Tobias Smollett (1721-1771) was a novelist and critic. The son of a Scots laird, he was born at Dalquhurn, Dunbartonshire. After attendance at Glasgow University, he was apprenticed to a surgeon. He wrote a play, The Regicide, which he brought to London in 1739, but he could not get it accepted. He joined the navy, became surgeon’s mate, and sailed in 1741 for the West Indies on an expedition against the Spaniards. In 1744 he set himself up as a surgeon in Downing Street. Although never a Jacobite, Smollett’s first publication, in 1746, was a poem, “The Tears of Scotland’, elicited by the duke of Cumberland’s treatment of the Scots after 1745. Further poems followed, notably two satires on London life, Advice (1746) and Reproof (1747).
He launched upon the novelistic career with the Adventures of Roderick Random in 1748, which was acclaimed as a great novel. It is based on his own experience as a naval surgeon at the siege of Cartagena in 1741. The hero of the novel is a rogue. He falls in love with Narcissa, a loyal, beautiful, and fantastic woman. What makes the novel a masterpiece is not its form or characterisation, but the marine back-drop full of per is episodic in form and vivid and brutal in manner. While prefacing Roderick Random, he pays homage to the author of Don Quixote-Cervantes for his wonderful comic genius.
In 1750 he moved to Chelsea, where he entertained freely in his fine large house. In the same year, he received the degree of MD from Aberdeen, and traveled to Paris, a journey of which he made use in The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle (1751). It is also another picaresque novel, has for its hero a rogue who remains so till his marriage with the virtuous Emilia. Its form is a succession of episodes, without a uniting structure. The eccentric characters like Trunnion, Hatchway, and Tom Pipes are admirably drawn. The episodes give ample scope for social and political satire. Laurence Sterne had had his inspiration from this book.
In 1756 he became co-founder and editor of the Critical Review; his editorship lasted till 1763. In 1757-8 he published his Complete History of England, which engendered much controversy, but sold well enough for Smollett to feel financially secure at last. Also in 1757 his naval farce The Reprisal was staged successfully at Drury Lane by David Garrick.
In 1760 The Life and Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves began to appear in installments in the British Magazine, Smollett’s new venture, which ran until 1767. Also in 1760, Smollett was fined £100 and sentenced to three months’ imprisonment for a libel on Admiral Knowles in the Critical Review. In 1762-3 Smollett wrote and edited the Tory journal the Briton, which was successfully opposed by Wilkes’s North Briton.
His The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom was published in 1752, but it did not make any contribution to the development of English novels. in 1766 he published his Travels through France and Italy, a caustic work that earned him from Laurence Sterne the nickname of Smelfungus. After the death of his daughter, he abandoned literary work and traveled with his wife in Italy. On their return, he wrote a travelogue through epistles. The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, was published in 1771, just before his death. Humphry Clinker is a picaresque novel cast in epistolary form. It gives a humorous account of a tour of England and Scotland made by Matthew Bramble together with the members of his family-Tabitha, his sister, Jerry, his nephew, Lydia, his niece, and Jenkins, the maid. Humphry Clinker joins them as a coachman, turns out to be Mr. Bramble’s illegitimate son, and marries the maid Winifred Jenkins. The characterization is strongly marked but superficial.
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