The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XVII

I go to Surgeons’ Hall, when I meet Mr. Jackson-am examined — a fierce dispute arises between two of the examiners — Jackson disguises himself to attract respect — irises himself to attract respect — is detected — in hazard of being sent to Bridewell — he treats us at a Tavern — carries us to a Night-house — A troublesome adventure there — we are committed to the Round-house — carried before a Justice — his behaviour

With the assistance of this faithful adherent, who gave me almost all the money he earned, I preserved my half-guinea entire till the day of examination, when I went with a quaking heart to Surgeons’ Hall, in order to undergo that ceremony. Among a crowd of young fellows who walked in the outward hall, I perceived Mr. Jackson, to whom I immediately went up; and, inquiring into the state of his love affair, understood it was still undetermined, by reason of his friend’s absence, and the delay of the recall at Chatham, which put it out of his power to bring it to a conclusion. I then asked what his business was in this place; he replied, he was resolved to have two strings to his bow, that in case the one failed, he might use the other; and, with this view, he was to pass that night for a higher qualification. At that instant, a young fellow came out from the place of examination, with a pale countenance, his lip quivering, and his looks as wild as if he had seen a ghost. He no sooner appeared, than we all flocked about him with the utmost eagerness to know what reception he had met with; which, after some pause, he described, recounting all the questions they had asked, with the answers he made. In this manner we obliged no less than twelve to recapitulate, which, now the danger was past, they did with pleasure, before it fell to my lot: at length the beadle called my name, with a voice that made me tremble. However, there was no remedy. I was conducted into a large hall, where I saw about a dozen of grim faces sitting at a long table: one of whom bade me come forward, in such an imperious tone, that I was actually for a minute or two bereft of my senses. The first question he put to me was, “Where was you born?” To which I answered, “In Scotland.” “In Scotland,” said he; “I know that very well — we have scarce any other countrymen to examine here — you Scotchmen have overspread us of late as the locusts did Egypt. I ask you in what part of Scotland was you born?” I named the place of my nativity, which he had never heard of; he then proceeded to interrogate me about my age, the town where I served my time, with the term of my apprenticeship; and when I informed him that I served three years only, he fell into a violent passion, swore it was a shame and a scandal to send such raw boys into the world as surgeons; that it was great presumption in me, and all affront upon the English, to pretend sufficient skill in my business, having served so short a time, when every apprentice in England was bound seven years at least: that my friends would have done better if they had made me a weaver or shoemaker; but their pride would have me a gentleman, he supposed, at any rate, and their poverty could not afford the necessary education. This exordium did not at all contribute to the recovery of my spirits; but on the contrary, reduced me to such a situation that I was scarcely able to stand; which being perceived by a plump gentleman who sat opposite to me with a skull before him, he said, Mr. Snarler was too severe upon the young man; and, turning towards me, told me I need not be afraid, for nobody would do me any harm: then, bidding me take time to recollect myself, he examined me, touching the operation of the trepan, and was very well satisfied with my answers. The next person who questioned me was a wag, who began by asking if I had ever seen amputation performed; and I replying in the affirmative, he shook his head and said, “What! upon a dead subject, I suppose?” “If,” continued he, “during an engagement at sea, a man should be brought to you with his head shot off, how would you behave?” After some hesitation, I owned such a case had never come under my observation, neither did I remember to have seen any method of care proposed for such an accident, in any of the systems of surgery I had perused.

Whether it was owing to the simplicity of my answer, or the archness of the question, I know not, but every member at the board deigned to smile, except Mr. Snarler, who seemed to have very little of the ‘animal risible’ in his constitution. The facetious member, encouraged by the success of his last joke, went on thus: “Suppose you was called to a patient of a plethoric habit, who has been bruised by a fall, what would you do?” I answered, “I would bleed him immediately.” “What!” said he, “before you had tied up his arm?” But this stroke of wit not answering his expectation, he desired me to advance to the gentleman who sat next him; and who, with a pert air, asked, what method of cure I would follow in wounds of the intestines. I repeated the method of care as it is prescribed by the best chirurgical writers, which he heard to an end, and then said with a supercilious smile, “So you think with such treatment the patient might recover?” I told him I saw nothing to make me think otherwise. “That may be,” resumed he; “I won’t answer for your foresight, but did you ever know a case of this kind succeed?” I acknowledged I did not, and was about to tell him I had never seen a wounded intestine; but he stopt me, by saying, with some precipitation, “Nor never will! I affirm that all wounds of the intestines, whether great or small, are mortal.” “Pardon me, brother,” says the fat gentleman, “there is very good authority — ” Here he was interrupted by the other with — “Sir, excuse me, I despise all authority — Nullius in verbo — I stand on my own bottom.” “But sir, sir,” replied his antagonist, “the reason of the thing shows — ” “A fig for reason,” cries this sufficient member; “I laugh at reason; give me ocular demonstratio.” The corpulent gentleman began to wax warm, and observed, that no man acquainted with the anatomy of the parts would advance such an extravagant assertion. This inuendo enraged the other so much, that he started up, and in a furious tone exclaimed: “What, Sir! do you question my knowledge in anatomy?”

