Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
 
Beau Tibbs at Home
By Oliver Goldsmith (1730–1774)
 
From The Citizen of the World

THOUGH naturally pensive, yet I am fond of gay company, and take every opportunity of thus dismissing the mind from duty. From this motive I am often found in the centre of a crowd, and wherever pleasure is to be sold am always a purchaser. In those places, without being remarked by any, I join in whatever goes forward; work my passions into a similitude of frivolous earnestness, shout as they shout, and condemn as they happen to disapprove. A mind thus sunk for a while below its natural standard is qualified for stronger flights, as those first retire who would spring forward with greater vigour.
  1
  Attracted by the serenity of the evening, my friend and I lately went to gaze upon the company in one of the public walks near the city. Here we sauntered together for some time, either praising the beauty of such as were handsome, or the dresses of such as had nothing else to recommend them. We had gone thus deliberately forward for some time, when stopping on a sudden, my friend caught me by the elbow and led me out of the public walk. I could perceive by the quickness of his pace, and by his frequently looking behind, that he was attempting to avoid somebody who followed: we now turned to the right, then to the left; as we went forward, he still went faster, but in vain; the person whom he attempted to escape hunted us through every doubling, and gained upon us at each moment, so that at last we fairly stood still, resolving to face what we could not avoid.  2
  Our pursuer came up and joined us with all the familiarity of an old acquaintance. “My dear Drybone,” cries he, shaking my friend’s hand, “where have you been hiding this half a century? Positively I had fancied you were gone down to cultivate matrimony and your estate in the country.” During the reply I had an opportunity of surveying the appearance of our new companion: his hat was pinched up with peculiar smartness; his looks were pale, thin, and sharp; round his neck he wore a broad black riband, and in his bosom a buckle studded with glass; his coat was trimmed with tarnished twist; he wore by his side a sword with a black hilt; and his stockings of silk, though newly washed, were grown yellow by long service. I was so much engaged with the peculiarity of his dress that I attended only to the latter part of my friend’s reply, in which he complimented Mr. Tibbs on the taste of his clothes, and the bloom in his countenance. “Pshaw, pshaw, Will!” cried the figure, “no more of that if you love me; you know I hate flattery—on my soul I do; and yet, to be sure, an intimacy with the great will improve one’s appearance, and a course of venison will fatten; and yet, faith, I despise the great as much as you do; but there are a great many damn’d honest fellows among them, and we must not quarrel with one half because the other wants weeding. If they were all such as Lord Mudler, one of the most good-natured creatures that ever squeezed a lemon, I should myself be among the number of their admirers. I was yesterday to dine at the Duchess of Piccadilly’s. My lord was there. ‘Ned,’ says he to me, ‘Ned,’ says he, ‘I’ll hold gold to silver I can tell you where you were poaching last night.’—‘Poaching, my lord?’ says I, ‘faith you have missed already; for I stayed at home and let the girls poach for me. That’s my way. I take a fine woman as some animals do their prey—stand still, and swoop, they fall into my mouth.”  3
  “Ah, Tibbs, thou art a happy fellow,” cried my companion, with looks of infinite pity; “I hope your fortune is as much improved as your understanding in such company.”—“Improved,” replied the other; “you shall know—but let it go no further—a great secret—five hundred a year to begin with. My lord’s word of honour for it. His lordship took me down in his own chariot yesterday and we had a tête-a-tête dinner in the country, where we talked of nothing else.”—“I fancy you forget, sir,” cried I, “you told us but this moment of your dining yesterday in town.”—“Did I say so?” replied he coolly; “to be sure, if I said so, it was so—Dined in town; egad, now I do remember, I did dine in town; but I dined in the country too, for you must know, my boys, I eat two dinners. By the bye I am grown as nice as the devil in my eating. I’ll tell you a pleasant affair about that:—We were a select party of us to dine at Lady Grogram’s—an affected piece, but let it go no further—a secret. Well, there happened to be no assafœtida in the sauce to a turkey, upon which, says I, ‘I’ll hold a thousand guineas and say done first, that——’ But dear Drybone, you are an honest creature, lend me half-a-crown for a minute or two, or so, just till——But hearkee, ask me for it the next time we meet, or it may be twenty to one I forget to pay you.”  4
