Travels through France and Italy, by Tobias Smollett

Introduction

By Thomas Seccombe

I

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.

II

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 today 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.

III

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-ease 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.”

IV

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.

V

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.

“I do not think that the opinion of the Montpellier professor deserves Smollett’s condemnation. It seems to me both careful and sensible and contains all the knowledge of its time. Smollett, with an inconsistency not uncommon in patients who feel that they have a serious disease, would not go in person to the Professor, for he felt that from his appearance the Professor would be sure to tell him he had consumption. He half hoped for some other view of the written case in spite of its explicit statements, and when Professor F— wrote that the patient had tubercles in his lungs, this was displeasing to poor Smollett, who had hoped against hope to receive — some other opinion than the only possible one, viz., that he undoubtedly had a consumption certain to prove fatal.”

The cruel truth was not to be evaded. Smollett had tuberculosis, though not probably of the most virulent kind, as he managed to survive another seven years, and those for the most part years of unremitting labour. He probably gained much by substituting Nice for Montpellier as a place to winter in, for although the climate of Montpellier is clear and bright in the highest degree, the cold is both piercing and treacherous. Days are frequent during the winter in which one may stand warmly wrapped in the brilliant sun and feel the protection of a greatcoat no more than that of a piece of gauze against the icy and penetrating blast that comes from “tile roof of France.”

Unable to take the direct route by Arles as at present, the eastward-bound traveller from Montpellier in 1764 had to make a northerly detour. The first stone bridge up the Rhone was at Avignon, but there was a bridge of boats connecting Beaucaire with Tarascon. Thence, in no very placable mood, Smollett set out in mid-November by way of Orgon [Aix], Brignolles and le Muy, striking the Mediterranean at Frejus. En route he was inveigled into a controversy of unwonted bitterness with an innkeeper at le Muy. The scene is conjured up for us with an almost disconcerting actuality; no single detail of the author’s discomfiture is omitted. The episode is post-Flaubertian in its impersonal detachment, or, as Coleridge first said, “aloofness.” On crossing the Var, the sunny climate, the romantic outline of the Esterelles, the charms of the “neat village” of Cannes, and the first prospect of Nice began gradually and happily to effect a slight mitigation in our patient’s humour. Smollett was indubitably one of the pioneers of the Promenade des Anglais. Long before the days of “Dr. Antonio” or Lord Brougham, he described for his countrymen the almost incredible dolcezza of the sunlit coast from Antibes to Lerici. But how much better than the barren triumph of being the unconscious fugleman of so glittering a popularity must have been the sense of being one of the first that ever burst from our rude island upon that secluded little Piedmontese town, as it then was, of not above twelve thousand souls, with its wonderful situation, noble perspective and unparalleled climate. Well might our travel-tost doctor exclaim, “When I stand on the rampart and look around I can scarce help thinking myself enchanted.” It was truly a garden of Armida for a native of one of the dampest corners of North Britain.

“Forty or fifty years ago, before the great transformation took place on the French Riviera, when Nizza, Villafranca, and Mentone were antique Italian towns, and when it was one of the eccentricities of Lord Brougham, to like Cannes, all that sea-board was a delightful land. Only a hundred years ago Arthur Young had trouble to get an old woman and a donkey to carry his portmanteau from Cannes to Antibes. I can myself remember Cannes in 1853, a small fishing village with a quiet beach, and Mentone, a walled town with mediaeval gates and a castle, a few humble villas and the old Posta to give supper to any passing traveller. It was one of the loveliest bits of Italy, and the road from Nizza to Genoa was one long procession for four days of glorious scenery, historic remnants, Italian colour, and picturesque ports. From the Esterelles to San Remo this has all been ruined by the horde of northern barbarians who have made a sort of Trouville, Brighton, or Biarritz, with American hotels and Parisian boulevards on every headland and bay. First came the half underground railway, a long tunnel with lucid intervals, which destroyed the road by blocking up its finest views and making it practically useless. Then miles of unsightly caravanserais high walls, pompous villas, and Parisian grandes rues crushed out every trace of Italy, of history, and pictorial charm.” So writes Mr. Frederic Harrison of this delectable coast, [In the Daily Chronicle, 15th March 1898.] as it was, at a period within his own recollection — a period at which it is hardly fanciful to suppose men living who might just have remembered Smollett, as he was in his last days, when he returned to die on the Riviera di Levante in the autumn of 1771. Travel had then still some of the elements of romance. Rapidity has changed all that. The trouble is that although we can transport our bodies so much more rapidly than Smollett could, our understanding travels at the same old pace as before. And in the meantime railway and tourist agencies have made of modern travel a kind of mental postcard album, with grand hotels on one side, hotel menus on the other, and a faint aroma of continental trains haunting, between the leaves as it were. Our real knowledge is still limited to the country we have walked over, and we must not approach the country we would appreciate faster than a man may drive a horse or propel a bicycle; or we shall lose the all-important sense of artistic approach. Even to cross the channel by time-table is fatal to that romantic spirit (indispensable to the true magic of travel) which a slow adjustment of the mind to a new social atmosphere and a new historical environment alone can induce. Ruskin, the last exponent of the Grand Tour, said truly that the benefit of travel varies inversely in proportion to its speed. The cheap rapidity which has made our villes de plaisir and cotes d’azur what they are, has made unwieldy boroughs of suburban villages, and what the rail has done for a radius of a dozen miles, the motor is rapidly doing for one of a score. So are we sped! But we are to discuss not the psychology of travel, but the immediate causes and circumstances of Smollett’s arrival upon the territory of Nice.

