The grandfather of our poet was sir James Smollett of Bonhill, a member of the Scotch parliament, and one of the commissioners for framing the treaty of union. He married Jane, daughter of sir Aulay Macauley, bart. of Ardincaple, by whom he had four sons and two daughters. The fourth son, Archibald, married, without asking his father's consent, Barbara Cunningham, daughter of Mr. Cunningham of Gilbertfield, in the neighbourhood of Glasgow. His father, however, allowed him an income of about £300 a year. He unfortunately died, after the birth of two sons and a daughter, who with their mother were left dependent on the grandfather, and we do not find that he neglected them. Tobias, the subject of this memoir, and the youngest of these children, was born in the house of Dalquhurn, near Renton, in the parish of Cardross, in 1721, and christened Tobias George: but this latter name he does not appear to have used.
The scenery amidst which he passed his early years, and cultivated the Muses, he has described, in Humphrey Clinker, with picturesque enthusiasm. He was first instructed in classical learning at the school of Dumbarton, by Mr. John Love, one of the ablest schoolmasters of that country, and to whom Mr. Chalmers has done ample justice in his life of Ruddiman.
While at this school, Smollett exhibited symptoms of what more or less predominated through life, a disposition to prove his superiority of understanding at the expense of those whose weaknesses and failings he thought he could turn into ridicule with impunity. The verses which he wrote at this early age were principally satires on such of his schoolfellows as happened to displease him. He wrote also a poem to the memory of the celebrated Wallace, whose praises he found in the story-books and ballads of every cottage. From Dumbarton he was removed to Glasgow, where, after some hesitation, he determined in favour of the study of medicine, and, according to the usual practice, was bound apprentice to Mr. John Gordon, then a surgeon and afterwards a physician of considerable eminence, whom he was unjustly accused of ridiculing under the name of Potion, in his novel of Roderick Random.
From his medical studies, which he cultivated with assiduity, he was occasionally seduced by a general love of polite literature, and seemed inconsciously to store his mind with that fund of extensive, though perhaps not profound knowledge, which enabled him afterwards to execute so many works in various branches. His satirical disposition also followed him to Glasgow, by which he made a few admirers, and many enemies. Dr. Moore has related, with suitable gravity, that he once threw a snowball with such dexterity that it gave both a blow and a repartee. But such frolics were probably not frequent, and his time was in general more profitably or at least more seriously employed. Before he had reached his eighteenth year, he began to feel the ambition of a dramatic poet, and wrote the tragedy of the Regicide, which is now reprinted among his poems. It was considered as an extraordinary production for a person of his years, but we do not read it as originally composed, nor was it made public until nearly ten years after.
On the death of his grandfather, who had hitherto supported him in his studies, but left no permanent provision for the completion of them, he removed to London, in quest of employment in the army or navy, and strengthened his hopes by carrying his tragedy with him. The latter, however, was in all respects an unfortunate speculation. After being amused and cajoled by all the common and uncommon tricks of the Theatrical managers, for nearly ten years, he was under the necessity of sending it to the press in vindication of his own importunities, and the opinions of his friends. His preface may yet be read with advantage by the candidates for stage favour, although modern managers are said to be less fastidious than their predecessors, and from the liberality of their admissions leave it somewhat doubtful is whether they have not lost the privilege of rejection. In this preface, Smollett was not sparing of his indignation, but he reserved more substantial revenge fin a more favourable opportunity.
In the mean time, in the year 1741, he procured the situation of surgeon's mate on board a ship of the line, and sailed on the unfortunate expedition to Carthagena, which he described in his Roderick Random, and afterwards more historically in a Compendium of Voyages published in seven volumes, 12mo, in 1756. The issue of that expedition could not be more humiliating to Smollett than his own situation, so averse to the disposition of a young man of his taste and vivacity. He accordingly quitted the service, while his ship was in the West Indies, and resided for some time in Jamaica, but in what capacity or how supported, his biographers have not informed us. Here, however, he first became acquainted with the lady whom he afterwards married.
In 1746, he returned to London, and having heard many exaggerated accounts of the severities practised in suppressing the rebellion in Scotland, he gave vent to his feelings and love for his country, in a beautiful and spirited poem, entitled the Tears of Scotland. The subject was doubtless attractive as a poet, but as he had been bred a Whig, he was rather inconsistent in his principles, and certainly very unfortunate in his predictions. His friends wished him to suppress this piece as having a tendency to offend the Whigs on whose patronage he had some reliance, and although his enthusiasm was at present rather too warm for advice, and he had from this time declared war against the Whig-ministers under George II. yet it does not appear that it was published with his name for many years after.
