The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter L.

Peregrine moralizes upon their Behaviour, which is condemned by the Doctor, and defended by the Governor — They arrive in safety at Lisle, dine at an Ordinary, visit the Citadel — The Physician quarrels with a North Briton, who is put in Arrest.

These honourable adventurers being gone, Peregrine, who was present during the transaction, informed himself of the particulars from the mouth of the innkeeper himself, who took Heaven and the saints to witness, that he should have been a loser by their custom, even if the bill had been paid: because he was on his guard against their objections, and had charged every article at an under price: but such was the authority of officers in France, that he durst not dispute the least circumstance of their will; for, had the case come under the cognizance of the magistrate, he must, in course, have suffered by the maxims of their government, which never fail to abet the oppression of the army; and, besides, run the risk of incurring their future resentment, which would be sufficient to ruin him from top to bottom.

Our hero boiled with indignation at this instance of injustice and arbitrary power; and, turning to his governor, asked, if this too was a proof of the happiness enjoyed by the French people. Jolter replied, that every human constitution must, in some things, be imperfect and owned, that in this kingdom, gentlemen were more countenanced than the vulgar, because it was to be presumed that their own sentiments of honour and superior qualifications would entitle them to this pre-eminence, which had also a retrospective view to the merit of their ancestors, in consideration of which they were at first ennobled; but he affirmed, that the innkeeper had misrepresented the magistracy, which, in France, never failed to punish flagrant outrages and abuse, without respect of persons.

The painter approved of the wisdom of the French government, in bridling the insolence of the mob, by which, he assured them, he had often suffered in his own person; having been often bespattered by hackney-coachmen, jostled by draymen and porters, and reviled in the most opprobrious terms by the watermen of London, where he had once lost his bag and a considerable quantity of hair, which had been cut off by some rascal in his passage through Ludgate, during the Lord Mayor’s procession. On the other hand, the doctor with great warmth alleged, that those officers ought to suffer death, or banishment at least, for having plundered the people in this manner, which was so impudent and barefaced, as plainly to prove they were certain of escaping with impunity, and that they were old offenders in the same degree of delinquency. He said, that the greatest man in Athens would have been condemned to perpetual exile, and seen his estate confiscated for public use, had he dared in such a licentious manner to violate the rights of a fellow-citizen; and as for the little affronts to which a man may be subject from the petulance of the multitude, he looked upon them as glorious indications of liberty, which ought not to be repressed, and would at any time rejoice to find himself overthrown in a kennel by the insolence of a son of freedom, even though the fall should cost him a limb; adding, by way of illustration, that the greatest pleasure he ever enjoyed was in seeing a dustman wilfully overturn a gentleman’s coach, in which two ladies were bruised, even to the danger of their lives. Pallet, shocked at the extravagance of this declaration, “If that be the case,” said he, “I wish you may see every bone in your body broke by the first carman you meet in the streets of London.”

This argument being discussed, and the reckoning discharged without any deduction, although the landlord, in stating the articles, had an eye to the loss he had sustained by his own countrymen, they departed from Arras, and arrived in safety at Lisle, about two o’clock in the afternoon.

They had scarce taken possession of their lodgings, in a large hotel in the Grande Place, when the innkeeper gave them to understand, that he kept an ordinary below, which was frequented by several English gentlemen who resided in town, and that dinner was then set upon the table. Peregrine, who seized all opportunities of observing new characters, persuaded his company to dine in public; and they were accordingly conducted to the place, where they found a mixture of Scotch and Dutch officers, who had come from Holland to learn their exercises at the academy, and some gentlemen in the French service, who were upon garrison duty in the citadel. Among these last was a person about the age of fifty, of a remarkably genteel air and polite address, dignified with a Maltese cross, and distinguished by the particular veneration of all those who knew him. When he understood that Pickle and his friends were travellers, he accosted the youth in English, which he spoke tolerably well; and, as they were strangers, offered to attend them in the afternoon to all the places worth seeing in Lisle. Our hero thanked him for his excess of politeness, which, he said, was peculiar to the French nation; and, struck with his engaging appearance, industriously courted his conversation, in the course of which he learned that this chevalier was a man of good sense and great experience, that he was perfectly well acquainted with the greatest part of Europe, had lived some years in England, and was no stranger to the constitution and genius of that people.

