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

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'I will abide by that experiment (cried my uncle) and if I could find a place to stand secure, without the vortex of the tumult, which I know will ensue, I would certainly go thither and enjoy the scene.' Quin proposed that we should take our station in the music-gallery, and we took his advice. Holder had got thither before us, with his horns perdue, but we were admitted. The tea-drinking passed as usual, and the company having risen from the tables, were sauntering in groupes, in expectation of the signal for attack, when the bell beginning to ring, they flew with eagerness to the dessert, and the whole place was instantly in commotion. There was nothing but justling, scrambling, pulling, snatching, struggling, scolding, and screaming. The nosegays were torn from one another's hands and bosoms; the glasses and china went to wreck; the tables and floors were strewed with comfits. Some cried; some swore; and the tropes and figures of Billingsgate were used without reserve in all their native zest and flavour; nor were those flowers of rhetoric unattended with significant gesticulation. Some snapped their fingers; some forked them out; some clapped their hands, and some their back-sides; at length, they fairly proceeded to pulling caps, and every thing seemed to presage a general battle; when Holder ordered his horns to sound a charge, with a view to animate the combatants, and inflame the contest; but this manoeuvre produced an effect quite contrary to what he expected. It was a note of reproach that roused them to an immediate sense of their disgraceful situation. They were ashamed of their absurd deportment, and suddenly desisted. They gathered up their caps, ruffles, and handkerchiefs; and great part of them retired in silent mortification.

Quin laughed at this adventure; but my uncle's delicacy was hurt. He hung his head in manifest chagrin, and seemed to repine at the triumph of his judgment — Indeed, his victory was more complete than he imagined; for, as we afterwards learned, the two amazons who singularized themselves most in the action, did not come from the purlieus of Puddle-dock, but from the courtly neighbourhood of St James's palace. One was a baroness, and the other, a wealthy knight's dowager — My uncle spoke not a word, till we had made our retreat good to the coffee-house; where, taking off his hat and wiping his forehead, 'I bless God (said he) that Mrs Tabitha Bramble did not take the field today!' 'I would pit her for a cool hundred (cried Quin) against the best shake-bag of the whole main.' The truth is, nothing could have kept her at home but the accident of her having taken physic before she knew the nature of the entertainment. She has been for some days furbishing up an old suit of black velvet, to make her appearance as Sir Ulic's partner at the next ball.

I have much to say of this amiable kinswoman; but she has not been properly introduced to your acquaintance. She is remarkably civil to Mr Quin; of whose sarcastic humour she seems to stand in awe; but her caution is no match for her impertinence. 'Mr Gwynn (said she the other day) I was once vastly entertained with your playing the Ghost of Gimlet at Drury-lane, when you rose up through the stage, with a white face and red eyes, and spoke of quails upon the frightful porcofine — Do, pray, spout a little the Ghost of Gimlet.' 'Madam (said Quin, with a glance of ineffable disdain) the Ghost of Gimlet is laid, never to rise again' — Insensible of this check, she proceeded: 'Well, to be sure, you looked and talked so like a real ghost; and then the cock crowed so natural. I wonder how you could teach him to crow so exact, in the very nick of time; but, I suppose, he's game — An't he game, Mr Gwynn?' 'Dunghill, madam.' — 'Well, dunghill, or not dunghill, he has got such a clear counter-tenor, that I wish I had such another at Brambleton-hall, to wake the maids of a morning. Do you know where I could find one of his brood?' 'Probably in the work-house at St Giles's parish, madam; but I protest I know not his particular mew!' My uncle, frying with vexation, cried, 'Good God, sister, how you talk! I have told you twenty times, that this gentleman's name is not Gwynn.' — 'Hoity toity, brother mine (she replied) no offence, I hope — Gwynn is an honorable name, of true old British extraction — I thought the gentleman had been come of Mrs Helen Gwynn, who was of his own profession; and if so be that were the case, he might be of king Charles's breed, and have royal blood in his veins.' — 'No, madam (answered Quin, with great solemnity) my mother was not a whore of such distinction — True it is, I am sometimes tempted to believe myself of royal descent; for my inclinations are often arbitrary — If I was an absolute prince, at this instant, I believe I should send for the head of your cook in a charger — She has committed felony, on the person of that John Dory, which is mangled in a cruel manner, and even presented without sauce — O tempora! O mores!'

This good-humoured sally turned the conversation into a less disagreeable channel — But, lest you should think my scribble as tedious as Mrs Tabby's clack, I shall not add another word, but that I am as usual

Yours,
J. MELFORD
BATH, April 30.