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Chapter 12

Peregrine is sent to a boarding-school — Becomes remarkable for his Genius and Ambition.

The commodore, understanding her determination, to which her husband did not venture to make the least objection, interested himself so much in behalf of his favourite, as to fit him out at his own charge, and accompany him in person to the place of his destination; where he defrayed the expense of his entrance, and left him to the particular care and inspection of the usher, who having been recommended to him as a person of parts and integrity, received per advance a handsome consideration for the task he undertook.

Nothing could be better judged than this piece of liberality; the assistant was actually a man of learning, probity, and good sense; and though obliged by the scandalous administration of fortune to act in the character of an inferior teacher, had, by his sole capacity and application, brought the school to that degree of reputation, which it never could have obtained from the talents of its superior. He had established an economy, which, though regular, was not at all severe, by enacting a body of laws suited to the age and comprehension of every individual; and each transgressor was fairly tried by his peers, and punished according to the verdict of the jury. No boy was scourged for want of apprehension, but a spirit of emulation was raised by well-timed praise and artful comparison, and maintained by a distribution of small prizes, which were adjudged to those who signalized themselves either by their industry, sobriety, or genius.

This tutor, whose name was Jennings, began with Perry, according to his constant maxim, by examining the soil; that is, studying his temper, in order to consult the bias of his disposition, which was strangely perverted by the absurd discipline he had undergone. He found him in a state of sullen insensibility, which the child had gradually contracted in a long course of stupefying correction; and at first he was not in the least actuated by that commendation which animated the rest of his school-fellows; nor was it in the power of reproach to excite his ambition, which had been buried, as it were, in the grave of disgrace; the usher, therefore, had recourse to contemptuous neglect, with which he affected to treat this stubborn spirit; foreseeing that if he retained any seeds of sentiment, this weather would infallibly raise them into vegetation; his judgment was justified by the event; the boy in a little time began to make observations; he perceived the marks of distinction with which virtue was rewarded, grew ashamed of the despicable figure he himself made among his companions, who, far from courting, rather shunned his conversation, and actually pined at his own want of importance.

Mr. Jennings saw and rejoiced at his mortification, which he suffered to proceed as far as possible, without endangering his health. The child lost all relish for diversion, loathed his food, grew pensive, solitary, and was frequently found weeping by himself. These symptoms plainly evinced the recovery of his feelings, to which his governor thought it now high time to make application; and therefore by little and little altered his behaviour from the indifference he had put on, to the appearance of more regard and attention. This produced a favourable change in the boy, whose eyes sparkled with satisfaction one day, when his master expressed himself, with a show of surprise, in these words: “So, Perry! I find you don’t want genius, when you think proper to use it.” Such encomiums kindled the spirit of emulation in his little breast; he exerted himself with surprising alacrity, by which he soon acquitted himself of the imputation of dullness, and obtained sundry honorary silver pennies, as acknowledgments of his application; his school-fellows now solicited his friendship as eagerly as they had avoided it before; and in less than a twelvemonth after his arrival, this supposed dunce was remarkable for the brightness of his parts; having in that short period learnt to read English perfectly well, made great progress in writing, enabled himself to speak the French language without hesitation, and acquired some knowledge in the rudiments of the Latin tongue. The usher did not fail to transmit an account of his proficiency to the commodore, who received it with transport, and forthwith communicated the happy tidings to the parents.

Mr. Gamaliel Pickle, who was never subject to violent emotions, heard them with a sort of phlegmatic satisfaction, that scarce manifested itself either in his countenance or expressions; nor did the child’s mother break forth into that rapture and admiration which might have been expected, when she understood how much the talents of her first-born had exceeded the hope of her warmest imagination. Not but that she professed herself well pleased with Perry’s reputation; though she observed that in these commendations the truth was always exaggerated by schoolmasters, for their own interest; and pretended to wonder that the usher had not mingled more probability with his praise. Trunnion was offended at her indifference and want of faith and believing that she refined too much in her discernment, swore that Jennings had declared the truth, and nothing but the truth; for he himself had prophesied, from the beginning, that the boy would turn out a credit to his family. But by this time Mrs. Pickle was blessed with a daughter, whom she had brought into the world about six months before the intelligence arrived; so that her care and affection being otherwise engrossed, the praise of Perry was the less greedily devoured. The abatement of her fondness was an advantage to his education, which would have been retarded, and perhaps ruined, by pernicious indulgence, and preposterous interposition, had her love considered him as an only child; whereas her concern being now diverted to another object, that shared, at least, one-half of her affection, he was left to the management of his preceptor, who tutored him according to his own plan, without any let or interruption. Indeed all his sagacity and circumspection were but barely sufficient to keep the young gentleman in order; for now that he had won the palm of victory from his rivals in point of scholarship, his ambition dilated, and he was seized with the desire of subjecting the whole school by the valour of his arm. Before he could bring his project to bear, innumerable battles were fought with various success; every day a bloody nose and complaint were presented against him, and his own visage commonly bore some livid marks of obstinate contention. At length, however, he accomplished his aim; his adversaries were subdued, his prowess acknowledged, and he obtained the laurel in war as well is in wit. Thus triumphant, he was intoxicated with success: his pride rose in proportion to his power and, in spite of all the endeavours of Jennings, who practised every method he could invent for curbing his licentious conduct, without depressing his spirit, he contracted a large proportion of insolence, which series of misfortunes that happened to him in the sequel could scarce effectually tame. Nevertheless there was a fund of good nature and generosity in his composition; and though he established a tyranny among his comrades, the tranquility of his reign was maintained by the love rather than by the fear of ............

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