The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, by Tobias Smollett

To Sir Watkin Phillips, of Jesus college, Oxon.


A few days ago we were terribly alarmed by my uncle’s fainting at the ball — He has been ever since cursing his own folly, for going thither at the request of an impertinent woman. He declares, he will sooner visit a house infected with the plague, than trust himself in such a nauseous spital for the future, for he swears the accident was occasioned by the stench of the crowd; and that he would never desire a stronger proof of our being made of very gross materials, than our having withstood the annoyance, by which he was so much discomposed. For my part, I am very thankful for the coarseness of my organs, being in no danger of ever falling a sacrifice to the delicacy of my nose. Mr Bramble is extravagantly delicate in all his sensations, both of soul and body. I was informed by Dr Lewis, that he once fought a duel with an officer of the horseguards, for turning aside to the Park-wall, on a necessary occasion, when he was passing with a lady under his protection. His blood rises at every instance of insolence and cruelty, even where he himself is no way concerned; and ingratitude makes his teeth chatter. On the other hand, the recital of a generous, humane, or grateful action, never fails to draw from him tears of approbation, which he is often greatly distressed to conceal.

Yesterday, one Paunceford gave tea, on particular invitation — This man, after having been long buffetted by adversity, went abroad; and Fortune, resolved to make him amends for her former coyness, set him all at once up to the very ears in affluence. He has now emerged from obscurity, and blazes out in all the tinsel of the times. I don’t find that he is charged with any practices that the law deems dishonest, or that his wealth has made him arrogant and inaccessible; on the contrary, he takes great pains to appear affable and gracious. But, they say, he is remarkable for shrinking from his former friendships, which were generally too plain and home-spun to appear amidst his present brilliant connexions; and that he seems uneasy at sight of some old benefactors, whom a man of honour would take pleasure to acknowledge — Be that as it may, he had so effectually engaged the company at Bath, that when I went with my uncle to the coffeehouse in the evening, there was not a soul in the room but one person, seemingly in years, who sat by the fire, reading one of the papers. Mr Bramble, taking his station close by him, ‘There is such a crowd and confusion of chairs in the passage to Simpson’s (said he) that we could hardly get along — I wish those minions of fortune would fall upon more laudable ways of spending their money. — I suppose, Sir, you like this kind of entertainment as little as I do?’ ‘I cannot say I have any great relish for such entertainments,’ answered the other, without taking his eyes off the paper — ‘Mr Serle (resumed my uncle) I beg pardon for interrupting you; but I can’t resist the curiosity I have to know if you received a card on this occasion?’

The man seemed surprised at this address, and made some pause, as doubtful what answer he should make. ‘I know my curiosity is impertinent (added my uncle) but I have a particular reason for asking the favour.’ ‘If that be the case (replied Mr Serle) I shall gratify you without hesitation, by owning that I have had no card. But, give me leave, Sir, to ask in my turn, what reason you think I have to expect such an invitation from the gentleman who gives tea?’ ‘I have my own reasons (cried Mr Bramble, with some emotion) and am convinced, more than ever, that this Paunceford is a contemptible fellow.’ ‘Sir (said the other, laying down the paper) I have not the honour to know you; but your discourse is a little mysterious, and seems to require some explanation. The person you are pleased to treat so cavalierly, is a gentleman of some consequence in the community; and, for aught you know, I may also have my particular reasons for defending his character’ — ‘If I was not convinced of the contrary (observed the other) I should not have gone so far’ — ‘Let me tell you, Sir (said the stranger, raising his voice) you have gone too far, in hazarding such reflections’.

Here he was interrupted by my uncle; who asked peevishly if he was Don Quixote enough, at this time of day, to throw down his gauntlet as champion for a man who had treated him with such ungrateful neglect. ‘For my part (added he) I shall never quarrel with you again upon this subject; and what I have said now, has been suggested as much by my regard for you, as by my contempt of him’ — Mr Serle, then pulling off his spectacles, eyed uncle very earnestly, saying, in a mitigated tone, ‘Surely I am much obliged — Ah, Mr Bramble! I now recollect your features, though I have not seen you these many years.’ ‘We might have been less strangers to one another (answered the squire) if our correspondence had not been interrupted, in consequence of a misunderstanding, occasioned by this very — but no matter — Mr Serle, I esteem your character; and my friendship, such as it is, you may freely command.’ ‘The offer is too agreeable to be declined (said he); I embrace it very cordially; and, as the first fruits of it, request that you will change this subject, which, with me, is a matter of peculiar delicacy.’

My uncle owned he was in the right, and the discourse took a more general turn. Mr Serle passed the evening with us at our lodgings; and appeared to be intelligent, and even entertaining; but his disposition was rather of a melancholy hue. My uncle says he is a man of uncommon parts, and unquestioned probity: that his fortune, which was originally small, has been greatly hurt by a romantic spirit of generosity, which he has often displayed, even at the expence of his discretion, in favour of worthless individuals — That he had rescued Paunceford from the lowest distress, when he was bankrupt, both in means and reputation — That he had espoused his interests with a degree of enthusiasm, broke with several friends, and even drawn his sword against my uncle, who had particular reasons for questioning the moral character of the said Paunceford: that, without Serle’s countenance and assistance, the other never could have embraced the opportunity, which has raised him to this pinnacle of wealth: that Paunceford, in the first transports of his success, had written, from abroad, letters to different correspondents, owning his obligations to Mr Serle, in the warmest terms of acknowledgement, and declared he considered himself only as a factor for the occasions of his best friend: that, without doubt, he had made declarations of the same nature to his benefactor himself, though this last was always silent and reserved on the subject; but for some years, those tropes and figures of rhetoric had been disused; that, upon his return to England, he had been lavish in his caresses to Mr Serle, invited him to his house, and pressed him to make it his own: that he had overwhelmed him with general professions, and affected to express the warmest regard for him, in company of their common acquaintance; so that every body believed his gratitude was liberal as his fortune; and some went so far as to congratulate Mr Serle on both.

All this time Paunceford carefully and artfully avoided particular discussions with his old patron, who had too much spirit to drop the most distant hint of balancing the account of obligation: that, nevertheless, a man of his feelings could not but resent this shocking return for all his kindness: and, therefore, he withdrew himself from the connexion, without coming to the least explanation or speaking a syllable on the subject to any living soul; so that now their correspondence is reduced to a slight salute with the hat, when they chance to meet in any public place; an accident that rarely happens, for their walks lie different ways. Mr Paunceford lives in a palace, feeds upon dainties, is arrayed in sumptuous apparel, appears in all the pomp of equipage, and passes his time among the nobles of the land. Serle lodges in Stall-street, up two pair of stairs backwards, walks a-foot in a Bath-rug, eats for twelve shillings a-week, and drinks water as preservative against the gout and gravel — Mark the vicissitude. Paunceford once resided in a garret; where he subsisted upon sheep’s-trotters and cow-heel, from which commons he was translated to the table of Serle, that ever abounded with good-chear; until want of economy and retention reduced him to a slender annuity in his decline of years, that scarce affords the bare necessaries of life. — Paunceford, however, does him the honour to speak of him still, with uncommon regard; and to declare what pleasure it would give him to contribute in any shape to his convenience: ‘But you know (he never fails to add) he’s a shy kind of a man — And then such a perfect philosopher, that he looks upon all superfluities with the most sovereign contempt. Having given you this sketch of squire Paunceford, I need not make any comment on his character, but leave it at the mercy of your own reflection; from which I dare say, it will meet with as little quarter as it has found with

Yours always, J. MELFORD BATH, May 10.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59