CH. I. -- The birth and education of Gil Blas.
MY father, Blas of Santillane, after having borne arms for a long time in the Spanish service, retired to his native place. There he married a chamber-maid who was not exactly in her teens, and I made my debut on this stage ten months after marriage. They afterwards went to live at Oviedo, where my mother got into service, and my father obtained a situation equally adapted to his capacities as a squire. As their wages were their fortune, I might have got my education as I could, had it not been for an uncle of mine in the town, a canon, by name Gil Perez. He was my mother's eldest brother, and my god-father. Figure to yourself a little fellow, three feet and a half high, as fat as you can conceive, with a head sunk deep between his shoulders, and you have my uncle to the life. For the rest of his qualities, he was an ecclesiastic, and of course thought of nothing but good living, I mean in the flesh as well as in the spirit, with the means of which good living his stall, no lean one, provided him.
He took me home to his own house from my infancy, and ran the risk of my bringing up. I struck him as so brisk a lad, that he resolved to cultivate my talents. He bought me a primer, and undertook my tuition as far as reading went: which was not amiss for himself as well as for me; since by teaching me my letters he brushed up his own learning, which had not been pursued in a very scholastic manner; and, by dint of application, he got at last to read his breviary out of hand, which he had never been able to do before. He would have been very glad to have taught me Latin, to save expense, but, alas! poor Gil Perez! he had never skimmed the first principles of it in the whole course of his life. I should not wonder if he was the most ignorant member of the chapter, though on a subject involving as many possibilities as there were canons, I presume not to pledge myself for anything like certainty. To be sure, I have heard it suggested, that he did not gain his preferment altogether by his learning: but that he owed it exclusively to the gratitude of some good nuns whose discreet factor he had been, and who had credit enough to procure him the order of priesthood without the troublesome ceremony of an examination.
He was obliged therefore to place me under the correction of a master, so that I was sent to Doctor Godinez, who had the reputation of being the most accomplished pedant of Oviedo. I profited so well under his instructions, that by the end of five or six years I could read a Greek author or two, and had no very inadequate conception of the Latin poets. Besides my classical studies, I applied to logic, which enabled me to become an expert arguer. I now fell in love with discussions of all kinds to such an excess, that I stopped his Majesty's subjects on the high road, acquaintance or strangers, no matter! and proposed some knotty point of controversy. Sometimes I fell in with a clan of Irish, and an altercation never comes amiss to them! That was your time, if you are fond of a battle. Such gestures! such grimaces! such contortions! Our eyes sparkling, and our mouths foaming! Those who did not take us for what we affected to be, philosophers, must have set us down for madmen.
But let that be as it will, I gained the reputation of no small learning in the town. My uncle was delighted, because he prudently considered that I should so much the sooner cease to be chargeable to him. Come here, Gil Blas, quoth he one day, you are got to be a fine fellow. You are past seventeen, and. a clever lad; you must bestir yourself, and get forward in the world. I think of sending you to the university of Salamanca: with your wit you will easily get a good post. I will give you a few ducats for your journey, and my mule, which will fetch ten or twelve pistoles at Salamanca, and with such a sum at setting out, you will be enabled to hold up your head till you get a situation.
He could not have proposed to me anything more agreeable: for I was dying to see a little of life. At the same time, I was not such a fool as to betray my satisfaction; and when it came to the hour of parting, by the sensibility I discovered at taking leave of my dear uncle, to whom I was so much obliged, and by calling in the stage effect of grief, I so softened the good soul, that he put his hand deeper into his pocket than he would have done, could he have pried into all that was passing in the interior of my hypocritical little heart. Before my departure I took a last leave of my papa and mamma, who loaded me with an ample inheritance of good advice. They enjoined me to pray to God for my uncle, to go honestly through the world, not to engage in any ill, and above all, not to lay my hands on other people's property. After they had lectured me for a good while, they made me a present of their blessing which was all my patrimony and all my expectation. As soon as I had received it, I mounted my mule, and saw the outside of the town.