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Andrew Henderson, an attack on Smollett
ludicrously cruel, and if once prejudiced he would propogate with his utmost dexterity
of insinuation, a report hurtful to the innocent, would first condemn anonymous
productions, and then ascribe them possitively to people who did not know what size
they were of: However it is a kind of honour to his tomb, that it was taken notice of by
Doctor Samuel Johnson, the man who could represent an island as an entire square, which
in many places is actually indented with Bays.
A biographical and critical view
From The Westminster Magazine, or The Pantheon of Taste, III, 1775, 225–8.
An anonymous memoir of Smollett, with critical comments on the novels.
The first extended biographical/critical account, it was reproduced in The
Annual Register for 1775, and incorporated into what Bouce calls ‘the first
genuine life of Smollett prefixed to the 1777 edition of his Plays and
Poems’. The Prefatory material to this latter provides the substance of all
subsequent biographical/ critical writing on Smollett until the 1820
edition of Robert Anderson’s Miscellaneous Works of Tobias Smollett, 6th
It is generally said, that the Lives of Literary Men can be little more than an
enumeration and account of their Works. There have been few men of real genius who
have written more voluminously thanDr Smollett; yet the foregoing observation will by
no means apply to him. On the contrary, he has himself wrought up the incidents of his
own life, at least the earliest part of it, in one of the most entertaining Novels that ever
appeared in any language. Everybody knows I must mean Roderick Random; a book
which still continues to have a most extensive sale, and first established the Doctor’s
reputation. All the first volume, and the beginning of the second, appears to consist of
real incident and character, tho’ certainly a good deal heightened and dignified. The
Judge, his grandfather; Crab and Potion, the two apothecaries; and Squire Gawky, were
characters well known in that part of the kingdom where the scene was laid. Captains
Oakhum and Whiffle, Doctors Macshave and Morgan, were also said to be real
personages; but their names we have either never learnt, or have now forgotten. A
Bookbinder and Barber long eagerly contended for being shadowed under the name of
Strap. The Doctor seems to have enjoyed a peculiar felicity in describing these Characters,
particularly the Officers and Sailors of the Navy. His Trunnion, Hatchway, and Pipes, are
highly-finished originals: but what exceeds them all, and perhaps equals any character
that has yet been painted by the happiest genius of ancient or modern times, is his
Lieutenant Bowling. This is indeed Nature itself; original, unique and sui generis. As well
as the ladder of promotion, his very name has long become proverbial for an honest
blunt seaman, unacquainted with mankind and the ways of the world.
TOBIAS SMOLLETT 223
It is pretty surprising that, notwithstanding Dr Smollett was so very successful in
hitting off original characters in narration, he could never succeed in the Drama. Very
early in life he wrote a Tragedy, entitled, The Regicide, founded on the story of the
assassination of James I, of Scotland; which with all his interest and address he never
could get represented on the Stage. He afterwards published it by subscription; with
what success we cannot now recollect: but we are much mistaken if he has not alluded
to some of his own Theatrical occurrences, in the story of Melopyne, in Roderick Random.
By the publication of that Work the Doctor had acquired so great a reputation, that
henceforth a certain degree of success was insured to everything known or suspected to
proceed from his hand. In the course of a few years, The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle
appeared; a Work of great ingenuity and contrivance in the composition, and inwhich
an uncommon degree of erudition is displayed; particularly in the description of the
entertainment given by the Republican Doctor, after the manner of the Ancients.
Under this personage the late Dr Akenside, author of a famous Poem, entitled, The
Pleasures of the Imagination, is supposed to be typified; and it would be difficult to determine
whether profound learning or genuine humour predominate most in this Episode.
Butler and Smollett seem to be the only two who have united things seemingly so
discordant, happily together; for Hudibras is one of the most learned works in any
language; and it requires no common share of reading, assisted with a good memory,
thoroughly to relish and understand it. Another Episode of the Adventures of a Lady of
Quality, likewise inserted in this Work, contributed greatly to its success, and is indeed
admirably well executed. Yet, after giving all due praise to the merit and invention
displayed in Peregrine Pickle, we cannot help thinking it is inferior, in what may be called
naïvete, a thing better conceived than expressed, to Roderick Random.
These were not the only original compositions of this stamp, with which the Doctor
has favoured the Public. Ferdinand Count Fathom and Sir Launcelot Greaves are still in the
list of what may be called reading Novels, and have gone through several editions; but
there is no injustice in placing them in a rank far below the former. No doubt invention,
character, composition, and contrivance, are to be found in both; but then situations
are described which are hardly possible, and characters are painted, which, if not
altogether unexampled, are at least incompatible with modern manners; and which
ought not to be, as the scenes are laid in modern times.
