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Tobias Smollett was a prodigious wordsmith. Grub Street was his habitat and hack work his staple, but, as Jeremy Lewis vividly makes clear in this biography, the first for nearly sixty years, there was much more to Smollett than that..
His own life seems almost as eventful and picaresque as one of his novels. Born in Scotland, apprenticed to a surgeon, he came to London to make his fortune. He failed. He served as a surgeon’s mate in the West India Squadron and was present at the disastrous attack on Cartagena. He lived in Jamaica for a while, where he married. He returned to London and practised unsuccessfully as a physician. His first novel, The Adventures of Roderick Random was published in 1748. He was editor of the Critical Review and The Briton. His violent political, literary and personal partisanship often landed him in trouble and he spent a brief period in prison for libel. His miscellaneous writings were voluminous, but it is as a novelist that his reputation survives. Roderick Random and Humphry Clinker, both comic masterpieces, alone ensure that. There is also his travel book Travels through France and Italy, shockingly xenophobic and, as Osbert Sitwell said, ‘choked with prejudices’, but for all that, very readable.
There are few better biographers than Jeremy Lewis, and he recounts the life and escapades of Tobias Smollett with the sort of gusto that shows him to be completely en rapport with his generous but curmudgeonly subject.
‘Lewis’s book could scarcely be bettered. It radiates first-hand enjoyment for which there is no substitute.’ John Carey
‘A lively and unpretentious biography of the most politically incorrect novelist ever to set pen to paper.’ Sunday Times
‘Lewis details (Smollett’s) escapades with a sense of novelistic bawdy that Smollett himself would surely have appreciated.’ Observer
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