It is curious to note that in “Sir Launcelot Greaves,” we find a character, Ferret, who frankly poses as a strugforlifeur. M. Daudet’s strugforlifeur had heard of Darwin. Mr. Ferret had read Hobbes, learned that man was in a state of nature, and inferred that we ought to prey upon each other, as a pike eats trout. Miss Burney, too, at Bath, about 1780, met a perfectly emancipated young “New Woman.” She had read Bolingbroke and Hume, believed in nothing, and was ready to be a “Woman who Did.” Our ancestors could be just as advanced as we are.
Smollett went on compiling, and supporting himself by his compilations, and those of his vassals. In 1762 he unluckily edited a paper called The Briton in the interests of Lord Bute. The Briton was silenced by Wilkes’s North Briton. Smollett lost his last patron; he fell ill; his daughter died; he travelled angrily in France and Italy. His “Travels” show the choleric nature of the man, and he was especially blamed for not admiring the Venus de Medici. Modern taste, enlightened by the works of a better period of Greek art, has come round to Smollett’s opinions. But, in his own day, he was regarded as a Vandal and a heretic.
In 1764, he visited Scotland, and was warmly welcomed by his kinsman, the laird of Bonhill. In 1769, he published “The Adventures of an Atom,” a stupid, foul, and scurrilous political satire, in which Lord Bute, having been his patron, was “lashed” in Smollett’s usual style. In 1768, Smollett left England for ever. He desired a consulship, but no consulship was found for him, which is not surprising. He died at Monte Nova, near Leghorn, in September (others say October) 1771. He had finished “Humphrey Clinker,” which appeared a day or two before his death.
Thackeray thought “Humphrey Clinker” the most laughable book that ever was written. Certainly nobody is to be envied who does not laugh over the epistles of Winifred Jenkins. The book is too well known for analysis. The family of Matthew Bramble, Esq., are on their travels, with his nephew and niece, young Melford and Lydia Melford, with Miss Jenkins, and the squire’s tart, greedy, and amorous old maid of a sister, Tabitha Bramble. This lady’s persistent amours and mean avarice scarcely strike modern readers as amusing. Smollett gave aspects of his own character in the choleric, kind, benevolent Matthew Bramble, and in the patriotic and paradoxical Lieutenant Lismahago. Bramble, a gouty invalid, is as full of medical abominations as Smollett himself, as ready to fight, and as generous and open-handed. Probably the author shared Lismahago’s contempt of trade, his dislike of the Union (1707), his fiery independence (yet he does marry Tabitha!), and those opinions in which Lismahago heralds some of the social notions of Mr. Ruskin.