The last Work which we believe the Doctor published, was of much the same
species, but cast into a different form—The Expedition of Humphry Clinker. It consists of a
series of letters, written by different persons to their respective correspondents. He has
here carefully avoided the faults which may be justly charged to his two former
productions. Here are no extravagant characters nor unnatural situations. On the
contrary, an admirable knowledge of life and manners is displayed; and most useful
lessons are given applicable to interesting, but to very common situations.
We know not that ever the remark has been made, but there is certainly a very
obvious similitude between the characters of the three heroes of the Doctor’s chief
productions. Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, and Matthew Bramble, are all brothers of
224 THE CRITICAL HERITAGE
the samefamily. The same satirical, cynical disposition, the same generosity and
benevolence, are the distinguishing and characteristical features of all three. But they
are far from being servile copies or imitations of each other. They differ as much as the
Ajax, Diomed, and Achilles of Homer. This was undoubtedly a great effort of genius, and
the Doctor seems to have described his own character at the different stages and
situations of his life.
He was bred to Physic, and in the early part of his life served as Surgeon’s Mate in
the Navy. It appears from Roderick Random, that he was at the siege of Carthagena; of
which expedition he gives a faithful, tho’ no very pleasing account. Soon after his return
he must have taken his degree of Doctor of Physic, tho’ we have not been able to learn
at what time and at what place. It is said, that, before he took a house at Chelsea, he
attempted to settle as practitioner of physic at Bath; and with that view, wrote a
Treatise on the Waters—but was unsuccessful: chiefly because he could not render
himself agreeable to the Women, whose favour is certainly of great consequence to all
candidates for eminence, whether in Medicine or Divinity. This, however, was a little
extraordinary; for those who remember Dr Smollett at that time, cannot but
acknowledge that he was as graceful and handsome a man as any of the age he lived in;
besides, there was a certain dignity in his air and manner which could not but inspire
respect wherever he appeared. Perhaps he was too soon discouraged; in all probability,
had he persevered, a man of his great learning, profound sagacity, and intense
application, besides being endued with every other external as well as internal
accomplishment, must have at last succeeded, and, had he attained to common old age,
been at the head of his profession.
Abandoning Physic altogether as a profession, he fixed his residence at Chelsea, and
turned his thoughts entirely to writing. Yet, as an author, he was not near so successful
as his happy genius and acknowledged merit certainly deserved. He never acquired a
Patron among the Great, who by his favour or beneficence relieved him from the
necessity of writing for a subsistence. The truth is, Dr Smollett possessed a loftiness and
elevation of sentiment and character which appears to have disqualified him from
currying favour among those who were able to confer favours. It would be wrong to
call this disposition of his, pride or haughtiness; for to his equals and inferiors he was ever
polite, friendly, and generous.Booksellers may therefore be said to have been his only
patrons; and from them he had constant employment in translating, compiling, and
reviewing. He translated Gil Bias and Don Quixote both so happily, that all the former
translations of these excellent productions of genius are in a fair way of being
superseded by his. His name likewise appears to a translation of Voltaire’s Prose
Works, but little of it was done by his own hand; he only revised it, and added a few
Notes. He was concerned in a great variety of compositions. His Historie of England was
the principal work of that kind. It has in itself real intrinsic merit; but considering the
time and circumstances in which it was written, it is indeed a prodigy of genius, and a great
effort of application. It had a most extensive sale, and the Doctor is said to have
received 2000l. for writing it and the Continuation. He was employed, during the last
TOBIAS SMOLLETT 225
years of his life, in abridging the Modern Universal History, great part of which he had
originally written himself, particularly the Histories of France, Italy, and Germany. He
lived nearly to complete this Work, and it is said it will soon be published.
In the year 1755 he set on foot the Critical Review, and continued the principal
manager of it, till he went abroad for the first time in the [year] 1763. To speak
impartially, he was, perhaps, too acrimonious sometimes in the conduct of that Work,
and at the same time too sore, and displayed too much sensibility when any of the
unfortunate authors whose Works he had, it may be, justly censured, attempted to
retaliate. He had made some very severe strictures on a pamphlet published by Admiral
Knowles, as well as on the character of that gentleman, who commenced a prosecution
against the Printer, declaring he only wanted to know the Author, that if a gentleman,
he might obtain the satisfaction of a gentleman from him. In this affair the Doctor
behaved with great spirit. Just as sentence was going to be pronounced against the
Printer, he came into Court, avowed himself the Author, and declared himself ready to
give the Admiral any satisfaction he chose. The Admiral forgot his declaration, and
began a fresh action against the Doctor, who was found guilty, find 100l. and
condemnd to three months imprisonment in the King’s-Bench. It is there he is said to
have written The Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves; in which he has described some
remarkable characters, then his fellow-prisoners.
