Smollett describes in great detail the natural phenomena, history, social life, economics, diet and morals of the places he visited. Smollett had a lively and pertinacious curiosity, and, as his novels prove, a very quick eye. He foresaw the merits of Cannes, then a small village, as a health-resort, and the possibilities of the Corniche road.
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Travels Through France And Italy
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Many pens have been burnished this year of grace for the purpose of celebrating with befitting honour the second centenary of the birth of Henry Fielding; but it is more than doubtful if, when the right date occurs in March 1921, anything like the same alacrity will be shown to commemorate one who was for many years, and by such judges as Scott, Hazlitt, and Charles Dickens, considered Fielding’s complement and absolute co-equal (to say the least) in literary achievement. Smollett’s fame, indeed, seems to have fallen upon an unprosperous curve. The coarseness of his fortunate rival is condoned, while his is condemned without appeal. Smollett’s value is assessed without discrimination at that of his least worthy productions, and the historical value of his work as a prime modeller of all kinds of new literary material is overlooked. Consider for a moment as not wholly unworthy of attention his mere versatility as a man of letters. Apart from Roderick Random and its successors, which gave him a European fame, he wrote a standard history, and a standard version of Don Quixote (both of which held their ground against all comers for over a century). He created both satirical and romantic types, he wrote two fine-spirited lyrics, and launched the best Review and most popular magazine of his day. He was the centre of a literary group, the founder to some extent of a school of professional writers, of which strange and novel class, after the “Great Cham of Literature,” as he called Dr. Johnson, he affords one of the first satisfactory specimens upon a fairly large scale. He is, indeed, a more satisfactory, because a more independent, example of the new species than the Great Cham himself. The late Professor Beljame has shown us how the milieu was created in which, with no subvention, whether from a patron, a theatre, a political paymaster, a prosperous newspaper or a fashionable subscription-list, an independent writer of the mid-eighteenth century, provided that he was competent, could begin to extort something more than a bare subsistence from the reluctant coffers of the London booksellers. For the purpose of such a demonstration no better illustration could possibly be found, I think, than the career of Dr. Tobias Smollett. And yet, curiously enough, in the collection of critical monographs so well known under the generic title of “English Men of Letters”—a series, by the way, which includes Nathaniel Hawthorne and Maria Edgeworth—no room or place has hitherto been found for Smollett any more than for Ben Jonson, both of them, surely, considerable Men of Letters in the very strictest and most representative sense of the term. Both Jonson and Smollett were to an unusual extent centres of the literary life of their time; and if the great Ben had his tribe of imitators and adulators, Dr. Toby also had his clan of sub-authors, delineated for us by a master hand in the pages of Humphry Clinker. To make Fielding the centre-piece of a group reflecting the literature of his day would be an artistic impossibility. It would be perfectly easy in the case of Smollett, who was descried by critics from afar as a Colossus bestriding the summit of the contemporary Parnassus.
Whatever there may be of truth in these observations upon the eclipse of a once magical name applies with double force to that one of all Smollett’s books which has sunk farthest in popular disesteem. Modern editors have gone to the length of excommunicating Smollett’s Travels altogether from the fellowship of his Collective Works. Critic has followed critic in denouncing the book as that of a “splenetic” invalid. And yet it is a book for which all English readers have cause to be grateful, not only as a document on Smollett and his times, not only as being in a sense the raison d’etre of the Sentimental Journey, and the precursor in a very special sense of Humphry Clinker, but also as being intrinsically an uncommonly readable book, and even, I venture to assert, in many respects one of Smollett’s best. Portions of the work exhibit literary quality of a high order: as a whole it represents a valuable because a rather uncommon view, and as a literary record of travel it is distinguished by a very exceptional veracity.
I am not prepared to define the differentia of a really first-rate book of travel. Sympathy is important; but not indispensable, or Smollett would be ruled out of court at once. Scientific knowledge, keen observation, or intuitive power of discrimination go far. To enlist our curiosity or enthusiasm or to excite our wonder are even stronger recommendations. Charm of personal manner, power of will, anthropological interest, self-effacement in view of some great objects—all these qualities have made travel-books live. One knows pretty nearly the books that one is prepared to re-read in this department of literature. Marco Polo, Herodotus, a few sections in Hakluyt, Dampier and Defoe, the early travellers in Palestine, Commodore Byron’s Travels, Curzon and Lane, Doughty’s Arabia Deserta, Mungo Park, Dubois, Livingstone’s Missionary Travels, something of Borrow (fact or fable), Hudson and Cunninghame Graham, Bent, Bates and Wallace, The Crossing of Greenland, Eothen, the meanderings of Modestine, The Path to Rome, and all, or almost all, of E. F. Knight. I have run through most of them at one breath, and the sum total would not bend a moderately stout bookshelf. How many high-sounding works on the other hand, are already worse than dead, or, should we say, better dead? The case of Smollett’s Travels, there is good reason to hope, is only one of suspended animation.
To come to surer ground, it is a fact worth noting that each of the four great prose masters of the third quarter of the eighteenth century tried his hand at a personal record of travel. Fielding came first in 1754 with his Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon. Twelve years later was published Smollett’s Travels through France and Italy. Then, in 1768, Sterne’s Sentimental Journey; followed in 1775 by Johnson’s Journey to the Hebrides. Each of the four—in which beneath the apparel of the man of letters we can discern respectively the characteristics of police magistrate, surgeon, confessor, and moralist—enjoyed a fair amount of popularity in its day. Fielding’s Journal had perhaps the least immediate success of the four. Sterne’s Journey unquestionably had the most. The tenant of “Shandy Hall,” as was customary in the first heyday of “Anglomania,” went to Paris to ratify his successes, and the resounding triumph of his naughtiness there, by a reflex action, secured the vote of London. Posterity has fully sanctioned this particular “judicium Paridis.” The Sentimental Journey is a book sui generis, and in the reliable kind of popularity, which takes concrete form in successive reprints, it has far eclipsed its eighteenth-century rivals. The fine literary aroma which pervades every line of this small masterpiece is not the predominant characteristic of the Great Cham’s Journey. Nevertheless, and in spite of the malignity of the “Ossianite” press, it fully justified the assumption of the booksellers that it would prove a “sound” book. It is full of sensible observations, and is written in Johnson’s most scholarly, balanced, and dignified style. Few can read it without a sense of being repaid, if only by the portentous sentence in which the author celebrates his arrival at the shores of Loch Ness, where he reposes upon “a bank such as a writer of romance might have delighted to feign,” and reflects that a “uniformity of barrenness can afford very little amusement to the traveller; that it is easy to sit at home and conceive rocks and heath and waterfalls; and that these journeys are useless labours, which neither impregnate the imagination nor enlarge the understanding.” Fielding’s contribution to geography has far less solidity and importance, but it discovers to not a few readers an unfeigned charm that is not to be found in the pages of either Sterne or Johnson. A thoughtless fragment suffices to show the writer in his true colours as one of the most delightful fellows in our literature, and to convey just unmistakably to all good men and true the rare and priceless sense of human fellowship.