Having dined, and drunk to the healths of the English and French kings, two fiacres were called, in one of which the knight, with one of his companions, the governor, and Peregrine seated themselves, the other being occupied by the physician, Pallet, and two Scottish officers, who proposed to accompany them in their circuit. The first place they visited was the citadel, round the ramparts of which they walked, under the conduct of the knight, who explained with great accuracy the intention of every particular fortification belonging to that seemingly impregnable fortress; and, when they had satisfied their curiosity, took coach again, in order to view the arsenal, which stands in another quarter of the town; but, just as Pickle’s carriage had crossed the promenade, he heard his own name bawled aloud by the painter; and, ordering the fiacre to stop, saw Pallet, with one half of his body thrust out at the window of the other coach, crying, with a terrified look, “Mr. Pickle, Mr. Pickle, the for the love of God halt, and prevent bloodshed, else here will be carnage and cutting of throats.” Peregrine, surprised at this exclamation, immediately alighted, and, advancing to the other vehicle, found one of their military companions standing upon the ground, at the farther side of the coach, with his sword drawn, and fury in his countenance; and the physician, with a quivering lip, and haggard aspect, struggling with the other, who had interposed in the quarrel, and detained him in his place.

Our young gentleman, upon inquiry, found that this animosity had sprung from a dispute that happened upon the ramparts, touching the strength of the fortification, which the doctor, according to custom, undervalued, because it was a modern work; saying, that by the help of the military engines used among the ancients, and a few thousands of pioneers, he would engage to take it in less than ten days after he should sit down before it. The North Briton, who was as great a pedant as the physician, having studied fortification, and made himself master of Caesar’s Commentaries and Polybius, with the observations of Folard, affirmed, that all the methods of besieging practised by the ancients would be utterly ineffectual against such a plan as that of the citadel of Lisle; and began to compare the vineae, aggeres, arietes, scorpiones, and catapultae of the Romans, with the trenches, mines, batteries, and mortars used in the present art of war. The republican, finding himself attacked upon what he thought his strong side, summoned all his learning to his aid; and, describing the famous siege of Plateae, happened to misquote a passage of Thucydides, in which he was corrected by the other, who, having been educated for the church, was also a connoisseur in the Greek language. The doctor, incensed at being detected in such a blunder in the presence of Pallet, who, he knew, would promulgate his shame, told the officer, with great arrogance, that his objection was frivolous, and that he must not pretend to dispute on these matters with one who had considered them with the utmost accuracy and care. His antagonist, piqued at this supercilious insinuation, replied with great heat, that for aught he knew, the doctor might be a very expert apothecary, but that in the art of war, and knowledge of the Greek tongue, he was no other than an ignorant pretender.

This asseveration produced an answer full of virulence, including a national reflection upon the soldier’s country; and the contention rose to mutual abuse, when it was suppressed by the admonitions of the other two, who begged they would not expose themselves in a strange place, but behave themselves like fellow-subjects and friends. They accordingly ceased reviling each other, and the affair was seemingly forgot; but after they had resumed their places in the coach, the painter unfortunately asked the meaning of the word tortise, which he had heard them mention among the Roman implements of war. This question was answered by the physician, who described the nature of this expedient so little to the satisfaction of the officer, that he contradicted him flatly in the midst of his explanation; a circumstance which provoked the republican to such a degree, that, in the temerity of his passion, he uttered the epithet, “impertinent scoundrel;” which vas no sooner pronounced than the Caledonian made manual application to his nose, and, leaping out of the coach, stood waiting for him on the plain; while he, the physician, made feeble efforts to join him, being easily retained by the other soldier; and Pallet, dreading the consequence in which he himself might be involved, bellowed aloud for prevention.

Our hero endeavoured to quiet the commotion by representing to the Scot that he had already taken satisfaction for the injury he had received, and telling the doctor that he had deserved the chastisement which was inflicted upon him; but the officer, encouraged perhaps by the confusion of his antagonist, insisted upon his asking pardon for what he had said; and the doctor, believing himself under the protection of his friend Pickle, far from agreeing to such concession, breathed nothing but defiance and revenge; so that the chevalier, in order to prevent mischief, put the soldier under arrest, and sent him to his lodgings, under the care of the other French gentleman and his own companion; they being also accompanied by Mr. Jolter, who, having formerly seen all the curiosities of Lisle, willingly surrendered his place to the physician.

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