The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LXV.

They proceed to the Hague; from whence they depart for Amsterdam, where they see a Dutch Tragedy — Visit the Music-house, in which Peregrine quarrels with the Captain of a Man-of-War — They pass through Haerlem, in their way to Leyden — Return to Rotterdam, where the Company separates, and our Hero, with his Attendants, arrive in safety at Harwich.

Being joined by their fellow-travellers in the morning, they made a tour to all the remarkable places in this celebrated village: saw the foundry, the Stadthouse, the Spinhuys, Vauxhall, and Count Bentinck’s gardens; and in the evening went to the French comedy, which was directed by a noted harlequin, who had found means to flatter the Dutch taste so effectually, that they extolled him as the greatest actor that ever appeared in the province of Holland. This famous company did not represent regular theatrical pieces, but only a sort of impromptus, in which this noted player always performed the greatest part of the entertainment. Among other sallies of wit that escaped him, there was one circumstance so remarkably adapted to the disposition and genius of his audience, that it were a pity to pass it over in silence. A windmill being exhibited on the scene, harlequin, after having surveyed it with curiosity and admiration, asks one of the millers the use of that machine; and being told that it was a windmill, observes, with some concern, that as there was not the least breath of wind, he could not have the pleasure of seeing it turn round. Urged by this consideration, he puts himself into the attitude of a person wrapt in profound meditation; and, having continued a few seconds in this posture, runs to the miller with great eagerness and joy, and, telling him that he had found an expedient to make his mill work; very fairly unbuttons his breeches. Then presenting his posteriors to the sails of the machine, certain explosions are immediately heard, and the arms of the mill begin to turn round, to the infinite satisfaction of the spectators, who approve the joke with loud peals of applause.

Our travellers stayed a few days at the Hague, during which the young gentleman waited on the British ambassador, to whom he was recommended by his excellency at Paris, and lost about thirty guineas at billiards to a French adventurer, who decoyed him into the snare by keeping up his game. Then they departed in a post-waggon for Amsterdam, being provided with letters of introduction to an English merchant residing in that city, under whose auspices they visited everything worth seeing, and. among other excursions, went to see a Dutch tragedy acted, an entertainment which, of all others, had the strangest effect upon the organs of our hero; the dress of their chief personages was so antic, their manner so awkwardly absurd, and their language so ridiculously unfit for conveying the sentiment of love and honour, that Peregrine’s nerves were diuretically affected with the complicated absurdity, and he was compelled to withdraw twenty times before the catastrophe of the piece.

The subject of this performance was the famous story of Scipio’s continence and virtue, in restoring the fair captive to her lover. The young Roman hero was represented by a broadfaced Batavian, in a burgomaster’s gown and a fur cap, sitting smoking his pipe at a table furnished with a can of beer, a drinking glass, and a plate of tobacco. The lady was such a person as Scipio might well be supposed to give away, without any great effort of generosity; and indeed the Celtiberian prince seemed to be of that opinion; for, upon receiving her from the hand of the victor, he discovered none of those transports of gratitude and joy which Livy describes in recounting this event. The Dutch Scipio, however, was complaisant enough in his way; for he desired her to sit at his right hand, by the appellation of Ya frow, and with his own fingers filling a clean pipe, presented it to Mynheer Allucio, the lover. The rest of the economy of the piece was in the same taste; which was so agreeable to the audience, that they seemed to have shaken off their natural phlegm, in order to applaud the performance.

From the play our company adjourned to the house of their friend, where they spent the evening; and the conversation turning upon poetry, a Dutchman who was present, and understood the English language, having listened very attentively to the discourse, lifted up with both hands the greatest part of a Cheshire cheese that lay upon the table, saying, “I do know vat is boetre. Mine brotre be a great boet, and ave vrought a book as dick as all dat.” Pickle, diverted with this method of estimating an author according to the quantity of his works, inquired about the subjects of this bard’s writings; but of these his brother could give no account, or other information, but that there was little market for the commodity, which hung heavy upon his hands, and induced him to wish he had applied himself to another trade.

The only remarkable scene in Amsterdam, which our company bad not seen, was the Spuyl or music-houses, which, by the connivance of the magistrates, are maintained for the recreation of those who might attempt the chastity of creditable women, if they were not provided with such conveniences. To one of these night-houses did our travellers repair, under the conduct of the English merchant, and were introduced into such another place as the ever-memorable coffee-house of Moll King; with this difference, that the company here were not so riotous as the bucks of Covent Garden, but formed themselves into a circle, within which some of the number danced to the music of a scurvy organ and a few other instruments, that uttered tunes very suitable to the disposition of the hearers, while the whole apartment was shrouded with clouds of smoke impervious to the view. When our gentlemen entered, the floor was occupied by two females and their gallants, who, in the performance of their exercise, lifted their legs like so many oxen at plough and the pipe of one of those hoppers happening to be exhausted, in the midst of his saraband, he very deliberately drew forth his tobacco-box, filling and lighting it again, without any interruption to the dance.