By this time, all the examiners had espoused the opinion of one or other of the disputants, and raised their voices altogether, when the chairman commanded silence, and ordered me to withdraw. In less than a quarter of an hour, I was called in again, received my qualification scaled up, and was ordered to pay five shillings. I laid down my half-guinea upon the table, and stood some time, until one of them bade me begone; to this I replied, “I will when I have got my change:” upon which another threw me five shillings and sixpence, saying, I should not be a true Scotchman if I went away without my change. I was afterwards obliged to give three shillings and sixpence to the beadles, and a shilling to an old woman who swept the hall: this disbursement sank my finances to thirteen-pence halfpenny, with which I was sneaking off, when Jackson, perceiving it, came up to me, and begged I would tarry for him, and he would accompany me to the other end of the town, as soon as his examination should be over. I could not refuse this to a person that was so much my friend; but I was astonished at the change of his dress which was varied in half-an-hour from what I have already described to a very grotesque fashion. His head was covered with an old smoke tie-wig that did not boast one crooked hair, and a slouched hat over it, which would have very well become a chimney-sweeper, or a dustman; his neck was adorned with a black crape, the ends of which he had twisted, and fixed in the button-hole of a shabby greatcoat that wrapped up his whole body; his white silk stockings were converted into black worsted hose: and his countenance was rendered venerable by wrinkles, and a beard of his own painting. When I expressed my surprise at this metamorphosis, he laughed, and told me it was done by the advice and assistance of a friend, who lived over the way, and would certainly produce something very much to his advantage; for it gave him the appearance of age, which never fails of attracting respect. I applauded his sagacity, and waited with impatience for the effects of it. At length he was called in; but whether the oddness of his appearance excited a curiosity more than small in the board, or his behaviour was not suitable to his figure, I know not, he was discovered to be an imposter, and put into the hands of the beadle in order to be sent to Bridewell. So that instead of seeing him come out with a cheerful countenance, and a surgeon’s qualification in his hand, I perceived him led through the outer hall as a prisoner; and was very much alarmed, and anxious to know the occasion; when he called with a lamentable voice, and a piteous aspect to me, and some others who know him, “For God’s sake, gentlemen bear witness that I am the same individual John Jackson who served as surgeon’s second mate on board the Elizabeth, or else I shall go to Bridewell!”

It would have been impossible for the most austere hermit that ever lived to have refrained from laughing at his appearance and address: we therefore indulged ourselves a good while at his expense, and afterwards pleaded his cause so effectually with the beadle who was gratified with half-a-crown, that the prisoner was dismissed, and in a few moments renewed his former gaiety — swearing, since the board had refused his money, he would spend every shilling before he went to bed, in treating his friends; at the same time inviting us all to favour him with our company. It was now ten o’clock at night, and, as I had a great way to walk through streets that were utterly unknown to me, I was prevailed on to be of their party, in hopes he would afterwards accompany me to my lodgings, according to his promise. He conducted me to his friend’s house, who kept a tavern over the way where we continued drinking punch, until the liquor mounted up to our heads, and made us all extremely frolicsome. I, in particular, was so much elevated, that nothing would serve me but a wench; at which demand Jackson expressed much joy, and assured me I should have my desire before we parted Accordingly, when he had paid the reckoning, we sallied out, roaring and singing; and were conducted by our leader to a place of nocturnal entertainment, where Mr. Jackson’s dress attracted the assiduities of two or three nymphs, who loaded him with caresses, in return for the arrack punch with which he treated them, till at length sleep began to exert his power over us all, and our conductor called “To pay.” When the bill was brought, which amounted to twelve shillings, he put his hand in his pocket, but might have saved himself the trouble, for his purse was gone. This accident disconcerted him a good deal at first; but after some recollection, he seized the two ladies who sat by him, one in each hand, and swore if they did not immediately restore his money he would charge a constable with them. The good lady at the bar, seeing what passed, whispered something to the drawer, who went out; and then with great composure, asked what was the matter? Jackson told her he was robbed, and swore if she refused him satisfaction, he would have her and her female friends committed to Bridewell. “Robbed!” cried she, “robbed in my house! Gentlemen and Ladies, I take you all to witness, this person has scandalised my reputation.” At that instant, seeing the constable and watch enter, she proceeded “What! you must not only endeavour by your false aspersions to ruin my character, but even commit an assault upon my family! Mr. Constable, I charge you with this uncivil person, who has been guilty of a riot here; I shall take care and bring an action against him for defamation.”