VI

Smollett did not interpret the ground-plan of the history of Nice particularly well. Its colonisation from Massilia, its long connection with Provence, its occupation by Saracens, its stormy connection with the house of Anjou, and its close fidelity to the house of Savoy made no appeal to his admiration. The most important event in its recent history, no doubt, was the capture of the city by the French under Catinat in 1706 (Louis XIV. being especially exasperated against what he regarded as the treachery of Victor Amadeus), and the razing to the ground of its famous citadel. The city henceforth lost a good deal of its civic dignity, and its morale was conspicuously impaired. In the war of the Austrian succession an English fleet under Admiral Matthews was told off to defend the territory of the Nicois against the attentions of Toulon. This was the first close contact experienced between England and Nice, but the impressions formed were mutually favourable. The inhabitants were enthusiastic about the unaccustomed English plan of paying in full for all supplies demanded. The British officers were no less delighted with the climate of Nice, the fame of which they carried to their northern homes. It was both directly and indirectly through one of these officers that the claims of Nice as a sanatorium came to be put so plainly before Smollett. [Losing its prestige as a ville forte, Nice was henceforth rapidly to gain the new character of a ville de plaisir. In 1763, says one of the city’s historians, Smollett, the famous historian and novelist, visited Nice. “Arriving here shattered in health and depressed in spirits, under the genial influence of the climate he soon found himself a new man. His notes on the country, its gardens, its orange groves, its climate without a winter, are pleasant and just and would seem to have been written yesterday instead of more than a hundred years ago. . . . His memory is preserved in the street nomenclature of the place; one of the thoroughfares still bears the appellation of Rue Smollett.” (James Nash, The Guide to Nice, 1884, p. 110.)]

Among other celebrated residents at Nice during the period of Smollett’s visit were Edward Augustus, Duke of York, the brother of George III., who died at Monaco a few years later, and Andre Massena, a native of the city, then a lad of six.

Before he left Montpellier Smollett indulged in two more seemingly irresistible tirades against French folly: one against their persistent hero-worship of such a stuffed doll as Louis le Grand, and the second in ridicule of the immemorial French panacea, a bouillon. Now he gets to Nice he feels a return of the craving to take a hand’s turn at depreciatory satire upon the nation of which a contemporary hand was just tracing the deservedly better-known delineation, commencing

Gay sprightly land of mirth and social ease,
Pleas’d with thyself, whom all the world can please . . . .

Such inveteracy (like Dr. Johnson’s against Swift) was not unnaturally suspected by friends in England of having some personal motive. In his fifteenth letter home, therefore, Smollett is assiduous in disclaiming anything of the kind. He begins by attempting an amende honorable, but before he has got well away from his exordium he insensibly and most characteristically diverges into the more congenial path of censure, and expands indeed into one of his most eloquent passages — a disquisition upon the French punctilio (conceived upon lines somewhat similar to Mercutio’s address to Benvolio), to which is appended a satire on the duello as practised in France, which glows and burns with a radiation of good sense, racy of Smollett at his best.

To eighteenth century lovers the discussion on duelling will recall similar talks between Boswell and Johnson, or that between the lieutenant and Tom in the Seventh Book of Tom Jones, but, more particularly, the sermon delivered by Johnson on this subject a propos of General Oglethorpe’s story of how he avoided a duel with Prince Eugene in 1716. “We were sitting in company at table, whence the Prince took up a glass of wine and by a fillip made some of it fly in Oglethorpe’s face. Here was a nice dilemma. To have challenged him instantly might have fixed a quarrelsome character upon the young soldier: to have taken no notice of it might have been counted as cowardice. Oglethorpe, therefore, keeping his eye on the Prince, and smiling all the time, as if he took what His Highness had done in jest, said, “Mon Prince” (I forget the French words he used), “that’s a good joke; but we do it much better in England,” and threw a whole glass of wine in the Prince’s face. An old general who sat by said, “Il a bien fait, mon Prince, vous l’avez commence,” and thus all ended in good humour.”

In Letter XIII. Smollett settles down to give his correspondents a detailed description of the territory and people of Nice. At one time it was his intention to essay yet another branch of authorship and to produce a monograph on the natural history, antiquities, and topography of the town as the capital of this still unfamiliar littoral; with the late-born modesty of experience, however, he recoils from a task to which he does not feel his opportunities altogether adequate. [See p. 152.] A quarter of Smollett’s original material would embarrass a “Guide”-builder of more recent pattern.