There remain the Travels through France and Italy, by T. Smollett, M.D., and though these may not exhibit the marmoreal glamour of Johnson, or the intimate fascination of Fielding, or the essential literary quality which permeates the subtle dialogue and artful vignette of Sterne, yet I shall endeavour to show, not without some hope of success among the fair-minded, that the Travels before us are fully deserving of a place, and that not the least significant, in the quartette.
The temporary eclipse of their fame I attribute, first to the studious depreciation of Sterne and Walpole, and secondly to a refinement of snobbishness on the part of the travelling crowd, who have an uneasy consciousness that to listen to common sense, such as Smollett’s, in matters of connoisseurship, is tantamount to confessing oneself a Galilean of the outermost court. In this connection, too, the itinerant divine gave the travelling doctor a very nasty fall. Meeting the latter at Turin, just as Smollett was about to turn his face homewards, in March 1765, Sterne wrote of him, in the famous Journey of 1768, thus:
“The learned Smelfungus travelled from Boulogne to Paris, from Paris to Rome, and so on, but he set out with the spleen and jaundice, and every object he passed by was discoloured or distorted. He wrote an account of them, but ‘twas nothing but the account of his miserable feelings.” “I met Smelfungus,” he wrote later on, “in the grand portico of the Pantheon—he was just coming out of it. ‘’Tis nothing but a huge cockpit,’ said he—’I wish you had said nothing worse of the Venus de Medici,’ replied I—for in passing through Florence, I had heard he had fallen foul upon the goddess, and used her worse than a common strumpet, without the least provocation in nature. I popp’d upon Smelfungus again at Turin, in his return home, and a sad tale of sorrowful adventures had he to tell, ‘wherein he spoke of moving accidents by flood and field, and of the cannibals which each other eat, the Anthropophagi’; he had been flayed alive, and bedevil’d, and used worse than St. Bartholomew, at every stage he had come at. ‘I’ll tell it,’ cried Smelfungus, ‘to the world.’ ‘You had better tell it,’ said I, ‘to your physician.’”
To counteract the ill effects of “spleen and jaundice” and exhibit the spirit of genteel humour and universal benevolence in which a man of sensibility encountered the discomforts of the road, the incorrigible parson Laurence brought out his own Sentimental Journey. Another effect of Smollett’s book was to whet his own appetite for recording the adventures of the open road. So that but for Travels through France and Italy we might have had neither a Sentimental Journey nor a Humphry Clinker. If all the admirers of these two books would but bestir themselves and look into the matter, I am sure that Sterne’s only too clever assault would be relegated to its proper place and assessed at its right value as a mere boutade. The borrowed contempt of Horace Walpole and the coterie of superficial dilettanti, from which Smollett’s book has somehow never wholly recovered, could then easily be outflanked and the Travels might well be in reasonable expectation of coming by their own again.
In the meantime let us look a little more closely into the special and somewhat exceptional conditions under which the Travel Letters of Smollett were produced. Smollett, as we have seen, was one of the first professional men of all work in letters upon a considerable scale who subsisted entirely upon the earnings of his own pen. He had no extraneous means of support. He had neither patron, pension, property, nor endowment, inherited or acquired. Yet he took upon himself the burden of a large establishment, he spent money freely, and he prided himself upon the fact that he, Tobias Smollett, who came up to London without a stiver in his pocket, was in ten years’ time in a position to enact the part of patron upon a considerable scale to the crowd of inferior denizens of Grub Street. Like most people whose social ambitions are in advance of their time, Smollett suffered considerably on account of these novel aspirations of his. In the present day he would have had his motor car and his house on Hindhead, a seat in Parliament and a brief from the Nation to boot as a Member for Humanity. Voltaire was the only figure in the eighteenth century even to approach such a flattering position, and he was for many years a refugee from his own land. Smollett was energetic and ambitious enough to start in rather a grand way, with a large house, a carriage, menservants, and the rest. His wife was a fine lady, a “Creole” beauty who had a small dot of her own; but, on the other hand, her income was very precarious, and she herself somewhat of a silly and an incapable in the eyes of Smollett’s old Scotch friends. But to maintain such a position—to keep the bailiffs from the door from year’s end to year’s end—was a truly Herculean task in days when a newspaper “rate” of remuneration or a well-wearing copyright did not so much as exist, and when Reviews sweated their writers at the rate of a guinea per sheet of thirty-two pages. Smollett was continually having recourse to loans. He produced the eight (or six or seven) hundred a year he required by sheer hard writing, turning out his History of England, his Voltaire, and his Universal History by means of long spells of almost incessant labour at ruinous cost to his health. On the top of all this cruel compiling he undertook to run a Review (The Critical), a magazine (The British), and a weekly political organ (The Briton). A charge of defamation for a paragraph in the nature of what would now be considered a very mild and pertinent piece of public criticism against a faineant admiral led to imprisonment in the King’s Bench Prison, plus a fine of £100. Then came a quarrel with an old friend, Wilkes—not the least vexatious result of that forlorn championship of Bute’s government in The Briton. And finally, in part, obviously, as a consequence of all this nervous breakdown, a succession of severe catarrhs, premonitory in his case of consumption, the serious illness of the wife he adored, and the death of his darling, the “little Boss” of former years, now on the verge of womanhood. To a man of his extraordinarily strong affections such a series of ills was too overwhelming. He resolved to break up his establishment at Chelsea, and to seek a remedy in flight from present evils to a foreign residence. Dickens went to hibernate on the Riviera upon a somewhat similar pretext, though fortunately without the same cause, as far as his health was concerned.
