The Life of SMOLLETT, whose genius has raised an imperishable monument to his fame, has been written, with spirit and elegance, by his friend and contemporary, the celebrated Dr. Moore, and more lately by Dr. Robert Anderson of Edinburgh, with a careful research, which leaves to us little except the task of selection and abridgement.
Our author was descended from an ancient and honourable family; an advantage to which, from various passages in his writings, he seems to have attached considerable weight, and the consciousness of which seems to have contributed its share in forming some of the peculiarities of his character.
Sir James Smollett of Bonhill, the grandfather of the celebrated author, was bred to the bar, became one of the Commissaries (i.e. Consistorial Judges) of Edinburgh, represented the burgh of Dumbarton in the Scottish Parliament, and lent his aid to dissolve that representative body for ever, being one of the Commissioners for framing the Union with England. By his lady, a daughter of Sir Aulay MacAulay of Ardincaple, Sir James Smollett had four sons, of whom Archibald, the youngest, was father of the poet.
It appears that Archibald Smollett followed no profession, and that, without his father's consent, he married an amiable woman, Barbara, daughter of Mr. Cunningham of Gilbertfield. The disunion betwixt the son and father, to which this act of imprudence gave rise, did not prevent Sir James Smollett from assigning to him, for his support, the house and farm of Dalquhurn, near his own mansion of Bonhill. Archibald Smollett died early, leaving two sons and a daughter wholly dependent on the kindness of his grandfather. The eldest son embraced the military life, and perished by the shipwreck of a transport. The daughter, Jane, married Mr. Telfer of Leadhills, and her descendant, Captain John Smollett, R.N., now represents the family, and possesses the estate of Bonhill. The second son of Archibald Smollett is the subject of this Memoir.
TOBIAS SMOLLETT (baptized Tobias George) was born in 1721, in the old house of Dalquhurn, in the valley of Leven, in perhaps the most beautiful district in Britain. Its distinguished native has celebrated the vale of Leven not only in the beautiful Ode addressed to his parent stream, but in the Expedition of Humphry Clinker, where he mentions the home of his forefathers in the following enthusiastic, yet not exaggerated terms: — "A very little above the source of the Leven, on the lake, stands the house of Cameron, belonging to Mr. Smollett, so embosomed in an oak wood, that we did not see it till we were within fifty yards of the door. The lake approaches on one side to within six or seven yards of the window. It might have been placed in a higher situation, which would have afforded a more extensive prospect, and a drier atmosphere; but this imperfection is not chargeable on the present proprietor, who purchased it ready built, rather than be at the trouble of repairing his own family-house of Bonhill, which stands two miles from hence on the Leven, so surrounded with plantations, that it used to be known by the name of the Mavis (or thrush) Nest. Above that house is a romantic glen, or cleft of a mountain, covered with hanging woods, having at bottom a stream of fine water that forms a number of cascades in its descent to join the Leven, so that the scene is quite enchanting.
"I have seen the Lago di Gardi, Albano de Vico, Bolsena, and Geneva, and I prefer Loch-Lomond to them all; a preference which is certainly owing to the verdant islands that seem to float upon its surface, affording the most enchanting objects of repose to the excursive view. Nor are the banks destitute of beauties which even partake of the sublime. On this side they display a sweet variety of woodland, corn-fields, and pasture, with several agreeable villas, emerging, as, it were, out of the lake; till at some distance, the prospect terminates in huge mountains, covered with heath, which, being in the bloom, affords a very rich covering of purple. Everything here is romantic beyond imagination. This country is justly styled the Arcadia of Scotland: I do not doubt but it may vie with Arcadia in everything but climate. I am sure it excels it in verdure, wood, and water."
A poet bred up amongst such scenes, must become doubly attached to his art; and accordingly it appears that Smollett was in the highest degree sensible of the beauties of nature, although his fame has chiefly risen upon his power of delineating human character. He obtained the rudiments of classical knowledge at the Dumbarton grammar-school, then taught by Mr. John Love, the scarce less learned antagonist of the learned Ruddiman. From thence he removed to Glasgow, where he pursued his studies with diligence and success, and was finally bound apprentice to Mr. John Gordon, an eminent surgeon. This destination was contrary to young Smollett's wishes, which strongly determined him to a military life; and he is supposed to have avenged himself both of his grandfather, who contradicted his inclinations, and of his master, by describing the former under the unamiable character of the old Judge, and the latter as Mr. Potion, the first master of Roderick Random. At a later period he did Mr. Gordon justice by mentioning him in the following terms: — "I was introduced to Mr. Gordon," says Matthew Bramble, "a patriot of a truly noble spirit, who is father of the linen manufactory in that place, and was the great promoter of the city work-house, infirmary, and other works of public utility. Had he lived in ancient Rome, he would have been honoured with a statue at the public expense."
During his apprenticeship, Smollett's conduct indicated that love of frolic, practical jest, and playful mischief, of which his works show many proofs, and the young novelist gave also several indications of his talents and propensity to satire. It is said, that his master expressed his conviction of Smollett's future eminence in very homely but expressive terms, when some of his neighbours were boasting the superior decorum and propriety of their young pupils. "It may be all very true," said the keen-sighted Mr. Gordon; "but give me, before them all, my own bubbly-nosed callant, with the stane in his pouch." Without attempting to render this into English, our Southern readers must be informed, that the words contain a faithful sketch of a negligent, unlucky, but spirited urchin, never without some mischievous prank in his head, and a stone in his pocket ready to execute it.
In the eighteenth year of Smollett's life, his grandfather, Sir James, died, making no provision by his will for the children of his youngest son, a neglect which, joined to other circumstances already mentioned, procured him from his irritable descendant the painful distinction which the old Judge holds in the narrative of Roderick Random.
Without efficient patronage of any kind, Smollett, in his nineteenth year, went to London to seek his fortune wherever he might find it. He carried with him the Regicide, a tragedy, written during the progress of his studies, but which, though it evinces in particular passages the genius of the author, cannot be termed with justice a performance suited for the stage. Lord Lyttleton, as a patron — Garrick and Lacy, as managers — gave the youthful author some encouragement, which, perhaps, the sanguine temper of Smollett over-rated; for, in the story of Mr. Melopoyn, where he gives the history of his attempts to bring the Regicide on the stage, the patron and the manager are not spared; and, in Peregrine Pickle, the personage of Gosling Scrag, which occurs in the first edition only, is meant to represent Lord Lyttleton. The story is more briefly told in the preface to the first edition of the Regicide, where the author informs us that his tragedy "was taken into the protection of one of those little fellows who are sometimes called great men, and, like other orphans, neglected accordingly. Stung with resentment, which I mistook for contempt, I resolved to punish this barbarous indifference and actually discarded my patron; consoling myself with the barren praise of a few associates, who, in the most indefatigable manner, employed their time and influence in collecting from all quarters observations on my piece, which, in consequence of those suggestions, put on a new appearance almost every day, until my occasions called me out of the kingdom."
Disappointed in the hopes he had founded on in his theatrical attempt, Smollett accepted the situation of surgeon's mate on board of a ship of the line, in the expedition to Carthagena, in 1741, of which he published a short account in Roderick Random, and a longer narrative in a Compendium of Voyages, published in 1751. But the term of our author's service in the navy was chiefly remarkable from his having acquired, in that brief space, such intimate knowledge of our nautical world, as enabled him to describe sailors with such truth and spirit of delineation, that from that time whoever has undertaken the same task has seemed to copy more from Smollett than from nature. Our author quitted the navy, in disgust alike with the drudgery, and with the despotic discipline, which in those days was qualified by no urbanity on the part of superior officers, and which exposed subordinates in the service to such mortifications, as a haughty spirit like that of Smollett could very ill endure. He left the service in the West Indies, and after a residence of some time its the island of Jamaica, returned to England in 1746. Obscure traces of the vexatious persecutions which he underwent during his service in the navy, may be found in Roderick Random; but the temper of the author was too irritable to encourage our full confidence in the truth of his satire.
It was at this time, when, incensed at the brutal severities exercised by the government's troops in the Highlands, to which romantic regions he was a neighbour by birth, Smollett wrote the pathetic, spirited, and patriotic verses entitled The Tears of Caledonia. The late Robert Graham, Esq. of Gartmore, a particular friend and trustee of Smollett, has recorded the manner in which this effusion was poured forth. "Some gentlemen having met at a tavern were amusing themselves before supper with a game at cards; while Smollett, not choosing to play, sat down to write. One of the company, who also was nominated by him one of his trustees, (Gartmore himself,) observing his earnestness, and supposing he was writing verses, asked him if it was not so. He accordingly read them the first sketch of his Tears of Scotland, consisting only of six stanzas; and on their remarking that the termination of the poem, being too strongly expressed, might give offence to persons whose political opinions were different, he sat down, without reply, and, with an air of great indignation, subjoined the concluding stanza:—
While the warm blood bedews my veins,
And unimpair'd remembrance reigns,
Resentment of my Country's fate
Within my filial breast shall heat.