When Lord Bute was called to the chief administration of affairs, he was prevailed
upon by him to write in defence of his measures;which he did in a Weekly Paper, called
The Briton. This gave rise to the famous North-Briton; wherein, according to the opinion
of the Public, he was rather baffled. The truth is, the Doctor did not seem to possess
the talents necessary for political altercation. He wanted temper and coolness. Besides,
his patron is supposed to have denied him the necessary information, and to have
neglected fulfilling his engagements with him. The Doctor has not forgotten him in his
subsequent performances. He is described under the character of Yak-Strot, in The
Adventures of an Atom.
His constitution being at last greatly impaired by a sedentary life, and assiduous
application to study, he went abroad for his health in the year 1763. He wrote an
account of his travels in a Series of Letters to some friends, which were afterwards
published in Two Volumes, Octavo. During all that time he appears to have laboured
under a constant fit of chagrin. But the state of his mind will be best learnt from
himself. Thus he writes in his first Letter: ‘In gratifying your curiosity I shall find some
amusement to beguile the tedious hours; which, without some such employment,
would be rendered insupportable by distemper and disquiet. You knew and pitied my
situation, traduced by malice, persecuted by faction, abandoned by false patrons and
overwhelmed by the sense of a domestic calamity, which it was not in the power of
fortune to repair.’ By this domestic calamity he means the loss of his only child, a
daughter, whom he loved with the tenderest affection. The Doctor lived to return to
his native country: but his health continuing to decline, and meeting with fresh
226 THE CRITICAL HERITAGE
mortifications and disappointments, he went back to Italy, where he died on October
21, 1771,1 having been born in the year 1720.
It would be needless to expatiate on the character of a man so well known as Dr
Smollett, who has besides given so many strictures of his own character and manner of
living in his writings, particularly in Humphry Clinker, where he appears under the
appellation of Mr Serle, and has an interview with Mr Bramble; and his manner of living
is described in another letter, where Young Melford is supposed to dine with him at his
house in Chelsea. No doubt he made a great deal of money by his connexions with
Booksellers; and had he been a rigid economist, or endued with the gift of retention (an
expression of his own), he might have lived and died very independent. However, to
do justice to his memory, his difficulties, whatever they were, proceeded not from
extravagance or want of economy. He was hospitable, but not ostentatiously so; and his
table was plentiful but not extravagant. No doubt he had his failings; but still it would
be difficult, to name a man who was so respectable for the qualities of his head, or
amiable for the virtues of his heart.
1 In fact Smollett died on 17 September 1771.
James Beattie on ludicrous compositions
From James Beattie, Essays, Edinburgh, 1776. The first extract is from
chapter III, ‘Incongruity not Ludicrous’, section II, sub-section 3, Pity, p.
431; the second is from chapter IV, ‘An Attempt to Account for the
Superiority of the Moderns in Ludicrous Writing’, pp. 475–6.
Beattie (1735–1803), distinguished Scots moral philosopher, writer on
aesthetics, and friend of Samuel Johnson.
Even pity alone is, for the most part, of powers sufficient to control risibility. To one
who could divest himself of that affectation, a wooden leg might perhaps appear
ludicrous; from the striking contrast of incongruity and similitude;—and in fact we find
that Butler has made both himself and his readers merry with an implement of this sort
that pertained to the expert Crowdero; and that Smollett has taken the same freedom,
for the same purpose, with his friend Lieutenant Hatchway. But he who forgets
humanity so far, as to smile at such a memorial of misfortune in a living person, will be
blamed by every good man. We expect,because from experience we know it is natural,
that pity should prevail over the ludicrous emotions.
We have a far greater variety of authors to allude to, in the ways of parody and
burlesque, than the ancients had; for we have both ancient authors and modern; and to
an excessive admiration of the former some late wits have ascribed the origin of a new
species of ludicrous character, whereof we have several strong outlines in the travelling
physician in Peregrine Pickle, and a finished portrait in the Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus.
There was indeed, in the days of Horace,1 a sort of character not unlike this; a set of
critics, who, despising the literary productions of their own time, were perpetually
extolling the ancient Roman authors, and tracing out divine beauties of style in writings
that were become almost unintelligible. But these critics are rather to be ranked with
those of our antiquarians who prefer Chaucer and Langland to Dryden and Milton.
