The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LXXXIX.

He is taken into the Protection of a great Man — Sets up for a Member of Parliament — Is disappointed in his Expectation, and finds himself egregiously outwitted.

Among these professed patrons, the greatest part of whom Peregrine saw through, there was one great personage, who seemed to support with dignity the sphere in which fortune had placed him. His behaviour to Pickle was not a series of grinning complaisance in a flat repetition of general expressions of friendship and regard. He demeaned himself with a seemingly honest reserve, in point of profession; his advances to Peregrine appeared to be the result of deliberation and experiment; he chid the young gentleman for his extravagance, with the authority of a parent, and the sincerity of a fast friend; and having, by gradual inquiries, made himself acquainted with the state of his private affairs, condemned his conduct with an air of candour and concern. He represented to him the folly and dangerous consequences of the profligate life in which he had plunged himself, counselled him with great warmth to sell off his race-horses, which would otherwise insensibly eat him up; to retrench all superfluous expense, which would only serve to expose him to the ridicule and ingratitude of those who were benefited by it; to lay out his money upon secure mortgages, at good interest; and carry into execution his former design of standing candidate for a borough, at the ensuing election for a new parliament; in which case this nobleman promised to assist him with his influence and advice; assuring him, that, if he could once procure a seat in the house, he might look upon his fortune as already made.

Our adventurer perceiving the wisdom and sanity of this advice, for which he made his acknowledgments to his generous monitor, protested that he would adhere to it in every particular, and immediately set about a reformation. He accordingly took cognizance of his most minute affairs, and, after an exact scrutiny, gave his patron to understand, that, exclusive of his furniture, his fortune was reduced to fourteen thousand three hundred and thirty pounds, in Bank and South-sea annuities, over and above the garrison and its appendages, which he reckoned at sixty pounds a year. He therefore desired, that, as his lordship had been so kind as to favour him with his friendship and advice, he would extend his generosity still farther, by putting him in a way of making the most advantage of his money. My lord said, that, for his own part, he did not choose to meddle in money matters; that Mr. Pickle would find abundance of people ready to borrow it upon land security; but that he ought to be extremely cautious in a transaction of such consequence; promising, at the same time, to employ his own steward in seeking out a mortgager to whom it might be safely lent.

This agent was accordingly set at work, and for a few days made a fruitless inquiry; so that the young gentleman was obliged to have recourse to his own intelligence, by which he got notice of several people of reputed credit, who offered him mortgages for the whole sum; but when he made a report of the particulars to his noble friend, his lordship started such doubts and objections relating to each, that he was deterred from entering into any engagements with the proposers; congratulating himself, in the meantime, on his good fortune, in being favoured with the advice and direction of such a sage counsellor. Nevertheless, he began to be impatient, after having unsuccessfully consulted all the money brokers and conveyancers about town, and resolved to try the expedient of a public advertisement. But he was persuaded by my lord to postpone that experiment, until every other method should have failed, because it would attract the attention of all the pettifoggers in London, who, though they might not be able to overreach, would infallibly harass and tease him out of all tranquility.

It was on the back of this conversation that Peregrine, chancing to meet the steward near his lord’s house, stopped him in the street, to give him an account of his bad luck; at which the other expressed some concern, and rubbing his chin with his hand, in a musing posture, told Pickle, there was a thought just come into his head, pointing out one way of doing his business effectually. The youth, upon this intimation, begged he would accompany him to the next coffee-house, in which having chosen a private situation, this grave manager gave him to understand, that a part of my lord’s estate was mortgaged, in consequence of a debt contracted by his grandfather, for provision to the younger children of the family; and that the equity of redemption would be foreclosed in a few months, unless the burden could be discharged. “My lord,” said he, “has always lived in a splendid manner, and, notwithstanding his ample fortune, together with the profits accruing from the posts he enjoys, he saves so little money, that, upon this occasion, I know he will be obliged to borrow ten thousand pounds to make up the sum that is requisite to redeem the mortgage. Now, certain I am, that, when his design comes to be known, he will be solicited on all hands by people desirous of lending money upon such undoubted security; and ’tis odds but he has already promised the preference to some particular acquaintance. However, as I know he has your interest very much at heart, I will, if you please, sound his lordship upon the subject, and in a day or two give you notice of my success.”