Yes, spite of thine insulting foe,
My sympathizing verse shall flow.
Mourn, hapless Caledonia, mourn,
Thy banish'd peace, thy laurels torn!
To estimate the generous emotions with which Smollett was actuated on this occasion, it must be remarked that his patriotism was independent of party feeling, as he had been bred up in Whig principles, which were those of his family; and although these appear from his historical work to have been in some degree modified, yet the author continued attached to the principles of the Revolution. It is also to be remembered, that at the extinction of a civil war, the least appearance of sympathy with the vanquished party is sure to interrupt fairer prospects of preferment than any which opened to Smollett. His feelings for his country's distresses, and his resentment of the injuries she sustained, were as genuine and disinterested as the mode of expressing them is pathetic and spirited.
Smollett, on his return from the West Indies, settled in London, and commenced his career as a professional man. He was not successful as a physician, probably because his independent and haughty spirit neglected the by-paths which lead to fame in that profession. One account says, that he failed to render himself agreeable to his female patients, certainly not from want of address or figure, for both were remarkably pleasing, but more probably by a hasty impatience of listening to petty complaints, and a want of sympathy with the lamentations of those who laboured under no real indisposition. It is remarkable, that although very many, perhaps the greatest number of successful medical men, have assumed a despotic authority over their patients after their character was established, few or none have risen to pre-eminence in practice who used the same want of ceremony in the commencement of their career. Perhaps, however, Dr. Smollett was too soon discouraged, and abandoned prematurely a profession in which success is proverbially slow.
Smollett, who must have felt his own powers, had naturally recourse to his pen, to supply the deficiencies of an income which his practice did not afford; and besides repeated attempts to get his tragedy acted, he sent forth, in 1746, Advice, and in 1747, Reproof, both poetical satires possessed of considerable merit, but which only influenced the fate of the author, as they increased the number of his personal enemies. Rich, the manager, was particularly satirized in Reproof. Smollett had written for the Covent-Garden theatre an opera called Alceste, which was not acted in consequence of some quarrel betwixt the author and manager, which Smollett thus avenged.
About 1747, Smollett was married to Miss Lascelles, a beautiful and accomplished woman, to whom he had become attached in the West Indies. Instead of an expected fortune of £3000, he gained by this connexion only a lawsuit, and increased the expense of housekeeping, which he was still less able to afford, and was again obliged to have recourse to his literary talents.
Necessity is the mother of invention in literature as well as in the arts, and the necessity of Smollett brought him forth in his pre-eminent character of a Novelist. Roderick Random may be considered as an imitation of Le Sage, as the hero flits through almost every scene of public and private life, recording, as he paints his own adventures, the manners of the times, with all their various shades and diversities of colouring; but forming no connected plot or story, the several parts of which hold connexion with, or bear proportion to, each other. It was the second example of the minor romance, or English novel. Fielding had shortly before set the example in his Tom Jones, and a rival of almost equal eminence, in 1748, brought forth the Adventures of Roderick Random; a work which was eagerly received by the public, and brought both reputation and profit to the author.
It was generally believed that Smollett painted some of his own early adventures under the veil of fiction; but the public carried the spirit of applying the characters of a work of fiction to living personages much further perhaps than the author intended. Gawkey, Crabbe, and Potion, were assigned to individuals in the West of Scotland; Mrs. Smollett was supposed to be Narcissa; the author himself represented Roderick Random, (of which there can be little doubt); a bookbinder and barber, the early acquaintances of Smollett, contended for the character of the attached, amiable, simple-hearted Strap; and the two naval officers, under whom Smollett had served, were stigmatized under the names of Oakum and Whiffle. Certain it is, that the contempt with which his unfortunate play had been treated forms the basis of Mr. Melopoyn's story, in which Garrick and Lyttleton are roughly treated under the characters of Marmozet and Sheerwit. The public did not taste less keenly the real merits of this interesting and humorous work, because they conceived it to possess the zest arising from personal allusion; and the sale of the work exceeded greatly the expectations of all concerned.
Having now the ear of the public, Smollett published, by subscription, his unfortunate tragedy, the Regicide, in order to shame those who had barred his access to the stage. The preface is filled with complaints, which are neither just nor manly, and with strictures upon Garrick and Lyttleton, which amount almost to abuse. The merits of the piece by no means vindicate this extreme resentment on the part of the author, and of this Smollett himself became at length sensible. He was impetuous, but not sullen in his resentment, and generously allowed, in his History of England, the full merit to those, whom, in the first impulse of passion and disappointment, he had treated with injustice.
In 1750, Smollett made a tour to Paris, where he gleaned materials for future works of fiction, besides enlarging his acquaintance with life and manners. A coxcomb painter, whom he met on this occasion, formed the original of the exquisite Pallet; while Dr. Akenside, a man of a very different character, was marked the future prey of satire as the pedantic Doctor of Medicine. He is said to have offended Smollett by some national reflections on Scotland, while his extravagant zeal for liberty, which was in no great danger, and his pedantic and exclusive admiration of the manners of classical antiquity, afforded, as Smollett has drawn them, an ample fund of ridicule.
Peregrine Pickle is supposed to have been written chiefly in Paris, and appeared in 1751. It was received by the public with uncommon avidity, and a large impression dispersed, notwithstanding the efforts of certain booksellers and others, whom Smollett accuses of attempts to obstruct the sale, the book being published on account of the author himself. His irritable temper induced him to run hastily before the public with complaints, which, howsoever well or ill grounded, the public has been at all times accustomed to hear with great indifference. Man professional authors, philosophers, and other public characters of the time, were also satirized with little restraint.
The splendid merits of the work itself were a much greater victory over the author's enemies, if he really had such, than any which lie could gain by personal altercation with unworthy opponents. Yet by many his second novel was not thought quite equal to his first. In truth, there occurs betwixt Roderick Random and Peregrine Pickle a difference, which is often observed betwixt the first and second efforts of authors who have been successful in this line. Peregrine Pickle is more finished, more sedulously laboured into excellence, exhibits scenes of more accumulated interest, and presents a richer variety of character and adventure, than Roderick Random; but yet there is an ease and simplicity in the first novel which is not quite attained in the second, where the author has substituted splendid colouring for strict fidelity of outline. Thus, of the inimitable sea-characters, Trunnion, Pipes and even Hatchway, border upon caricature; but Lieutenant Bowling and Jack Rattlin are truth and nature itself. The reason seems to be, that when an author brings forth his first representation of any class of characters, he seizes on the leading and striking outlines, and therefore, in the second attempt of the same kind, he is forced to make some distinction, and either to invest his personage with less obvious and ordinary traits of character, or to place him in a new and less natural light. Hence, it would seem, the difference in opinion which sometimes occurs betwixt the author and the reader, respecting the comparative value of early and of subsequent publications. The author naturally esteems that most upon which he is conscious much more labour has been bestowed, while the public often remain constant to their first love, and prefer the facility and truth of the earlier work to the more elaborate execution displayed in those which follow it. But though the simplicity of its predecessor was not, and could not be, repeated in Smollett's second novel, his powers are so far from evincing any falling off, that in Peregrine Pickle there is a much wider range of character and incident, than is exhibited in Roderick Random, as well as a more rich and brilliant display of the talents and humour of the distinguished author.
Peregrine Pickle did not, however, owe its success entirely to its intrinsic merit. The Memoirs of a Lady of quality, a separate tale, thrust into the work, with which it has no sort of connexion, in the manner introduced by Cervantes, and followed by Le Sage and Fielding, added considerably to its immediate popularity. These Memoirs, which are now regarded as a tiresome and unnecessary excrescence upon the main story, contain the history of Lady Vane, renowned at that time for her beauty and her intrigues. The lady not only furnished Smollett with the materials for recording her own infamy, but, it is said, rewarded him handsomely for the insertion of her story. Mr. MacKercher, a character of a different description, was also introduced. He was remarkable for the benevolent Quixotry with which he supported the pretensions of the unfortunate Mr. Annesley, a claimant of the title and property of Anglesea. The public took the interest in the frailties of Lady Vane, and the benevolence of Mr. MacKercher, which they always take in the history of living and remarkable characters; and the anecdotes respecting the demirep and the man of charity, greatly promoted the instant popularity of Peregrine Pickle.
