The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LXI.

Peregrine is released — Jolter confounded at his mysterious Conduct — A Contest happens between the Poet and Painter, who are reconciled by the Mediation of their Fellow-Travellers.

Our hero, understanding from some expressions which escaped the prince, that he was considered in the light of a sharper and assassin, begged that he might have the liberty of sending for some vouchers, that would probably vindicate his character from the malicious aspersions of his adversary. This permission being granted, he wrote a letter to his governor, desiring that he would bring to him the letters of recommendation which he had received from the British ambassador at Paris, and such other papers as he thought conducive to evince the importance of his situation.

The billet was given in charge to one of the subaltern officers on duty, who carried it to the inn, and demanded to speak with Mr. Jolter. Pallet, who happened to be at the door when this messenger arrived, and heard him inquire for the tutor, ran directly to that gentleman’s apartment, and in manifest disorder, told him that a huge fellow of a soldier, with a monstrous pair of whiskers, and fur cap as big as a bushel, was asking for him at the door. The poor governor began to shake at this intimation, though he was not conscious of having committed anything that could attract the attention of the state. When the officer appeared at his chamber door, his confusion increased to such a degree, that his perception seemed to vanish, and the subaltern repeated the purport of his errand three times, before he could comprehend his meaning, or venture to receive the letter which he presented. At length he summoned all his fortitude, and having perused the epistle, his terror sank into anxiety. His ingenuous fear immediately suggested, that Peregrine was confined in a dungeon, for some outrage he had committed. He ran with great agitation to a trunk, and, taking out a bundle of papers, followed his conductor, being attended by the painter, to whom he had hinted his apprehension.

When they passed through the guard, which was under arms, the hearts of both died within them; and when they came into the presence, there was such an expression of awful horror on the countenance of Jolter, that the prince, observing his dismay, was pleased to encourage him with an assurance that he had nothing to fear. Thus comforted, he recollected himself so well as to understand his pupil, when he desired him to produce the ambassador’s letters; some of which being open, were immediately read by his highness, who was personally acquainted with the writer, and knew several of the noblemen to whom they were addressed. These recommendations were so warm, and represented the young gentleman in such an advantageous light, that the prince, convinced of the injustice his character had suffered by the misrepresentation of Hornbeck, took our hero by the hand, asked pardon for the doubts he had entertained of his honour, declared him from that moment at liberty, ordered his domestics to be enlarged, and offered him his countenance and protection as long as he should remain in the Austrian Netherlands. At the same time, he cautioned him against indiscretion in the course of his gallantries; and took his word of honour, that he should drop all measures of resentment against the person of Hornbeck during his residence in that place.

The delinquent, thus honourably acquitted, thanked the prince in the most respectful manner for his generosity and candour, and retired with his two friends, who were amazed and bewildered in their thoughts at what they had seen and heard, the whole adventure still remaining without the sphere of their comprehension, which was not at all enlarged by the unaccountable appearance of Pipes, who, with the valet-de-chambre, joined them at the castle gate. Had Jolter been a man of a luxuriant imagination, his brain would undoubtedly have suffered in the investigation of his pupil’s mysterious conduct, which he strove in vain to unravel; but his intellects were too solid to be affected by the miscarriage of his invention; and, as Peregrine did not think proper to make him acquainted with the cause of his being apprehended, he contented himself with supposing that there was a lady in the case.

The painter, whose imagination was of a more flimsy texture. formed a thousand chimerical conjectures, which he communicated to Pickle, in imperfect insinuations, hoping, by his answers and behaviour, to discover the truth: but the youth, in order to tantalise him, eluded all his inquiries, with such appearance of industry and art, as heightened his curiosity, while it disappointed his aim, and inflamed him to such a degree of impatience, that his wits began to be unsettled: then Peregrine was fain to recompose his brain, by telling him in confidence, that he had been arrested as a spy. This secret he found more intolerable than his former uncertainty. He ran from one apartment to another, like a goose in the agonies of egg-laying, with intention of disburdening this important load; but Jolter being engaged with the pupil, and all the people of the house ignorant of the only language he could speak, he was compelled, with infinite reluctance, to address himself to the doctor, who was at that time shut up in his own chamber. Having knocked at the door to no purpose, he peeped through the key-hole, and saw the physician sitting at a table, with a pen in one hand, and paper before him, his head reclined upon his other hand, and his eyes fixed upon the ceiling, as if he had been entranced. Pallet, concluding that he was under the power of some convulsion, endeavoured to force the door open, and the noise of his efforts recalled the doctor from his reverie.

This poetical republican, being so disagreeably disturbed, started up in a passion, and, opening the door, no sooner perceived who had interrupted him, than he flung it in his face with great fury, and cursed him for his impertinent intrusion, which had deprived him of the most delightful vision that ever regaled the human fancy. He imagined, as he afterwards imparted to Peregrine, that, as he enjoyed himself in walking through the flowery plain that borders on Parnassus, he was met by a venerable sage, whom, by a certain divine vivacity that lightened from his eyes, he instantly knew to be the immortal Pindar. He was immediately struck with reverence and awe, and prostrated himself before the apparition, which, taking him by the hand, lifted him gently from the ground and, with words more sweet than the honey of the Hybla bees, told him, that, of all the moderns, he alone was visited by that celestial impulse by which he himself had been inspired, when he produced his most applauded odes. So saying, he led him up the sacred hill, persuaded him to drink a copious draught of the waters of the Hippocrene, and then presented him to the harmonious Nine, who crowned his temples with a laurel wreath.