In 1746 he first presented himself to the public as the author of Advice, a satire, in which he endeavoured to excite indignation against certain public characters, by accusations which a man of delicacy would disdain to bring forward under any circumstances, and which are generally brought forward under the very worst. What this production contributed to his fame, we are not told. His friends, however, were alarmed and disgusted, and his enemies probably increased.
About this time he wrote (for Covent-Garden theatre) an opera called Alceste, which was never acted or printed, owing, it is said, to a dispute between the author will the manager. Sir John Hawkins, who, in all his writings trusts too much to his memory, informs us, that Handel set this opera to music, and, that his labour might not be lost, afterwards adapted the airs to Dryden's second Ode on St. Cecilia's Day. But Handel composed that ode in 1739, according to Dr. Burney's more accurate and scientific history of music. In 1747 our author published Reproof, a satire, as a second part to Advice, and consisting of the same materials, with the addition of some severe lines on Rich, the manager of Covent-Garden theatre, with whom he had just quarrelled.
In the same year, he married miss Ann Lascelles, the lady whom he had courted in Jamaica, and with whom he had the promise of three thousand pounds. Of this sum, however, he obtained but a small part, and that after a very expensive law-suit. As he had, upon his marriage, hired a genteel house, and lived in a more hospitable style than the possession of the whole of his wife's fortune could have supported, he was again obliged to have recourse to his pen, and produced, in 1748, The Adventures of Roderick Random, in two volumes, 12mo. This was the most successful of all his writings, and perhaps the most popular novel of the age. This it owed, partly to the notion that it was in many respects it history of his own life, and partly to its intrinsic merit, as, a delineation of real life, manners and characters, given with a force of humour to which the Public had not been accustomed. If, indeed, we consider its moral tendency, there are few productions more unfit for perusal; yet such were his opinions of public decency that he seriously fancied he was writing to humour the taste, and correct the morals of the age. That it contains a history of his own life was probably a surmise artfully circulated to excite curiosity, but that real characters are depicted was much more obvious. Independent of those whom he introduced out of revenge, as Lacy and Garrick for rejecting his tragedy, there are traits of many other persons more or less disguised, in the introduction of which he was incited merely by the recollection of foibles which deserved to be exposed. Every man who draws characters, whether to complete the fable of a novel, or to illustrate an essay, will be insensibly attracted by what he has seen in real life, and real life was Smollett's object in all his novels. His only monster is Count Fathom, but he deals in none of those perfect beings who are the heroes of the more modern novels.
In 1749, his tragedy, The Regicide, as already noticed, was published, very much to his emolument, but certainly without any injury to the judgment of the managers who had rejected it. Extraordinary as it might have appeared, if published as he wrote it at the age of eighteen, it seemed no prodigy in one of more advanced years, who had adopted every improvement which his critical friends could suggest. The preface has been mentioned as containing his complaints of delay and evasion, and he had now more effectually vented his rage on lord Lyttleton and Mr. Garrick in Roderick Random. With Garrick, however, he lived to be reconciled in a manner which did credit to their respective feelings.
In 1750, he took a trip to Paris, where he renewed his acquaintance with Dr. Moore, one of his biographers, who informs us that he indulged the common English against the French nation, and never attained the language so perfectly as to be able to mix familiarly with the inhabitants. His stay here was not long, for in 1751 he published his second most popular novel, Peregrine Pickle, in four volumes, 12mo. which was received with great avidity. In the second edition, which was called for within a few months, he speaks, with more craft than truth, of certain booksellers and others who misrepresented the work and calumniated the author. He could not, however, conceal, and his biographers have told the shameless tale for him, that, "he received a handsome reward" for inserting the profligate memoirs of lady Vane. It is only wonderful that after this he could "flatter himself that he had expunged every adventure, phrase, and insinuation, that could be construed, by the most delicate readers, into a trespass upon the rules of decorum." In this work, as in Roderick Random, he indulged his unhappy propensity to personal satire and revenge by introducing living characters. He again endeavoured to degrade those of Garrick and Quin, who, it is said, had expressed a more unfavourable opinion of the Regicide than evert Garrick; and was yet more unpardonable in holding up Dr. Akenside to ridicule.