The extreme license of some of the scenes described in this novel, gave deep offence to the thinking part of the public; and the work, in conformity to their just complaints, was much altered in the second edition. The preliminary advertisement has these words: — "It was the author's duty, as well as his interest, to oblige the public with this edition, which he has endeavoured to render less unworthy of their acceptance, by retrenching the superfluities of the first, reforming its manners, and correcting its expression. Divers uninteresting incidents are wholly suppressed; some humorous scenes he has endeavoured to heighten; and he flatters himself that he has expunged every adventure, phrase, and insinuation, that could be construed by the most delicate reader into a trespass upon the rules of decorum.
"He owns with contrition, that, in one or two instances, he gave way too much to the suggestions of personal resentment, and represented characters, as they appeared to him at the time, through the exaggerated medium of prejudice. But he has in this impression endeavoured to make atonement for these extravagancies. Howsoever he may have erred in point of judgment or discretion, he defies the whole world to prove that he was ever guilty of one act of malice, ingratitude, or dishonour. This declaration he may be permitted to make without incurring the imputation of vanity or presumption, considering the numerous shafts of envy, rancour, and revenge, that have lately, both in public and private, been levelled at his reputation."
In reference to this palinode, we may barely observe, that the passages retrenched in the second edition are, generally speaking, the detail of those frolics in which the author has permitted his turn for humour greatly to outrun his sense of decency and propriety; and, in this respect, notwithstanding what he himself says in the passage just quoted, the work would have been much improved by a more unsparing application of the pruning-knife. Several personal reflections were also omitted, particularly those on Lyttleton and Fielding, whom he had upbraided for his dependence on that statesman's patronage.
Dr. Anderson informs us, that, "at this period, Smollett seems to have obtained the degree of Doctor of Physic, probably from a foreign University, and announced himself a candidate for fame and fortune as a physician, by a publication entitled, 'An Essay on the External Use of Water, in a Letter to Dr. —, with particular Remarks upon the present Method of using the Mineral Waters at Bath in Somersetshire, and a Plan for rendering them more safe, agreeable, and efficacious; 4to, 1752.' The performance advanced his reputation as a man of science and taste, but failed to conduct the physician to professional eminence and wealth. This is the only publication in the line of his profession which is known to have proceeded from his pen." If the Essay was intended to serve as an introduction to practice, it was totally unsuccessful. Perhaps character as a satirist, and the readiness he had shown to engraft the peculiarities and history of individuals into works of fiction, were serious obstacles to him in a profession which demands so much confidence as that of a family physician. But it is probable that the author's chief object in the publication was to assist the cause of a particular friend, Mr. Cleland, a surgeon at Bath, then engaged in a controversy concerning the use of these celebrated waters.
In the year 1753, Dr. Smollett published The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom, one, of those works which seem to have been written for the purpose of showing how far humour and genius can go, in painting a complete picture of human depravity. Smollett has made his own defence for the loathsome task which he has undertaken. "Let me not," says he, in the dedication to Dr. —, (we are unable to supply the blank,) be condemned for having chosen my principal character from the purlieus of treachery and fraud, when I declare my purpose is to set him up as a beacon for the benefit of the inexperienced and unwary, who, from the perusal of these memoirs, may learn to avoid the manifold snares with which they are continually surrounded in the paths of life, while those who hesitate on the brink of iniquity may be terrified from plunging into that irremediable gulf, by surveying the deplorable fate of Ferdinand Count Fathom." But, while we do justice to the author's motives, we are obliged to deny the validity of his reasoning. To a reader of a good disposition and well-regulated mind, the picture of moral depravity presented in the character of Count Fathom is a disgusting pollution of the imagination. To those, on the other hand, who hesitate on the brink of meditated iniquity, it is not safe to detail the arts by which the ingenuity of villainy has triumphed in former instances; and it is well known that the publication of the real account of uncommon crimes, although attended by the public and infamous punishment of the perpetrators, has often had the effect of stimulating others to similar actions. To some unhappy minds, it may occur as a sort of extenuation of the crime which they meditate, that even if they carry their purpose into execution, their guilt will fall far short of what the author has ascribed to his fictitious character; and there are other imaginations so ill regulated, that they catch infection from stories of wickedness, and feel an insane impulse to emulate and to realize the pictures of villainy, which are embodied in such narratives as those of Zeluco or Count Fathom.
Condemning, however, the plan and tendency of the work, it is impossible to deny our applause to the wonderful knowledge of life and manners, which is evinced in the tale of Count Fathom, as much as in any of Smollett's works. The horrible adventure in the hut of the robbers, is a tale of natural terror which rises into the sublime; and, though often imitated, has never yet been surpassed, or perhaps equalled. In Count Fathom also is to be found the first candid attempt to do justice to a calumniated race. The benevolent Jew of Cumberland had his prototype in the worthy Israelite, whom Smollett has introduced with very great effect into the history of Fathom.
Shortly after this publication, Smollett's warmth of temper involved him in an unpleasant embarrassment. A person, called Peter Gordon, after having been saved by Smollett's humanity from imprisonment and ruin, and after having prevailed upon him to interpose his credit in his behalf to an inconvenient extent, withdrew within the verge of the court, set his creditors at defiance, and treated his benefactor with so much personal insolence, that Smollett chastised him by a beating. A prosecution was commenced by Gordon, and his counsel, Mr. Home Campbell, whether in indulgence of his natural rudeness and impetuosity, of which he had a great share, or whether moved by some special enmity against Smollett, opened the case with an unusual torrent of violence and misrepresentation. But the good sense and impartiality of the jury acquitted Smollett of the assault, and he was no sooner cleared of the charge than he sent an angry remonstrance to Mr. Home Campbell, demanding that he should retract what he had said to his disadvantage. It does not appear how the affair was settled, but Smollett's manifesto, as a literary curiosity, is inserted in the Appendix to this Memoir. Besides that this expostulation is too long for the occasion, and far too violent to be dignified, Smollett imputes to Campbell the improbable charge, that he was desirous to revenge himself upon the author of Ferdinand Count Fathom, because he had satirized the profession of the law. Lawyers are seldom very sensitive on this head, and if they were, they would have constant exercise for their irritability; since scarce a satirical author, of whatsoever description, has concluded his work, without giving cause to the gentlemen of the robe for some such offence, as Smollett supposes Campbell to have taken in the present instance. The manifesto of Smollett contains, however, some just censure on the prevailing, mode in which witnesses are treated in the courts of justice in England, who, far from being considered as persons brought there to speak the truth in a matter wherein they have no concern, and who are therefore entitled to civil treatment, and to the protection of the court, on the contrary are often regarded as men standing forward to perjure themselves, and are therefore condemned beforehand to a species of moral pillory, where they are pelted with all the foul jests which the wit of their interrogators can suggest.
Smollett's next task was a new version of Don Quixote, to which he was encouraged by a liberal subscription. The work was inscribed to Don Ricardo Wall, Principal Secretary of State to his Most Catholic Majesty, by whom the undertaking had been encouraged. Smollett's version of this admirable classic is thus elegantly compared with those of Motteux, (or Ozell,) and of Jarvis, by the late ingenious and amiable Lord Woodhouselee, in his "Essay on the Principles of Translation."
"Smollett inherited from nature a strong sense of ridicule, a great fund of original humour, and a happy versatility of talent, by which he could accommodate his style to almost every species of writing. He could adopt, alternately, the solemn, the lively, the sarcastic, the burlesque, and the vulgar. To these qualifications, he joined an inventive genius, and a vigorous imagination. As he possessed talents equal to the composition of original works of the same species with the romance of Cervantes; so it is not perhaps possible to conceive a writer more completely qualified to give a perfect translation of that novel.
"Motteux, with no great abilities as an original writer, appears to me to have been endowed with a strong perception of the ridiculous in human character, a just discernment of the weaknesses and follies of mankind. He seems likewise to have had a great command of the various styles which are accommodated to the expression both of grave burlesque, and of low humour. Inferior to Smollett in inventive genius, he seems to have equalled him in every quality which was essentially requisite to a translator of Don Quixote. It may, therefore, be supposed, that the contest between them will be nearly equal, and the question of preference very difficult to be decided. It would have been so, had Smollett confided in his own strength, and bestowed on his task that time and labour which the length and difficulty of the work required; but Smollett too often wrote in such circumstances, that despatch was his primary object. He found various English translations at hand, which he judged might save him the labour of a new composition. Jarvis could give him faithfully the sense of his author; and it was necessary only to polish his asperities, and lighten his heavy and awkward phraseology. To contend with Motteux, Smollett found it necessary to assume the armour of Jarvis. This author had purposely avoided, through the whole of his work, the smallest coincidence of expression with Motteux, whom, with equal presumption and injustice, he accuses in his preface of having 'taken his version wholly from the French.' We find, therefore, both in the translation of Jarvis, and that of Smollett, which is little else than an improved edition of the former, that there is a studied rejection of the phraseology of Motteux. Now Motteux, though he has frequently assumed too great a license, both in adding to, and retrenching from the ideas of his original, has, upon the whole, a very high degree of merit as a translator. In the adoption of corresponding idioms, he has been eminently fortunate; and, as in these there is no great latitude, he has, in general, pre-occupied the appropriate phrases; so that a succeeding translator, who proceeded on the rule of invariably rejecting his phraseology, must have, in general, altered for the worse. Such, I have said, was the rule laid down by Jarvis, and by his copyist and improver Smollett, who, by thus absurdly rejecting what his own judgment and taste must have approved, has produced a composition decidedly inferior, on the whole, to that of Motteux.