Peregrine, ravished with the prospect of settling this affair so much to his satisfaction, thanked the steward for his friendly hint and undertaking, which he assured him should be acknowledged by a more solid proof of his gratitude, provided the business could be brought to bear; and next day he was visited by this kind manager, with the happy news of his lordship’s having consented to borrow ten thousand pounds of his stock upon mortgage, at the interest of five per cent. This information he received as an instance of the singular esteem of his noble patron; and the papers being immediately drawn and executed, the money was deposited in the hands of the mortgager, who, in the hearing of the lender, laid strong injunctions on his steward to pay the interest punctually at quarter-day.

The best part of our hero’s fortune being thus happily deposited, and the agent gratified with a present of fifty pieces, he began to put his retrenching scheme in execution; all his servants, Pipes excepted, were discharged, his chariot and running horses disposed of, his housekeeping broken up, and his furniture sold by auction: nay, the heat of his disposition was as remarkable in this as any other transaction in his life; for every step of his saving project was taken with such eagerness, and even precipitation, that most of his companions thought he was either ruined or mad. But he answered all their expostulations with a string of prudent apophthegms, such as, “The shortest follies are the best”; “Better to retrench upon conviction than compulsion”; and divers other wise maxims, seemingly the result of experience and philosophic reflection. To such a degree of enthusiasm did his present economy prevail, that he was actually seized with the desire of amassing. And as he every day received proposals from those brokers whom he had employed, about the disposal of his cash, he at length ventured fifteen hundred pounds upon bottomry, being tempted by the excessive premium.

But it must be observed, for the honour of our adventurer, that this reformation did not at all interfere with the good qualities of his heart. He was still as friendly and benevolent as ever, though his liberality was more subject to the restraint of reason; and he might have justly pleaded, in vindication of his generosity, that he retrenched the superfluities in his own way of living, in order to preserve the power of assisting his fellow-creatures in distress. Numberless were the objects to which he extended his charity in private. Indeed, he exerted this virtue in secret, not only on account of avoiding the charge of ostentation, but also because he was ashamed of being detected in such an awkward unfashionable practice, by the censorious observers of this humane generation. In this particular, he seemed to confound the ideas of virtue and vice; for he did good, as other people do evil, by stealth; and was so capricious in point of behaviour, that frequently, in public, he wagged his tongue in satirical animadversions upon that poverty which his hand had in private relieved. Yet, far from shunning the acquaintance, or discouraging the solicitation of those who, he thought, wanted his assistance, he was always accessible, open, and complaisant to them, even when the haughtiness of his temper kept his superiors at a distance; and often saved a modest man the anguish and confusion of declaring himself, by penetrating into his necessity, and anticipating his request, in a frank offer of his purse and friendship. Not that he practised this beneficence to all the needy of his acquaintance without distinction; there is always a set of idle profligate fellows, who, having squandered away their own fortunes, and conquered all sense of honour and shame, maintain themselves by borrowing from those who have not yet finished the same career, and want resolution to resist their importunate demands. To these he was always inflexible; though he could not absolutely detach himself from their company, because, by dint of effrontery, and such of their original connections as they have been able to retain, they find admission to all places of fashionable resort.

