Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker: Ch. 79

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Letter LXXIX

To Dr LEWIS.

DEAR DICK,

You cannot imagine what pleasure I have in seeing your hand-writing, after such a long cessation on your side of our correspondence — Yet, Heaven knows, I have often seen your hand-writing with disgust — I mean, when it appeared in abbreviations of apothecary's Latin — I like your hint of making interest for the reversion of the collector's place, for Mr Lismahago, who is much pleased with the scheme, and presents you with his compliments and best thanks for thinking so kindly of his concerns — The man seems to mend, upon further acquaintance. That harsh reserve, which formed a disagreeable husk about his character, begins to peel off in the course of our communication — I have great hopes that he and Tabby will be as happily paired as any two draught animals in the kingdom; and I make no doubt but that he will prove a valuable acquisition to our little society, in the article of conversation, by the fire-side in winter.

Your objection to my passing this season of the year at such a distance from home, would have more weight if I did not find myself perfectly at my ease where I am; and my health so much improved, that I am disposed to bid defiance to gout and rheumatism — I begin to think I have put myself on the superannuated list too soon, and absurdly sought for health in the retreats of laziness — I am persuaded that all valetudinarians are too sedentary, too regular, and too cautious — We should sometimes increase the motion of the machine, to unclog the wheels of life; and now and then take a plunge amidst the waves of excess, in order to caseharden the constitution. I have even found a change of company as necessary as a change of air, to promote a vigorous circulation of the spirits, which is the very essence and criterion of good health.

Since my last, I have been performing the duties of friendship, that required a great deal of exercise, from which I hope to derive some benefit — Understanding, by the greatest accident in the world, that Mr Baynard's wife was dangerously ill of a pleuritic fever, I borrowed Dennison's post-chaise, and went across the country to his habitation, attended only by Loyd (quondam Clinker) on horseback. — As the distance is not above thirty miles, I arrived about four in the afternoon, and meeting the physician at the door, was informed that his patient had just expired. — I was instantly seized with a violent emotion, but it was not grief. — The family being in confusion, I ran up stairs into the chamber, where, indeed, they were all assembled. — The aunt stood wringing her hands in a kind of stupefaction of sorrow, but my friend acted all the extravagancies of affliction — He held the body in his arms, and poured forth such a lamentation, that one would have thought he had lost the most amiable consort and valuable companion upon earth.

Affection may certainly exist independent of esteem; nay, the same object may be lovely in one respect, and detestable in another — The mind has a surprising faculty of accommodating, and even attaching itself, in such a manner, by dint of use, to things that are in their own nature disagreeable, and even pernicious, that it cannot bear to be delivered from them without reluctance and regret. Baynard was so absorbed in his delirium, that he did not perceive me when I entered, and desired one of the women to conduct the aunt into her own chamber. — At the same time I begged the tutor to withdraw the boy, who stood gaping in a corner, very little affected with the distress of the scene. — These steps being taken, I waited till the first violence of my friend's transport was abated, then disengaged him gently from the melancholy object, and led him by the hand into another apartment; though he struggled so hard, that I was obliged to have recourse to the assistance of his valet de chambre — In a few minutes, however, he recollected himself, and folding me in his arms, 'This (cried he), is a friendly office, indeed! — I know not how you came hither; but, I think, Heaven sent you to prevent my going distracted — O Matthew! I have lost my dear Harriet! — my poor, gentle, tender creature, that loved me with such warmth and purity of affection — my constant companion of twenty years! She's gone — she's gone for ever! — Heaven and earth! where is she? — Death shall not part us!'