Tobias George Smollett

Tobias George Smollett

Smollett, Tobias George, 1721-71, Scottish novelist. After studying at Glasgow he came to London in 1739. Failing to get his tragedy The Regicide produced, he shipped as a surgeon's mate in the British navy the following year. In 1744 he returned to London with his wife, a Jamaican heiress, practiced as a surgeon for a time, and then began an active literary career. His first three novels, Roderick Random (1748), Peregrine Pickle (1751), and Ferdinand Count Fathom (1753), are tough, coarse, episodic adventure stories, exposing a crude and brutal society. In 1755, Smollett translated Cervantes's Don Quixote into English. His novel Sir Lancelot Greaves (1760-62), which is based on Don Quixote, is considered his weakest work. Smollett achieved his greatest success with Humphry Clinker (1771), a comical but sympathetic story of a family's adventures through England and Scotland written in the form of letters. These novels, rich in character, incident, and realistic detail, were drawn largely from Smollett's own wide experience. His influence on later novelists, most notably Dickens, has been great. In addition to writing he had an active publishing career, editing periodicals, translating, and compiling. His other works include a popular History of England (1757), an entertaining but splenetic Travels through France and Italy (1766), and a brutal satire on public affairs, The History and Adventures of an Atom (1769).

See his letters ed. by L. M. Knapp (1949, repr. 1970); biographies by L. M. Knapp (1949, repr. 1963), D. J. W. Bruce (Am. ed. 1965), George S. Rousseau (1982), and H. Bloom (1987); studies by R. Giddings (1968) and R. D. Spector (1968).

Tobias George Smollett (bapt. 19 March, 172117 September, 1771) was a Scottish author, best known for his picaresque novels, such as The Adventures of Roderick Random (1748) and The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle (1753).


Smollett was born at Dalquhurn, now part of Renton, in present-day West Dunbartonshire, Scotland. He was the son of a judge and land-owner, and was educated at the University of Glasgow, qualifying as a surgeon. His career in medicine came second to his literary ambitions, and in 1739 he went to London to seek his fortune as a dramatist. Although unsuccessful, he obtained a commission as a naval surgeon on the HMS Chichester and travelled to Jamaica, where he settled down for several years. On his return, he set up practice in Downing Street and married a wealthy Jamaican heiress, Anne Lascelles, in 1747.

His first published work was a poem about the Battle of Culloden entitled "The Tears of Scotland", but it was The Adventures of Roderick Random which made his name. It was modelled on Le Sage's Gil Blas, and was published in 1748. Smollett followed it up by finally getting his tragedy, The Regicide, published, though it was never performed. In 1750, Smollett took his MD degree in Aberdeen, and also travelled to France, where he obtained material for his second novel, The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, another big success. Having lived for a short time in Bath, he returned to London and published The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom in 1753. He was now recognised as a leading literary figure, and associated with the likes of David Garrick, Laurence Sterne, Oliver Goldsmith and Samuel Johnson, whom he famously nicknamed "that Great Cham of literature". In 1755 he published a translation of Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote, which he revised in 1761. In 1756, he became editor of The Critical Review.

Smollett then began what he regarded as his major work, A Complete History of England, which took from 1757 to 1765. During this period he served a short prison sentence for libel, and produced another novel, The Life and Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves (1760). Having suffered the loss of a daughter, he went abroad with his wife, and the result was Travels through France and Italy (1766). He also wrote The History and Adventures of an Atom (1769), which give his view of English politics during the Seven Years' War under the guise of a tale from ancient Japan.

He also visited Scotland, and this visit helped inspire his last novel, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771), published in the year of his death. He had for some time been ailing from an intestinal disorder, and had sought a cure at Bath and eventually retired to Italy, where he is buried at Leghorn/Livorno.

There is a monument to his memory beside Renton Primary School, Dunbartonshire, on which there is a Latin inscription composed by Dr. Johnson. The area around the monument was improved in 2002, with an explanatory plaque.


See also


  • Lewis, Jeremy (Cape, 2003) Tobias Smollett
  • George Rousseau (1982). Tobias Smollett: Essays of Two Decades (Edinburgh: T&T Clark).
  • George Rousseau (2004). Nervous Acts: Essays on Literature, Culture and Sensibility. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 1-4039-3454-1 (Paperback) ISBN 1-4039-3453-3 (Hardcover)

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