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Sir Launcelot is virtuous and strange, and he is surrounded by a Smollettian menagerie whose various jargons are part of this novel's linguistic virtuosity and satire. He is an eighteenth-century gentleman who rides about the country in armour, attended by his comic squire, Timothy Crabshaw, redressing grievances.
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The Life and Adventures of
Sir Launcelot Greaves
LONDON ∙ NEW YORK ∙ TORONTO ∙ SAO PAULO ∙ MOSCOW
PARIS ∙ MADRID ∙ BERLIN ∙ ROME ∙ MEXICO CITY ∙ MUMBAI ∙ SEOUL ∙ DOHA
TOKYO ∙ SYDNEY ∙ CAPE TOWN ∙ AUCKLAND ∙ BEIJING
New Edition, Children’s Classics
Published by Fantastica
This Edition first published in 2016
Copyright © 2016 Fantastica
All Rights Reserved.
CHAPTER THE LAST
It was on the great northern road from York to London, about the beginning of the month of October, and the hour of eight in the evening, that four travellers were, by a violent shower of rain, driven for shelter into a little public-house on the side of the highway, distinguished by a sign which was said to exhibit the figure of a black lion. The kitchen, in which they assembled, was the only room for entertainment in the house, paved with red bricks, remarkably clean, furnished with three or four Windsor chairs, adorned with shining plates of pewter, and copper saucepans, nicely scoured, that even dazzled the eyes of the beholder; while a cheerful fire of sea-coal blazed in the chimney.
It would be hard to find a better beginning for a wholesome novel of English life, than these first two sentences in The Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves. They are full of comfort and promise. They promise that we shall get rapidly into the story; and so we do. They give us the hope, in which we are not to be disappointed, that we shall see a good deal of those English inns which to this day are delightful in reality, and which to generations of readers, have been delightful in fancy. Truly, English fiction, without its inns, were as much poorer as the English country, without these same hostelries, were less comfortable. For few things in the world has the so-called “Anglo-Saxon” race more reason to be grateful than for good old English inns. Finally there is a third promise in these opening sentences of Sir Launcelot Greaves. “The great northern road!” It was that over which the youthful Smollett made his way to London in 1739; it was that over which, less than nine years later, he sent us travelling in company with Random and Strap and the queer people whom they met on their way. And so there is the promise that Smollett, after his departure in Count Fathom from the field of personal experience which erstwhile he cultivated so successfully, has returned to see if the ground will yield him another rich harvest. Though it must be admitted that in Sir Launcelot Greaves his labours were but partially successful, yet the story possesses a good deal of the lively verisimilitude which Fathom lacked. The very first page, as we have seen, shows that its inns are going to be real. So, too, are most of its highway adventures, and also its portion of those prison scenes of which Smollett seems to have been so fond. As for the description of the parliamentary election, it is by no means the least graphic of its kind in the fiction of the last two centuries. The speech of Sir Valentine Quickset, the fox-hunting Tory candidate, is excellent, both for its brevity and for its simplicity. Any of his bumpkin audience could understand perfectly his principal points: that he spends his estate of “vive thousand clear” at home in old English hospitality; that he comes of pure old English stock; that he hates all foreigners, not excepting those from Hanover; and that if he is elected, he “will cross the ministry in everything, as in duty bound.”
In the characters, likewise, though less than in the scenes just spoken of, we recognise something of the old Smollett touch. True, it is not high praise to say of Miss Aurelia Darnel that she is more alive, or rather less lifeless, than Smollett’s heroines have been heretofore. Nor can we give great praise to the characterisation of Sir Launcelot. Yet if less substantial than Smollett’s roystering heroes, he is more distinct than de Melvil in Fathom, the only one of our author’s earlier young men, by the way, (with the possible exception of Godfrey Gauntlet) who can stand beside Greaves in never failing to be a gentleman. It is a pity, when Greaves’s character is so lovable, and save for his knight-errantry, so well conceived, that the image is not more distinct. Crowe is distinct enough, however, though not quite consistently drawn. There is justice in Scott’s objection [Tobias Smollett in Biographical and Critical Notices of Eminent Novelists] that nothing in the seaman’s “life . . . renders it at all possible that he should have caught” the baronet’s Quixotism. Otherwise, so far from finding fault with the old sailor, we are pleased to see Smollett returning in him to a favourite type. It might be thought that he would have exhausted the possibilities of this type in Bowling and Trunnion and Pipes and Hatchway. In point of fact, Crowe is by no means the equal of the first two of these. And yet, with his heart in the right place, and his application of sea terms to land objects, Captain Samuel Crowe has a good deal of the rough charm of his prototypes. Still more distinct, and among Smollett’s personages a more novel figure, is the Captain’s nephew, the dapper, verbose, tender-hearted lawyer, Tom Clarke. Apart from the inevitable Smollett exaggeration, a better portrait of a softish young attorney could hardly be painted. Nor, in enumerating the characters of Sir Launcelot Greaves who fix themselves in a reader’s memory, should Tom’s inamorata, Dolly, be forgotten, or the malicious Ferret, or that precious pair, Justice and Mrs. Gobble, or the Knight’s squire, Timothy Crabshaw, or that very individual horse, Gilbert, whose lot is to be one moment caressed, and the next, cursed for a “hard-hearted, unchristian tuoad.”
