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Chapter 88

He is visited by Pallet — Contracts an Intimacy with a Newmarket Nobleman, and is by the Knowing Ones taken in.

This affair being settled, and our adventurer, for the present, free of all female connections, he returned to his former course of fast living among the bucks of the town, and performed innumerable exploits among whores, bullies, rooks, constables, and justices of the peace. In the midst of these occupations, he was one morning visited by his old fellow-traveller, Pallet, whose appearance gave him equal surprise and concern. Though the weather was severe, he was clothed in the thin summer dress which he had worn at Paris, and was now, not only threadbare, but, in some parts, actually patched; his stockings, by a repetition of that practice known among economists by the term of coaxing, hung like pudding-bags about his ankles; his shirt, though new washed, was of the saffron hue, and, in divers places, appeared through the crannies of his breeches; he had exchanged his own hair for a smoke-dried tie-periwig, which all the flour in his dredging-box had not been able to whiten; his eyes were sunk, his jaws lengthened beyond their usual extension; and he seemed twenty years older than he looked when he and our hero parted at Rotterdam. In spite of all these evidences of decay, he accosted him with a meagre affectation of content and good-humour, struggled piteously to appear gay and unconcerned, professed his joy at seeing him in England, excused himself for having delayed so long to come and present his respects; alleging that, since his return, he had been a mere slave to the satisfaction of some persons of quality and taste, who had insisted upon his finishing some pieces with the utmost expedition.

Peregrine received him with that compassion and complaisance which was natural to his disposition; inquired about the health of Mrs. Pallet and his family, and asked if his friend, the doctor, was in town. The painter seemed to have resumed his resentment against that gentleman, of whom he spoke in contemptuous terms. “The doctor,” said he, “is so much overshadowed with presumption and self-conceit, that his merit has no relief. It does not rise. There is no keeping in the picture, my dear sir. All the same as if I were to represent the moon under a cloud; there will be nothing but a deep mass of shade, with a little tiny speck of light in the middle, which would only serve to make, as it were, the darkness visible. You understand me. Had he taken my advice, it might have been better for him; but he is bigoted to his own opinion. You must know, Mr. Pickle, upon our return to England, I counselled him to compose a little smart, clever ode upon my Cleopatra. As Gad shall judge me, I thought it would have been of some service, in helping him out of obscurity; for you know, as Sir Richard observes,

“Soon will that die, which adds thy fame to mine;
Let me then live, join’d to a work of thine.”

“By the bye, there is a most picturesque contrast in these lines, of thy and me, living and dying, and thine and mine. Ah! a prize upon it! Dick, after all, was the man. Ecod! he rounded it off. But, to return to this unhappy young man, would you believe it, he tossed up his nose at my friendly proposal, and gabbled something in Greek, which is not worth repeating. The case was this, my dear sir, he was out of humour at the neglect of the world. He thought the poets of the age were jealous of his genius, and strove to crush it accordingly, while the rest of mankind wanted taste sufficient to discern it. For my own part, I profess myself one of these; and, as the clown in Billy Shakespeare says of the courtier’s oath, had I sworn by the doctor’s genius, that the pancakes were naught, they might have been for all that very good, yet shouldn’t I have been forsworn. Let that be as it will, he retired from town in great dudgeon, and set up his rest near a hill in Derbyshire, with two tops, resembling Parnassus, and a well at the bottom, which he had christened Hyp-o’-the-Green. Egad! if he stays in that habitation, ’tis my opinion he’ll soon grow green with the hip indeed. He’ll be glad of an opportunity to return to the fleshpots of Egypt, and pay his court to the slighted Queen Cleopatra. Ha! well remembered, by this light! you shall know, my good sir, that this same Egyptian princess has been courted by so many gallants of taste, that, as I hope to live, I found myself in some sort of dilemma, because in parting with her to one, I should have disobliged all his rivals. Now a man would not choose to give offence to his friends, at least I lay it down as a maxim to avoid the smallest appearance of ingratitude. Perhaps I may be in the wrong. But every man has his way. For this reason, I proposed to all the candidates, that a lottery or raffle should be set on foot, by which every individual would have an equal chance for her good graces, and the prize be left to the decision of fortune. The scheme was mightily relished, and the terms being such a trifle as half a guinea, the whole town crowded into my house, in order to subscribe. But there I was their humble servant. ‘Gentlemen, you must have a little patience till my own particular friends are served.’ Among that number, I do myself the honour to consider Mr. Pickle. Here is a copy of the proposals; and, if the list should be adorned with his name, I hope, notwithstanding his merited success among the young ladies, he will for once be shunned by that little vixen called Miss Fortune! he, he, he!”

So saying, he bowed with a thousand apish congees, and presented his paper to Peregrine, who, seeing the number of subscribers was limited to one hundred, said he thought him too moderate in his expectations, as he did not doubt that his picture would be a cheap purchase at five hundred, instead of fifty pounds, at which the price was fixed. To this unexpected remark Pallet answered, that among the connoisseurs he would not pretend to appraise his picture; but that, in valuing his works, he was obliged to have an eye to the Gothic ignorance of the age in which he lived. Our adventurer saw ............

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