Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker: Ch. 35

[+] | [-] | reset

Then, turning to captain C—, 'Ha, C—! (said he) what news, C—? How does the world wag? ha!' 'The world wags much after the old fashion, my lord (answered the captain): the politicians of London and Westminster have begun again to wag their tongues against your grace; and your short-lived popularity wags like a feather, which the next puff of antiministerial calumny will blow away' — 'A pack of rascals (cried the duke) — Tories, Jacobites, rebels; one half of them would wag their heels at Tyburn, if they had their deserts' — So saying, he wheeled about; and going round the levee, spoke to every individual, with the most courteous familiarity; but he scarce ever opened his mouth without making some blunder, in relation to the person or business of the party with whom he conversed; so that he really looked like a comedian, hired to burlesque the character of a minister — At length, a person of a very prepossessing appearance coming in, his grace ran up, and, hugging him in his arms, with the appellation of 'My dear Ch—s!' led him forthwith into the inner apartment, or Sanctum Sanctorum of this political temple. 'That (said captain C—) is my friend C— T—, almost the only man of parts who has any concern in the present administration — Indeed, he would have no concern at all in the matter, if the ministry did not find it absolutely necessary to make use of his talents upon some particular occasions — As for the common business of the nation, it is carried on in a constant routine by the clerks of the different offices, otherwise the wheels of government would be wholly stopt amidst the abrupt succession of ministers, every one more ignorant than his predecessor — I am thinking what a fine hovel we should be in, if all the clerks of the treasury, the secretaries, of the war-office, and the admiralty, should take it in their heads to throw up their places in imitation of the great pensioner —But, to return to C— T—; he certainly knows more than all the ministry and all the opposition, if their heads were laid together, and talks like an angel on a vast variety of subjects. He would really be a great man, if he had any consistency or stability of character — Then, it must be owned, he wants courage, otherwise he would never allow himself to be cowed by the great political bully, for whose understanding he has justly a very great contempt. I have seen him as much afraid of that overbearing Hector, as ever schoolboy was of his pedagogue; and yet this Hector, I shrewdly suspect, is no more than a craven at bottom — Besides this defect, C— has another, which he is at too little pains to hide — There's no faith to be given to his assertions, and no trust to be put in his promises — However, to give the devil his due, he's very good-natured; and even friendly, when close urged in the way of solicitation — As for principle, that's out of the question — In a word, he is a wit and an orator, extremely entertaining, and he shines very often at the expence even of those ministers to whom he is a retainer. This is a mark of great imprudence, by which he has made them all his enemies, whatever face they may put upon the matter; and sooner or later he'll have cause to wish he had been able to keep his own counsel. I have several times cautioned him on this subject; but 'tis all preaching to the desert — His vanity runs away with his discretion' — I could not help thinking the captain himself might have been the better for some hints of the same nature — His panegyric, excluding principle and veracity, puts me in mind of a contest I once overheard, in the way of altercation, betwixt two apple-women in Spring-garden — One of those viragos having hinted something to the prejudice of the other's moral character, her antagonist, setting her hands in her sides, replied — 'Speak out, hussy — I scorn your malice — I own I'm both a whore and a thief; and what more have you to say? — Damn you, what more have you to say? baiting that, which all the world knows, I challenge you to say black is the white of my eye' — We did not wait for Mr T—'s coming forth; but after captain C— had characterised all the originals in waiting, we adjourned to a coffeehouse, where we had buttered muffins and tea to breakfast, the said captain still favouring us with his company — Nay, my uncle was so diverted with his anecdotes, that he asked him to dinner, and treated him with a fine turbot, to which he did ample justice — That same evening I spent at the tavern with some friends, one of whom let me into C—'s character, which Mr Bramble no sooner understood, than he expressed some concern for the connexion he had made, and resolved to disengage himself from it without ceremony.