Barring the Gobbles, all these characters are important in the book from first to last. Sir Launcelot Greaves, then, is significant among Smollett’s novels, as indicating a reliance upon the personages for interest quite as much as upon the adventures. If the author failed in a similar intention in Fathom, it was not through lack of clearly conceived characters, but through failure to make them flesh and blood. In that book, however, he put the adventures together more skilfully than in Sir Launcelot Greaves, the plot of which is not only rather meagre but also far-fetched. There seems to be no adequate reason for the baronet’s whim of becoming an English Don Quixote of the eighteenth century, except the chance it gave Smollett for imitating Cervantes. He was evidently hampered from the start by the consciousness that at best the success of such imitation would be doubtful. Probably he expresses his own misgivings when he makes Ferret exclaim to the hero: “What! . . . you set up for a modern Don Quixote? The scheme is rather too stale and extravagant. What was a . . . well-timed satire in Spain near two hundred years ago, will . . . appear . . . insipid and absurd . . . at this time of day, in a country like England.” Whether from the author’s half-heartedness or from some other cause, there is no denying that the Quixotism in Sir Launcelot Greaves is flat. It is a drawback to the book rather than an aid. The plot could have developed itself just as well, the high-minded young baronet might have had just as entertaining adventures, without his imitation of the fine old Spanish Don.
I have remarked on the old Smollett touch in Sir Launcelot Greaves,—the individual touch of which we are continually sensible in Roderick Random and Peregrine Pickle, but seldom in Count Fathom. With it is a new Smollett touch, indicative of a kindlier feeling towards the world. It is commonly said that the only one of the writer’s novels which contains a sufficient amount of charity and sweetness is Humphry Clinker. The statement is not quite true. Greaves is not so strikingly amiable as Smollett’s masterpiece only because it is not so striking in any of its excellences; their lines are always a little blurred. Still, it shows that ten years before Clinker, Smollett had learned to combine the contradictory elements of life in something like their right proportions. If obscenity and ferocity are found in his fourth novel, they are no longer found in a disproportionate degree.
There is little more to say of Sir Launcelot Greaves, except in the way of literary history. The given name of the hero may or may not be significant. It is safe to say that if a Sir Launcelot had appeared in fiction one or two generations earlier, had the fact been recognised (which is not indubitable) that he bore the name of the most celebrated knight of later Arthurian romance, he would have been nothing but a burlesque figure. But in 1760, literary taste was changing. Romanticism in literature had begun to come to the front again, as Smollett had already shown by his romantic leanings in Count Fathom. With it there came interest in the Middle Ages and in the most popular fiction of the Middle Ages, the “greatest of all poetic subjects,” according to Tennyson, the stories of Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, which, for the better part of a century, had been deposed from their old-time place of honour. These stories, however, were as yet so imperfectly known—and only to a few—that the most to be said is that some connection between their reviving popularity and the name of Smollett’s knight-errant hero is not impossible.
Apart from this, Sir Launcelot Greaves is interesting historically as ending Smollett’s comparatively long silence in novel-writing after the publication of Fathom in 1753. His next work was the translation of Don Quixote, which he completed in 1755, and which may first have suggested the idea of an English knight, somewhat after the pattern of the Spanish. Be that as it may, before developing the idea, Smollett busied himself with his Complete History of England, and with the comedy, The Reprisal: or the Tars of Old England, a successful play which at last brought about a reconciliation with his old enemy, Garrick. Two years later, in 1759, as editor of the Critical Review, Smollett was led into a criticism of Admiral Knowles’s conduct that was judged libellous enough to give its author three months in the King’s Bench prison, during which time, it has been conjectured, he began to mature his plans for the English Quixote. The result was that, in 1760 and 1761, Sir Launcelot Greaves came out in various numbers of the British Magazine. Scott has given his authority to the statement that Smollett wrote many of the instalments in great haste, sometimes, during a visit in Berwickshire, dashing off the necessary amount of manuscript in an hour or so just before the departure of the post. If the story is true, it adds its testimony to that of his works to the author’s extraordinarily facile pen. Finally, in 1762, the novel thus hurried off in instalments appeared as a whole. This method of its introduction to the public gives Sir Launcelot Greaves still another claim to interest. It is one of the earliest English novels, indeed the earliest from the pen of a great writer, published in serial form.
G. H. MAYNADIER.
IN WHICH CERTAIN PERSONAGES OF THIS DELIGHTFUL HISTORY ARE INTRODUCED TO THE READER’S ACQUAINTANCE.
It was on the great northern road from York to London, about the beginning of the month of October, and the hour of eight in the evening, that four travellers were, by a violent shower of rain, driven for shelter into a little public-house on the side of the highway, distinguished by a sign which was said to exhibit the figure of a black lion. The kitchen, in which they assembled, was the only room for entertainment in the house, paved with red bricks, remarkably clean, furnished with three or four Windsor chairs, adorned with shining plates of pewter, and copper saucepans, nicely scoured, that even dazzled the eyes of the’ beholder; while a cheerful fire of sea-coal blazed in the chimney. Three of the travellers, who arrived on horseback, having seen their cattle properly accommodated in the stable, agreed to pass the time, until the weather should clear up, over a bowl of rumbo, which was accordingly prepared. But the fourth, refusing to join their company, took his station at the opposite side of the chimney, and called for a pint of twopenny, with which he indulged himself apart. At a little distance, on his left hand, there was another group, consisting of the landlady, a decent widow, her two daughters, the elder of whom seemed to be about the age of fifteen, and a country lad, who served both as waiter and ostler.
