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A Journey Through the Nation’s Body: Tobias Smollett’s The Expedition of Humphry Clinker

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A Journey Through the Nation’s Body: Tobias Smollett’s The Expedition of Humphry Clinker
  A J OURNEY  T HROUGH   THE  N ATION ’ S  B ODY : T OBIAS  S MOLLETT ’ S  «T HE  E XPEDITION   OF  H UMPHRY  C LINKER  » A BSTRACT Il saggio offre brevi considerazioni sull’efcacia della metafora corporea per una let -tura su diversi livelli di The Expedition of Humphry Clinker  . Nello specico ci si sof  - fermerà (i) sul uido statuto generico del romanzo e sulla sua posizione all’interno del corpus  del romanzo inglese settecentesco; (ii) sull’atto di scrittura e lettura del “corpo della nazione” considerato in relazione alla struttura complessiva del romanzo; e (iii) sulla relazione città/campagna per come si congura nella descrizione di Londra che, si suggerisce, può essere letta in relazione The English Malady  di George Cheyne. Sia  per la sua Scottishness  sia per la pratica della «medicina per corrispondenza» ( W ILD   2006), Cheyne rappresenta un interlocutore privilegiato per comprendere diversi as - petti di The Expedition of Humphry Clinker  . In this essay, I will offer some brief considerations on how the bodily metaphor is  particularly apt to a critical reading of Tobias Smollett’s The Expedition of Humphry Clinker   on several and diverse levels. More specically, I will focus (i) on the uid generic status of the novel and on its position within the corpus  of eighteenth-centu - ry British ction; (ii) on the writing and reading of the nation’s body considered in its relationship with the structure of the novel; and (iii) on the city/country relationship as it emerges in the description of London, which, I suggest, can be read in parallel with George Cheyne’s considerations in The English Malady . In fact, as I will argue, for both his Scottishness and his practice of «medicine-by-post» ( W ILD  2006), Cheyne is a key gure to investigate several aspects of  Humphry Clinker  . Published in 1771, Tobias Smollett’s last – and most famous – novel The Expedition of Humphry Clinker   has recently prompted renewed critical interest. The new critical edition, edited by Evan Gottlieb and published in 2015 by Norton, bears witness to the multiplicity of critical responses that Smollett’s novel has continued to elicit, which have addressed issues ranging from Scottishness in a renewed perspective ( G OTTLIEB   2005; R  OTHSTEIN  1982) through the relevance of alternative geographies to transcultur  -ation ( S USSMANN  1994) and remediation as a way of addressing the peculiar epistolary form of the novel ( M ANN  2012-13). These interpretations all provide new elements to address the medical and bodily subtext of the novel, which remains a central issue in studies on Smollett and on  Humphry Clinker more in particular, due to Smollett’s ac - quaintance with medical discourse and practice. In this essay, I will offer some brief considerations on how the bodily metaphor is  particularly apt to a critical reading of the novel on several and diverse levels. More specically, I will focus (i) on the uid generic status of the novel and on its position within the corpus  of eighteenth-century British ction; (ii) on the writing and read - Acme 2/2017 p. 39-49 - DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.13130/2282-0035/9355  ing of the nation’s body considered in its relationship with the structure of the novel; and (iii) on the city/country relationship as it emerges in the description of London, which, I suggest, can be read in parallel with George Cheyne’s considerations in The  English Malady (1733). In fact, as I will argue, for both his Scottishness and his prac - tice of «medicine-by-post» ( W ILD  2006), Cheyne is a key gure to investigate several aspects of  Humphry Clinker  . I. T HE   CORPUS   OF   FICTION , THE   BODY   OF   THE    NOVEL The uid generic status of Smollett’s last novel has long been troubling critics. 