Whenever he got near a coast line Smollett could not refrain from expressing decided views. If he had lived at the present day he would infallibly have been a naval expert, better informed than most and more trenchant than all; but recognizably one of the species, artist in words and amateur of ocean-strategy. [Smollett had, of course, been surgeon’s mate on H.M.S. Cumberland, 1740-41.] His first curiosity at Nice was raised concerning the port, the harbour, the galleys moored within the mole, and the naval policy of his Sardinian Majesty. His advice to Victor Amadeus was no doubt as excellent and as unregarded as the advice of naval experts generally is. Of more interest to us is his account of the slave-galleys. Among the miserable slaves whom “a British subject cannot behold without horror and compassion,” he observes a Piedmontese count in Turkish attire, reminding the reader of one of Dumas’ stories of a count among the forcats. To learn that there were always volunteer oarsmen among these poor outcasts is to reflect bitterly upon the average happiness of mankind. As to whether they wore much worse off than common seamen in the British navy of the period (who were only in name volunteers and had often no hope of discharge until they were worn out) under such commanders as Oakum or Whiffle [In Roderick Random.] is another question. For confirmation of Smollett’s account in matters of detail the reader may turn to Aleman’s Guzman d’Afarache, which contains a first-hand description of the life on board a Mediterranean slave galley, to Archenholtz’s Tableau d’Italie of 1788, to Stirling Maxwell’s Don John of Austria (1883, i. 95), and more pertinently to passages in the Life of a Galley Slave by Jean Marteilhe (edited by Miss Betham-Edwards in 1895). After serving in the docks at Dunkirk, Marteilhe, as a confirmed protestant, makes the journey in the chain-gang to Marseilles, and is only released after many delays in consequence of the personal interest and intervention of Queen Anne. If at the peace of Utrecht in 1713 we had only been as tender about the case of our poor Catalan allies! Nice at that juncture had just been returned by France to the safe-keeping of Savoy, so that in order to escape from French territory, Marteilhe sailed for Nice in a tartane, and not feeling too safe even there, hurried thence by Smollett’s subsequent route across the Col di Tende. Many Europeans were serving at this time in the Turkish or Algerine galleys. But the most pitiable of all the galley slaves were those of the knights of St. John of Malta. “Figure to yourself,” wrote Jacob Houblon [The Houblon Family, 1907 ii. 78. The accounts in Evelyn and Goldsmith are probably familiar to the reader.] about this year, “six or seven hundred dirty half-naked Turks in a small vessel chained to the oars, from which they are not allowed to stir, fed upon nothing but bad biscuit and water, and beat about on the most trifling occasion by their most inhuman masters, who are certainly more Turks than their slaves.”

After several digressions, one touching the ancient Cemenelion, a subject upon which the Jonathan Oldbucks of Provence without exception are unconscionably tedious, Smollett settles down to a capable historical summary preparatory to setting his palette for a picture of the Nissards “as they are.” He was, as we are aware, no court painter, and the cheerful colours certainly do not predominate. The noblesse for all their exclusiveness cannot escape his censure. He can see that they are poor (they are unable to boast more than two coaches among their whole number), and he feels sure that they are depraved. He attributes both vices unhesitatingly to their idleness and to their religion. In their singularly unemotional and coolly comparative outlook upon religion, how infinitely nearer were Fielding and Smollett than their greatest successors, Dickens and Thackeray, to the modern critic who observes that there is “at present not a single credible established religion in existence.” To Smollett Catholicism conjures up nothing so vividly as the mask of comedy, while his native Calvinism stands for the corresponding mask of tragedy. [Walpole’s dictum that Life was a comedy to those who think, a tragedy for those who feel, was of later date than this excellent mot of Smollett’s.] Religion in the sunny spaces of the South is a “never-failing fund of pastime.” The mass (of which he tells a story that reminds us of Lever’s Micky Free) is just a mechanism invented by clever rogues for an elaborate system of petty larceny. And what a ferocious vein of cynicism underlies his strictures upon the perverted gallantry of the Mariolaters at Florence, or those on the two old Catholics rubbing their ancient gums against St. Peter’s toe for toothache at Rome. The recurring emblems of crosses and gibbets simply shock him as mementoes of the Bagne.

At Rome he compares a presentment of St. Laurence to “a barbecued pig.” “What a pity it is,” he complains, “that the labours of painting should have been employed on such shocking objects of the martyrology,” floggings, nailings, and unnailings . . . “Peter writhing on the cross, Stephen battered with stones, Sebastian stuck full of arrows, Bartholomew flayed alive,” and so on. His remarks upon the famous Pieta of Michael Angelo are frank to the point of brutality. The right of sanctuary and its “infamous prerogative,” unheard of in England since the days of Henry VII., were still capable of affording a lesson to the Scot abroad. “I saw a fellow who had three days before murdered his wife in the last month of pregnancy, taking the air with great composure and serenity, on the steps of a church in Florence.” Smollett, it is clear, for all his philosophy, was no degenerate representative of the blind, unreasoning seventeenth-century detestation of “Popery and wooden shoes.”

Smollett is one of the first to describe a “conversazione,” and in illustration of the decadence of Italian manners, it is natural that he should have a good deal to tell us about the Cicisbeatura. His account of the cicisbeo and his duties, whether in Nice, Florence, or Rome, is certainly one of the most interesting that we have. Before Smollett and his almost contemporary travel correspondent, Samuel Sharp, it would probably be hard to find any mention of the cicisbeo in England, though the word was consecrated by Sheridan a few years later. Most of the “classic” accounts of the usage such as those by Mme. de Stael, Stendhal, Parini, Byron and his biographers date from very much later, when the institution was long past its prime if not actually moribund. Now Smollett saw it at the very height of its perfection and at a time when our decorous protestant curiosity on such themes was as lively as Lady Mary Montagu had found it in the case of fair Circassians and Turkish harems just thirty years previously. [A cicisbeo was a dangler. Hence the word came to be applied punningly to the bow depending from a clouded cane or ornamental crook. In sixteenth-century Spain, home of the sedan and the caballero galante, the original term was bracciere. In Venice the form was cavaliere servente. For a good note on the subject, see Sismondi’s Italian Republics, ed. William Boulting, 1907, p. 793.] Like so much in the shapes and customs of Italy the cicisbeatura was in its origin partly Gothic and partly Oriental. It combined the chivalry of northern friendship with the refined passion of the South for the seclusion of women. As an experiment in protest against the insipidity which is too often an accompaniment of conjugal intercourse the institution might well seem to deserve a more tolerant and impartial investigation than it has yet received at the hands of our sociologists. A survival so picturesque could hardly be expected to outlive the bracing air of the nineteenth century. The north wind blew and by 1840 the cicisbeatura was a thing of the past.