The social triumvirate was composed of Mr. Fillet, a country practitioner in surgery and midwifery, Captain Crowe, and his nephew Mr. Thomas Clarke, an attorney. Fillet was a man of some education, and a great deal of experience, shrewd, sly, and sensible. Captain Crowe had commanded a merchant ship in the Mediterranean trade for many years, and saved some money by dint of frugality and traffic. He was an excellent seaman, brave, active, friendly in his way, and scrupulously honest; but as little acquainted with the world as a sucking child; whimsical, impatient, and so impetuous, that he could not help breaking in upon the conversation, whatever it might be, with repeated interruptions, that seemed to burst from him by involuntary impulse. When he himself attempted to speak he never finished his period; but made such a number of abrupt transitions, that his discourse seemed to be an unconnected series of unfinished sentences, the meaning of which it was not easy to decipher.
His nephew, Tom Clarke, was a young fellow, whose goodness of heart even the exercise of his profession had not been able to corrupt. Before strangers he never owned himself an attorney without blushing, though he had no reason to blush for his own practice, for he constantly refused to engage in the cause of any client whose character was equivocal, and was never known to act with such industry as when concerned for the widow and orphan, or any other object that sued in forma pauperis. Indeed, he was so replete with human kindness, that as often as an affecting story or circumstance was told in his hearing, it overflowed at his eyes. Being of a warm complexion, he was very susceptible of passion, and somewhat libertine in his amours. In other respects, he piqued himself on understanding the practice of the courts, and in private company he took pleasure in laying down the law; but he was an indifferent orator, and tediously circumstantial in his explanations. His stature was rather diminutive; but, upon the whole, he had some title to the character of a pretty, dapper, little fellow.
The solitary guest had something very forbidding in his aspect, which was contracted by an habitual frown. His eyes were small and red, and so deep set in the sockets, that each appeared like the unextinguished snuff of a farthing candle, gleaming through the horn of a dark lanthorn. His nostrils were elevated in scorn, as if his sense of smelling had been perpetually offended by some unsavoury odour; and he looked as if he wanted to shrink within himself from the impertinence of society. He wore a black periwig as straight as the pinions of a raven, and this was covered with a hat flapped, and fastened to his head by a speckled handkerchief tied under his chin. He was wrapped in a greatcoat of brown frieze, under which he seemed to conceal a small bundle. His name was Ferret, and his character distinguished by three peculiarities. He was never seen to smile; he was never heard to speak in praise of any person whatsoever; and he was never known to give a direct answer to any question that was asked; but seemed, on all occasions, to be actuated by the most perverse spirit of contradiction.
Captain Crowe, having remarked that it was squally weather, asked how far it was to the next market town; and understanding that the distance was not less than six miles, said he had a good mind to come to an anchor for the night, if so be as he could have a tolerable berth in this here harbour. Mr. Fillet, perceiving by his style that he was a seafaring gentleman, observed that their landlady was not used to lodge such company; and expressed some surprise that he, who had no doubt endured so many storms and hardships at sea, should think much of travelling five or six miles a-horseback by moonlight. “For my part,” said he, “I ride in all weathers, and at all hours, without minding cold, wet, wind, or darkness. My constitution is so case-hardened that I believe I could live all the year at Spitzbergen. With respect to this road, I know every foot of it so exactly, that I’ll engage to travel forty miles upon it blindfold, without making one false step; and if you have faith enough to put yourselves under my auspices, I will conduct you safe to an elegant inn, where you will meet with the best accommodation.” “Thank you, brother,” replied the captain, “we are much beholden to you for your courteous offer; but, howsomever, you must not think I mind foul weather more than my neighbours. I have worked hard aloft and alow in many a taut gale; but this here is the case, d’ye see; we have run down a long day’s reckoning; our beasts have had a hard spell; and as for my own hap, brother, I doubt my bottom-planks have lost some of their sheathing, being as how I a’n’t used to that kind of scrubbing.”
The doctor, who had practised aboard a man-of-war in his youth, and was perfectly well acquainted with the captain’s dialect, assured him that if his bottom was damaged he would new pay it with an excellent salve, which he always carried about him to guard against such accidents on the road. But Tom Clarke, who seemed to have cast the eyes of affection upon the landlady’s eldest daughter, Dolly, objected to their proceeding farther without rest and refreshment, as they had already travelled fifty miles since morning; and he was sure his uncle must be fatigued both in mind and body, from vexation, as well as from hard exercise, to which he had not been accustomed. Fillet then desisted, saying, he was sorry to find the captain had any cause of vexation; but he hoped it was not an incurable evil. This expression was accompanied with a look of curiosity, which Mr. Clarke was glad of an occasion to gratify; for, as we have hinted above, he was a very communicative gentleman, and the affair which now lay upon his stomach interested him nearly.
