Tobias George Smollett lived from 16 March 1721 to 17 September 1771. He was a Scottish author best known for picaresque novels like Roderick Random and Peregrine Pickle. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Smollett was born at Dalquhurn, north of Dumbarton. His father was a wealthy judge and after his schooling, Smollett attended Glasgow University, where he qualified as a surgeon. Always more interested in writing than in medicine, Tobias Smollett went to London in 1739 to try to make a living writing plays. This proved unsuccessful and instead he took a commission as a naval surgeon on board HMS Chichester for a voyage to Jamaica. Here he stayed for several years, marrying a wealthy Jamaican heiress, Anne Lascelles before returning to London in 1747 to set up a medical practice in Downing Street.
Smollett's first published work was a poem about the Battle of Culloden called The Tears of Scotland. But he first rose to prominence as a writer with the publication in 1748 of The Strange and Surprising Adventures of Captain Roderick Random. This was a picaresque novel (a novel describing the adventures of a roguish hero of low social class who lives by his or her wits in a corrupt society) that was also a satire of other picaresque novels of the day.
In 1750, Smollett gained his MD degree at Aberdeen University. He also travelled to France, a journey that provided the inspiration for his second successful novel, The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle. This was the story of the fortunes and misfortunes of an egotistical dandy, which gave a comic and caustic portrayal of 18th century European society.
Smollett moved briefly to Bath, before returning to London in 1753 to publish The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom. By now Smollett was recognised as a leading member of London's literary community alongside the likes of David Garrick, Oliver Goldsmith, Samuel Johnson and Laurence Sterne.
In 1755 Smollett published a translation of Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote, and in 1756 he became editor of The Critical Review. Between 1757 and 1765 Smollett wrote what he regarded as his major work, A Complete History of England, though during this period he also spent a short time in prison for libel, and published The Life and Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves.
Travels through France and Italy followed in 1766, and in 1769 he published The History and Adventures of an Atom, a view of English politics during the Seven Years' War masquerading as a story from ancient Japan. Smollett also visited Scotland, which provided some of the material for his last novel, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, published in 1771, the year in which he died from an intestinal disorder while visiting Italy.