The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XCVI.

Peregrine, finding himself neglected by Sir Steady Steerwell, expostulates with him in a Letter; in consequence of which he is forbid his House, loses his Pension, and incurs the charge of Lunacy.

This prospect of success, together with his expectations from the minister, whom he did not neglect, helped to comfort him under the reverse of fortune which he had undergone, and the uncertainty of the lawsuit, which he still maintained for the recovery of his ten thousand pounds. The lawyers, indeed, continued to drain his pocket of money, while they filled his brain with unsubstantial hope; and he was actually obliged to borrow money from his bookseller, on the strength of the translation, in order to satisfy the demands of those ravenous harpies, rather than lay the misanthrope under any difficulties, or have recourse to his friend Hatchway, who lived at the garrison, entirely ignorant of his distress. This was not at all alleviated by the arrival of the Indiaman, in which he had ventured seven hundred pounds, as we have already observed; for he was given to understand, that the borrower was left dangerously ill at Bombay when the ship sailed, and that his chance for retrieving his money was extremely slender.

So situated, it is not to be supposed that he led a life of tranquility, though he made a shift to struggle with the remonstrances of misfortune. Yet such a gush of affliction would sometimes rush upon his thought, as overwhelmed all the ideas of his hope, and sunk him to the very bottom of despondence. Every equipage that passed him in the street, every person of rank and fortune that occurred to his view, recalled the gay images of his former life, with such mortifying reflection as stabbed him to the very soul. He lived, therefore, incessantly exposed to all the pangs of envy and disquiet. When I say envy, I do not mean that sordid passion, in consequence of which a man repines at his neighbour’s success, howsoever deserved: but that self-tormenting indignation which is inspired by the prosperity of folly, ignorance, and vice. Without the intervening gleams of enjoyment, which he felt in the conversation of a few friends, he could not have supported his existence; or, at least, he must have suffered some violent discomposure of the brain. But one is still finding some circumstance of alleviation, even in the worst of conjunctures, and Pickle was so ingenious in these researches, that he maintained a good battle with disappointment, till the revolution of the term at which he had received his pension of three hundred pounds.

However, seeing the day elapse without touching his allowance, notwithstanding his significant method of presenting himself at the minister’s levee, when the year was expired, he wrote a letter to Sir Steady, reminding him of his situation and promise, and giving him to understand, that his occasions were such as compelled him to demand his salary for the ensuing year. In the morning after this letter was conveyed, the author went to his honour’s house, in expectation of being admitted by particular order; but was mistaken in his hope, the minister not being visible. He then made his appearance at the levee, in hopes of being closeted; but, though he took all opportunities of watching Sir Steady’s eyes, he could not obtain one glance, and had the pleasure of seeing him retire, without being favoured with the least notice. These circumstances of wilful neglect were not over and above agreeable to our young hero, who, in the agonies of vexation and resentment, went home, and composed a most acrimonious remonstrance to his honour; in consequence of which he was not only deprived of all pretensions to a private audience, but expressly denied admittance on a public day, by Sir Steady’s own order.

This prohibition, which announced his total ruin, filled him with rage, horror, and despair. He insulted the porter who signified the minister’s command, threatening to chastise him upon the spot for his presumption, and vented the most virulent imprecations upon his master, to the astonishment of those who chanced to enter during this conference. Having exhausted himself in these vain exclamations, he returned to his lodgings in a most frantic condition, biting his lips so that the blood ran from his mouth, dashing his head and fists against the sides of his chimney, and weeping with the most bitter expressions of woe. Pipes, whose perception had been just sufficient to let him see that there was some difference between the present and former situation of his master, overhearing his transports, essayed to enter his apartment, with a view of administering consolation; and, finding the door locked on the inside, desired admittance, protesting, that otherwise he would down with the bulkhead in the turning of a handspike. Peregrine ordered him to retire, on pain of his displeasure, and swore, that if he should offer to break open the door, he would instantly shoot him through the head. Tom, without paying the least regard to this injunction, set himself at work immediately. His master, exasperated at his want of reverence and respect, which in his present paroxysm appeared with the most provoking aggravation, flew into his closet, and snatching up one of his pistols already loaded, no sooner saw his valet enter the apartment, in consequence of having forced the lock, than he presented it full at his face, and drew the trigger. Happily the priming flashed in the pan, without communicating with the charge; so that his furious purpose did not take effect upon the countenance of honest Pipes, who, disregardful of the attempt, though he knew the contents of the piece, asked, without the least alteration of feature, if it must be foul weather through the whole voyage.

