Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 583
The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, written by Tobias Smollett and published in 1771, is an epistolary novel, meaning that it is told through a series of letters. Some epistolary novels focus on one or two main characters writing letters between one another. This novel includes letters from several different perspectives as the characters travel together. One of the primary characters in the book is a man named Mr. Matthew Bramble, who is known to be a hypochondriac, and is overly focused on his health issues. Knowing this, it is not surprising that Mr. Bramble writes his letters to his doctor, Dr. Lewis. Many of the details in his letters are not particularly exciting, since they relate to his exaggerated health concerns, but his concerns reveal what matters most to him. Smollett solely relies on characters' word choices and the content in their letters to create their personalities.
On his journeys, Mr. Bramble brings his sister and her servant, as well as his niece and nephew. Mr. Bramble and his companions travel to Bath, London, and Scotland in the novel. Each of these characters tell their story entirely in their first person letters to friends and family, as they tell of events from their own point of views. Smollett is known for the way he showed class differences in this novel through misspellings and unusual grammar choices. His upper class characters speak with widely varied word choices and perfect spelling. His lower class characters misspell many words and even confuse words, adding humor to the plot.
When we first meet Humphry Clinker, whom the novel gains its name from, we're over a quarter of the way through the novel. Jerry Melford writes of their meeting to his friend Sir Watkin Phililips. At first, Mr. Bramble and his traveling companions are in their carriage, and he serves as the postilion, meaning that he his helping to steer the horses. Mrs. Bramble complains,
"he was such a beggarly rascal, that he had ne'er a shirt to his back; and had the impudence to shock her sight by shewing his bare posteriors, for which act of indelicacy he deserved to be set in the stocks" (London, May 24).
In other words, his pants had drooped down his back, and he had no shirt to cover the top of his bottom. Mrs. Bramble is shocked by this event and suggests he deserves to be publicly humiliated in the stocks for his lack of manners, and Mr. Bramble demands that he come and make an excuse for his clothing choices. Clinker explains how poor he is, and how he is unable to buy clothing for anything better. Mr. Bramble continues to seek information on this character and finds out that he was a "love-begotten child," which inferred that no father was in his life to support him financially. Mr. Bramble gives him money to aid him, and he returns in much nicer clothing. Because of Mr. Bramble's kindness and generosity, Clinker promises that he will
"follow him to the world's end, and serve him all the days of his life, without fee or reward" (London, May 24).
His kind loyalty to Mr. Bramble is much less appreciated by Mrs. Bramble, who was so shocked by the sight of his partial nakedness. Eventually, the two make peace.
The group ends up continuing their journey with Humphry Clinker. By the end of the story, the group finds out he was much more a part of their family, by his birth, than they ever imagined.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1452
Squire Matthew Bramble, who owns large estates in Wales, is an eccentric and skeptical gentleman. With him lives his sister, Miss Tabitha Bramble, a middle-aged woman with matrimonial hopes that exceed probability. Painfully afflicted with gout, the squire sets out for Bath, England, to try the waters, but he has few hopes of their healing properties. His sister goes with him, as does her servant, Winifred Jenkins, the squire’s manservant, and, at the last minute, his orphaned niece and nephew, Lydia and Jerry Melford.
The young Melfords are Squire Bramble’s wards. Lydia has been in boarding school, where she unfortunately fell in love with an actor named George Wilson, a circumstance Squire Bramble hopes she will soon forget among the bright and fashionable gatherings at Bath. Her brother, who just finished his studies at Oxford, hopes to fight a duel with the actor, but no opportunity to defend his sister’s honor yet presents itself to his satisfaction.
On the way to Bath, George Wilson makes his way into Squire Bramble’s lodgings on the pretext of being a Jewish peddler selling glasses. When in a whisper he makes himself known to Lydia, she orders Winifred Jenkins to follow him and talk with him. The maid comes back in a great flurry. The actor told her that Wilson is not his real name, that he is a gentleman, and that he intends to sue for Lydia’s hand in his proper character. In her excitement, however, the maid forgets Wilson’s real name. There is nothing for poor Lydia to do but to conjecture and to daydream as the party continues on toward Bath.
Arriving at Bath without further incident, the party enters the festivities there with various degrees of pleasure. Tabitha tries to get proposals of marriage out of every eligible man she meets. The Squire becomes disgusted with the supposed curative powers of the waters that are drunk and bathed in by people with all sorts of infirmities trying to regain their health. Lydia is still pining for Wilson, and Jerry enjoys the absurdity of the social gatherings. Hoping to raise his niece’s spirits, Squire Bramble decides to go on to London.
They travel only a short distance toward London when the coach overturns. In the excitement, Miss Tabitha’s lapdog bites the Squire’s servant. Miss Tabitha makes such loud complaint when the servant kicks her dog in return that the Squire is forced to discharge the man on the spot. He also needs another postilion, since Miss Tabitha declares herself unwilling to drive another foot behind the clumsy fellow who overturned the coach. The Squire hires a ragged country fellow named Humphry Clinker to take the place of the unfortunate postilion, and the party goes on to the next village.