Now note another very characteristic feature of these Travel Letters. Smollett went abroad not for pleasure, but virtually of necessity. Not only were circumstances at home proving rather too much for him, but also, like Stevenson, he was specifically “ordered South” by his physicians, and he went with the deliberate intention of making as much money as possible out of his Travel papers. In his case he wrote long letters on the spot to his medical and other friends at home. When he got back in the summer of 1765 one of his first cares was to put the Letters together. It had always been his intention carefully to revise them for the press. But when he got back to London he found so many other tasks awaiting him that were so far more pressing, that this part of his purpose was but very imperfectly carried out. The Letters appeared pretty much as he wrote them. Their social and documentary value is thereby considerably enhanced, for they were nearly all written close down to the facts. The original intention had been to go to Montpellier, which was still, I suppose, the most popular health resort in Southern Europe. The peace of 1763 opened the way. And this brings us to another feature of distinction in regard to Smollett’s Travels. Typical Briton, perfervid Protestant of Britain’s most Protestant period, and insular enrage though he doubtless was, Smollett had knocked about the world a good deal and had also seen something of the continent of Europe. He was not prepared to see everything couleur de rose now. His was quite unlike the frame of mind of the ordinary holiday-seeker, who, partly from a voluntary optimism, and partly from the change of food and habit, the exhilaration caused by novel surroundings, and timidity at the unaccustomed sounds he hears in his ears, is determined to be pleased with everything. Very temperamental was Smollett, and his frame of mind at the time was that of one determined to be pleased with nothing. We know little enough about Smollett intime. Only the other day I learned that the majority of so-called Smollett portraits are not presentments of the novelist at all, but ingeniously altered plates of George Washington. An interesting confirmation of this is to be found in the recently published Letters of Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe to Robert Chambers. “Smollett wore black cloaths—a tall man—and extreamly handsome. No picture of him is known to be extant—all that have been foisted on the public as such his relations disclaim—this I know from my aunt Mrs. Smollett, who was the wife of his nephew, and resided with him at Bath.” But one thing we do know, and in these same letters, if confirmation had been needed, we observe the statement repeated, namely, that Smollett was very peevish. A sardonic, satirical, and indeed decidedly gloomy mood or temper had become so habitual in him as to transform the man. Originally gay and debonnair, his native character had been so overlaid that when he first returned to Scotland in 1755 his own mother could not recognise him until he “gave over glooming” and put on his old bright smile. [A pleasant story of the Doctor’s mother is given in the same Letters to R. Chambers (1904). She is described as an ill-natured-looking woman with a high nose, but not a bad temper, and very fond of the cards. One evening an Edinburgh bailie (who was a tallow chandler) paid her a visit. “Come awa’, bailie,” said she, “and tak’ a trick at the cards.” “Troth madam, I hae nae siller!” “Then let us play for a pound of candles.”] His was certainly a nervous, irritable, and rather censorious temper. Like Mr. Brattle, in The Vicar of Bulhampton, he was thinking always of the evil things that had been done to him. With the pawky and philosophic Scots of his own day (Robertson, Hume, Adam Smith, and “Jupiter” Carlyle) he had little in common, but with the sour and mistrustful James Mill or the cross and querulous Carlyle of a later date he had, it seems to me, a good deal. What, however, we attribute in their case to bile or liver, a consecrated usage prescribes that we must, in the case of Smollett, accredit more particularly to the spleen. Whether dyspeptic or “splenetic,” this was not the sort of man to see things through a veil of pleasant self-generated illusion. He felt under no obligation whatever to regard the Grand Tour as a privilege of social distinction, or its discomforts as things to be discreetly ignored in relating his experience to the stay-at-home public. He was not the sort of man that the Tourist Agencies of to-day would select to frame their advertisements. As an advocatus diaboli on the subject of Travel he would have done well enough. And yet we must not infer that the magic of travel is altogether eliminated from his pages. This is by no means the case: witness his intense enthusiasm at Nimes, on sight of the Maison Carree or the Pont du Gard; the passage describing his entry into the Eternal City; [Ours “was the road by which so many heroes returned with conquest to their country, by which so many kings were led captive to Rome, and by which the ambassadors of so many kingdoms and States approached the seat of Empire, to deprecate the wrath, to sollicit the friendship, or sue for the protection of the Roman people.”] or the enviable account of the alfresco meals which the party discussed in their coach as described in Letter VIII.
As to whether Smollett and his party of five were exceptionally unfortunate in their road-faring experiences must be left an open question at the tribunal of public opinion. In cold blood, in one of his later letters, he summarised his Continental experience after this wise: inns, cold, damp, dark, dismal, dirty; landlords equally disobliging and rapacious; servants awkward, sluttish, and slothful; postillions lazy, lounging, greedy, and impertinent. With this last class of delinquents after much experience he was bound to admit the following dilemma:—If you chide them for lingering, they will contrive to delay you the longer. If you chastise them with sword, cane, cudgel, or horsewhip (he defines the correctives, you may perceive, but leaves the expletives to our imagination) they will either disappear entirely, and leave you without resource, or they will find means to take vengeance by overturning your carriage. The only course remaining would be to allow oneself to become the dupe of imposition by tipping the postillions an amount slightly in excess of the authorized gratification. He admits that in England once, between the Devizes and Bristol, he found this plan productive of the happiest results. It was unfortunate that, upon this occasion, the lack of means or slenderness of margin for incidental expenses should have debarred him from having recourse to a similar expedient. For threepence a post more, as Smollett himself avows, he would probably have performed the journey with much greater pleasure and satisfaction. But the situation is instructive. It reveals to us the disadvantage under which the novelist was continually labouring, that of appearing to travel as an English Milord, en grand seigneur, and yet having at every point to do it “on the cheap.” He avoided the common conveyance or diligence, and insisted on travelling post and in a berline; but he could not bring himself to exceed the five-sou pourboire for the postillions. He would have meat upon maigre days, yet objected to paying double for it. He held aloof from the thirty-sou table d’hote, and would have been content to pay three francs a head for a dinner a part, but his worst passions were roused when he was asked to pay not three, but four. Now Smollett himself was acutely conscious of the false position. He was by nature anything but a curmudgeon. On the contrary, he was, if I interpret him at all aright, a high-minded, open-hearted, generous type of man. Like a majority, perhaps, of the really open-handed he shared one trait with the closefisted and even with the very mean rich. He would rather give away a crown than be cheated of a farthing. Smollett himself had little of the traditional Scottish thriftiness about him, but the people among whom he was going—the Languedocians and Ligurians—were notorious for their nearness in money matters. The result of all this could hardly fail to exacerbate Smollett’s mood and to aggravate the testiness which was due primarily to the bitterness of his struggle with the world, and, secondarily, to the complaints which that struggle engendered. One capital consequence, however, and one which specially concerns us, was that we get this unrivalled picture of the seamy side of foreign travel—a side rarely presented with anything like Smollett’s skill to the student of the grand siecle of the Grand Tour. The rubs, the rods, the crosses of the road could, in fact, hardly be presented to us more graphically or magisterially than they are in some of these chapters. Like Prior, Fielding, Shenstone, and Dickens, Smollett was a connoisseur in inns and innkeepers. He knew good food and he knew good value, and he had a mighty keen eye for a rogue. There may, it is true, have been something in his manner which provoked them to exhibit their worst side to him. It is a common fate with angry men. The trials to which he was subjected were momentarily very severe, but, as we shall see in the event, they proved a highly salutary discipline to him.
