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

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Mr S— said nothing at present, but accommodated him with a pair of shoes; then ordered his servant to rub him down, and comfort him with a glass of rum-punch, which seemed, in a great measure, to cool the rage of his indignation. 'After all (said our landlord) this is no more than a humbug in the way of wit, though it deserves a more respectable epithet, when considered as an effort of invention. Tim, being (I suppose) out of credit with the cordwainer, fell upon this ingenious expedient to supply the want of shoes, knowing that Mr Birkin, who loves humour, would himself relish the joke upon a little recollection. Cropdale literally lives by his wit, which he has exercised upon all his friends in their turns. He once borrowed my poney for five or six days to go to Salisbury, and sold him in Smithfield at his return. This was a joke of such a serious nature, that, in the first transports of my passion, I had some thoughts of prosecuting him for horse-stealing; and even when my resentment had in some measure subsided, as he industriously avoided me, I vowed, I would take satisfaction on his ribs with the first opportunity. One day, seeing him at some distance in the street, coming towards me, I began to prepare my cane for action, and walked in the shadow of a porter, that he might not perceive me soon enough to make his escape; but, in the very instant I had lifted up the instrument of correction, I found Tim Cropdale metamorphosed into a miserable blind wretch, feeling his way with a long stick from post to post, and rolling about two bald unlighted orbs instead of eyes. I was exceedingly shocked at having so narrowly escaped the concern and disgrace that would have attended such a misapplication of vengeance: but, next day, Tim prevailed upon a friend of mine to come and solicit my forgiveness, and offer his note, payable in six weeks, for the price of the poney. This gentleman gave me to understand, that the blind man was no other than Cropdale, who having seen me advancing, and guessing my intent, had immediately converted himself into the object aforesaid — I was so diverted at the ingenuity of the evasion, that I agreed to pardon his offence, refusing his note, however, that I might keep a prosecution for felony hanging over his head, as a security for his future good behaviour — But Timothy would by no means trust himself in my hands till the note was accepted — then he made his appearance at my door as a blind beggar, and imposed in such a manner upon my man, who had been his old acquaintance and pot-companion, that the fellow threw the door in his face, and even threatened to give him the bastinado. Hearing a noise in the hall, I went thither, and immediately recollecting the figure I had passed in the street, accosted him by his own name, to the unspeakable astonishment of the footman.'

Birkin declared he loved a joke as well as another; but asked if any of the company could tell where Mr Cropdale lodged, that he might send him a proposal about restitution, before the boots should be made away with. 'I would willingly give him a pair of new shoes (said he), and half a guinea into the bargain' for the boots, which fitted me like a glove; and I shan't be able to get the fellows of them 'till the good weather for riding is over. The stuttering wit declared, that the only secret which Cropdale ever kept, was the place of his lodgings; but he believed, that, during the heats of summer, he commonly took his repose upon a bulk, or indulged himself, in fresco, with one of the kennel-nymphs, under the portico of St Martin's church. 'Pox on him! (cried the bookseller) he might as well have taken my whip and spurs. In that case, he might have been tempted to steal another horse, and then he would have rid to the devil of course.'

After coffee, I took my leave of Mr S—, with proper acknowledgments of his civility, and was extremely well pleased with the entertainment of the day, though not yet satisfied, with respect to the nature of this connexion, betwixt a man of character in the literary world, and a parcel of authorlings, who, in all probability, would never be able to acquire any degree of reputation by their labours. On this head I interrogated my conductor, Dick Ivy, who answered me to this effect — 'One would imagine S— had some view to his own interest, in giving countenance and assistance to those people, whom he knows to be bad men, as well as bad writers; but, if he has any such view, he will find himself disappointed; for if he is so vain as to imagine he can make them, subservient to his schemes of profit or ambition, they are cunning enough to make him their property in the mean time. There is not one of the company you have seen to-day (myself excepted) who does not owe him particular obligations — One of them he bailed out of a spunging-house, and afterwards paid the debt — another he translated into his family, and clothed, when he was turned out half naked from jail in consequence of an act for the relief of insolvent debtors — a third, who was reduced to a woollen night cap, and lived upon sheeps trotters, up three pair of stairs backward in Butcher-row, he took into present pay and free quarters, and enabled him to appear as a gentleman, without having the fear of sheriff's officers before his eyes. Those who are in distress he supplies with money when he has it, and with his credit when he is out of cash. When they want business, he either finds employment for them in his own service, or recommends them to booksellers to execute some project he has formed for their subsistence. They are always welcome to his table (which though plain, is plentiful) and to his good offices as far as they will go, and when they see Occasion, they make use of his name with the most petulant familiarity; nay, they do not even scruple to arrogate to themselves the merit of some of his performances, and have been known to sell their own lucubrations as the produce of his brain. The Scotchman you saw at dinner once personated him at an alehouse in West-Smithfield and, in the character of S—, had his head broke by a cow-keeper, for having spoke disrespectfully of the Christian religion; but he took the law of him in his own person, and the assailant was fain to give him ten pounds to withdraw his action.'