of triumph, that he would not only demonstrate the sophistry of the gentleman’s last allegation by argument and facts, but even confute him with his own words. Jolter’s eyes kindling at this presumptuous declaration, he told his antagonist, while his lip quivered with resentment, that if his arguments were no better than his breeding, he was sure he would make very few converts to his opinion; and the doctor, with all the insolence of triumph, advised him to beware of disputes for the future, until he should have made himself more master of his subject.

Peregrine both wished and hoped to see the disputants proceed to arguments of more weight and conviction; and the painter, dreading the same issue, interposed with the usual exclamation of “For God’s sake, gentlemen;” when the governor rose from table in great dudgeon, and left the room, muttering some ejaculation, of which the word coxcomb only could be distinctly heard. The physician, being thus left master of the field of battle, was complimented on his victory by Peregrine, and so elevated by his success, that he declaimed a full hour on the absurdity of Jolter’s proposition, and the beauty of the democratic administration; canvassed the whole scheme of Plato’s republic, with many quotations from that ideal author, touching the to kalon: from thence he made a transition to the moral sense of Shaftesbury, and concluded his harangue with the greatest part of that frothy writer’s rhapsody, which he repeated with all the violence of enthusiastic agitation, to the unspeakable satisfaction of his entertainer, and the unutterable admiration of Pallet, who looked upon him as something supernatural and divine.

So intoxicated was this vain young man with the ironical praises of Pickle, that he forthwith shook off all reserve; and having professed a friendship for our hero, whose taste and learning he did not fail to extol, intimated in plain terms, that he was the only person, in these latter ages, who possessed that genius, that portion of the divinity, or Ti Theion, which immortalized the Grecian poets: that as Pythagoras affirmed the spirit of Euphorbus had transmigrated into his body, he, the doctor, strangely possessed with the opinion that he himself was inspired by the soul of Pindar; because, making allowance for the difference of languages in which they wrote, there was a surprising affinity between his own works and those of that celebrated Theban; and as a confirmation of this truth, he immediately produced a sample of each, which, though in spirit and versification as different as the Odes of Horace and our present poet-laureat, Peregrine did not scruple to pronounce altogether congenial, notwithstanding the violence he by this sentence offered to his own conscience, and a certain alarm to his pride, that was weak enough to be disturbed by the physician’s ridiculous vanity and presumption, which, not contented with displaying his importance in the world of taste and polite literature, manifested itself in arrogating certain material discoveries in the province of physic, which could not fail to advance him to the highest pinnacle of that profession, considering the recommendation of his other talents, together with a liberal fortune which he inherited from his father.

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