"Smollett was a good poet, and most of the verse translations, interspersed through this work, are executed with ability. It is on this head that Motteux has assumed to himself the greatest license. He has very presumptuously mutilated the poetry of Cervantes, by leaving out many entire stanzas from the larger compositions, and suppressing some of the smaller altogether. Yet the translation of those poems which he has retained, is possessed of much poetical merit, and, in particular, those verses which are of a graver cast, are, in my opinion, superior to those of his rival.
"On the whole, I am inclined to think, the version of Motteux is by far the best we have yet seen of the romance of Cervantes, and that, if corrected in its licentious observations and enlargements, and in some other particulars, which I have noticed in the course of this comparison, we should have nothing to desire superior to it in the way of translation."
After the publication of Don Quixote, Smollett paid a visit to his native country, in order to see his mother, who then resided at Scotston, in Peebles-shire, with her daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Telfer. Dr. Moore has given us the following beautiful anecdote respecting the meeting of the mother with her distinguished son.
"On Smollett's arrival, he was introduced to his mother, with the connivance of Mrs. Telfer, as a gentleman from the West Indies, who was intimately acquainted with her son. The better to support his assumed character, he endeavoured to preserve a serious countenance, approaching to a frown; but, while his mother's eyes were riveted on his countenance, he could not refrain from smiling: She immediately sprung from her chair, and, throwing her arms around his neck, exclaimed, 'Ah, my son! my son! I have found you at last!'
"She afterwards told him, that if he had kept his austere looks, and continued to gloom, he might have escaped detection some time longer; 'but your old roguish smile,' added she, 'betrayed you at once.'"
Having revisited the seat of his family, then possessed by his cousin, and spent a day or two at Glasgow, the scene of his early studies and frolics, Smollett returned to England, in order to undertake the direction of the Critical Review, a work which was established under patronage of the Tories and High-Church party; and which was intended to maintain their principles in opposition to the Monthly Review, conducted according to the sentiments of Whigs and Low-Churchmen.
Smollett's taste, and talents qualified him highly for periodical criticism, as well as the promptitude of his wit, and the ready application which he could make of a large store of miscellaneous learning and acquired knowledge. But on the other hand, he was always a hasty, and often a prejudiced judge; and, while he himself applied the critical scourge without mercy, he could not endure that those who felt his blows should either wince or complain under his chastisement. To murmur against his decrees, was the sure way to incur further marks of his resentment, and thus his criticism deviated still more widely from dispassionate discussion, as the passions of the reviewer and of the author became excited into a clamorous contest of mutual rejoinder, recrimination, and abuse. Many petty squabbles, which occurred to teaze and embitter the life of Smollett, and to diminish the respectability with which his talents must otherwise have invested him, had their origin in his situation as Editor of the Critical Review. He was engaged in one controversy with the notorious Shebbeare, in another with Dr. Grainger, the elegant author of the beautiful Ode to Solitude, and in several wrangles and brawls with persons of less celebrity.
But the most unlucky controversy in which his critical office involved our author, was that with Admiral Knowles, who had published a pamphlet vindicating his own conduct in the secret expedition against Rochfort, which disgracefully miscarried, in 1757. This defence was examined in the Critical Review; and Smollett, himself the author of the article, used the following intemperate expressions concerning Admiral Knowles. "He is an admiral without conduct, an engineer without knowledge, an officer without resolution, and a man without veracity." The Admiral commenced a prosecution against the printer of the Review, declaring at the same time that he desired only to discover the author of the paragraph, and, should he prove a gentleman, to demand satisfaction of a different nature. This decoy, for such it proved, was the most effectual mode which could have been devised to draw the high-spirited Smollett within the danger of the law. When the court were about to pronounce judgment in the case, Smollett appeared, and took the consequences upon himself, and Admiral Knowles redeemed the pledge he had given, by enforcing judgment for a fine of one hundred pounds, and obtaining a sentence against the defendant of three months' imprisonment. How the Admiral reconciled his conduct to the rules usually observed by gentlemen, we are not informed; but the proceeding seems to justify even Smollett's strength of expression, when he terms him an officer without resolution, and a man without veracity. This imprisonment took place in 1759, and was, as we have stated already, the most memorable result of the various quarrels in which his duty as a critic engaged Dr. Smollett. We resume the account of his literary labours, which our detail of these disputes has something interrupted.
About 1757, Smollett compiled and published, without his name, a useful and entertaining collection, entitled, A Compendium of Authentic and Entertaining Voyages, digested in a chronological series; the whole exhibiting a clear view of the Customs, Manners, Religion, Government, Commerce, and Natural History of most Nations of the Known World, illustrated with a variety of Genuine Charts, Maps, Plans, Heads, &c. in 7 vols. 12mo. This collection introduced to the British public several voyages which were otherwise little known, and contained, amongst other articles not before published, Smollett's own account of the Expedition to Carthagena, of which he had given a short sketch in the Adventures of Roderick Random.
In the same year, 1751, the farce or comedy of The Reprisals, or the Tars of Old England, was written and acted, to animate the people against the French, with whom we were then at war. In pursuance of this plan, every species of national prejudice is called up and appealed to, and the Frenchman is represented as the living representative and original of all the caricature prints and ballads against the eaters of "soupe maigre," and wearers of wooden shoes. The sailors are drawn to the life, as the sailors of Smollett always are. The Scotchman and Irishman are hit off with the touch of a caricaturist of skill and spirit. But the story of the piece is as trivial as possible, and, on the whole, it forms no marked exception to the observation, that successful novelists have been rarely distinguished by excellence in dramatic composition.
Garrick's generous conduct to Smollett upon this occasion, fully obliterated all recollection of old differences. The manager allowed the author his benefit on the sixth, instead of the ninth night of the piece, abated certain charges or advances usually made on such occasions, and himself performed Lusignan on the same evening, in order to fill the theatre. Still, it seems, reports were in circulation that Smollett had spoken unkindly of Garrick, which called forth the following contradiction, in a letter which our author addressed to that celebrated performer.
"In justice to myself, I take the liberty to assure you, that if any person accuses me of having spoken disrespectfully of Mr. Garrick, of having hinted that he solicited for my farce, or had interested views in bringing it upon the stage, he does me wrong, upon the word of a gentleman. The imputation is altogether false and malicious. Exclusive of other considerations, I could not be such an idiot to talk in that strain when my own interest so immediately required a different sort of conduct. Perhaps the same insidious methods have been taken to inflame former animosities, which on my part are forgotten and self-condemned. I must own you have acted in this affair of the farce with that candour, openness, and cordiality, which even mortify my pride, while they lay me under the most sensible obligation; and I shall not rest satisfied until I have an opportunity to convince Mr. Garrick that my gratitude is at least as warm as any other of my passions. Meanwhile, I profess myself,
Your most humble servant,
In the beginning of the year 1758, Smollett published his Complete History of England, deduced from the Descent of Julius Caesar to the Treaty of Aix-La-Ghapelle, in 1748; in four volumes 4to. It is said that this voluminous work, containing the history of thirteen centuries, and written with uncommon spirit and correctness of language, was composed and finished for the press within fourteen months, one of the greatest exertions of facility of composition which was ever recorded in the history of literature. Within a space so brief it could not be expected that new facts should be produced; and all the novelty which Smollett's history could present must needs consist in the mode of stating facts, or in the reflections deduced from them. In this work, the author fully announced his political principles, which, notwithstanding his Whig education, were those of a modern Tory, and a favourer of the monarchical part of our constitution. For such a strain of sentiment, some readers will think no apology necessary; and by others none which we might propose would be listened to. Smollett has made his own defence, in a letter to Dr. Moore, dated 2d January 1758.
