Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker: Ch. 70

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Letter LXX

To Miss LAETITIA WILLIS, at Gloucester.


This method of writing to you from time to time, without any hopes of an answer, affords me, I own, some ease and satisfaction in the 'midst of my disquiet, as it in some degree lightens the burthen of affliction: but it is at best a very imperfect enjoyment of friendship, because it admits of no return of confidence and good counsel — I would give the whole world to have your company for a single day — I am heartily tired of this itinerant way of life. I am quite dizzy with a perpetual succession of objects — Besides it is impossible to travel such a length of way, without being exposed to inconveniencies, dangers, and disagreeable accidents, which prove very grievous to a poor creature of weak nerves like me, and make me pay very dear for the gratification of my curiosity.

Nature never intended me for the busy world — I long for repose and solitude, where I can enjoy that disinterested friendship which is not to be found among crouds, and indulge those pleasing reveries that shun the hurry and tumult of fashionable society — Unexperienced as I am in the commerce of life, I have seen enough to give me a disgust to the generality of those who carry it on — There is such malice, treachery, and dissimulation, even among professed friends and intimate companions, as cannot fail to strike a virtuous mind with horror; and when Vice quits the stage for a moment, her place is immediately occupied by Folly, which is often too serious to excite any thing but compassion. Perhaps I ought to be silent on the foibles of my poor aunt; but with you, my dear Willis, I have no secrets; and, truly, her weaknesses are such as cannot be concealed. Since the first moment we arrived at Bath, she has been employed constantly in spreading nets for the other sex; and, at length, she has caught a superannuated lieutenant, who is in a fair way to make her change her name — My uncle and my brother seem to have no objection to this extraordinary match, which, I make no doubt, will afford abundance of matter for conversation and mirth; for my part, I am too sensible of my own weaknesses, to be diverted with those of other people — At present, I have something at heart that employs my whole attention, and keeps my mind in the utmost terror and suspence.

Yesterday in the forenoon, as I stood with my brother at the parlour window of an inn, where we had lodged, a person passed a horseback, whom (gracious Heaven!) I instantly discovered to be Wilson! He wore a white riding-coat, with the cape buttoned up to his chin; looking remarkably pale, and passed at a round trot, without seeming to observe us — Indeed, he could not see us; for there was a blind that concealed us from the view. You may guess how I was affected at this apparition. The light forsook my eyes; and I was seized with such a palpitation and trembling, that I could not stand. I sat down upon a couch, and strove to compose myself, that my brother might not perceive my agitation; but it was impossible to escape his prying eyes — He had observed the object that alarmed me; and, doubtless, knew him at the first glance — He now looked at me with a stern countenance; then he ran out into the street, to see what road the unfortunate horseman had taken — He afterwards dispatched his man for further intelligence, and seemed to meditate some violent design. My uncle, being out of order, we remained another night at the inn; and all day long Jery acted the part of an indefatigable spy upon my conduct — He watched my very looks with such eagerness of attention, as if he would have penetrated into the utmost recesses of my heart — This may be owing to his regard for my honour, if it is not the effect of his own pride; but he is so hot, and violent, and unrelenting, that the sight of him alone throws me into a flutter; and really it will not be in my power to afford him any share of my affection, if he persists in persecuting me at this rate. I am afraid he has formed some scheme of vengeance, which will make me completely wretched! I am afraid he suspects some collusion from this appearance of Wilson. — Good God! did he really appear? or was it only a phantom, a pale spectre to apprise me of his death.

O Letty, what shall I do? — where shall I turn for advice and consolation? shall I implore the protection of my uncle, who has been always kind and compassionate. — This must be my last resource. — I dread the thoughts of making him uneasy; and would rather suffer a thousand deaths than live the cause of dissension in the family. — I cannot conceive the meaning of Wilson's coming hither: — perhaps, it was in quest of us, in order to disclose his real name and situation: — but wherefore pass without staying to make the least enquiry? — My dear Willis, I am lost in conjecture. I have not closed an eye since I saw him. — All night long have I been tossed about from one imagination to another. The reflection finds no resting place. — I have prayed, and sighed, and wept plentifully. — If this terrible suspence continues much longer, I shall have another fit of illness, and then the whole family will be in confusion — If it was consistent with the wise purposes of Providence, would I were in my grave — But it is my duty to be resigned. — My dearest Letty, excuse my weakness — excuse these blots — my tears fall so fast that I cannot keep the paper dry — yet I ought to consider that I have as yet no cause to despair but I am such a faint-hearted timorous creature!

Thank God, my uncle is much better than he was yesterday. He is resolved to pursue our journey strait to Wales. — I hope we shall take Gloucester in our way — that hope chears my poor heart I shall once more embrace my best beloved Willis, and pour all my griefs into her friendly bosom. — 0 heaven! is it possible that such happiness is reserved for

The dejected and forlorn
Oct. 4.