Tobias Smollett
The Expedition of Humphry Clinker


"Fools and their money are easily parted" (Roderick Random)

Tobias George Smollett was the son of a Scottish landowner and was born near Dunbarton. He trained as a surgeon, but his medical career was not a success. Nor, to begin with were his literary efforts. He wrote a play called The Regicide and brought it to London in 1739, but it was not accepted. Understandably downhearted, Smollett joined the navy in the capacity of surgeon's mate, sailing aboard HMS Chichester. He sailed to the West Indies in 1741 where his experiences provided material for several of his later books. He met his future wife, Anne Lassells, while in Jamaica in the early 1740s before setting up his own surgeon's practice in Downing Street. It was not to provide him with a living, so he began to write again, and publishing the poem "The Tears of Scotland" in 1746. It was followed by a number of other poems, notably Advice (1746) and Reproof (1747).

At this time he began work as a novelist, publishing The Adventures of Roderick Random in 1748 to great acclaim. With the arrival of his first and only child, Elizabeth, at about this time, Smollett found himself desperately short of money again. After a period of travel in Europe he moved to Chelsea and subsequently received his MD from Aberdeen before returning to Paris. This second foreign excursion was to inspire 1751's The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle. It was the first of many rather extreme and libellous tracts, and like in 1753 was only a moderate success.

Still financially insecure and now troubled by illness, Smollett took all the medical work he could, continued with his translation of Cervantes' Don Quixote (another disappointment on its appearance in 1755) and in 1756 became editor of the Critical Review which he co-founded and where he stayed until 1763. It was only with his popular and controversial Complete History of England (1757-8), though, that he achieved commercial success. Sales of the Continuation of the Complete History were helped by Smollett's cunning in bribing church sacristans to put fliers for the book in church pews. At this time The Life and Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves was published serially in the British Magazine which was his current project.

Things were to take a turn for the worse later in 1760, however, as Smollett was fined 100 and imprisoned for three months for libel. He had called Sir Charles Knowles "an admiral without conduct, an engineer without knowledge, an officer without resolution, and a man without veracity". This was not untypical of his Critical Review work. After the trouncing of the Tory journal Briton by a competitor and the failure of Launcelot Greaves in book form, the downturn in Smollett's fortunes only worsened with the death of his daughter in 1763 and the deterioration of his health.

Abandoning his literary endeavours, Smollett upped and left for France and Italy with his wife. His apparently miserable experiences there were published as his wonderfully / appallingly grouchy Travels in France and Italy, the year after his return in 1765. Laurence Sterne would famously parody Smollett as 'Smelfungus' in his own book of travels. Smollett's last years were spent writing some of his finest work, including the satirical The Adventures of an Atom (1769)and his finest novel, The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker (1771). The author died in the year of its publication and is buried in the English cemetery in Leghorn, Italy. His last words are said to have been "All is well, my dear".

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