Smollett’s Humphry Clinker: London

In his epistolary novel Humphry Clinker (1771) , Smollett shows his characters making contradictory comments on various aspects of London life, the jaundiced view of Matthew Bramble (the uncle) contrasting with the enthusiasm of his young relatives:


The bridges

The bridge at Blackfriars is a noble monument of taste and public spirit---I wonder how they stumbled upon a work of such magnificence and utility. (Matt. Bramble to Dr Lewis, 20 May).

Nor is the prospect by water less grand, and astonishing than that by land: you see three stupendous bridges, joining the opposite banks of a broad, deep, and rapid river; so vast, so stately, so elegant, that they seem to be the work of giants: betwixt them, the whole surface of the Thames is covered with small vessels, barges, boats, and wherries, passing to and fro; and below the three bridges, such a prodigious forest of masts, for miles together, that you would think all the ships in the universe were here assembled (Lydia Melford to Miss Laetitia Willis, 31 May).


The entertainments

What are the amusements at Ranelagh? One half of the company are following one another’s tails, in an eternal circle (Matt. Bramble to Dr Lewis, 20 May).

Ranelagh looks like the enchanted palace of a genie, adorned with the most exquisite performances of painting, carving, and gilding, enlightened with a thousand golden lamps, that emulate the noon-day sun; crowded with the great, the rich, the gay, the happy, and the fair; glittering with cloth of gold and silver, lace, embroidery, and precious stones ....

At nine o’clock, in a charming moon-light evening, we embarked at Ranelagh for Vauxhall, in a wherry,....this flutter was fully recompensed by the pleasures of Vauxhall; which I no sooner entered, than I was dazzled and confounded with the variety of beauties that rushed all at once upon my eye. (Lydia Melford to Miss Laetitia Willis, 31 May).

I was afterwards of a party at Sadler’s wells, where I saw such tumbling and dancing upon ropes and wires (Win. Jenkins to Mrs Mary Jones, 3 June).

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The learned societies

We are become members of the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, and have assisted at some of their deliberations, which were conducted with equal spirit and sagacity- (J.Melford to Sir Watkin Phillips, 5 June).

In my last, I mentioned my having spent an evening with a society of authors, who seemed to be jealous and afraid of one another (J.Melford to Sir Watkin Phillips, 10 June).


The markets

My cabbage, cauliflower, and ’sparagus in the country, are as much superior in flavour to those that are sold in Covent-garden, as my heath-mutton is to that of St. James’s-market; ....It must be owned, that Covent-Garden affords some good fruit; which, however, is always engrossed by a few individuals of over-grown fortune, at an exorbitant price (Matt. Bramble to Dr Lewis, 8 June).


Context in Humphry Clinker