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

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We are become members of the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, and have assisted at some of their deliberations, which were conducted with equal spirit and sagacity — My uncle is extremely fond of the institution, which will certainly be productive of great advantages to the public, if, from its democratical form, it does not degenerate into cabal and corruption — You are already acquainted with his aversion to the influence of the multitude, which, he affirms, is incompatible with excellence, and subversive of order — Indeed his detestation of the mob has been heightened by fear, ever since he fainted in the room at Bath; and this apprehension has prevented him from going to the Little Theatre in the Hay-market, and other places of entertainment, to which, however, I have had the honour to attend the ladies.

It grates old Square-toes to reflect, that it is not in his power to enjoy even the most elegant diversions of the capital, without the participation of the vulgar; for they now thrust themselves into all assemblies, from a ridotto at St James's, to a hop at Rotherhithe. I have lately seen our old acquaintance Dick Ivy, who we imagined had died of dram-drinking; but he is lately emerged from the Fleet, by means of a pamphlet which he wrote and published against the government with some success. The sale of this performance enabled him to appear in clean linen, and he is now going about soliciting subscriptions for his Poems; but his breeches are not yet in the most decent order.

Dick certainly deserves some countenance for his intrepidity and perseverance — It is not in the power of disappointment, nor even of damnation, to drive him to despair — After some unsuccessful essays in the way of poetry, he commenced brandy-merchant, and I believe his whole stock ran out through his own bowels; then he consorted with a milk-woman, who kept a cellar in Petty France: but he could not make his quarters good; he was dislodged and driven up stairs into the kennel by a corporal in the second regiment of foot-guards — He was afterwards the laureat of Blackfriars, from whence there was a natural transition to the Fleet — As he had formerly miscarried in panegyric, he now turned his thoughts to satire, and really seems to have some talent for abuse. If he can hold out till the meeting of the parliament, and be prepared for another charge, in all probability Dick will mount the pillory, or obtain a pension, in either of which events his fortune will be made — Mean while he has acquired some degree of consideration with the respectable writers of the age; and as I have subscribed for his works, he did me the favour t'other night to introduce me to a society of those geniuses; but I found them exceedingly formal and reserved — They seemed afraid and jealous of one another, and sat in a state of mutual repulsion, like so many particles of vapour, each surrounded by its own electrified atmosphere. Dick, who has more vivacity than judgment, tried more than once to enliven the conversation; sometimes making an effort at wit, sometimes letting off a pun, and sometimes discharging a conundrum; nay, at length he started a dispute upon the hackneyed comparison betwixt blank verse and rhyme, and the professors opened with great clamour; but, instead of keeping to the subject, they launched out into tedious dissertations on the poetry of the ancients; and one of them, who had been a school-master, displayed his whole knowledge of prosody, gleaned from Disputer and Ruddiman. At last, I ventured to say, I did not see how the subject in question could be at all elucidated by the practice of the ancients, who certainly had neither blank verse nor rhyme in their poems, which were measured by feet, whereas ours are reckoned by the number of syllables — This remark seemed to give umbrage to the pedant, who forthwith involved himself in a cloud of Greek and Latin quotations, which nobody attempted to dispel — A confused hum of insipid observations and comments ensued; and, upon the whole, I never passed a duller evening in my life — Yet, without all doubt, some of them were men of learning, wit, and ingenuity. As they are afraid of making free with one another, they should bring each his butt, or whet-stone, along with him, for the entertainment of the company — My uncle says, he never desires to meet with more than one wit at a time — One wit, like a knuckle of ham in soup, gives a zest and flavour to the dish; but more than one serves only to spoil the pottage — And now I'm afraid I have given you an unconscionable mess, without any flavour at all; for which, I suppose, you will bestow your benedictions upon

Your friend,
and servant
J. MELFORD
LONDON, June 5