A ships doctor-turned-writer, the witty and outspoken
Tobias Smollet is best known today and the author of The Expedition
of Humphrey Clinker, a delightful and enduring comic novel that
remains his most entertaining.
2nd son of Archibald Smollett, of Dalquhurn, Dumbartonshire,
and ed. at Glasgow, proceeded to London in 1739 with the view
of having a tragedy, The Regicide, put on the stage, in which,
however, he failed. In this disappointment he took service as
surgeon’s mate on one of the vessels of the Carthagena
expedition, 1741, an experience which he turned to account in
his novels. On his return he settled in London, and endeavoured
to acquire practice as a physician, but was not very successful,
and having discovered where his talent lay, he thenceforth devoted
himself to literature. Roderick Random appeared in 1748, The
History of an Atom (1749), Peregrine Pickle in 1751, Ferdinand,
Count Fathom in 1753, Sir Lancelot Greaves in 1766, and Humphrey
Clinker, generally considered his best novel, in 1770. Besides
these works, however, he translated Voltaire, wrote a History
of England in continuation of Hume’s, an Ode to Independence,
travels and satires, and contributed to various periodicals.
He was repeatedly involved in acrimonious controversy, and on
one occasion fined and imprisoned for a libel, which, with various
private misfortunes, embittered his life, and he died disappointed
and worn out near Leghorn. Had he lived four years longer he
would have succeeded to his grandfather’s estate of Bonhill.
The novels of S. display great narrative power, and he has a
remarkable comic vein of a broad type, which enables him to
present ludicrous scenes and circumstances with great effect.
There is, however, a strong infusion of coarseness in his treatment
of his subjects.
Works: Advice: a Satire (1746); Reproof: a Satire (1747); The Adventures of Roderick Random (1748); The Regicide, or James I of Scotland (1749); The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle (1751); A Faithful Narrative of the Base and Inhuman Arts that were Lately
Practised upon the Brain of Habbakkuk Wilding (1752); A Essay upon the External Use of Water (1752); The Adventures of Ferdinand, Count Fathom (1753); The Reprisal, or the Tars of Old England (1757); A Complete History of England from the Descent of Julius
Caesar Co the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, 3 vols. (1757—8); The Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves (1762); A Continuation of the Complete History (1766); Travels through France and Italy (1766); The History and Adventures of an Atom (1769); The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771); Ode to Independence (1773).