Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker: Ch. 74

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Letter LXXIV

To Dr LEWIS.

Once more, dear doctor, I resume the pen for your amusement. It was on the morning after our arrival that, walking out with my friend, Mr Dennison, I could not help breaking forth into the warmest expressions of applause at the beauty of the scene, which is really inchanting; and I signified, in particular, how much I was pleased with the disposition of some detached groves, that afforded at once shelter and ornament to his habitation.

'When I took possession of these lands, about two and twenty years ago (said he), there was not a tree standing within a mile of the house, except those of an old neglected orchard, which produced nothing but leaves and moss. — It was in the gloomy month of November, when I arrived, and found the house in such a condition, that it might have been justly stiled the tower of desolation. — The court-yard was covered with nettles and docks , and the garden exhibited such a rank plantation of weeds as I had never seen before; — the window-shutters were falling in pieces, — the sashes broken; — and owls and jack-daws had taken possession of the chimnies. — The prospect within was still more dreary — All was dark, and damp, and dirty beyond description; — the rain penetrated in several parts of the roof; — in some apartments the very floors had given way; — the hangings were parted from the walls, and shaking in mouldy remnants; the glasses were dropping out of their frames; — the family-pictures were covered with dust. and all the chairs and tables worm-eaten and crazy. — There was not a bed in the house that could be used, except one old-fashioned machine, with a high gilt tester and fringed curtains of yellow mohair, which had been, for aught I know, two centuries in the family. — In short, there was no furniture but the utensils of the kitchen; and the cellar afforded nothing but a few empty butts and barrels, that stunk so abominably, that I would not suffer any body to enter it until I had flashed a considerable quantity of gunpowder to qualify the foul air within.

'An old cottager and his wife, who were hired to lie in the house, had left it with precipitation, alledging, among other causes of retreat, that they could not sleep for frightful noises, and that my poor brother certainly walked after his death. — In a word, the house appeared uninhabitable; the barn, stable, and outhouses were in ruins; all the fences broken down, and the fields lying waste.

'The farmer who kept the key never dreamed I had any intention to live upon the spot — He rented a farm of sixty pounds, and his lease was just expiring. — He had formed a scheme of being appointed bailiff to the estate, and of converting the house and the adjacent grounds to his own use. —A hint of his intention I received from the curate at my first arrival; I therefore did not pay much regard to what he said by way of discouraging me from coming to settle in the country; but I was a little startled when he gave me warning that he should quit the farm at the expiration of his lease, unless I could abate considerably in the rent.

'At this period I accidentally became acquainted with a person, whose friendship laid the foundation of all my prosperity. In the next market-town I chanced to dine at an inn with a Mr Wilson, who was lately come to settle in the neighbourhood. — He had been lieutenant of a man of war, but quitted the sea in some disgust, and married the only daughter of farmer Bland, who lives in this parish, and has acquired a good fortune in the way of husbandry. — Wilson is one of the best natured men I ever knew; brave, frank, obliging, and ingenuous — He liked my conversation, I was charmed with his liberal manner; and acquaintance immediately commenced, and this was soon improved into a friendship without reserve. — There are characters which, like similar particles of matter, strongly attract each other. — He forthwith introduced me to his father-in-law, farmer Bland, who was well acquainted with every acre of my estate, of consequence well qualified to advise me on this occasion. — Finding I was inclined to embrace a country life, and even to amuse myself with the occupation of farming, he approved of my design — He gave me to understand that all my farms were underlett; that the estate was capable of great improvement; that there was plenty of chalk in the neighbourhood; and that my own ground produced excellent marle for manure. — With respect to the farm, which was like to fall into my hands, he said he would willingly take it at the present rent; but at the same time owned, that if I would expend two hundred pounds in enclosure, it would be worth more than double the sum.