Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker: Ch. 33

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I desired to know his reasons for decrying some works, which had afforded me uncommon pleasure; and, as demonstration did not seem to be his talent, I dissented from his opinion with great freedom. Having been spoiled by the deference and humility of his hearers, he did not bear contradiction with much temper; and the dispute might have grown warm, had it not been interrupted by the entrance of a rival bard, at whose appearance he always quits the place — They are of different cabals, and have been at open war these twenty years — If the other was dogmatical, this genius was declamatory: he did not discourse, but harangue; and his orations were equally tedious and turgid. He too pronounces ex cathedra upon the characters of his contemporaries; and though he scruples not to deal out praise, even lavishly, to the lowest reptile in Grubstreet who will either flatter him in private, or mount the public rostrum as his panegyrist, he damns all the other writers of the age, with the utmost insolence and rancour — One is a blunderbuss, as being a native of Ireland; another, a half-starved louse of literature, from the banks of the Tweed; a third, an ass, because he enjoys a pension from the government; a fourth, the very angel of dulness, because he succeeded in a species of writing in which this Aristarchus had failed; a fifth, who presumed to make strictures upon one of his performances, he holds as a bug in criticism, whose stench is more offensive than his sting — In short, except himself and his myrmidons, there is not a man of genius or learning in the three kingdoms. As for the success of those, who have written without the pale of this confederacy, he imputes it entirely to want of taste in the public; not considering, that to the approbation of that very tasteless public, he himself owes all the consequence he has in life.

Those originals are not fit for conversation. If they would maintain the advantage they have gained by their writing, they should never appear but upon paper — For my part, I am shocked to find a man have sublime ideas in his head, and nothing but illiberal sentiments in his heart — The human soul will be generally found most defective in the article of candour — I am inclined to think, no mind was ever wholly exempt from envy; which, perhaps, may have been implanted, as an instinct essential to our nature. I am afraid we sometimes palliate this vice, under the spacious name of emulation. I have known a person remarkably generous, humane, moderate, and apparently self-denying, who could not hear even a friend commended, without betraying marks of uneasiness; as if that commendation had implied an odious comparison to his prejudice, and every wreath of praise added to the other's character, was a garland plucked from his own temples. This is a malignant species of jealousy, of which I stand acquitted in my own conscience.

Whether it is a vice, or an infirmity, I leave you to inquire.

There is another point, which I would much rather see determined; whether the world was always as contemptible, as it appears to me at present? — If the morals of mankind have not contracted an extraordinary degree of depravity, within these thirty years, then must I be infected with the common vice of old men, difficilis, querulus, laudator temporis acti; or, which is more probable, the impetuous pursuits and avocations of youth have formerly hindered me from observing those rotten parts of human nature, which now appear so offensively to my observation.

We have been at court, and 'change, and every where; and every where we find food for spleen, and subject for ridicule — My new servant, Humphry Clinker, turns out a great original: and Tabby is a changed creature — She has parted with Chowder; and does nothing but smile, like Malvolio in the play — I'll be hanged if she is not acting a part which is not natural to her disposition, for some purpose which I have not yet discovered.

With respect to the characters of mankind, my curiosity is quite satisfied: I have done with the science of men, and must now endeavour to amuse myself with the novelty of things. I am, at present, by a violent effort of the mind, forced from my natural bias; but this power ceasing to act, I shall return to my solitude with redoubled velocity. Every thing I see, and hear, and feel, in this great reservoir of folly, knavery, and sophistication, contributes to inhance the value of a country life, in the sentiments of

Yours always,
LONDON, June 2.