Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker: Ch. 19

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So far as I am able to judge, Quin's character is rather more respectable than it has been generally represented. His bon mots are in every witling's mouth; but many of them have a rank flavour, which one would be apt to think was derived from a natural grossness of idea. I suspect, however, that justice has not been done the author, by the collectors of those Quiniana; who have let the best of them slip through their fingers, and only retained such as were suited to the taste and organs of the multitude. How far he may relax in his hours of jollity, I cannot pretend to say; but his general conversation is conducted by the nicest rules of Propriety; and Mr James Quin is, certainly, one of the best bred men in the kingdom. He is not only a most agreeable companion but (as I am credibly informed) a very honest man; highly susceptible of friendship, warm, steady, and even generous in his attachments, disdaining flattery, and incapable of meanness and dissimulation. Were I to judge, however, from Quin's eye alone, I should take him to be proud, insolent, and cruel. There is something remarkably severe and forbidding in his aspect; and, I have been told, he was ever disposed to insult his inferiors and dependants. — Perhaps that report has influenced my opinion of his looks — You know we are the fools of prejudice. Howsoever that may be, I have as yet seen nothing but his favourable side, and my uncle, who frequently confers with him, in a corner, declares he is one of the most sensible men he ever knew — He seems to have a reciprocal regard for old Squaretoes, whom he calls by the familiar name of Matthew, and often reminds of their old tavern-adventures: on the other hand, Matthew's eyes sparkle whenever Quin makes his appearance — Let him be never so jarring and discordant, Quin puts him in tune; and, like treble and bass in the same concert, they make excellent music together —. T'other day, the conversation turning upon Shakespeare, I could not help saying, with some emotion, that I would give an hundred guineas to see Mr Quin act the part of Falstaff; upon which, turning to me with a smile, 'And I would give a thousand, young gentleman (said he) that I could gratify your longing.' My uncle and he are perfectly agreed in their estimate of life; which Quin says, would stink in his nostrils, if he did not steep it in claret.

I want to see this phenomenon in his cups; and have almost prevailed upon uncle to give him a small turtle at the Bear. In the mean time, I must entertain you with an incident, that seems to confirm the judgment of those two cynic philosophers. I took the liberty to differ in opinion from Mr Bramble, when he observed, that the mixture of people in the entertainments of this place was destructive of all order and urbanity; that it rendered the plebeians insufferably arrogant and troublesome, and vulgarized the deportment and sentiments of those who moved in the upper spheres of life. He said such a preposterous coalition would bring us into contempt with all our neighbours; and was worse, in fact, than debasing the gold coin of the nation. I argued, on the contrary, that those plebeians who discovered such eagerness to imitate the dress and equipage of their superiors, would likewise, in time, adopt their maxims and their manners, be polished by their conversation, and refined by their example; but when I appealed to Mr Quin, and asked if he did not think that such an unreserved mixture would improve the whole mass? 'Yes (said he) as a plate of marmalade would improve a pan of sirreverence.'

I owned I was not much conversant in high-life, but I had seen what were called polite assemblies in London and elsewhere; that those of Bath seemed to be as decent as any; and that, upon the whole, the individuals that composed it, would not be found deficient in good manners and decorum. 'But let us have recourse to experience (said I) — Jack Holder, who was intended for a parson, has succeeded to an estate of two thousand a year, by the death of his elder brother. He is now at the Bath, driving about in a phaeton and four, with French horns. He has treated with turtle and claret at all the taverns in Bath and Bristol, till his guests are gorged with good chear: he has bought a dozen suits of fine clothes, by the advice of the Master of the Ceremonies, under whose tuition he has entered himself. He has lost hundreds at billiards to sharpers, and taken one of the nymphs of Avon-street into keeping; but, finding all these channels insufficient to drain him of his current cash, his counsellor has engaged him to give a general tea-drinking to-morrow at Wiltshire's room. In order to give it the more eclat, every table is to be furnished with sweet-meats and nosegays; which, however, are not to be touched till notice is given by the ringing of a bell, and then the ladies may help themselves without restriction. This will be no bad way of trying the company's breeding.'