September 1782 she lost the small remnant of her property in a disastrous fire in Jamaica, and made a pathetic appeal to the charitable for assistance (London Chronicle, 14 Sept.; cf. European Mag. November 1803). On 3 March 1784 ‘Venice Preserved’ was performed at the Edinburgh Theatre Royal for her benefit, and a sum of 366l. was remitted to her. She appears to have died soon afterwards.
In a brochure entitled ‘Wonderful Prophecies,’ issued twenty-four years after his death (London, 1795, 8vo, p. 55), Smollett was credited with some very remarkable predictions alleged to have been written in a letter addressed a few months before his death to a parson in Northumberland. ‘The North American colonists,’ he is said to have declared, ‘republican to a man, will embrace the first fair opportunity entirely to shake off;’ and again: ‘The present political state of France can hardly continue more than twenty years longer … and, come when it will, the change must be thorough, violent, and bloody.’ But there is no means of testing the authenticity of this document, which must be regarded with suspicion.
Smollett was placed in a very high rank by his contemporaries. Lady Wortley-Montagu praised her ‘dear Smollett’ to all her friends (including Mrs. Delany and other pious people), Johnson commended his ability, Burke delighted in ‘Roderick Random,’ and Lydia Languish seems to have had an impartial affection for all his novels. Of later generations, Scott readily grants to him an equality with his great rival Fielding. Elia makes his imaginary aunt refer with a sigh of regret to the days when she thought it proper to read ‘Peregrine Pickle.’ Oblivious of Dickens, Leigh Hunt calls Smollett the finest of all caricaturists. Talfourd puts his Strap far above Fielding's Partridge, and Thackeray gives to ‘Clinker’ the palm among laughable stories since the art of novel-writing was invented. More critical is the estimate of Hazlitt. Smollett, he says, portrays the eccentricities rather than the characters of human life, but no one has praised so well the charm of ‘Humphrey Clinker’ or the ‘force and mastery’ of many episodes in ‘Count Fathom.’ Taine would appear to sympathise with Mr. Leslie Stephen in a much lower estimate of Smollett as the interpreter of the extravagant humours of ‘ponderous well-fed masses of animated beefsteak.’ Of the five great eighteenth-century novelists, Defoe, Richardson, Fielding, Smollett, and Sterne, Smollett is now valued the least; yet in the influence he has exercised upon successors he is approached by Sterne alone of his contemporaries. The tide of subsequent fictitious literature is strewn on every hand with the disjecta membra of ‘Peregrine Pickle,’ of ‘Count Fathom,’ and ‘Humphrey Clinker.’ Not only does Trunnion live again in Uncle Toby, in John Gilpin, in Captain Cuttle; a similar immortality has overtaken whole scenes in the ‘The Reprisal’ and numerous incidents in ‘Count Fathom;’ while Scott (especially in ‘Guy Mannering’), Dibdin, Marryat (in ‘The Three Cutters’), and Thackeray (in ‘Barry Lyndon’) owe scarcely less to Smollett in one direction or another than avowed disciples such as Charles Johnstone, the author of ‘Chrysal,’ or Charles Dickens, whose style is frequently reminiscent of his less gifted and less fortunate predecessor.
Beneath a very surly exterior there was in Smollett a vein of rugged generosity and romantic feeling (cf. Intermédiaire des Chercheurs et Curieux, i. 364, an excellent appreciation). His dominant mood is well expressed in his ‘Ode to Independence,’ published shortly after his death. He was essentially a difficult man, hugging his nationality, a ‘proud, retiring, independent fellow,’ far more disposed to cultivate the acquaintance of those he could serve than of those who could serve him. He was, as his physician says, ‘un uomo di talento svegliato, sofferente gli acciacchi della vita umana, ma quasi misantropo.’ He had a marked dislike for modish society. He hated ceremony of any kind, and characteristically compared Roman catholicism to comedy, and Calvinism to tragedy. Of English writers who have any pretension to a place in the first rank, few, if any, are so consistently pagan. The religious point of view never occurred to him. He was no metaphysician, like Fielding, and the last word of his philosophy, as expressed in a letter to Garrick, was that the world was a sort of debtors' prison, in which ‘we are all playthings of fortune.’ As a stylist, he carried on the robust tradition of Swift and Defoe. Unlike the majority of his contemporaries, especially those who had crossed the Tweed, he had a thorough grasp of English idiom, and, as compared with Fielding, he is singularly free from archaisms and from conceits of every kind (cf. Hazlitt). His manuscript was very good and clear. Some interesting autobiographical letters written by him to admirers in America are printed in the ‘Atlantic Monthly’ (June 1859). Some of his autographs are in the Morrison Collection and in the British Museum (Addit. MSS. 28275, 30877), and many are preserved at Cameron House, Bonhill.