1760 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Tobias Smollett

Horace Walpole, 1760; in Walpole, Memoirs of the Reign of King George II (1847) 3:259-61.



In February was tried a criminal of a still different complexion. Dr. Smollett was convicted in the King's Bench of publishing scurrilous abuse on Admiral Knollys in the Critical Review. Smollett was a worthless man, and only mentioned here because author of a History of England, of the errors in which posterity ought to be warned. Smollett was bred a sea-surgeon, and turned author. He wrote a tragedy, and sent it to Lord Lyttelton, with whom he was not acquainted. Lord Lyttelton, not caring to point out its defects, civilly advised him to try comedy. He wrote one, and solicited the same Lord to recommend it to the stage. The latter excused himself, but promised, if it should be acted, to do all the service in his power for the author. Smollett's return was drawing an abusive portrait of Lord Lyttelton in Roderick Random, a novel; of which sort he published two or three. His next attempt was on the History of England; a work in which he engaged for booksellers, and finished, though four volumes in quarto, in two years; yet an easy task, as being pilfered from other histories. Accordingly, it was little noticed till it came down to the present time: then, though compiled from the libels of the age and the most paltry materials, yet being heightened by personal invectives, strong Jacobitism, and the worst representation of the Duke of Cumberland's conduct in Scotland, the sale was prodigious. Eleven thousand copies of that trash were instantly sold, while at the same time the university of Oxford ventured to print but two thousand of that inimitable work, Lord Clarendon's Life! A reflection on the age sad to mention, yet too true to be suppressed! Smollett's work was again printed, and again tasted: it was adorned with wretched prints, except two or three by Strange, who could not refuse his admirable graver to the service of the Jacobite cause.

Smollett then engaged in a monthly magazine, called the Critical Review, the scope of which was to decry any work that appeared favourable to the principles of the Revolution. Nor was he single in that measure. The Scotch in the heart of London assumed a dictatorial power of reviling every book that censured the Stuarts, or upheld the Revolution — a provocation they ought to have remembered when the tide rolled back upon them. Smollett, while in prison, undertook a new magazine; and notwithstanding the notoriety of his disaffection, obtained the King's patent for it by the interest of Mr. Pitt, to whom he had dedicated his history. In the following reign he was hired to write a scurrilous paper, called the Briton, against that very patron, Mr. Pitt.