Freed from the necessity of a systematic delineation Smollett rambles about Nice, its length and breadth, with a stone in his pouch, and wherever a cockshy is available he takes full advantage of it. He describes the ghetto (p. 171), the police arrangements of the place which he finds in the main highly efficient, and the cruel punishment of the strappado. The garrucha or strappado and the garrotes, combined with the water-torture and the rack, represented the survival of the fittest in the natural selection of torments concerning which the Holy Office in Italy and Spain had such a vast experience. The strappado as described by Smollett, however, is a more severe form of torture even than that practised by the Inquisition, and we can only hope that his description of its brutality is highly coloured. [See the extremely learned disquisition on the whole subject in Dr. H. C. Lea’s History of the Inquisition in Spain, 1907, vol. iii. book vi chap. vii.] Smollett must have enjoyed himself vastly in the market at Nice. He gives an elaborate and epicurean account of his commissariat during the successive seasons of his sojourn in the neighbourhood. He was not one of these who live solely “below the diaphragm”; but he understood food well and writes about it with a catholic gusto and relish (156-165). He laments the rarity of small birds on the Riviera, and gives a highly comic account of the chasse of this species of gibier. He has a good deal to say about the sardine and tunny fishery, about the fruit and scent traffic, and about the wine industry; and he gives us a graphic sketch of the silkworm culture, which it is interesting to compare with that given by Locke in 1677. He has something to say upon the general agriculture, and more especially upon the olive and oil industry. Some remarks upon the numerous “mummeries” and festas of the inhabitants lead him into a long digression upon the feriae of the Romans. It is evident from this that the box of books which he shipped by way of Bordeaux must have been plentifully supplied with classical literature, for, as he remarks with unaffected horror, such a thing as a bookseller had not been so much as heard of in Nice. Well may he have expatiated upon the total lack of taste among the inhabitants! In dealing with the trade, revenue, and other administrative details Smollett shows himself the expert compiler and statistician a London journalist in large practice credits himself with becoming by the mere exercise of his vocation. In dealing with the patois of the country he reveals the curiosity of the trained scholar and linguist. Climate had always been one of his hobbies, and on learning that none of the local practitioners was in a position to exact a larger fee than sixpence from his patients (quantum mutatus the Nice physician of 1907!) he felt that he owed it to himself to make this the subject of an independent investigation. He kept a register of the weather during the whole of his stay, and his remarks upon the subject are still of historical interest, although with Teysseire’s minutely exact Monograph on the Climatology of Nice (1881) at his disposal and innumerable commentaries thereon by specialists, the inquirer of today would hardly go to Smollett for his data. Then, as now, it is curious to find the rumour current that the climate of Nice was sadly deteriorating. “Nothing to what it was before the war!” as the grumbler from the South was once betrayed into saying of the August moon. Smollett’s esprit chagrin was nonplussed at first to find material for complaint against a climate in which he admits that there was less rain and less wind than in any other part of the world that he knew. In these unwonted circumstances he is constrained to fall back on the hard water and the plague of cousins or gnats as affording him the legitimate grievance, in whose absence the warrior soul of the author of the Ode to Independence could never be content.

VII

For his autumn holiday in 1764 Smollett decided on a jaunt to Florence and Rome, returning to Nice for the winter; and he decided to travel as far as Leghorn by sea. There was choice between several kinds of small craft which plied along the coast, and their names recur with cheerful frequency in the pages of Marryat and other depictors of the Mediterranean. There was the felucca, an open boat with a tilt over the stern large enough to freight a post-chaise, and propelled by ten to twelve stout mariners. To commission such a boat to Genoa, a distance of a hundred miles, cost four louis. As alternative, there was the tartane, a sailing vessel with a lateen sail. Addison sailed from Marseilles to Genoa in a tartane in December 1699: a storm arose, and the patron alarmed the passengers by confessing his sins (and such sins!) loudly to a Capuchin friar who happened to be aboard. Smollett finally decided on a gondola, with four rowers and a steersman, for which he had to pay nine sequins (4 1/2 louis). After adventures off Monaco, San Remo, Noli, and elsewhere, the party are glad to make the famous phones on the Torre della Lanterna, of which banker Rogers sings in his mediocre verse:

Thy pharos Genoa first displayed itself
Burning in stillness on its rocky seat;
That guiding star so oft the only one,
When those now glowing in the azure vault
Are dark and silent

Smollett’s description of Genoa is decidedly more interesting. He arrived at a moment specially propitious to so sardonic an observer, for the Republic had fallen on evil times, having escaped from the clutches of Austria in 1746 by means of a popular riot, during which the aristocracy considerately looked the other way, only to fall into an even more embarrassed and unheroic position vis-a-vis of so diminutive an opponent as Corsica. The whole story is a curious prototype of the nineteenth century imbroglio between Spain and Cuba. Of commonplaces about the palaces fruitful of verbiage in Addison and Gray, who says with perfect truth, “I should make you sick of marble were I to tell you how it is lavished here,” Smollett is sparing enough, though he evidently regards the inherited inclination of Genoese noblemen to build beyond their means as an amiable weakness. His description of the proud old Genoese nobleman, who lives in marble and feeds on scraps, is not unsympathetic, and suggests that the “deceipt of the Ligurians,” which Virgil censures in the line

Haud Ligurum extremus, dum fallere fata sinebant

may possibly have been of this Balderstonian variety. But Smollett had little room in his economy for such vapouring speculations. He was as unsentimental a critic as Sydney Smith or Sir Leslie Stephen. He wants to know the assets of a place more than its associations. Facts, figures, trade and revenue returns are the data his shrewd mind requires to feed on. He has a keen eye for harbours suitable for an English frigate to lie up in, and can hardly rest until his sagacity has collected material for a political horoscope.