  When he left us, our conversation naturally turned upon so extraordinary a character. “His very dress,” cries my friend, “is not less extraordinary than his conduct. If you meet him this day, you find him in rags; if the next, in embroidery. With those persons of distinction of whom he talks so familiarly he has scarce a coffee-house acquaintance. However, both for the interests of society, and perhaps for his own, Heaven has made him poor, and while all the world perceive his wants, he fancies them concealed from every eye. An agreeable companion because he understands flattery; and all must be pleased with the first part of his conversation, though all are sure of its ending with a demand on their purse. While his youth countenances the levity of his conduct, he may thus earn a precarious subsistence; but when age comes on, the gravity of which is incompatible with buffoonery, then will he find himself forsaken by all; condemned in the decline of life to hang upon some rich family whom he once despised, there to undergo all the ingenuity of studied contempt, to be employed as a spy upon the servants, or a bugbear to fright the children into obedience.” Adieu.  5
  I am apt to fancy I have contracted a new acquaintance whom it will be no easy matter to shake off. My little Beau yesterday overtook me again in one of the public walks, and slapping me on the shoulder, saluted me with an air of the most perfect familiarity. His dress was the same as usual, except that he had more powder in his hair, wore a dirtier shirt, a pair of temple spectacles, and his hat under his arm.  6
  As I knew him to be a harmless amusing little thing I could not return his smiles with any degree of severity; so we walked forward on terms of the utmost intimacy, and in a few minutes discussed all the usual topics preliminary to particular conversation. The oddities that marked his character, however, soon began to appear; he bowed to several well-dressed persons, who, by their manner of returning the compliment, appeared perfect strangers. At intervals he drew out a pocket-book, seeming to take memorandums before all the company, with much importance and assiduity. In this manner he led me through the length of the whole walk, fretting at his absurdities and fancying myself laughed at not less than him by every spectator.  7
  When we were got to the end of our procession, “Blast me,” cries he with an air of vivacity, “I never saw the Park so thin in my life before. There’s no company at all to-day; not a single face to be seen.”—“No company!” interrupted I peevishly; “no company where there is such a crowd? Why, man, there’s too much. What are the thousands that have been laughing at us but company?”—“Lord, my dear,” returned he with the utmost good humour, “you seem immensely chagrined; but, blast me, when the world laughs at me, I laugh at the world, and so we are even. My Lord Trip, Bill Squash the Creolian, and I sometimes make a party at being ridiculous, and so we say and do a thousand things for the joke’s sake. But I see you are grave, and if you are for a fine grave sentimental companion, you shall dine with me and my wife to-day; I must insist on’t. I’ll introduce you to Mrs. Tibbs, a lady of as elegant qualifications as any in nature; she was bred (but that’s between ourselves) under the inspection of the Countess of All-night. A charming body of voice; but no more of that—she shall give us a song. You shall see my little girl too, Carolina Wilhelma Amelia Tibbs, a sweet pretty creature: I design her for my Lord Drumstick’s eldest son; but that’s in friendship, let it go no further: she’s but six years old, and yet she walks a minuet, and plays on the guitar immensely already. I intend she shall be as perfect as possible in every accomplishment. In the first place I’ll make her a scholar: I’ll teach her Greek myself, and learn that language purposely to instruct her; but let that be a secret.”  8
  Thus saying, without waiting for a reply, he took me by the arm and hauled me along. We passed through many dark alleys and winding ways; for, from some motives to me unknown, he seemed to have a particular aversion to every frequented street; at last, however, we got to the door of a dismal-looking house in the outlets of the town, where he informed me he chose to reside for the benefit of the air.  9
