The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, Tobias Smollett's last published novel and most celebrated work, appeared in June 1771, three months before the author's death. A classic in the history of the English novel, it takes the form of a collection of letters written by various members of Mr. Matthew Bramble's family (for whom Humphry Clinker is a general servant) during their eight months of travel in England and Scotland in the 1760s. The wanderings of the Bramble party result in a series of amusing adventures and episodes, unfolding within the main plot in which the eccentric and contentious characters--"originals" as Bramble's nephew calls them--discover the sources of true happiness.
In this work, Smollett realized two long-standing artistic goals--a harmonious fusion of satire and comedy and, through the deliberate intertwining of historical and contrived details, a portrayal of the world as constructed from both fiction and fact. In achieving the latter, Smollett was aided by the novel's form, for the epistolary style of travel books in his day set a precedent for the extensive commentary on incidents, experiences, people, and places in Humphry Clinker and allowed him to relate the same stories through multiple points of view.
Much of the continuing appeal of the novel can be traced to the gossipy insights found in its mass of historical, biographical, economic, political, social, geographical, and topographical details. One meets, for example, Smollett's version of such historical personages as William Pitt, James Quin, and the Duke of Newcastle, as well as fictionalized versions of Smollett's own friends and enemies. Even minor characters are often taken directly from history. In addition, the book includes numerous quotations from and allusions to the Bible, earlier and contemporary literature, the Book of Common Prayer, medical matter, and proverbial lore.
This edition of Humphry Clinker includes illustrations by George Cruikshank and Thomas Rowlandson and is the first scholarly edition to feature a comprehensive introduction, exhaustive textual editing, and detailed notes that cite passages from Smollett's nonfictional works and the works of his contemporaries to analyze the mass of allusions and references in the novel. Thomas R. Preston's introduction discusses the composition, publication, and early reception of Humphry Clinker, the crucial importance of money in the narrative and its revelation of character, and Smollett's use of language and dialect.