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The Expedition of Humphry Clinker is an epistolary novel, which is a story told through a series of a letters. The letters chronicle the adventures of a man named Matthew Bramble and five of his family members as they travel through Britain under the rule of King George III. Bramble suffers from gout and is exceptionally conscious of his health, and the novel continually references issues related to health and healing that were important during the time period. During the course of the story, Bramble and his family move to different places of healing, where they meet people suffering from a number of ailments. Throughout the journey, Bramble is obsessed with his health, and he is constantly searching for ways to heal himself.

Humphry Clinker exposes truths about eighteenth-century British society: not only about medicine and healing but also about the materialistic values that were pervasive in society. The book is set in Britain’s high-society spa towns and seaside resorts, which provides the author and the six narrators of the story with plenty of fodder to satirize English life and manners. It also helps them contrast life in the towns and in the countryside.

Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 629

Brambleton Hall

Brambleton Hall. Matthew Squire’s country residence, an imaginary estate near the real town of Abergavenny, Wales. Throughout the novel, it serves as the basis of comparison for the new places the family experiences and comments on in their letters to friends at home. Smollett, himself a Scotsman, liked Wales and used Welsh characters in other novels. Choosing a Welsh protagonist like Matt provided Smollett with a not-quite-foreign outsider from a simple, rustic background to serve as witness and commentator on city life versus country life, tradition versus change, and England versus Scotland, while not alienating his English audience, who generally felt an affection for the Welsh that they did not feel for the Scots.

The family’s journey ultimately ends where it begins, at Brambleton Hall, leaving the family content with their lives in the country, far from the city’s squalor and squander. Coming full circle, their journey thus represents a symbolic joining of estranged countries into a unified, peaceful whole while rejecting rapidly evolving urban social values in favor of traditional rural virtues.


*Bath. Elegant English resort town and site of a natural mineral hot spring renowned for its reputed curative waters and fashionable clientele. Bath is the family’s first major stop. The socially conservative Smollett practiced medicine in Bath and uses Matt’s letters to excoriate the unhygienic bathing practices and the mingling of social classes at Bath Spa. He decries the high cost of living and unrestrained growth in Bath as well, lecturing against the luxury and extravagance caused by Britain’s rapidly expanding global trade networks.


*London. Capital of Great Britain and largest city in the British Isles. Smollett wrote extensively for London journals but never liked living in the city. Matt gives voice to his loathing of the sprawling metropolis with its hustle and bustle, adulterated food and drink, and corrupt politics.


*Scotland. After leaving London, the family makes several stops before crossing the Tweed River into Scotland. Matt notes that the countryside on the English side of the river is not as well tended as that on the Scottish side, a comment echoing his generally critical view of the English towns and estates they see after departing the capital. The family’s itinerary in Scotland corresponds to that of Smollett’s travels through his homeland in 1766. Smollett spent most of his life forced to make his living in England during a period rife with anti-Scottish sentiment. Not surprisingly, the family’s letters from Scotland reflect Smollett’s enthusiasm for his beloved country. Matt admires the well-managed estates of the Scottish countryside and the fine university and hospitals of Edinburgh, even proclaiming that Edinburgh would be his city of choice if he were a city dweller.


*Glasgow. Thriving Scottish industrial center. Matt favorably compares Glasgow to a beehive of industry. Unlike the unplanned, uncontrolled cities of England, Glasgow is depicted as the epitome of utility and order. Smollett’s birthplace is perhaps not coincidentally just northeast of Glasgow. The family’s remaining travels through Scotland are described in similarly complimentary terms. After they cross back into England, however, the letters concentrate on the machinations of the plot rather than the particulars of place.

Dennison estate

Dennison estate. English estate owned by niece Liddy Melford’s future father-in-law, who has brought it back from the brink of ruin after his dissolute brother allowed it to deteriorate. Throughout the novel, one of Smollett’s themes is the superiority of the agrarian way of life, exemplified by the Dennison estate with its perfectly realized model community. Here the plot is resolved with the intermarriages of the Welsh, Scottish, and English characters, symbolizing the harmonious reconciliation and unification of three historically contentious countries fated to share one small island.


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Bouce, Paul-Gabriel. The Novels of Tobias Smollett. London: Longman, 1976. The best study of the totality of Smollett’s fiction. The author, a distinguished French scholar, shows how all of the novelist’s interests converge in this last novel. Discusses the formal, thematic, and historical aspects of each of the novels.

Martz, Louis L. The Later Career of Tobias Smollett. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1942. Relates Smollett’s work as compiler and editor during the 1750’s to his later creations, particularly The Expedition of Humphry Clinker. An advanced and scholarly study, revealing how a gifted writer turned factual dross into fictional gold.

Price, John Valdimir. Tobias Smollett: The Expedition of Humphry Clinker. London: Edward Arnold, 1973. A brief and intelligent interpretation of the novel for the beginning student. Discusses many of its elements form a variety of critical approaches, all in a clear, concise manner.

Sekora, John. Luxury: The Concept in Western Thought, Eden to Smollett. Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977. The most exhaustive book-length study of The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, arguing that its politics, history, structure, and characters are informed by the important idea of luxury. Regards the book as “the most successful conservative attack upon luxury written in any genre during the 1750’s and 1760’s, a pearl in a generation of sand.”

Smollett, Tobias. The Expedition of Humphry Clinker. Edited by Thomas R. Preston. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1990. The authoritative source for all levels of student. Provides a definitive text, valuable period illustrations, an elaborate introduction, and exhaustive annotations.


Critical Essays