“I’ll assure you, sir,” said he, “this here gentleman, Captain Crowe, who is my mother’s own brother, has been cruelly used by some of his relations. He bears as good a character as any captain of a ship on the Royal Exchange, and has undergone a variety of hardships at sea. What d’ye think, now, of his bursting all his sinews, and making his eyes start out of his head, in pulling his ship off a rock, whereby he saved to his owners”——Here he was interrupted by the captain, who exclaimed, “Belay, Tom, belay; pr’ythee, don’t veer out such a deal of jaw. Clap a stopper on thy cable and bring thyself up, my lad—what a deal of stuff thou has pumped up concerning bursting and starting, and pulling ships; Laud have mercy upon us!—look ye here, brother—look ye here—mind these poor crippled joints; two fingers on the starboard, and three on the larboard hand; crooked, d’ye see, like the knees of a bilander. I’ll tell you what, brother, you seem to be a—ship deep laden—rich cargo—current setting into the bay—hard gale—lee shore— all hands in the boat—tow round the headland—self pulling for dear blood, against the whole crew—snap go the finger-braces—crack went the eye-blocks. Bounce daylight—flash starlight—down I foundered, dark as hell—whiz went my ears, and my head spun like a whirligig. That don’t signify—I’m a Yorkshire boy, as the saying is—all my life at sea, brother, by reason of an old grandmother and maiden aunt, a couple of old stinking—kept me these forty years out of my grandfather’s estate. Hearing as how they had taken their departure, came ashore, hired horses, and clapped on all my canvas, steering to the northward, to take possession of my—But it don’t signify talking—these two old piratical— had held a palaver with a lawyer—an attorney, Tom, d’ye mind me, an attorney—and by his assistance hove me out of my inheritance. That is all, brother—hove me out of five hundred pounds a year—that’s all—what signifies—but such windfalls we don’t every day pick up along shore. Fill about, brother—yes, by the L—d! those two smuggling harridans, with the assistance of an attorney—an attorney, Tom—hove me out of five hundred a year.” “Yes, indeed, sir,” added Mr. Clarke, “those two malicious old women docked the intail, and left the estate to an alien.”
Here Mr. Ferret thought proper to intermingle in the conversation with a “Pish, what dost talk of docking the intail? Dost not know that by the statute Westm. 2, 13 Ed. the will and intention of the donor must be fulfilled, and the tenant in tail shall not alien after issue had, or before.” “Give me leave, sir,” replied Tom, “I presume you are a practitioner in the law. Now, you know, that in the case of a contingent remainder, the intail may be destroyed by levying a fine, and suffering a recovery, or otherwise destroying the particular estate, before the contingency happens. If feoffees, who possess an estate only during the life of a son, where divers remainders are limited over, make a feoffment in fee to him, by the feoffment, all the future remainders are destroyed. Indeed, a person in remainder may have a writ of intrusion, if any do intrude after the death of a tenant for life, and the writ ex gravi querela lies to execute a device in remainder after the death of a tenant in tail without issue.” “Spoke like a true disciple of Geber,” cries Ferret. “No, sir,” replied Mr. Clarke, “Counsellor Caper is in the conveyancing way—I was clerk to Serjeant Croker.” “Ay, now you may set up for yourself,” resumed the other; “for you can prate as unintelligibly as the best of them.”
“Perhaps,” said Tom, “I do not make myself understood; if so be as how that is the case, let us change the position, and suppose that this here case is a tail after a possibility of issue extinct. If a tenant in tail after a possibility make a feoffment of his land, he in reversion may enter for the forfeiture. Then we must make a distinction between general tail and special tail. It is the word body that makes the intail: there must be a body in the tail, devised to heirs male or female, otherwise it is a fee-simple, because it is not limited of what body. Thus a corporation cannot be seized in tail. For example, here is a young woman—What is your name, my dear?” “Dolly,” answered the daughter, with a curtsey. “Here’s Dolly—I seize Dolly in tail—Dolly, I seize you in tail”—“Sha’t then,” cried Dolly, pouting. “I am seized of land in fee—I settle on Dolly in tail.”
Dolly, who did not comprehend the nature of the illustration, understood him in a literal sense, and, in a whimpering tone, exclaimed, “Sha’t then, I tell thee, cursed tuoad!” Tom, however, was so transported with his subject, that he took no notice of poor Dolly’s mistake, but proceeded in his harangue upon the different kinds of tails, remainders, and seisins, when he was interrupted by a noise that alarmed the whole company. The rain had been succeeded by a storm of wind that howled around the house with the most savage impetuosity, and the heavens were overcast in such a manner that not one star appeared, so that all without was darkness and uproar. This aggravated the horror of divers loud screams, which even the noise of the blast could not exclude from the ears of our astonished travellers. Captain Crowe called out, “Avast, avast!” Tom Clarke sat silent, staring wildly, with his mouth still open; the surgeon himself seemed startled, and Ferret’s countenance betrayed evident marks of confusion. The ostler moved nearer the chimney, and the good woman of the house, with her two daughters, crept closer to the company.
After some pause, the captain starting up, “These,” said he, “be signals of distress. Some poor souls in danger of foundering—let us bear up a-head, and see if we can give them any assistance.” The landlady begged him, for Christ’s sake, not to think of going out, for it was a spirit that would lead him astray into fens and rivers, and certainly do him a mischief. Crowe seemed to be staggered by this remonstrance, which his nephew reinforced, observing, that it might be a stratagem of rogues to decoy them into the fields, that they might rob them under the cloud of night. Thus exhorted, he resumed his seat, and Mr. Ferret began to make very severe strictures upon the folly and fear of those who believed and trembled at the visitation of spirits, ghosts, and goblins. He said he would engage with twelve pennyworth of phosphorus to frighten a whole parish out of their senses; then he expatiated on the pusillanimity of the nation in general, ridiculed the militia, censured the government, and dropped some hints about a change of hands, which the captain could not, and the doctor would not, comprehend.