No wonder that he was enraged to find himself cut off from such sublime society. He raved in Greek against the invader, who was so big with his own purpose, that, unmindful of the disgrace he had sustained, and disregarding all the symptoms of the physician’s displeasure, he applied his mouth to the door, in an eager tone. “I’ll hold you any wager,” said he, “that I guess the true cause of Mr. Pickle’s imprisonment.” To this challenge he received no reply, and therefore repeated it, adding, “I suppose you imagine he was taken up for fighting a duel, or affronting a nobleman, or lying with some man’s wife, or some such matter: but, egad! you was never more mistaken in your life; and I’ll lay my Cleopatra against your Homer’s head, that in four-and-twenty hours you shan’t light on the true reason.”

The favourite of the muses, exasperated at this vexatious perseverance of the painter, who he imagined had come to tease and insult him, “I would,” said he, “sacrifice a cock to Esculapius, were I assured that any person had been taken up for extirpating such a troublesome Goth as you are from the face of the earth. As for your boasted Cleopatra, which you say was drawn from your own wife, I believe the copy has as much of the to kalon as the original: but, were it mine, it should be hung up in the Temple of Cloacina, as the picture of that goddess; for any other apartment would be disgraced by its appearance.”—“Hark ye, sir,” replied Pallet, enraged in his turn at the contemptuous mention of his darling performance, “you may make as free with my wife as you think proper, but ‘ware my works; those are the children of my fancy, conceived by the glowing imagination, and formed by the art of my own hands: and you yourself are a Goth, and a Turk, and a Tartar, and an impudent pretending jackanapes, to treat with such disrespect a production which, in the opinion of all the connoisseurs of the age, will, when finished, be a masterpiece in its kind, and do honour to human genius and skill. So I say again and again, and I care not though your friend Playtor heard me, that you have no more taste than a drayman’s horse, and that those foolish notions of the ancients ought to be drubbed out of you with a pod cudgel, that you might learn to treat men of parts with more veneration. Perhaps you may not always be in the company of one who will halloo for assistance when you are on the brink of being chastised for your insolence, as I did, when you brought upon yourself the resentment of that Scot, who, by the Lord! would have paid you both scot and lot, as Falstaff says, if the French officer had not put him in arrest.”

The physician, to this declamation, which was conveyed through the key-hole, answered, that he (the painter) was a fellow so infinitely below his consideration, that his conscience upbraided him with no action of his life, except that of choosing such a wretch for his companion and fellow-traveller. That he had viewed his character through the medium of good-nature and compassion, which had prompted him to give Pallet an opportunity of acquiring some new ideas under his immediate instruction; but he had abused his goodness and condescension in such a flagrant manner, that he was now determined to discard him entirely from his acquaintance; and desired him, for the present, to take himself away, on pain of being kicked for his presumption.

Pallet was too much incensed to be intimidated by this threat, which he retorted with great virulence, defying him to come forth, that it might appear which of them was best skilled in that pedestrian exercise, which he immediately began to practise against the door with such thundering application, as reached the ears of Pickle and his governor, who coming out into the passage, and seeing him thus employed, asked if he had forgot the chamber-pots of Alost, that he ventured to behave in such a manner as entitled him to a second prescription of the same nature.

The doctor, understanding that there was company at hand, opened the door in a twinkling, and, springing upon his antagonist like a tiger, a fierce contention would have ensued, to the infinite satisfaction of our hero, had not Jolter, to the manifest peril of his own person, interposed, and partly by force, and partly by exhortations, put a stop to the engagement before it was fairly begun. After having demonstrated the indecency of such a vulgar rencontre, betwixt two fellow-citizens in a foreign land, he begged to know the cause of their dissension, and offered his good offices towards an accommodation. Peregrine also, seeing the fray was finished, expressed himself to the same purpose; and the painter, for obvious reasons, declining an explanation, his antagonist told the youth what a mortifying interruption he had suffered by the impertinent intrusion of Pallet, and gave him a detail of the particulars of his vision, as above recited. The arbiter owned the provocation was not to be endured; and decreed that the offender should make some atonement for his transgression. Upon which the painter observed, that, however he might have been disposed to make acknowledgments, if the physician had signified his displeasure like a gentleman, the complainant had now forfeited all claim to any such concessions, by the vulgar manner in which he had reviled him and his productions; observing, that, if he (the painter) had been inclined to retort his slanderous insinuations, the republican’s own works would have afforded ample subject for his ridicule and censure.

After divers disputes and representations, peace was at length concluded, on condition, that, for the future, the doctor should never mention Cleopatra, unless he could say something in her praise; and that Pallet, in consideration of his having been the first aggressor, should make a sketch of the physician’s vision, to be engraved and prefixed to the next edition of his odes.

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