"I deferred answering your kind letter, until I should have finished my history, which is now completed. 1 was agreeably surprised to hear that my work had met with any approbation at Glasgow, for it was not at all calculated for that meridian. The last volume will, I doubt not, be severely censured by the west-country Whigs of Scotland.
"I desire you will divest yourself of prejudice, at least as much as you can, before you begin to peruse it, and consider well the facts before you pass judgment. Whatever may be its defect, I protest before God! have, as far as in me lay, adhered to truth, without espousing any faction, though I own I sat down to write with a warm side to those principles in which I was educated; but in the course of my enquiries, some of the Whig ministers turned out such a set of sordid knaves, that I could not help stigmatising them for their want of integrity and sentiment."
In another letter to Dr. Moore, dated Chelsea, September 28, he expresses himself as follows
"I speak not of the few who think like philosophers, abstracted from the notions of the vulgar. The little petulant familiarities of our friend I can forgive, in consideration of the good-will he has always manifested towards me and my concerns. He is mistaken, however, in supposing that I have imbibed priestly notions; I consider the church not as a religious, but a political establishment, so minutely interwoven in our constitution, that the one cannot be detached from the other, without the most imminent danger of destruction to both. The use which our friend makes of the Critical Review is whimsical enough; but I shall be glad if he uses it at any rate. I have not had leisure to do much in that work for some time past, therefore I hope you will not ascribe the articles indiscriminately to me; for I am equally averse to the praise and censure that belong to other men. Indeed, I am sick of both, and wish to God my circumstances would allow me to consign my pen to oblivion. I really believe that mankind grow every day more malicious.
"You will not be sorry to hear, that the weekly sale of the History has increased to above ten thousand. A French gentleman of talents and erudition has undertaken to translate it into that language, and I have promised to supply him with corrections."
As a powerful political party were insulted, and, as they alleged, misrepresented in Smollett's history, they readily lent their influence and countenance to the proprietors of Rapin's History, who, alarmed at the extensive sale of Smollett's rival work, deluged the public with criticisms and invectives against the author and his book. In process of time the controversy slept, and the main fault of the history was found to be, that the haste with which the author had accomplished his task, had necessarily occasioned his sitting down contented with superficial, and sometimes inaccurate, information.
In the course of 1760, and 1761, The Adventures of Sir Lancelot Greaves appeared, in detached portions, in various numbers of the British Magazine, or Monthly Repository, being written for the purpose of giving some spirit and popularity to that miscellany. Smollett appears to have executed his task with very little premeditation. During a part of the time he was residing at Paxton, in Berwickshire, on a visit to the late George Home, Esq., and when post-time drew near, he used to retire for half an hour or an hour, to prepare the necessary quantity of copy, as it is technically called in the printing-house, which he never gave himself the trouble to correct, or even to read over. Sir Lancelot Greaves was published separately, in 1762.
The idea of this work was probably suggested to our author during his labours upon Don Quixote, and the plan forms a sort of corollary to that celebrated romance. The leading imperfection is the utter extravagance of the story, as applicable to England, and to the period when it is supposed to have happened. In Spain, ere the ideas of chivalry were extinct amongst that nation of romantic Hidalgos, the turn of Don Quixote's frenzy seems not altogether extravagant, and the armour which he assumed was still the ordinary garb of battle. But in England, and in modern times, that a young, amiable, and otherwise sensible man, acquainted also with the romance of Cervantes, should have adopted a similar whim, gives good foundation for the obvious remark of Ferret: "What! you set up for a modern Don Quixote! The scheme is too stale and extravagant: what was an humorous and well-timed satire in Spain near two hundred years ago, will make but a sorry jest, when really acted from affectation, at this time of day in England." To this Sir Lancelot replies, by a tirade which does not remove the objection so shrewdly stated by the misanthrope, affirming that he only warred against the foes of virtue and decorum; or, in his own words, "had assumed the armour of his forefathers, to remedy evils which the law cannot reach, to detect fraud and treason, abase insolence, mortify pride, discourage slander, disgrace immodesty, and stigmatize ingratitude." The degree of sanity which the amiable enthusiast possesses ought to have shown him, that the generous career he had undertaken would be much better accomplished without his armour, than with that superfluous and ridiculous appendage; and that for all the purposes of reformation to be effected in England, his pocket-book, filled with bank-notes, would be a better auxiliary than either sword or lance. In short, it becomes clear to the reader, that Sir Lancelot wears panoply only that his youthful elegance and address, his bright armour and generous courser, may make him the more exact counterpart to the Knight of La Mancha.
If it be unnatural that Sir Lancelot should become a knight-errant, the whim of Crowe, the captain of a merchant vessel, adopting, at second-hand, the same folly, is, on the same grounds, still more exceptionable. There is nothing in the honest seaman's life or profession which renders it at all possible that he should have caught contagion from the insanity of Sir Lancelot. But, granting the author's premises, — and surely we often make large concessions with less advantage in prospect, — the quantity of comic humour which Smollett has extracted out of Crowe and Crabshaw, has as much hearty mirth in it as can be found even in his more finished compositions. The inferior characters are all sketched with the same bold, free, and peculiar touch that distinguishes this powerful writer; and, besides these we have named, Ferret and Clarke, the kind-hearted attorney's clerk, with several subordinate personages, have all the vivacity of Smollett's strong pencil. Aurelia Darnel is by fir the most feminine, and, at the same time, lady-like person, to whom the author has introduced us. There is also some novelty of situation and incident, and Smollett's recent imprisonment in the King's Bench, for the attack on Admiral Knowles, enabled him to enrich his romance with a portrait of the unfortunate Theodore, King of Corsica, and other companions in his captivity, whose misfortunes or frolics had conducted them to that place of imprisonment.
Smollett's next labour was to lend his aid in finishing that useful compendium, The Modern Universal History, to which he contributed the Histories of France, Italy, and Germany. In the year 1761, he published, in detached numbers, his Continuation of the History of England, which he carried on until he brought the narrative down to 1765. The sale of this work was very extensive; and although Smollett acquired by both histories about £2000, which, in those days, was a large sum, yet the bookseller is said to have made £1000 clear profit on the very day he made his bargain, by transferring it to a brother of the trade. This Continuation, appended as it usually is to the History of England by Hume, forms a classical and standard work. It is not our present province to examine the particular merits of Smollett as a Historian; but it cannot be denied that, as a clear and distinct narrative of facts, strongly and vigorously told, with a laudable regard to truth and impartiality, the Continuation may vie with our best historical works. The author was incapable of being swayed by fear or favour; and where his judgment is influenced, we can see that he was only misled by an honest belief in the truth of his own arguments. At the same time, the Continuation, like Smollett's original History, has the defects incident to hurried composition, and likewise those which naturally attach themselves to contemporary narrative. Smollett had no access to those hidden causes of events which time brings forth in the slow progress of ages; and his work is chiefly compiled from those documents of a public and general description, which often contain rather the colourable pretexts which statesmen are pleased to assign for their actions, than the real motives themselves. The English history, it is true, suffers less than those of other countries from this restriction of materials; for there are so many eyes upon our public proceedings, and they undergo such sifting discussion, both in and out of parliament, that the actual motives of those in whose hands government is vested for the time, become speedily suspected, even if they are not actually avowed or unveiled. Upon the whole, with all its faults and deficiencies, it may be long ere we have a better History of Britain, during this latter period, than is to be found in the pages of Smollett.
Upon the accession of George III, and the commencement of Lord Bute's administration, Smollett's pen was employed in the defence of the young monarch's government, in a weekly paper called The Briton, which was soon silenced, and driven out of the field by the celebrated North Briton, conducted by John Wilkes. Smollett had been on terms of kindness with this distinguished demagogue, and had twice applied to his friendship, — once for the kind purpose of obtaining the dismission of Dr. Johnson's black servant, Francis Barber, from the navy, into which he had inconsiderately entered; and again, to mediate betwixt himself and Admiral Knowles, in the matter of the prosecution. Closer ties than these are readily dissolved before the fire of politics. The friends became political opponents; and Smollett, who had to plead an unpopular cause to unwilling auditors, and who, as a Scotchman, shared deeply and personally in that unpopularity, was compelled to give up The Briton, more, it would seem, from lack of spirit in his patron Lord Bute, to sustain the contest any longer, than from any deficiency of zeal on his own part. So, at least, we may interpret the following passage, in a letter which he wrote from Italy to Caleb Whiteford, in 1770: — "l hope you will not discontinue your endeavours to represent fiction and false patriotism in their true colours, though I believe the ministry little deserves that any man of genius should draw his pen in their defence. They seem to inherit the absurd stoicism of Lord Bute, who set himself up as a pillory, to be pelted by all the blackguards of England, upon the supposition that they would grow tired and leave off. I don't find that your ministers take any pains even to vindicate their moral characters from the foulest imputations; I would never desire a stronger proof of a bad heart, than a total disregard of reputation. A late nobleman, who had been a member of several administrations, owned to me, that one good writer was of more importance to the government than twenty placemen in the House of Commons."