Smollett had hitherto derived his chief support from his pen, but after the publication of Peregrine Pickle, he appears to have had a design of resuming his medical profession, and announced himself as having obtained the degree of doctor, but from what university has not been discovered. In this character, however, he endeavoured to begin practice at Bath, and published a tract on The External Use of Water. In this, his object was to prove that pure water, both for warm and cold bathing, may be preferred to waters impregnated with minerals, except in certain cases where the vapour bath is requisite. He enters also into a vindication of the plan of Mr. Cleland, a surgeon at Bath, for remedying the inconveniencies relating to the baths at that place. Whatever was thought of this pamphlet, he failed in his principal object: he had, indeed, obtained considerable fame, as his own complaints, and the contemporary journals plainly evince; but it was not of that kind which usually leads to medical practice.
Disappointed in this design, he determined to devote himself entirely to literary undertakings, for many of which he was undoubtedly better qualified by learning and genius than most of the authors by profession in his day. He now fixed his residence at Chelsea, on an establishment of which he has given the public a very just picture in his novel of Humphrey Clinker. If the picture be at the same time rather flattering, it must be recollected that it was Smollett's peculiar misfortune to make enemies in every step of his progress, and to be obliged to say those handsome things of himself which no other man would say for him. Dr. Moore, however, assures us that his mode of living at Chelsea was genteel and hospitable, without being extravagant, and that what he says of his liberality is not over-charged.
His first publication, in this retirement, if it may be so called, was the Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom, in 1753. This novel, in the popular opinion, has been reckoned greatly inferior to his former productions, but merely, as I conceive, because it is unlike them. There is such a perpetual flow of sentiment and expression in this production, as must give a very high idea of the fertility of his mind; but in the delineation of characters he departs too much from real life, and many of his incidents are highly improbable. Mr. Cumberland, in the Memoirs of his own Life, lately published, takes credit to himself for the character of Abraham Adams, and of Sheva in his comedy of the Jew, which are, however, correct transcripts of Smollett's Jew. It would not have greatly lessened the merit of his benevolent views towards that depressed nation, had Mr. Cumberland frankly made this acknowledgement.
In 1755, Smollett published by subscription, a translation of Don Quixote, in two elegant quarto volumes. It is unnecessary to say much on a translation which has so long superseded every other. But since the appearance of lord Woodhouselee's admirable Essay on the Principles of Translation, a new edition of that by Jarvis has been published, and will serve to prove what his lordship has advanced, that Smollett's was merely an improved edition of that forgotten work. Let not this, however, detract greatly from Smollett's merit. Writing as he did for bread, dispatch was not only his primary object, as lord Woodhouselee has observed, but dispatch was probably required of him. He has excelled Jarvis while he availed himself of his labours, and such was his strong sense of ridicule, and ample fund of humour, that could he have fixed upon a proper subject, and found the requisite leisure, it is not too much to suppose that he might have been the rival of Cervantes himself.
After the publication of this translation, he visited his relations in Scotland, and on his return to England, was engaged to undertake the management of the Critical Review, which was begun in 1756, in dependence, as has been asserted, upon the patronage of the Tories and the high church party. It does not appear, however, that any extraordinary aid came from those quarters, and the mode in which it was long conducted proves, that the success of the Monthly Review was the only object; or, if that could not he rivalled, the hope that the public might support two publications of the kind.
To this task, Smollett brought many necessary qualifications: a considerable portion of general knowledge, a just taste in works of criticism, and a style flowing, easy, and popular. He had also much acquaintance with the literary history of his times, and could translate with readiness from some of the modern languages. But on the other hand, it was his misfortune here, as in every stage of his life, that the fair display of his talents, and perhaps the genuine sentiments of his heart, were perverted by the prejudices of friendship, or by the more inexcusable impulses of jealousy, revenge, and all that enters into the composition of an irritable temper. He had already suffered by provoking unnecessary animosity, and was now in a situation where it would have been impossible to escape invidious imputation, had he practised the utmost candour and moderation. How much more dangerous such a situation to one who was always too regardless of past experience, and who seems to have gladly embraced the opportunity, which secrecy afforded, of dealing his blows around without discrimination and without mercy. It is painful to read in the early volumes of this Review, the continual personal abuse he levelled at his rival, Mr. Griffiths, who very rarely took any notice of it: and the many vulgar and coarse sarcasms he directed against every author who presumed to doubt the infallibility of his opinion. It is no less painful to contemplate the self- sufficiency displayed on every occasion where he can introduce his own character and works.