Peregrine, mad as he was, repented of his mischievous intent against such a faithful adherent, in the very moment of execution; and had it proved fatal, according to the design, in all probability he would have applied another to his own head. There are certain considerations that strike upon the mind with irresistible force, even in the midst of its distraction; the momentary recollection of some particular scene, occasioned by the features of the devoted victim, hath often struck the dagger from the assassin’s hand. By such an impulse was Pipes protected from any repeated effort of his master’s rage; the friendly cause of his present disobedience flashed upon the conviction of Peregrine, when he beheld the rugged front of his valet, in which also stood disclosed his long and faithful service together with the recommendation of the deceased commodore. Though his wrath was immediately suppressed, and his heart torn with remorse for what he had done, his brows remained still contracted, and darting a most ferocious regard at the intruder, “Villain!” said he, “how dare you treat me with such disrespect?”

“Why shouldn’t I lend a hand for the preservation of the ship,” answered the unruffled Pipes, “when there is more sail than ballast aboard, and the pilot quits the helm in despair? What signifies one or two broken voyages, so long as our timbers are strong, and our vessel in good trim? If she loses upon one tack, mayhap she may gain upon t’other; and I’ll be d — d, if one day or other we don’t fetch up our leeway. As for the matter of provision, you have started a pretty good stock of money into my hold, and you are welcome to hoist it up again when you wool.”

Here Tom was interrupted by the arrival of Mr. Crabtree, who seeing Peregrine with a pistol in his hand, and such wild disorder in his looks, his head, hands, and mouth besmeared with blood, and, moreover, smelling the gunpowder which had been burnt, actually believed he had either committed, or was bent upon murder, and accordingly retreated down-stairs with infinite despatch. All his speed could not convey him without the reach of Pipes, who, overtaking him in his passage, carried him back into his master’s apartment, observing by the way, that this was no time to sheer off, when his consort stood in need of his assistance.

There was something so ruefully severe in the countenance of Cadwallader, thus compelled, that, at any other time, our hero would have laughed at his concern; but at the present there was nothing risible in his disposition. He had, however, laid aside his pistol, and endeavoured, though in vain, to compose his internal disturbance; for he could not utter one syllable to the misanthrope, but stood staring at him in silence, with a most delirious aspect. This did not tend to dispel the dismay of his friend, who, after some recollection, “I wonder,” said he, “that you have never killed your man before. Pray how may you have disposed of the body?” Pickle having recovered the faculty of speech, ordered his lacquey out of the room, and, in a most incoherent detail, made Crabtree acquainted with the perfidious conduct of the minister.

The confidant was very glad to find his fears disappointed; for he had really concluded that some life was lost. Perceiving the youth too much agitated to be treated by him in his usual style, he owned that Sir Steady was a rascal, and encouraged Pickle with the hope of being one day able to make reprisals upon him; in the mean time offered him money for his immediate occasions, exhorted him to exert his own qualifications in rendering himself independent of such miscreants, and finally counselled him to represent his wrongs to the nobleman whom he had formerly obliged, with a view of interesting that peer in his behalf or at least of obtaining a satisfactory explanation from the minister, that he might take no premature measures of revenge.

