Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker: Ch. 55

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Letter LV

To Sir WATKIN PHILLIPS, Bart. of Jesus college, Oxon.


If I stay much longer at Edinburgh, I shall be changed into a downright Caledonian — My uncle observes, that I have already acquired something of the country accent. The people here are so social and attentive in their civilities to strangers, that I am insensibly sucked into the channel of their manners and customs, although they are in fact much more different from ours than you can imagine — That difference, however, which struck me very much at my first arrival, I now hardly perceive, and my ear is perfectly reconciled to the Scotch accent, which I find even agreeable in the mouth of a pretty woman — It is a sort of Doric dialect, which gives an idea of amiable simplicity — You cannot imagine how we have been caressed and feasted in the good town of Edinburgh of which we are become free denizens and guild brothers, by the special favour of the magistracy.

I had a whimsical commission from Bath, to a citizen of this metropolis. Quin, understanding our intention to visit Edinburgh, pulled out a guinea, and desired the favour I would drink it at a tavern, with a particular friend and bottle-companion of his, Mr R— C—, a lawyer of this city — I charged myself with the commission, and, taking the guinea, 'You see (said I) I have pocketed your bounty.' 'Yes (replied Quin, laughing); and a headake into the bargain, if you drink fair.' I made use of this introduction to Mr C—, who received me with open arms, and gave me the rendezvous, according to the cartel. He had provided a company of jolly fellows, among whom I found myself extremely happy; and did Mr C— and Quin all the justice in my power; but, alas, I was no more than a tiro among a troop of veterans, who had compassion upon my youth and conveyed me home in the morning by what means I know not — Quin was mistaken, however, as to the head-ake; the claret was too good to treat me so roughly.

While Mr Bramble holds conferences with the graver literati of the place, and our females are entertained at visits by the Scotch ladies, who are the best and kindest creatures upon earth, I pass my time among the bucks of Edinburgh; who, with a great share of spirit and vivacity, have a certain shrewdness and self- command that is not often found among their neighbours, in the high-day of youth and exultation — Not a hint escapes a Scotchman that can be interpreted into offence by any individual in the company; and national reflections are never heard — In this particular, I must own, we are both unjust and ungrateful to the Scots; for, as far as I am able to judge, they have a real esteem for the natives of South-Britain; and never mention our country, but with expressions of regard — Nevertheless, they are far from being servile imitators of our modes and fashionable vices. All their customs and regulations of public and private oeconomy, of business and diversion, are in their own stile. This remarkably predominates in their looks, their dress and manner, their music, and even their cookery. Our 'squire declares, that he knows not another people upon earth, so strongly marked with a national character — Now we are upon the article of cookery, I must own, some of their dishes are savoury, and even delicate; but I am not yet Scotchman enough to relish their singed sheep's-head and haggice, which were provided at our request, one day at Mr Mitchelson's, where we dined — The first put me in mind of the history of Congo, in which I had read of negroes' heads sold publickly in the markets; the last, being a mess of minced lights, livers, suet, oat-meal, onions, and pepper, inclosed in a sheep's stomach, had a very sudden effect upon mine, and the delicate Mrs Tabby changed colour; when the cause of our disgust was instantaneously removed at the nod of our entertainer. The Scots, in general, are attached to this composition, with a sort of national fondness, as well as to their oat-meal bread; which is presented at every table, in thin triangular cakes, baked upon a plate of iron, called a girdle; and these, many of the natives, even in the higher ranks of life, prefer to wheaten-bread, which they have here in perfection — You know we used to vex poor Murray of Baliol college, by asking, if there was really no fruit but turnips in Scotland? — Sure enough, I have seen turnips make their appearance, not as a desert, but by way of hors d'oeuvres, or whets, as radishes are served betwixt more substantial dishes in France and Italy; but it must be observed, that the turnips of this country are as much superior in sweetness, delicacy, and flavour, to those in England, as a musk-melon is to the stock of a common cabbage. They are small and conical, of a yellowish colour, with a very thin skin and, over and above their agreeable taste, are valuable for their antiscorbutic quality — As to the fruit now in season, such as cherries, gooseberries, and currants, there is no want of them at Edinburgh; and in the gardens of some gentlemen, who live in the neighbourhood, there is now a very favourable appearance of apricots, peaches, nectarines, and even grapes: nay, I have seen a very fine shew of pineapples within a few miles of this metropolis. Indeed, we have no reason to be surprised at these particulars, when we consider how little difference there is, in fact, betwixt this climate and that of London.