Title: Smollett and the sordid knaves
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00098866/00001
 Material Information
Title: Smollett and the sordid knaves political satire in the adventures of an atom
Physical Description: vi, 153 leaves : ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Douglass, Wayne Joseph, 1946-
Publication Date: 1976
Copyright Date: 1976
Subject: History -- Anecdotes -- Great Britain -- George II, 1727-1760   ( lcsh )
History -- Humor -- Great Britain   ( lcsh )
English thesis Ph. D
Dissertations, Academic -- English -- UF
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Thesis: Thesis--University of Florida.
Bibliography: Bibliography: leaves 148-152.
General Note: Typescript.
General Note: Vita.
Statement of Responsibility: by Wayne Joseph Douglass.
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Bibliographic ID: UF00098866
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: alephbibnum - 000178920
oclc - 03141281
notis - AAU5434


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Many thanks to:

Dr. Melvyn New, who must have wondered at times if he still had

a student to advise. In directing this study, he tried to get me to

learn, as J. V. Cunningham phrases it, "not what to say,/ But how

the saying must be said."

Dr. Aubrey Williams, who served on my committee and who read and

returned revisions with great promptness when I was faced with a


Dr. Douglas Bonneville, who was on my committee from the begin-


Dr. Richard Brantley and Dr. James Twitchell, who agreed to serve

on the committee toward the end.

My parents, whose love and support despite the exasperations I

must have caused make them admirable illustrations of what Matthew

Bramble calls "the prejudice of blood."

Dr. Paul Petlewski, who knows how it feels, and Mrs. Judy Watson,

who did me a big favor when I needed one.

Mrs. Charlotte Bannister, whose efforts to type this manuscript

before the deadline were truly heroic.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS .......................................

ABSTRACT ..............................................




NO.ES ...... ........................
NOTES ..................................

CHAPTER I SMOLLETT'S POLITICS .................... 13

NOTES ........................... 48

CHAPTER II ATOMS AND POLITICS ..................... 52

NOTES ........................... 68

CHAPTER III ALLEGORY AND EMBLEM .................... 70

NOTES ........................... 103


NOTES ........................... 119

CHAPTER V VALUES AND NORMS ....................... 121

NOTES ............................ 146

LIST OF REFERENCES ................................... 148

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................... 153



Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate Council
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements
for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Wayne Joseph Douglass

August, 1976

Chairman: Melvyn New
Major Department: English

The History and Adventures of an Atom is Tobias Smollett's

vitriolic attack on English politics and politicians from the perspec-

tive of his conservative political philosophy, as expressed in The

History of England and his political journalism. Smollett does not

conform to the stereotype of the Tory as a Jacobite, an enemy of lib-

erty and an advocate of unlimited royal prerogative. Rather, he aligns

himself with the independent country gentlemen, who were suspicious of

the central government as the source of foreign involvements and the

wars that went with them, defense expenditures and the taxes that went

with them; and a reluctance to see agriculture displaced in favor of

commerce as the staple of the British economy. The only remedy for

England's ills, he suggests in The Briton, is a Patriot King, who will

rule for the good of all the people and whom he sees embodied in

George III.

Smollett's satire employs the nonhuman narrator, the Atom, to

evoke the malign associations of Epicureanism. The Age saw Epicureanism

as contributing to the decline of great states, like Athens and Rome,

by undermining public virtue and encouraging a selfish, effeminate

luxury. In the Atom, the Duke of Newcastle embodies all of the vices

of Epicureanism: he is a glutton, an effeminate coward, a statesman

motivated only by the pursuit of his selfish pleasures.

Smollett attacks England through allegory, using as his vehicle

incidents from the history of Japan to expose the danger of the shift

in power from the King to a powerful Prime Minister. The object of

this attack is William Pitt, who becomes in Smollett's eyes a greater

tyrant than Robert Walpole. Smollett also uses traditional political

icons from the propaganda of his time-such as the puppet master, the

hydra, and the quack-to attack Bute as an incompetent politician and

William Pitt as an evil demagogue appealing to the mob.

In his analysis of Pitt's control over the mob, Smollett draws

from the same tradition used by Swift to attack enthusiastic preachers.

Like them, Pitt claims a direct inspiration for his political programs

and raises himself to the status of a god in the eyes of the people.

He uses words to confuse rather than enlighten them, and he feeds them

a diet of yeast to intoxicate them to an enthusiastic frenzy. Smollett

also attacks Lord Bute as a political enthusiast who has converted

himself into thinking that he is a martyr.

The positive norms and values which are used to judge England

are difficult to find in the Atom because of the bleakness of Smollett's

vision. A reference to the philosopher Cebes evokes a tradition derived

from Prodicus, which sees life offering a choice between pleasure and

virtue. Applying this standard to politics, the Atom explores the

disastrous consequences of the choice of pleasure. The path of virtue

is better embodied in Smollett's other works of the 1760s, particularly

Launcelot Greaves and Humphry Clinker. In these works, Smollett

embodies virtue in the country gentleman, the beatus vir of Horace,

living independently on his happy rural seat. Because England has

abandoned these traditional values, she is prey to the politics of

faction and demagoguery which brings her to the verge of destruction

in the Atom.


