Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 53.djvu/185

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

vised recourse again to the Bath waters, which ‘had been useful to him in the preceding winter;’ but his wife earnestly begged him to ‘convey her from a country where every object served to nourish grief.’ He followed her advice. ‘Traduced by malice, persecuted by faction, abandoned by false patrons,’ as he bitterly complains, and ‘overwhelmed by the loss of his only child,’ he fled ‘with eagerness’ from his country, where men seemed every year to grow ‘more malicious.’ Churchill, whose malice was remorseless, had just attacked him in the ‘Author’ as Publius, ‘too mean to have a foe—too proud to have a friend,’ and once more by name in the ‘Ghost.’ A meaner assailant was Cuthbert Shaw [q. v.], who, in his dull imitation of the ‘Dunciad,’ entitled ‘The Race,’ directs thirty-two lines of feeble invective against the ‘Scottish critic.’

Smollett crossed the Channel to Boulogne in June 1763; he remained at Boulogne till September, and proceeded thence by Paris, Lyons, and Montpellier to Nice. A pioneer of the Riviera as a health resort, he made Nice his headquarters from November 1763 to May 1765 (during the greater part of which time he made careful observations of the weather). His shrewdness anticipated the great future that lay before the Cornice road (afterwards designed by Napoleon), and he foresaw the possibilities of Cannes, then ‘a neat village,’ as a sanatorium. From Nice he sailed in a felucca to Genoa, and thence visited Rome and other Italian cities, returning to England through France in June 1765. Early next year he published his ‘Travels’ in the form of letters sent home from Boulogne, Paris, Nice, and other places along his route. The book is replete with learning and with sound and often very acute observation, but Smollett, who in England saw in Durham and York minsters ‘gloomy and depressing piles,’ took an even more jaundiced view of what he saw abroad. Philip Thicknesse wondered that he ever got home alive to tell the tale (Letters, 1767, 8vo; cf. Hillard, Six Months in Italy, 1853, ii. 295–298). Sterne encountered the ‘choleric Philistine,’ probably in Italy, and gibbeted him as ‘Smelfungus’ in the ‘Sentimental Journey.’ Sterne's concluding bit of advice, that Smollett should confide his grievances to his physician, shows that he attributed his splenetic view of things to the right cause.

In spite of his profound mistrust of foreign doctors, Smollett had consulted physicians, and at first upon his return he seemed much better, but a few months in London undeceived him. His health was thoroughly undermined by chronic rheumatism, while the pain arising from a neglected ulcer, which had developed into a chronic sore, helped to sap his strength. As soon, therefore, as his ‘Travels’ were out of hand, he resolved on a summer journey to Scotland. He reached Edinburgh in June 1766, and stayed with his sister, Mrs. Telfer, in St. John Street. The society of Edinburgh, then at the apogee of its brilliance, paid due attention to ‘the famous Dr. Smollett.’ He was visited by Hume, Home, Robertson, Adam Smith, Blair, Dr. Carlyle, Cullen, the Monros, and many old friends. In company with his mother, he went on to Glasgow, stayed with Dr. Moore, and patted the head of the future hero of Coruña. Finally he proceeded to the scenes of his childhood, in the vale of Leven, and stayed with his cousin, James Smollett, in his newly built mansion of Cameron. Smollett's mother died in the autumn, and, still in a very precarious state of health, he proceeded to Bath, spending the Christmas of 1766 in Gay Street, where his health at last took a turn for the better, and where it is quite possible that he may have commenced a rough draft of ‘Humphrey Clinker.’ It is practically certain that he owed his conception of the framework of it to a reperusal of Anstey's ‘New Bath Guide.’

In 1768 he was again in London, and with a return of vital energy came a recrudescence of his old savagery. His next work, ‘The History and Adventures of an Atom,’ is a kind of Rabelaisian satire on the whole course of public affairs in England from 1754 to the date of publication in 1769. He lashes out against king and ministers on both sides with equal venom. His old patrons, Pitt and Bute, are attacked with no less fury than old enemies such as Cumberland and Lord Mansfield, or his journalistic rival, John Wilkes (for a key to the characters see W. Davis, Second Journey round the Library of a Bibliomaniac, 1825). Its publication was followed by a serious relapse. His friends decided that, to prolong his life, he must return to Italy. Hume generously applied to Shelburne for a consulate; there were several vacancies in Italy, and Smollett was well qualified for such a post. But no such favour was forthcoming from a member of the ‘pack,’ as Smollett had designated all contemporary politicians (Shelburne's letter of refusal is printed among ‘Some Inedited Memorials of Smollett’ in the ‘Atlantic Monthly,’ June 1859).

In December 1769 he left England for the last time, and proceeded to Lucca and Pisa, then the chief accredited health resort in the Mediterranean. At Pisa he was visited by