Several unsuccessful attacks had been made upon his pocket by beggars of this class. One of the most artful of them, having one day joined him in the Mall, and made the usual observation on the weather, d — d all the fogs of London, and began a dissertation on the difference of air, preferring that of the country in which he was born to any climate under the sun. “Were you ever in Gloucestershire?” said he to Peregrine; who replying in the negative, he thus went on: “I have got a house there, where I should be glad to see you. Let us go down together during the Easter holidays; I can promise you good country fare and wholesome exercise; for I have everything within myself, and as good a pack of fox-hounds as any in the three kingdoms. I shan’t pretend to expatiate upon the elegance of the house, which to be sure is an old building; and these, you know, are generally cold, and not very convenient. But, curse the house! the dirty acres about it are the thing; and d — d fine parcel they are to be sure. If my old grandmother was dead — she can’t live another season, for she’s turned of fourscore, and quite worn out: nay, as for that matter, I believe I have got a letter in my pocket, giving an account of her being despaired of by the doctors. Let me see — No, d — it! I left it at home, in the pocket of another coat.”

Pickle, who, from the beginning of this harangue, saw its tendency, seemed to yield the most serious attention to what he said: breaking in upon it, every now and then, with the interjections, hum! ha! the deuce! and several civil questions, from which the other conceived happy omens of success; till perceiving they had advanced as far as the passage into St. James’s, the mischievous youth interrupted him all at once, saying, “I see you are for the end of the walk; this is my way.” With these words he took leave of the saunterer, who would have delayed his retreat, by calling to him aloud, that he had not yet described the situation of his castle. But Peregrine, without stopping, answered in the same tone, “Another time will do as well”; and in a moment disappeared, leaving the projector very much mortified with his disappointment; for his intention was to close the description with a demand of twenty pieces, to be repaid out of the first remittance he should receive from his estate.

It would have been well for our hero, had he always acted with the same circumspection. But he had his unguarded moments, in which he fell a prey to the unsuspecting integrity of his own heart. There was a person among the number of his acquaintances, whose conversation he particularly relished, because it was frank, agreeable, and fraught with many sensible observations upon the craft and treachery of mankind. This gentleman had made shift to discuss a very genteel fortune, though it was spent with taste and reputation, and now he was reduced to his shifts for the maintenance of his family, which consisted of a wife and child. Not that he was destitute of the necessaries of life, being comfortably supplied by the bounty of his friends; but this was a provision not at all suited to his inclination; and he had endeavoured, by divers unsuccessful schemes, to retrieve his former independency.

Peregrine happened one evening to be sitting alone in a coffee-house, where he overheard a conversation between this schemer and another gentleman, touching an affair that engaged his attention. The stranger had been left trustee for fifteen hundred pounds bequeathed to the other’s daughter by an aunt, and was strongly solicited to pay the money to the child’s father, who assured him, he had then an opportunity to lay it out in such a manner as would greatly conduce to the advantage of his family. The trustee reminded him of the nature of his charge, which made him accountable for the money until the child should have attained the age of eighteen; but at the same time gave him to understand, that, if he could procure such security as would indemnify him from the consequences, he would forthwith pay the legacy into his hands. To this proposal the father replied. that it was not to be supposed he would risk the fortune of his only child upon any idle scheme or precarious issue; and therefore he thought it reasonable, that he should have the use of it in the meantime; and that, as to security, he was loth to trouble any of his friends about an affair which might be compromised without their interposition; observing, that he would not look upon his condescension as a favour, if obtained by security, on which he could borrow the same sum from any usurer in town.

After much importunity on one side, and evasion on the other, the moneyed gentleman told him, that, though he would not surrender the sum deposited in his hands for the use of his daughter, he would lend him what he should have occasion for in the meantime; and if, upon her being of age, he should be able to obtain her concurrence, the money should be placed to her account, provided he could find any person of credit, who would join with him in a bond, for the assurance of the lender. This proviso was an obstruction which the other would not have been able to surmount, without great difficulty, had not his cause been espoused by our hero, who thought it was a pity a man of honour and understanding should suffer in his principal concerns on such a paltry consideration. He therefore, presuming on his acquaintance, interposed in the conversation as a friend, who interested himself in the affair; and, being fully informed of the particulars, offered himself as a security for the lender. This gentleman being a stranger to Peregrine, was next day made acquainted with his funds; and, without further scruple, accommodated his friend with one thousand pounds, for which he took their bond payable in six months, though he protested that the money should never be demanded, until the infant should be of age, unless some accident should happen which he could not then foresee. Pickle believed this declaration sincere, because he could have no interest in dissembling; but what he chiefly depended upon, for his own security, was the integrity and confidence of the borrower, who assured him, that happen what would, he should be able to stand between him and all danger; the nature of his plan being such as would infallibly treble the sum in a very few months.