To sum up, then, Smollett’s Travels were written hastily and vigorously by an expert man of letters. They were written ad vivum, as it were, not from worked-up notes or embellished recollections. They were written expressly for money down. They were written rather en noir than couleur de rose by an experienced, and, we might almost perhaps say, a disillusioned traveller, and not by a naif or a niais. The statement that they were to a certain extent the work of an invalid is, of course, true, and explains much. The majority of his correspondents were of the medical profession, all of them were members of a group with whom he was very intimate, and the letters were by his special direction to be passed round among them. [We do not know precisely who all these correspondents of Smollett were, but most of them were evidently doctors and among them, without a doubt, John Armstrong, William Hunter, George Macaulay, and above all John Moore, himself an authority on European travel, Governor on the Grand Tour of the Duke of Hamilton (Son of “the beautiful Duchess”), author of Zeluco, and father of the famous soldier. Smollett’s old chum, Dr. W. Smellie, died 5th March 1763.] In the circumstances (bearing in mind that it was his original intention to prune the letters considerably before publication) it was only natural that he should say a good deal about the state of his health. His letters would have been unsatisfying to these good people had he not referred frequently and at some length to his spirits and to his symptoms, an improvement in which was the primary object of his journey and his two years’ sojourn in the South. Readers who linger over the diary of Fielding’s dropsy and Mrs. Fielding’s toothache are inconsistent in denouncing the luxury of detail with which Smollett discusses the matter of his imposthume.
What I claim for the present work is that, in the first place, to any one interested in Smollett’s personality it supplies an unrivalled key. It is, moreover, the work of a scholar, an observer of human nature, and, by election, a satirist of no mean order. It gives us some characteristic social vignettes, some portraits of the road of an unsurpassed freshness and clearness. It contains some historical and geographical observations worthy of one of the shrewdest and most sagacious publicists of the day. It is interesting to the etymologist for the important share it has taken in naturalising useful foreign words into our speech. It includes (as we shall have occasion to observe) a respectable quantum of wisdom fit to become proverbial, and several passages of admirable literary quality. In point of date (1763-65) it is fortunate, for the writer just escaped being one of a crowd. On the whole, I maintain that it is more than equal in interest to the Journey to the Hebrides, and that it deserves a very considerable proportion of the praise that has hitherto been lavished too indiscriminately upon the Voyage to Lisbon. On the force of this claim the reader is invited to constitute himself judge after a fair perusal of the following pages. I shall attempt only to point the way to a satisfactory verdict, no longer in the spirit of an advocate, but by means of a few illustrations and, more occasionally, amplifications of what Smollett has to tell us.
As was the case with Fielding many years earlier, Smollett was almost broken down with sedentary toil, when early in June 1763 with his wife, two young ladies (“the two girls”) to whom she acted as chaperon, and a faithful servant of twelve years’ standing, who in the spirit of a Scots retainer of the olden time refused to leave his master (a good testimonial this, by the way, to a temper usually accredited with such a splenetic sourness), he crossed the straits of Dover to see what a change of climate and surroundings could do for him.
On other grounds than those of health he was glad to shake the dust of Britain from his feet. He speaks himself of being traduced by malice, persecuted by faction, abandoned by false patrons, complaints which will remind the reader, perhaps, of George Borrow’s “Jeremiad,” to the effect that he had been beslavered by the venomous foam of every sycophantic lacquey and unscrupulous renegade in the three kingdoms. But Smollett’s griefs were more serious than what an unkind reviewer could inflict. He had been fined and imprisoned for defamation. He had been grossly caricatured as a creature of Bute, the North British favourite of George III., whose tenure of the premiership occasioned riots and almost excited a revolution in the metropolis. Yet after incurring all this unpopularity at a time when the populace of London was more inflamed against Scotsmen than it has ever been before or since, and having laboured severely at a paper in the ministerial interest and thereby aroused the enmity of his old friend John Wilkes, Smollett had been unceremoniously thrown over by his own chief, Lord Bute, on the ground that his paper did more to invite attack than to repel it. Lastly, he and his wife had suffered a cruel bereavement in the loss of their only child, and it was partly to supply a change from the scene of this abiding sorrow, that the present journey was undertaken.
The first stages and incidents of the expedition were not exactly propitious. The Dover Road was a byword for its charges; the Via Alba might have been paved with the silver wrung from reluctant and indignant passengers. Smollett characterized the chambers as cold and comfortless, the beds as “paultry” (with “frowsy,” a favourite word), the cookery as execrable, wine poison, attendance bad, publicans insolent, and bills extortion, concluding with the grand climax that there was not a drop of tolerable malt liquor to be had from London to Dover. Smollett finds a good deal to be said for the designation of “a den of thieves” as applied to that famous port (where, as a German lady of much later date once complained, they “boot ze Bible in ze bedroom, but ze devil in ze bill”), and he grizzles lamentably over the seven guineas, apart from extras, which he had to pay for transport in a Folkestone cutter to Boulogne Mouth.
