Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 53.djvu/186

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

Sir Horace Mann, who did what he could for him (Doran, Mann and Manners at the Court of Florence, pp. 217–18), and was anxious to learn his views as to the identity of Junius. Smollett seems to have acquired a fair knowledge of Italian. Among the books sold after his death by his widow were annotated copies of Goldoni and other Italian authors, along with odd volumes of Fielding and Sterne. During the spring of 1770 he and his wife and two other compatriots secured contiguous villas about two miles out of Leghorn, near Antignano, under the shadow of Monte Nero. The site, now occupied by the Villa Gamba, upon one of the lower spurs of the mountain, commands a beautiful prospect over the sea. Smollett describes the situation in a letter to Caleb Whitefoord of 18 May 1770. Here, while tended with devotion by his wife, he gradually became weaker. He was visited by the friendly author of the ‘Art of preserving Health’ in the summer of 1770 (A Short Ramble through some Parts of France and Italy, by Lancelot Temple [i.e. Dr. John Armstrong], London, 1771, pp. 51–2), and during the autumn he penned the bulk of the immortal ‘Humphrey Clinker.’

Horace Walpole stands almost alone as a detractor of ‘Humphrey Clinker,’ which he unwarrantably described as ‘a party novel written by that profligate hireling Smollett to vindicate the Scots and cry down juries’ (Mem. of George III, iv. 328). From the first the work, which bears traces of Sterne's influence, was regarded as a rare example of a late maturity of literary power and fecundity of humour. The workmanship is unequal, and the itinerary, which is largely autobiographic, is too often the means of introducing Smollett's contemptible views on æsthetic subjects; but as a whole the setting is worthy of the characters—the kindly but irascible Bramble, the desperate old maid Tabitha, the diverting Winifred Jenkins (direct progenitors of Mrs. Malaprop), and ‘the flower of the flock’—the pedant Lismahago. The original of the last is said to have been a certain Major Robert Stobo, who drew up a curious ‘Memorial’ in 1760 (reprinted Pittsburg, 1854; cf. Journal of Lieut. Simon Stevens, Boston, 1760); Scott, in drawing Sir Dugald Dalgetty, admits his direct debt to Smollett (Legend of Montrose, Introduction).

Smollett had the satisfaction of seeing his masterpiece in print, but not of hearing the chorus of praise that greeted it. He wrote to his friend John Hunter in the spring of 1771: ‘If I can prevail upon my wife to execute my last will, you shall receive my poor carcase in a box after I am dead to be placed among your rarities. I am already so dry and emaciated that I may pass for an Egyptian mummy without any other preparation than some pitch and painted linen.’ His last words were spoken to his wife, ‘All is well, my dear,’ and on 17 Sept. 1771 he died at the age of fifty-one. An interesting account of his last illness is given by the accomplished Italian physician, Giovanni Gentili (Gentili MSS. in Riccardian Library at Florence, codici 3280 sq., cited in Pera's ‘Curiosità Livornesi,’ p. 316). Gentili comments on his perfect attachment to his wife, and his ‘temperamento molto collerico, ma riflessivo.’ He assigns his death to the night of 17 Sept. He was buried two days after death (the Westminster Journal of 26 Oct. 1771 contains the most circumstantial account; the Evening Post of 17 Oct. 1771 says he died ‘on 20 Sept. at Pisa;’ cf. Scots Magazine for October 1771). His grave is in the old English cemetery in the Via degli Elisi at Leghorn (the only town in north Italy where protestants at that time had rights of burial), and the sea lies to the west of him, as of Fielding at Oporto. A Latin inscription (inaccurate as to dates) was written for his tombstone by Armstrong, and has recently been recut. Three years later a monument was erected by the novelist's cousin, Commissary James Smollett, on the banks of the Leven—a tall Tuscan column, which still attracts tourists between the Clyde and Loch Lomond. The inscription was revised and in part written by Dr. Johnson, who visited Bonhill with Boswell in 1774 (Letters, ed. Hill, i. 286).

In November 1775 Commissary Smollett died (Gent. Mag. 1775, p. 551), and the novelist, had he lived, would have come into the property, which passed to his sister, Jean Telfer. On succeeding to the estate she resumed her maiden name, and during her occupation bleaching and other works sprang up in the vale of Leven, and there came into existence the prosperous village of Renton, named after the ‘Miss [Cecilia] R[enton],’ daughter of John Renton of Blackadder, who appears in ‘Humphrey Clinker’ as one of the belles of Edinburgh. Cecilia subsequently married Jean Smollett's son, Alexander Telfer, and was mother of Lieut.-colonel Alexander Smollett, killed at the battle of Alkmaar in 1799. The latter was succeeded at Bonhill by his brother, Admiral John Rouett Smollett (d. 1842), father of Patrick Smollett (1804–1895).

Smollett's widow continued to live at Leghorn, in receipt, it would appear, of a small pittance from the Bonhill family. In