The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LXXII.

He cultivates an Acquaintance with the Misanthrope, who favours him with a short Sketch of his own History.

Peregrine was extremely well pleased with this occasional rebuke, which occurred so seasonably, that he could scarce believe it accidental. He looked upon Cadwallader as the greatest curiosity he had ever known, and cultivated the old man’s acquaintance with such insinuating address, that in less than a fortnight he obtained his confidence. As they one day walked into the fields together, the man-hater disclosed himself in these words:—“Though the term of our communication has been but short, you must have perceived, that I treat you with uncommon marks of regard; which, I assure you, is not owing to your personal accomplishments, nor the pains you take to oblige me; for the first I overlook, and the last I see through. But there is something in your disposition which indicates a rooted contempt for the world, and I understand you have made some successful efforts in exposing one part of it to the ridicule of the other. It is upon this assurance that I offer you my advice and assistance, in prosecuting other schemes of the same nature; and to convince you that such an alliance is not to be rejected, I will now give you a short sketch of my history, which will be published after my death, in forty-seven volumes of my own compiling.

“I was born about forty miles from this place, of parents who, having a very old family name to support, bestowed their whole fortune on my elder brother; so that I inherited of my father little else than a large share of choler, to which I am indebted for a great many adventures that did not always end to my satisfaction. At the age of eighteen I was sent up to town, with a recommendation to a certain peer, who found means to amuse me with the promise of a commission for seven whole years; and ’tis odds but I should have made my fortune by my perseverance, had not I been arrested, and thrown into the Marshalsea by my landlord, on whose credit I had subsisted three years, after my father had renounced me as an idle vagabond. There I remained six months, among those prisoners who have no other support than chance charity; and contracted a very valuable acquaintance, which was of great service to me in the future emergencies of my life.

“I was no sooner discharged, in consequence of an act of parliament for the relief of insolvent debtors, than I went to the house of my creditor, whom I cudgelled without mercy; and, that I might leave nothing undone of those things which I ought to have done, my next stage was to Westminster Hall, where I waited until my patron came forth from the house, and saluted him with a blow that laid him senseless on the pavement. But my retreat was not so fortunate as I could have wished. The chairman and lacqueys in waiting having surrounded and disarmed me in a trice, I was committed to Newgate, and loaded with chains; and a very sagacious gentleman, who was afterwards hanged, having sat in judgment upon my case, pronounced me guilty of a capital crime, and foretold my condemnation at the Old Bailey. His prognostic, however, was disappointed; for nobody appearing to prosecute me at the next session, I was discharged by order of the court. It would be impossible for me to recount, in the compass of one day’s conversation, all the particular exploits of which I bore considerable share. Suffice it to say, I have been, at different times, prisoner in all the jails within the bills of mortality. I have broken from every round-house on this side Temple-bar. No bailiff, in the days of my youth and desperation, durst execute a writ upon me without a dozen of followers; and the justices themselves trembled when I was brought before them.

“I was once maimed by a carman, with whom I quarrelled, because he ridiculed my leek on St. David’s day; my skull was fractured by a butcher’s cleaver on the like occasion. I have been run through the body five times, and lost the tip of my left ear by a pistol bullet. In a rencontre of this kind, having left my antagonist for dead, I was wise enough to make my retreat into France; and a few days after my arrival at Paris, entering into conversation with some officers on the subject of politics, a dispute arose, in which I lost my temper, and spoke so irreverently of the Grand Monarque, that next morning I was sent to the Bastille, by virtue of a lettre de cachet. There I remained for some months, deprived of all intercourse with rational creatures; a circumstance for which I was not sorry, as I had the more time to project schemes of revenge against the tyrant who confined me, and the wretch who had betrayed my private conversation. But tired, at length, with these fruitless suggestions, I was fain to unbend the severity of my thoughts by a correspondence with some industrious spiders, who had hung my dungeon with their ingenious labours.

“I considered their work with such attention that I soon became an adept in the mystery of weaving, and furnished myself with as many useful observations and reflections on that art, as will compose a very curious treatise, which I intend to bequeath to the Royal Society, for the benefit of our woollen manufacture; and this with a view to perpetuate my own name, rather than befriend my country; for, thank Heaven! I am weaned from all attachments of that kind, and look upon myself as one very little obliged to any society whatsoever. Although I presided with absolute power over this long-legged community, and distributed punishments and rewards to each, according to his deserts, I grew impatient of my situation; and my natural disposition one day prevailing, like a fire which had long been smothered, I wreaked the fury of my indignation upon my innocent subjects, and in a twinkling destroyed the whole race. While I was employed in this general massacre, the turnkey, who brought me food, opened the door, and perceiving my transport, shrugged up his shoulders, and leaving my allowance, went out, pronouncing, Le pauvre diable! la tete lui tourne. My passion no sooner subsided than I resolved to profit by this opinion of the jailor, and from that day counterfeited lunacy with such success, that in less than three months I was delivered from the Bastille, and sent to the galleys, in which they thought my bodily vigour might be of service, although the faculties of my mind were decayed. Before I was chained to the oar, I received three hundred stripes by way of welcome, that I might thereby be rendered more tractable, notwithstanding I used all the arguments in my power to persuade them I was only mad north-north-west, and, when the wind was southerly, knew a hawk from a handsaw.