Tom Clarke, from the freedom of his discourse, concluded he was a ministerial spy, and communicated his opinion to his uncle in a whisper, while this misanthrope continued to pour forth his invectives with a fluency peculiar to himself. The truth is, Mr. Ferret had been a party writer, not from principle, but employment, and had felt the rod of power, in order to avoid a second exertion of which, he now found it convenient to skulk about in the country, for he had received intimation of a warrant from the secretary of state, who wanted to be better acquainted with his person. Notwithstanding the ticklish nature of his situation, it was become so habitual to him to think and speak in a certain manner, that even before strangers whose principles and connexions he could not possibly know, he hardly ever opened his mouth, without uttering some direct or implied sarcasm against the government.
He had already proceeded a considerable way in demonstrating, that the nation was bankrupt and beggared, and that those who stood at the helm were steering full into the gulf of inevitable destruction, when his lecture was suddenly suspended by a violent knocking at the door, which threatened the whole house with inevitable demolition. Captain Crowe, believing they should be instantly boarded, unsheathed his hanger, and stood in a posture of defence. Mr. Fillet armed himself with the poker, which happened to be red hot; the ostler pulled down a rusty firelock, that hung by the roof, over a flitch of bacon. Tom Clarke perceiving the landlady and her children distracted with terror, conducted them, out of mere compassion, below stairs into the cellar; and as for Mr. Ferret, he prudently withdrew into an adjoining pantry.
But as a personage of great importance in this entertaining history was forced to remain some time at the door before he could gain admittance, so must the reader wait with patience for the next chapter, in which he will see the cause of this disturbance explained much to his comfort and edification.
IN WHICH THE HERO OF THESE ADVENTURES MAKES HIS FIRST APPEARANCE ON THE STAGE OF ACTION.
The outward door of the Black Lion had already sustained two dreadful shocks, but at the third it flew open, and in stalked an apparition that smote the hearts of our travellers with fear and trepidation. It was the figure of a man armed cap-a-pee, bearing on his shoulders a bundle dropping with water, which afterwards appeared to be the body of a man that seemed to have been drowned, and fished up from the bottom of the neighbouring river.
Having deposited his burden carefully on the floor, he addressed himself to the company in these words: “Be not surprised, good people, at this unusual appearance, which I shall take an opportunity to explain, and forgive the rude and boisterous manner in which I have demanded, and indeed forced admittance; the violence of my intrusion was the effect of necessity. In crossing the river, my squire and his horse were swept away by the stream, and, with some difficulty, I have been able to drag him ashore, though I am afraid my assistance reached him too late, for since I brought him to land he has given no signs of life.”
Here he was interrupted by a groan, which issued from the chest of the squire, and terrified the spectators as much as it comforted the master. After some recollection, Mr. Fillet began to undress the body, which was laid in a blanket on the floor, and rolled from side to side by his direction. A considerable quantity of water being discharged from the mouth of this unfortunate squire, he uttered a hideous roar, and, opening his eyes, stared wildly around. Then the surgeon undertook for his recovery; and his master went forth with the ostler in quest of the horses, which he had left by the side of the river. His back was no sooner turned, than Ferret, who had been peeping from behind the pantry-door, ventured to rejoin the company; pronouncing with a smile, or rather grin, of contempt, “Hey-day! what precious mummery is this? What, are we to have the farce of Hamlet’s ghost?” “Adzooks,” cried the captain, “My kinsman Tom has dropped astern—hope in God a-has not bulged to, and gone to bottom.” “Pish,” exclaimed the misanthrope, “there’s no danger; the young lawyer is only seizing Dolly in tail.”
Certain it is, Dolly squeaked at that instant in the cellar; and Clarke appearing soon after in some confusion, declared she had been frightened by a flash of lightning. But this assertion was not confirmed by the young lady herself, who eyed him with a sullen regard, indicating displeasure, though not indifference; and when questioned by her mother, replied, “A doan’t maind what a-says, so a doan’t, vor all his goalden jacket, then.”
In the meantime the surgeon had performed the operation of phlebotomy on the squire, who was lifted into a chair, and supported by the landlady for that purpose; but he had not as yet given any sign of having retrieved the use of his senses. And here Mr. Fillet could not help contemplating, with surprise, the strange figure and accoutrements of his patient, who seemed in age to be turned of fifty. His stature was below the middle size; he was thick, squat, and brawny, with a small protuberance on one shoulder, and a prominent belly, which, in consequence of the water he had swallowed, now strutted beyond its usual dimensions. His forehead was remarkably convex, and so very low, that his black bushy hair descended within an inch of his nose; but this did not conceal the wrinkles of his front, which were manifold. His small glimmering eyes resembled those of the Hampshire porker, that turns up the soil with his projecting snout. His cheeks were shrivelled and puckered at the corners, like the seams of a regimental coat as it comes from the hands of the contractor. His nose bore a strong analogy in shape to a tennis-ball, and in colour to a mulberry; for all the water of the river had not been able to quench the natural fire of that feature. His upper jaw was furnished with two long white sharp-pointed teeth or fangs, such as the reader may have observed in the chaps of a wolf, or full-grown mastiff, and an anatomist would describe as a preternatural elongation of the dentes canini. His chin was so long, so peaked, and incurvated, as to form in profile, with his impending forehead, the exact resemblance of a moon in the first quarter. With respect to his equipage, he had a leathern cap upon his head, faced like those worn by marines, and exhibiting in embroidery, the figure of a crescent. His coat was of white cloth, faced with black, and cut in a very antique fashion; and, in lieu of a waistcoat, he wore a buff jerkin. His feet were cased with loose buskins, which, though they rose almost to his knee, could not hide that curvature, known by the appellation of bandy legs. A large string of bandaliers garnished a broad belt that graced his shoulders, from whence depended an instrument of war, which was something between a back-sword and a cutlass; and a case of pistols were stuck in his girdle.