The critical neglect of Tobias Smollett's History and Adventures

of an Atom is probably caused in part by the absence of any external

evidence that it was written by him. Published anonymously in April,

1769 -apparently as an All Fool's Day present to the English people-

the Atom was never acknowledged by Smollett. The first attribution of

the book to him came in the London Chronicle immediately upon publication:

"This work, which is attributed to the author of Roderick Random, is a

satirical political history of the public transactions, and of the

characters and conduct of some great men in a certain kingdom, to which

the author has given the name of Japan, during the late and present

reigns."2 The editor of the 1777 edition of Smollett's Plays and Poems

did not list it as one of his works, but the editor of the 1790 edition

of his works did.3 Since that time literary tradition has assigned the

Atom to Smollett, and the book has now been canonized by its inclusion

in the Iowa scholarly edition of his works.4

Although it is not the purpose of this study to prove that Smollett

wrote the Atom, I hope that such a conclusion becomes inevitable during

the course of the argument. In his later works Smollett developed the

habit of using the same examples-usually culled from his reading for

the History of England and his editorial compilations-to illustrate the

same points in much the same choice of words. There are simply too many

echoes of other Smollett passages in the Atom for it to have been written

by anyone else. Here are two examples which have thus far gone unnoticed.

During a digression on witchcraft in the Atom, Smollett brings up "the

famous trial of Urban Grandier, canon of Loudun in France, who was duly

convicted of magic, upon the depositions of the devils, Astaroth,

Eusas, Celsus, Acaos, Cedon, Asmodeus, Alix, Zabulon, Nepthalim, Cham,

Uriel, and Achas."5 In his edition of Voltaire, Smollett wrote the

following note about Father Grandier: "He was brought to his trial,

and found guilty on the evidence of the following devils, Astaroth, of

the order of the Seraphim, and chief of the possessing demons, Easas,

Celsus, Acaos, Cedon, and Asmodeus, of the order of the thrones; Alex,

Zabulon, Nephthalim, Cham, Uriel, and Achas, of the order of principali-

ties; in other words, by the Ursulines, supposed to be possessed by these

devils." The order of the devils is the same in both instances; there

are only some minor differences in spelling, probably typographical.

Similar esoteric lore is contained in the second example, taken

from a digression on kicking in the Atom. Smollett declares that the

French have an aversion to kicking because they are subject to the piles:

This is so truly the case, that they have no less than two
saints to patronize and protect the individuals afflicted with
this disease. One is St. Fiacre, who was a native of the
kingdom of Ireland. He presides over the blind piles. The
other is a female saint, Haemorrhoissa, and she comforts those
who are distressed with the bleeding piles. (380)

This passage is an elaboration of a similar one in the Travels

Through France and Italy: "Some suppose Veronica to be the same with

St. Haemorrhoissa, the patroness of those who are afflicted with the

piles, who make their joint invocations to her and St. Fiacre, the son

of a Scotch king, who lived and died a hermit in France." Why Smollett

decided to change St. Fiacre's nationality is a mystery, but we can feel

fairly safe in assuming the appearance of both Saints in these two works

is not merely a coincidence.

Smollett's satire in both of these examples is directed at one

of his favorite targets, French superstition, so it is not surprising

that he should use the same illustrations. There are many similar

parallel passages in the Atom, and these will be pointed out throughout

this study.

The critics have not been kind to the Atom. Most Smollett

scholars dismiss it in a sentence or two and seem to be most offended

by the ferocity of the attack on specific politicians. David Hannay

terms it "mere animal nastiness." Lewis Melville calls it "a dull

book written by a man incited to venom by severe ill health."9 Lewis

Knapp says it is "violent and unpleasant," an opinion echoed by

Laurence Brander, who notes its "concentrated virulence." Alan D.

McKillop describes it as "a coarse roman a clef whose only point is

political satire."11

Despite these low opinions, the Atom has received some scholarly

attention, but it has been confined to suggesting sources and analogues.

James R. Foster has made a circumstantial case for Smollett's authorship

by linking the attitudes expressed in the Atom to Smollett's political

writing in The Briton; Louis Martz has examined the influence of Smol-

lett's editorial work on the Universal History; and Arnold Whitridge has

concentrated on the historical accuracy of the character portraits.12

It is no exaggeration to say that the only literary criticism of the

Atom has been Ronald Paulson's three page discussion in Satire and the

Novel in Eighteenth Century England.13 Paulson's opinions are important

and they will be referred to later in this study.

Some scholars have declared that the Atom is important for an

understanding of certain aspects of Smollett's career. In an excellent

consideration of Smollett as historian, Donald Greene writes that "The

History and Adventures of an Atom . needs to be studied carefully

along with The History of England in any study of Smollett's political

career (if indeed Smollett wrote The Atom)."14 Robert Donald Spector

maintains that the book has to be considered for any proper assessment

of Smollett's literary career:

It is of some importance to be able to identify the Atom
as Smollett's. Written at a time when Smollett was sup-
posed to be growing milder and turning completely away
from the picaresque tradition, the book retains all the
old vitality and picaresque techniques. From Roderick
Random to Humphry Clinker there is, therefore, a con-
sistency in Smollett's fictional world that has some-
times been obscured by criticism of his final novel;
and the Atom is a warning to th e who choose to see
a marked dichotomy in his work.'J

Political satires like the Atom are almost guaranteed critical

neglect because critics find only topical or local interest in them.