Miss Tabitha is shocked by what she calls Humphry’s nakedness, for he wears no shirt. The maid adds to the chorus of outraged modesty. Yielding to these female clamors, the Squire asks about Humphry’s circumstances, listens to the story of his life, gruffly reads him a lecture on the crimes of poverty and sickness, and gives him a guinea for a new suit of clothes. In gratitude, Humphry refuses to be parted from his new benefactor and goes on with the party to London.
In London, they are well entertained by a visit to Vauxhall Gardens as well as by several public and private parties. Squire Bramble is disconcerted to learn that Humphry is a preacher by inclination and that he is giving sermons in the manner of the Methodists. Miss Tabitha and her maid are already among Humphry’s followers. The Squire attempts to stop what he considers either hypocrisy or madness on Humphry’s part. Miss Tabitha, disgusted with her brother’s action, begs him to allow Humphry to continue his sermons.
The family is shocked to learn one day that Humphry was arrested as a highway robber and is in jail. When the Squire arrives to investigate the case, he discovers that Humphry is obviously innocent of the charge against him; he learns that the charge was placed by a former convict who makes money by turning in criminals to the government. Humphry makes a fine impression on the jailer and his family, and he converts several of his fellow prisoners. The Squire finds the man who supposedly was robbed and gets him to testify that Humphry is not the man who committed the robbery. In the meantime, Humphry preaches so eloquently that he keeps the prison taproom empty of customers. No sooner does this become evident than he is hurriedly released. Squire Bramble promises to allow him to preach his sermons unmolested.
Leaving London, the travelers continue north, stopping in Scarborough, where they go bathing. Squire Bramble undresses in a little cart that can be rolled down into the sea, so that he is able to bathe nude with the greatest propriety. When he enters the water, he finds it much colder than he expected and gives several shouts as he swims away. Hearing these calls from the Squire, Humphry thinks his good master is drowning and rushes fully clothed into the sea to rescue him. He pulls the Squire to shore, almost twists off his master’s ear, and leaves the modest man shamefaced and naked in full view upon the beach. Humphry is forgiven, however, because he meant well.
At an inn in Durham, the travelers make the acquaintance of Lieutenant Lismahago, who seems somewhat like Don Quixote. The Lieutenant, regaling the company with tales of his adventures among the Indians of North America, captures the heart of Miss Tabitha. Squire Bramble is also charmed with the conversation of the crusty retired soldier and makes plans to meet him later on in their journey. The group, especially Winifred, become more and more fond of Humphry as time goes on. After a short and frivolous flirtation with Jerry’s part-time valet, she settles down to win Humphry as a husband.
The trip continues through Scotland. In Edinburgh, Lydia faints when she sees a man who looks like Wilson, which shows her uncle that she did not yet forget her actor. After visiting several parts of Scotland and enjoying the most gracious hospitality everywhere, the party continues by coach back to England. Lieutenant Lismahago rejoins the party, and Miss Tabitha renews her designs on him.
Just outside Dumfries, the coach overturns in the middle of a stream. Jerry and Lismahago succeed in getting the women out of the water and Humphry stages a heroic rescue of the Squire, who is caught in the bottom of the coach. They find lodgings at a nearby inn until the coach can be repaired. While all are gathered in the parlor of a tavern, Squire Bramble is accosted by an old college friend named Dennison, a successful farmer of that county. Mr. Dennison knows the Squire only as Matthew Lloyd, a name he took for a while to fulfill the terms of a will. When Humphry hears his master called Lloyd, he rushes up in a flutter of excitement and presents the Squire with certain papers he always carries with him. These papers prove that Humphry is the Squire’s natural son. Squire Bramble graciously welcomes his offspring and presents him to the rest of his family. Humphry is overcome with pleasure and shyness. Winifred is afraid that his parentage will spoil her matrimonial plans, but Humphry continues to be the mild religious man he was before.
The Squire also learns that the actor who calls himself Wilson is really Dennison’s son, a fine, proper young man who ran away from school and became an actor only to escape a marriage his father planned for him. He tells his father about his love for Lydia, but Dennison does not realize that the Mr. Bramble mentioned as her uncle is his old friend Matthew Lloyd. The two young lovers are reunited.
Lieutenant Lismahago asks for Miss Tabitha’s hand in marriage, and both the Squire and Miss Tabitha eagerly accept his offer. The whole party goes to stay at Mr. Dennison’s house while preparations are underway for the marriage of Lydia and George. The coming marriages prompt Humphry to ask Winifred for her hand, and she, too, says yes. The three weddings are planned for the same day.
George and Lydia are an attractive couple. The Lieutenant and Tabitha seem to be more pleasant than ever before. Humphry and Winifred both thank God for the pleasures he sees fit to give them. The Squire plans to return home to the tranquillity of Brambleton Hall and the friendship of his invaluable doctor there.