Among others whom he provoked to retaliate were the noted political quack, Dr. Shebbeare, Churchill the poet, and Grainger. But the contest in which he was involved with admiral Knowles terminated in a more honourable manner. That officer thought proper to prosecute the printer of the Critical Review (the late Mr. Hamilton) for a paragraph in the Review reflecting on his character, declaring at the same time that his only object was to discover the author, and if he proved to be a gentleman, to obtain the satisfaction of a gentleman from him. Smollett, by applying to persons acquainted with Knowles, endeavoured to avert the prosecution; but finding that impossible, the moment sentence was about to be pronounced against the printer, he stept forth in open court, and avowed himself the author. After this spirited action, which yet, in Knowles' opinion, did not constitute him a gentleman, he was prosecuted, and sentenced to pay £100, and he imprisoned for three months.
Soon after the commencement of the Review, he published, but without his name, the Compendium of Voyages, already noticed, in seven volumes, 12mo. a work not eminently successful, and which has not since been reprinted. This was a species of compilation, however, for which he was well qualified. He knew how to retrench superfluities, and to bring forward the most pleasing parts of the narrative in all elegant style, and in drawing characters, when they fell in his way, he discovered much judgment and precision.
In 1757 he attempted the stage a second time, by a comedy, or rather farce, entitled The Reprisal, or The Tars of Old England, which Garrick, notwithstanding their former animosity, accepted, and produced upon the stage, where it had a temporary success. Davies, in his life of Garrick, gives an account of the manager's behaviour on this occasion, which reflects much honour on him, and so touched Smollett's feelings, that he embraced every opportunity of doing justice to the merits of that eminent actor, and of convincing him "that his gratitude was as warm as any other of his passions."
Notwithstanding his numerous engagements, he produced a work in 1758, which is an extraordinary instance of literary industry. This was his Complete History of England, from the earliest Times to the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, in 1748, published in four quarto volumes. This he is said to have composed and finished for the press in the short space of fourteen months. It was immediately after reprinted in octavo, in weekly numbers, of which an impression of ten thousand was bought up with avidity.
It would be superfluous to dwell long on the merits of a work so well known, and undoubtedly entitled to high praise as a compilation, but beyond this his warmest admirers cannot judiciously extend their encomiums. Although it may be allowed to excel the histories of Carte or Guthrie, and on account of its brevity, to be preferable to Rapin, and far more to his continuator Tindal, yet it is impossible to place it on a level with the histories of Hume, Robertson, Gibbon, or Henry. In the Critical Review it was highly praised, as might be expected, but with an affectation of candour and moderation which Smollett could not long preserve. In the Review for September 1758, we have a piece of querulous declamation, which is far more fully characteristic of the man and of the author. It is here extracted as a general specimen of the indignation which he felt against any serious attack, and it may serve to explain the relative position in which he stood with his contemporaries. The cause of the following effusion was a pamphlet published by the rev. T. Comber, in which he censures the characters Smollett had given of king William and queen Mary, &c.
