Tobias Smollett's The
Expedition of Humphry Clinker
An "Unwieldy Metropolis": London Through Three Lenses
The presentation of London in Tobias Smollett's The
Expedition of Humphry Clinker
Tobias Smollett - Biographical information
He was born in 1721 at “Dalquhurn, near the village of Renton,
Dunbartonshire” in Scotland (Simpson). He was the youngest son and was
trained as a surgeon in Glasgow. After a period spent as a
surgeon on board a British Navy ship in the West Indies, Smollett
returned home, continuing with medicine and starting to produce various
forms of writing, including poems, satirical tracts and
plays. His first novel The Adventures of Roderick Random
(1748) was a success and made his reputation. He continued to
write many different things, becoming known also as a translator (Don
Quixote), critic and editor. His health started to fail
around 1763, so he decides to take travel on the continent to hopefully
provide some relief. He travelled through France and Italy,
writing a book on the journey, coming back to Bath to take in the
healing waters (Simpson). These journeys provided inspiration
for Humphrey Clinker, which Smollett started on his return to England
in 1766 (Kahrl 121). He finished writing in 1770 in Italy where
he lived out his life (Simpson).
Clinker - The Work
novel is in the picaresque tradition, which Davis describes as “the
travel adventures of an unsettled young man, often of good birth, who
has the moral characteristics of the picaro, the love of hoaxes and
intrigues” (Davis vi). Another trait of the picaresque is
that “the adventures are self-sufficient… [and] could happen in almost
any order equally as well" (vi). The section of Humphrey Clinker
that we’re looking at is set in their stay in London where the
characters take in the sites.
Humphrey Clinker differs from the picaresque tradition by being an
epistolary novel. More importantly, an epistolary novel where
the main character does not get to speak for himself. The
five letter writing characters in the novel are Matt Bramble, his
sister Tabitha Bramble, their niece and nephew Lydia and Jery
Melford and their servant Winifred Jenkins.
The Three Views of London
In the London section we are looking at, we get to see letters from
four of the five characters (everyone, but Tabitha) that show their
first impressions of London. I have decided to focus on the
letters from Matt Bramble, Lydia Melford and Win Jenkins because their
social positions represent a good mixture of class, gender and London
Bramble – upper class, male figure, experience with London
in the past
Melford – upper class, young, female figure, no experience
Jenkins – lower class, young, female figure, no experience
Matt Bramble's locations in
Lydia Melford's locations in
Win Jenkins's locations in RED.
The three characters technically experience the same London, but
through their letters (which work as filters or lenses) we see three
different fictionalized Londons. Much of this difference is
predicated on social class and gender.
For established, wealthy citizens (usually men) like Bramble, London
holds no interest because he already has the wealth and luxury he
desires in the country. However, as Flanders points out “For
those with no prospect of accumulating great estates or sharing in the
proceeds of small ones, London was the place to rise in the
world. It seemed to promise fabulous delights”
(47). Bramble scorns this idea, criticising workers who leave
the country to come to London:
The tide of luxury has
swept all the inhabitants from the open country --- The poorest squire,
as well as the richest peer, must have his house in town, and make a
figure with an extraordinary number of domestics. The
ploughboys, cow-herds, and lower hinds, are debauched and seduced by
the appearance and discourse of those coxcombs in livery, when they
make their summer excursions. They desert their dirt and
drudgery, and swarm up to London, in hopes of getting into service,
where they can live luxuiously and wear fine clothes, without being
obliged to work; (Smollett 98)
Though Lydia is not in town to accumulate her wealth, unless it is
though an advantageous marriage, she does succumb to these “fabulous
delights.” Win Jenkins is also lured in by London’s many
wonders. In fact, Flanders believes Smollett uses their
similar initial responses to London to point out “the irony inherent in
London’s attractiveness” to high and low alike (47).