A modern writer of political satire, Philip Roth, sums up the situation

very well:

Political satire isn't a kind of writing that lasts.
Though satirists by and large deal with enduring social
and political problems, their comic appeal lies in the
use they make of the situation at that moment. It's
unlikely that reading even the very best satiric works
of another era we feel anything like the glee or the
outrage experienced by a contemporary audience.
Subleties of wit and malice are wholly lost over the
years, and we're left to enjoy the broadest, least

timebound aspects of the work, and to hunt through footnotes
in order to make connections and draw inferences that are
the teeth and claws of this sort of writing.16

According to Roth, there is only one way to escape the trap of topi-

cality and enter into the realm of literature: "The trick, apparently,

is to turn yourself from a proper noun into an adjective, and the best

way to accomplish that is to die." He cites Swift and Rabelais as

having accomplished this transformation. It is unlikely, however, that

such a fate awaits Smollett. Whenever critics search for the appro-

priate adjective to describe the Atom, it is inevitably "Swiftian."18

Smollett, it seems, is doomed to a reputation as just one more seer

of excremental visions.

The topical nature of political satire should not be held against

it, for it is the very nature of all satire to be topical. Edward

Rosenheim, Jr., in fact, defines satire as

an attack upon discernible, historically authentic
particulars. The "dupes" or victims of punitive
satire are not mere fictions. They, or the objects
which they represent, must be, or have been, plainly
existent in the world of reality; they must, that is,
possess genuine historical identity.1l

The survival of satire thus becomes problematic; later readers are likely

to enjoy the work for reasons other than the delight in the attack on

historical particulars. As Rosenheim expresses it, "when . the

historical identity of a satiric victim pales or disappears with time,

the satiric quality of the work diminishes accordingly and its continued

survival comes to depend upon facts, whether accidental or artistic,

which are extrinsic to its original satiric character." Rosenheim

goes on to say that the task of examining satirical writing is more

difficult than the study of other kinds of literature:

The artist whose audience is particularized, whose mis-
sion is limited by historical circumstances, and whose
motives are of the same genuine but ephemeral sort which
most of us share most of the time is probably harder to
understand and admire than is the writer whose "message"
is transparently intended for posterity. But he is none
the less an artist, for all that. If we are prepared to
understand, if not necessarily to admire him, let us
begin on his own terms.21

Rosenhelm's words can serve as the epigraph to this study, the task of

which is to understand Smollett's mission in the Atom as he understood

it. Only then can we ask the correct critical questions in order to

assess accurately the value of his work.

One very important question is, "What kind of satire did Smollett

like to write?" Rosenheim is again helpful, with his distinction between

"persuasive" and "punitive" satire. Persuasive satire, according to

Rosenheim, is highly rhetorical and "may truly 'expose' evils or

infirmities hitherto unrecognized by its audience; it may elicit blame,

employing any of countless intellectual or emotional strategies, for

individuals, groups, institutions, or ideas; it may urge its audience

to future action in some measure hostile, against the object under
attack."22 In punitive satire, on the other hand,

The object under satiric treatment emerges, to be sure,
in an unfavorable light, but it is a light which is
accepted a prior by the audience. No new judgment is
invited; no course of action is urged; no novel informa-
tion is produced. The audience, rather, is asked chiefly
to rejoice in the heaping of opprobrium, ridicule, or
fancied punishment upon an object of whose culpability
they are already thoroughly convinced.23

These are not meant to be mutually exclusive categories, but rather the

two extremes of a satiric spectrum on which particular satires can be

located. Some satires are examples of both categories at the same

time. Rosenheim cites the passage describing the rope-dancing ability

of Flimnap, the Lilliputian treasurer in Gulliver's Travels, who is

meant to represent Sir Robert Walpole. According to Rosenheim, to call

Walpole a "rope-dancer" is either a "mere epithet" or an "apt epitome,"

depending on the reader's willingness to accept the attack.24

If we apply these distinctions to Smollett's work, it becomes

clear that his satire is punitive. He is fond of heaping opprobrium

on his satiric victim and he is often content with mere epithet rather

than apt epitome. Sometimes the punitive nature of his satire becomes

a literal event in his fictions; some of his satirist-heroes, like

Roderick Random and Peregrine Pickle, actually mete out physical

punishment to their victims. It is the assumption of the audience's

a priori agreement, however, which best describes Smollett's work.

His satire seldom employs the more elaborate rhetorical strategies,

especially the sophisticated use of the persona described by Maynard

Mack in "The Muse of Satire."25 If Matt Bramble's denunciations of

the beau monde seem excessive, for example, it is because little effort

is made to persuade the reader that the criticism is just. Sometimes

Smollett miscalculates his audience's willingness to agree; in fact,

Ronald Paulson sees Smollett's literary career as a search for a proper

spokesman for his satire, one who would be agreeable to his audience.