1  A kind of “strange body” within the corpus  of eighteenth-century ction, The Expedition of  Humphry Clinker   has been ascribed to diverse novelistic genres, as John V. Price has well summarized in his study on the structure of the novel: «Smollett has fused ele - ments of the epistolary novel, the travel book or travelogue, the seventeenth-century “character sketch”, the spiritual autobiography, and even the expository essay» ( P RICE   1973, p. 8). Furthermore, the novel has been labeled as “picaresque”, on account of the «device of a journey motif used as a vehicle for social satire» ( S PECTOR   1968, p. 128, quoted in P RICE  1973, p. 17). Yet, as Price objects, one is left to wonder who the  pícaro is, since no character really qualies as such. Loretta Innocenti ([1997] 1999,  p. 201) has focused on the importance of Jery Melford’s function as both «point of view and of uttering», thus placing the novel within the humoristic 2  tradition. In more recent times, Wayne Wild has suggested that  Humphry Clinker also be read as an in - stance of «medicine-by-post», which he denes as «the eighteenth-century practice of medical consultation through the exchange of letters between patient and physician» ( W ILD  2006, p. 7), whose main exponents were James Jurin, William Cullen and Bath  physician George Cheyne. Therefore, as John V. Price notices, «one occasionally suspects that iconoclastic Tobias Smollett loaded his work with several literary forms and formulas in order to combat a process of labelling and categorizing» ( P RICE  1973, p. 8). Yet, one also wonders how this “combat” is carried on and what kind of “narrative contract” ( R  OSA  2008) 3  Smollett offers his readers. While Smollett’s use of the “editor” is perfectly in 1   In the very same way, Smollett himself has often been a problem for historians and critics of the novel, who place him neither with the founding fathers of the novel nor with Sterne. 2   I am using the word “humoristic” as used in S ANTOVETTI  2004, p. 193 to account for the tradi- tion of modern novel writing founded by Sterne. No coincidence that the adjective, seldom used in English literature on the subject, has become a sort of keyword in Italian scholarship through the work of Giancarlo Mazzacurati, author of  Effetto Sterne: la narrazione umoristica in Italia da Fos-colo a Pirandello (1990) as well as translator and editor of the Italian edition of  Humphry Clinker  ( S MOLLETT  1987). 3   Often strategically placed at the beginning of the novel and entrusted to the novel’s editor, the “narrative contract” presents the conditions under which the act of reading should take place. The narrative contract performs therefore a key function in terms of genre as shapes the reader’s horizon of expectations (see R OSA  2008, p. 11). 40 S ARA  S ULLAM  keeping with the tradition of the novel in the wake of Defoe and Richardson ( M AYER    1992), at the same time, in the very same way as he does challenge the novelistic tra - dition that associates the name in the title to that of the actual protagonist of the novel (Clinker, as we know, is not   the main character, the book is not   about him), Smollett also challenges the tradition of the single editor, the gure often in charge of laying out the narrative contract for the reader. In fact,  Humphry Clinker   features two editors: Reverend Dustwich, who has come into possession (although he will not say how) of the letters, which he has decided to edit and have published, and publisher Davis, who, after refusing Dustwich nancial conditions and complaining that «Writing is all a lottery», that «The taste of the town is so changeable» voices his skepticism about  publishing the letters as travel literature: «Then there have been so many letters upon travels lately published—What between Smollett’s, Sharp’s, Derrick’s, Thicknesse’s, Baltimore’s, and Baretti’s, together with Shandy’s Sentimental Travels , the public seems to be cloyed with that kind of entertainment» ( S MOLLETT  [1771] 1984, pp. 2-3). The bookseller thus invites a reading beyond the most obvious one, suggested by the title of the novel and stresses the “openness” of Smollett’s last novel. Beside the “doubled editor”, however, there is another relevant detail in the two let - ters that open the novel: for Reverend Dustwich, a Welshman like Matthew Bramble, has physically met the Scot Lismahago at a certain point, after the conclusion of the story narrated in the letters. In fact, he has had a violent confrontation with him during a dinner and does not hesitate to dene him as a «vagrant foreigner as may be justly suspected of disaffection to our happy constitution, in church and state» ( S MOLLETT   [1771] 1984, p. 1) 4 . Thus, after the reference to a minor character in the title of the novel, in its the very rst pages