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[Jeremiah Whitaker Newman], from The Lounger
TOBIAS SMOLLETT 261
equal to the best efforts of Smollett, I cannot deny; yet, after perusing their works, I
never quit them with such reluctance as I feel on closing the pages of our author, who,
without introducing so much ofwhat has been called fine writing, possesses, in an
eminent degree, the art of rousing our feelings, and fixing the attention of his readers.
The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, though they have been censured as low, scurrilous,
and immoral, (a charge of a serious nature, and which I shall hereafter consider) I have
always preferred to the other productions of Smollett: they relate, in language by turns
strong, easy, elegant, and pathetic, a succession of events, forming a natural, well-drawn
picture of human life, which the thoughtless may peruse with advantage, and the
prudent man, with emotions of triumph.
From the wild unlucky boy, teizing his aunt and the commodore, by mischievous
pranks, and heading a rebellion at school against his master, we trace the headstrong
youth, of pride unbroken, and unbridled appetite, plunging into folly, vice, and
dissipation; wasting his substance, injuring the woman of all others he loved, and at last
pining in a prison, that severe school, which too tardily teaches us the falsehood and
treachery of a base world, fascinating only to plunder, and bewitching, only to destroy.
Roused by the voice of friendship, and again restored to affluence, he returns, with a
stern reluctance, founded on a sense of his own unworthiness and vicious imprudence,
to society and love; convinced that, after all the bustle of pleasure, and glitter of wealth,
real happiness is only to be found in moderate enjoyment, domestic tranquility, and
A good style has been defined, ‘proper words in proper places;’ and I have not met
with a more just selection of appropriate terms, and descriptive expressions, than in the
following short passage of Smollett, though on a trifling subject; it is when Tom Pipes kills
the gardener’s dog. ‘He was that instant assaulted by the mastiff, who fastened on the
outside of his thigh. Feeling himself incommoded by this assailant, he quitted the
prostrate gardner, turned round to the dog, and grasping the throat of that ferocious
animal with both his hands, he squeezed it with such incredible force and perseverance,
that the creature quitted his hold: his tongue lolled out of his jaws, the blood started
from his eyes, and he swung, a lifeless trunk, in the hands of his vanquisher.’
His feast, after the manner of the ancients, is well managed and replete with rich
strokes of humour, and pointed satire, which, in the rancour of toryism, he directed, with
engerness, against hiswhig opponent, Akenside. Yet in this, and other parts of Peregrine
Smollett has, with some justice, been thought indelicate; but it should be recollected,
that in delineations of certain circumstances, and certain characters, it is difficult for the
author who draws from nature, and real life, to avoid shocking the fastidious eye of
nicety, and scrupulous decorum. The path of humour is pleasant and inviting, but it is a
dangerous one, and too often leads us astray into the bye roads of indelicacy, as well as
illnature. To say a good thing, how ever smutty or malignant, is a temptation equally
irresistible to the humourist, the mimic, and the bon-vivant; and, as I have said in
another place, we ought to recollect, that it is the nature of all humour to be
sometimes gross, and sometimes inelegant.
262 THE CRITICAL HERITAGE
In this respect, the dialogue between Pipes, and the hedge nymph, his master had
accidentally picked up on the road, and afterwards introduced into company as a fine
lady, is culpably obscene, though the story is well told, and the irresistible buoyancy of
early impression well marked. The behaviour of Pickle to Hornbeck, is also highly
unjustifiable; not satisfied with injuring that unfortunate husband, beyond repair, he
adds personal violence to insult. Yet, with these, and other faults, I can not but
consider it, contrary to the general opinion, as superior to Roderick Random, and as a firstrate novel, whose merits far exceed the modern puny productions of frivolous fashion,
and feeble sentiment, which load the shelves of our libraries, and teach nonsense and
iniquity to our wives and daughters.
