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‘Mercurious Spur’ in The Race

‘Mercurious Spur’ in The Race

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A while he paus’d revolving the disgrace,

And gath’ring all the horrors of his face;

Then rais’d his head, and turning to the sound,

Burst into bellowing, terrible and loud.

‘Hear my resolve, and first by G-d swear—

By Smollett, and his gods; who’er shall dare

With him this day for glorious fame to vie,

Sous’d in the bottom of the ditch shall lie;

And know, the world no other shall confess

Whilst I have crab-tree, life, or letter-press.’

Scar’d at the menace, authors fearful grew,

Poor Virtue trembled, and e’en Vice look’d blue.

From p. 266:

Smollett stood grumbling by the fatal ditch;

Hill call’d the Goddess whore, and Jones a bitch;

Each curs’d the partial judgement of the day,

And, greatly disappointed, sneaked away.


Philip Thicknesse on the Travels


From Philip Thicknesse, Observations on the Customs and Manners of the French

Nation. In a Series of Letters, 1766, pp. 90–1. This was reviewed by The

Critical Review unfavourably, and Thicknesse, blaming Smollett, returned

to his attack on Smollett and The Critical Review editors in his Useful Hints

To Those Who Make a Tour of France. 1768, (see passim). In his A Year’s

Journey Through France and Part of Spain, 2 vols, Dublin, 1777, Thicknesse

moderates his criticism of Smollett (see below, extract 2).


According to Mr Smollett’s account of a Nation improved, perhaps since Lord

Bolingbroke resided among them, a man may as well eat with the dogs of Greenland,

or drink urine with the civilized inhabitants of Kamschatka, as eat an olio of mortified

flesh, dirt and tobacco, with a Parisian of the present age. But I will venture to say, that

either the Doctor has kept very bad company, or his own ill state of health and want of

appetite, or both together, have been the means of warping his judgement, and

corrupting his own imagination. To read the account given of the King’s Bench Prison

in the History of Sir Launcelot Greaves, and that of a Journey Through France, a man would

be inclined to prefer a twelvemonth’s residence in that University, rather than live the

same time among the Hottentots of Paris or Nice; and yet I believe the author of that

romance is better able to give a just account of the King’s College1 in the Borough,

from three months residence there, than to give a character of a most extensive

kingdom from having resided eighteen months at Nice.


Could Dr Smollett rise from the dead, and sit down in perfect health, and good

temper, and read his travels through France and Italy, he would probably find most of his

anger turned upon himself. But, poor man! he was ill; and meeting with, what every

stranger must expect to meet, at most French inns, want of cleanliness, imposition, and

incivility; he was so much disturbed by those incidents, that to say no more of the

writings of an ingenious and deceased author, his travels into France, and Italy, are the

least entertaining, in my humble opinion, of all his works.



1 A reference to Smollett’s imprisonment in 1760 for the libel of Admiral Knowles.

Thicknesse, like Smollett, had served three months in the King’s prison, for libel.


Madame Riccoboni on Smollett’s Travels

14 November 1767

From The Private Correspondence of David Garrick, 2 vols, 1831–2, vol. II, p.

524. Garrick’s French correspondent here inveighs against nationalist

prejudice in Smollett’s Travels Through France and Italy, 1766. Here

translated from the French.

Smollett is a ‘charming author’ —a low knave who’s no better acquainted with the

mores of his own country than with those of France, and all of whose works are

loathsome—I said loathsome.


Oliver Goldsmith on Smollett’s Tears of Scotland


From The Beauties of English Poesy, selected by Oliver Goldsmith, 1767. In

his critical notes Goldsmith made this comment on Smollett’s poem.

This ode, by Dr Smollett, does rather more honour to the author’s feelings than his

taste. The mechanical part, with regard to numbers and language, is not so perfect as so

short a work as this requires; but the pathetic it contains, particularly in the last stanza

but one, is exquisitely fine.


Laurence Sterne on ‘Smelfungus’


From Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey, 2 vols, 1768, pp. 28–9, the famous

passage in which Sterne responds to the splenetic distemper of Smollett’s

Travels (see Sterne’s footnote.)

I pity the man who can travel from Dan to Beersheba, and cry, ’Tis all barren—and so it

is; and so is all the world to him who will not cultivate the fruits it offers. I declare, said

I, clapping my hands chearily together, that was I in a desert, I would find out

wherewith in it to call forth my affections—if I could not do better, I would fasten

them upon some sweet myrtle, or seek some melancholy cypress to connect myself to

—I would court their shade, and greet them kindly for their protection—I would cut

my name upon them, and swear they were the loveliest trees throughout the desert: if

their leaves withered, I would teach myself to mourn, and when they rejoiced, I would

rejoice along with them.

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 in the grand portico of the Pantheon—he was just coming out of it

—’Tis nothing but a huge cock pit,a said he—I wish you had said nothing worse of the

Venus of Medicis, 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 popped 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

flea’d alive, and bedeviled, 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


Mundungus, with an immense fortune, made the whole tour; going on from Rome

to Naples—from Naples to Venice—from Venice to Vienna—to Dresden, to Berlin,

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‘Mercurious Spur’ in The Race

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