The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LXXXVIII.

He is visited by Pallet — Contracts an Intimacy with a Newmarket Nobleman, and is by the Knowing Ones taken in.

This affair being settled, and our adventurer, for the present, free of all female connections, he returned to his former course of fast living among the bucks of the town, and performed innumerable exploits among whores, bullies, rooks, constables, and justices of the peace. In the midst of these occupations, he was one morning visited by his old fellow-traveller, Pallet, whose appearance gave him equal surprise and concern. Though the weather was severe, he was clothed in the thin summer dress which he had worn at Paris, and was now, not only threadbare, but, in some parts, actually patched; his stockings, by a repetition of that practice known among economists by the term of coaxing, hung like pudding-bags about his ankles; his shirt, though new washed, was of the saffron hue, and, in divers places, appeared through the crannies of his breeches; he had exchanged his own hair for a smoke-dried tie-periwig, which all the flour in his dredging-box had not been able to whiten; his eyes were sunk, his jaws lengthened beyond their usual extension; and he seemed twenty years older than he looked when he and our hero parted at Rotterdam. In spite of all these evidences of decay, he accosted him with a meagre affectation of content and good-humour, struggled piteously to appear gay and unconcerned, professed his joy at seeing him in England, excused himself for having delayed so long to come and present his respects; alleging that, since his return, he had been a mere slave to the satisfaction of some persons of quality and taste, who had insisted upon his finishing some pieces with the utmost expedition.

Peregrine received him with that compassion and complaisance which was natural to his disposition; inquired about the health of Mrs. Pallet and his family, and asked if his friend, the doctor, was in town. The painter seemed to have resumed his resentment against that gentleman, of whom he spoke in contemptuous terms. “The doctor,” said he, “is so much overshadowed with presumption and self-conceit, that his merit has no relief. It does not rise. There is no keeping in the picture, my dear sir. All the same as if I were to represent the moon under a cloud; there will be nothing but a deep mass of shade, with a little tiny speck of light in the middle, which would only serve to make, as it were, the darkness visible. You understand me. Had he taken my advice, it might have been better for him; but he is bigoted to his own opinion. You must know, Mr. Pickle, upon our return to England, I counselled him to compose a little smart, clever ode upon my Cleopatra. As Gad shall judge me, I thought it would have been of some service, in helping him out of obscurity; for you know, as Sir Richard observes,

“Soon will that die, which adds thy fame to mine;
Let me then live, join’d to a work of thine.”

“By the bye, there is a most picturesque contrast in these lines, of thy and me, living and dying, and thine and mine. Ah! a prize upon it! Dick, after all, was the man. Ecod! he rounded it off. But, to return to this unhappy young man, would you believe it, he tossed up his nose at my friendly proposal, and gabbled something in Greek, which is not worth repeating. The case was this, my dear sir, he was out of humour at the neglect of the world. He thought the poets of the age were jealous of his genius, and strove to crush it accordingly, while the rest of mankind wanted taste sufficient to discern it. For my own part, I profess myself one of these; and, as the clown in Billy Shakespeare says of the courtier’s oath, had I sworn by the doctor’s genius, that the pancakes were naught, they might have been for all that very good, yet shouldn’t I have been forsworn. Let that be as it will, he retired from town in great dudgeon, and set up his rest near a hill in Derbyshire, with two tops, resembling Parnassus, and a well at the bottom, which he had christened Hyp-o’-the-Green. Egad! if he stays in that habitation, ’tis my opinion he’ll soon grow green with the hip indeed. He’ll be glad of an opportunity to return to the fleshpots of Egypt, and pay his court to the slighted Queen Cleopatra. Ha! well remembered, by this light! you shall know, my good sir, that this same Egyptian princess has been courted by so many gallants of taste, that, as I hope to live, I found myself in some sort of dilemma, because in parting with her to one, I should have disobliged all his rivals. Now a man would not choose to give offence to his friends, at least I lay it down as a maxim to avoid the smallest appearance of ingratitude. Perhaps I may be in the wrong. But every man has his way. For this reason, I proposed to all the candidates, that a lottery or raffle should be set on foot, by which every individual would have an equal chance for her good graces, and the prize be left to the decision of fortune. The scheme was mightily relished, and the terms being such a trifle as half a guinea, the whole town crowded into my house, in order to subscribe. But there I was their humble servant. ‘Gentlemen, you must have a little patience till my own particular friends are served.’ Among that number, I do myself the honour to consider Mr. Pickle. Here is a copy of the proposals; and, if the list should be adorned with his name, I hope, notwithstanding his merited success among the young ladies, he will for once be shunned by that little vixen called Miss Fortune! he, he, he!”

