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(06/03/2008) Tobias Smollett: Doctor Of Men & Manners by Lewis Mansfield Knapp. Princeton. 1949. Princeton University Press. keywords: Literature England Biography 18th Century. 362 pages.  

FROM THE PUBLISHER -

   With the single exception of the great Cham of Literature, there was from 1745 to 1771 no literary personality as independent, colorful, and versatile as Dr. Tobias Smollett. Before his untimely death, this Scottish doctor of men and manners had won wide acclaim as translator, historian, book reviewer, writer of travel literature, social satirist, and, above all, as one of the four leading novelists of his period. During the turbulent half-century after Smollett died in Italy, he was very widely read, not only in the British Isles, but also on the Continent and in America. In the Victorian era, of course, his vogue declined, along with that of other eighteenth-century luminaries. But in the past few decades, his reputation has increased. This is not to be wondered at, for all who enjoy the spirit of a dynamic personality and relish hilarious comedy, memorable characters, and incisive satire, may find in Smollett a goodly realm of gold. Moved by these considerations, I was attracted some twenty years ago by the challenge of building a definitive biography commensurate with Smollett's stature as a man and as a writer. I shall not detail here my adventures in this exacting undertaking. I must only assert that the vexations and drudgery involved in it have been far outweighed by the satisfactions with which I have been rewarded. In this preface, it is proper to summarize the central objectives and contributions of this biography. One obvious purpose has been to rectify factual and interpretative inaccuracies in former accounts of Smollett. What is more important, I have tried to be accurate in presenting and evaluating whatever new material is brought to light. Furthermore, I have made every effort to project a living personality vitalized by facts rather than by specious fictions. In significant respects a new portrait of Smollett is here unveiled, one considerably more complete, and, I believe more pleasing than former sketches have been. I have sought the truth about Smollett, an activity which necessitates the avoiding, as far as possible, of partial prepossessions and wishful thinking. The result is, I hope, what constitutes a more reliable likeness and a portrait freed from Victorian distortions. In general, the result is a rehabilitation of Smollett's personality. Finally, in the concluding chapter devoted to his contribution to the English novel, I have stressed what I consider to be his most enduring merits as a creative writer.' - from the preface by Lewis Mansfield Knapp.

 

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