In a little time after this transaction, writs being issued out for electing a new parliament, our adventurer, by the advice of his patron, went into the country, in order to canvass for a borough, and lined his pockets with a competent share of banknotes for the occasion. But in this project he unfortunately happened to interfere with the interest of a great family in the opposition, who, for a long series of years, had made members for that place; and were now so much offended at the intrusion of our young gentleman, that they threatened to spend ten thousand pounds in frustrating his design. This menace was no other than an incitement to Peregrine, who confided so much in his own influence and address, that he verily believed he should be able to baffle his grace, even in his own territories. By that victory he hoped to establish his reputation and interest with the minister, who, through the recommendation of his noble friend, countenanced his cause, and would have been very well pleased to see one of his great enemies suffer such a disgraceful overthrow, which would have, moreover, in a great measure, shaken his credit with his faction.

Our hero, intoxicated with the ideas of pride and ambition, put all his talents to the test, in the execution of this project. He spared no expense in treating the electors; but, finding himself rivalled in this respect by his competitor, who was powerfully supported, he had recourse to those qualifications in which he thought himself superior. He made balls for the ladies, visited the matrons of the corporation, adapted himself to their various humours with surprising facility, drank with those who loved a cherishing cup in private, made love to the amorous, prayed with the religious, gossiped with those who delighted in scandal, and with great sagacity contrived agreeable presents to them all. This was the most effectual method of engaging such electors as were under the influence of their wives. As for the rest, he assailed them in their own way, setting whole hogsheads of beer and wine abroach, for the benefit of comers; and into those sordid hearts that liquor would not open, he found means to convey himself by the help of a golden key.

While he thus exerted himself, his antagonist was not idle: his age and infirmities would not permit him to enter personally into their parties; but his stewards and adherents bestirred themselves with great industry and perseverance. The market for votes ran so high, that Pickle’s ready money was exhausted before the day of election, and he was obliged to write to his patron an account of the dilemma to which he was reduced, entreating him to take such speedy measures as would enable him to finish the business which he had so happily begun. This nobleman communicated the circumstances of the case to the minister, and in a day or two our candidate found credit with the receiver-general of the county, who lent him twelve hundred pounds on his personal note, payable on demand. By means of this new supply he managed matters so successfully, that an evident majority of votes was secured in his interest, and nothing could have obstructed his election, had not the noble peer who set up his competitor, in order to avoid the shame and mortification of being foiled in his own borough, offered to compromise the affair with his honour, by giving up two members in another place, provided the opposition should cease in his own corporation. This proposal was greedily embraced. On the eve of the election, Peregrine received an intimation from his patron, desiring him to quit his pretensions, on pain of his and the minister’s displeasure, and promising that he should be elected for another place.

No other disappointment in life could have given him such chagrin as he felt at the receipt of this tantalizing order, by which the cup of success was snatched from his lip, and all the vanity of his ambitious hope humbled in the dust. He cursed the whole chain of his court connections, inveighed with great animosity against the rascally scheme of politics to which he was sacrificed, and, in conclusion, swore he would not give up the fruits of his own address for the pleasure of any minister upon earth. This laudable resolution, however, was rendered ineffectual by his friend the receiver-general, who was bearer of the message, and, after having in vain endeavoured to persuade him to submission, fairly arrested him upon the spot for the money he had advanced; this expedient being performed by virtue of a writ which he had been advised to take out, in case the young man should prove refractory.

