Humphry Clinker’s Alabaster Skin [*]
Nothing worth mentioning occurred, till we arrived on the edge of Marlborough Downs. There one of the four horses fell, in going down hill at a round trot; and the postilion behind, endeavouring to stop the carriage, pulled it on one side into a deep rut, where it was fairly overturned. I had rode on about two hundred yards before; but, hearing a loud scream, galloped back and dismounted, to give what assistance was in my power.
When I looked into the coach, I could see nothing distinctly, but the nether end of Jenkins, who was kicking her heels and squalling with great vociferation. All of a sudden, my uncle thrust up his bare pate, and bolted through the window, as nimble as a grasshopper, having made use of poor Win’s posteriors as a step to rise in his ascent — The man (who had likewise quitted his horse) dragged this forlorn damsel, more dead than alive, through the same opening. . . .
[They right the carriage.] The coach being adjusted, another difficulty occurred—Mrs Tabitha absolutely refused to enter it again, unless another driver could be found to take the place of the postilion; who, she affirmed, had overturned the carriage from malice aforethought—After much dispute, the man resigned his place to a shabby country fellow [Humphry Clinker], who undertook to go as far as Marlborough, where they could be better provided; and at that place we arrived about one O’clock, without farther impediment.
Mrs Bramble, however, found new matter of offence; which, indeed, she has a particular genius for extracting at will from almost every incident in life. We had scarce entered the room at Marlborough, where we stayed to dine, when she exhibited a formal complaint against the poor fellow who had superseded the postilion. She said he was such a beggarly rascal that he had ne’er a shirt to his back, and had the impudence to shock her sight by shewing his bare posteriors, for which act of indelicacy he deserved to be set in the stocks. Mrs Winifred Jenkins confirmed the assertion, with respect to his nakedness, observing, at the same time, that he had a skin as fair as alabaster. . . .
[Another coach passenger speaks:] “Heark ye, Clinker, you are a most notorious offender. You stand convicted of sickness, hunger, wretchedness, and want—But, as it does not belong to me to punish criminals, I will only take upon me the task of giving you a word of advice. Get a shirt with all convenient dispatch, that your nakedness may not henceforward give offence to travelling gentlewomen, especially maidens in years.” . . .
Howsoever pleased the rest of the company were with such a favourable change in the appearance of this poor creature it soured on the stomach of Mrs Tabby, who had not yet digested the affront of his naked skin. saying, she supposed her brother had taken him into favour, because he had insulted her with his obscenity. . . .
[The brother to Clinker:] Prithee, go and try if thou can’st make peace with my sister—Thou ha’st given her much offence by shewing her thy naked tail.
[*] Tobias George Smollet, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, 3 vols. (London 1771) (here [Dublin 1793], 1:116–23), in the letter to Sir Watkins Phillips on 24 May from Jery Melford in London. Illustration: “Humphry Clinker, dressed in ragged clothes and riding as a postillion on a coach horse, holding a whip, Tabitha and Matthew Bramble looking at him in concern through the window of the coach”; from The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker, Roscoe’s Novelist’s Library 1 (1831); © The Trustees of the British Museum; British Museum number 1868,0822.2541. Back.
Translation © 2020 Doug Stott