Tobias Smollett (SMAHL-uht), born in 1721 at Dalquhurn near Bonhill, Scotland, was the most prolific and venturesome of the eighteenth century’s novelists. After 1754, the year Henry Fielding died and Samuel Richardson published his last work, Smollett was often praised as the most talented novelist in the language. He was at the same time one of England’s foremost political journalists and, after David Hume, its most influential historian; in the 1750’s and 1760’s he wrote or edited some seventy volumes of nonfiction.
A poor and hot-tempered Scot, Smollett was a real-life replica of one of his own literary creations. After study at Glasgow University, he went to London to seek his fortune. After a stint in the navy as surgeon’s mate, he remained for a time in the West Indies, where he fell in love with Nancy Lascelles, daughter of a Jamaica planter, whom he later married. In 1744 he was back in London, doctoring and writing.
His first novel, The Adventures of Roderick Random, was a picaresque work that strung together a series of episodes through which the hero ultimately finds love and wealth. In all Smollett’s novels, there is a plenitude of delight to be found in the minor characters, who are treated as humor types. Lieutenant Tom Bowling, eccentric sea dog, and Morgan, a Welsh surgeon, are two such figures. Because of his interest in naval life, Smollett has been called the father of the nautical novel. The picture of shipboard life and the account of the disastrous attack on Cartagena in The Adventures of Roderick Random are among the earliest literary protests against naval abuses.
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