Lydia's "Inexpressible" Pleasures, Extensively Expressed
Lydia is appropriately excited about her first trip to London, sending
a detailed letter of her exploits to her confidante Miss Laetitia
Willis in Gloucester. Mapping the locations she mentions, we
see that she does get a chance to see a good part of the city as well
as the town.
When we look at the places she goes on the map, we see that she mainly
resides in the upper class West side of London. However, she
does occasionally enter the city proper when she visits St. Paul’s
cathedral and sees the three bridges (though possibly from a location
further west than London Bridge).
The locations Lydia visits or mentions are in green.
Win's "Wonderful Sitty" Tour
Win covers more area than Bramble or Lydia during her time in
London. The locations she mentions contrast both in location
and nature. We can clearly see the distinction in status
between places she goes with Tabitha (St James’s and The Tower) and
places she goes with fellow servant Humphrey Clinker (Sadler’s Wells).
The locations Win visits or mentions are in red.
We do not see the overlap of locations mentioned by Lydia and Win that
we see with Lydia and Matt, but from the places we know the ladies
visited, we can suppose that they have both seen similar parts of
London (for example, they have both been East, Lydia to St Paul’s and
the bridges, Win to the Tower). The mapping allows us to see
that they have both covered significant portions of London, so their
descriptions of London become more interesting to compare since their
equally enthusiastic descriptions of London reflect it more as a whole.
Matt Bramble's (Limited) Rambles
Though I feel that mapping the three characters travels in London is
useful to get a sense of their own social boundaries, the mapped
locations mentioned by Matt Bramble further our knowledge of the
work. In his first letter to Dr. Lewis upon arrival in
London, Bramble laments London’s growth since his last visit.
He labels the city an “unwieldy metropolis” where “Pimlico and
Knightsbridge are now almost joined to Chelsea and Kensington”
(Smollett 98). Reading this description, one gets a sense of
the countryside being taken over by new developments, but visualization
is required to understand why Bramble is concerned. The
perfect tool to visualize Bramble’s narrative is a map. When
these locations are mapped, a pattern emerges. The remaining
countryside is being circled and enclosed by these locations.
The map helps to depict the predatory aspects of London that Bramble
emphasises in his quotation “London is now gone out of town”
(98). Not only has London gone out of town, it is attacking
neighbouring settlements with its urban infrastructure.
The locations that Matt Bramble visits or mentions are
labelled in blue.
The mapping also helps to display Bramble’s disgust with the
city. Most of his travels stay in West London. He
stays in Ranelagh and limits his descriptions to the gardens there and
Vauxhall. He does not say positive things about either
location, but this is perhaps due more to his personality than to the
qualities of the spots. The one exception to Bramble’s
Western living seems to be his favourable mention of “the bridge at
Blackfriars,” located at the end of Fleet Street (98). This
mention indicates that Bramble does break free from the West End and
see more of London. The question becomes, why does he not
make more explicit mention of what he sees on this outing? He
goes on to criticise the city’s growth in general once again likening
it to: “an overgrown monster; which, like a dropsical head, will in
time leave the body and extremities without nourishment and support”
(97). The maps leave us with an overall impression
that Bramble does not want to enter the city, so either he doesn’t, or
he doesn’t bother commenting on the city when he does. He
leaves off his letter stating his intentions to shorten his stay in the
city, but it appears as though he is leaving without really seeing it.
Davis, Robert Gorham. Introduction. The Expedition of Humphry Clinker. By Tobias Smollett. San Francisco: Reinhart, 1950.
Flanders, W. Austin. "Urban Life and the Early Novel." The Country Myth: Motifs in the British Novel from Defoe to Smollett. Ed. H. George Hahn. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1990. 45-68.
Kahrl, George M. Tobias Smollett Traveler-Novelist. New York: Octagon Books, 1978.
Simpson, Kenneth. "Smollett, Tobias George (1721–1771)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 <http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/25947> 27 March 2009.
Smollett, Tobias. The Expedition of Humphry Clinker. Ed. Robert Gorham Davis. San Francisco: Reinhart, 1950.