The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 23. The Critical Review; Historical and Miscellaneous work
After Ferdinand Count Fathom, Smollett did not write any more novels for some years. He was constantly in need of money, for he was always overspending his income, considerable as it was. Of his wife’s fortune, only a small part ever reached him; but Smollett was practically the first man to conduct a “literary factory” with success; and, at one time, his profits came to about £600 a year. After the publication of Ferdinand Count Fathom, the factory and the trade of book-making absorbed him. In 1755, he published a translation of Don Quixote, which critics have declared to be only a réchauffé of Jervas’s translation (published, posthumously, in 1742), Smollett not having Spanish enough to be capable of making an entirely new version. In 1756, Archibald Hamilton, formerly an Edinburgh printer, put Smollett at the head of the contributors to his new monthly paper, The Critical Review, started in opposition to Ralph Griffiths’s Monthly Review. Smollett, as we have seen, was trenchant in attack; and his writings in The Critical Review involved him in quarrels with Grainger, Joseph Reed, Churchill, Shebbeare and several others. To digress for a moment from the chronological order of his doings, in January, 1757, Garrick brought on the stage at Drury lane Smollett’s farce of life at sea, The Reprisal, or the Tars of Old England, a rollicking play, full of the oddities of national character and sure of popularity because of its attacks on the French. Garrick having gone out of his way to see that Smollett was well remunerated, Smollett has praise for him in The Critical Review, and, later, more of it in “a work of truth,” his History of England. In 1759, Smollett was fined £100 and suffered three months’ not uncomfortable imprisonment in the king’s bench prison (which he was afterwards to describe in Sir Launcelot Greaves) for impugning, in The Critical Review, the courage of admiral Sir Charles Knowles.
Meanwhile, at the close of 1757, he published the first four volumes of his History of England, bringing it down to the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748. The work seems to have been a mere bookseller’s venture. Hume had already published two volumes on the Stewart period, and was known to be at work on the Tudors. In order to take the wind out of his sails by bringing out a complete history before him, Smollett worked very hard, reading, he said, 300 volumes; and, in twenty months, completed a work written, though in haste, with his usual clearness and force. What he really thought of public affairs was not to become evident till the publication of The History of an Atom, some years later. Between 1761 and 1765, he added five more volumes to his History of England, bringing the story down to the moment of publication, and taking opportunities, by the way, of praising Fielding, Hume and others whom he had attacked in earlier days.