In 1763, Smollett lent his assistance, or at least his name, to a translation of Voltaire's works, and also to a compilation entitled, The Present State of all Nations, containing a Geographical, Natural, Commercial, and Political History of all the Countries of the known World.
About this time, Elizabeth, an amiable and accomplished young person, the only offspring of Smollett's marriage, and to whom her father was devotedly attached, died in the fifteenth year of her life, leaving her parents overwhelmed with the deepest sorrow.
Ill health aided the effects of grief, and it was under these circumstances that Smollett undertook a journey to France and Italy, in which countries he resided from 1763 to 1766. Soon after his return in 1766, he published his Travels through France and Italy, containing Observations on Character, Customs, Religion, Government, Police, Commerce, Arts, and Antiquities, with a particular Description of the Town, Territory, and Climate of Nice; to which is added, a Register of the Weather, kept during a Residence of Eighteen Months in that City; in 2 vols. 8vo, in the form of letters to his friends in England, from different parts of those countries.
Smollett's Travels are distinguished by acuteness of remark, and shrewdness of expression, — by strong sense and pointed humour; but the melancholy state of the author's mind induced him to view all the ordinary objects from which travellers receive pleasure, with cynical contempt. Although so lately a sufferer by the most injurious national prejudices, he failed not to harbour and cherish all those which he himself had formerly adopted against the foreign countries through which he travelled. Nature had either denied SmoIlett the taste necessary to understand and feel the beauties of art, or else his embittered state of mind had, for the time, entirely deprived him of the power of enjoying them. The harsh censures which he passes on the Venus do Medicis, and upon the Pantheon; and the sarcasm with which his criticisms are answered by Sterne, are both well known. Yet, be it said without offence to the memory of that witty and elegant writer, it is more easy to assume, in composition, an air of alternate gaiety and sensibility, than to practise the virtues of generosity and benevolence, which Smollett exercised during his whole life, though often, like his own Matthew Bramble, under the disguise of peevishness and irritability. Sterne's writings show much flourish concerning virtues of which his life is understood to have produced little fruit; the temper of Smollett was
—like a lusty winter,
Frosty, but kindly.
On his return to Britain, in 1766, he visited Scotland for the last time, and had the pleasure of receiving a parent's last embrace. His health was now totally ruined. Constant rheumatism, and the pain arising from a neglected ulcer, which had got into a bad state, rendered him a victim to excruciating agonies. He afterwards recovered in a great degree, by applying mercurial ointment, and using the solution of corrosive sublimate. He gives a fill account of the process of the cure in a letter to Dr. Moore, which concludes thus: "Had I been as well in summer, I should have exquisitely enjoyed my expedition to Scotland, which was productive of nothing to me but misery and disgust. Between friends, I am now convinced that my brain was in some measure affected; for I had a kind of 'coma vigil' upon me from April to November without intermission. In consideration of these circumstances, I know you will forgive all my peevishness and discontent; and tell good Mrs. Moore, to whom I present my most cordial respects, that, with regard to me, she has as yet seen nothing but the wrong side of the tapestry."
Finding himself at liberty to resume his literary labours, Smollett published, in 1769, the political satire, called The Adventures of an Atom, in which are satirized the several leaders of political parties, from 1754 till the dissolution of Lord Chatham's administration. His inefficient patron, Lord Bute, is not spared in this work; and Chatham is severely treated under the name of Jowler. The inconsistency of this great minister, in encouraging the German war, seems to have altered Smollett's opinion of his patriotism; and he does his acknowledged talents far less than justice, endeavouring by every means to undervalue the successes of his brilliant administration, or to impute them to causes independent of his measures. The chief purpose of the work, (besides that of giving the author the opportunity to raise his hand, like that of lshmael, against every man,) is to inspire a national horror of continental connexions.
Shortly after the publication of The Adventures of an Atom, disease again assailed Smollett with redoubled violence. Attempts being vainly made to obtain for him the office of Consul, in some port of the Mediterranean, he was compelled to seek a warmer climate, without better means of provision than his own precarious finances could afford. The kindness of his distinguished friend and countryman, Dr. Armstrong, (then abroad,) procured for Dr. and Mrs. Smollett a house at Monte Novo, a village situated on the side of a mountain overlooking the sea, in the neighbourhood of Leghorn; a romantic and salutary abode, where he prepared for the press the last, and, like music "sweetest in the close," the most pleasing of his compositions, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker. This delightful work was published in 1771, in three volumes, 12mo, and very favourably received by the public.
The very ingenious scheme of describing the various effects produced upon different members of the same family by the same objects, was not original, though it has been supposed to be so. Anstey, the facetious author of the New Bath Guide, had employed it six or seven years before Humphry Clinker appeared. But Anstey's diverting satire was but a light sketch, compared to the finished and elaborate manner in which Smollett has, in the first place, identified his characters, and then fitted them with language, sentiments, and powers of observation, in exact correspondence with their talents, temper, condition, and disposition. The portrait of Matthew Bramble, in which Smollett described his own peculiarities, using towards himself the same rigid anatomy which he exercised upon others, is unequalled in the line of fictitious composition. It is peculiarly striking to observe, how often, in admiring the shrewd and sound sense, active benevolence, and honourable sentiments combined in Matthew, we lose sight of the humorous peculiarities of his character, and with what effect they are suddenly recalled to our remembrance, just at the time and in the manner when we least expect them. All shrewish old maids, and simple waiting-women, which shall hereafter be drawn, must be contented with the praise of approaching in merit to Mrs. Tabitha Bramble and Winifred Jenkins. The peculiarities of the hot-headed young Cantab, and the girlish romance of his sister, are admirably contrasted with the sense and pettish half-playful misanthropy of their uncle; and Humphry Clinker (who by the way resembles Strap, supposing that excellent person to have a turn towards methodism) is, as far as he goes, equally delightful. Captain Lismahago was probably no violent caricature, allowing for the manners of the time. We can remember a good and gallant officer who was said to have been his prototype, but believe the opinion was only entertained from the striking resemblance which he bore in externals to the doughty captain.
When Humphry Clinker appeared in London, the popular odium against the Scotch nation, which Wilkes and Churchill had excited, was not yet appeased, and Smollett had enemies amongst the periodical critics, who failed not to charge him with undue partiality to his own country. They observed, maliciously, but not untruly, that the cynicism of Matthew Bramble becomes gradually softened as he journeys northward, and that he who equally detested Bath and London, becomes wonderfully reconciled to walled cities and the hum of men, when he finds himself an inhabitant of the northern metropolis. It is not worth defending so excellent a work against so weak an objection. The author was a dying man, and his thoughts were turned towards the scenes of youthful gaiety and the abode of early friends, with a fond partiality, which, had they been even less deserving of his attachment, would have been not only pardonable, but praiseworthy.
Moritur, et moriens dulces reminiscitur Argos.
Smollett failed not, as he usually did, to introduce himself, with the various causes which he had to complain of the world, into the pages of this delightful romance. He appears as Mr. Serle, and more boldly under his own name, and in describing his own mode of living, he satirizes without mercy the book-makers of the day, who had experienced his kindness without repaying him by gratitude. It does not, however, seem perfectly fair to make them atone for their ungracious return to his hospitality, by serving up their characters as a banquet to the public; and, in fact, it too much resembles the design of which Pallet accuses the Physician, of converting his guests into patients, in order to make him amends for the expense of the entertainment.
But criticism, whether candid or unjust, was soon to be of little consequence to the author. After the publication of his last work, he lingered through the summer, and at length, after enduring the vicissitudes of a wasting and painful disorder with unabated composure, the world lost Tobias Smollett, on the 21st October 1771, at the untimely age of only fifty-one years. There is little doubt, that grief for the loss of his daughter, a feeling of ungrateful neglect from those who were called upon to lend him assistance, a present sense of confined circumstances, which he was daily losing the power of enlarging by his own exertions, together with gloomy apprehensions for the future, materially aided the progress of the mortal disorder by which he was removed.
More happy in this respect than Fielding, Smollett's grave at Leghorn is distinguished by a plain monument, erected by his widow, to which Dr. Armstrong, his constant and faithful friend, supplied the following spirited inscription
Hic ossa conduntur
TOBIAE SMOLLETT, Scoti;
Qui, prosapia generosa et antiqua natus,
Priscae virtutis exemplar emicuit;
Indole apprime benigna,
Et fere supra facultates munifica,
Ingenio feraci, faceto, versatili,
Omnigenae fere doctrinae mire capaci,
Varia fabularum dulcedine,
Vitam moresque hominum,
Ubertate summa ludens, depinxit.
