1804 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Tobias Smollett

William Tooke, Note to The Apology; Poetical Works of Charles Churchill (1804) 1:85-86n.



Dr. Tobias Smollett was originally a surgeon's mate and served at the siege of Carthegena, of which, together with many other circumstances of his life, a faithful account is given in the Adventures of Roderic Random, in this and most of his other novels, many living characters were introduced, particularly Dr. Akenside, under the name of the Republican Doctor, whose history forms one of the most agreeable episodes in Peregrine Pickle. Smollett attempted to practise physic at Bath, but being unpopular among the ladies, failed of success, abandoned his profession altogether, and took up that of an author; he lived at Chelsea, and pursued his literary labors under the auspices of the booksellers, who were his only patrons, for he possessed an irritable spirit of independence which disqualified him from seeking the patronage of the leaders of the cause he espoused. By the unprecedented sale of his history of England he cleared 2000 the extraordinary success of this work can he scarcely credited in the present day, when it is little read and less quoted. As a controversial writer he was foiled by the North Briton, owing, as his friends alleged, in Lord Bute's denying him the necessary information, and neglecting to fulfil the engagements he had entered into with him; be that as it may, the Doctor appears not by his subsequent performances to have forgotten the transaction. His constitution being at last greatly impaired by a sedentary life, he went abroad for his health, in 1763. During his travels he appears to have laboured under a constant fit of chagrin; in one of a series of letters afterwards published by him, he writes to a friend thus: — "In gratifying your curiosity I shall find some amusement to beguile the tedious hours, which without some such employment would be rendered insupportable by distemper and disquiet. You knew and pitied my situation, traduced by malice, persecuted by faction, abandoned by false patrons, and overwhelmed by the sense of a domestic calamity, which it was not in the power of fortune to repair." By this domestic calamity he meant the loss of his only child, a daughter whom he loved with the tenderest affection. The Doctor lived to return to his native country; but his health continuing to decline, and meeting with fresh mortifications and disappointments, he went back to Italy, where he died Oct. 21, 1771, in the 52d year of his age.