Having once arrived at Boulogne, Smollett settled down regularly to his work as descriptive reporter, and the letters that he wrote to his friendly circle at home fall naturally into four groups. The first Letters from II. to V. describe with Hogarthian point, prejudice and pungency, the town and people of Boulogne. The second group, Letters VI.-XII., deal with the journey from Boulogne to Nice by way of Paris, Lyon, Nimes, and Montpellier. The third group, Letters XIII.-XXIV., is devoted to a more detailed and particular delineation of Nice and the Nicois. The fourth, Letters XXV.-XLI., describes the Italian expedition and the return journey to Boulogne en route for England, where the party arrive safe home in July 1765.
Smollett’s account of Boulogne is excellent reading, it forms an apt introduction to the narrative of his journey, it familiarises us with the milieu, and reveals to us in Smollett a man of experience who is both resolute and capable of getting below the surface of things. An English possession for a short period in the reign of the Great Harry, Boulogne has rarely been less in touch with England than it was at the time of Smollett’s visit. Even then, however, there were three small colonies, respectively, of English nuns, English Jesuits, and English Jacobites. Apart from these and the English girls in French seminaries it was estimated ten years after Smollett’s sojourn there that there were twenty-four English families in residence. The locality has of course always been a haunting place for the wandering tribes of English. Many well-known men have lived or died here both native and English. Adam Smith must have been there very soon after Smollett. So must Dr. John Moore and Charles Churchill, one of the enemies provoked by the Briton, who went to Boulogne to meet his friend Wilkes and died there in 1764. Philip Thicknesse the traveller and friend of Gainsborough died there in 1770. After long search for a place to end his days in Thomas Campbell bought a house in Boulogne and died there, a few months later, in 1844. The house is still to be seen, Rue St. Jean, within the old walls; it has undergone no change, and in 1900 a marble tablet was put up to record the fact that Campbell lived and died there. The other founder of the University of London, Brougham, by a singular coincidence was also closely associated with Boulogne. [Among the occupants of the English cemetery will be found the names of Sir Harris Nicolas, Basil Montagu, Smithson Pennant, Sir William Ouseley, Sir William Hamilton, and Sir C. M. Carmichael. And among other literary celebrities connected with the place, apart from Dickens (who gave his impressions of the place in Household Words, November 1854) we should include in a brief list, Charles Lever, Horace Smith, Wilkie Collins, Mrs. Henry Wood, Professor York Powell, the Marquis of Steyne (Lord Seymour), Mrs. Jordan, Clark Russell, and Sir Conan Doyle. There are also memorable associations with Lola Montes, Heinrich Heine, Becky Sharpe, and above all Colonel Newcome. My first care in the place was to discover the rampart where the Colonel used to parade with little Clive. Among the native luminaries are Daunou, Duchenne de Boulogne, one of the foremost physiologists of the last century, an immediate predecessor of Charcot in knowledge of the nervous system, Aug. Mariette, the Egyptologist, Aug. Angellier, the biographer of Burns, Sainte-Beuve, Prof. Morel, and “credibly,” Godfrey de Bouillon, of whom Charles Lamb wrote “poor old Godfrey, he must be getting very old now.” The great Lesage died here in 1747.] The antiquaries still dispute about Gessoriacum, Godfrey de Bouillon, and Charlemagne’s Tour. Smollett is only fair in justifying for the town, the older portions of which have a strong medieval suggestion, a standard of comparison slightly more distinguished than Wapping. He never lets us forget that he is a scholar of antiquity, a man of education and a speculative philosopher. Hence his references to Celsus and Hippocrates and his ingenious etymologies of wheatear and samphire, more ingenious in the second case than sound. Smollett’s field of observation had been wide and his fund of exact information was unusually large. At Edinburgh he had studied medicine under Monro and John Gordon, in company with such able and distinguished men as William Hunter, Cullen, Pitcairn, Gregory, and Armstrong—and the two last mentioned were among his present correspondents. As naval surgeon at Carthagena he had undergone experience such as few literary men can claim, and subsequently as compiler, reviewer, party journalist, historian, translator, statistician, and lexicographer, he had gained an amount of miscellaneous information such as falls to the lot of very few minds of his order of intelligence. He had recently directed the compilation of a large Universal Geography or Gazetteer, the Carton or Vivien de St. Martin if those days—hence his glib references to the manners and customs of Laplanders, Caffres, Kamskatchans, and other recondite types of breeding. His imaginative faculty was under the control of an exceptionally strong and retentive memory. One may venture to say, indeed, without danger of exaggeration that his testimonials as regards habitual accuracy of statement have seldom been exceeded. Despite the doctor’s unflattering portraits of Frenchmen, M. Babeau admits that his book is one written by an observer of facts, and a man whose statements, whenever they can be tested, are for the most part “singularly exact.” Mr. W. J. Prouse, whose knowledge of the Riviera district is perhaps almost unequalled out of France, makes this very remarkable statement. “After reading all that has been written by very clever people about Nice in modern times, one would probably find that for exact precision of statement, Smollett was still the most trustworthy guide,” a view which is strikingly borne out by Mr. E. Schuyler, who further points out Smollett’s shrewd foresight in regard to the possibilities of the Cornice road, and of Cannes and San Remo as sanatoria.” Frankly there is nothing to be seen which he does not recognise.” And even higher testimonies have been paid to Smollett’s topographical accuracy by recent historians of Nice and its neighbourhood.