Smollet's answer begins thus—
"Tell me your company, and I'll describe your manners, is a proverbial apothegm among our neighbours; and the maxim will generally hold good; but we apprehend the adage might be more justly turned to this purpose, Name your enemies, and I'll guess your character. If the Complete History of England were to be judged in this manner, we imagine the author would gladly submit to the determination of the public. Let us then see who are the professed enemies of that production: the sage, the patriot, the sedate Dr. Shebbeare: the serene Griffiths and his spouse, proprietors and directors of the Monthly Review: the profound, the candid, the modest Dr. Hill: the wise, the learned, and the temperate Thomas Comber, A.B. whose performance we are at present to consider. This is indeed a formidable group of adversaries, enough to daunt the heart of any young adventurer in the world of letters; but the author of the Complete History of England has been long familiar with such seas of trouble. The assault, however, which he has sustained from some of those heroes, was not altogether unprovoked. Shebbeare had been chastised in the Critical Review, for his insolent and seditious appeals to the public. He took it for granted, that the lash was exercised by the author of the Complete History of England: therefore he attacked that performance tooth and nail. He declared that there was neither grammar, meaning, composition, or reflection, either in the plan or the execution of the work itself. Griffiths was enraged against the same gentleman, because he was supposed to have set up the Critical Review, in opposition to the Monthly, of which he (Griffiths) was proprietor; accordingly he employed an obscure grub, who wrote in his garret, to bespatter the History of England. Hill, for these ten years, has, by turns, praised and abused Dr. Smollett, whom he did not know, without being able to vanquish that silent contempt, in which this gentleman ever held him and all his productions: piqued at this indifference and disdain, the said Hill has, in a weekly paper, thrown out some dirty insinuations against the author of the Complete History of England. We cannot rank the proprietors of R—n, and other histories, among the personal enemies of Dr. Smollett; because they were actuated by the dictates of self-interest, to decry his performance. This, however, they have pursued in the most sordid, illiberal, and ridiculous manner: they have caballed: they have slandered: they have vilified: they have prejudiced, misrepresented, and used undue influence among their correspondents in different parts of the kingdom: they have spared neither calumny nor expense, to prejudice the author and his work: they have had the effrontery to insinuate in a public advertisement that he was no better than an inaccurate plagiary from Rapin: and they have had the folly to declare, that Rapin's book was the most valuable performance, just immediately after they had taxed Dr. Smollett with having, by a specious plan, anticipated the judgment of the public. Finally, finding all their endeavours had proved abortive, we have reason to believe they hired the pen of the rev. Thomas Comber, of York, A.B. to stigmatize and blacken the character of the work which has been to them such a source of damage and vexation. Accordingly, this their champion has earned his wages with surprising eagerness and resolution: he had dashed through thick and thin, without fear of repulse; without dread of reputation. Indeed he writes with a degree of acrimony that seems to be personal; perhaps, if the truth was known, he would be found one of those obscure authors, who have occasionally received correction in some number of the Critical Review, and looks upon Dr. Smollett as the administrator of that correction; but this we only mention as a conjecture." — The concluding paragraph of this review of Comber's pamphlet, is not less characteristic of Smollett's temper, and style, when he wished to be thought above all petty resentments.
—Comber "very modestly says, he hopes he has kept within the bounds of good breeding, and employed none of that virulence which the Critical Reviewers have exercised against the most respectable characters. One can hardly refrain from laughing when he read this declaration. Mr. Comber may always be assured, that it is not in his power to excite the indignation of the Critical Rviewers: there are some objects too contemptible to excite resentment. We should be glad, however, to know what those most respectable characters are, that we have treated with indecency. Those most respectable personages are Drs. Shebbeare and Hill, Griffiths and his spouse; a group, to which the rev Mr. Comber will make a very proper addition. We think we see this formidable band, forgetting the distinctions of party, sitting in close divan, animated with double pots, encouraged with double pay, by the right worshipful the proprietors of R—n, to renew their attacks against the Complete History of England. We shall prophecy, however, that the author of that work will never deign to take any public notice of what may be advanced against him by writers of their class. He considers them as little inconsiderable curs barking at the Moon. Nevertheless, in order to whet their spleen, we will inform the rev. Mr. Comber, that notwithstanding the uncommon arts, and great expense, with which his honest employers have puffed and advertised his pamphlet, the Complete History of England continues to rise in the estimation of the public; and that above ten thousand numbers of the work are weekly purchased by the subjects of Great Britain, besides those that are sold in Ireland and the plantations."
During his confinement in the King's Bench for the libel on admiral Knowles, he amused himself in writing the Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves, a sort of English Quixote. This he gave in detached parts in the British Magazine, one of those periodical works in which he was induced to engage by the consideration of a regular supply. This novel was afterwards published in two volumes, 12mo. but had not the popularity of his former works of that kind, and as a composition, whether in point of fable, character, or humour, is indeed far inferior to any of them.
The success of his History encouraged him to write a continuation of it, from 1748 to 1764. The volume for 1765, his biographer seems not to have known, was written by Guthrie during Smollett's absence on the continent. By the History and Continuation he is said to have cleared £2000. He is also supposed to have written the accounts of France, Italy, and Germany for the Universal History, when published in octavo volumes. A writer of the Gentleman's Magazine states, that he received fifteen hundred guineas for preparing a new edition of the same History, but this must be a mistake, as he was dead some years before that edition was undertaken.
