The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
II. Fielding and Smollett
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 1. Fielding and Smollett compared
THE TWO novelists with whom this chapter is to deal were very different in character, aims and achievement. Fielding was humane, genial, sweet-tempered; Smollett rancorous and impatient. Fielding, a philosopher and moralist, tried to show by a wide and deep representation of life the beauty of certain qualities of virtue; Smollett, to whom, in his old age at any rate, life seemed “a sort of debtors’ prison, where we are all playthings of fortune,” was more concerned with the superficial absurdities of men and circumstance. Fielding established the form of the novel in England; Smollett left a myriad of brilliant episodes. But, as men and as authors, they have, also, their resemblances. Both lived lives of hardship and labour with courage; both indulged the irony born of shrewd and independent minds. And both, by developing the study of the actual life around them as a subject for fiction, which had been begun by Bunyan and carried on by Defoe, Addison and Swift, conquered new kingdoms, and left the novel supreme in English imaginative literature.