One lamentable consequence of Smollett's penchant for punitive satire

has been the attribution of the character traits of his heroes-usually

the less agreeable ones-to Smollett himself, a tendency Paul-Gabriel

Bouce calls "inverted autobiography."26

There is no need to find a psychological explanation for Smollett's

preference for punitive satire. There is a long literary tradition from

Juvenal's saeva indignatio to the railing satyr-satirist of Elizabethan

satire, who flaunted the artlessness and anger of his attack as a

badge of his sincerity. Even more applicable to Smollett's case perhaps

is the tradition of Scottish satire, which is almost exclusively
punitive, its ferocity deriving from its origins in the magical curse.2

Vivian Mercier gives a good description of the Irish poetry of personal

abuse, which he compares to the Scots flying, a form of the debate in

which the satirist and an adversary heap invectives-usually excre-

mental-upon each other:

Such poems are as tiresome to the modern reader as the
Scots "flytings," for the victim of such satire is not
allowed to retain any individuality; it would be impos-
sible for any human being to display all the blemishes
assigned to him, so that the ridicule of known foibles
cannot be. the purpose of such lampoons. If the sati-
rists are in earnest, they must desire to wound rather
than to arouse laughter or punish wickedness.28

Mercier is speaking of verse written in the Middle Ages, but the

ferocity of Scottish satire was undiminished in the eighteenth century,

as the following passage written by James Boswell suggests:

The difference between satire in London and in Scotland
is this: In London you are not intimately known so the
satire is thrown at you from a distance, and however keen,
does not tear and mangle you. In London the attack on
character is clean boxing. In Scotland it is grappling.
They tear your hair, get you down in the mire, and not
only hurt but disfigure and debase you.29

The fierce and personal nature of Smollett's satire can thus be explained

by reference to this tradition of which Smollett, proud Scot that he was,

was surely aware.

The much more difficult question of Smollett's political opinions

is so complicated that it will be the topic of the first chapter of

this study. Smollett's political position can be ascertained from his

historical writing and journalism, but it has been oversimplified by

scholars who have termed him a Tory. Smollett was a political conserva-

tive, to be sure, but his opinions do not conform to the stereotype of

the Tory as a Jacobite, an enemy of liberty,and an advocate of unlimited

royal prerogative.

After discussing Smollett's political attitudes, the remainder

of my study will be devoted to an extensive examination of The Adventures

of an Atom. First, the choice of a nonhuman narrator, the Atom, will

be considered, as well as the Epicurean associations implied in such a

choice. Smollett draws upon a long tradition of historians and thinkers

who associated Epicureanism with the decline of great states to imply

that England is on the verge of dissolution.

Secondly, Smollett's use of allegory and emblematic imagery will

be discussed. The allegory derives from the history of Japan which was

part of the Universal History edited by Smollett; the emblematic imagery

is traced to the traditional political icons used in the political satire-

both written and graphic-of his time.

The next chapter will examine Smollett's debt to the literary

tradition of satire culminating in the work of Jonathan Swift. Particu-

lar attention is paid to his application of Swift's analysis of religious

enthusiasm to politics.

The last section will deal with the satiric norms or values

implied in the Atom. These are often difficult to find in punitive

satire, and Smollett's desire to cast a plague on all political factions

submerges them even more. Smollett's values go beyond mere politics,

however, drawing upon the literary tradition of rural felicity deriv-

ing from the beatus ille theme of Horace and a philosophical tradition

represented by the fairly well-known ancient philosopher, Cebes.


Louis Martz, The Later Career of Tobias Smollett (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1942), p. 90, n. 1.

Quoted in Lewis Knapp, Tobias Smollett: Doctor of Men and
Manners (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1949), p. 282.

Knapp, pp. 282-83.

4For a summary of the bibliographical problems concerning the
Atom, see 0 M Brack, Jr., "The History and Adventures of an Atom,
1769," PBSA, 64 (1970), 336-38.

SMy text is W. E. Henley, ed., The Works of Tobias Smollett
(New York: Charles Scribners & Sons, 1901), XII, p. 330. All subse-
quent references are given in the text.

The Works of M. de Voltaire, ed. T. Smollett, T. Franklin
and others, 4th edition (Dublin: R. Moncrieffe, 1772), V, p. 138.
Hereafter cited as Voltaire.

Tobias Smollett, Travels Through France and Italy (1766;
facsimile rpt. New York: Praeger, 1969), p. 37. Hereafter cited as

8The Life of Smollett (London: Walter Scott, 1887), p. 150.

SThe Life and Letters of Tobias Smollett (London: Faber &
Gwyer, 1926), p. 233.

0Knapp, p. 282; Laurence Brander, "Tobias Smollett," in
Bonamy Dobree and J. W. Robinson, eds., British Writers and Their Work,
No.VI (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1965), p. 121.

11 The Early Masters of English Fiction (Lawrence: University
of Kansas Press, 1956), p. 170.

12 James R. Foster, "Smollett and the Atom," PMLA, 67 (1953),
1032-46; Martz, Later Career, pp. 90-104; Arnold Whitridge, Tobias
Smollett: A Study of His Miscellaneous Works (New York: Privately
printed, 1925), pp. 92-119.

13 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967), pp. 192-94.