Peregrine’s transition from mirth, petulance, and gaiety, to anxiety, agitation,
confusion, and concern, after first beholding the lovely Emilia Gauntlett, and the
progress of the generous passion of love, as long as he restrained himself within the
bounds of good sense; also the curious mode of replacing a lost love letter, are well
imagined. But when the young man was corrupted by prosperity, and his principles
contaminated by excess and the baleful maxims of foreign climes, that aweful
veneration, which her presence used to inspire, gradually abated, and he gazed on the
lovely, the virtuous Emilia, with impure desire.
After a variety of plans to lull her vigilance and apprehensions, he considers the
licentiousness and late hours of a masquerade, (that hot-house of sin and hell) as a fit
place for the execution of his purpose. The address of Emilia to her lover, on
discovering his treacherous and unprincipled design, deserves to be repeated; it
isanimated, pointed, and such as her situation would naturally inspire: ‘for, what must
have been the emotions of a virtuous sensible woman, at this insolent treatment from a
man whom she had honored with the most disinterested affection, and genuine esteem?
it was not simply horror, grief, or indignation, but the united pangs of them all.’
As soon as her feeling suffered her to speak, she addresses him in the following words.
[quotes Peregrine Pickle, chs LXXXII and CXI, and reports the narrative of Peregrine’s
attempt upon Emilia’s virtue, and their ultimate reconciliation at the close of the novel.
Cf. vol. III, ch. 76, pp. 29–33]
I was very young when these adventures fell in my way, and perhaps on that
account, they made a deeper impression, and appeared in the eyes of a school-boy more
worthy of attention, and better written, than they really are; circumstances which I
hope will excuse thus serving up to my readers a second-hand hash from the novel
shop. I well remember the forlorn situation of Peregrine, his declining every kind of
proffered assistance, and the obstinate peculiarity of his conduct, with regard to Emilia,
struck me as a noble exertion of manly and philosophical self-denial, not unworthy the
characters of Socrates or Cato. I could not help bestowing on his behaviour warm
encomiums, and viewing him with a mixture of envy and admiration, but the happy
conclusion was not suitable to the enthusiasm of juvenile fancy, dreaming of, and
seeking, as objects of meditation, themes far more gratifying, interesting, and affecting,
than reason, nature and probability.
TOBIAS SMOLLETT 263
‘Had I been in such a situation,’ (have I often exclaimed in the blissful extacy of
fourteen) ‘had I written this novel, or had I been in the circumstances of Peregrine, I
would have suffered myself or my hero to perish in prison, unassisted; the cup of
comfort should have been dashed untasted from my lips; to add to my punishment, my
last look should have been cast on the woman I was dying for and adored. Without
suffering myself to enjoy a heaven, which was placed within my grasp; after darting my
eyes on that bosom, where gods would wish to have revelled, I would have turned them
from the delicious, enchanting sight, and sunk into everlasting sleep.
I need not add, that to the pourer forth of such a rhapsody, the performance of
Smollett would have been more pleasing, had itstermination been in the stile of
Spagnolet, less happy.
As a traveller, Smollett was petulant, illiberal, and almost on every occasion lost his
temper; but some excuse is to be made for a frame, convulsed by the pangs of disease,
and a life embittered by disappointment, and domestic calamity; a spirit wounded by
ingratitude, and irritated by the malignant shafts of envy, dullness, and profligacy. He is
said to have been a literary retainer to the Earl of Bute, and to have experienced
ingratitude from that nobleman, who in many instances was a generous patron to men
very inferior in ability to Smollett. Under such impressions perhaps he ought not to
have written, but on certain occasions, the pen will be found to afford a similar relief to
the dram-bottle, or a round of diversions; and where is the man, who having once
found solace in a pursuit, will not naturally seek for comfort and consolation in the
At the age of eighteen, this writer produced the Regicide, a Tragedy on the subject of
James the First, King of Scotland, animated, nervous, and pathetic. The character of
the virtuous, the brave, but the gentle Dunbar, is finely contrasted with the
headstrong, fierce, ambitious Stewart, while the amiable Eleanora, esteeming the first,
but in spite of herself loving the latter, is distracted between her passion and her duty.
