- Tobias George Smollet (1721- 1771)
Tobias George Smollet was born at Dalquhurn, Dumbartonshire, of a good Scottish family. He was educated at Dumbarton and at Glasgow University. He served an apprenticeship to a Glasgow surgeon, but except for a period spent as surgeon in the navy, 1739-44, he only practised in a desultory fashion.
His first novel, "Roderick Random," published in 1748, embodies Smollett's own experiences in the navy and elsewhere. If his picture of life afloat in those times is a faithful one, it is small wonder that Smollett left the service in disgust. His novels generally seem to bear the impression of one who has lived in a brutal and heartless world. "Roderick Random" was a decided success, and so also was "Peregrine Pickle," in 1751, another novel in very similar strain. Both novels abound in rollicking humour, often excessively coarse. The characterisation is especially good in "Peregrine Pickle."
During the next few years appeared a number of translations and a "History of England." Smollett was no historian. But his lively style made his history exceedingly readable and it enjoyed quite a vogue.
His health breaking down, he was ordered abroad and ultimately settled at Leghorn, where he wrote "The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker," published in 1771. It is in an epistolary style and is undoubtedly the best of his novels, quieter in tone and less brutal in its interpretation of life than his earlier works.
Smollett died at Leghorn, September 17, 1771.
He was an unequal writer, but in parts he attains a higher level than even his contemporary Fielding, and created a gallery of characters seldom surpassed. In his book "Discovering Scottish Writers" Louis Stott describes Smollet as the "first Scottish novelist and he has never been surpassed."
A monument to the novelist was erected in 1774 and now stands outside Renton Primary School. The inscription, written in Latin jointly by Dr Samuel Johnson, Professor George Stuart of Edinburgh and Mr Ramsay of Ochtertyre, themselves literary giants, was rarely read by locals. But now a new mosaic and a translation of the inscription on the wall behind it, has been created to highlight Smollet's life. It reads:
If elegance of taste and wit, if fertility of genius and an unrivalled talent in delineating the characters of mankind, have ever attracted your admiration, pause awhile on the memory of Tobias Smollett, MD, one more than commonly endowed with these virtues which, in a man or citizen, you would praise or imitate. Who, having secured the applause of posterity by a variety of literary abilities and a peculiar felicity of composition was, by a rapid and cruel distemper, snatched from this world in the fifty-first year of his age.
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