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Smelfungus is a name given by Laurence Sterne to Tobias Smollett as author of a volume of Travels through France and Italy, for the snarling abuse he heaps on the institutions and customs of the countries he visited.

The term "smellfungus" (pl. "smellfungi") thereafter passed into broader use to describe a grumbling traveller, and might even be applied to a faultfinder in general.[1]

Smollett in Europe[edit]

Smollett's 1764 journey to the Continent took place in the wake of a family bereavement, and while he was in poor health—matters which may explain the sharp tone of many of his comments on people, things and places he saw.[2] Thus for example he described the Venus de Medici as having "no beauty in the features" and having an attitude which "is awkward and out of character"[3]—prompting Sterne's remark that "he had fallen foul upon the goddess, and used her worse than a common strumpet".[4]

Revisionists have argued however that the "Smollett" in the Travels book is a character Smollett intentionally created, rather than him speaking in his own voice as Sterne (facetiously) implies.[5]

Carlyle's usage[edit]

In the 19th century Smelfungus was adopted by Thomas Carlyle as a pen-name when he had any seriously severe criticisms to offer on things, particularly those that have gone or are going to the bad. Patrick Proctor Alexander also used the name in his book Mill and Carlyle, which contrasted Carlyle's views with those of John Stuart Mill. Proctor's Occasional Discourse on Sauertieg by Smelfungus attacks Carlyle's more brutal ideas.


  1. ^ O. M. Brach ed., Tobias Smollett, Scotland's First Author (2007) pp. 76–8
  2. ^ I. Ousby ed., The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English (1995) p. 887 and p. 953
  3. ^ Quoted in G. Petrie ed., Lawrence Sterne: A Sentimental Journey (1979) p. 150
  4. ^ G. Petrie ed., Lawrence Sterne: A Sentimental Journey (1979) p. 52
  5. ^ O. M. Brach ed., Tobias Smollett, Scotland's First Author (2007) p. 16

This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainWood, James, ed. (1907). "article name needed". The Nuttall Encyclopædia. London and New York: Frederick Warne.