Tobias Smollett

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Tobias Smollett
Tobias Smollett c 1770.jpg
Born Tobias George Smollett
(1721-03-19)19 March 1721
Dalquhurn (now part of Renton), Scotland
Died 17 September 1771(1771-09-17) (aged 50)
Livorno, Italy
Occupation Author, poet, surgeon
Nationality Scottish
Period 1748–71
Genre Picaresque, satire

Tobias George Smollett (19 March 1721 – 17 September 1771) was a Scottish poet and author. He was best known for his picaresque novels, such as The Adventures of Roderick Random (1748) and The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle (1751), which influenced later novelists such as Charles Dickens. George Orwell admired Smollett very much. His novels were amended liberally by printers; a definitive edition of each of his works was edited by Dr. O. M. Brack, Jr. to correct variants.

Life[edit]

Smollett was born at Dalquhurn, now part of Renton, in present-day West Dunbartonshire, Scotland. He was the fourth son of Archibald Smollett of Bonhill, a judge and land-owner who died about 1726, and Barbara Cunningham, who died about 1766. He was educated at the University of Glasgow, where he qualified as a surgeon; it has been asserted by some biographers that he then proceeded to the University of Edinburgh but left without taking a degree. His career in medicine came second to his literary ambitions; in 1739 he went to London to seek his fortune as a dramatist. Unsuccessful, he obtained a commission as a naval surgeon on HMS Chichester and travelled to Jamaica, where he settled down for several years. In 1742 he served as a surgeon during the disastrous campaign to capture Cartagena. On his return, he set up practice in Downing Street and married a wealthy Jamaican heiress, Anne "Nancy" Lascelles (1721–1791), in 1747. She was a daughter of William Lascelles. They had one child, a daughter Elizabeth, who died aged 15 years about 1762. He had a brother, Capt. James Smollet, and a sister, Jean Smollett, who married Alexander Telfair of Symington, Ayrshire. Jean succeeded to Bonhill after the death of her cousin-german, Mr. Commissary Smollett, and resumed her maiden name of Smollett in 1780. They lived in St. John Street off Canongate, Edinburgh and had a son who was in the Military.

His first published work was a poem about the Battle of Culloden entitled "The Tears of Scotland", but it was The Adventures of Roderick Random which made his name, his poetry was described as 'delicate, sweet and murmurs as a stream'.[1] The Adventures of Roderick Random was modelled on Le Sage's Gil Blas, and was published in 1748. Smollett followed it up by finally getting his tragedy, The Regicide, published, though it was never performed. In 1750, Smollett took his MD degree in Aberdeen, and also travelled to France, where he obtained material for his second novel, The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, another big success. Having lived for a short time in Bath, he returned to London and published The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom in 1753. He was now recognised as a leading literary figure, and associated with the likes of David Garrick, Laurence Sterne, Oliver Goldsmith and Samuel Johnson, whom he famously nicknamed "that Great Cham of literature".[1] In 1755 he published a translation of Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote, which he revised in 1761. In 1756, he became editor of The Critical Review.

Portrait of Tobias Smollett by Nathaniel Dance-Holland, ca. 1764

Smollett then began what he regarded as his major work, A Complete History of England, from 1757 to 1765. During this period he served a short prison sentence for libel, and produced another novel, The Life and Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves (1760). Having suffered the loss of a daughter, he went abroad with his wife, and the result was Travels through France and Italy (1766). He also wrote The History and Adventures of an Atom (1769), which gave his view of British politics during the Seven Years' War under the guise of a tale from ancient Japan.

He also re-visited Scotland and this visit helped inspire his last novel, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771), published in the year of his death. He had for some time been ailing from an intestinal disorder, and had sought a cure at Bath and eventually retired to Italy, where he is buried in the old English cemetery in Livorno, Italy.

Monuments[edit]

There is a monument to his memory beside Renton Primary School, Dunbartonshire, Scotland, on which there is a Latin inscription composed by Dr. Johnson. The area around the monument was improved in 2002, with an explanatory plaque.

There is also a plaque to his temporary residence in Edinburgh just off the Royal Mile at the head of St John's Street. This states that he resided here in the house of his sister, Mrs. Telfer, for the summer of 1766. A second plaque (dating the building at 1758, making it relatively new at that time) states that he "stayed here occasionally" implying more than one visit, which may well be true if it was the house of his sister.

References in literature[edit]

In George Eliot's Middlemarch, Mr. Brooke says to Mr. Casaubon: "Or get Dorothea to read you light things, Smollett - Roderick Random, Humphrey Clinker. They are a little broad, but she may read anything now she's married, you know. I remember they made me laugh uncommonly — there's a droll bit about a postilion's breeches."

In W. M. Thackeray's Vanity Fair, Rebecca Sharp and Miss Rose Crawley read Humphrey Clinker: "Once, when Mr. Crawley asked what the young people were reading, the governess replied "Smollett." "Oh, Smollett," said Mr. Crawley, quite satisfied. "His history is more dull, but by no means so dangerous as that of Mr. Hume. It is history you are reading?" "Yes," said Miss Rose; without, however, adding that it was the history of Mr. Humphrey Clinker."

Charles Dickens's David Copperfield mentions its titular young hero to count Smollett's works as among his favorites as a child.

John Bellairs referenced Smollett's works in his Johnny Dixon series, wherein Professor Roderick Random Childermass reveals that his late father Marcus, an English professor, had named all of his sons after characters in Smollett's works: Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Humphrey Clinker, and even "Ferdinand Count Fathom", who usually signed his name F. C. F. Childermass.

George Orwell praised him as "Scotland's best novelist".

Bibliography[edit]

Each year links to its corresponding "Year in literature" or "Year in poetry":

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Gilfillan, George , dissertation in The Poetical Works of Johnson, Parnell, Gray and Smollet 1855, kindle ebook 1855 ASIN B004TQHGGE ,
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Cox, Michael, editor, The Concise Oxford Chronology of English Literature, Oxford University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-19-860634-6
  3. ^ Kenneth Simpson, Smollett, Tobias George (1721–1771), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, September 2004; online edn, January 2008, accessed 13 December 2009

External links[edit]