When lord Bute was promoted to the office of first minister, Smollett's pen was engaged to support him against the popular clamour excited by Wilkes and his partizans. With this view our author commenced a weekly paper, called The Briton, which was answered by Wilkes in his more celebrated North Britain. Had this been a contest of argument, wit, or even mere personal and political recrimination, Smollett would have had little to fear from the talents of Wilkes; but the public mind, inflamed by every species of misrepresentation, was on the side of Wilkes, and the Briton was discontinued, when lord Bute, its supposed patron, could no longer keep his seat. Before this short contest, Smollett had lived on terms of intimacy with Wilkes, who, having no animosities that were not absolutely necessary to serve a temporary interest, probably did not think the worse of Smollett for giving him an opportunity to triumph over the author of the Complete History of England. Smollett, however, was not disposed to view the matter with this complacency. He expected a reward for his services, and was disappointed, and his chagrin on this occasion he soon took an opportunity to express.
About the years 1763 and 1761 we find his name to a translation of Voltaire's works, and to a compilation entitled The Present State of all Nations, in eight volumes, 8vo. What he contributed, besides his name, to either of these undertaking cannot now be ascertained. The translation of Voltaire is in all respects beneath his talents.
In the month of June 1763, he went abroad, partly on account of his health, and partly to relieve his and Mrs. Smollett's grief for the loss of their only child, an amiable young lady who died in her fifteenth year. He pursued his journey through France and Italy about two years, and soon after his return in 1766, gave the public the result of his observations, in two volumes, 8vo. entitled, Travels through France and Italy. This work, although it attained no high degree of popularity, was read with sympathetic interest, as exhibiting a melancholy picture of the author's mind, "traduced" as he informs us, "by malice, persecuted by faction, and overwhelmed by the sense of domestic calamity." On this account, the natural, and artificial objects which make travelling delightful, had no other effect on him than to excite his spleen, which he has often indulged in representations and opinions unworthy of his taste. These, however, are not unmixed with observations of another kind, acute, just, and useful. It is remarkable that in a subsequent publication (Humphrey Clinker) he makes his principal character, Matthew Bramble, describe what he saw in England in the same unvaried language of spleen and ill-humour.
Soon after his arrival from the continent, his health still decaying, he undertook a journey to Scotland, and renewed his attachment to his relations and friends. During this journey, Dr. Moore informs us, that "he was greatly tormented with rheumatic pains, and afflicted besides with an ulcer on his arm which had been neglected on its first appearance. These disorders confined him much to his chamber, but did not prevent his conversation from being highly entertaining, when the misery of which they were productive, permitted him to associate with his friends." From Scotland he went to Bath, and about the beginning of 1767 had recovered his health and spirits in a very considerable degree.
His next production, which appeared in 1769, proved that he had not forgotten the neglect with which he was treated by that ministry, in whose favour he wrote the Briton. This was entitled the Adventures of an Atom. Under fictitious names, of Japanese structure, he reviews the conduct of the eminent politicians who had conducted or opposed the measures of government from the year 1754, and retracts the opinion he had given of some of these statesmen in his history, particularly of the earl of Chatham and lord Bute. His biographer allows that many of the characters are grossly misrepresented, for which no other reason can be assigned than his own disappointment. The whole proves, what has often been seen since his time, that the measures which are right and proper when a reward is in view, are wrong and abominable when that reward is withheld.
The publication of this work, while it proclaimed that his sincerity as a political writer was not much to be depended on, afforded another instance of that imprudence which his biographer has ingeniously carried over to the account of independence. His health again requiring the genial influences of a milder climate, the expense of which he was unable to bear, his friends solicited the very persons whom he had just satyrized, to obtain for him the office of consul at Nice, Naples, or Leghorn. Dr. Moore informs us, with more acrimony than truth, "that these applications were fruitless. Dr. Smollett had never 'spanielled' ministers; he could not endure the insolence of office, or stoop to cultivate the favour of any person merely on account of his power: and besides he was a man of genius."