14 Donald Greene, "Smollett the Historian," in G. S. Rousseau
and P-G Bouce, eds., Tobias Smollett: Bicentennial Essays Presented to
Lewis Knapp (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 28, n. 6.

Tobias George Smollett (New York: Twayne, 1968), p. 38.

Alan Lelchuk, "On Satirizing Presidents: An Interview with
Philip Roth," Atlantic (Dec., 1971), p. 81.

SLelchuk, p. 83.

Hannay, p. 149; Brander, p. 120; Whitridge, p. 98. All make
the comparison to Swift.

1Swift and the Satirist's Art (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1963), p. 2j.

Rosenheim, p. 25.

Rosenheim, p. 34.

2Rosenheim, p. 12.

Rosenheim, p. 13.

2Rosenheim, p. 15.

25 The Yale Review, 41 (1951), 80-92.

26 "Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Biographies of Smollett,"
in Rousseau and Bouc6, eds., Tobias Smollett, p. 201. Although
Bouce's essay deals with eighteenth- and nineteenth-century biographies,
the tendency continues to the present day. Laure.nce Brander's rhetorical
question concerning Smollett's authorship of the Atom is one example:
"If Smollett did not write it, what other perverted genius did?"
(Brander, p. 121). A more recent example is Alice Green Fredman, "The
Picaresque in Decline: Smollett's First Novel," in John H. Middendorf,
ed., English Writers in the Eighteenth Century (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1971), pp. 189-208. Professor Fredman flatly states
that Smollett "tends to identify with his hero" (p. 192), and so
Matthew Bramble is a "fine self-portrait" (p. 204). The ferocity of
Smollett's satire is explained as an attempt "perhaps to compensate for
lacking protective irony as a mode of defense and mediation from experi-
ence" (p. 198). The satirical attacks in the Travels Through France and
Italy are described as "paranoid explosions" (p. 198, n. 12). Since we
still know very little about Smollett's life, such speculations are
impossible either to prove or disprove.

2Most of the scholarship dealing with the Celtic satirist as a
magician concerns the Irish rather than the Scottish tradition. The
pioneering work is Fred Norris Robinson's "Satirists and Enchanters
in Early Irish Literature," in Studies in the History of Religions
Presented to Crawford Howell Troy, eds.D. G. Lyon and G. F. Moore
(New York: Macmillan, 1912), pp. 95-130. See also Robert C. Elliott,
The Power of Satire: Magic, Ritual, Art (Princeton: Princeton Univer-
sity Press, 1960), pp. 18-49 for the Irish tradition. The entire'study,
however, is relevant here.

2Vivian Mercier, The Irish Comic Tradition (Oxford: Clarendon,
1962), p. 146.

29 Quoted in Mary Claire Randolph, "The Medical Concept in English
Renaissance Satiric Theory: Its Possible Relationships and Implications,"
SP 38 (1941), 139. It originally appeared in Boswelliana, ed. Rev.
Charles Rogers (London, 1874), p. 287.


If Tobias Smollett were not a novelist of some reputation, his

political opinions would be of little interest, for they are neither

original nor unusual. Nor should we expect them to be, for Smollett did

not pretend to be a political philosopher. He was, however, a novelist

who drew-perhaps more than most writers-upon his life and opinions

for his art. He had no qualms about introducing his personal opinions

or prejudices into his work, often satirizing thinly disguised public

officials and other notables in his novels. It is therefore important

that his political opinions be correctly evaluated so that his art can

be accurately understood, particularly The History and Adventures of an

Atom, Smollett's most sustained political satire.

For some critics, the investigation of Smollett's political

opinions is reason for despair. M. A. Goldberg, for example, finds

that "Smollett's political position is . ambiguous and contradic-

tory." Goldberg is perhaps reacting to Smollett's self-confessed

conversion from Whiggism, or to his shifting attitude toward William

Pitt the Elder, who is dismissed sarcastically in a poem in 1746,

praised extravagantly in the dedication to Smollett's Complete History

of England, criticized tentatively in 1760, attacked ferociously in

1763, and, finally, made the villain in The Adventures of an Atom in

1769. Faced with this variety of political stances one can sympathize

with Goldberg.

Other Smollett scholars discover a less contradictory pattern.

Byron Gassman, for example, finds that "Smollett did arrive during

the final years of his career at a firm and fairly consistent political

position . clearly manifest in the Briton and subsequent journalis-

tic works."2 Gassman also points out that this position was worked

out while Smollett was writing his History of England:

But whatever doubt may remain about Smollett's early
political tendencies, a careful analysis of The Com-
plete History of England, published in 1758, shows that,
by this time, he had abandoned whatever Whig principles
he may have at one time endorsed and, thoroughly disil-
lusioned with the political principles and practices of
the first four decades of Hanoverian rule, was quite in
sympathy with Tory attitudes.3

Smollett's History was attacked by the Whigs as a Tory history

as soon as it was published. He anticipated this reaction and tried to

head it off with a review in his journal, the Critical Review, which

concluded: "The stories will slight him as a lukewarm friend, the whigs

will brand him as a disguised Jacobite: For our parts, were we allowed

to judge of his principles from this performance, we should conclude,

that he is so far a tory, as to love and revere the monarchy and

hierarchy; and so much a whig, as to laugh at the notions of indefeasible

right and nonresistance."4 The ploy did not work, and to this day

Smollett's work is considered a Tory history.5 This view is encouraged

by Smollett's letter to John Moore in 1758, in which he writes: "I have,

as far as in me lay, adhered to Truth without espousing any faction,

though I own I sat down to write with a warm side to those principles

in which I was educated. But in the Course of my inquiries, the Whig

ministers and their abettors turned out such a Set of sordid Knaves

that I could not help stigmatising some of them for their want of

Integrity and Sentiment." We should note that Smollett does not say

that he became converted to Tory principles, only that he has abandoned

the uncritical Whig attitudes he held before his historical research.