Such was the figure which the whole company now surveyed with admiration. After some pause, he seemed to recover his recollection. He rolled about his eyes around, and, attentively surveying every individual, exclaimed, in a strange tone, “Bodikins! where’s Gilbert?” This interrogation did not savour much of sanity, especially when accompanied with a wild stare, which is generally interpreted as a sure sign of a disturbed understanding. Nevertheless, the surgeon endeavoured to assist his recollection. “Come,” said he, “have a good heart.—How dost do, friend?” “Do!” replied the squire, “do as well as I can.—That’s a lie too; I might have done better. I had no business to be here.” “You ought to thank God and your master,” resumed the surgeon, “for the providential escape you have had.” “Thank my master!” cried the squire, “thank the devil! Go and teach your grannum to crack filberds. I know who I’m bound to pray for, and who I ought to curse the longest day I have to live.”
Here the captain interposing, “Nay, brother,” said he, “you are bound to pray for this here gentleman as your sheet-anchor; for, if so be as he had not cleared your stowage of the water you had taken in at your upper works, and lightened your veins, d’ye see, by taking away some of your blood, adad! you had driven before the gale, and never been brought up in this world again, d’ye see.” “What, then you would persuade me,” replied the patient, “that the only way to save my life was to shed my precious blood? Look ye, friend, it shall not be lost blood to me.—I take you all to witness, that there surgeon, or apothecary, or farrier, or dog-doctor, or whatsoever he may be, has robbed me of the balsam of life.—He has not left so much blood in my body as would fatten a starved flea.—O! that there was a lawyer here to serve him with a siserari.”
Then fixing his eyes upon Ferret, he proceeded: “An’t you a limb of the law, friend?—No, I cry you mercy, you look more like a showman or a conjurer.”—Ferret, nettled at this address, answered, “It would be well for you, that I could conjure a little common sense into that numskull of yours.” “If I want that commodity,” rejoined the squire, “I must go to another market, I trow.—You legerdemain men be more like to conjure the money from our pockets than sense into our skulls. Vor my own part, I was once cheated of vorty good shillings by one of your broother cups and balls.” In all probability he would have descended to particulars, had he not been seized with a return of his nausea, which obliged him to call for a bumper of brandy. This remedy being swallowed, the tumult in his stomach subsided. He desired he might be put to bed without delay, and that half a dozen eggs and a pound of bacon might, in a couple of hours, be dressed for his supper.
He was accordingly led off the scene by the landlady and her daughter; and Mr. Ferret had just time to observe the fellow was a composition, in which he did not know whether knave or fool most predominated, when the master returned from the stable. He had taken off his helmet, and now displayed a very engaging countenance. His age did not seem to exceed thirty. He was tall, and seemingly robust; his face long and oval, his nose aquiline, his mouth furnished with a set of elegant teeth, white as the drifted snow, his complexion clear, and his aspect noble. His chestnut hair loosely flowed in short natural curls; and his grey eyes shone with such vivacity, as plainly showed that his reason was a little discomposed. Such an appearance prepossessed the greater part of the company in his favour. He bowed round with the most polite and affable address; inquired about his squire, and, being informed of the pains Mr. Fillet had taken for his recovery, insisted upon that gentleman’s accepting a handsome gratuity. Then, in consideration of the cold bath he had undergone, he was prevailed upon to take the post of honour; namely, the great chair fronting the fire, which was reinforced with a billet of wood for his comfort and convenience.
Perceiving his fellow-travellers, either overawed into silence by his presence, or struck dumb with admiration at his equipage, he accosted them in these words, while an agreeable smile dimpled on his cheek:—
“The good company wonders, no doubt, to see a man cased in armour, such as hath been for above a whole century disused in this and every other country of Europe; and perhaps they will be still more surprised, when they hear that man profess himself a novitiate of that military order, which hath of old been distinguished in Great Britain, as well as through all Christendom, by the name of knights-errant. Yes, gentlemen, in that painful and thorny path of toil and danger I have begun my career, a candidate for honest fame; determined, as far as in me lies, to honour and assert the efforts of virtue; to combat vice in all her forms, redress injuries, chastise oppression, protect the helpless and forlorn, relieve the indigent, exert my best endeavours in the cause of innocence and beauty, and dedicate my talents, such as they are, to the service of my country.”
“What!” said Ferret, “you set up for a modern Don Quixote? The scheme is rather too stale and extravagant. What was a humorous romance and well-timed satire in Spain near two hundred years ago, will make but a sorry jest, and appear equally insipid and absurd when really acted from affectation, at this time of day, in a country like England.”
The knight, eyeing this censor with a look of disdain, replied, in a solemn, lofty tone: “He that from affectation imitates the extravagancies recorded of Don Quixote, is an impostor equally wicked and contemptible. He that counterfeits madness, unless he dissembles, like the elder Brutus, for some virtuous purpose, not only debases his own soul, but acts as a traitor to Heaven, by denying the divinity that is within him. I am neither an affected imitator of Don Quixote, nor, as I trust in Heaven, visited by that spirit of lunacy so admirably displayed in the fictitious character exhibited by the inimitable Cervantes. I have not yet encountered a windmill for a giant, nor mistaken this public-house for a magnificent castle; neither do I believe this gentleman to be the constable; nor that worthy practitioner to be Master Elizabat, the surgeon recorded in Amadis de Gaul; nor you to be the enchanter Alquife, nor any other sage of history or romance; I see and distinguish objects as they are discerned and described by other men. I reason without prejudice, can endure contradiction, and, as the company perceives, even bear impertinent censure without passion or resentment. I quarrel with none but the foes of virtue and decorum, against whom I have declared perpetual war, and them I will everywhere attack as the natural enemies of mankind.”