we are introduced to another minor character, and one who, just like Clinker, does not write any of the letters but is given, at least in these two letters, considerable attention. This fact undermines, right from the beginning, the “leading” voices of the character who actually get to write the letters, thus inviting the reader to question the relationship between the written (re)construction of a character and his/her physical existence, that is to question issues of embodiment connected to the representation of the nation’s body and it diverse “components”. As Sharon Alker observes, «Through the complicity of a Welsh clergyman, and a London bookseller, who appears to be Anglo-Welsh, the letters that explore reconciliation between the Anglo-Welsh and the Scots have been appropriated and transformed into a commodi - ty» ( A LKER   2002, p. 99). The commodity is the very book the reader is about to peruse. 4   From his very rst appearance, Lismahago is the “strange body”, both physically (he has been mutilated during his war days) and spiritually (both Dustwich and Jery dene him as a Jesuit in dis - guise: Respectively «he is no better than a Jesuit», p. 1 and «Mr. Lismahago answered with a sort of Jesuitical reserve » , p. 192). Dustwich’s denition of Lismahago as «vagrant foreigner», more -over, rings a Shakespearian bell to the reader’s ear, who is reminded of Othello, the « extravagant and wheeling stranger » . In fact, this association is conrmed further on in the novel: when Lisma - hago tells his story, «Tabitha did seriously incline her ear ; – indeed, she seemed to be taken with the same charms that captivated the heart of Desdemona, who loved the Moor  for the dangers he had past  »  ( S MOLLETT  1984, p. 194). 41 A J OURNEY  T HROUGH   THE  N ATION ’ S  B ODY  A nal remark has to be made on the puzzling title of the novel: critics have already commented on the use of the word “expedition”, in its double meaning of “journey” and “setting in motion, liberation”. Yet, the word also has another meaning, which was already in use during the eighteenth century: “expedition” also meant “the action of issuing or sending out ofcial documents” ( OED ). The letters printed in the novel are, indeed, no ofcial documents: still, the suggestion of a “character” being issued inasmuch as he/she is written about is denitely relevant in a novel that, from its very rst pages, demands from the reader the ability to move back and forth between the different levels of the narration, as well as between the body, they action of writing it and the one of reading it. 5  The considerations on the opening letters of the novel have highlighted the crucial nexus between genre, the diverse voices present in the novel, writing and questions of nationhood. I will now focus on some examples to explore this nexus further, and to show how structural and formal elements of the novel evidence it. In particular, the following paragraphs I will focus on (i) the “national theme”; (ii) the genre of “medicine by post” to address the relation between the country and the city. II. T HE    NATIONAL   THEME The Expedition of Humphry Clinker has often been read as a novel that negotiates the complex relationship between England, Wales and Scotland in the aftermath of the Act of Union. A Scot in London, editor for The Briton , propagandist for king George III and the ministry of the Scottish Lord Bute, and editor of the inuential Critical Re-view , Smollett was a keen supporter of the Union (see S ORENSEN  2000, pp. 104-138). In  Humphry Clinker he addresses the issue of Scottish anti-prejudice in order to debunk it. As William Franke (1972, p. 97) has convincingly shown,  Humphry Clinker is in- deed a «party novel to vindicate the Scots», as Horace Walpole had noticed. Franke shows how such a claim is supported by the very structure of the novel: the two main leading voices «usually differ in England. What amuses Melford, annoys Bramble. In Scotland, however, the opinion coincide» ( F RANKE  1972, p. 100), since the main func - tion of the “Scottish part” of the novel is to provide information on Scotland. Even 5   On this aspect see Mann, who starts from the double meaning of remediation as both “remedy” (cure) and “mediation” of a medium: «While the epistolary novel is by 1771 already a familiar form of remediation […]  Humphry Clinker  makes the reader hyperaware of the letter’s status as remedi- ation by having each letter