Weasel is reading - Tobias Smollett

Travels through Italy and France, by Tobias Smollett, is a journal of a grumpy old man. He was about 45 when it was published, reasonably old for the time.

It's a very rich account of the Grand Tour in the mid Eighteenth Century, and one imagines Smollet as a sort of grumpy blogger, who is quite scathing about the French and French hospitality:

The weather was extremely hot when we entered Montpellier, and put up at the Cheval Blanc, counted the best auberge in the place, tho’ in fact it is a most wretched hovel, the habitation of darkness, dirt, and imposition. 
If a Frenchman is admitted into your family, and distinguished by repeated marks of your friendship and regard, the first return he makes for your civilities is to make love to your wife, if she is handsome; if not, to your sister, or daughter, or niece. If he suffers a repulse from your wife, or attempts in vain to debauch your sister, or your daughter, or your niece, he will, rather than not play the traitor with his gallantry, make his addresses to your grandmother; and ten to one, but in one shape or another, he will find means to ruin the peace of a family, in which he has been so kindly entertained. What he cannot accomplish by dint of compliment, and personal attendance, he will endeavour to effect, by reinforcing these with billets-doux, songs, and verses, of which he always makes a provision for such purposes. If he is detected in these efforts of treachery, and reproached with his ingratitude, he impudently declares, that what he had done was no more than simple gallantry, considered in France as an indispensible duty on every man who pretended to good breeding. Nay, he will even affirm, that his endeavours to corrupt your wife, or your daughter, were the most genuine proofs he could give of his particular regard for your family.
When I rose in the morning, and opened a window that looked into the garden, I thought myself either in a dream, or bewitched. All the trees were cloathed with snow, and all the country covered at least a foot thick. “This cannot be the south of France, (said I to myself) it must be the Highlands of Scotland!” At a wretched town called Muy, where we dined, I had a warm dispute with our landlord, which, however, did not terminate to my satisfaction.
All in all, the account of his travels is a fascinating insight into the man himself and the realities of travel in the 1760s.

Born in Dumbartonshire, Smollett was of course well known as a poet, novelist and journalist. He was also a naval surgeon and later a physician. George Orwell described him as 'Scotland's best novelist'.

I have not yet read Roderick Random or Peregrine Pickle, but after enjoying the relatively easy style and light touch of the Travels, I will.

1 comment:

Jim Baxter said...

Good, funny stuff. That's the kind of restrained outrage that can only come of having your long-held, dim view of humanity confirmed yet again.