Peregrine being unchecked by the presence of his governor, who was too tender of his own reputation to attend them in this expedition, made up to a sprightly French girl who sat in seeming expectation of a customer, and prevailing upon her to be his partner, led her into the circle, and in his turn took the opportunity of dancing a minuet, to the admiration of all present. He intended to have exhibited another specimen of his ability in this art, when a captain of a Dutch man-of-war chancing to come in, and seeing a stranger engaged with the lady whom, it seems, he had bespoke for his bedfellow, he advanced without any ceremony, and seizing her by the arm, pulled her to the other side of the room. Our adventurer, who was not a man to put up with such a brutal affront, followed the ravisher with indignation in his eyes; and pushing him on one side, retook the subject of their contest, and led her back to the place from whence she had been dragged. The Dutchman, enraged at the youth’s presumption, obeyed the first dictates of his choler, and lent his rival a hearty box on the ear; which was immediately repaid with interest, before our hero could recollect himself sufficiently to lay his hand upon his sword, and beckon the aggressor to the door.

Notwithstanding the confusion and disorder which this affair produced in the room, and the endeavours of Pickle’s company, who interposed, in order to prevent bloodshed, the antagonists reached the street; and Peregrine drawing, was surprised to see the captain advance against him with a long knife, which he preferred to the sword that hung by his side. The youth, confounded at this preposterous behaviour, desired him, in the French tongue, to lay aside that vulgar implement, and approach like a gentleman. But the Hollander, who neither understood the proposal, nor would have complied with this demand, had he been made acquainted with his meaning, rushed forward like a desperado, before his adversary could put himself on his guard; and if the young gentleman had not been endued with surprising agility, his nose would have fallen a sacrifice to the fury of the assailant. Finding himself in such imminent jeopardy, he leaped to one side, and the Dutchman passing him, in the force of his career, he with one nimble kick made such application to his enemy’s heels, that he flew like lightning into the canal, where he had almost perished by pitching upon one of the posts with which it is faced.

Peregrine having performed this exploit, did not stay for the captain’s coming on shore, but retreated with all despatch, by the advice of his conductor; and next day embarked, with his companions, in the skuyt, for Haerlem, where they dined; and in the evening arrived at the ancient city of Leyden, where they met with some English students, who treated them with great hospitality. Not but that the harmony of the conversation was that same night interrupted by a dispute that arose between one of those young gentlemen and the physician, about the cold and hot methods of prescription in the gout and rheumatism; and proceeded to such a degree of mutual reviling, that Pickle, ashamed and incensed at his fellow-traveller’s want of urbanity, espoused the other’s cause, and openly rebuked him for his unmannerly petulance, which, he said, rendered him unfit for the purposes, and unworthy of the benefit, of society. This unexpected declaration overwhelmed the doctor with amazement and confusion; he was instantaneously deprived of his speech, and, during the remaining part of the party, sat in silent mortification. In all probability, he deliberated with himself, whether or not he should expostulate with the young gentleman on the freedom he had taken with his character in a company of strangers; but as he knew he had not a Pallet to deal with, he very prudently suppressed that suggestion, and, in secret, chewed the cud of resentment.

After they had visited the physic-garden, the university, the anatomical hall, and every other thing that was recommended to their view, they returned to Rotterdam, and held a consultation upon the method of transporting themselves to England. The doctor, whose grudge against Peregrine was rather inflamed than allayed by our hero’s indifference and neglect, had tampered with the simplicity of the painter, who was proud of his advances towards a perfect reconciliation, and now took the opportunity of parting with our adventurer, by declaring that he and his friend Mr. Pallet were resolved to take their passage in a trading sloop, after he had heard Peregrine object against that tedious, disagreeable, and uncertain method of conveyance. Pickle immediately saw his intention, and, without using the least argument to dissuade them from their design, or expressing the smallest degree of concern at their separation, very coolly wished them a prosperous voyage, and ordered his baggage to be sent to Helvoetsluys. There he himself, and his retinue, went on board of the packet next day, and, by the favour of a fair wind, in eighteen hours arrived at Harwich.

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