On March 19, 1721, Scottish poet & novelist Tobias Smollett was born in West Dunbartonshire, Scotland. He was best known for The Adventures of Roderick Random (1748) and The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle (1751), which influenced later novelists such as Charles Dickens. He was the son of a judge and land-owner, and was educated at the University of Glasgow, qualifying as a surgeon. His career in medicine came second to his literary ambitions, and in 1739 he went to London to seek his fortune as a dramatist. Unsuccessful, he obtained a commission as a naval surgeon on HMS Chichester and traveled to Jamaica, where he settled down for several years. On his return, he set up practice in Downing Street and married a wealthy Jamaican heiress, Anne "Nancy" Lascelles in 1747.
His first published work was a poem about the Battle of Culloden entitled The Tears of Scotland, but it was The Adventures of Roderick Random which made his name , his poetry was described as 'delicate, sweet and murmurs as a stream'. Smollett followed it up by finally getting his tragedy, The Regicide, published, though it was never performed. In 1750, Smollett took his MD degree in Aberdeen, and also traveled to France, where he obtained material for his second novel The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, another big success. Having lived for a short time in Bath, he returned to London and published The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom in 1753. He was now recognized as one of the leading literary figure of the time. In 1755 he published a translation of Cervantes’ Don Quixote, which he revised in 1761. In 1756, he became editor of The Critical Review.
Smollett then began what he regarded as his major work, A Complete History of England from 1757 to 1765. During this period he served a short prison sentence for libel, and produced another novel, The Life and Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves (1760). Having suffered the loss of a daughter, he went abroad with his wife, and the result was Travels through France and Italy (1766). He also wrote The History and Adventures of an Atom (1769), which gave his view of British politics during the Seven Years’ War under the guise of a tale from ancient Japan. He also re-visited Scotland and this visit helped inspire his last novel, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771), published in the year of his death. He had for some time been ailing from an intestinal disorder, and had sought a cure at Bath and eventually retired to Italy, where he died on September 17, 1771 and was buried at the Old English Cemetery, Livorno, Italy.
Michael Thomas Barry is the author of Great Britain’s Literary Legends. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following links:
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