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[John Hawkesworth], review of Adventures of an Atom
198 TOBIAS SMOLLETT
settlements; of the king’s kicking his ministers all round on hearing the news; of the
capture of Chinese vessels by the advice of Sti phi-rum-poo, previous to a declaration
of war; and of some disadvantages suffered by the Japonese troops that were sent to
repress the foreign incroachments of the Chinese.
[quotes from Atom, pp. 337–9]
The author proceeds to give an account of an attack made by the Chinese upon an
island called Motao, of a fleet sent out under Admiral Bihn-gho to assist the governor,
of the miscarriage of the measure, and the sacrifice that was made of Bihn-gho, who, by
the advice of Foksi-roku was made the scape goat of the administration. ‘Bhin-gho, says
the Author, underwent a public trial, was unanimously found guilty, and unanimously
declared innocent; by the same mouths condemned to death, and recommended to
mercy; but mercy was incompatible with the designs of the administration.’
Subsequent miscarriages producing yet greater confusion among the people, the
conduct of administration was summoned before the venerable tribunal of the populace.
[quotes from Atom, p. 349 and following, with extracts to conclusion of novel]
There is much spirit, humour and satire in this piece; but there is also much
nastiness and obscenity: of that kind, however, which is disgusting, and consequently
not pernicious. There are also some inconsistencies, to which works of fiction are very
liable; but which the best writers have been extremely careful to avoid.
In the beginning of the first volume the Atom declares that Fate determined it should
exist in the empire of Japan a thousand years ago; that it continued to undergo various
vicissitudes there, till a few years before it entered the body of Ephraim Peacock at a
city feast, who transmitted it to his son, the supposed recorder of these events: yet in
the beginning of the second volume, the same Atom declares that it constituted a part of
one of Richard the IIId’s yeomen at the battle of Bosworth. There are many
inaccuracies of style and expression; but it would be treating a hasty performance of
this kind too severely to point them out.
Notice of Adventures of an Atom
From The Town and Country Magazine, 1769, I, 269, from the section
‘Accounts of Books and Pamphlets.’
A Sarcastic production in imitation of Rabelais and Swift, meant to lash the m——rs,
politics, and parties of a certain island; and is executed with much genuine wit, and
Unsigned review of Humphry Clinker
From The London Chronicle, 15–18 June 1771, 2264, 580.
The chief Characters in this entertaining work are Mr Bramble, a worthy, but capricious,
elderly Gentleman: Mrs Tabitha Bramble his Sister, a cross old Maiden; Miss Lydia
Melford Mr Bramble’s Niece; Mr James Melford his Nephew; both under the
guardianship of Bramble; and Humphry Clinker, a distressed Post-Chaise Driver, who
is taken into the service of Mr Bramble, &c. all which characters are well drawn, in a
series of letters.
Previous to Humphry Clinker’s being introduced to the Reader, several letters pass
between different persons, from one of which the following passages are taken.
[quotes from Clinker, vol. I, pp. 71–7, quoting J.Melford’s account of James Quinn
in a letter of 30 April from Bath]
Unsigned review of Humphry Clinker
From The London Magazine, XL, 1771, 317–19.
Dr Smollett’s reputation is so justly established, particularly in the walk of novelwriting, that very little need be said to recommend the present performance to the public.
Yet, though we have read it with much satisfaction, we cannot pretend to say it is
wholly without imperfections: the title is certainly an improper one, because
Humphrey Clinker is one of the least considerable in the whole catalogue of persons;
there is besides, no great contrivance in the plan, nor any thing extremely interesting in
the incidents. The characters, however, are marked with all that strength of colouring,
for which Smollet’s pencil is deservedly celebrated; and the reader is either continually
entertained with some whimsical relation, or what is still better, instructed with some
original remarks upon men and things, that do honour to the good-sense and humanity
of the author.
