Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker: Ch. 41

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Letter XLI

To Sir WATKIN PHILLIPS, of Jesus college, Oxon.

DEAR WAT,

The farce is finished, and another piece of a graver cast brought upon the stage. — Our aunt made a desperate attack upon Barton, who had no other way of saving himself, but by leaving her in possession of the field, and avowing his pretensions to Liddy, by whom he has been rejected in his turn. — Lady Griskin acted as his advocate and agent on this occasion, with such zeal as embroiled her with Mrs Tabitha, and a high scene of altercation passed betwixt these two religionists, which might have come to action, had not my uncle interposed. They are however reconciled, in consequence of an event which hath involved us all in trouble and disquiet. You must know, the poor preacher, Humphry Clinker, is now exercising his ministry among the felons in Clerkenwell prison — A postilion having sworn a robbery against him, no bail could be taken, and he was committed to jail, notwithstanding all the remonstrances and interest my uncle could make in his behalf.

All things considered, the poor fellow cannot possibly be guilty, and yet, I believe, he runs some risque of being hanged. Upon his examination, he answered with such hesitation and reserve as persuaded most of the people, who crowded the place, that he was really a knave, and the justice's remarks confirmed their opinion. Exclusive of my uncle and myself, there was only one person who seemed inclined to favour the culprit. — He was a young man, well dressed, and, from the manner in which he cross-examined the evidence, we took it for granted, that he was a student in one of the inns of court. — He freely checked the justice for some uncharitable inferences he made to the prejudice of the prisoner, and even ventured to dispute with his worship on certain points of law.

My uncle, provoked at the unconnected and dubious answers of Clinker, who seemed in danger of falling a sacrifice to his own simplicity, exclaimed, 'In the name of God, if you are innocent, say so.' 'No (cried he) God forbid that I should call myself innocent, while my conscience is burthened with sin.' 'What then, you did commit this robbery?' resumed his master. 'No, sure (said he) blessed be the Lord, I'm free of that guilt.'

Here the justice interposed, observing, that the man seemed inclined to make a discovery by turning king's evidence, and desired the clerk to take his confession; upon which Humphry declared, that he looked upon confession to be a popish fraud, invented by the whore of Babylon. The Templar affirmed, that the poor fellow was non compos; and exhorted the justice to discharge him as a lunatic. — 'You know very well (added he) that the robbery in question was not committed by the prisoner.'

The thief-takers grinned at one another; and Mr Justice Buzzard replied with great emotion, 'Mr Martin, I desire you will mind your own business; I shall convince you one of these days that I understand mine.' In short, there was no remedy; the mittimus was made out, and poor Clinker sent to prison in a hackney-coach, guarded by the constable, and accompanied by your humble servant. By the way, I was not a little surprised to hear this retainer to justice bid the prisoner to keep up his spirits, for that he did not at all doubt but that he would get off for a few weeks confinement — He said, his worship knew very well that Clinker was innocent of the fact, and that the real highwayman who robbed the chaise, was no other than that very individual Mr Martin, who had pleaded so strenuously for honest Humphry.

Confounded at this information, I asked, 'Why then is he suffered to go about at his liberty, and this poor innocent fellow treated as a malefactor?' 'We have exact intelligence of all Mr Martin's transactions (said he); but as yet there is not evidence sufficient for his conviction; and as for this young man, the justice could do no less than commit him, as the postilion swore point-blank to his identity.' 'So if this rascally postilion should persist in the falsity to which he is sworn (said I), this innocent lad may be brought to the gallows.'

The constable observed, that he would have time enough to prepare for his trial, and might prove an alibi; or, perhaps, Martin might be apprehended and convicted for another fact; in which case, he might be prevailed upon to take this affair upon himself; or, finally, if these chances should fail, and the evidence stand good against Clinker, the jury might recommend him to mercy, in consideration of his youth, especially if this should appear to be the first fact of which he had been guilty.

Humphry owned he could not pretend to recollect where he had been on the day when the robbery was committed, much less prove a circumstance of that kind so far back as six months, though he knew he had been sick of the fever and ague, which, however, did not prevent him from going about — then, turning up his eyes, he ejaculated, 'The Lord's will be done! if it be my fate to suffer, I hope I shall not disgrace the faith of which, though unworthy, I make profession.'