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

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Letter XXXV

To Sir WATKIN PHILLIPS, of Jesus college, Oxon.

DEAR WAT,

I mentioned in my last, my uncle's design of going to the duke of N—'s levee; which design has been executed accordingly. His grace has been so long accustomed to this kind of homage, that though the place he now fills does not imply the tenth part of the influence, which he exerted in his former office, he has given his friends to understand, that they cannot oblige him in any thing more, than in contributing to support the shadow of that power, which he no longer retains in substance; and therefore he has still public days, on which they appear at his levee.

My uncle and I went thither with Mr Barton, who, being one of the duke's adherents, undertook to be our introducer — The room was pretty well filled with people, in a great variety of dress; but there was no more than one gown and cassock, though I was told his grace had, while he was minister, preferred almost every individual that now filled the bench of bishops in the house of lords; but in all probability, the gratitude of the clergy is like their charity, which shuns the light — Mr Barton was immediately accosted by a person well stricken in years, tall, and raw-boned, with a hook-nose, and an arch leer, that indicated, at least, as much cunning as sagacity. Our conductor saluted him, by the name of captain C—, and afterwards informed us he was a man of shrewd parts, whom the government occasionally employed in secret services. But I have had the history of him more at large, from another quarter. He had been, many years ago, concerned in fraudulent practices, as a merchant, in France; and being convicted of some of them, was sent to the gallies, from whence he was delivered by the interest of the late duke of Ormond, to whom he had recommended himself in letter, as his name-sake and relation — He was in the sequel, employed by our ministry as a spy; and in the war of 1740, traversed all Spain, as well as France, in the disguise of a capuchin, at the extreme hazard of his life, in as much as the court of Madrid had actually got scent of him, and given orders to apprehend him at St Sebastian's, from whence he had fortunately retired but a few hours before the order arrived. This and other hair-breadth 'scapes he pleaded so effectually as a merit with the English ministry, that they allowed him a comfortable pension, which he now enjoys in his old age — He has still access to all the ministers, and is said to be consulted by them on many subjects, as a man of uncommon understanding and great experience — He is, in fact, a fellow of some parts, and invincible assurance; and, in his discourse, he assumes such an air of self-sufficiency, as may very well impose upon some of the shallow politicians, who now labour at the helm of administration. But, if he is not belied, this is not the only imposture of which he is guilty — They say, he is at bottom not only a Roman-catholic, but really a priest; and while he pretends to disclose to our state-pilots all the springs that move the cabinet of Versailles, he is actually picking up intelligence for the service of the French minister. Be that as it may, captain C— entered into conversation with us in the most familiar manner, and treated the duke's character without any ceremony — 'This wiseacre (said he) is still a-bed; and, I think, the best thing he can do, is to sleep on till Christmas; for, when he gets up, he does nothing but expose his own folly. — Since Grenville was turned out, there has been no minister in this nation worth the meal that whitened his peri-wig — They are so ignorant, they scarce know a crab from a cauliflower; and then they are such dunces, that there's no making them comprehend the plainest proposition — In the beginning of the war, this poor half-witted creature told me, in a great fright, that thirty thousand French had marched from Acadie to Cape Breton — "Where did they find transports? (said I)" "Transports (cried he) I tell you they marched by land" — "By land to the island of Cape Breton?" "What! is Cape Breton an island?" "Certainly." "Ha! are you sure of that?" When I pointed it out in the map, he examined it earnestly with his spectacles; then, taking me in his arms, "My dear C—! (cried he) you always bring us good news — Egad! I'll go directly, and tell the king that Cape Breton is an island."'