  We entered the lower door, which ever seemed to lie most hospitably open, and I began to ascend an old and creaking staircase, when, as he mounted to show me the way, he demanded whether I delighted in prospects; to which answering in the affirmative, “Then,” says he, “I shall show you one of the most charming in the world out of my window; we shall see the ships sailing, and the whole country for twenty miles round, tip top, quite high. My Lord Swamp would give ten thousand guineas for such a one; but, as I sometimes pleasantly tell him, I always love to keep my prospects at home, that my friends may see me the oftener.”  10
  By this time we were arrived as high as the stairs would permit us to ascend, till we came to what he was facetiously pleased to call the first floor down the chimney; and knocking at the door a voice from within demanded, “Who’s there?” My conductor answered that it was him. But this not satisfying the querist, the voice again repeated the demand; to which he answered louder than before; and now the door was opened by an old woman with cautious reluctance.  11
  When we were got in, he welcomed me to his house with great ceremony, and turning to the old woman asked where was her lady? “Good troth,” replied she in a peculiar dialect, “she’s washing your twa shirts at the next door, because they have taken an oath against lending out the tub any longer.”—“My two shirts!” cried he in a tone that faltered with confusion; “what does the idiot mean?”—“I ken what I mean weel enough,” replied the other; “she’s washing your twa shirts at the next door because——” “Fire and fury, no more of thy stupid exclamations!” cried he; “go and inform her we have got company. Were that Scotch hag,” continued he, turning to me, “to be for ever in my family, she would never learn politeness, nor forget that absurd poisonous accent of hers, or testify the smallest specimen of breeding or high life; and yet it is very surprising too, as I had her from a Parliament man, a friend of mine from the Highlands, one of the politest men in the world; but that’s a secret.”  12
  We waited some time for Mrs. Tibbs’ arrival, during which interval I had a full opportunity of surveying the chamber and all its furniture, which consisted of four chairs with old wrought bottoms, that he assured me were his wife’s embroidery; a square table that had been once japanned; a cradle in one corner, a lumbering cabinet in the other; a broken shepherdess and a mandarin without a head were stuck over the chimney; and round the walls several paltry unframed pictures, which, he observed, were all his own drawing. “What do you think, sir, of that head in the corner, done in the manner of Grisoni? there’s the true keeping in it; it is my own face, and though there happens to be no likeness, a Countess offered me a hundred for its fellow: I refused her, for, hang it, that would be mechanical, you know.”  13
  The wife at last made her appearance, at once a slattern and a coquette; much emaciated, but still carrying the remains of beauty. She made twenty apologies for being seen in such odious dishabille, but hoped to be excused as she had stayed out all night at the gardens with the Countess, who was excessively fond of the horns. 1 “And, indeed, my dear,” added she, turning to her husband, “his lordship drank your health in a bumper.”—“Poor Jack!” cries he, “a dear good-natured creature, I know he loves me. But I hope, my dear, you have given orders for the dinner; you need make no great preparations neither, there are but three of us; something elegant, and little will do—a turbot, an ortolan, a——” “Or what do you think, my dear,” interrupts the wife, “of a nice pretty bit of ox-cheek, piping hot, and dressed with a little of my own sauce?”—“The very thing,” replies he; “it will eat best with some smart bottled beer; but be sure to let us have the sauce his Grace was so fond of. I hate your immense loads of meat; that is country all over; extremely disgusting to those who are in the least acquainted with high life.”  14
  By this time my curiosity began to abate, and my appetite to increase; the company of fools may at first make us smile, but at last never fails of rendering us melancholy. I therefore pretended to recollect a prior engagement, and, after having shown my respect to the house, according to the fashion of the English, by giving the old servant a piece of money at the door, I took my leave; Mr. Tibbs assuring me, that dinner, if I stayed, would be ready at least in less than two hours.  15
 
Note 1. the horns = the French horns, a special feature of the Vauxhall programme. [back]
 
 
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