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Chapter 21

Trunnion is enraged at the conduct of Pickle — Peregrine resents the Injustice of his Mother, to whom he explains his Sentiments in a Letter-Is entered at the University of Oxford, where he signalizes himself as a Youth of an enterprising Genius.

Unspeakable were the transports of rage to which Trunnion was incensed by this absurd renunciation: he tore the letter with his gums (teeth he had none), spit with furious grimaces, in token of the contempt he entertain the for the author, whom he not only damned as a lousy, scabby, nasty, scurvy, skulking lubberly noodle, but resolved to challenge to single combat with fire and sword; but, he was dissuaded from this violent measure, and appeased by the intervention and advice of the lieutenant and Mr. Jolter, who represented the message as the effect of the poor man’s infirmity, for which he was rather an object of pity than of resentment, and turned the stream of his indignation against the wife, whom he reviled accordingly. Nor did Peregrine himself bear with patience this injurious declaration, the nature of which he no sooner understood from Hatchway than, equally shocked and exasperated, he retired to his apartment, and, in the first emotions of his ire, produced the following epistle, which was immediately conveyed to his mother,—

“Madam,— Had nature formed me a bugbear to the sight, and inspired me with a soul as vicious as my body was detestable, perhaps I might have enjoyed particular marks of your affection and applause; seeing you have persecuted me with such unnatural aversion, for no other visible reason than that of my differing so widely in shape as well as disposition from that deformed urchin who is the object of your tenderness and care. If these be the terms on which alone I can obtain your favour, I pray God you may never cease to hate,— Madam, your much-injured son,
“Peregrine Pickle.”

This letter, which nothing, but his passion and inexperience could excuse, had such an effect upon his mother as may be easily conceived. She was enraged to a degree of frenzy against the writer; though, at the same time, she considered the whole as the production of Mrs. Trunnion’s particular pique, and represented it to her husband as an insult that he was bound in honour to resent, by breaking off all correspondence with the commodore and his family. This was a bitter pill to Gamaliel, who, through a long course of years, was so habituated to Trunnion’s company, that he could as easily have parted with a limb as have relinquished the club all at once. He therefore ventured to represent his own incapacity to follow her advice, and begged that be might, at least, be allowed to drop the connection gradually, protesting that he would do his endeavour to give her all manner of satisfaction.

Meanwhile preparations were made for Peregrine’s departure to the university, and in a few weeks he set out, in the seventeenth year of his age, accompanied by the same attendants who lived with him at Winchester. His uncle laid strong injunctions upon him to avoid the company of immodest women, to mind his learning, to let him hear of his welfare as often as he could find time to write, and settled his appointments at the rate of five hundred a year, including his governor’s salary, which was one-fifth part of the sum. The heart of our young gentleman dilated at the prospect of the figure he should make with such a handsome annuity the management of which was left to his own discretion; and he amused his imagination with the most agreeable reveries during his journey to Oxford, which he performed in two days. Here, being introduced to the head of the college, to whom he had been recommended, accommodated with genteel apartments, entered as gentleman commoner in the books, and provided with a judicious tutor, instead of returning to the study of Greek and Latin, in which he thought himself already sufficiently instructed, he renewed his acquaintance with some of his old school-fellows, whom he found in the same situation, and was by them initiated in all the fashionable diversions of the place.

It was not long before he made himself remarkable for his spirit and humour, which were so acceptable to the bucks of the university, that he was admitted as a member of their corporation, and in a very little time became the most conspicuous personage of the whole fraternity. Not that he valued himself upon his ability in smoking the greatest number of pipes, and drinking the largest quantity of ale: these were qualifications of too gross a nature to captivate his refined ambition. He piqued himself on his talent for raillery, his genius and taste, his personal accomplishments, and his success at intrigue. Nor were his excursions confined to the small villages in the neighbourhood, which are commonly visited once a week. by the students for the sake of carnal recreation. He kept his own horses, traversed the whole country in parties of pleasure, attended all the races within fifty miles of Oxford, and made frequent jaunts to London, where he used to be incognito during the best part of many a term.

The rules of the university were too severe to be observed by a youth of his vivacity; and therefore he became acquainted with the proctor betimes. But all the checks he received were insufficient to moderate his career; he frequented taverns and coffee-houses, committed midnight frolics in the streets, insulted all the sober and pacific class of his fellow-students: the tutors themselves were not sacred from his ridicule; he laughed at the magistrate, and neglected every particular of college discipline. In vain did they attempt to restrain his irregularities by the imposition of fines; he was liberal to profusion, and therefore paid without reluctance. Thrice did he scale the windows of a tradesman, with whose daughter he had an affair of gallantry; as often was he obliged to seek his safety by a precipitate leap; and one night would, in all probability, have fallen a sacrifice to an ambuscade that was laid by the father, had not............

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