In fact, he maintains that he belongs to no faction.

Smollett repeats this assertion of impartiality in another

letter from the same year. Writing to William Huggins on 2 July, 1758,

he says:

I can safely say I had no other view in the Execution of
that work than historical Truth, which I have displayed
on all occasions to the best of my Knowledge without
Fear or affection. I have kept myself independent of
all Connexions which might have affected the Candour
of my Intention. I have flattered no Individual; I have
cultivated no Party. I look upon the Historian who
espouses a Faction, who strains Incidents or willfully
suppresses any Circumstances of Importance that may tend
to the Information of the Reader, as the worst of Prosti-
tutes. I pique myself upon being the only Historian of
this Country who has had Honesty, Temper and Courage
enough to be wholly impartial and disinterested.7

It is not surprising that Smollett should flatter himself about his

independence, but Donald Greene's appraisal of the History is cast in

the same terms: "A reading of Smollett's History should at least con-

vince us that 'Tory', as applied to that work, indicates nothing more

than a refusal to be bound by the strict Whig party line of interpre-

tation of the events of British history and an insistence on exercising

some independence of judgment concerning them."8

The question of Smollett's political position is complicated by

the absence of any precise ideological meaning for the terms "Whig"

and "Tory" by the middle of the eighteenth century. As Donald Greene

points out, "parties were not parties in the modern British sense:

groups of politicians were held together, tenuously, not by allegiance

to formulated principles, to platforms, but by shifting personal

allegiance and similarity of interest."9 There was no need for dis-

ciplined parties' adhering to a party program, because the modern

office of Prime Minister, who commands a Parliamentary majority, had

not yet evolved (although Robert Walpole was Prime Minister in fact

if not in name). Neither had the legitimacy of an organized Opposition

ready to form a government been established. Opposition to the King's

government still had the taint of rebellion in the middle of the

eighteenth century.

Smollett himself understood that "Whig" and Tory" were terms

pretty much empty of meaning. In the Briton No. 35 he dismisses them

as "terms invented by knaves and adopted by fools." And in the Briton

No. 38 he-calls them "war-words" which "like Guelph and Ghibelline, or

like the cabalistical terms Abraxas and Abracadabra, [are] the more

efficacious, the less they are understood."

Although a precise definition of "Tory" is probably impossible,

the term did have certain associations in the eighteenth century which

may be useful to pinpoint Smollett's political position. Tory was often

used as a synonym for Jacobite, a charge to which Smollett was particu-

larly susceptible because he came from Scotland. When his History was

published, Whig critics seized upon an innocuous passage recounting

the death of James II in exile as proof of his Jacobitism. Despite his

nationality, however, Smollett had no allegiance to the Stuarts; he was

a Lowland Scot, and most of Charles Stuart's support was in the High-

lands. And, as Smollett himself liked to point out, many of the troops

that defeated Charles at Culloden were Scots loyal to England.10

Smollett denied the charge of Jacobitism in a letter to

Dr. William Hunter: "Mr. Secretary Conway [Secretary of State under

Rockingham in 1765] himself will never be able to persuade me either

that I am a Jacobite, or that I ever exhibited the outward Signs and

Symptoms of that Infection."ll Smollett's good friend, Dr. Alexander

Carlyle, agrees: "Smollett tho' a Tory was not a Jacobite," he writes

in his autobiography.12

Besides Jacobitism, Tory could mean three things after 1714,

according to Donald Greene:

(1) one whose sympathies and interests were generally
those of the country members of the House of Commons;
(2) very loosely, a supporter of various groups
opposing the Walpole-Pelham-Rockingham Whig Succession;
(3) after 1784, a supporter of the younger Pitt and his
supporters, and so, among other things, an opponent of
the French Revolution and what it stood for.13

Where does Smollett fit among these positions? He died before the third

position was defined by Edmund Burke. The second, however, clearly

applies to Smollett, for he not only supported Lord Bute but became his

political propagandist by writing the Briton. Most important, Smollett

also shared some-thought not all-of the attitudes of the country

gentlemen. J.G.A. Pocock delineates their political position in this


The business pf Parliament is to preserve the independ-
ence of property, on which is founded all human liberty
and all human excellence. The business of administration
is to govern, and this is a legitimate activity; but to
govern is to wield power, and power has a natural tendency
to encroach. It is more important to supervise govern-
ment than to support it, because the preservation of
independence is the ultimate political good. There exists
an ancient constitution in England, which consists in a
balance or equilibrium between the various organs of
government, and within this balance the function of Par-
liament is to supervise the executive. But the executive
possesses means of distracting Parliament from its proper
function; it seduces members by the offer of places and
pensions, by retaining them to follow ministers and
ministers' rivals, by persuading them to support measures-
standing armies, national debts, excise schemes-whereby
the activities of administration grow beyond Parliament's
control. These means of subversion are known collectively
as corruption, and if Parliament or those who elect them-
for corruption may occur at this point too--should be
wholly corrupt, then there will be an end to independence
and liberty.14