These admonitions were so much milder and more agreeable than our hero expected from the misanthrope, that they had a very favourable effect upon his transports, which gradually subsided, until he became so tractable as to promise that he would conform to his advice; in consequence of which, he next morning waited upon his lordship, who received him very politely, as usual, and with great patience heard his complaint, which, by the bye, he could not repeat without some hasty ebullitions of passionate resentment. This peer, after having gently disapproved of the letter of expostulation, which had produced such unfortunate effects, kindly undertook to recommend his case to the minister, and actually performed his promise that same day, when Sir Steady informed him, to his utter astonishment, that the poor young gentleman was disordered in his brain, so that he could not possibly be provided for in a place of importance, with any regard to the service; and it could not be expected that he (Sir Steady) would support his extravagance from his own private purse; that he had, indeed at the solicitation of a nobleman deceased, made him a present of three hundred pounds, in consideration of some loss that he pretended to have sustained in an election; but, since that time, had perceived in him such indisputable marks of lunacy, both by his distracted letters and personal behaviour, as obliged him to give order that he should not be admitted into the house. To corroborate this assertion, the minister actually called in the evidence of his own porter, and one of the gentlemen of his household, who had heard the execrations that escaped our youth, when he first found himself excluded. In short, the nobleman was convinced that Peregrine was certainly and bona fide mad as a March hare; and, by the help of this intimation, began to recollect some symptoms of distraction which appeared in his last visit; he remembered a certain incoherence in his speech, a violence of gesture and wildness of look, that now evidently denoted a disturbed understanding; and he determined, for his own credit and security, to disentangle himself from such a dangerous acquaintance.

With this view, he, in imitation of Sir Steady, commanded his gate to be shut against our adventurer; so that, when he went to know the result of his lordship’s conference with the minister, the door was flung in his face, and the janitor told him through an iron grate, that he needed not to give himself the trouble of calling again, for his lord desired to be excused from seeing him. He spoke not a word in answer to this declaration, which he immediately imputed to the ill offices of the minister, against whom he breathed defiance and revenge, in his way to the lodgings of Cadwallader; who, being made acquainted with the manner of his reception, begged he would desist from all schemes of vengeance, until he, Crabtree, should be able to unriddle the mystery of the whole, which he did not doubt of unveiling by means of his acquaintance with a family in which his lordship often spent the evening at whist.

It was not long before he had the desired opportunity: the nobleman being under no injunctions or obligation to keep the affair secret, discovered the young gentleman’s misfortune, by way of news, to the first company in which he happened to be; and Peregrine’s name was not so obscure in the fashionable world, but that his disorder became the general topic of conversation for a day; so that his friend soon partook of the intelligence, and found means to learn the particulars of the minister’s information, as above related. Nay, he was in danger of becoming a proselyte to Sir Steady’s opinion, when he recalled and compared every circumstance which he knew of Pickle’s impatience and impetuosity. Indeed, nothing more easily gains credit than an imputation of madness fixed upon any person whatsoever: for when the suspicion of the world is roused, and its observation once set at work, the wisest, the coolest man upon earth, will, by some particulars in his behaviour, convict himself of the charge: every singularity in his dress and manner (and such are observable in every person), that before passed unheeded, now rises up in judgment against him, with all the exaggeration of the observer’s fancy; and the sagacious examiner perceives distraction in every glance of the eye, turn of the finger, and motion of the head. When he speaks, there is a strange peculiarity in his argument and expression; when he holds his tongue, his imagination teems with some extravagant reverie; his sobriety of demeanour is no other than a lucid interval, and his passion mere delirium.

If people of the most sedate and insipid life and conversation are subject to such criticisms, no wonder that they should take place upon a youth of Peregrine’s fiery disposition, which, on some occasions, would have actually justified any remarks of this kind, which his greatest enemies could make. He was accordingly represented as one of those enterprising bucks, who, after having spent their fortunes in riot and excess, are happily bereft of their understanding, and consequently insensible of the want and disgrace which they have entailed upon themselves, Cadwallader himself was so much affected with the report, that for some time he hesitated in his deliberations upon our hero, before he could prevail upon himself to communicate to him the information he had received, or to treat him in other respects as a man of sound intellects. At length, however, he ventured to make Pickle acquainted with the particulars he had learned, imparting them with such caution and circumlocution, as he thought necessary to prevent the young gentleman from transgressing all bounds of temper and moderation; but, for once, he was agreeably deceived in his prognostic. Incensed as our hero was at the conduct of the minister, he could not help laughing at the ridiculous aspersion, which he told his friend he would soon refute in a manner that should not be very agreeable to his calumniator, observing, that it was a common practice with the state pilot, thus to slander those people to whom he lay under obligations which he had no mind to discharge. “True it is,” said Peregrine “he has succeeded more than once in contrivances of this kind, having actually reduced divers people of weak heads to such extremity of despair, as hath issued in downright distraction, whereby he was rid of their importunities, and his judgment confirmed at the same time. But I have now, thank Heaven, attained to such a pitch of philosophical resolution, as will support me against all his machinations; and I will forthwith exhibit the monster to the public, in his true lineaments of craft, perfidy, and ingratitude.”

