Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 53.djvu/182

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

But in the autumn of this year he already had another novel in prospect, and went over to Paris with a new acquaintance, Dr. John Moore (his future biographer and author of ‘Zeluco’), in quest of materials, or rather subjects for caricature. One of these was found in the person of Smollett's compatriot, Mark Akenside. Smollett published his second novel, ‘The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle’ (1751, 4 vols. 12mo), with promptitude after his return. From the outset it met with an immense success, and was forthwith translated into French. Like its predecessor, it was a loosely constructed series of adventures. But the faculty of eccentric characterisation which rendered ‘Roderick Random’ notable was surpassed in ‘Peregrine Pickle’ in the humorous study of Commodore Trunnion, the description of whose death shows Smollett's powers at their best (cf. Retrospective Review, iii. 362). Two capital defects in the story are the grossly inartistic interpolation, for a handsome fee, of ‘The Memoirs of a Lady of Quality’ [see Vane, Frances, Viscountess Vane], and the debased character of the hero, the ‘savage and ferocious Pickle’ as he is called by Scott. The work was further disfigured by the splenetic attacks which Smollett made upon Lyttelton (Sir Gosling Scrag), and upon Garrick, Cibber, Rich, Akenside, and Fielding; these offensive passages were removed from the second edition. Smollett, however, pursued his resentment against Fielding, which must be attributed, in part at least, to an unworthy jealousy, in a pamphlet written in 1752, and entitled ‘A Faithful Narrative of the Base and Inhuman Arts that were lately practised upon the Brain of Habbakuk Hilding, Justice, Dealer, and Chapman, who now lies at his house in Covent Garden in a deplorable State of Lunacy … by Drawcansir Alexander, Fencing Master and Philomath.’ The great novelist and his friend Lyttelton were here attacked in the coarsest strain of personal abuse.

In the meantime Smollett had migrated to Bath, and was making a last determined attempt to establish himself as a physician; but neither place nor profession was suited to a man so frank and so combative. In 1752 he published ‘An Essay on the External Use of Water’ (London, 8vo), in which he sought to prove that, for hydropathic purposes, the mineral water of Bath had little advantage over any other water. He seems to have left Bath shortly afterwards with some valuable material for subsequent satire upon the medical profession (cf. Everitt, Doctors, p. 282). His patience had proved insufficient for the trials of a struggling physician, and he returned to London to devote himself wholly to literary work. He established himself at Monmouth House, or the ‘Great House,’ Chelsea, an Elizabethan mansion formerly known as Lawrence House; it was taken down in 1835, but before that date it was drawn and etched by R. Schnebellie. He was a regular frequenter of the ‘Swan,’ where he forgathered with ‘a circle of phlegmatic and honest Englishmen.’ The humours of tavern life had always a rare attraction for him. At Saltero's (to the museum attached to which he was a ‘benefactor;’ see Cat. 35th ed. p. 19) he met more distinguished friends, and he was visited at his Chelsea home, where the garden proved an attraction, by Johnson, Goldsmith, Sterne, Garrick, Wilkes, and John Hunter. Every Sunday his house was open to ‘unfortunate brothers of the quill,’ whom he treated with ‘beef, pudding, and potatoes, port, punch, and Calvert's entire butt-beer.’

One of his first exploits at Chelsea was the personal chastisement of a man called Peter Gordon, who had borrowed money from Smollett and had sought to cancel his obligations by taking up his quarters in the king's bench prison, whence he despatched insolent messages to his creditor. An action brought by Gordon against his assailant was compromised to Smollett's disadvantage. In the same year (1753) appeared Smollett's third novel,’ ‘Ferdinand Count Fathom,’ his most sustained effort. The irony of the opening chapters, the ruthless characterisation of a scoundrel, and the description of the robbers' hut in the forest exhibit a striking reserve of power. Few novels have been more imitated.

During the whole of this year and the next Smollett was constantly in pecuniary difficulties; he had anticipated his income, and, pending the arrival of a remittance from the West Indies, had to borrow from his friend Dr. Macaulay. His embarrassments seem to have reached a climax in December 1754, when on the night of the 10th he was robbed of his watch and purse in the stage-coach between Chelsea and London. A few months later, in March 1755, appeared his translation of ‘Don Quixote,’ at which he had been working intermittently for many months, and for which he had been paid soon after the appearance of ‘Roderick Random.’ Though many of Smollett's humorous paraphrases are excellent, his claims to adequate knowledge of the original were at once questioned in ‘A Letter from a Gentleman in the Country to his Friend in Town’ (anon.