Smollett’s remarks upon the mysterious dispensations of Providence in regard to Genoa and the retreat of the Austrians are charged to the full with his saturnine spirit. His suspicions were probably well founded. Ever since 1685 Genoa had been the more or less humiliated satellite of France, and her once famous Bank had been bled pretty extensively by both belligerents. The Senate was helpless before the Austrian engineers in 1745, and the emancipation of the city was due wholly to a popular emeute. She had relapsed again into a completely enervated condition. Smollett thought she would have been happier under British protection. But it is a vicious alternative for a nation to choose a big protector. It was characteristic of the Republic that from 1790 to 1798 its “policy” was to remain neutral. The crisis in regard to Corsica came immediately after Smollett’s visit, when in 1765, under their 154th doge Francesco Maria Rovere, the Genoese offered to abandon the island to the patriots under Paoli, reserving only the possession of the two loyal coast-towns of Bonifazio and Calvi. [See Boswell’s Corsica, 1766-8.] At Paoli’s instance these conciliatory terms were refused. Genoa, in desperation and next door to bankruptcy, resolved to sell her rights as suzerain to France, and the compact was concluded by a treaty signed at Versailles in 1768. Paoli was finally defeated at Ponte Novo on 9th May 1769, and fled to England. On 15th August the edict of “Reunion” between France and Corsica was promulgated. On the same day Napoleon Buonaparte was born at Ajaccio.

After a week at Genoa Smollett proceeded along the coast to Lerici. There, being tired of the sea, the party disembarked, and proceeded by chaise from Sarzano to Cercio in Modenese territory, and so into Tuscany, then under the suzerainty of Austria. His description of Pisa is of an almost sunny gaiety and good humour. Italy, through this portal, was capable of casting a spell even upon a traveller so case-hardened as Smollett. The very churches at Pisa are “tolerably ornamented.” The Campo Santo and Tower fall in no way short of their reputation, while the brass gates so far excel theirs that Smollett could have stood a whole day to examine and admire them. These agremens may be attributable in some measure to “a very good inn.” In stating that galleys were built in the town, Smollett seems to have fallen a victim, for once, to guide-book information. Evelyn mentions that galleys were built there in his time, but that was more than a hundred years before. The slips and dock had long been abandoned, as Smollett is careful to point out in his manuscript notes, now in the British Museum. He also explains with superfluous caution that the Duomo of Pisa is not entirely Gothic. Once arrived in the capital of Tuscany, after admitting that Florence is a noble city, our traveller is anxious to avoid the hackneyed ecstasies and threadbare commonplaces, derived in those days from Vasari through Keysler and other German commentators, whose genius Smollett is inclined to discover rather “in the back than in the brain.”

The two pass-words for a would-be connoisseur, according to Goldsmith, were to praise Perugino, and to say that such and such a work would have been much better had the painter devoted more time and study to it. With these alternatives at hand one might pass with credit through any famous continental collection. Smollett aspired to more independence of thought and opinion, though we perceive at every turn how completely the Protestant prejudice of his “moment” and “milieu” had obtained dominion over him. To his perception monks do not chant or intone, they bawl and bellow their litanies. Flagellants are hired peasants who pad themselves to repletion with women’s bodices. The image of the Virgin Mary is bejewelled, hooped, painted, patched, curled, and frizzled in the very extremity of the fashion. No particular attention is paid by the mob to the Crucified One, but as soon as his lady-mother appeared on the shoulders of four lusty friars the whole populace fall upon their knees in the dirt. We have some characteristic criticism and observation of the Florentine nobles, the opera, the improvisatori, [For details as to the eighteenth-century improvisatore and commedia delle arte the reader is referred to Symonds’s Carlo Gozzi. See also the Travel Papers of Mrs. Piozzi; Walpole’s Letters to Sir Horace Mann, and Doran’s Mann and Manners at the Court of Florence. (Vide Appendix A, p. 345)] the buildings, and the cicisbei. Smollett nearly always gives substantial value to his notes, however casual, for he has an historian’s eye, and knows the symptoms for which the inquirer who comes after is likely to make inquisition.

Smollett’s observations upon the state of Florence in Letters XXVII and XXVIII are by no means devoid of value. The direct rule of the Medici had come to an end in 1737, and Tuscany (which with the exception of the interlude of 1798-1814 remained in Austrian hands down to 1860) was in 1764 governed by the Prince de Craon, viceroy of the Empress Maria Theresa. Florence was, indeed, on the threshold of the sweeping administrative reforms instituted by Peter Leopold, the archduke for whom Smollett relates that they were preparing the Pitti Palace at the time of his stay. This Prince governed the country as Grand Duke from 1765 to 1790, when he succeeded his brother as Emperor, and left a name in history as the ill-fated Leopold. Few more active exponents of paternal reform are known to history. But the Grand Duke had to deal with a people such as Smollett describes. Conservative to the core, subservient to their religious directors, the “stupid party” in Florence proved themselves clever enough to retard the process of enlightenment by methods at which even Smollett himself might have stood amazed. The traveller touches an interesting source of biography when he refers to the Englishman called Acton, formerly an East India Company captain, now commander of the Emperor’s Tuscan Navy, consisting of “a few frigates.” This worthy was the old commodore whom Gibbon visited in retirement at Leghorn. The commodore was brother of Gibbon’s friend, Dr. Acton, who was settled at Besancon, where his noted son, afterwards Sir John Acton, was born in 1736. Following in the footsteps of his uncle the commodore, who became a Catholic, Smollett tells us, and was promoted Admiral of Tuscany, John Acton entered the Tuscan Marine in 1775.

