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THIRD among the grand old masters of English fiction, both in date of appearance as an author and in rank as a novelist, comes Tobias Smollett. Born in 1721, at Dalquhurn-house near Renton, in Dumbartonshire, and educated at the Grammar School of Dumbarton and the University of Glasgow, this boy of gentle blood entered upon life as an apprentice to Mr. Gordon, an apothecary in Glasgow. His grandfather, Sir James Smollett of Bonhill, who had borne the expenses of his education, having died without leaving him any further provision, the youth of nineteen made his way up to London, carrying among his few shirts a tragedy, called The Regicide, which he fondly hoped would raise him at once to the pinnacle of fame and fortune.
How many poor fellows have toiled nightly for months over a crazy desk, and have then trudged weary miles up to the Great Babylon with the same high hope burning in their young hearts ! And how many, a dozen years after that sanguine, light-hearted journey to town, have found nothing left of those bright hopes but a few smouldering embers amid the grey ashes of a disappointed life!
The Regicide being refused by the London managers, Smollett had to fall back upon the profession he had learned from Gordon. Finding the stage doors shut against him, he sought the humble position of surgeon's mate in the navy, and was, after some time, appointed to an eighty-gun ship. It was thus that he acquired his wonderful knowledge of sailors and sailor-life. His ship forming one of the fleet which was despatched against Carthagena with
PUBLICATION OF “RodERICK RANDoM.” 317
so disastrous a result, he had an opportunity of witnessing and feeling the horrors of naval warfare. The story of the expedition may be found in his novel of Roderick Random, and also in his Compendium of Voyages and Travels. During a short residence in Jamaica he met Miss Lascelles, the lady who afterwards became his wife. Upon his return to London in 1744 he endeavoured to establish himself as a medical man; but the attempt was unsuccessful. Betaking himself more eagerly to the pen, when the lancet failed him, he wreaked his revenge upon those whom he considered his foes, by the publication in 1746 of Advice, a satire, which has been well characterized as possessing all the dirt and vehemence of Juvenal, with none of that writer's power. All through life Smollett's unhappy temper preyed upon his own spirit, and made enemies of some who might otherwise gladly have befriended the struggling genius. He was one of those poor men who aim too high at the outset of their career, and who for ever after their first failure are possessed with the haunting monomania, that all the world has entered into an envious plot to slight their works and deprive them of their justly-earned fame. Another coarse and bitter satire, The Reproof, in which actors, authors, and critics were abused without stint or measure, produced a yet deeper feeling of disgust against the irritable surgeon, —a feeling which the publication of Roderick Random in 1748 could scarcely abate. This first novel at once 1748 stamped Smollett as one worthy to rank with the great A.D. masters who were then plying the novelist's pen. But his works are evidently the creations of a somewhat inferior mind. There are, indeed, in Smollett's books an innate coarseness and an unscrupulous love of the indelicate, which we do not find in the works of Richardson or Fielding. Theirs is rather the coarseness of the age in which they lived; Smollett's is the coarseness of a man the fibre of whose moral nature was as rough as the roughest sacking. His second novel, Peregrine Pickle, followed in three years. It is disfigured by the same faults as its predecessor. Another at