The chief characters of this novel are, Mr Bramble, a Welch old batchellor of great
benevolence and extensive understanding: He has a sister, an old maid, the very reverse
of himself in the amiable particulars we have mentioned, together with a niece and a
nephew both under age, to whom he is guardian. Having a desire for a journey into
Scotland, he goes from Bath to London, and thence northwards accompanied by this
family and their domestics. Previous to the tour, Miss Melford, his niece, discovers
prepossession for a strolling player, which nearly involves her brother in a duel, and
excites the displeasure of her uncle and aunt; but promising never more to hold the
smallest intercourse with Mr Wilson, the actor, she is forgiven, and our travellers
proceed in as much harmony as the irrascibility of Mrs Tabitha Bramble will admit, who
is generally miserable herself, or endeavouring to make others miserable. On the road,
this virago quarrelling with one of the servants, Humphrey Clinker, a poor country
fellow, pickt up in a stable-yard, is engaged through necessity in his room; and
thoughat first strongly disliked by the old maid, becomes a remarkable favourite in
consequence of being a very warm methodist. The description of Scarborough,
Harrowgate, and the various places through which the family pass in their way to
Scotland, as well as in their return, constitutes from this period the chief part of the
202 TOBIAS SMOLLETT
expedition, and the whole is concluded by a marriage between Miss Melford and Mr
Wilson, who turns out a gentlemen of fortune; with another marriage between Mrs
Tabitha and one Lismahago, a Scotch lieutenant on half pay, a very extraordinary
personage; and a third between Tabitha’s woman, Winifred Jenkins, and Humphrey
Clinker, who proves in the catastrophe a natural son to Mr Bramble.
From these materials the reader will see, that much of the dreadful dangers, the
surprizing escapes, the deep distresses, and the romantic passions which characterize
our modern novel-writers, is not to be expected in this performance; in fact, it is
something greatly preferable to a novel; it is a pleasing, yet an important lesson on life;
and that part of it which describes the Scotch nation, is at once calculated to entertain
the most gay, and to give the most serious a very useful fund of information. Having
said this, we shall make no apology for laying before our readers a letter (the work is
written in the epistolary manner) from Mr Bramble to his friend Dr Lewis in
[quotes from Clinker, vol. II, pp. 36–42, giving the whole of Bramble’s letter
Edinburgh, 18 July]
Unsigned notice of Humphry Clinker
From The Town and Country Magazine, III, 323. This did not normally
review fiction. On p. 317 ff. of this issue, they quoted two letters from
Humphry Clinker giving Satirical descriptions of London and Bath’.
The author of this production has so completely established his reputation as a novel
writer, that to say this performance is not inferior to any of his former pieces, will be a
sufficient recommendation of the work. In this opinion we have laid before our readers
two extracts, page 317.
Unsigned review of Humphry Clinker
From The Court and City Magazine, II 1771, 310–12.
This work is written in a series of letters, the principal personages are, Mr Bramble,
worthy misanthropical old gentleman; Mrs Tabitha, his sister, a cross old maid; Miss
Lydia Melford, his niece, and Jeremy Melford, a young Oxonian, his Nephew, to both
of whom Mr Bramble is guardian; with a Mr Dennison, Miss Melford’s lover; and
Humphry Clinker, a poor honest post-chaise boy. The scene lies in Gloucester, Bath,
London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, etc. The characters are strongly marked in point of
spirit and humour, and supported with great propriety. Old Bramble is a curious original,
and does honour even to the pen of Dr Smollett. The following satirical description
given by this honest cynic of the manner of living in London, after he has expatiated
upon the happiness of a country life, will give the reader some idea of his character.
[quotes from Clinker, vol. I, pp. 168–172, quoting letter of Bramble, London, 8 June.]
Some farther Extracts from this performance, which, excepting some few indelicate
passages, appears well calculated for the instruction and entertainment of the reader,
will be given in a future Magazine.
Unsigned review of Humphry Clinker
From Every Man’s Magazine, or The Monthly Repository, of Science, Instruction
and Amusement, 1771, I, 33–4.
Three little pocket volumes having lately made their appearance under the title of The
expedition of Humphry Clinker, ascribed to the pen of the celebrated Dr Smollett; the
attention of the curious has been attracted to this performance by the literary
reputation of the author—the following extract is therefore given, in compliance with
the taste of the public for this kind of writing, but we are sorry to say there are many
reasons which point out the prudence of the Doctor in not placing his name to the title
page. His descriptions are partial, exaggerated, and ill-natured, particularly with
respect to the city of London. Of the capital of his native country, the reader will find,
he gives a more favourable account, than any that has yet appeared.