Donald Greene isolates "their independence of vested political interests

and their skepticism of current political cant"15 as characteristics

of the country gentlemen, precisely the qualities Smollett claims for

the History of England. As we shall see, Smollett also sides with

the country gentlemen on specific issues-for example, the Militia Bill,

septennial Parliaments, isolationism, excise schemes, corruption. If

agreeing with the country interest is Toryism, then Smollett is a Tory,

although Donald Greene prefers the term "Independent."

Yet, as Greene points out, "Smollett's 'Toryism' . is diffi-

cult to fit into any neat predetermined pattern."l6 Within a generally

conservative political framework, Smollett holds positions which can

only be described as Whiggish. Anyone who supposes that a Tory would

oppose the Glorious Revolution will be surprised by the following

passage from the History, which is so remarkable that it deserves to

be quoted at length:

The constitution of England had now assumed a new aspect.
The maxim of hereditary, indefeasible right was at length
renounced by a free parliament. The power of the crown
was acknowledged to flow from no other fountain than
that of a contract with the people. Allegiance and pro-
tection were declared reciprocal ties depending upon each
other. The representatives of the nation made a regular
claim of rights in behalf of.their constituents; and
William III ascended the throne in consequence of an
express capitulation with the people. Yet, on this occa-
tion, the zeal of the parliament towards their deliverer
seems to have overshot their attachment to their own
liberty and privileges: Or, at least, they neglected
the fairest opportunity that ever occurred, to retrench
those prerogatives of the crown to which they imputed
all the late and former calamities of the kingdom. Their
new monarch retained the old regal power over parliaments
to its full extent. He was left at liberty to convoke,
adjourn, prorogue, and dissolve them at his pleasure. He
was enabled to influence elections, and oppress corpora-
tions. He possessed the right of choosing his own coun-
cil; of nominating all the great officers of state, and
of the household, of the army, the navy, and the church.
He reserved the absolute command of the militia: So that
he remained master of all the instruments and engines of
corruption and violence, without any other restraint than
his own moderation, and prudent regard to the Claim of
Rights and principle of resistance, on which the Revolu-
tion was founded. In a word, the settlement was finished
with some precipitation, before the plan had been properly
digested and matured; and this will be the case in every
establishment formed upon a sudden emergency in the face
of opposition. (I, 15-16)17

These are sentiments any Whig could be proud of. In the first place,

Smollett espouses the contract theory of government, a basic principle
of Whig political theory.1 In the second place, he suggests that the

Revolution did not go far enough, that the King still held the same

powers that James II had used to become a tyrant. The passage also

supports Smollett's claim in the review of the History that he is enough

a Whig to laugh at the principles of indefeasible right and nonresistance.

In the History, Smollett often questions particular Parliamentary

legislation because it gives too much power to the King. In the account

of the Parliamentary session of 1758, for example, we find this passage:

The signal trust and confidence which the parliament of
England reposed in the king, at this juncture, was in
nothing more conspicuous than in leaving to the crown
the unlimited application of the sum granted for aug-
menting the salaries of the judges. In the reign of
king William, when the act of settlement was passed,
the parliament, jealous of the influence which the
crown might acquire over the judges, provided, by an
express clause of that act, that the commissions of the
judges should subsist quandiu se bene gesserint, and
that their salaries should be established; But now we
find a sum of money granted for the augmentation of
their salaries, and the crown vested with a discretion-
ary power to proportion and apply this augmentation:
A stretch of complaisances, which, how safe soever it
may appear during the reign of a prince famed for integ-
rity and moderation, will perhaps one day be considered
as a very dangerous accession to the prerogative.
(III. 234-35)

It appears, then, that Smollett does not fit the stereotype of the

Tory as a foe of the Revolution and a defender of the King's preroga-

tive. On the contrary, he defends the constitution, including the

revolutionary settlement, and he is ever vigilant lest the King over-

step the bounds of his prerogative and encroach upon the liberty of

the English people.

Smollett was quite proud of the degree of freedom permitted the

English people. In fact, in a review of Fulke and Francis Greville's

Maxims, Characters and Reflections, he asserts a position which was

very popular throughout the century: that eccentricity is a source of

national pride because it is a sign of English liberty:

Our characters are perhaps more strongly influenced
by that spirit of liberty and independence, which
enables every man to pursue his own natural byas

and turn of thinking, without fear of punishment or
censure. Our singularities grow up as nature im-
planted them. Our education is as various as the
whims and caprices of our parents: our enquiries
are unlimited and unrestrained. We are not overawed
in our politics, or restricted in our notions of
religion; but at liberty to drink at every fountain
of science, and give a loose to every flight of the

Against this background we are better able to assess Smollett's

fulminations about liberty of the press in the Briton, which, perhaps

more than any other writings, have contributed to his image as a Tory.

