Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
Roderick at Surgeons Hall
By Tobias Smollett (17211771)
From Roderick Random
WITH the assistance of this faithful adherent, who gave me almost all the money he earned, I preserved my half-guinea entire till the day of examination, when I went with a quaking heart to Surgeons Hall, in order to undergo that ceremony. Among the crowd of young fellows who walked in the outward hall, I perceived Mr. Jackson, to whom I immediately went up, and inquiring into the state of his amour, understood it was still undetermined by reason of his friends absence, and the delay of the recall at Chatham, which put it out of his power to bring it to a conclusion. I then asked what his business was in this place? he replied, he was resolved to have two strings to his bow, that in case the one failed he might use the other; and, with this view, he was to pass that night for a higher qualification. At that instant a young fellow came out from the place of examination with a pale countenance, his lip quivering, and his looks as wild as if he had seen a ghost. He no sooner appeared, than we all flocked about him with the utmost eagerness to know what reception he had met with; which, after some pause, he described, recounting all the questions they had asked, with the answers he made. In this manner, we obliged no less than twelve to recapitulate, which, now the danger was past, they did with pleasure, before it fell to my lot: at length the beadle called my name, with a voice that made me tremble as much as if it had been the sound of the last trumpet: however, there was no remedy: I was conducted into a large hall, where I saw about a dozen of grim faces sitting at a long table; one of whom bade me come forward, in such an imperious tone that I was actually for a minute or two bereft of my senses. The first question he put to me was, Where was you born? To which I answered, In Scotland.In Scotland, said he; I know that very well; we have scarce any other countrymen to examine here; you Scotchmen have overspread us of late as the locusts did Egypt: I ask you in what part of Scotland was you born? I named the place of my nativity, which he had never before heard of: he then proceeded to interrogate me about my age, the town where I served my time, with the term of my apprenticeship; and when I informed him that I served three years only, he fell into a violent passion; swore it was a shame and a scandal to send such raw boys into the world as surgeons; that it was a great presumption in me, and an affront upon the English, to pretend to sufficient skill in my business, having served so short a time, when every apprentice in England was bound seven years at least; that my friends would have done better if they had made me a weaver or shoemaker, but their pride would have me a gentleman, he supposed, at any rate, and their poverty could not afford the necessary education. This exordium did not at all contribute to the recovery of my spirits, but on the contrary, reduced me to such a situation that I was scarce able to stand; which being perceived by a plump gentleman who sat opposite to me, with a skull before him, he said, Mr. Snarler was too severe upon the young man; and, turning towards me, told me, I need not to be afraid, for nobody would do me any harm; then bidding me take time to recollect myself, he examined me touching the operation of the trepan, and was very well satisfied with my answers. The next person who questioned me was a wag, who began by asking if I had ever seen amputation performed; and I replying in the affirmative, he shook his head, and said, What! upon a dead subject, I suppose? If, continued he, during an engagement at sea, a man should be brought to you with his head shot off, how would you behave? After some hesitation, I owned such a case had never come under my observation, neither did I remember to have seen any method of cure proposed for such an accident, in any of the systems of surgery I had perused. Whether it was owing to the simplicity of my answer, or the archness of the question, I know not, but every member at the board deigned to smile, except Mr. Snarler, who seemed to have very little of the animal risibile in his constitution. The facetious member, encouraged by the success of his last joke, went on thus: Suppose you was called to a patient of a plethoric habit, who had been bruised by a fall, what would you do? I answered, I would bleed him immediately. What, said he, before you had tied up his arm? But this stroke of wit not answering his expectation, he desired me to advance to the gentleman who sat next him; and who, with a pert air, asked what method of cure I would follow in wounds of the intestines. I repeated the method of cure as it is prescribed by the best surgical writers; which he heard to an end, and then said, with a supercilious smile, So you think by such treatment the patient might recover. I told him I saw nothing to make me think otherwise. That may be, resumed he, I wont answer for your foresight; but did you ever know a case of this kind succeed? I answered I did not; and was about to tell him I had never seen a wounded intestine; but he stopped me, by saying with some precipitation, Nor never will. I affirm that all wounds of the intestines, whether great or small, are mortal.Pardon me, brother, says the fat gentleman, there is very good authority Here he was interrupted by the other with Sir, excuse me, I despise all authority. Nullius in verba. I stand upon my own bottom.But sir, sir, replied his antagonist, the reason of the thing shows.A fig for reason, cried this sufficient member, I laugh at reason, give me ocular demonstration. The corpulent gentleman began to wax warm, and observed, that no man acquainted with the anatomy of the parts would advance such an extravagant assertion. This inuendo enraged the other so much, that he started up, and in a furious tone, exclaimed, What sir! do you question my knowledge in anatomy? By this time, all the examiners had espoused the opinion of one or other of the disputants, and raised their voices all together, when the chairman commanded silence, and ordered me to withdraw. In less than a quarter of an hour I was called in again, received my qualification sealed up, and was ordered to pay five shillings. I laid down my half-guinea upon the table, and stood some time, until one of them bade me begone; to this I replied, I will, when I have got my change; upon which another threw me five shillings and sixpence, saying, I should not be a true Scotchman if I went away without my change. I was afterwards obliged to give three shillings and sixpence to the beadles, and a shilling to an old woman who swept the hall. This disbursement sunk my finances to thirteen-pence halfpenny, with which I was sneaking off, when Jackson, perceiving it, came up to me, and begged I would tarry for him, and he would accompany me to the other end of the town, as soon as his examination should be over. I could not refuse this to a person that was so much my friend; but I was astonished at the change of his dress, which was varied in half an hour from what I have already described, to a very grotesque fashion. His head was covered with an old smoked tie-wig that did not boast one crooked hair, and a slouched hat over it, which would have very well become a chimney-sweeper or a dustman; his neck was adorned with a black crape, the ends of which he had twisted, and fixed in the button-hole of a shabby great-coat that wrapped up his whole body; his white silk stockings were converted into black worsted hose; and his countenance was rendered venerable by wrinkles, and a beard of his own painting. When I expressed my surprise at this metamorphosis, he laughed and told me, it was done by the advice and assistance of a friend who lived over the way, and would certainly produce something very much to his advantage; for it gave him the appearance of age, which never fails of attracting respect. I applauded his sagacity, and waited with impatience for the effects of it. At length he was called in, but whether the oddness of his appearance excited a curiosity more than usual in the board, or his behaviour was not suitable to his figure, I know not; he was discovered to be an impostor, and put into the hands of the beadle, in order to be sent to Bridewell. So that instead of seeing him come out with a cheerful countenance, and a surgeons qualification in his hand, I perceived him led through the outward hall as a prisoner, and was very much alarmed and anxious to know the occasion; when he called with a lamentable voice and piteous aspect to me, and some others who knew him, For Gods sake, gentlemen, bear witness that I am the same individual, John Jackson, who served as surgeons second mate on board The Elizabeth, or else I shall go to Bridewell. It would have been impossible for the most austere hermit that ever lived to have refrained from laughing at his appearance and address; we therefore indulged ourselves a good while at his expense, and afterwards pleaded his case so effectually with the beadle, who was gratified with half a crown, that the prisoner was dismissed, and, in a few moments, resumed his former gaiety; swearing, since the board had refused his money, he would spend it, every shilling, before he went to bed in treating his friends; at the same time inviting us all to favour him with our company.