The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LXI

I am arrested — carried to the Marshalsea — find my old Acquaintance beau Jackson in that Jail — he informs me of his Adventures — Strap arrives, and with difficulty is comforted — Jackson introduces me to a Poet — I admire his Conversation and Capacity — am deeply affected with my Misfortune — Strap hires himself as a Journeyman Barber

But this expedient was in a few weeks followed with a consequence I did not foresee. A player, having purchased one of the suits that were exposed to sale, appeared in it on the stage one night, while my tailor unfortunately happened to be present. He knew it immediately, and, inquiring minutely into the affair, discovered my whole contrivance: upon which he came into my lodgings, and telling me that he was very much straightened for want of money, presented his bill, which amounted to fifty pounds. Surprised at which unexpected address, I affected to treat him cavalierly, swore some oaths, asked if he doubted my honour, and telling him I should take care whom I dealt with for the future, bade him come again in three days. He obeyed me punctually, demanded his money, and finding himself amused with bare promises, arrested me that very day in the street. I was not much shocked at this adventure, which, indeed, put an end to a state of horrible expectation: but I refused to go to a sponging-house, where I heard there was nothing but the most flagrant imposition: and, a coach being called, was carried to the Marshalsea, attended by a bailiff and his follower, who were very much disappointed and chagrined at my resolution.

The turnkey, guessing from my appearance that I had money in my pocket, received me with the repetition of the Latin word depone, and gave me to understand, that I must pay beforehand for the apartment I should choose to dwell in. I desired to see his conveniences, and hired a small paltry bed-chamber for a crown a week, which, in any other place, would not have let for half the money. Having taken possession of this dismal habitation, I sent for Strap, and my thoughts were busied in collecting matter of consolation to that faithful squire, when somebody knocked at my door, which I no sooner opened, than a young fellow entered in very shabby clothes and marvellous foul linen. After a low bow, he called me by name, and asked if I had forgotten him. His voice assisted me in recollecting his person, whom I soon recognised to be my old acquaintance, Jackson, of whom mention is made in the first part of my memoirs. I saluted him cordially, expressed my satisfaction at finding him alive, and condoled him on his present situation, which, however, did not seem to affect him much, for he laughed very heartily at the occasion of our meeting so unexpectedly in this place. Our mutual compliments being past, I inquired about his amour with the lady of fortune, which seemed to be so near a happy conclusion when I had the pleasure of seeing him last: and, after an immoderate fit of laughter, he gave me to understand that he had been egregiously bit in that affair. “You must know,” said he, “that a few days after our adventure with the bawd, and her b — ches, I found means to be married to that same blue lady you speak of, and passed the night with her at her lodgings, so much to her satisfaction, that early in the morning, after a good deal of snivelling and sobbing, she owned, that, far from being an heiress of great fortune, she was no other than a common woman of the town, who had decoyed me into matrimony, in order to enjoy the privilege of a femme couverte; and that, unless I made my escape immediately, I should be arrested for a debt of her contracting, by bailiffs employed and instructed for that purpose. Startled at this intimation, I rose in a twinkling, and taking leave of my spouse with several hearty damns, got safe into the verge of the court, where I kept snug, until I was appointed surgeon’s mate of a man-of-war at Portsmouth; for which place I set out on Sunday, went on board of my ship, in which I sailed to the Straits, where I had the good fortune to be made surgeon of a sloop that came home a few months after, and was put out of commission: whereupon, I came to London, imagining myself forgotten, and freed from my wife and her creditors, but had not been in town a week, before I was arrested for a debt of hers, amounting to twenty pounds, and brought to this place, where I have been fixed by another action since that time. However, you know my disposition, I defy care and anxiety; and being on the half-pay list, make shift to live here tolerably easy.” I congratulated him on his philosophy, and, remembering that I was in his debt, repaid the money he formerly lent me, which, I believe, was far from being unseasonable. I then inquired about the economy of the place, which he explained to my satisfaction; and, after we had agreed to mess together, he was just now going to give orders for dinner when Strap arrived.

I never in my life saw sorrow so extravagantly expressed in any countenance as in that of my honest friend, which was, indeed, particularly adapted by nature for such impressions. When we were left by ourselves, I communicated to him my disaster, and endeavoured to console him with the same arguments he had formerly used to me, withal representing the fair chance I had of being relieved in a short time by Mr. Bowling. But his grief was unutterable: he seemed to give attention without listening, and wrung his hands in silence; so that I was in a fair way of being infected by his behaviour, when Jackson returned, and, perceiving the deference I paid to Strap, although in a footman’s habit, distributed his crumbs of comfort with such mirth, jollity and unconcern, that the features of the distressed squire relaxed by degrees; he recovered the use of speech, and began to be a little more reconciled to this lamentable event. We dined together on boiled beef and greens, brought from a cook’s shop in the neighbourhood, and, although this meal was served up in a manner little corresponding with the sphere of life in which I had lately lived, I made a virtue of necessity, ate with good appetite, and treated my friends with a bottle of wine, which had the desired effect of increasing the good humour of my fellow prisoner, and exhilarating the spirits of Strap, who now talked cavalierly of my misfortune.