[Sir John Acton’s subsequent career belongs to history. His origin made him an expert on naval affairs, and in 1776 he obtained some credit for an expedition which he commanded against the Barbary pirates. In 1778 Maria Carolina of Naples visited her brother Leopold at Florence, and was impressed by Acton’s ugliness and reputation for exceptional efficiency. Her favourite minister, Prince Caramanico, persuaded the Grand Duke, Leopold, to permit Acton to exchange into the Neapolitan service, and reorganize the navy of the southern kingdom. This actually came to pass, and, moreover, Acton played his cards so well that he soon engrossed the ministries of War and Finance, and after the death of Caracciolo, the elder, also that of Foreign Affairs. Sir William Hamilton had a high opinion of the” General,” soon to become Field-Marshal. He took a strong part in resistance to revolutionary propaganda, caused to be built the ships which assisted Nelson in 1795, and proved himself one of the most capable bureaucrats of the time. But the French proved too strong, and Napoleon was the cause of his disgrace in 1804. In that year, by special dispensation from the Pope, he married his niece, and retired to Palermo, where he died on 12th August 1811.]

Let loose in the Uffizi Gallery Smollett shocked his sensitive contemporaries by his freedom from those sham ecstasies which have too often dogged the footsteps of the virtuosi. Like Scott or Mark Twain at a later date Smollett was perfectly ready to admire anything he could understand; but he expressly disclaims pretensions to the nice discernment and delicate sensibility of the connoisseur. He would never have asked to be left alone with the Venus de Medicis as a modern art-critic is related to have asked to be left alone with the Venus of Rokeby. He would have been at a loss to understand the state of mind of the eminent actor who thought the situation demanded that he should be positively bereft of breath at first sight of the Apollo Belvedere, and panting to regain it, convulsively clutched at the arm of his companion, with difficulty articulating, “I breathe.” Smollett refused to be hypnotized by the famous Venus discovered at Hadrian’s villa, brought from Tivoli in 1680, and then in the height of its renown; the form he admired, but condemned the face and the posture. Personally I disagree with Smollett, though the balance of cultivated opinion has since come round to his side. The guilt of Smollett lay in criticizing what was above criticism, as the contents of the Tribuna were then held to be. And in defence of this point of view it may at least be said that the Uffizi was then, with the exception of the Vatican, the only gallery of first-rate importance open to the travelling public on the Grand Tour. Founded by Cosimo I, built originally by George Vasari, and greatly enlarged by Francis I, who succeeded to the Grand Duchy in 1574, the gallery owed most perhaps to the Cardinal, afterwards Ferdinand I, who constructed the Tribuna, and to Cardinal Leopold, an omnivorous collector, who died in 1675. But all the Medici princes added to the rarities in the various cabinets, drawing largely upon the Villa Medici at Rome for this purpose, and the last of them, John Gaston (1723-1737), was one of the most liberal as regards the freedom of access which he allowed to his accumulated treasures. Among the distinguished antiquaries who acted as curators and cicerones were Sebastiano Bianchi, Antonio Cocchi, Raymond Cocchi, Joseph Bianchi, J. B. Pelli, the Abbe Lanzi, and Zacchiroli. The last three all wrote elaborate descriptions of the Gallery during the last decades of the eighteenth century. There was unhappily an epidemic of dishonesty among the custodians of gems at this period, and, like the notorious Raspe, who fled from Cassel in 1775, and turned some of his old employers to ridicule in his Baron Munchausen, Joseph Bianchi was convicted first of robbing his cabinet and then attempting to set it on fire, for which exploit the “learned and judicious Bianchi,” as Smollett called him in his first edition, was sent to prison for life. The Arrotino which Smollett so greatly admired, and which the delusive Bianchi declared to be a representation of the Augur Attus Naevius, is now described as “A Scythian whetting his knife to flay Marsyas.”

Kinglake has an amusingly cynical passage on the impossibility of approaching the sacred shrines of the Holy Land in a fittingly reverential mood. Exactly the same difficulty is experienced in approaching the sacred shrines of art. Enthusiasm about great artistic productions, though we may readily understand it to be justifiable, is by no means so easily communicable. How many people possessing a real claim to culture have felt themselves puzzled by their insensibility before some great masterpiece! Conditions may be easily imagined in which the inducement to affect an ecstasy becomes so strong as to prove overpowering. Many years ago at Florence the loiterers in the Tribuna were startled by the sudden rush into the place of a little man whose literary fame gave him high claims to intuitive taste. He placed himself with high clasped hand before the chief attraction in that room of treasures. “There,” he murmured, “is the Venus de Medicis, and here I must stay — for ever and for ever.” He had scarcely uttered these words, each more deeply and solemnly than the preceding, when an acquaintance entered, and the enthusiast, making a hasty inquiry if Lady So-and-So had arrived, left the room not to return again that morning. Before the same statue another distinguished countryman used to pass an hour daily. His acquaintance respected his raptures and kept aloof; but a young lady, whose attention was attracted by sounds that did not seem expressive of admiration, ventured to approach, and found the poet sunk in profound, but not silent, slumber. From such absurdities as these, or of the enthusiast who went into raptures about the head of the Elgin Ilissos (which is unfortunately a headless trunk), we are happily spared in the pages of Smollett. In him complete absence of gush is accompanied by an independent judgement, for which it may quite safely be claimed that good taste is in the ascendant in the majority of cases.