Adverso, interim, nefas! tali tantoque alumno
Nisi quo satyrae opipare supplebat,
Seculo impio, ignavo, fatuo, quo musae vix nisi nothae
Mecaenatulis Britannicis Fovebantur.
Optimi et amabilis omnino viri,
Permultis amicis desiderati,
Dilectissima simul et amantissima conjux
In the year 1774, a column was erected to Smollett's memory near the house in which he was born, by his cousin, James Smollett, Esq. of Bonhill, with the following nervous and classical inscription, written by Professor George Stewart of Edinburgh, and partly by the late John Ramsay, Esq. of Ochtertyre, and corrected by Dr. Johnson. The lines printed in Italics are by the latter:
Si leporis ingeniique venam benignam,
Si morum callidissimum pictorem,
Unquam es miratus,]
Immorare paululum memoriae
TOBIAE SMOLLETT, M.D.
Viri virtutibus hisce
Quas in homine et cive
Et laudes et imiteris,
Haud mediocriter ornati:
Qui in literis variis versatus,
Postquam, felicitate sibi propria,
Sese posteris commendaverat,
Morte acerba raptus Anno aetatis 51.
Eheu! quam procul a patria!
Prope Liburni portum in Italla,
Tali tantoque viro, patruelo suo,
Cui in decursu lampada
Se potius tradidisse decuit,
Amoris, eheu! inane monumentum
In ipsis Levinae ripis,
Quas versiculis sub exitu vitae illustratas,
Primis infans vagitibus personuit,
JACOBUS SMOLLETT de Bonhill.
Abi et reminiscere,
Hoc quidem honore,
Non modo defuncti memoriae,
Verum etiam exemplo, prospectum ease;
Allis enim, si modo digni sint, Idem erit virtutis praemium!
The widow of Smollett long continued an inhabitant of the neighbourhood of Leghorn, supporting herself in obscurity and with difficulty, upon the small remnant of fortune he had been able to bequeath to her. We remember a benefit play being performed on her account, at Edinburgh, in which Houston Stewart Nicholson, Esq., an amateur performer, appeared in the part of Pierre. The profits are said to have amounted to £300. An epilogue, written for the occasion, by Mr. Graham of Gartmore, was spoken by the late Mr. Woods, of the Theatre-Royal, Edinburgh.
Smollett's Ode to Independence, the most characteristic of his poetical works, was published, two years after his death, by the Messrs. Foulis of Glasgow. The mythological commencement is eminently beautiful.
His name was appended to a version of Telemachus, as, during his life, it had appeared to a translation of Gil Blas, to which it is supposed he contributed little or nothing more. In 1785, a farce, called The Israelites, or The Pampered Nabob, was acted on the Covent Garden stage, for the benefit of Mr. Aiken. Is was ascribed to Smollett on very dubious evidence, was indifferently received, and has never since appeared, either on the stage or in print.
The person of Smollett was eminently handsome, his features prepossessing, and, by the joint testimony of all his surviving friends, his conversation in the highest degree instructive and amusing. Of his disposition, those who have read his works, (and who has not done so?) may form a very accurate estimate; for in each of them he has presented, and sometimes under various points of view, the leading features of his own character, without disguising the most unfavourable of them. Nay, there is room to believe, that he rather exaggerated than softened that cynical turn of temper, which was the principal fault of his disposition, and which engaged him in so many quarrels, it is remarkable, that all his heroes, from Roderick Random downward, possess a haughty, fierce irritability of disposition, until the same features appear softened, and rendered venerable by age and philosophy, in Matthew Bramble. The sports in which they most delight are those which are attended with disgrace, mental pain, and bodily mischief to others; and their humanity is never represented as interrupting the course of their frolics. We know not that Smollett had any other marked failing, save that which he himself has so often and so liberally acknowledged. When unseduced by his satirical propensities, he was kind, generous, and humane to others; bold, upright, and independent in his own character; stooped to no patron, sued for no favour, but honestly and honourably maintained himself on his literary labours; when, if he was occasionally employed in work which was beneath his talents, the disgrace must remain with those who saved not such a genius from the degrading drudgery of compiling and translating. He was a doating father and an affectionate husband; and the warm zeal with which his memory was cherished by his surviving friends, showed clearly the reliance which they placed upon his regard. Even his resentments, though often hastily adopted, and incautiously expressed, were neither ungenerous nor enduring. He was open to conviction, and ready to make both acknowledgment and allowance when he had done injustice to others, willing also to forgive and to be reconciled when he had received it at their hand.
Churchill, and other satirists, falsely ascribe to Smollett the mean passion of literary envy, to which his nature was totally a stranger. The manner in which he mentions Fielding and Richardson in the account of the literature of the century, shows how much he understood, and how liberally he praised, the merit of those, who, in the view of the world, must have been regarded as his immediate rivals. "The genius of Cervantes," in his generous expression, "was transfused into the novels of Fielding, who painted the characters, and ridiculed the follies of life, with equal strength, humour, and propriety;" — a passage which we record with pleasure, as a proof that the disagreement which existed betwixt Smollett and Fielding did not prevent his estimating with justice, and recording in suitable terms, the merits of the Father of the English Novel. His historian, with equal candour, proceeds to tell his reader, that "the laudable aim of enlisting the passions on the side of virtue was successfully pursued by Richardson in his Pamela, Clarissa, and Grandison, a species of writing equally new and extraordinary, where, mingled with much superfluity and impertinence, we find a sublime system of ethics, an amazing knowledge and command of human nature."
In leaving Smollett's personal for his literary character, it is impossible not to consider the latter as contrasted with that of his eminent contemporary, Fielding. It is true, that such comparisons, though recommended by the example of Plutarch, are not in general the best mode of estimating individual merit. But in the present case, the contemporary existence, the private history, accomplishments, talents, pursuits, and, unfortunately, the fates of these two great authors, are so closely allied, that it is scarce possible to name the one without exciting recollections of the other. Fielding and Smollett were both born in the highest rank of society, both educated to learned professions, yet both obliged to follow miscellaneous literature as the means of subsistence. Both were confined, during their lives, by the narrowness of their circumstances, — both united a humorous cynicism with generosity and good-nature, — both died of the diseases incident to a sedentary life, and to literary labour, — and both drew their last breath in a foreign land, to which they retreated under the adverse circumstances of a decayed constitution, and an exhausted fortune.
Their studies were no less similar than their lives. They both wrote for the stage, and neither of them successfully. They both meddled in politics, and never obtained effectual patronage; they both wrote travels, in which they showed that their good humour was wasted under the sufferings of their disease; and, to conclude, they were both so eminently successful as novelists, that no other English author of that class has a right to be mentioned in the same breath with Fielding and Smollett.
If we compare the works of these two great masters yet more closely, we may assign to Fielding, with little hesitation, the praise of a higher and a purer taste than was shown by his rival; more elegance of composition and expression; a nearer approach to the grave irony of Swift and Cervantes; a great deal more address or felicity in the conduct of his story; and, finally, a power of describing amiable and virtuous characters, and of placing before us heroes, and especially heroines, of a much higher as well as more pleasing character than Smollett was able to present.
Thus the art and felicity with which the story of Tom Jones evolves itself, is nowhere found in Smollett's novels, where the heroes pass from one situation in life, and from one stage of society, to another totally unconnected, except that, as in ordinary life, the adventures recorded, though not bearing upon each other, or on the catastrophe, befall the same personage. Characters are introduced and dropped without scruple, and, at the end of the work, the hero is found surrounded by a very different set of associates from those with whom his fortune seemed at first indissolubly connected. Neither are the characters which Smollett designed should be interesting, half so amiable as his readers could desire. The low-minded Roderick Random, who borrows Strap's money, wears his clothes, and, rescued from starving by the attachment of that simple and kind-hearted adherent, rewards him by squandering his substance, receiving his attendance as a servant, and beating him when the dice ran against him, is not to be named in one day with the open-hearted, good-humoured, and noble-minded Tom Jones, whose libertinism (one particular omitted) is perhaps rendered but too amiable by his good qualities. We believe there are few readers who are not disgusted with the miserable reward assigned to Strap in the closing chapter of the novel. Five hundred pounds, (scarce the value of the goods he had presented to his master,) and the hand of a reclaimed street-walker, even when added to a Highland farm, seem but a poor recompense for his faithful and disinterested attachment. The Englishman is an hundred times more grateful to Partridge (whose morality is very questionable, and who follows Jones's fortunes with the self-seeking fidelity of a cur, who, while he loves his master, has his eye upon the fleshpots,) than Roderick Random shows himself towards the disinterested and generous attachment of poor Strap. There may be one way of explaining this difference of taste betwixt these great authors, by recollecting, that in Scotland, at that period, the absolute devotion of a follower to his master was something which entered into, and made part of the character of the lower ranks in general; and therefore domestic fidelity was regarded as a thing more of course than in England, and received less gratitude than it deserved, in consideration of its more frequent occurrence.