[quotes from Clinker, vol. II, pp. 36–42, quoting Bramble’s letter from Edinburgh, 18
Unsigned review of Humphry Clinker
From The Gentleman’s Magazine, XLI, 317–21.
This work is by no means a novel or romance, of which Humphry Clinker is the hero;
Humphry makes almost as inconsiderable a figure in this work as the dog does in the
history of Tobit: nor is it indeed principally a narrative of events, but rather a miscellany
containing dissertations on various subjects, exhibitions of character, and descriptions of
places. Many of the characters are drawn with a free but a masterly hand; in some
particulars perhaps they are exaggerated, but are not therefore the less entertaining or
instructive: Some appear to be pictures of particular persons, but others of human
nature, represented indeed in individuals peculiarly distinguished, but drawn rather
from imagination than life. Some, however, are as extravagant as fancies of Calot, but
though they do not less deviate from nature, their irregularities discover the same
vivacity and spirit.
In this part of the work consists its principal excellence, and its principal defect is the want
of events. The whole story might be told in a few pages, and the author has been so
parsimonious of his invention, that he has twice overturned a coach, and twice
introduced a fire, to exhibit a scene of ridiculous distress, by setting women on their
heads, and making some of his dramatic characters descend from a window by a ladder,
as they rose out of bed.
It is by no means deficient in sentiment, and it abounds with satire that is equally
sprightly and just. It has, however, blemishes, which would be less regretted where there
was less to commend. In the celebrated treatise on the art of sinking in poetry, under
the article stile, the incomparable author considers one, which on account of the source
whence it is derived, he calls the prurient; there is another stile, which with respect to
its source, may justly be termed the stercoraceous. The stercoraceous stile would
certainly have found a place in the art of sinking, if it had been then to be found in any
author not wholly contemptible. But it was not then in being; its original author was
Swift, the only writer who had ever made nastiness the vehicle of wit: since his time
they have frequently been confounded, and by those who could not distinguish better,
the nastiness has been mistaken for the wit: Swift therefore has been imitated in this
particular by those who could imitate him in nothing else; and others have, under the
TOBIAS SMOLLETT 207
sanction of Swift, taken the liberty to be filthy, who were under no necessity to seek
occasions for wit in an hospital or a jakes.
The stile of this work is frequently stercoraceous, and sometimes it is also prurient. The
prurient however is as harmless as the stercoraceous, as it tends much more to chill than to
inflame every imagination, except perhaps those of the thieves and bunters in Broad St
Giles’s, to whom the coarsest terms being familiar, they convey sensual ideas without
the antidote of disgust.
Among other parts of this work which might have been spared, is the description of
several places both in England and Scotland that are well known; but among the
pictures of life, which may serve as monitors of the supine and thought less, the
extravagant and the vain, is the following, which is inserted at once as specimen and
recommendation of the work. It is part of a letter from one of the principal characters,
a satyrical but benevolent man, between 50 and 60, now on a journey to the north of
England, to a friend of his youth in London.
[quotes from Clinker, vol. II, pp. 136–42, quoting Bramble’s letter of 30 September]
John Gray on Humphry Clinker
8 July 1771
John Gray in a letter from London to Smollett in Italy. From Lewis
Melville, The Life and Letters of Tobias Smollett (1721–1771), 1926, pp. 249–
50. Gray was the author of a 12-volume History of the World published in
1767, and translations of the Odes and Epistles of Horace (1778).
I have read the Adventures of Humphry Clinker with great delight, and think it calculated to
give a very great run, and to add to the reputation of the author, who has, by the magic
of his pen, turned the banks of Loch Lomond into classic ground. If I had seen the MS. I
should like to have struck out the episode of Mr Paunceford.1 The strictures upon
Aristarchus are but too just; shallow judges, I find, are not so well satisfied with the
performance as the best judges, who are lavish in its praises. Your half-animated sots
say they don’t see the humour. Cleland gives it the stamp of excellence, with the
enthusiastic emphasis of voice and fist; and puts it before anything you ever wrote. With
many, I find, it has the effect of exciting inquiries about your other works, which they
had not heard of before. I expected to have seen an account of it in both Reviews, but it
is reserved for next month.
1 See Humphry Clinker, vol. I, pp. 95–9, quoting Jeremy Melford’s letter from Bath, 10 May.