1808 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Tobias Smollett

George Gregory, in Letters on Literature, Taste, and Composition (1808) 2:72-73.



Smollett, though not equal to Fielding, is yet possessed of a most excellent vein of humour. His characters are in general not quite so natural as those of Fielding; but we must except his sea personages, who are unrivalled. Perhaps he is not quite equal to his great original, at least as far as respects Tom Jones, in the skill and address of conducting a plot, and winding it up in a dramatic manner; yet his novels never fail of exciting the most lively interest in his reader. Roderic Random is very superior to his Peregrin Pickle, independently of the gross deficiency in moral, which is a censure that justly attaches to the latter work. Indeed Tom Jones is in some measure culpable in this respect; for actual vice is treated too much as venial levity, and exhibited in too amiable and alluring a light not to be injurious to young readers. Humphrey Clinker, though it has little of plot or story, keeps attention alive by the constant display of odd characters well caricatured, and by an uninterrupted flow of genuine humour. No man can read these performances without regretting that the time and genius of Smollett, instead of pursuing a track for which he was so admirably adapted by nature, should have been wasted on the compilation of a dull, and in all respects very indifferent history.