A superb biography of the great eighteenth-century novelist, by the author of the highly-praised Cyril Connolly: A Life Tobias Smollett's novels are funny, fast-moving, boisterous and coarse, the fictional equivalent of Hogarth's 'Rake's Progress' ...
or a Rowlandson engraving; indeed without doubt Smollett is the most vigorous and entertaining of all the great eighteenth-century novelists. Despite enthusiastic advocacy from George Orwell and V.S. Pritchett, he is also the most neglected; in this new biography, the first for over fifty years, Jeremy Lewis sets out to put the record straight. A Scot who lived for much of his life in Chelsea, a medical man who, like Dr Johnson, became a central figure in London literary life, Smollett was barely fifty when he died, but had lived an enviably busy life. As a ship's surgeon, he took part in the disastrous siege of Cartagena, off the Colombian coast, where the sailors dropped like flies from the fever and had to be fed to the sharks; as a Scotsman, he suffered prejudice of a kind that would later be endured by Irish and West Indians; he was imprisoned for libel, founded and edited the contemporary equivalent of the TLS, did battle with John Wilkes, wore himself out with hack work, and made his name not just with Roderick Random and Humphry Clinker, but with his magnificently splenetic and xenophobic Travels through France and Italy, in which he savaged the squalor of the inns and deplored the food on offer, with particular reference to the garlic. Crammed with curious details from the worlds of publishing, medicine, politics and literary life, Tobias Smollett is a magnificent resurrection of a writer who was hard-boiled and thin-skinned, generous and vindictive, comical and curmudgeonly, and deserves to be far better remembered than he is.