Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker: Ch. 68

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Letter LXVIII

To Sir WATKIN PHILLIPS, Bart. at Oxon.

DEAR KNIGHT,

I believe there is something mischievous in my disposition, for nothing diverts me so much as to see certain characters tormented with false terrors. — We last night lodged at the house of Sir Thomas Bullford, an old friend of my uncle, a jolly fellow, of moderate intellects, who, in spite of the gout, which hath lamed him, is resolved to be merry to the last; and mirth he has a particular knack in extracting from his guests, let their humour be ever so caustic or refractory. — Besides our company, there was in the house a fat-headed justice of the peace, called Frogmore, and a country practitioner in surgery, who seemed to be our landlord's chief companion and confidant. — We found the knight sitting on a couch, with his crutches by his side, and his feet supported on cushions; but he received us with a hearty welcome, and seemed greatly rejoiced at our arrival. — After tea, we were entertained with a sonata on the harpsichord by lady Bullford, who sung and played to admiration; but Sir Thomas seemed to be a little asinine in the article of ears, though he affected to be in raptures, and begged his wife to favour us with an arietta of her own composing. — This arietta, however, she no sooner began to perform, than he and the justice fell asleep; but the moment she ceased playing, the knight waked snorting, and exclaimed, 'O cara! what d'ye think, gentlemen? Will you talk any more of your Pargolesi and your Corelli?' — At the same time, he thrust his tongue in one cheek, and leered with one eye at the doctor and me, who sat on his left hand. He concluded the pantomime with a loud laugh, which he could command at all times extempore. — Notwithstanding his disorder, he did not do penance at supper, nor did he ever refuse his glass when the toast went round, but rather encouraged a quick circulation, both by precept and example.

I soon perceived the doctor had made himself very necessary to the baronet. — He was the whetstone of his wit, the butt of his satire, and his operator in certain experiments of humour, which were occasionally tried upon strangers. — Justice Frogmore was an excellent subject for this species of philosophy; sleek and corpulent, solemn, and shallow, he had studied Burn with uncommon application, but he studied nothing so much as the art of living (that is, eating) well — This fat buck had often afforded good sport to our landlord; and he was frequently started with tolerable success, in the course of this evening; but the baronet's appetite for ridicule seemed to be chiefly excited by the appearance, address, and conversation of Lismahago, whom he attempted in all different modes of exposition; but he put me in mind of a contest that I once saw betwixt a young hound and an old hedge-hog — The dog turned him over and over, and bounced and barked, and mumbled; but as often as he attempted to bite, he felt a prickle in his jaws, and recoiled in manifest confusion; — The captain, when left to himself, will not fail to turn his ludicrous side to the company, but if any man attempts to force him into that attitude, he becomes stubborn as a mule, and unmanageable as an elephant unbroke.

Divers tolerable jokes were cracked upon the justice, who eat a most unconscionable supper, and, among other things, a large plate of broiled mushrooms, which he had no sooner swallowed than the doctor observed, with great gravity, that they were of the kind called champignons, which in some constitutions has a poisonous effect. — Mr Frogmore startled at this remark, asked, in some confusion, why he had not been so kind as to give him that notice sooner. — He answered, that he took it for granted, by his eating them so heartily, that he was used to the dish; but as he seemed to be under some apprehension, he prescribed a bumper of plague water, which the justice drank off immediately, and retired to rest, not without marks of terror and disquiet.