Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker: Ch. 51

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Letter LI

To Dr LEWIS.

DEAR DOCTOR,

I have now reached the northern extremity of England, and see, close to my chamber-window, the Tweed gliding through the arches of that bridge which connects this suburb to the town of Berwick. — Yorkshire you have seen, and therefore I shall say nothing of that opulent province. The city of Durham appears like a confused heap of stones and brick, accumulated so as to cover a mountain, round which a river winds its brawling course. The Streets are generally narrow, dark, and unpleasant, and many of them almost impassible in consequence of their declivity. The cathedral is a huge gloomy pile; but the clergy are well lodged. — The bishop lives in a princely manner — the golden prebends keep plentiful tables — and, I am told, there is some good sociable company in the place; but the country, when viewed from the top of Gateshead-Fell, which extends to Newcastle, exhibits the highest scene of cultivation that ever I beheld. As for Newcastle, it lies mostly in a bottom, on the banks of the Tyne, and makes an appearance still more disagreeable than that of Durham; but it is rendered populous and rich by industry and commerce; and the country lying on both sides the river, above the town, yields a delightful prospect of agriculture and plantation. Morpeth and Alnwick are neat, pretty towns, and this last is famous for the castle which has belonged so many ages to the noble house of Piercy, earls of Northumberland. — It is, doubtless, a large edifice, containing a great number of apartments, and stands in a commanding situation; but the strength of it seems to have consisted not so much in its site, or the manner in which it is fortified, as in the valour of its defendants.

Our adventures since we left Scarborough, are scarce worth reciting; and yet I must make you acquainted with my sister Tabby's progress in husband-hunting, after her disappointments at Bath and London. She had actually begun to practise upon a certain adventurer, who was in fact a highwayman by profession; but he had been used to snares much more dangerous than any she could lay, and escaped accordingly. Then she opened her batteries upon an old weather-beaten Scotch lieutenant, called Lismahago, who joined us at Durham, and is, I think, one of the most singular personages I ever encountered — His manner is as harsh as his countenance; but his peculiar turn of thinking, and his pack of knowledge made up of the remnants of rarities, rendered his conversation desirable, in spite of his pedantry and ungracious address. I have often met with a crab-apple in a hedge, which I have been tempted to eat for its flavour, even while I was disgusted by its austerity. The spirit of contradiction is naturally so strong in Lismahago, that I believe in my conscience he has rummaged, and read, and studied with indefatigable attention, in order to qualify himself to refute established maxims, and thus raise trophies for the gratification of polemical pride. — Such is the asperity of his self-conceit, that he will not even acquiesce in a transient compliment made to his own individual in particular, or to his country in general.

When I observed, that he must have read a vast number of books to be able to discourse on such a variety of subjects, he declared he had read little or nothing, and asked how he should find books among the woods of America, where he had spent the greatest part of his life. My nephew remarking that the Scots in general were famous for their learning, he denied the imputation, and defied him to prove it from their works — 'The Scots (said he) have a slight tincture of letters, with which they make a parade among people who are more illiterate than themselves; but they may be said to float on the surface of science, and they have made very small advances in the useful arts.' 'At least (cried Tabby), all the world allows that the Scots behaved gloriously in fighting and conquering the savages of America.' 'I can assure you, madam, you have been misinformed (replied the lieutenant); in that continent the Scots did nothing more than their duty, nor was there one corps in his majesty's service that distinguished itself more than another. — Those who affected to extol the Scots for superior merit, were no friends to that nation.'