The value which Smollett put upon accuracy in the smallest matters of detail is evinced by the corrections which he made in the margin of a copy of the 1766 edition of the Travels. These corrections, which are all in Smollett’s own and unmistakably neat handwriting, may be divided into four categories. In the first place come a number of verbal emendations. Phrases are turned, inverted and improved by the skilful “twist of the pen” which becomes a second nature to the trained corrector of proofs; there are moreover a few topographical corrigenda, suggested by an improved knowledge of the localities, mostly in the neighbourhood of Pisa and Leghorn, where there is no doubt that these corrections were made upon the occasion of Smollett’s second visit to Italy in 1770. [Some not unimportant errata were overlooked. Thus Smollett’s representation of the droit d’aubaine as a monstrous and intolerable grievance is of course an exaggeration. (See Sentimental Journey; J. Hill Burton, The Scot Abroad, 1881, p. 135; and Luchaire, Instit. de France.) On his homeward journey he indicates that he travelled from Beaune to Chalons and so by way of Auxerre to Dijon. The right order is Chalons, Beaune, Dijon, Auxerre. As further examples of the zeal with which Smollett regarded exactitude in the record of facts we have his diurnal register of weather during his stay at Nice and the picture of him scrupulously measuring the ruins at Cimiez with packthread.] In the second place come a number of English renderings of the citations from Latin, French, and Italian authors. Most of these from the Latin are examples of Smollett’s own skill in English verse making. Thirdly come one or two significant admissions of overboldness in matters of criticism, as where he retracts his censure of Raphael’s Parnassus in Letter XXXIII. Fourthly, and these are of the greatest importance, come some very interesting additional notes upon the buildings of Pisa, upon Sir John Hawkwood’s tomb at Florence, and upon the congenial though recondite subject of antique Roman hygiene. [Cf. the Dinner in the manner of the Ancients in Peregrine Pickle, (xliv.) and Letters IX. to XL in Humphry Clinker.]
After Smollett’s death his books were for the most part sold for the benefit of his widow. No use was made of his corrigenda. For twenty years or so the Travels were esteemed and referred to, but as time went on, owing to the sneers of the fine gentlemen of letters, such as Walpole and Sterne, they were by degrees disparaged and fell more or less into neglect. They were reprinted, it is true, either in collective editions of Smollett or in various collections of travels; [For instance in Baldwin’s edition of 1778; in the 17th vol. of Mayor’s Collection of Voyages and Travels, published by Richard Phillips in twenty-eight vols., 1809; and in an abbreviated form in John Hamilton Moore’s New and Complete Collection of Voyages and Travels (folio, Vol. 11. 938-970).] but they were not edited with any care, and as is inevitable in such cases errors crept in, blunders were repeated, and the text slightly but gradually deteriorated. In the last century Smollett’s own copy of the Travels bearing the manuscript corrections that he had made in 1770, was discovered in the possession of the Telfer family and eventually came into the British Museum. The second volume, which affords admirable specimens of Smollett’s neatly written marginalia, has been exhibited in a show-case in the King’s Library.
The corrections that Smollett purposed to make in the Travels are now for the second time embodied in a printed edition of the text. At the same time the text has been collated with the original edition of 1766, and the whole has been carefully revised. The old spelling has been, as far as possible, restored. Smollett was punctilious in such matters, and what with his histories, his translations, his periodicals, and his other compilations, he probably revised more proof-matter for press than any other writer of his time. His practice as regards orthography is, therefore, of some interest as representing what was in all probability deemed to be the most enlightened convention of the day.
To return now to the Doctor’s immediate contemplation of Boulogne, a city described in the Itineraries as containing rien de remarquable. The story of the Capuchin [On page 21. A Capuchin of the same stripe is in Pickle, ch. Ill. sq.] is very racy of Smollett, while the vignette of the shepherd at the beginning of Letter V. affords a first-rate illustration of his terseness. Appreciate the keen and minute observation concentrated into the pages that follow, [Especially on p. 34 to p. 40.] commencing with the shrewd and economic remarks upon smuggling, and ending with the lively description of a Boulonnais banquet, very amusing, very French, very life-like, and very Smollettian. In Letter V. the Doctor again is very much himself. A little provocation and he bristles and stabs all round. He mounts the hygienic horse and proceeds from the lack of implements of cleanliness to the lack of common decency, and “high flavoured instances, at which even a native of Edinburgh would stop his nose.” [This recalls Johnson’s first walk up the High Street, Edinburgh, on Bozzy’s arm. “It was a dusky night: I could not prevent his being assailed by the evening effluvia of Edinburgh. . . . As we marched along he grumbled in my ear, ‘I smell you in the dark!’”] And then lest the southrons should escape we have a reference to the “beastly habit of drinking from a tankard in which perhaps a dozen filthy mouths have slabbered as is the custom in England.” With all his coarsenesses this blunt Scot was a pioneer and fugleman of the niceties. Between times most nations are gibbetted in this slashing epistle. The ingenious boasting of the French is well hit off in the observation of the chevalier that the English doubtless drank every day to the health of the Marquise de Pompadour. The implication reminded Smollett of a narrow escape from a duello (an institution he reprobates with the utmost trenchancy in this book) at Ghent in 1749 with a Frenchman who affirmed that Marlborough’s battles were purposely lost by the French generals in order to mortify Mme. de Maintenon. Two incidents of some importance to Smollett occurred during the three months’ sojourn at Boulogne. Through the intervention of the English Ambassador at Paris (the Earl of Hertford) he got back his books, which had been impounded by the Customs as likely to contain matter prejudicial to the state or religion of France, and had them sent south by shipboard to Bordeaux. Secondly, he encountered General Paterson, a friendly Scot in the Sardinian service, who confirmed what an English physician had told Smollett to the effect that the climate of Nice was infinitely preferable to that of Montpellier “with respect to disorders of the breast.” Smollett now hires a berline and four horses for fourteen louis, and sets out with rather a heavy heart for Paris. It is problematic, he assures his good friend Dr. Moore, whether he will ever return. “My health is very precarious.”
