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Chapter 42

Peregrine resolves to return to England — Is diverted with the odd Characters of two of his Countrymen, with whom he contracts an acquaintance in the Apartments of the Palais Royal.

In the mean time our hero received a letter from his aunt, importing that the commodore was in a very declining way, and longed much to see him at the garrison; and at the same time he heard from his sister, who gave him to understand that the young gentleman, who had for some time made his addresses to her, was become very pressing in his solicitations; so that she wanted to know in what manner she should answer his repeated entreaties. Those two considerations determined the young gentleman to retain to his native country; a resolution that was far from being disagreeable to Jolter, who knew that the incumbent on a living which was in the gift of Trunnion was extremely old, and that it would be his interest to be upon the spot at the said incumbent’s decease.

Peregrine, who had resided about fifteen months in France, thought he was now sufficiently qualified for eclipsing most of his contemporaries in England, and therefore prepared for his departure with infinite alacrity; being moreover inflamed with the most ardent desire of revisiting his friends, and renewing his connections, particularly with Emilia, whose heart he by this time, thought he was able to reduce on his own terms.

As he proposed to make the tour of Flanders and Holland in his return to England, he resolved to stay at Paris a week or two after his affairs were settled, in hope of finding some companion disposed for the same journey; and, in order to refresh his memory, made a second circuit round all the places in that capital, where any curious production of art is to be seen. In the course of this second examination he chanced to enter the Palais Royal, just as two gentlemen alighted from a fiacre at the gate; and all three being admitted at the same time, he soon perceived that the strangers were of his own country. One of them was a young man, in whose air and countenance appeared all the uncouth gravity and supercilious self-conceit of a physician piping-hot from his studies; while the other, to whom his companion spoke by the appellation of Mr. Pallet, displayed at first sight a strange composition of levity and assurance. Indeed, their characters, dress, and address, were strongly contrasted: the doctor wore a suit of black, and a huge tie-wig, neither suitable to his own age, nor the fashion of the country where he then lived; whereas the other, though seemingly turned of fifty, strutted in a gay summer dress of the Parisian cut, with a bag to his own grey hair, and a red feather in his hat, which he carried under his arm. As these figures seemed to promise something entertaining, Pickle entered into conversation with them immediately, and soon discovered that the old gentleman was a painter from London, who had stolen a fortnight from his occupation, in order to visit the remarkable paintings of France and Flanders; and that the doctor had taken the opportunity of accompanying him in his tour. Being extremely talkative, he not only communicated these particulars to our hero in a very few minutes after their meeting, but also took occasion to whisper in his ear that his fellow-traveller was a man of vast learning and, beyond all doubt, the greatest poet of the age. As for himself, he was under no necessity of making his own eulogium; for he soon gave such specimens of his taste and talents as left Pickle no room to doubt of his capacity.

While they stood considering the pictures in one of the first apartments, which are by no means the most masterly compositions, the Swiss, who set up for a connoisseur, looking at a certain piece, pronounced the word with a note of admiration; upon which Mr. Pallet, who was not at all a critic in the French language, replied, with great vivacity, “Manufac, you mean, and a very indifferent piece of manufacture it is: pray, gentlemen, take notice; there is no keeping in those heads upon the background, and no relief in the principal figure: then you’ll observe the shadings are harsh to the last degree; and, come a little closer this way — don’t you perceive that the foreshortening of that arm is monstrous?— egad, sir! The is an absolute fracture in the limb. Doctor, you understand anatomy: don’t you think that muscle evidently misplaced? Hark ye, Mr. what-d’ye-call-um (turning to the attendant), what is the name of the dauber who painted that miserable performance?” The Swiss, imagining that he was all this time expressing his satisfaction, sanctioned his supposed commendation by exclaiming sans prix. “Right,” cried Pallet: “I could not recollect his name, though his manner is quite familiar to me. We have a few pieces in England, done by that same Sangpree; but there they are in no estimation; we have more taste among us than to relish the productions of such a miserable gout. A’n’t he an ignorant coxcomb, doctor?” The physician, ashamed of his companion’s blunder, thought it was necessary, for the honour of his wan character, to take notice of it before the stranger, and therefore answered his question by repeating this line from Horace:—

Mutato nomine, de te fabula narratur.

The painter, who was rather more ignorant of Latin than of French, taking it for granted that this quotation of his friend conveyed an assent to his opinion, “Very true,” said he, “Potato domine date, this piece is not worth a single potato.” Peregrine was astonished at this surprising perversion of the words and meaning of a Latin line, which, at first, he could not help thinking was a premeditated joke; but, upon second thoughts, he saw no reason to doubt that it was the extemporaneous effect of sheer pertness and ignorance, at which he broke out into an immoderate fit of laughter. Pallet, believing that the gentleman’s mirth was occasioned by his arch animadversion upon the work of Sangpree, underwent the same emotion in a much louder strain, and endeavoured to heighten the jest by more observations of the same nature; while the doctor, confounded at his impudence and want of knowledge, reprimanded him in these words of Homer:—

Siga, me tis allos Achaion touton akouse muthon.

This rebuke, the reader will easily perceive, was not calculated for the meridian of his friend’s intellects, but uttered with a view of raising his own character in the opinion of Mr. Pickle, who retorted this parade of learning in three verses from the same author, being part of the speech of Polydamas to Hector, importing that it is impossible for one man to excel in everything.

The self-sufficient physician, who did not expect such a repartee from a youth of Peregrine’s appearance, looked upon his reply as a fair challenge, and instantly rehearsed forty or fifty lines of the Iliad in a breath. Observing that the stranger made no effort to match this effusion, he interpreted his silence into submission; then, in order to ascertain his victory, insulted him with divers fragments of authors, whom his supposed competitor did not even know by name; while Mr. Pallet stared with admiration at the profound scholarship of his companion. Our young gentleman, far from repining at this superiority laughed within himself at the ridiculous ambition of the pedantic doctor. He rated him in his own mind as a mere index-hunter, who held the eel of science by the tail, and foresaw an infinite fund of diversion in his solemnity and pride, if properly extracted by means of his fellow-traveller’s vanity and assurance. Prompted by these considerations, he resolved to cultivate their acquaintance, and, if possible, amuse himself at their expense in his journey through Flanders, understanding that they were determined upon the same route. In this view he treated them with e............

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