“In our second cruise we had the good fortune to be overtaken by a tempest, during which the slaves were unbound, that they might contribute the more to the preservation of the galley, and have a chance for their lives, in case of shipwreck. We were no sooner at liberty, than, making ourselves masters of the vessel, we robbed the officers, and ran her on shore among rocks on the coast of Portugal; from whence I hastened to Lisbon, with a view of obtaining my passage in some ship bound for England, where, by this time, I hoped my affair was forgotten.

“But, before this scheme could be accomplished, my evil genius led me into company; and, being intoxicated, I began to broach doctrines on the subject of religion, at which some of the party were scandalized and incensed; and I was next day dragged out of bed by the officers of the Inquisition, and conveyed to a cell in the prison belonging to that tribunal.

“At my first examination, my resentment was strong enough to support me under the torture, which I endured without flinching; but my resolution abated, and my zeal immediately cooled, when I understood from a fellow-prisoner, who groaned on the other side of the partition, that in a short time there would be an auto da fe; in consequence of which I should, in all probability, be doomed to the flames, if I would not renounce my heretical errors, and submit to such penance as the church should think fit to prescribe. This miserable wretch was convicted of Judaism, which he had privately practised by connivance for many years, until he had amassed a fortune sufficient to attract the regard of the church. To this he fell a sacrifice, and accordingly prepared himself for the stake; while I, not at all ambitious of the crown of martyrdom, resolved to temporize; so that, when I was brought to the question the second time, I made a solemn recantation. As I had no worldly fortune to obstruct my salvation, I was received into the bosom of the church, and, by way of penance, enjoined to walk barefoot to Rome in the habit of a pilgrim.

“During my peregrination through Spain, I was detained as a spy, until I could procure credentials from the Inquisition at Lisbon; and behaved with such resolution and reserve, that, after being released, I was deemed a proper person to be employed in quality of a secret intelligencer at a certain court. This office I undertook without hesitation; and being furnished with money and bills of credit, crossed the Pyrenees, with intention to revenge myself upon the Spaniards for the severities I had undergone during my captivity.

“Having therefore effectually disguised myself by a change of dress, and a large patch on one eye, I hired an equipage, and appeared at Bologna in quality of an itinerant physician; in which capacity I succeeded tolerably well, till my servants decamped in the night with my baggage, and left me in the condition of Adam. In short, I have travelled over the greatest part of Europe, as a beggar, pilgrim, priest, soldier, gamester, and quack; and felt the extremes of indigence and opulence, with the inclemency of weather in all its vicissitudes. I have learned that the characters of mankind are everywhere the same; that common sense and honesty bear an infinitely small proportion to folly and vice; and that life is at best a paltry province.

“After having suffered innumerable hardships, dangers, and disgraces, I returned to London, where I lived some years in a garret, and picked up a subsistence, such as it was, by vending purges in the streets, from the back of a pied horse, in which situation I used to harangue the mob in broken English, under pretence of being an High German doctor.

“At last an uncle died, by whom I inherited an estate of three hundred pounds per annum, though, in his lifetime, he would not have parted with a sixpence to save my soul and body from perdition.

“I now appear in the world, not as a member of any community, or what is called a social creature, but merely as a spectator, who entertains himself with the grimaces of a jack-pudding, and banquets his spleen in beholding his enemies at loggerheads. That I may enjoy this disposition, abstracted from all interruption, danger, and participation, I feign myself deaf; an expedient by which I not only avoid all disputes and their consequences, but also become master of a thousand little secrets, which are every day whispered in my presence, without any suspicion of their being overheard. You saw how I handled that shallow politician at my Lady Plausible’s the other day. The same method I practise upon the crazed Tory, the bigot Whig, the sour, supercilious pedant, the petulant critic, the blustering coward, the fawning fool, the pert imp, sly sharper, and every other species of knaves and fools, with which this kingdom abounds.

“In consequence of my rank and character, I obtain free admission to the ladies, among whom I have acquired the appellation of the Scandalous Chronicle. As I am considered, while silent, in no other light than that of a footstool or elbow-chair, they divest their conversation of all restraint before me, and gratify my sense of hearing with strange things, which, if I could prevail upon myself to give the world that satisfaction, would compose a curious piece of secret history, and exhibit a quite different idea of characters from what is commonly entertained.

“By this time, young gentleman, you may perceive that I have it in my power to be a valuable correspondent, and that it will be to your interest to deserve my confidence.”

Here the misanthrope left off speaking, desirous to know the sentiments of our hero, who embraced the proffered alliance in a transport of joy and surprise; and the treaty was no sooner concluded, than Mr. Crabtree began to perform articles, by imparting to him a thousand delicious secrets, from the possession of which he promised himself innumerable scenes of mirth and enjoyment. By means of this associate, whom he considered as the ring of Gyges, he foresaw, that he should be enabled to penetrate, not only into the chambers, but even to the inmost thoughts of the female sex. In order to ward off suspicion, they agreed to revile each other in public, and meet at a certain private rendezvous, to communicate their mutual discoveries, and concert their future operations.

But, soon after this agreement, our adventurer was summoned to the garrison by an express from his friend Hatchway, representing that the commodore lay at the point of death; and, in less than an hour after the receipt of this melancholy piece of news, he set out post for his uncle’s habitation, having previously taken leave of Crabtree, who promised to meet him in two months in London; and settled a correspondence with Gauntlet, who proposed to remain at Bath during the rest of the season.

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