The Expedition of Humphry Clinker is one of the great comic novels of the 18th century, the outstanding masterpiece of Tobias Smollett (1721–71), a prolific journalist, historian, editor and translator, whose ground-breaking fictional creations helped shape the modern novel.
Written in Italy during Smollett’s last illness, and published just months before his death from overwork, Humphry Clinker gives a riotous account of the misadventures of an eccentric ‘assemblage of originals’ as they embark on a misguided sightseeing tour of England and Scotland: former libertine Matthew Bramble, now a misanthropic hypochondriac; his sister, Tabitha, a shrewish old maid on the prowl for eligible bachelors; his nephew, Jery, a high-spirited Oxford graduate; his love-sick teenage niece, Lydia; and their simple-minded maid, Winifred Jenkins. When they are joined en route by Captain Obadiah Lismahago, an irascible Scot who has survived scalping at the hands of American Indians, and the titular hero, Humphry Clinker, an accident-prone stable-worker with a hidden talent for preaching, the stage is set for a bizarre period version of the disastrous family holiday.
Told entirely through the gossipy letters that Smollett’s characters write along the way, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker conjures up in vivid detail the sights, sounds – and smells – of the Georgian era, blending satirical portraits of recognisable historical figures and biting social commentary with hilarious fictions. Encounters with stool-obsessed physicians and reluctant highwaymen, hen-pecked husbands and practical-joking country squires, long-lost relatives and lovers-in-disguise sit alongside surprisingly modern concerns about battery hens, artificial white bread, and the question of Scottish independence. The result is a unique blend of the scatological, the poignant, the lyrical and the laugh-out-loud, and remains as fresh and entertaining today as when it first appeared nearly 250 years ago.
Smollett’s text is perfectly matched by Derrick Harris’s dynamic woodcuts that evoke 19th-century popular prints and add a witty, modern edge. The binding features the original paper jacket design from The Folio Society 1955 edition, while the patterned slipcase reproduces the original fifties binding. This new edition also includes an informative introduction by John Sutherland celebrating Smollett’s distinctive talent, and a map that allows us to trace the route of this extraordinary fictional ‘expedition’.