The rapid journey to Paris by way of Montreuil, Amiens, and Clermont, about one hundred and fifty-six miles from Boulogne, the last thirty-six over a paved road, was favourable to superficial observation and the normal corollary of epigram. Smollett was much impressed by the mortifying indifference of the French innkeepers to their clients. “It is a very odd contrast between France and England. In the former all the people are complaisant but the publicans; in the latter there is hardly any complaisance but among the publicans.” [In regard to two exceptional instances of politeness on the part of innkeepers, Smollett attributes one case to dementia, the other, at Lerici, to mental shock, caused by a recent earthquake.] Idleness and dissipation confront the traveller, not such a good judge, perhaps, as was Arthur Young four-and-twenty years later. “Every object seems to have shrunk in its dimensions since I was last in Paris.” Smollett was an older man by fifteen years since he visited the French capital in the first flush of his success as an author. The dirt and gloom of French apartments, even at Versailles, offend his English standard of comfort. “After all, it is in England only where we must look for cheerful apartments, gay furniture, neatness, and convenience. There is a strange incongruity in the French genius. With all their volatility, prattle, and fondness for bons mots they delight in a species of drawling, melancholy, church music. Their most favourite dramatic pieces are almost without incident, and the dialogue of their comedies consists of moral insipid apophthegms, entirely destitute of wit or repartee.” While amusing himself with the sights of Paris, Smollett drew up that caustic delineation of the French character which as a study in calculated depreciation has rarely been surpassed. He conceives the Frenchman entirely as a petit-maitre, and his view, though far removed from Chesterfield’s, is not incompatible with that of many of his cleverest contemporaries, including Sterne. He conceives of the typical Frenchman as regulating his life in accordance with the claims of impertinent curiosity and foppery, gallantry and gluttony. Thus:
“If a Frenchman is capable of real friendship, it must certainly be the most disagreeable present he can possibly make to a man of a true English character. You know, madam, we are naturally taciturn, soon tired of impertinence, and much subject to fits of disgust. Your French friend intrudes upon you at all hours; he stuns you with his loquacity; he teases you with impertinent questions about your domestic and private affairs; he attempts to meddle in all your concerns, and forces his advice upon you with the most unwearied importunity; he asks the price of everything you wear, and, so sure as you tell him, undervalues it without hesitation; he affirms it is in a bad taste, ill contrived, ill made; that you have been imposed upon both with respect to the fashion and the price; that the marquis of this, or the countess of that, has one that is perfectly elegant, quite in the bon ton, and yet it cost her little more than you gave for a thing that nobody would wear.
“If a Frenchman is admitted into your family, and distinguished by repeated marks of your friendship and regard, the first return he makes for your civilities is to make love to your wife, if she is handsome; if not, to your sister, or daughter, or niece. If he suffers a repulse from your wife, or attempts in vain to debauch your sister, or your daughter, or your niece, he will, rather than not play the traitor with his gallantry, make his addresses to your grandmother; and ten to one but in one shape or another he will find means to ruin the peace of a family in which he has been so kindly entertained. What he cannot accomplish by dint of compliment and personal attendance, he will endeavour to effect by reinforcing these with billets-doux, songs, and verses, of which he always makes a provision for such purposes. If he is detected in these efforts of treachery, and reproached with his ingratitude, he impudently declares that what he had done was no more than simple gallantry, considered in France as an indispensable duty on every man who pretended to good breeding. Nay, he will even affirm that his endeavours to corrupt your wife, or deflower your daughter, were the most genuine proofs he could give of his particular regard for your family.
“If there were five hundred dishes at table, a Frenchman will eat of all of them, and then complain he has no appetite—this I have several times remarked. A friend of mine gained a considerable wager upon an experiment of this kind; the petit-maitre ate of fourteen different plates, besides the dessert, then disparaged the cook, declaring he was no better than a marmiton, or turnspit.”
The gross unfairness, no less than the consummate cleverness, of this caricature compels us to remember that this was written in the most insular period of our manners, and during a brief lull in a century of almost incessant mutual hostility between the two nations. Aristocrats like Walpole, Gibbon, and Chesterfield could regard France from a cosmopolitan point of view, as leading the comite of nations. But to sturdy and true-born patriots, such as Hogarth and Smollett, reciprocal politeness appeared as grotesque as an exchange of amenities would be between a cormorant and an ape. Consequently, it was no doubt with a sense of positive relief to his feelings that Smollett could bring himself to sum up the whole matter thus. “A Frenchman lays out his whole revenue upon taudry suits of cloaths, or in furnishing a magnificent repas of fifty or a hundred dishes, one-half of which are not eatable or intended to be eaten. His wardrobe goes to the fripier, his dishes to the dogs, and himself to the devil.”
These trenchant passages were written partly, it may be imagined, to suit the English taste of the day. In that object they must have succeeded, for they were frequently transcribed into contemporary periodicals. In extenuation of Smollett’s honesty of purpose, however, it may be urged that he was always a thoroughgoing patriot, [Witness his violently anti-French play, the Reprisal of 1757.] and that, coming from a Calvinistic country where a measure of Tartufism was a necessary condition of respectability, he reproduces the common English error of ignoring how apt a Frenchman is to conceal a number of his best qualities. Two other considerations deserve attention. The race-portrait was in Smollett’s day at the very height of its disreputable reign. Secondly, we must remember how very profoundly French character has been modified since 1763, and more especially in consequence of the cataclysms of 1789 and 1870.
Smollett’s vis comica is conspicuous in the account of the coiffure of the period and of the superstitious reverence which a Frenchman of that day paid to his hair. In tracing the origin of this superstition he exhibits casually his historical learning. The crine profuso and barba demissa of the reges crinitos, as the Merovingians were called, are often referred to by ancient chroniclers. Long hair was identified with right of succession, as a mark of royal race, and the maintenance of ancient tradition. A tondu signified a slave, and even under the Carolingians to shave a prince meant to affirm his exclusion from the succession.
A general improvement in English roads, roadside inns, and methods of conveyance commenced about 1715. The continental roads lagged behind, until when Arthur Young wrote in 1788-89 they had got badly into arrears. The pace of locomotion between Rome and England changed very little in effect from the days of Julius Caesar to those of George III. It has been said with point that Trajan and Sir Robert Peel, travelling both at their utmost speed achieved the distance between Rome and London in an almost precisely similar space of time. Smollett decided to travel post between Paris and Lyons, and he found that the journey lasted full five days and cost upwards of thirty guineas. [One of the earliest printed road books in existence gives the posts between Paris and Lyons. This tiny duodecimo, dated 1500, and more than worth its weight in gold has just been acquired by the British Museum. On the old Roman routes, see Arnold’s Lectures on Modern History, 1842.] Of roads there was a choice between two. The shorter route by Nevers and Moulins amounted to just about three hundred English miles. The longer route by Auxerre and Dijon, which Smollett preferred extended to three hundred and thirty miles. The two roads diverged after passing Fontainebleau, the shorter by Nemours and the longer by Moret. The first road was the smoother, but apart from the chance of seeing the Vendange the route de Burgoyne was far the more picturesque. Smollett’s portraiture of the peasantry in the less cultivated regions prepares the mind for Young’s famous description of those “gaunt emblems of famine.” In Burgundy the Doctor says, “I saw a peasant ploughing the ground with a jackass, a lean cow, and a he-goat yoked together.” His vignette of the fantastic petit-maitre at Sens, and his own abominable rudeness, is worthy of the master hand that drew the poor debtor Jackson in the Marshalsea in Roderick Random.