But, to recur to our parallel betwixt the characters of Fielding and those of Smollett, we should do Jones great injustice by weighing him in the balance with the wild and ferocious Pickle, who, — besides his gross and base brutality towards Emilia, besides his ingratitude to his uncle, and the savage propensity which he shows, in the pleasure he takes to torment others by practical jokes resembling those of a fiend in glee, — exhibits a low and ungentleman-like tone of thinking, only one degree higher than that of Roderick Random. The blackguard frolic of introducing a prostitute, in a false character, to his sister, is a sufficient instance of that want of taste and feeling which admirers are compelled to acknowledge, may be detected in his writings. It is yet more impossible to compare Sophia or Amelia to the females of Smollett, who (excepting Aurelia Darnel) are drawn as the objects rather of appetite than of affection, and excite no higher or more noble interest than might be created by the houris of the Mahomedan paradise.
It follows from this superiority on the side of Fielding, that his novels exhibit, more frequently than those of Smollett, scenes of distress, which excite the sympathy and pity of the reader. No one can refuse his compassion to Jones, when, by a train of practices upon his generous and open character, he is expelled from his benefactor's house under the foulest and most heartrending accusations; but we certainly sympathize very little in the distress of Pickle, brought on by his own profligate profusion, and enhanced by his insolent misanthropy. We are only surprised that his predominating arrogance does not weary out the benevolence of Hatchway and Pipes, and scarce think the ruined spendthrift deserves their persevering and faithful attachment.
But the deep and fertile genius of Smollett afforded resources sufficient to make up for these deficiencies; and when the full weight has been allowed to Fielding's superiority of taste and expression, his northern contemporary will still be found ft to balance the scale with his great rival. If Fielding had superior taste, the palm of more brilliancy of genius, more inexhaustible richness of invention, must in justice be awarded to Smollett. In comparison with his sphere, that in which Fielding walked was limited and compared with the wealthy profusion of varied character and incident which Smollett has scattered through his works, there is a poverty of composition about his rival. Fielding's fame rests on a single chef d'oeuvre; and the art and industry which produced Tom Jones, was unable to rise to equal excellence an Amelia. Though, therefore, we may justly prefer Tom Jones as the most masterly example of an artful and well-told novel, to any individual work of Smollett; yet Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, and Humphry Clinker, do each of them far excel Joseph Andrews or Amelia; and, to descend still lower, Jonathan Wild, or The Journey to the next World, cannot be put into momentary comparison with Sir Lancelot Greaves, or Ferdinand Count Fathom.
Every successful novelist must be more or less a poet, even although he may never have written a line of verse. The quality of imagination is absolutely indispensable to him: his accurate power of examining and embodying human character and human passion, as well as the external face of nature, is not less essential; and the talent of describing well what he feels with acuteness, added to the above requisites, goes far to complete the poetic character. Smollett was, even in the ordinary sense, which limits the name to those who write verses, a poet of distinction and, in this particular, superior to Fielding, who seldom aims at more than a slight translation from the classics. Accordingly, if he is surpassed by Fielding in moving pity, the northern novelist soars far above him in his powers of exciting terror. Fielding has no passages which approach in sublimity to the robber-scene in Count Fathom; or to the terrible description of a sea-engagement, in which Roderick Random sits chained and exposed upon the poop, without the power of motion or exertion, during the carnage of a tremendous engagement. Upon many other occasions, Smollett's descriptions ascend to the sublime; and, in general, there is an air of romance in his writings, which raises his narratives above the level and easy course of ordinary life. He was, like a pre-eminent poet of our own day, a searcher of dark bosoms, and loved to paint characters under the strong agitation of fierce and stormy passions. Hence misanthropes, gamblers, and duellists, are as common in his works, as robbers in those of Salvetor Rosa, and are drawn, in most cases, with the same terrible truth and effect. To compare Ferdinand Count Fathom to the Jonathan Wild of Fielding, would be perhaps unfair to the latter author; yet, the works being composed on the same plan, (a very bad one, as we think,) we cannot help placing them by the side of each other; when it becomes at once obvious that the detestable Fathom is a living and existing miscreant, at whom we shrink as from the presence of an incarnate fiend, while the villain of Fielding seems rather a cold personification of the abstract principle of evil, so far from being terrible, that notwithstanding the knowledge of the world argued in many passages of his adventures, we are compelled to acknowledge him absolutely tiresome.
It is, however, chiefly in his profusion, which amounts almost to prodigality, that we recognize the superior richness of Smollett's fancy. He never shows the least desire to make the most either of a character, or a situation, or an adventure, but throws them together with a carelessness which argues unlimited confidence in his own powers. Fielding pauses to explain the principles of his art, and to congratulate himself and his readers on the felicity with which he constructs his narrative, or makes his characters evolve themselves in its progress. These appeals to the reader's judgment, admirable as they are, have sometimes the fault of being diffuse, and always the great disadvantage, that they remind us we are perusing a work of fiction; and that the beings with whom we have been conversant during the perusal, are but a set of evanescent phantoms, conjured up by a magician for our amusement. Smollett seldom holds communication with his readers in his own person. He manages his delightful puppet-show without thrusting his head beyond the curtain, like Gines de Passamont, to explain what he is doing; and hence, besides that our attention to the story remains unbroken, we are sure that the author, fully confident in the abundance of his materials, has no occasion to eke them out with extrinsic matter.
Smollett's sea-characters have been deservedly considered as inimitable; and the power with which he has diversified them, in so many instances, distinguishing the individual features of each honest tar, while each possesses a full proportion of professional manners and habits of thinking, is a most absolute proof of the richness of fancy with which the author was gilled, and which we have noticed as his chief advantage over Fielding. Bowling, Trunnion, Hatchway, Pipes, and Crowe, are all men of the same class, habits, and tone of thinking, yet so completely differenced by their separate and individual characters, that we at once acknowledge them as distinct persons, while we see and allow that every one of them belongs to the old English navy. These striking portraits have now the merit which is cherished by antiquaries — they preserve the memory of the school of Benbow and Boscawen, whose manners are now banished from the quarter-deck to the forecastle. The naval officers of the present day, the splendour of whose actions has thrown into shadow the exploits of a thousand years, do not now affect the manners of foremast-men, and have shown how admirably well their duty can be discharged without any particular attachment to tobacco or flip, or the decided preference of a check shirt over a linen one. But these, when memory carries them back thirty or forty years, must remember many a weather-beaten veteran, whose appearance, language, and sentiments free Smollett from the charge of extravagance in his characteristic sketches of British seamen of the last century.
In the comic part of their writings, we have already said, Fielding is pre-eminent in grave irony, a Cervantic species of pleasantry, in which Smollett is not equally successful. On the other hand, the Scotchman, notwithstanding the general opinion denies that quality to his countrymen, excels in broad and ludicrous humour. His fancy seems to run riot in accumulating ridiculous circumstances one upon another, to the utter destruction of all power of gravity; and perhaps no books ever written have excited such peals of inextinguishable laughter as those of Smollett. The descriptions which affect us thus powerfully, border sometimes upon what is called farce or caricature; but if it be the highest praise of pathetic composition that it draws forth tears, why should it not be esteemed the greatest excellence of the ludicrous that it compels laughter? the one tribute is at least as genuine an expression of natural feeling as the other; and he who can read the calamitous career of Trunnion and Hatchway, when run away with by their mettled steeds, or the inimitable absurdities of the feast of the Ancients, without a good hearty burst of honest laughter, must be well qualified to look sad and gentleman-like with Lord Chesterfield and Master Stephen.
Upon the whole, the genius of Smollett may be said to resemble that of Rubens. His pictures are often deficient in grace; sometimes coarse, and even vulgar in conception; deficient in keeping, and in the due subordination of parts to each other; and intimating too much carelessness on the part of the artist. But these faults are redeemed by such richness and brilliancy of colours; such a profusion of imagination — now bodying forth the grand and terrible — now the natural, the easy, and ludicrous; there is so much of life, action, and bustle, in every group he has painted; so much force and individuality of character, — that we readily grant to Smollett an equal rank with his great rival Fielding, while we place both far above any of their successors in the same line of fictitious composition.
ABBOTSFORD, 1st June 1821.