1 Cites Horace, Epistola ad Augustam, 19–27.
James Beattie compares Sir Launcelot Greaves and Don
From James Beattie, Essays (1776), 3rd edn, London, 1779, pp. 323–4,
from an ‘Essay on Laughter and Ludicrous Composition’.
Sir Launcelot Greaves is of Don Quixote’s Kindred, but a different character.
Smollett’s design was, not to expose him to ridicule; butrather to recommend him to
our pity and admiration. He has therefore given him youth, strength, and beauty, as well
as courage, and dignity of mind, has mounted him on a generous steed, and arrayed him
in an elegant suit of armour. Yet, that the history might have a comic air, he has been
careful to contrast and connect Sir Launcelot with a squire and other associates of very
dissimilar tempers and circumstances.
The Westminster Magazine on Smollett’s originality
From The Westminster Magazine, 1776, IV, 129, from ‘An Essay on NovelWriting’, continued in IV, 522.
As substitutes for Virtue (almost unanimously neglected by our later Novelists) Humour
and Character appear, who, when led forth by a masterly hand, prove an inexhaustible
fund of risibility and entertainment. In these two Dr Smollet particularly excelled: his
Bowling, Trunnion, Hatchway and Pipes, are truly originals, and real sons of genuine
Humour, and will always meet with the plaudits of Nature and critical Discernment. Nor
was he less successful in characters; for it is observable, when men eminent in any
station of life were tinctured by strong peculiarities and striking foibles, they were
marked by this Author as game, and accordingly introduced to the penetrating eye of a
judicious Public. Of this the poetical Dr Akenside1 remains a melancholy instance,
whom Dr Smollet presented to the Public with all the exaggerated colours of invidious
The merits of this latter Gentleman as a Novel-Writer, I purpose examining in a future
Essay, and comparing him with an Author no less celebrated than himself, namely, Mr
Of English Novel-writers, the late Henry Fielding was indisputably the most
admirable, and the most natural. All his characters are from Life, whether humorous or
serious; and they are such correct copies, that we instantly feel the resemblance, and
either laugh or weep, think or dissipate, as he thinks proper. Such was the fidelity and
power of his pen, that the original men and women, with all the events and enterprises
that befel them, are immediately before us; and we are charmed by every stroke, because
it is a transcript from the Volume of Human Nature.
Smollet trod in his steps pretty successfully, deviating from the path of the commonplace Novelists, and giving to his scenes the recommendation of general similitude to
Nature; but his wit is more elaborate, and his sentiment has less of simplicity, than we
discover in the wit and sentiment of his Master, to whom he must certainly yield the first
230 THE CRITICAL HERITAGE
I know not if I shall escape censure, were I to allow him to hold the second amongst
modern Englishmen. In the opinion of a great many, Sterne might stand before either.
We give him infinite credit, and infinite tears for his power over our hearts when he
chooses to melt them; but surely Fielding and Smollet both know better how to tickle
them. Does not Sterne go too far for fun?
1 The reference to Akenside is to Smollett’s derisive representation of him (unnamed) in ch.
XLVI of Peregrine Pickle.
On Smollett’s Ode to Independence
From Tobias Smollett, Plays and Poems, 1777, pp. 266–72, editor
unknown. The prefatory Life of Smollett and remarks on the novels are
taken from The Westminster Magazine article of 1775 (see No. 97) and in
turn provides the substance oflater biographical commentaries. The
extract here comments on Smollett’s most famous poem.
Lyric poetry imitates violent and ardent passions. It is therefore bold, various, and
impetuous. It abounds with animated sentiments, glowing images, and forms of speech
often unusual, but commonly nervous and expressive. The composition and
arrangement of parts may often appear disordered, and the transitions sudden and
obscure; but they are always natural, and are governed by the movements and variations
of the imitated passion. The foregoing ode will illustrate these observations.
The Introduction is poetical and abrupt.
Thy spirit, Independence, let me share!
Lord of the lion-heart and eagle-eye,
Thy steps I follow with my bosom bare,
Nor heed the storm that howls along the sky.
The picture exhibited in these lines is striking, because the circumstances are happily
chosen, briefly, and distinctly delineated. It is sublime, because the images are few, and
in themselves great and magnificent. The ‘lion-heart and eagle-eye’ suggest an idea of
the high spirit and commanding aspect of Independence: and the poet following with
‘bosom bare’ denotes, in a picturesque manner, the eagerness and enthusiam of the
votary. The last circumstance is peculiarly happy.
Nor heeds the storm that howls along the sky.
It marks the scene: it is unexpected, and excites surprize: it is great and awful, and
exites astonishment. Combined with the preceding circumstance, it conveys a beautiful
allegorical meaning; and signifies, that a mind truly independent is superior to