“But that war,” said the cynic, “may soon be brought to a conclusion, and your adventures close in Bridewell, provided you meet with some determined constable, who will seize your worship as a vagrant, according to the statute.” “Heaven and earth!” cried the stranger, starting up, and laying his hand on his sword, “do I live to hear myself insulted with such an opprobrious epithet, and refrain from trampling into dust the insolent calumniator?”
The tone in which these words were pronounced, and the indignation that flashed from the eyes of the speaker, intimidated every individual of the society, and reduced Ferret to a temporary privation of all his faculties. His eyes retired within their sockets; his complexion, which was naturally of a copper hue, now shifted to a leaden colour; his teeth began to chatter; and all his limbs were agitated by a sudden palsy. The knight observed his condition, and resumed his seat, saying, “I was to blame; my vengeance must be reserved for very different objects. Friend, you have nothing to fear—the sudden gust of passion is now blown over. Recollect yourself, and I will reason calmly on the observation you have made.”
This was a very seasonable declaration to Mr. Ferret, who opened his eyes, and wiped his forehead, while the other proceeded in these terms: “You say I am in danger of being apprehended as a vagrant. I am not so ignorant of the laws of my country, but that I know the description of those who fall within the legal meaning of this odious term. You must give me leave to inform you, friend, that I am neither bearward, fencer, stroller, gipsy, mountebank, nor mendicant; nor do I practise subtle craft, to deceive and impose upon the king’s lieges; nor can I be held as an idle disorderly person, travelling from place to place, collecting monies by virtue of counterfeited passes, briefs, and other false pretences; in what respect, therefore, am I to be deemed a vagrant? Answer boldly without fear or scruple.”
To this interrogation the misanthrope replied, with a faltering accent, “If not a vagrant, you incur the penalty for riding armed in affray of the peace.” “But, instead of riding armed in affray of the peace,” resumed the other, “I ride in preservation of the peace; and gentlemen are allowed by the law to wear armour for their defence. Some ride with blunderbusses, some with pistols, some with swords, according to their various inclinations. Mine is to wear the armour of my forefathers. Perhaps I use them for exercise, in order to accustom myself to fatigue, and strengthen my constitution; perhaps I assume them for a frolic.”
“But if you swagger, armed and in disguise, assault me on the highway, or put me in bodily fear for the sake of the jest, the law will punish you in earnest,” cried the other. “But my intention,” answered the knight, “is carefully to avoid all those occasions of offence.” “Then,” said Ferret, “you may go unarmed, like other sober people.” “Not so,” answered the knight; “as I propose to travel all times, and in all places, mine armour may guard me against the attempts of treachery; it may defend me in combat against odds, should I be assaulted by a multitude, or have occasion to bring malefactors to justice.”
“What, then,” exclaimed the philosopher, “you intend to co-operate with the honourable fraternity of thief-takers?” “I do purpose,” said the youth, eyeing him with a look of ineffable contempt, “to act as a coadjutator to the law, and even to remedy evils which the law cannot reach; to detect fraud and treason, abase insolence, mortify pride, discourage slander, disgrace immodesty, and stigmatise ingratitude, but the infamous part of a thief-catcher’s character I disclaim. I neither associate with robbers and pickpockets, knowing them to be such, that, in being intrusted with their secrets, I may the more effectually betray them; nor shall I ever pocket the reward granted by the legislature to those by whom robbers are brought to conviction; but I shall always think it my duty to rid my country of that pernicious vermin, which prey upon the bowels of the commonwealth—not but that an incorporated company of licensed thieves might, under proper regulations, be of service to the community.”
Ferret, emboldened by the passive tameness with which the stranger bore his last reflection, began to think he had nothing of Hector but his outside, and gave a loose to all the acrimony of his party rancour. Hearing the knight mention a company of licensed thieves, “What else,” cried he, “is the majority of the nation? What is your standing army at home, that eat up their fellow-subjects? What are your mercenaries abroad, whom you hire to fight their own quarrels? What is your militia, that wise measure of a sagacious ministry, but a larger gang of petty thieves, who steal sheep and poultry through mere idleness; and were they confronted with an enemy, would steal themselves away? What is your . . . but a knot of thieves, who pillage the nation under colour of law, and enrich themselves with the wreck of their country? When you consider the enormous debt of above an hundred millions, the intolerable load of taxes and impositions under which we groan, and the manner in which that burden is yearly accumulating, to support two German electorates, without our receiving anything in return, but the shows of triumph and shadows of conquest;—I say, when you reflect on these circumstances, and at the same time behold our cities filled with bankrupts, and our country with beggars, can you be so infatuated as to deny that the ministry is mad, or worse than mad—our wealth exhausted, our people miserable, our credit blasted, and our state on the brink of perdition? This prospect, indeed, will make the fainter impression, if we recollect that we ourselves are a pack of such profligate, corrupted, pusillanimous rascals, as deserve no salvation.”