He set out, however, for Italy early in 1770, with a debilitated body, and a mind probably irritated by his recent disappointment, but not without much of the ease which argues firmness, since during this journey he could so pleasantly divert his sorrows by writing The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker. This novel, if it may be so called, for it has no regular fable, in point of genuine humour, knowledge of life and manners, and delineation of character, is inferior only to his Roderick Random and Peregrine Pickle. It has already been noticed that Matthew Bramble, the principal character, displays the cynical temper and humane feelings of the author on his tour on the continent; and it may now be added that he has given another sketch of himself in the character of Serle in the first volume. This account of the ingratitude of Paunceford to Smollett is strictly true; and as his biographers seem unacquainted with the circumstances, the following may not be uninteresting, which was related to me by the late intimate friend of Smollett, Mr. Hamilton, the printer and proprietor of the Critical Review.
"Paunceford was a John C—l, who was fed by Smollett when he had not bread to eat, nor clothes to cover him. He was taken out to India as private secretary to a celebrated governor-general, and as essayist; and after only three years absence, returned with forty thousand pounds. From India he sent several letters to Smollett, professing that he was coming over to lay his fortune at the feet of his benefactor. But on his arrival, he treated Smollett, Hamilton, and others, who had befriended him, with the most ungrateful contempt. The person who taught him the art of essaying became reduced in circumstances, and is now (1792) or lately was collector of the toll on carts at Holborn Bars. C—l never paid him, or any person to whom he was indebted. He died in two or three years after at his house near Hounslow, universally despised. At the request of Smollett, Mr. Hamilton employed him to write in the Critical Review, which, with Smollett's charity, was all his support, previously to his departure for India."
Such kindness and such ingratitude ought not to be concealed, but it is less necessary to point out the very flattering account he has given of his hospitality and patronage of inferior authors, while he resided at Chelsea. While full credit, however, is given for these virtues, it cannot be a disrespectful wish that he had found another panegyrist than himself. There is no instance of any man of Dr. Smollett's rank in the literary world so many opportunities to sound his own praises, and that without any of the disguises which are employed by men who wish to acquire a factitious character. At this time, perhaps, he was desirous of recovering the reputation which envy and malice had suppressed or darkened, and might not be without hopes that as he was now approaching the close of life, his enemies would relent, and admit his evidence.
In the neighbourhood of Leghorn, he lingered through the summer of 1771, in the full possession of his faculties, and died on the 21st of October, in the 51st year of his age. Dr. Armstrong, who visited him at Leghorn, honoured his remains with a Latin inscription, elegantly noticing his genius and virtues, and severely reflecting on the "times, in which hardly any literary merit but such as was in the most false or futile taste, received any encouragment from the mock Maecenases of Britain." In the year 1774, a column was erected to his memory on the banks of the Leven, near the house in which he was born. The inscription on this was the joint production of lord Kames, professor George Stuart, and John Ramsay, esq. and was revised by Dr. Johnson. It is elegant, affecting and modest.
Dr. Moore's opinion of his personal character is thus given: "The person of Smollett was stout and well proportioned, his countenance engaging, his manner reserved, with a certain air of dignity that seemed to indicate that he was not unconscious of his own powers. He was of a disposition so humane and generous, that he was ever ready to serve the unfortunate, and on some occasions to assist them beyond what his circumstances could justify. Though few could penetrate with more acuteness into character, yet none was more apt to overlook misconduct when attended with misfortune.
"He lived in an hospitable manner, but he despised that hospitality which is founded on ostentation, which entertains only those whose situation in life flatters the vanity of the entertainer, or such as can make returns of the same kind, that hospitality which keeps a debtor and creditor account of dinners. Smollett invited to his plain but plentiful table the persons whose characters he esteemed, in whose conversation he delighted, and many for no other reason than because they stood in need of his countenance and protection.
"As nothing was more abhorrent to his nature than pertness or intrusion, few things could render him more indignant than a cold reception: to this however he imagined he had sometimes been exposed on his application in favour of others: for himself he never made an application to any great man in his life.
"Free from vanity, Smollett had a considerable share of pride, and great sensibility: his passions were easily moved, and too impetuous when roused: he could not conceal his contempt of folly, his detestation of fraud, nor refrain from proclaiming his indignation against every instance of oppression.
"Though Smollett possessed a versatility of style in writing, which he could accommodate to every character, he had no suppleness in his conduct. His learning, diligence, and natural acuteness would have rendered him eminent in the science of medicine, had he persevered in that profession; other parts of his character were ill-suited for augmenting his practice. He could neither stoop to impose on credulity, nor humour caprice.
"He was of an intrepid, independent, imprudent disposition, equally incapable of deceit and adulation, and more disposed to cultivate the acquaintance of those he could serve, than of those who could serve him. What wonder that a man of his character was not, what is called, successful in life!"
