Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker: Ch. 57

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Letter LVII

To Sir WATKIN PHILLIPS, Bart. of Jesus college, Oxon.


I am now little short of the Ultima Thule, if this appellation properly belongs to the Orkneys or Hebrides. These last are now lying before me, to the amount of some hundreds, scattered up and down the Deucalidonian sea, affording the most picturesque and romantic prospect I ever beheld — I write this letter in a gentleman's house, near the town of Inverary which may be deemed the capital of the West Highlands, famous for nothing so much as for the stately castle begun, and actually covered in by the late duke of Argyle, at a prodigious expence — Whether it will ever be completely finished is a question. —

But, to take things in order — We left Edinburgh ten days ago; and the further North we proceed, we find Mrs Tabitha the less manageable; so that her inclinations are not of the nature of the loadstone; they point not towards the pole. What made her leave Edinburgh with reluctance at last, if we may believe her own assertions, was a dispute which she left unfinished with Mr Moffat, touching the eternity of hell torments. That gentleman, as he advanced in years, began to be sceptical on this head, till, at length, he declared open war against the common acceptation of the word eternal. He is now persuaded, that eternal signifies no more than an indefinite number of years; and that the most enormous sinner may be quit for nine millions, nine hundred thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine years of hell- fire; which term or period, as he very well observes, forms but an inconsiderable drop, as it were, in the ocean of eternity — For this mitigation he contends, as a system agreeable to the ideas of goodness and mercy, which we annex to the supreme Being — Our aunt seemed willing to adopt this doctrine in favour of the wicked; but he hinted that no person whatever was so righteous as to be exempted entirely from punishment in a future state; and that the most pious Christian upon earth might think himself very happy to get off for a fast of seven or eight thousand years in the midst of fire and brimstone. Mrs Tabitha revolted at this dogma, which filled her at once with horror and indignation — She had recourse to the opinion of Humphry Clinker, who roundly declared it was the popish doctrine of purgatory, and quoted scripture in defence of the fire everlasting, prepared for the devil and his angels — The reverend master Mackcorkendal, and all the theologists and saints of that persuasion were consulted, and some of them had doubts about the matter; which doubts and scruples had begun to infect our aunt, when we took our departure from Edinburgh.

We passed through Linlithgow, where there was an elegant royal palace, which is now gone to decay, as well as the town itself — This too is pretty much the case with Stirling, though it still boasts of a fine old castle in which the kings of Scotland were wont to reside in their minority — But Glasgow is the pride of Scotland, and, indeed, it might very well pass for an elegant and flourishing city in any part of Christendom. There we had the good fortune to be received into the house of Mr Moore, an eminent surgeon, to whom we were recommended by one of our friends at Edinburgh; and, truly, he could not have done us more essential service — Mr Moore is a merry facetious companion, sensible and shrewd, with a considerable fund of humour; and his wife an agreeable woman, well bred, kind, and obliging. Kindness, which I take to be the essence of good-nature and humanity, is the distinguishing characteristic of the Scotch ladies in their own country — Our landlord shewed us every thing, and introduced us to all the world at Glasgow; where, through his recommendation, we were complimented with the freedom of the town. Considering the trade and opulence of this place, it cannot but abound with gaiety and diversions. Here is a great number of young fellows that rival the youth of the capital in spirit and expence; and I was soon convinced, that all the female beauties of Scotland were not assembled at the hunters ball in Edinburgh — The town of Glasgow flourishes in learning as well as in commerce — Here is an university, with professors in all the different branches of science, liberally endowed, and judiciously chosen — It was vacation time when I passed, so that I could not entirely satisfy my curiosity; but their mode of education is certainly preferable to ours in some respects. The students are not left to the private instruction of tutors; but taught in public schools or classes, each science by its particular professor or regent.