Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker: Ch. 24

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Letter XXIV

To Sir WATKIN PHILLIPS, of Jesus college, Oxon.


A few days ago we were terribly alarmed by my uncle's fainting at the ball — He has been ever since cursing his own folly, for going thither at the request of an impertinent woman. He declares, he will sooner visit a house infected with the plague, than trust himself in such a nauseous spital for the future, for he swears the accident was occasioned by the stench of the crowd; and that he would never desire a stronger proof of our being made of very gross materials, than our having withstood the annoyance, by which he was so much discomposed. For my part, I am very thankful for the coarseness of my organs, being in no danger of ever falling a sacrifice to the delicacy of my nose. Mr Bramble is extravagantly delicate in all his sensations, both of soul and body. I was informed by Dr Lewis, that he once fought a duel with an officer of the horseguards, for turning aside to the Park-wall, on a necessary occasion, when he was passing with a lady under his protection. His blood rises at every instance of insolence and cruelty, even where he himself is no way concerned; and ingratitude makes his teeth chatter. On the other hand, the recital of a generous, humane, or grateful action, never fails to draw from him tears of approbation, which he is often greatly distressed to conceal.

Yesterday, one Paunceford gave tea, on particular invitation — This man, after having been long buffetted by adversity, went abroad; and Fortune, resolved to make him amends for her former coyness, set him all at once up to the very ears in affluence. He has now emerged from obscurity, and blazes out in all the tinsel of the times. I don't find that he is charged with any practices that the law deems dishonest, or that his wealth has made him arrogant and inaccessible; on the contrary, he takes great pains to appear affable and gracious. But, they say, he is remarkable for shrinking from his former friendships, which were generally too plain and home-spun to appear amidst his present brilliant connexions; and that he seems uneasy at sight of some old benefactors, whom a man of honour would take pleasure to acknowledge — Be that as it may, he had so effectually engaged the company at Bath, that when I went with my uncle to the coffeehouse in the evening, there was not a soul in the room but one person, seemingly in years, who sat by the fire, reading one of the papers. Mr Bramble, taking his station close by him, 'There is such a crowd and confusion of chairs in the passage to Simpson's (said he) that we could hardly get along — I wish those minions of fortune would fall upon more laudable ways of spending their money. — I suppose, Sir, you like this kind of entertainment as little as I do?' 'I cannot say I have any great relish for such entertainments,' answered the other, without taking his eyes off the paper — 'Mr Serle (resumed my uncle) I beg pardon for interrupting you; but I can't resist the curiosity I have to know if you received a card on this occasion?'

The man seemed surprised at this address, and made some pause, as doubtful what answer he should make. 'I know my curiosity is impertinent (added my uncle) but I have a particular reason for asking the favour.' 'If that be the case (replied Mr Serle) I shall gratify you without hesitation, by owning that I have had no card. But, give me leave, Sir, to ask in my turn, what reason you think I have to expect such an invitation from the gentleman who gives tea?' 'I have my own reasons (cried Mr Bramble, with some emotion) and am convinced, more than ever, that this Paunceford is a contemptible fellow.' 'Sir (said the other, laying down the paper) I have not the honour to know you; but your discourse is a little mysterious, and seems to require some explanation. The person you are pleased to treat so cavalierly, is a gentleman of some consequence in the community; and, for aught you know, I may also have my particular reasons for defending his character' — 'If I was not convinced of the contrary (observed the other) I should not have gone so far' — 'Let me tell you, Sir (said the stranger, raising his voice) you have gone too far, in hazarding such reflections'.