Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker: Ch. 37

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Opposite to me sat a Piedmontese, who had obliged the public with a humorous satire, intituled, The Ballance of the English Poets, a performance which evinced the great modesty and taste of the author, and, in particular, his intimacy with the elegancies of the English language. The sage, who laboured under the agrophobia, or horror of green fields, had just finished a treatise on practical agriculture, though, in fact, he had never seen corn growing in his life, and was so ignorant of grain, that our entertainer, in the face of the whole company, made him own, that a plate of hominy was the best rice pudding he had ever eat.

The stutterer had almost finished his travels through Europe and part of Asia, without ever budging beyond the liberties of the King's Bench, except in term-time, with a tipstaff for his companion; and as for little Tim Cropdale, the most facetious member of the whole society, he had happily wound up the catastrophe of a virgin tragedy, from the exhibition of which he promised himself a large fund of profit and reputation. Tim had made shift to live many years by writing novels, at the rate of five pounds a volume; but that branch of business is now engrossed by female authors, who publish merely for the propagation of virtue, with so much ease and spirit, and delicacy, and knowledge of the human heart, and all in the serene tranquillity of high life, that the reader is not only inchanted by their genius, but reformed by their morality.

After dinner, we adjourned into the garden, where, I observed, Mr S— gave a short separate audience to every individual in a small remote filbert walk, from whence most of them dropt off one after another, without further ceremony; but they were replaced by fresh recruits of the same clan, who came to make an afternoon's visit; and, among others, a spruce bookseller, called Birkin, who rode his own gelding, and made his appearance in a pair of new jemmy boots, with massy spurs of plate. It was not without reason, that this midwife of the Muses used exercise a-horseback, for he was too fat to walk a-foot, and he underwent some sarcasms from Tim Cropdale, on his unwieldy size and inaptitude for motion. Birkin, who took umbrage at this poor author's petulance in presuming to joke upon a man so much richer than himself, told him, he was not so unwieldy but that he could move the Marshalsea court for a writ, and even overtake him with it, if he did not very speedily come and settle accounts with him, respecting the expence of publishing his last ode to the king of Prussia, of which he had sold but three, and one of them was to Whitfield the methodist. Tim affected to receive this intimation with good humour, saying, he expected in a post or two, from Potsdam, a poem of thanks from his Prussian majesty, who knew very well how to pay poets in their own coin; but, in the mean time, he proposed, that Mr Birkin and he should run three times round the garden for a bowl of punch, to be drank at Ashley's in the evening, and he would run boots against stockings. The bookseller, who valued himself upon his mettle, was persuaded to accept the challenge, and he forthwith resigned his boots to Cropdale, who, when he had put them on, was no bad representation of captain Pistol in the play.

Every thing being adjusted, they started together with great impetuosity, and, in the second round, Birkin had clearly the advantage, larding the lean earth as he puff'd along. Cropdale had no mind to contest the victory further; but, in a twinkling, disappeared through the back-door of the garden, which opened into a private lane, that had communication with the high road.— The spectators immediately began to hollow, 'Stole away!' and Birkin set off in pursuit of him with great eagerness; but he had not advanced twenty yards in the lane, when a thorn running into his foot, sent him hopping back into the garden, roaring with pain, and swearing with vexation. When he was delivered from this annoyance by the Scotchman, who had been bred to surgery, he looked about him wildly, exclaiming, 'Sure, the fellow won't be such a rogue as to run clear away with my boots!' Our landlord, having reconnoitered the shoes he had left, which, indeed, hardly deserved that name, 'Pray (said he), Mr Birkin, wa'n't your boots made of calf-skin?' 'Calf-skin or cow-skin (replied the other) I'll find a slip of sheep-skin that will do his business — I lost twenty pounds by his farce which you persuaded me to buy — I am out of pocket five pounds by his damn'd ode; and now this pair of boots, bran new, cost me thirty shillings, as per receipt — But this affair of the boots is felony — transportation. — I'll have the dog indicted at the Old Bailey — I will, Mr S— I will be reveng'd, even though I should lose my debt in consequence of his conviction.'