shift, without response, to another letter written by a different member of the Bramble party. This strategy disrupts attempts to read the letters as forming a seamless narrative progress; further, it makes visible the remediation of the “srcinal” correspondence, which has been reorganized and transferred to print »  ( M ANN  2012-13, p. 380). While Mann focuses on the novel’s «signs of its [own] mediation» ( M ANN  2012-13, p. 380), focusing on the episode in which Launcelot Grieve is mentioned, and on the one in which Smollett himself makes his appearance, I think that the same procedure can apply to the novel’s complicated and demanding beginning. Moreover, in this connection I think that it is relevant to notice that Clinker delivers sermons, which brings our attention on orality vs.  letter writing. 42 S ARA  S ULLAM  more signicant, Franke remarks, is that the letters reporting the initial conversations with Lismahago, which happen at an inn before the group reaches Scotland and main - ly deal with Scottish culture and language, are a group by themselves (1972, p. 101). These letters are all but one-sidedly ironical and introduce a shifting and multi-layered attitude towards Lismahago and his “Scottishness”. In the wake of Franke’s contribu - tion, Eric Rothstein has shown how even the bodily characterization of the same Hum -  phry Clinker – namesake of the novel – is heavily connected to the issue of Scottish - ness. 6  In more recent times, Sharon Alker (2002) has shown how the choice of Wales as home to both Bramble and Reverend Dustwich is a way of nding an in-between space to mediate between Englishness and Scottishness at all levels in the text: Wales is not Scotland but it is equally distant from London ( F RANTA  2016, p. 783). Last but not least, Evan Gottlieb, editor of the latest critical edition of the novel, has provided further evidence on Smollett’s «scotophilia» ( G OTTLIEB  2005) by mapping the phil - osophical underpinnings (Hume and Smith) of the Scottish discourse in the novel.  Humphry Clinker   has been therefore well established, within the eighteenth-century novelistic canon, as a key text for the literary discourse on the new British Nation, a text negotiating the very shape and features of its body. In this connection, I think two more relevant aspects have to be highlighted. The rst one is structural: if we look at the three-fold structure of the novel, we notice that Volume I  covers Clifton and the Hot Well, and Bath, that is places of cure and leisure, and ends with the company’s arrival in London. Volume II  is set between London and the North, with signicant stopovers in Harrigate and Scarborough, while Volume III   is mainly set in Scotland, apart from the nal letters, which, signicantly, bear no in - dication of place, as if it was meant to establish a universal place where social order is somehow restored after   the exploration of the nation’s body. Such division also highlights the key role played by the city (London, Edinburgh) in gaining a view of the nation’s body, yet a view that, as we will see shortly, is not free of contradictions. No coincidence, then, that writing the nation emerges as a key concern in a crucial site of the novel, that is, on occasion of Jery’s visit, in London, to the house of Mr. S__, Smollett himself. Jery’s description of a Sunday lunch at S__’s can be read as a mise en abyme  of the novel’s attempt to “write the nation”: in fact, the company of the «unfortunate brothers of the quill» ( S MOLLETT  1984, p. 124) is com - posed of various nations and dialects […] We had the Irish brogue, the Scotch accent; […] The Scotchman gives lectures on the pronunciation of the English language, which he is now publishing by subscription. The Irishman is a political writer, and goes by the name of my Lord Potatoe. […] Opposite to me sat a Piedmontese, who had obliged the public with a humourous satire, intituled, The Balance of the English Poets , a performance which evinced the his intimacy with the great modesty and the taste of the author, and, in particular, his intimacy with the el - egancies of the English language ( S MOLLETT  1984, pp. 126-127). 6   Rothstein maintains that to readers of Smollett’s time, Clinker’s and Lismahago’s «bare buttocks »   would surely remember the staple images used by anti-Scottish propaganda. 43 A J OURNEY  T HROUGH   THE  N ATION ’ S  B ODY
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