This piece of Smollett’s, excels in language, situation, and every other dramatic
requisite, most of the wretched things which were presented to the public at that
period, but are now forgotten; yet, with all its merits, it was never able to procure
admission on the stage. I was tempted to mention it in this place, by the following
passage in a Preface prefixed to the play, which I submit, without a comment, to the
consideration of Messrs. Harris, Sheridan, and Colman, jun.
‘As early as the year 1739, my play was taken into the protection of one of those
little fellows, who sometimes fancy themselves great men. After being neglected by
him, with the strictest attention to politeness and etiquette, I was introduced to Mr
Lacy, of courteous memory, who found means to amuse me for two seasons, by
practising on me the various arts of procrastination, occasionally sweetened with
compliments and promises. My patience was at last exhausted, and I demanded from
him, in warm terms, a final answer, which amounted to a refusal. The gentleman
coolly added, that he really saw no great objection to the piece, butfeared my interest
was not sufficient to support it in the representation, as no dramatic composition, however
264 THE CRITICAL HERITAGE
perfect, could succeed with an English audience, by its merit only, but must depend in a great
measure, on a faction raised in its behalf.’
James Lackington on Smollett’s popularity
From James Lackington, Memoirs of the forty-five first Years of the Life of James
Lackington, Bookseller etc. (1793), 1795 new edn, corr. and enlarged, p.
Before I conclude this letter, I cannot help observing, that the sale of books in general has
increased prodigiously within the last twenty years. According to the best estimation I
have been able to make, I suppose that more than four times the number of books are
sold now than were sold twenty years since. The poorer sort of farmers, and even the
poor country people in general, who before that period spent their winter evenings in
relating stories of witches, ghosts, hobgoblins, &c. now shorten the winter nights by
hearing their sons and daughters read tales, romances, &c. and on entering their
houses, you may see Tom Jones, Roderick Random, and other entertaining books, stuck up
on their bacon racks, &c. If John goes to town with a load of hay, he is charged to be
sure not to forget to bring home Peregrine Pickle’s Adventures; and when Dolly is sent to
market to sell her eggs, she is commissioned to purchase The History of Pamela Andrews.
It short, all ranks and degrees now READ. But the most rapid increase of the sale of
books has been since the termination of the late war.
Isaac D’Israeli on Smollett as Petronius
From Isaac D’Israeli, Essay on the Manners and Genius of the Literary
Character, 1795, pp. 140–1. The extract comes in chapter XI, ‘The
Characters of Writers not Discoverable in their Writings’. The Bayle
referred to is probably Pierre Bayle, the seventeenth-century French
The licentious tales of La Fontaine are well known, but not a single amour has been
recorded of the ‘bon homme.’ Bayle is a remarkable instance; no writer is more ample
in his detail of impurity, but he resisted the pollution of the senses as much as Newton.
He painted his scenes of lewdness merely as a faithful historian, and an exact compiler.
Smollett’s character is immaculate, yet what a description has he given of one of his
heroes with Lord Straddle. I cannot but observe on such scenes, that their delineation
answers no good purpose. Modesty cannot read, and is morality interested? He
assumed the character of Petronius Arbiter; we applaud and we censure this mere
playfulness of fancy. It is certain, however, by these instances, that licentious writers
may be very chaste men.
Richard Cumberland on ‘fast writing’
In his novel Henry, 4 vols, 1795, Richard Cumberland the younger (1732–
1811) gives a comic account of the work ofFielding, Richardson and
Smollett. This extract comes from the 3rd ed of 1798, vol. I, book 2,
chapter I, p. 98, bearing the chapter heading ‘Reasons for writing as fast as
There was third, somewhat posterior in time, not in talents, who was indeed a rough
driver, and rather too severe to his cattle; but in faith, he carried us on at a merry pace
over land or sea; nothing came amiss to him, for he was up to both elements, and a
match for nature in every shape, character, and degree: he was not very courteous, it
must be owned, for he had a capacity for higher things, and was above his business: he
only wanted a little more suavity and discretion to have figured with the best.