Thursday, April 28, 2011

In a Pickle

'April 28 and 29 [1831] Walter made his appearance, well and stout, and completely recovered of his stomach complaints by abstinence. He has youth on his side, and I in age must submit to be a Lazarus. The medical men persist in recommending a seton. I am no friend to these risky remedies, and will be sure of the necessity before I yield consent. The dying like an Indian under torture is no joke, and, as Commodore Trunnion says, I feel heart-whole as a biscuit. My mind turns to politics. I feel better just now, and so I am. I will wait till Lockhart comes, but that may be too late.'

Sir Walter Scott's health was failing by this time in 1831, and in his journal he turns today to Tobias Smollett.  Smollett's "The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle" was published in 1751, and Commodore Trunnion is a character in that work:

'This loquacious publican soon gave him sketches of all the characters in the county; and, among others, described that of his next neighbor Commodore Trunnion, which was altogether singular and odd. "The commodore and your worship," said he, "will in a short time be hand and glove; he has a power of money, and spends it like a prince—that is, in his own way—for to be sure he is a little humorsome, as the saying is, and swears woundily; though I'll be sworn he means no more harm than a sucking babe. Lord help us! it will do your honour's heart good to hear him tell a story, as how he lay alongside of the French, yard-arm and yard-arm, board and board, and of heaving grapplings, and stink-pots, and grapes, and round and doubleheaded partridges,' crows and carters. Lord have mercy upon us! he has been a great warrior in his time, and lost an eye and a heel in the service. Then he does not live like any other Christian land-man ; but keeps garrison in his house, as if he were in the midst of his enemies, and makes his servants turn out in the night, watch and watch as he calls it, all the year round. His habitation is defended by a ditch, over which he has laid a draw-bridge, and planted his court-yard with patereroes continually loaded with shot, under the direction of one Mr. Hatchway, who had one of his legs shot away while he acted as lieutenant on board the commodore's ship; and now, being on half-pay, lives with him as his companion. The lieutenant is a very brave man, a great joker, and, as the saying is, hath got the length of his commander's foot—though he has another favourite in the house called Tom Pipes, that was his boatswain's mate, and now keeps the servants in order. Tom is a man of few words, but an excellent hand at a song concerning the boatswain's whistle, hustle-cap, and chuck-farthing—there is not such another pipe in the county — so that the commodore lives very happy in his own manner; though he be sometimes thrown into perilous passions and quandaries, by the application of his poor kinsmen, whom he can't abide, because as how some of them were the first occasion of his going to sea. Then he sweats with agony at the sight of an attorney, just, for all the world, as some people have an antipathy to a cat: for it seems he was once at law, for striking one of his officers, and cast in a swinging sum. He is, moreover, exceedingly afflicted with goblins that disturb his rest, and keep such a racket in his house, that you would think (God bless us!) all the devils in hell had broke loose upon him. It was no longer ago than last year about this time, that he was tormented the livelong night by the mischievous spirits that got into his chamber, and played a thousand pranks about his hammock, for there is not one bed within his walls. ...'

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