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Chapter 95

The young Gentleman is introduced to a Virtuoso of the first Order, and commences Yelper.

Hitherto Peregrine had professed himself an author, without reaping the fruits of that occupation, except the little fame he had acquired by his late satire; but now he thought it high time to weigh solid pudding against empty praise; and therefore engaged with some booksellers in a certain translation, which he obliged himself to perform for the consideration of two hundred pounds. The articles of agreement being drawn, he began his task with great eagerness, rose early in the morning to his work, at which he laboured all day long, went abroad with the bats in the evening, and appeared in the coffee-house, where he amused himself with the newspapers and conversation till nine o’clock; then he retired to his own apartment, and, after a slight repast, betook himself to rest, that he might be able to unroost with the cock. This sudden change from his former way of life agreed so ill with his disposition, that, for the first time, he was troubled with flatulencies and indigestion, which produced anxiety and dejection of spirits, and the nature of his situation began in some measure to discompose his brain; a discovery which he no sooner made, than he had recourse to the advice of a young physician, who was a member of the college of authors, at this time one of our hero’s most intimate acquaintance.

The son of Esculapius, having considered his case, imputed his disorder to the right cause, namely, want of exercise; dissuaded him from such close application to study, until he should be gradually familiarized to a sedentary life; advised him to enjoy his friend and his bottle in moderation, and wean himself from his former customs by degrees; and, above all things, to rise immediately after his first sleep, and exercise himself in a morning’s walk. In order to render this last part of the prescription the more palatable, the doctor promised to attend him in these early excursions, and even to introduce him to a certain personage of note, who gave a sort of public breakfasting to the minor virtuosi of the age, and often employed his interest in behalf of those who properly cultivated his countenance and approbation.

This proposal was extremely acceptable to our young gentleman, who, besides the advantage which might accrue to him from such a valuable connection, foresaw much entertainment and satisfaction in the discourse of so many learned guests. The occasions of his health and interest, moreover, coincided in another circumstance; the minister’s levee being kept betimes in the morning, so that he could perform his walk, yield his attendance, and breakfast at this philosophical board, without encroaching a great deal upon his other avocations. Measures being thus preconcerted, the physician conducted our adventurer to the house of this celebrated sage, to whom he recommended him as a gentleman of genius and taste, who craved the honour of his acquaintance; but he had previously smoothed the way to his introduction, by representing Peregrine as a young fellow of great ambition, spirit, and address, who could not fail to make a figure in the world; that therefore he would be a creditable addition to the subordinates of such a patron, and by his qualifications, intrepidity, and warmth of temper, turn out a consummate herald of his fame. Upon these considerations, he met with a most engaging reception from the entertainer, who was a well-bred man, of some learning, generosity, and taste; but his foible was the desire of being thought the inimitable pattern of all three.

It was with a view to acquire and support this character, that his house was open to all those who had any pretensions to literature; consequently he was surrounded by a strange variety of pretenders; but none were discouraged, because he knew that even the most insignificant might, in some shape, conduce to the propagation of his praise. A babbler, though he cannot run upon the scent, may spring the game, and, by his yelping, help to fill up the cry. No wonder, then, that a youth of Pickle’s accomplishments was admitted and even invited into the pack. After having enjoyed a very short private audience in the closet, our young gentleman was shown into another room, where half a dozen of his fellow-adherents waited for the Maecenas, who in a few minutes appeared, with a most gracious aspect, received the compliments of the morning, and sat down to breakfast, in the midst of them, without any further ceremony.

The conversation at first turned upon the weather, which was investigated in a very philosophical manner by one of the company, who seemed to have consulted all the barometers and thermometers that ever were invented, before he would venture to affirm that it was a chill morning. This subject being accurately discussed, the chief inquired about the news of the learned world; and his inclination was no sooner expressed than every guest opened his mouth, in order to ratify his curiosity. But he that first captivated his attention was a meagre, shrivelled antiquary, who looked like an animated mummy, which had been scorched among the sands of the desert. He told the patron, that he had, by accident, met with a medal, which, though it was defaced by time, he would venture to pronounce a genuine antique, from the ringing and taste of the metal, as well as from the colour and composition of the rust. So saying, he produced a piece of copper coin, so consumed and disguised by age, that scarce a vestige of the impression was to be perceived. Nevertheless, this connoisseur pretended to distinguish a face in profile, from which he concluded that the piece was of the Upper Empire, and on the reverse he endeavoured to point out the bulb of the spear, and part of the parazonium, which were the insignia of the Roman Virtus, together with the fragment of one fold of the multicium in which she was clothed. He likewise had discovered an angle of the letter N, and, at some distance, an entire I; from these circumstances conjecturing, and indeed concluding, that the medal was struck by Severus, in honour of the victory he obtained over his rival Niger, after he had forced the passes of Mount Taurus. This criticism seemed very satisfactory to the entertainer, who, having examined the coin by the help of his spectacles, plainly discerned the particulars which the owner had mentioned, and was pleased to term his account of the matter a very ingenious explanation.

The curiosity was circulated through the hands of all present, and every virtuoso, in his turn, licked the copper, and rung it upon the hearth, declaring his assent to the judgment which had been pronounced. At length it fell under the inspection of our young gentleman, who, though no antiquarian, was very well acquainted with the current coin of his own country, and no sooner cast his eyes upon the valuable antique, than he affirmed, without hesitation, that it was no other than the ruins of an English farthing, and that same spear, parazonium, and multicium, the remains of the emblems and drapery with which the figure of Britannia is delineated on our copper money. This hardy asseveration seemed to disconcert the patron while it incensed the medallist, who, grinning like an enraged baboon, “What d’ye tell me of a brass farthing?” said he. “Did you ever know modern brass of such a relish? Do but taste it, young gentleman; and sure I am, if you have ever been conversant with subjects of this kind, you will find as wide a difference in the savour between this and an English farthing as can possibly be perceived betwixt an onion and a turnip. Besides, this medal has the true Corinthian ring; then the attitude is upright, whereas that of Britannia is reclining; and how is it possible to mistake a branch o............

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