Smollett Studies

Smollett Studies

Smollett Studies

Smollett Studies

Excerpt

Tobias Smollett, one of the most versatile and prolific of English eighteenth-century men of letters, was, in turn, naval surgeon, physician, novelist, poet, editor, playwright, party writer, historian, translator, satirist, critic, traveler, and literary nabob among the Grub Street hack writers. His activities included supervision of translations of Le Sage, Voltaire, and Cervantes; editorial work for the second great English review and for the British Magazine, which contained the first serialized novel (his own Launcelot Greaves); at least two original contributions to medical literature, as well as editorial work on the century's most important obstetrical treatise; authorship of one of the most widely discussed travel books of the time, and editorship of another; and the production of four novels, including two which have attained to the dignity of "classics." One of the most important men of a period which included such figures as Johnson, Goldsmith, Boswell, Sheridan, Hume, Adam Smith, Fielding, and Richardson--most of whom were his friends,--Smollett represents the professional littérateur of a diversitarian age.

In this study I am primarily concerned with Smollett as critic of the navy and as writer for the Critical Review. These two aspects of his experience have elicited particular notice from Smollett enthusiasts--among whom Scott and Henley are not the least,--but no extensive treatment of either phase has yet appeared. He seems to have made enthusiastic friends and bitter enemies, the latter as a result of his politico-journalistic and critical work, so that contemporary accounts of his abilities vary considerably. Smollett, like many of those who engage in literary warfare, can only now, a hundred and fifty years after his death, begin to receive his due; yet even today apologists for the men who were his enemies are prone to spatter their eulogies with contempt for "Toby. . . ."

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