His frank avowal of ill temper at the time deprives our entertainment of the unamiable tinge of which it would otherwise have partaken. “The truth is, I was that day more than usually peevish, from the bad weather as well as from the dread of a fit of asthma, with which I was threatened. And I daresay my appearance seemed as uncouth to him as his travelling dress appeared to me. I had a grey, mourning frock under a wide greatcoat, a bob-wig without powder, a very large laced hat, and a meagre, wrinkled, discontented countenance.”
From Lyons the traveller secured a return berline going back to Avignon with three mules and a voiturier named Joseph. Joseph, though he turned out to be an ex-criminal, proved himself the one Frenchman upon whose fidelity and good service Smollett could look back with unfeigned satisfaction. The sight of a skeleton dangling from a gibbet near Valence surprised from this droll knave an ejaculation and a story, from which it appeared only too evident that he had been first the comrade and then the executioner of one of the most notorious brigands of the century. The story as told by Smollett does not wholly agree with the best authenticated particulars. The Dick Turpin of eighteenth century France, Mandrin has engendered almost as many fables as his English congener. [See Maignien’s Bibliographie des Ecrits relatifs a Mandrin.] As far as I have been able to discover, the great freebooter was born at St. Etienne in May 1724. His father having been killed in a coining affair, Mandrin swore to revenge him. He deserted from the army accordingly, and got together a gang of contrebandiers, at the head of which his career in Savoy and Dauphine almost resembles that of one of the famous guerilla chieftains described in Hardman’s Peninsular Scenes and Sketches. Captured eventually, owing to the treachery of a comrade, he was put to death on the wheel at Valence on 26th May 1755. Five comrades were thrown into jail with him; and one of these obtained his pardon on condition of acting as Mandrin’s executioner. Alas, poor Joseph!
Three experiences Smollett had at this season which may well fall to the lot of road-farers in France right down to the present day. He was poisoned with garlic, surfeited with demi-roasted small birds, and astonished at the solid fare of the poorest looking travellers. The summer weather, romantic scenery, and occasional picnics, which Smollett would have liked to repeat every summer under the arches of the Pont du Gard—the monument of antiquity which of all, excepting only the Maison Carree at Nimes, most excited his enthusiastic admiration, all contributed to put him into an abnormally cheerful and convalescent humour. . . .
Smollett now bent his steps southwards to Montpellier. His baggage had gone in advance. He was uncertain as yet whether to make Montpellier or Nice his headquarters in the South. Like Toulouse and Tours, and Turin, Montpellier was for a period a Mecca to English health and pleasure seekers abroad. A city of no great antiquity, but celebrated from the twelfth century for its schools of Law and Physic, it had been incorporated definitely with France since 1382, and its name recurs in French history both as the home of famous men in great number and as, before and after the brief pre-eminence of La Rochelle, the rival of Nimes as capital of Protestantism in the South. Evelyn, Burnet, the two Youngs, Edward and Arthur, and Sterne have all left us an impression of the city. Prevented by snow from crossing the Mont Cenis, John Locke spent two winters there in the days of Charles II. (1675-77), and may have pondered a good many of the problems of Toleration on a soil under which the heated lava of religious strife was still unmistakeable. And Smollett must almost have jostled en route against the celebrated author of The Wealth of Nations, who set out with his pupil for Toulouse in February 1764. A letter to Hume speaks of the number of English in the neighbourhood just a month later. Lomenie de Brienne was then in residence as archbishop. In the following November, Adam Smith and his charge paid a visit to Montpellier to witness a pageant and memorial, as it was supposed, of a freedom that was gone for ever, the opening of the States of Languedoc. Antiquaries and philosophers went to moralise on the spectacle in the spirit in which Freeman went to Andorra, Byron to the site of Troy, or De Tocqueville to America. It was there that the great economist met Horne Tooke.
Smollett’s more practical and immediate object in making this pilgrimage was to interview the great lung specialist, known locally to his admiring compatriots as the Boerhaave of Montpellier, Dr. Fizes. The medical school of Montpellier was much in evidence during the third quarter of the eighteenth century, and for the history of its various branches there are extant numerous Memoires pour Servir, by Prunelle, Astruc, and others. Smollett was only just in time to consult the reigning oracle, for the “illustrious” Dr. Fizes died in the following year. He gives us a very unfavourable picture of this “great lanthorn of medicine,” who, notwithstanding his prodigious age, his stoop, and his wealth, could still scramble up two pairs for a fee of six livres. More than is the case with most medical patients, however, should we suspect Smollett of being unduly captious. The point as to how far his sketch of the French doctor and his diagnosis was a true one, and how far a mere caricature, due to ill health and prejudice, has always piqued my curiosity. But how to resolve a question involving so many problems not of ordinary therapeutic but of historical medicine! In this difficulty I bethought me most fortunately of consulting an authority probably without a rival in this special branch of medical history, Dr. Norman Moore, who with his accustomed generosity has given me the following most instructive diagnosis of the whole situation.
“I have read Smollett’s account of his illness as it appears in several passages in his travels and in the statement which he drew up for Professor ‘F.’ at Montpellier.
“Smollett speaks of his pulmonic disorder, his ‘asthmatical disorder,’ and uses other expressions which show that his lungs were affected. In his statement he mentions that he has cough, shortness of breath, wasting, a purulent expectoration, loss of appetite at times, loss of strength, fever, a rapid pulse, intervals of slight improvement and subsequent exacerbations.
“This shortness of breath, he says, has steadily increased. This group of symptoms makes it certain that he had tuberculosis of the lungs, in other words, was slowly progressing in consumption.
“His darting pains in his side were due to the pleurisy which always occurs in such an illness.
“His account shows also the absence of hopelessness which is a characteristic state of mind in patients with pulmonary tuberculosis.
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