The reader, who by this time must be pretty well acquainted with the disposition of our hero, may easily conceive how he relished this adventure. At first, all the faculties of his soul were swallowed up in astonishment and indignation; and some minutes elapsed before his nerves would obey the impulse of his rage, which manifested itself in such an application to the temples of the plaintiff, as laid him sprawling on the floor. This assault, which was committed in a tavern, whither he had been purposely decoyed, attracted the regard of the bailiff and his followers, who, to the number of four, rushed upon him at once, in order to overpower him; but his wrath inspired him with such additional strength and agility, that he disengaged himself from them in a trice, and, seizing a poker, which was the first weapon that presented itself to his hand, exercised it upon their skulls with incredible dexterity and execution. The officer himself, who had been the first that presumed to lay violent hands upon him, felt the first effects of his fury in a blow upon the jaws, in consequence of which he lost three of his teeth, and fell athwart the body of the receiver, with which he formed the figure of a St. Andrew’s cross. One of his myrmidons, seeing the fate of his chief, would not venture to attack the victor in front, but, wheeling to one side, made an attempt upon him in flank, and was received obliquely by our hero’s left hand and foot, so masterly disposed to the right side of his leg, and the left side of his neck, that he bolted head foremost into the chimney, where his chin was encountered by the grate, which in a moment seared him to the bone. The rest of the detachment did not think proper to maintain the dispute, but, evacuating the room with great expedition, locked the door on the outside, and bellowed aloud to the receiver’s servants, beseeching them to come to the assistance of their master, who was in danger of his life.

Meanwhile, this gentleman having recollected himself, demanded a parley; which having with difficulty obtained of our incensed candidate, in consequence of the most submissive application, he complained grievously of the young gentleman’s intemperance and heat of disposition, and very calmly represented the danger of his rashness and indiscretion. He told him, that nothing could be more outrageous or idle, than the resistance he had made against the laws of his country, because he would find it impracticable to withstand the whole executive power of the country, which he could easily raise to apprehend and secure him; that, over and above the disgrace that would accrue to him from this imprudent conduct, he would knock his own interest on the head, by disobliging his friends in the administration, who were, to his knowledge, at present very well disposed to do him service; that, for his own part, what he had done was by the express order of his superiors, and not out of any desire of distressing him; and that, far from being his enemy, notwithstanding the shocking insult he had sustained, he was ready to withdraw the writ, provided he would listen to any reasonable terms of accommodation.

Peregrine, who was not more prone to anger than open to conviction, being appeased by his condescension, moved by his arguments, and chid by his own reflection for what he had done in the precipitation of his wrath, began to give ear to his remonstrances; and the bailiffs being ordered to withdraw, they entered into a conference, the result of which was our adventurer’s immediate departure for London; so that next day his competitor was unanimously chosen, because nobody appeared to oppose his election. The discontented Pickle, on his arrival in town, went directly to the house of his patron, to whom, in the anguish of his disappointment, he bitterly complained of the treatment he had received, by which, besides the disgrace of his overthrow, he was no less than two thousand pounds out of pocket, exclusive of the debt for which he stood engaged to the receiver. His lordship, who was prepared for this expostulation, on his knowledge of the young man’s impetuous temper, answered all the articles of his charge with great deliberation, giving him to understand the motives that induced the minister to quit his interest in that borough; and soothing him with assurances that his loss would be amply rewarded by his honour, to whom he was next day introduced by this nobleman, in the warmest style of recommendation. The minister, who was a pattern of complaisance, received him with the most engaging affability; thanked him very kindly for his endeavours to support and strengthen the interest of the administration; and faithfully promised to lay hold on the first opportunity to express the sense he had of his zeal and attachment; desiring to see him often at his levee, that, in the multiplicity of business, he might not be in danger of forgetting his services and desert.

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