The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 20. Smolletts parentage and early training as a surgeon; His arrival in London, with The Regicide in his pocket; His stay in the West Indies; Satirical and other verse
In speaking of Smollett, we have to deal with a man of very different character from Fielding, though of scarcely less ability. Born in the spring of 1721 at Dalquhurn, Cardross, in the vale of Leven, Dumbartonshire, Tobias George Smollett was the grandson of Sir James Smollett of Bonhill, judge and member of the Scottish and the united parliaments. Tobias’s father, Sir James’s youngest son, died in the future novelist’s childhood. The account of Roderick Random’s childhood and youth, Smollett afterwards said, was not autobiographical; but the main outlines were the same. He was educated at the school at Dumbarton, and, in 1736, went to Glasgow university. In the same year, he was apprenticed to a surgeon and apothecary in Glasgow, by name Gordon, whom, though he ridiculed him as Potion in Roderick Random, he honoured in Humphrey Clinker. He came to London at the age of eighteen; obtained a commission as surgeon in the navy, and, in 1740, sailed on The Cumberland, to join the fleet in the West Indies under admiral Vernon, whose previous expedition against Porto Bello had been celebrated in a poem by Fielding. Smollett’s object in coming to London was not, it seems, to obtain an appointment in connection with his profession. Like Johnson, a year or two before, he had in his pocket a tragedy—The Regicide. He was not, however, a dramatist; and no manager was found to put The Regicide on the stage. This disappointment Smollett never forgot or forgave. In boyhood, he had shown a disposition for savage sarcasm; and the rejection of The Regicide was to lead to fierce attacks on Garrick, Lyttelton and others. After Vernon’s disastrous expedition to Cartagena, Smollett sailed with the fleet to Jamaica. There, he left the service in disgust, and in Jamaica he stayed till 1744, when he returned to London, betrothed to Anne Lascelles, a Jamaican lady of some fortune, whom he married in or about 1747. On his return to London, he set up as a surgeon in Downing street, and seems to have had no thought of literature as a profession, for he wrote but little. The suppression of the rising in 1745 drew from him a poem, The Tears of Scotland. In 1746, he published Advice, a satire; in 1747, Reproof, another satire; both in the heroic couplet, both characteristic in spirit and diction. In the same year, the fate of The Regicide still rankling, he made a brutal attack on Lyttelton in A Burlesque Ode on the Loss of a Grandmother, a parody of Lyttelton’s monody on the death of his wife. None of these works is of any importance to literature; but, in 1748, they were succeeded by a work of very high importance, The Adventures of Roderick Random.