The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 26. Humphrey Clinker; Smolletts last journey and death
In the last month of 1769, Smollett’s health compelled him, once more, to leave England. He went to Italy, and, in the spring of 1770, settled in a villa near Leghorn. Here, he wrote his last and most agreeable novel, The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker. In its way, this is another picaresque story, insomuch as, during its progress, the characters (who relate everything in letters to their friends) pursue their travels in England and Scotland. But its tone and temper (owing, possibly, to the influence of Sterne, possibly, to the pacific mood which often blesses the closing days of even the angriest men) are very different from those of Roderick Random and of Peregrine Pickle. Smollett the humourist, of whom we have had but brief glimpses in his earlier works, is more evident here than anywhere else. Matthew Bramble, the outwardly savage and inwardly very tender old bachelor, his sister Mrs. Tabitha Bramble, smart Jery Melford, their nephew, and his sister Miss Lydia, Mrs. Winifred Jenkins, the maid, and Humphrey Clinker himself, the “methodist” manservant whom they pick up on their travels—all these are characters more deeply and kindly seen than any of their predecessors except Hawser Trunnion. The best among them all is Lismahago, the Scottish soldier, needy, argumentative, proud, eccentric—a figure of genuine comedy, among whose many descendants must be reckoned one of great eminence, Dugald Dalgetty. The novel is planned with a skill unusual in Smollett’s fiction. In Richardson, the device of telling the story in letters leads to wearisome repetitions and involutions. Smollett contrives to avoid much repetition; and the story, though loosely built, as picaresque novels must be, goes steadily and clearly forward to reach a more or less inevitable ending. This was his last work. He died at his villa in September, 1771, and is buried in the English cemetery at Leghorn. After his death, his Ode to Independence—not a great poem, but a vigorous expression of his sturdy temperament—was published; and, in 1795, there appeared under his name a curious pamphlet, foretelling the revolt of America and the French revolution. Whether he wrote this pamphlet or not, he had shown a prevision hardly less remarkable in certain political forecasts to be found in his Travels.