This indeed was the plan with which Mr. Pickle had amused himself during the researches of Crabtree; and by this time it so effectually flattered his imagination, that he believed he should be able to bring his adversary, in spite of all his power, to his own terms of submission, by distinguishing himself in the list of those who, at that period, wrote against the administration. Nor was this scheme so extravagant as it may seem to be, had not he overlooked one material circumstance, which Cadwallader himself did not recollect, when he approved of this project.

While he thus meditated vengeance, the fame of his disorder, in due course of circulation, reached the ears of that lady of quality whose memoirs have already appeared in these adventures. The correspondence with which she had honoured our hero had been long broke off for the reason already advanced, namely, his dread of being exposed to her infatuating charms. He had been candid enough to make her acquainted with the cause of exiling himself from her presence; and she admitted the prudence of self-restraint, although she would have very well satisfied with the continuance of his intimacy and conversation, which were not at all beneath the desire of any lady in the kingdom. Notwithstanding this interruption, she still retained a friendship and regard for his character, and felt all the affliction of a humane heart, at the news of his misfortunes and deplorable distemper. She had seen him courted and cultivated in the sunshine of his prosperity; but she knew, from sad experience, how all those insect-followers shrink away in the winter of distress. Her compassion represented him as a poor unhappy lunatic, destitute of all the necessaries of life, dragging about the ruins of human nature, and exhibiting the spectacle of blasted youth to the scorn and abhorrence of his fellow-creatures. Aching with these charitable considerations, she found means to learn in what part of the town he lodged and, laying aside all superfluous ceremony, went in a hackney-chair to his door, which was opened by the ever-faithful Pipes.

Her ladyship immediately recollected the features of his trusty follower, whom she could not help loving in her heart for his attachment and fidelity, which after she had applauded with a most gracious commendation, she kindly inquired after the state of his master’s health, and asked if he was in a condition to be seen. Tom, who could not suppose that the visit of a fine lady would be unacceptable to a youth of Peregrine’s complexion, made no verbal reply to the question; but beckoning her ladyship with an arch significance of feature, at which she could not forbear smiling, walked softly up-stairs; and she, in obedience to the signal, followed her guide into the apartment of our hero, whom she found at a writing-table, in the very act of composing a eulogium upon his good friend Sir Steady. The nature of his work had animated his countenance with an uncommon degree of vivacity; and being dressed in a neat deshabille, his figure could not have appeared to more advantage in the eye of a person who despised the tinsel of unnecessary ornament. She was extremely well pleased to see her expectations so agreeably disappointed; for, instead of the squalid circumstances and wretched looks attending indigence and distraction, everything was decent and genteel; and the patient’s aspect such as betokened internal satisfaction. Hearing the rustling of silk in his room, he lifted up his eyes from the paper, and, seeing her ladyship, was struck with astonishment and awe, as at the unexpected apparition of some supernatural being.

Before he could recollect himself from his confusion, which called the blood into his cheeks, she told him that, on the strength of old acquaintance, she was come to visit him, though it was a long time since he had given her good reason to believe he had absolutely forgot that there was such a person as she in being. After having made the most warm acknowledgments for this unforeseen honour, he assured her ladyship that the subject of her reproach was not his fault, but rather his very great misfortune; and that, if it had been in his power to forget her so easily as she seemed to imagine, he should never have given her cause to tax him with want of duty and respect.

