Squire Matthew Bramble, who owns large estates in Wales, is an eccentric and skeptical gentleman. With him lives his sister, Miss Tabitha Bramble, a middle-aged woman with matrimonial hopes that exceed probability. Painfully afflicted with gout, the squire sets out for Bath, England, to try the waters, but he has few hopes of their healing properties. His sister goes with him, as does her servant, Winifred Jenkins, the squire’s manservant, and, at the last minute, his orphaned niece and nephew, Lydia and Jerry Melford.
The young Melfords are Squire Bramble’s wards. Lydia has been in boarding school, where she unfortunately fell in love with an actor named George Wilson, a circumstance Squire Bramble hopes she will soon forget among the bright and fashionable gatherings at Bath. Her brother, who just finished his studies at Oxford, hopes to fight a duel with the actor, but no opportunity to defend his sister’s honor yet presents itself to his satisfaction.
On the way to Bath, George Wilson makes his way into Squire Bramble’s lodgings on the pretext of being a Jewish peddler selling glasses. When in a whisper he makes himself known to Lydia, she orders Winifred Jenkins to follow him and talk with him. The maid comes back in a great flurry. The actor told her that Wilson is not his real name, that he is a gentleman, and that he intends to sue for Lydia’s hand in his proper character. In her excitement, however, the maid forgets Wilson’s real name. There is nothing for poor Lydia to do but to conjecture and to daydream as the party continues on toward Bath.
Arriving at Bath without further incident, the party enters the festivities there with various degrees of pleasure. Tabitha tries to get proposals of marriage out of every eligible man she meets. The Squire becomes disgusted with the supposed curative powers of the waters that are drunk and bathed in by people with all sorts of infirmities trying to regain their health. Lydia is still pining for Wilson, and Jerry enjoys the absurdity of the social gatherings. Hoping to raise his niece’s spirits, Squire Bramble decides to go on to London.
They travel only a short distance toward London when the coach overturns. In the excitement, Miss Tabitha’s lapdog bites the Squire’s servant. Miss Tabitha makes such loud complaint when the servant kicks her dog in return that the Squire is forced to discharge the man on the spot. He also needs another postilion, since Miss Tabitha declares herself unwilling to drive another foot behind the clumsy fellow who overturned the coach. The Squire hires a ragged country fellow named Humphry Clinker to take the place of the unfortunate postilion, and the party goes on to the next village.
Miss Tabitha is shocked by what she calls Humphry’s nakedness, for he wears no shirt. The maid adds to the chorus of outraged modesty. Yielding to these female clamors, the Squire asks about Humphry’s circumstances, listens to the story of his life, gruffly reads him a lecture on the crimes of poverty and sickness, and gives him a guinea for a new suit of clothes. In gratitude, Humphry refuses to be parted from his new benefactor and goes on with the party to London.
In London, they are well entertained by a visit to Vauxhall Gardens as well as by several public and private parties. Squire Bramble is disconcerted to learn that Humphry is a preacher by inclination and that he is giving sermons in the manner of the Methodists. Miss Tabitha and her maid are already among Humphry’s followers. The Squire...
(The entire section is 1452 words.)