How far this character agrees with the facts detailed in this narrative, and which are principally taken from Dr. Moore, may be now safely left to the determination of the reader.
As an author, Dr. Smollett is universally allowed the praise of original genius displayed with an ease and variety which are rarely found. Yet this character belongs chiefly to his novels. In correct delineation of life and manners, and in drawing characters of the humorous class, he has few equals. But when this praise is bestowed every critic who values what is more important than genius itself, the interest of morality and decency, must surely stop. It can be of no use to analyze each individual scene, or character in works which, after all, must be pronounced unfit to be read.
But if the morals of the reader were in no danger, his taste can hardly escape being insulted or perverted. Smollett's humour is of so low a cast, and his practical jokes so frequently end in what is vulgar, mean, and filthy, that it would be impossible to acquire a relish for them, without injury done to the chaster feelings, and to the just respect due to genuine wit. No novel writer seems to take more delight in assembling images and incidents that are gross and disgusting: nor has he scrupled to introduce, with more than slight notice, those vices which are not fit even to be named. If this be a just representation of his most favourite novels, it is in vain to oppose it by pointing out passages which do credit to his genius, and more vain to attempt to prove that virtue and taste are not directly injured by such productions.
As a historian, Smollett's reputation has certainly not been preserved. When he published his History, something of the kind was wanted, and it was executed in a manner not unworthy of his talents. But the writings of Hume, Robertson, and Gibbon have introduced a taste for a higher species of historical composition: and, if I am not mistaken, there has been no complete edition of Smollett's History, but that which he published. Had he been allowed the proper time for revision and reflection, it cannot be doubted that he might have produced a work deserving of more lasting fame. His History, even as we have it, when we advert to the short time he took for its completion, is a very extraordinary effort, and instead of blaming him for occasionally following his authorities too servilely, the wonder ought to be that he found leisure to depart from them so frequently, and to assign reasons, which are not those of a superficial thinker. It is impossible, however, to quit this subject without adverting to the mode of publication which dispersed the work among a class of persons, the purchasers of sixpenny numbers, whom Smollett too easily took for the learned and discerning part of the public. This fallacious encouragement afforded fuel to his irritable temper, by inciting him, not only to the arts of puffing, by which the literary character is degraded, but to those vulgar and splenetic recriminations of which a specimen has been given, and which must have lowered him yet more in the opinion of the eminent characters of his day.
Smollett was not successful in his dramatic attempts. Those who judged from the ease and vivacity of his pictures of life and manners in his novels, no doubt thought justified in encouraging him in this species of composition. But all experience shows that the talents necessary for the prose epic, and those for the regular drama, are essentially different, and have rarely met in one man. Fielding, a novelist greatly superior, and who after the trials of more than half a century, may he pronounced inimitable, was yet foiled in his dramatic attempts, although he returned to the charge with fresh courage and skill.
As a poet, in which character only Smollett is here introduced, although his pieces are few, they must be allowed to confer a very high rank. It is, indeed, greatly to be lamented that he did not cultivate his poetical talents more frequently and more extensively. The Tears of Scotland and the Ode to Independence, particularly the latter, are equal to the highest efforts in the pathetic and sublime. In the Ode to Independence there is evidently the inspiration of real genius, free from all artificial aid, or meretricious ornament. It may be questioned whether there are many compositions in our language which more forcibly charm by all the enchantments of taste, expression, and sentiment. Some observations on this ode, and usually printed with it, are the production of professor Richardson. It may be necessary to add that this ode was left in manuscript by Smollett, and published at Glasgow and London in 1773.
Advice and Reproof have already been noticed, and are more remarkable for their satirical aim, than for poetical beauties. His songs and other small pieces were introduced principally in his novels and in the Reprisal, To our regret we may add some degree of surprise, that one who could write so well should write so little in a which generally confers a much higher degree of fame than he could expect from most of his other productions.
The works of Smollett were published by the London proprietors in 1797, in eight volumes, 8vo. To this edition Dr. Moore was engaged to furnish a life. Another life about the same lime was published at Edinburgh by Dr. Anderson. I have availed myself of both, as far as regards matters of fact. If I have not been able to join in their opinion of Dr. Smollett, it is some excuse that I have been indebted to them for the principal reasons which have induced me to differ.