After dinner Jackson left us to our private affairs; when I desired my friend to pack up all our things, and carry them to some cheap lodgings he should choose for himself in the neighbourhood of the Marshalsea, after he had discharged my lodgings, for which purpose I gave him money. I likewise recommended to him the keeping my misfortune secret, and saying to my landlord, or any other who should inquire for me, that I was gone into the country for a few weeks: at the same time I laid strong injunctions upon him to call every second day upon Banter, in case he should receive any letter for me from Narcissa, by the channel of Freeman; and by all means to leave a direction for himself at my uncle’s lodgings in Wapping, by which I might be found when my kinsman should arrive.

When he departed to execute these orders (which by the bye were punctually performed that very night), I found myself so little seasoned to my situation, that I dreaded reflection, and sought shelter from it in the company of the beau, who, promising to regale me with a lecture upon taste, conducted me to the common side, where I saw a number of naked miserable wretches assembled together. We had not been here many minutes, when a figure appeared, wrapped in a dirty rug, tied about his loins with two pieces of list, of different colours, knotted together; having a black bushy beard, and his head covered with a huge mass of brown periwig, which seems to have been ravished from the crown of some scarecrow. This apparition, stalking in with great solemnity, made a profound bow to the audience, who signified their approbation by a general response of “How d’ye do, doctor!” He then turned towards us, and honoured Jackson with a particular salutation, upon which my friend, in a formal manner, introduced him to me by the name of Mr. Melopoyn. This ceremony being over, he advanced into the middle of the congregation, which crowded around him, and hemming three times, to my utter astonishment, pronounced with great significance of voice and gesture, a very elegant and ingenious discourse upon the difference between genius and taste, illustrating his assertions with apt quotations from the best authors, ancient as well as modern. When he had finished his harangue, which lasted a full hour, he bowed again to the spectators; not one of whom (I was informed) understood so much as a sentence of what he had uttered. They manifested, however, their admiration and esteem by voluntary contributions, which Jackson told me, one week with another, amounted to eighteen pence. This moderate stipend, together with some small presents that he received for making up differences and deciding causes amongst the prisoners, just enabled him to breathe and walk about in the grotesque figure I have described. I understood also, that he was an excellent poet, and had composed a tragedy, which was allowed by everybody who had seen it to be a performance of great merit: that his learning was infinite, his morals unexceptionable, and his modesty invincible. Such a character could not fail of attracting my regard; I longed impatiently to be acquainted with him, and desired Jackson would engage him to spend the evening in my apartment. My request was granted; he favoured us with his company, and, in the course of our conversation perceiving that I had a strong passion for the Belles Lettres, acquitted himself so well on that subject, that I expressed a fervent desire of seeing his productions. In this point too he gratified my inclination; he promised to bring his tragedy to my room next day, and in the meantime, entertained me with some detached pieces, which gave me a very advantageous idea of his poetical talent. Among other things I was particularly pleased with some elegies, in imitation of Tibullus; one of which I beg leave to submit to the reader as a specimen of his complexion and capacity:—

Where now are all my flattering dreams of joy?
Monimia, give my soul her wonted rest; —
Since first thy beauty fixed my roving eye,
heart-gnawing cares corrode my pensive breast!

Let happy lovers fly where pleasures call,
With festive songs beguile the fleeting hour,
Lead beauty through the mazes of the ball,
Or press her wanton in love’s roseate bower:

For me, no more I’ll range the empurpled mead,
Where shepherd’s pipe and virgins dance around,
Nor wander through the woodbine’s fragrant shade,
To hear the music of the grove resound.

I’ll seek some lonely church, or dreary hall,
Where fancy paints the glimmering taper blue,
Where damps hang mouldering on the ivy’d wall,
And sheeted ghosts drink up the midnight dew,

There, leagued with hopeless anguish and despair,
A while in silence o’er my fate repair:
Then, with a long farewell to love and care,
To kindred dust my weary limbs consign.

Wilt thou, Monimia, shed a gracious tear
On the cold grave where all my sorrows rest?
Strew vernal flowers, applaud my love sincere,
And bid the turf lie easy on my breast?

I was wonderfully affected with this pathetic complaint, which seemed so well calculated for my own disappointment in love, that I could not help attaching the idea of Narcissa to the name of Monimia, and of forming such melancholy presages of my passion, that I could not recover my tranquillity: and was fain to have recourse to the bottle, which prepared me for a profound sleep that I could not otherwise have enjoyed. Whether these impressions invited and introduced a train of other melancholy reflections, or my fortitude was all exhausted in the effort I made against despondence, during the first day of my imprisonment, I cannot determine; but I awoke in the horrors, and found my imagination haunted with such dismal apparitions, that I was ready to despair: and I believe the render will own, I had no great cause to congratulate myself, when I considered my situation. I was interrupted in the midst of these gloomy apprehensions by the arrival of Strap, who contributed not a little to the re-establishment of my peace, by letting me know that he had hired himself as a journeyman barber; by which means he would be able not only to save me a considerable expense, but even make shift to lay up something for my subsistence, after my money should be spent, in case I should. not be relieved before.

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