From Florence Smollett set out in October 1764 for Siena, a distance of forty-two miles, in a good travelling coach; he slept there, and next day, seven and a half miles farther on, at Boon Convento, hard by Montepulciano, now justly celebrated for its wine, he had the amusing adventure with the hostler which gave occasion for his vivid portrait of an Italian uffiziale, and also to that irresistible impulse to cane the insolent hostler, from the ill consequences of which he was only saved by the underling’s precipitate flight. The night was spent at Radicofani, five and twenty miles farther on. A clever postilion diversified the route to Viterbo, another forty-three miles. The party was now within sixteen leagues, or ten hours, of Rome. The road from Radicofani was notoriously bad all the way, but Smollett was too excited or too impatient to pay much attention to it. “You may guess what I felt at first sight of the city of Rome.”

“When you arrive at Rome,” he says later, in somewhat more accustomed vein, “you receive cards from all your country folk in that city. They expect to have the visit returned next day, when they give orders not to be at home, and you never speak to one another in the sequel. This is a refinement in hospitality and politeness which the English have invented by the strength of their own genius without any assistance either from France, Italy, or Lapland.” It is needless to recapitulate Smollett’s views of Rome. Every one has his own, and a passing traveller’s annotations are just about as nourishing to the imagination as a bibliographer’s note on the Bible. Smollett speaks in the main judiciously of the Castle of St. Angelo, the Piazza and the interior of St. Peter’s, the Pincian, the Forum, the Coliseum, the Baths of Caracalla, and the other famous sights of successive ages. On Roman habits and pastimes and the gullibility of the English cognoscente he speaks with more spice of authority. Upon the whole he is decidedly modest about his virtuoso vein, and when we reflect upon the way in which standards change and idols are shifted from one pedestal to another, it seems a pity that such modesty has not more votaries. In Smollett’s time we must remember that Hellenic and primitive art, whether antique or medieval, were unknown or unappreciated. The reigning models of taste in ancient sculpture were copies of fourth-century originals, Hellenistic or later productions. Hence Smollett’s ecstasies over the Laocoon, the Niobe, and the Dying Gladiator. Greek art of the best period was hardly known in authentic examples; antiques so fine as the Torso of Hercules were rare. But while his failures show the danger of dogmatism in art criticism, Smollett is careful to disclaim all pretensions to the nice discernment of the real connoisseur. In cases where good sense and sincere utterance are all that is necessary he is seldom far wrong. Take the following description for example:—

“You need not doubt but that I went to the church of St. Peter in Montorio, to view the celebrated Transfiguration by Raphael, which, if it was mine, I would cut in two parts. The three figures in the air attract the eye so strongly that little or no attention is paid to those below on the mountain. I apprehend that the nature of the subject does not admit of that keeping and dependence which ought to be maintained in the disposition of the lights and shadows in a picture. The groups seem to be entirely independent of each other. The extraordinary merit of this piece, I imagine, consists not only in the expression of divinity on the face of Christ, but also in the surprising lightness of the figure that hovers like a beautiful exhalation in the air.”

Smollett’s remarks about the “Last Judgement” of Michael Angelo, (that it confuses the eye as a number of people speaking at once confounds the ear; and that while single figures are splendid, the whole together resembles a mere mob, without subordination, keeping, or repose) will probably be re-echoed by a large proportion of the sightseers who gaze upon it yearly. But his description of the “Transfiguration” displays an amount of taste and judgement which is far from being so widely distributed. For purposes of reproduction at the present day, I may remind the reader that the picture is ordinarily “cut in two.” and the nether portion is commonly attributed to Raphael’s pupils, while the “beautiful exhalation,” as Smollett so felicitously terms it, is attributed exclusively to the master when at the zenith of his powers. His general verdict upon Michael Angelo and Raphael has much in it that appeals to a modern taste. Of Raphael, as a whole, he concludes that the master possesses the serenity of Virgil, but lacks the fire of Homer; and before leaving this same Letter XXXIII, in which Smollett ventures so many independent critical judgements, I am tempted to cite yet another example of his capacity for acute yet sympathetic appreciation.

“In the Palazzo Altieri I admired a picture, by Carlo Maratti, representing a saint calling down lightning from heaven to destroy blasphemers. It was the figure of the saint I admired, merely as a portrait. The execution of the other parts was tame enough; perhaps they were purposely kept down in order to preserve the importance of the principal figure. I imagine Salvator Rosa would have made a different disposition on the same subject — that amidst the darkness of a tempest he would have illuminated the blasphemer with the flash of lightning by which he was destroyed. This would have thrown a dismal gleam upon his countenance, distorted by the horror of his situation as well as by the effects of the fire, and rendered the whole scene dreadfully picturesque.”

Smollett confuses historical and aesthetic grandeur. What appeals to him most is a monument of a whole past civilization, such as the Pont du Gard. His views of art, too, as well as his views of life, are profoundly influenced by his early training as a surgeon. He is not inclined by temperament to be sanguine. His gaze is often fixed, like that of a doctor, upon the end of life; and of art, as of nature, he takes a decidedly pathological view. Yet, upon the whole, far from deriding his artistic impressions, I think we shall be inclined rather to applaud them, as well for their sanity as for their undoubted sincerity.