318 AUTHORSHIP WITHOUT REST.
tempt to get into medical practice—this time at Bath—having ended as before, he took a house at Chelsea, and became an author by profession. If he could have flung away the hedgehog prickles of his temper along with his rusty lancet, he might have gathered round him a circle of loving and admiring friends. But the soured surgeon grew sourer still. His pen worked busily on. Ferdinand Count Fathom, the career of a sharper, and a translation of Don Quixote, occupied some four years, which bring us to one of the few sunny spots we meet in this gloomy, battling life. He visited Scotland; felt the arms of his old mother again round his neck; saw the crystal Leven and the oak-woods of Cameron once more; talked of auld lang syne with former school-fellows and boyish playmates; and then hurried back to his alter ego, sitting with knitted brow and bitter pen at a desk in southern England. Smollett's sixteen remaining years were years of incessant literary occupation. He undertook to edit the Critical Review; an office for which he was ill qualified, since of all men, an editor ought not to be quarrelsome. Endless were the scrapes into which the abuse of his editorial functions brought him. Admiral Knowles had him fined £100, and imprisoned for three months, as the author of a scurrilous libel. While he was in jail he wrote a tiresome English imitation of Don Quixote's adventures, entitled Sir Launcelot Greaves. Turning his pen from fiction to history, he produced, in the brief period of fourteen months, a Complete History of England, from the landing of Caesar to the treaty of Aixla-Chapelle; to which he afterwards added chapters carrying the work down to 1765. The latter part of this flowing History was taken to supplement the greater work of the historian Hume. In a few old-fashioned libraries Hume and Smollett even still stand shoulder to shoulder as the great twin authorities on English his. tory, although the light of modern research has detected errors and flaws by the hundred in their finely-written story. Wilkes and Smollett had a tilt about Lord Bute's ministry, in which the latter, defending the quondam tutor of royalty, suffered severely. The last years of the novelist, imbittered by the death
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of his only child, a girl of fifteen, were chiefly spent in restless travel. Visiting France and Italy, he vented his increasing spleen upon even the crumbling ruins of old Rome, and the exquisite statue of the Wenus de Medici. The poor peevish author was hastening to his end; but before he sank beneath this life's horizon, his genius shot forth its brightest beam. Disappointed in his last earthly hope—that of obtaining a consulship on some shore of the Mediterranean, where his last hours might be prolonged in a milder air—he travelled to the neighbourhood of Leghorn, and, settling in a cottage there, finished Humphrey Clinker, which is undoubtedly his finest work. Lismahago is the best character in this picture of English life; Bath is the principal scene, upon which the actors play their various parts. Scarcely was this brilliant work completed, when Smollett 1771 died, an invalided exile, worn out long before the allotted A.D. Seventy years.
His pictures of the navy-men who trod English decks a century ago, are unsurpassed and imperishable. Trunnion, the oneeyed commodore; Hatchway and Bowling, the lieutenants; ApMorgan, the kind but fiery Welsh surgeon; Tom Pipes, the silent boatswain, remain as types of a race of men long extinct, who manned our ships when they were, in literal earnest, wooden walls, and when the language and the discipline, to which officers of the royal navy were accustomed, were somewhat of the roughest and the hardest.
Smollett wrote poetry also, but it hardly rises above mediocrity. His 0de to Independence, his Lines to Leven Water, and his Tears of Scotland, present the most favourable specimens of his poetic powers.
AN UNExPECTED REüNION.
As we stood at the window of an inn that fronted the public prison, a person arrived on horseback, genteelly though plainly dressed in a blue frock, with his own hair cut short, and a gold-laced hat upon his head. Alighting, and giving his horse to the landlord, he advanced to an old man who was at work in paving the street, and accosted him in these words: “This is hard work for such an old man as you.” So saying, he took the instrument out of his hand, and began to
SPECIMEN OF SMOLLETT'S PROSE.
thump the pavement. After a few strokes, "Have you never a son," said he, “to ease you of this labour ?” “Yes, an' please your honour,” replied the senior, “I have three hopeful lads, but at present they are out of the way." “Honour not me," cried the stranger; "it more becomes me to honour your grey hairs. Where are those sons you talk of?” The ancient pavier said, his eldest son was a captain in the East Indies, and the youngest had lately enlisted as a soldier, in hopes of prospering like his brother. The gentleman desiring to know what was become of the second, he wiped his eyes, and owned he had taken upon him his old father's debts, for which he was now in the prison hard by.
The traveller made three quick steps towards the jail; then turning short, “Tell me," said he," has that unnatural captain sent you nothing to relieve your distresses?” “Call him not unnatural," replied the other; “ God's blessing be upon him! he sent me a great deal of money, but I made a bad use of it; I lost it by being security for a gentleman that was my landlord, and was stripped of all I had in the world besides.” At that instant a young man, thrusting out his head and neck between two iron bars in the prison window, exclaimed: “Father ! father! if my brother William is in life, that's he.” “I am ! I am!" cried the stranger, clasping the old man in his arms, and shedding a flood of tears—“I am your son Willy, sure enough!” Before the father, who was quite confounded, could make any return to this tenderness, a decent old woman, bolting out from the door of a poor habitation, cried : “Where is my bairn? where is my dear Willy?” The captain no sooner beheld her than he quitted his father, and ren into her embrace.