Still dubious of his situation, she began to converse with him on different subjects; and he acquitted himself so well in every particular, that she no longer doubted his having been misrepresented by the malice of his enemies, and candidly told him the cause and intent of her coming. He was not deficient in expressions of gratitude for this instance of her generosity and friendship, which even drew tears from his eyes. As to the imputation of madness, he explained it so much to her ladyship’s satisfaction, that she evidently perceived he had been barbarously dealt with, and that the charge was no other than a most villainous aspersion. Notwithstanding all his endeavours to conceal the true state of his finances, it was impossible for him to give this detail, without disclosing some of the difficulties under which he laboured; and, her ladyship’s sagacity divining the rest, she not only made him a tender of assistance, but, presenting a bank-note for a considerable sum, insisted upon his acceptance of it as a trifling mark of her esteem, and a specimen of what she was inclined to do in his behalf. But this mark of her benevolence he would by no means receive; assuring her, that, though his affairs were at present a little perplexed, he had never felt the least circumstance of distress, and begging that she would not subject him to the burden of such an unnecessary obligation.

Being obliged to put up with this refusal she protested she would never forgive him should she ever hear that he rejected her offer when he stood in need of her aid; or if, in any time to come, he should not apply to her friendship, if ever he should find himself incommoded in point of fortune. “An overdelicacy in this respect,” said she, “I shall look upon as a disapprobation of my own conduct; because I myself have been obliged to have recourse to my friends in such emergencies.” These generous remonstrances and marks of particular friendship could not fail to make a deep impression upon the heart of our hero, which still smarted from the former impulse of her charms; he not only felt all those transports which a man of honour and sensibility may be supposed to feel upon such an occasion, but the sentiments of a more tender passion awaking in his breast, he could not help expressing himself in terms adapted to the emotion of his soul; and, at length, plainly told her, that, were he disposed to be a beggar, he would ask something of infinitely more importance to his peace than the charitable assistance she had proffered. Her ladyship had too much penetration to mistake his meaning; but, as she did not choose to encourage his advances, pretended to interpret his intimation into a general compliment of gallantry, and, in a jocose manner, desired he would not give her any reason to believe his lucid interval was past. “In faith, my lady,” said he, “I perceive the fit coming on; and I don’t see why I may not use the privilege of my distemper, so far as to declare myself one of your most passionate admirers.”—“If you do,” replied her ladyship, “I shall not be fool enough to believe a madman, unless I were assured that your disorder proceeded from your love; and that this was the case, I suppose you will find it difficult to prove.”—“Nay, madam,” cried the youth, “I have in this drawer what will convince you of my having been mad on that strain; and, since you doubt my pretension, you must give me leave to produce my testimonials.” So saying, he opened an escrutoire, and taking out a paper, presented her with the following song, which he had written in her praise, immediately after he was made acquainted with the particulars of her story:

While with fond rapture and amaze,
On thy transcendent charms I gaze,
My cautious soul essays in vain
Her peace and freedom to maintain;
yet let that blooming form divine,
Where grace and harmony combine;
Those eyes, like genial orbs that move,
Dispensing gladness, joy, and love;
in all their pomp assail my view,
Intent my bosom to subdue;
My breast, by wary maxims steel’d,
Not all those charms shall force to yield.

But, when invok’d to Beauty’s aid,
I see the enlighten’d soul display’d,
That soul so sensibly sedate
Amid the storms of froward fate!
Thy genius active, strong, and clear,
Thy wit sublime, though not severe,
The social ardour, void of art,
That glows within thy candid heart;
My spirits, sense, and strength decay,
My resolution dies away,
And, every faculty oppress’d,
Almighty love invades my breast!

Her ladyship having perused this production, “Were I inclined to be suspicious,” said she, “I should believe that I had no share in producing this composition, which seems to have been inspired by a much more amiable object. However, I will take your word for your intention, and thank you for the unmerited compliment, though I have met with it in such an accidental manner. Nevertheless, I must be so free as to tell you, it is now high time for you to contract that unbounded spirit of gallantry, which you have indulged so long, into a sincere attachment for the fair Emilia, who, by all accounts, deserves the whole of your attention and regard.” His nerves thrilled at mention of that name, which he never heard pronounced without agitation. Rather than undergo the consequence of a conversation upon this subject, he chose to drop the theme of love altogether, and industriously introduced some other topic of discourse.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00