So saying, he bowed with a thousand apish congees, and presented his paper to Peregrine, who, seeing the number of subscribers was limited to one hundred, said he thought him too moderate in his expectations, as he did not doubt that his picture would be a cheap purchase at five hundred, instead of fifty pounds, at which the price was fixed. To this unexpected remark Pallet answered, that among the connoisseurs he would not pretend to appraise his picture; but that, in valuing his works, he was obliged to have an eye to the Gothic ignorance of the age in which he lived. Our adventurer saw at once into the nature of this raffle, which was no other than a begging shift to dispose of a paltry piece, that he could not otherwise have sold for twenty shillings. However, far from shocking the poor man in distress, by dropping the least hint of his conjecture, he desired to be favoured with six chances, if the circumstances of his plan would indulge him so far; and the painter, after some hesitation, condescended to comply with his request, out of pure friendship and veneration; though he observed, that, in so doing, he must exclude some of his most intimate companions. Having received the money he gave Pickle his address, desiring he would, with his convenience, visit the princess, who, he was sure, would display her most engaging attractions, in order to captivate his fancy; and took his leave extremely well pleased with the success of his application.

Though Peregrine was tempted with the curiosity of seeing this portrait, which he imagined must contain some analogy to the ridiculous oddity of the painter, he would not expose himself to the disagreeable alternative of applauding the performance, contrary to the dictates of conscience and common sense, or of condemning it, to the unspeakable mortification of the miserable author; and therefore never dreamt of returning the painter’s visit. Nor did he ever hear of the lottery’s being drawn. About this time he was invited to spend a few weeks at the country seat of a certain nobleman, with whom he had contracted an acquaintance, in the course of his debauches, which we have already described. His lordship being remarkable for his skill and success in horse-racing, his house was continually filled with the connoisseurs and admirers of that sport, upon which the whole conversation turned, insomuch that Peregrine gradually imbibed some knowledge in horse-flesh, and the diversions of the course; for the whole occupation of the day, exclusive of eating and drinking, consisted in viewing, managing, and exercising his lordship’s stud.

Our hero looked upon these amusements with an eye of taste as well as curiosity; he contemplated the animal as a beautiful and elegant part of the creation, and relished the surprising exertion of its speed with a refined and classical delight. In a little time he became personally acquainted with every horse in the stable, and interested himself in the reputation of each; while he also gratified his appetite for knowledge, in observing the methods of preparing their bodies, and training them to the race. His lordship saw and encouraged his eagerness, from which he promised himself some advantage; he formed several private matches for his entertainment, and flattered his discernment, by permitting him to be successful in the first bets he made. Thus was he artfully decoyed into a spirit of keenness and adventure, and disposed to depend upon his own judgment, in opposition to that of people who had made horse-racing the sole study of their lives. He accompanied my lord to Newmarket, and, entering at once into the genius of the place, was marked as fair game, by all the knowing ones there assembled, many of whom found means to take him in, in spite of all the cautions and admonitions of his lordship, who wanted to reserve him for his own use.

It is almost impossible for any man, let him be never so fearful or phlegmatic, to be an unconcerned spectator in this busy scene. The demon of play hovers in the air, like a pestilential vapour, tainting the minds of all present with infallible infection, which communicates from one person to another, like the circulation of a general panic. Peregrine was seized with this epidemic distemper to a violent degree; and, after having lost a few loose hundreds, in his progress through the various rookeries of the place, entered into partnership with his noble friend in a grand match, upon the issue of which he ventured no less than three thousand pounds. Indeed he would not have risked such a considerable sum, had not his own confidence been reinforced by the opinion and concurrence of his lordship, who hazarded an equal bet upon the same event. These two associates engaged themselves in the penalty of six thousand pounds, to run one chaise and four against another, three times round the course; and our adventurer had the satisfaction of seeing his antagonist distanced in the first and second heat; but, all of a sudden, one of the horses of his machine was knocked up, by which accident the victory was ravished almost from his very grasp, and he was obliged to endure the damage and the scorn.

He was deeply affected with this misfortune, which he imputed to his own extravagance and temerity; but discovered no external signs of affliction, because his illustrious partner bore his loss with the most philosophic resignation, consoling himself, as well as Pickle, with the hope of making it up on some other occasion. Nevertheless, our young gentleman could not help admiring, and even envying his equanimity, not knowing that his lordship had managed matters so as to be a gainer by the misfortune; which to retrieve, Peregrine purchased several horses, at the recommendation of his friend; and, instead of returning to London, made a tour with him to all the celebrated races in England, at which, after several vicissitudes of fortune, he made shift, before the end of the season, to treble his loss.

But his hopes seemed to increase with his ill-luck. In the beginning of winter he came to town, fully persuaded that fortune must necessarily change, and that next season he should reap the happy fruits of his experience. In this confidence, he seemed to drown all ideas of prudence and economy. His former expense was mere parsimony, compared with that which he now incurred. He subscribed to the opera, and half a dozen concerts at different parts of the town; was a benefactor to several hospitals; purchased a collection of valuable pictures; took a house, and furnished it in a most magnificent taste, laid in a large stock of French wines, and gave extravagant entertainments to his quality friends, who, in return, loaded him with compliments, and insisted upon his making use of their interest and goodwill.

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