Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker: Ch. 52

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Letter LII

To Sir WATKIN PHILLIPS, Bart. at Oxon.


In my two last you had so much of Lismahago, that I suppose you are glad he is gone off the stage for the present. — I must now descend to domestic occurrences. — Love, it seems, is resolved to assert his dominion over all the females of our family. — After having practised upon poor Liddy's heart, and played strange vagaries with our aunt Mrs Tabitha, he began to run riot in the affections of her woman, Mrs Winifred Jenkins, whom I have had occasion to mention more than once in the course of our memoirs. Nature intended Jenkins for something very different from the character of her mistress; yet custom and habit have effected a wonderful resemblance betwixt them in many particulars. Win, to be sure, is much younger and more agreeable in her person; she is likewise tender-hearted and benevolent, qualities for which her mistress is by no means remarkable, no more than she is for being of a timorous disposition, and much subject to fits of the mother, which are the infirmities of Win's constitution: but then she seems to have adopted Mrs Tabby's manner with her cast cloaths. — She dresses and endeavours to look like her mistress, although her own looks are much more engaging. — She enters into her scheme of oeconomy, learns her phrases, repeats her remarks, imitates her stile in scolding the inferior servants, and, finally, subscribes implicitly to her system of devotion. — This, indeed, she found the more agreeable, as it was in a great measure introduced and confirmed by the ministry of Clinker, with whose personal merit she seems to have been struck ever since he exhibited the pattern of his naked skin at Marlborough.

Nevertheless, though Humphry had this double hank upon her inclinations, and exerted all his power to maintain the conquest he had made, he found it impossible to guard it on the side of vanity, where poor Win was as frail as any female in the kingdom. In short, my rascal Dutton professed himself her admirer, and, by dint of his outlandish qualifications, threw his rival Clinker out of the saddle of her heart. Humphry may be compared to an English pudding, composed of good wholesome flour and suet, and Dutton to a syllabub or iced froth, which, though agreeable to the taste, has nothing solid or substantial. The traitor not only dazzled her, with his second-hand finery, but he fawned, and flattered, and cringed — he taught her to take rappee, and presented her with a snuff-box of papier mache — he supplied her with a powder for her teeth — he mended her complexion, and he dressed her hair in the Paris fashion — he undertook to be her French master and her dancing-master, as well as friseur, and thus imperceptibly wound himself into her good graces. Clinker perceived the progress he had made, and repined in secret. — He attempted to open her eyes in the way of exhortation, and finding it produced no effect had recourse to prayer. At Newcastle, while he attended Mrs Tabby to the methodist meeting his rival accompanied Mrs Jenkins to the play. He was dressed in a silk coat, made at Paris for his former master, with a tawdry waistcoat of tarnished brocade; he wore his hair in a great bag with a huge solitaire, and a long sword dangled from his thigh. The lady was all of a flutter with faded lutestring, washed gauze, and ribbons three times refreshed; but she was most remarkable for the frisure of her head, which rose, like a pyramid, seven inches above the scalp, and her face was primed and patched from the chin up to the eyes; nay, the gallant himself had spared neither red nor white in improving the nature of his own complexion. In this attire, they walked together through the high street to the theatre, and as they passed for players ready dressed for acting, they reached it unmolested; but as it was still light when they returned, and by that time the people had got information of their real character and condition, they hissed and hooted all the way, and Mrs Jenkins was all bespattered with dirt, as well as insulted with the opprobrious name of painted Jezabel, so that her fright and mortification threw her into an hysteric fit the moment she came home.