The stranger, raising his voice to a loud tone, replied, “Such, indeed, are the insinuations, equally false and insidious, with which the desperate emissaries of a party endeavour to poison the minds of his majesty’s subjects, in defiance of common honesty and common sense. But he must be blind to all perception, and dead to candour, who does not see and own that we are involved in a just and necessary war, which has been maintained on truly British principles, prosecuted with vigour, and crowned with success; that our taxes are easy, in proportion to our wealth; that our conquests are equally glorious and important; that our commerce flourishes, our people are happy, and our enemies reduced to despair. Is there a man who boasts a British heart, that repines at the success and prosperity of his country? Such there are, (Oh, shame to patriotism, and reproach to Great Britain!) who act as the emissaries of France, both in word and writing; who exaggerate our necessary burdens, magnify our dangers, extol the power of our enemies, deride our victories, extenuate our conquests, condemn the measures of our government, and scatter the seeds of dissatisfaction through the land. Such domestic traitors are doubly the objects of detestation;—first, in perverting truth; and, secondly, in propagating falsehood, to the prejudice of that community of which they have professed themselves members. One of these is well known by the name of Ferret, an old, rancorous, incorrigible instrument of sedition. Happy it is for him that he has never fallen in my way; for, notwithstanding the maxims of forbearance which I have adopted, the indignation which the character of that caitiff inspires, would probably impel me to some act of violence, and I should crush him like an ungrateful viper, that gnawed the bosom which warmed it into life!”
These last words were pronounced with a wildness of look, that even bordered upon frenzy. The misanthrope once more retired to the pantry for shelter, and the rest of the guests were evidently disconcerted.
Mr. Fillet, in order to change the conversation, which was likely to produce serious consequences, expressed uncommon satisfaction at the remarks which the knight had made, signified his approbation of the honourable office he had undertaken, declared himself happy in having seen such an accomplished cavalier, and observed, that nothing was wanting to render him a complete knight-errant, but some celebrated beauty, the mistress of his heart, whose idea might animate his breast, and strengthen his arm to the utmost exertion of valour. He added, that love was the soul of chivalry.
The stranger started at this discourse. He turned his eyes on the surgeon with a fixed regard; his countenance changed; a torrent of tears gushed down his cheeks; his head sunk upon his bosom; he heaved a profound sigh, and remained in silence with all the external marks of unutterable sorrow. The company were, in some measure, infected by his despondence, concerning the cause of which, however, they would not venture to inquire.
By this time the landlady, having disposed of the squire, desired to know, with many curtsies, if his honour would not choose to put off his wet garments, assuring him, that she had a very good feather bed at his service, upon which many gentlevolks of the virst quality had lain, that the sheets were well aired, and that Dolly would warm them for his worship with a pan of coals. This hospitable offer being repeated, he seemed to wake from a trance of grief, arose from his seat, and, bowing courteously to the company, withdrew.
Captain Crowe, whose faculty of speech had been all this time absorbed in amazement, now broke into the conversation with a volley of interjections. “Split my snatchblock!—Odd’s firkin!—Splice my old shoes!—I have sailed the salt seas, brother, since I was no higher than the Triton’s taffrel—east, west, north, and south, as the saying is— Blacks, Indians, Moors, Morattos, and Seapoys;—but, smite my timbers! such a man of war--”
Here he was interrupted by his nephew, Tom Clarke, who had disappeared at the knight’s first entrance, and now produced himself with an eagerness in his look, while the tears stared in his eyes.—“Lord bless my soul!” cried he, “I know that gentleman, and his servant, as well as I know my own father!—I am his own godson, uncle; he stood for me when he was a boy—yes, indeed, sir, my father was steward to the estate—I may say I was bred up in the family of Sir Everhard Greaves, who has been dead these two years—this is the only son, Sir Launcelot; the best-natured, worthy, generous gentleman—I care not who knows it. I love him as well as if he was my own flesh and blood.”
At this period, Tom, whose heart was of the melting mood, began to sob and weep plenteously, from pure affection. Crowe, who was not very subject to these tendernesses, d—-ed him for a chicken-hearted lubber; repeating, with much peevishness, “What dost cry for? what dost cry for, noddy?” The surgeon, impatient to know the story of Sir Launcelot, which he had heard imperfectly recounted, begged that Mr. Clarke would compose himself, and relate it as circumstantially as his memory would retain the particulars; and Tom, wiping his eyes, promised to give him that satisfaction; which the reader, if he be so minded, may partake in the next chapter.
WHICH THE READER, ON PERUSAL, MAY WISH WERE CHAPTER THE LAST.
The doctor prescribed a repetatur of the julep, and mixed the ingredients, secundum artem; Tom Clarke hemmed thrice, to clear his pipes; while the rest of the company, including Dolly and her mother, who had by this time administered to the knight, composed themselves into earnest and hushed attention. Then the young lawyer began his narrative to this effect:—
“I tell ye what, gemmen, I don’t pretend in this here case to flourish and harangue like a—having never been called to—but what of that, d’ye see? perhaps I may know as much as—facts are facts, as the saying is.—I shall tell, repeat, and relate a plain story—matters of fact, d’ye see, without rhetoric, oratory, ornament, or embellishment; without repetition, tautology, circumlocution, or going about the bush; facts which I shall aver, partly on the testimony of my own knowledge, and partly from the information of responsible evidences of good repute and credit, any circumstance known to the contrary notwithstanding.—For as the law saith, if so be as how there is an exception to evidence, that exception is in its nature but a denial of what is taken to be good by the other party, and exceptio in non exceptis, firmat regulam, d’ye see. —But howsomever, in regard to this here affair, we need not be so scrupulous as if we were pleading before a judge sedente curia.”
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