While I was reflecting on this melancholy event, which had made me quite sober, one of the ladies, being piqued at some repartee that passed between us, cried, “They are all concerned!” and desired the constable to take us all into custody; an arrest which was performed instantly, to the utter astonishment and despair of us all, except Jackson, who having been often in such scrapes, was very little concerned, and charged the constable, in his turn, with the landlady and her whole bevy; upon which we were carried altogether prisoners to the round-house, where Jackson after a word of comfort to us, informed the constable of his being robbed, to which he said he would swear next morning before the justice. In a little time the constable, calling Jackson into another room, spoke to him thus: “I perceive that you and your company are strangers, and am very sorry for your being involved in such an ugly business. I have known this woman a great while; she has kept a notorious house in the neighbourhood this many years; and although often complained of as a nuisance, still escapes through her interest with the justices, to whom she and all of her employment pay contribution quarterly for protection. As she charged me with you first, her complaint will have the preference, and she can procure evidence to swear whatsoever she shall please to desire of them; so that, unless you can make it up before morning, you and your companions may think yourselves happily quit for a month’s hard labour in Bridewell. Nay, if she should swear a robbery or an assault against you, you will be committed to Newgate and tried at the next session at the Old Bailey for your life.” This last piece of information had such an effect upon Jackson, that he agreed to make it up, provided his money might be restored. The constable told him, that, instead of retrieving what he had lost, he was pretty certain it would cost him some more before they could come to any composition. But, however, he had compassion on him, and would, if he pleased, sound them about a mutual release. The unfortunate beau thanked him for his friendship, and returning to us, acquainted us with the substance of this dialogue; while the constable, desiring to speak in private with our adversary, carried her into the next room, and pleaded, our cause so effectually, that she condescended to make him umpire: he accordingly proposed an arbitration, to which we gave our assent; and he fined each party in three shillings, to be laid out in a bowl of punch, wherein we drowned all animosities, to the inexpressible joy of my two late acquaintances and me, who had been extremely uneasy ever since Jackson mentioned Bridewell and Newgate. By the time we had finished our bowl — to which, by the bye, I had contributed my last shilling — it was morning, and I proposed to move homeward, when the constable gave me to understand, he could discharge no prisoners but by order of the justice, before whom we must appear. This renewed my chagrin, and I cursed the hour in which I had yielded to Jackson’s invitation.

About nine o’clock, we were escorted to the house of a certain justice not many miles distant from Covent Garden, who no sooner saw the constable enter with a train of prisoners at his heels, than he saluted him as follows: “So Mr. Constable. you are a diligent man. What den of rogues have you been scouring?” Then looking at us, who appeared very much dejected, he continued: “Ay, ay, thieves. I see — old offenders; oh, your humble servant, Mrs. Harridan! I suppose these fellows have been taken robbing your house. Yes, yes, here’s an old acquaintance of mine. You have used expedition,” said he to me, “in returning from transportation; but we shall save you that trouble for the future — the surgeons will fetch you from your next transportation, at their expense.” I assured his worship he was mistaken in me, for he had never seen me in his life before. To this declaration he replied, “How! you impudent rascal, dare you say so to my face? Do you think I am to be imposed upon by that northern accent, which you have assumed? But it shan’t avail you — you shall find me too far north for you. Here, clerk, write this fellow’s mittimus. His name is Patrick Gaghagan.” Here Mr. Jackson interposed, and told him I was a Scotchman lately come to town, descended of a good family, and that my name was Random. The justice looked upon this assertion as an outrage upon his memory, on which he valued himself exceedingly; and strutting up to Jackson, with a fierce countenance, put his hands in his side, and said, “Who are you, sir? Do you give me the lie? Take notice, gentlemen, here’s a fellow who affronts me upon the bench but I’ll lay you fast, sirrah, I will — for notwithstanding your laced jacket, I believe you are a notorious felon.” My friend was so much abashed at this menace, which was thundered out with great vociferation, that he changed colour, and remained speechless. This confusion his worship took for a symptom of guilt, and, to complete the discovery, continued his threats, “Now, I am convinced you are a thief — your face discovers it, you tremble all over, your conscience won’t lie still — you’ll be hanged, sirrah,” raising his voice, “you’ll be hanged; and happy had it been for the world, as well as for your own miserable soul, if you had been detected, and cut off in the beginning of your career. Come hither, clerk, and take this man’s confession.” I was in an agony of consternation, when the constable, going into another room with his worship, acquainted him with the truth of the story; which having learned, he returned with a smiling countenance, and, addressing himself to us all, said. it was always his way to terrify young people when they came before him, that his threats might make a strong impression on their minds, and deter them from engaging in scenes of riot and debauchery, which commonly ended before the judge. Thus, having cloaked his own want of discernment under the disguise of paternal care, we were dismissed, and I found myself as much lightened as if a mountain had been lifted off my breast.

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