For the return journey to Florence Smollett selected the alternative route by Narni, Terni, Spoleto, Foligno, Perugia, and Arezzo, and, by his own account, no traveller ever suffered quite so much as he did from “dirt,” “vermin,” “poison,” and imposture. At Foligno, where Goethe also, in his travels a score of years or so later, had an amusing adventure, Smollett was put into a room recently occupied by a wild beast (bestia), but the bestia turned out on investigation to be no more or no less than an “English heretic.” The food was so filthy that it might have turned the stomach of a muleteer; their coach was nearly shattered to pieces; frozen with cold and nearly devoured by rats. Mrs. Smollett wept in silence with horror and fatigue; and the bugs gave the Doctor a whooping-cough. If Smollett anticipated a violent death from exhaustion and chagrin in consequence of these tortures he was completely disappointed. His health was never better — so much so that he felt constrained in fairness to drink to the health of the Roman banker who had recommended this nefarious route. [See the Doctor’s remarks at the end of Letter XXXV.] By Florence and Lerici he retraced his steps to Nice early in 1765, and then after a brief jaunt to Turin (where he met Sterne) and back by the Col di Tende, he turned his face definitely homewards. The journey home confirmed his liking for Pisa, and gives an opening for an amusing description of the Britisher abroad (Letter XXXV). We can almost overhear Thackeray, or the author of Eothen, touching this same topic in Letter XLI. “When two natives of any other country chance to meet abroad, they run into each other’s embrace like old friends, even though they have never heard of one another till that moment; whereas two Englishmen in the same situation maintain a mutual reserve and diffidence, and keep without the sphere of each other’s attraction, like two bodies endowed with a repulsive power.” Letter XXXVI gives opportunity for some discerning remarks on French taxation. Having given the French king a bit of excellent advice (that he should abolish the fermiers generaux), Smollett proceeds, in 1765, to a forecast of probabilities which is deeply significant and amazingly shrewd. The fragment known as Smollett’s Dying Prophecy of 1771 has often been discredited. Yet the substance of it is fairly adumbrated here in the passage beginning, “There are undoubtedly many marks of relaxation in the reins of French government,” written fully six years previously. After a pleasing description of Grasse, “famous for its pomatum, gloves, wash-balls, perfumes, and toilette boxes lined with bergamot,” the homeward traveller crossed the French frontier at Antibes, and in Letter XXXIX at Marseille, he compares the galley slaves of France with those of Savoy. At Bath where he had gone to set up a practice, Smollett once astonished the faculty by “proving” in a pamphlet that the therapeutic properties of the waters had been prodigiously exaggerated. So, now, in the south of France he did not hesitate to pronounce solemnly that “all fermented liquors are pernicious to the human constitution.” Elsewhere he comments upon the immeasurable appetite of the French for bread. The Frenchman will recall the story of the peasant-persecuting baron whom Louis XII. provided with a luxurious feast, which the lack of bread made uneatable; he may not have heard a story told me in Liege at the Hotel Charlemagne of the Belgian who sought to conciliate his French neighbour by remarking, “Je vois que vous etes Français, monsieur, parceque vous mangez beaucoup de pain,” and the Frenchman’s retort, “Je vois que vous etes lye monsieur, parceque vous mangez beaucoup de tout!” From Frejus Smollett proceeds to Toulon, repeating the old epigram that “the king of France is greater at Toulon than at Versailles.” The weather is so pleasant that the travellers enjoy a continual concert of “nightingales” from Vienne to Fontainebleau. The “douche” of Aix-les-Bains having been explained, Smollett and his party proceeded agreeably to Avignon, where by one of the strange coincidences of travel he met his old voiturier Joseph “so embrowned by the sun that he might have passed for an Iroquois.” In spite of Joseph’s testimonial the “plagues of posting” are still in the ascendant, and Smollett is once more generous of good advice. Above all, he adjures us when travelling never to omit to carry a hammer and nails, a crowbar, an iron pin or two, a large knife, and a bladder of grease. Why not a lynch pin, which we were so carefully instructed how to inquire about in Murray’s Conversation for Travellers?

But-the history of his troublous travels is drawing to an end. From Lyons the route is plain through Macon, Chalons, Dijon, Auxerre, Sells, and Fontainebleau — the whole itinerary almost exactly anticipates that of Talfourd’s Vacation Tour one hundred and ten years later, except that on the outward journey Talfourd sailed down the Rhone.

Smollett’s old mental grievances and sores have been shifted and to some extent, let us hope, dissipated by his strenuous journeyings, and in June 1765, after an absence of two years, he is once more enabled to write,

“You cannot imagine what pleasure I feel while I survey the white cliffs of Dover at this distance [from Boulogne]. Not that I am at all affected by the nescio qua dulcedine natalis soli of Horace.

“That seems to be a kind of fanaticism, founded on the prejudices of education, which induces a Laplander to place the terrestrial paradise among the snows of Norway, and a Swiss to prefer the barren mountains of Soleure to the fruitful plains of Lombardy. I am attached to my country, because it is the land of liberty, cleanliness, and convenience; but I love it still more tenderly, as the scene of all my interesting connections, as the habitation of my friends, for whose conversation, correspondence, and esteem I wish alone to live.”

For the time being it cannot be doubted that the hardships Smollett had to undergo on his Italian journey, by sea and land, and the violent passions by which he was agitated owing to the conduct of refractory postilions and extortionate innkeepers, contributed positively to brace up and invigorate his constitution. He spoke of himself indeed as “mended by ill-treatment” not unlike Tavernier, the famous traveller — said to have been radically cured of the gout by a Turkish aga in Egypt, who gave him the bastinado because he would not look at the head of the bashaw of Cairo. But Fizes was right after all in his swan-prescription, for poor Smollett’s cure was anything but a radical one. His health soon collapsed under the dreary round of incessant labour at Chelsea. His literary faculty was still maturing and developing. His genius was mellowing, and a later work might have eclipsed Clinker. But it was not to be. He had a severe relapse in the winter. In 1770 he had once more to take refuge from overwork on the sunny coast he had done so much to popularize among his countrymen, and it was near Leghorn that he died on 17th September 1771.

ANNO AETATIS 51.
EHEV! QVAM PROCVL A PATRIA!
PROPE LIBVRNI PORTVM, IN ITALIA
JACET SEPVLTVS.

THOMAS SECCOMBE. ACTON, May 1907.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/smollett/tobias/travels/introduction.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30