The implication drawn from them is that Smollett opposed liberty of

the press, which is not true. It is also observed that Smollett is

hypocritical, since his billingsgate is no better than that of the

anti-ministerial writers he criticizes. It is true that his remarks

are intemperate, but he was by and large simply falling into the tone

of the so-called Magazine War, in which his Briton and Arthur Murphy's

Auditor defended the policies of Lord Bute-especially his plans to end

the Seven Years War-against the attacks of the Whig journals, the

Monitor and the North Briton, the latter edited by John Wilkes, whose

contributions have been described by one of his admirers as "gross and

explicit."20 "Personal abuse," Robert R. Rea states quite bluntly,

"was the groundwork of the periodical struggle."21 Smollett justified

his own writing in the Briton No. 37: "The reader will remember, that

I did not lift the pen in this dispute, until I saw my S[overeig]n,

whom I am bound to honour, and his M[iniste]r whose virtues I had cause

to respect, aspersed with such falsehood, and reviled with such rancour,

as must have roused the indignation of every honest man." What Smollett

seems to complain about, then, is not liberty of the press, but what he

calls in No. 32 "brutal licentiousness." He was perhaps genuinely

concerned about the disruptive consequences of injudicious criticism

of the King and his minister, which he termed in No. 24 "a torrent of

the foulest slander and abuse, poured upon the character of a Prince,

who deserves to be the darling of his people; upon the reputation of

a minister, whose conduct has defied the severest scrutiny of malice."

Smollett thought that it was the duty of the government to

prosecute his adversaries for seditious libel (Briton, No. 32):

It is a duty the government owes itself, because, without
such execution [of the law], its authority must grow into
contempt. It is a duty to the community, because, if
these miscreants escape, their success will encourage
other vermin of the same species to raise disturbances
in the common-wealth, where a few examples, in terrorem,
would awe the whole dastardly tribe into silence and

When I talk of examples, I do not mean that the government
should exert any power unknown to the constitution. I do
not mean that any new trammels should be hung upon the
liberty of the press. . No, I would have the delin-
quents left to the authority of the law; to the equity
of a fair trial; to the verdict of a British jury.

In the History, Smollett speculates about what might have happened if

the laws had been enforced:

Had the promulgators of the first defamatory libels that
appeared against the k[in]g and his family, been appre-
hended and punished according to law, the faction would
have found it a very difficult task, in the sequel, to
engage either printer or publisher in their service: . .
but they were emboldened by impunity to proceed in their
career, to confirm their calumnies by unrefuted falsehoods,
and to give a loose to the most audacious scurrility; until
the minds of the people were so deeply and so universally
tainted, that it became hazardous to call the libellers
to account. (IV, 310-11)

In a letter dated 18 May 1770, Smollett ascribes the failure to prose-

cute to "the absurd Stoicism of Lord Bute, who set himself up as a

pillory to be pelted by all the Blackguards of England, upon the Sup-

position that they would grow tired and leave off."22 According to

Smollett, by the time he had entered the fray to defend Bute, the law

would have been to no avail, for any prosecution would only have made

the slanderers more popular. In the Briton No. 4, he compares the

supposedly libellous North Briton to Orator Henly, who "was in hopes

of attaining the pillory, or of being brought to the cart's-tail;

events which would have given him consequence among the multitude on

whom he depended." Ironically, something very much like this happened

when John Wilkes was prosecuted for libelling the King in the notorious

North Briton No. 45.

If evidence is needed to demonstrate Smollett's support of the

liberty of the press, one need only look at his account of the Play-

house Bill in the History. The bill was Robert Walpole's attempt to

stifle criticism of his administration on the stage and it was, in

Smollett's words, "obliquely levelled at the liberty of the press."

Most of the account is given to the "excellent speech" of the Earl of

Chesterfield, whom Smollett praises as a politician and (Dr. Johnson

to the contrary) as a patron:

One of the greatest blessings we enjoy, one of the
greatest blessings a people can enjoy, is liberty.
But every good in this life has its alloy of evil.
Licentiousness is the alloy of liberty. It is an
ebullition, an excrescence. It is a speck upon the
eye of the political body, which I can never touch
but with a gentle, with a trembling hand, lest I
destroy the body; lest I injure the eye upon which

it is apt to appear. If the stage becomes at any time
licentious, if a play appears to be a libel upon the
government, or upon any particular man, the king's
courts are open; the law is sufficient to punish the
offender. If poets and players are to be restrained,
let them be restrained as other subjects are, by the
known laws of their country; if they offend, let them
be tried as every Englishman ought to be, by God and
their country. Do not let us subject them to the
arbitrary will and pleasure of any one man. A power
lodged in the hands of a single man to judge and
determine without limitation, control, or appeal,
is a sort of power unknown to our laws, inconsistent
with our constitution. It is a higher, a more abso-
lute power than we trust even to the king himself; and,
therefore, I must think we ought not to vest any such
power in his majesty's lord chamberlain. (II, 215)

Lord Chesterfield's sentiments are exactly those of Smollett in the

Briton No. 32.23

Even though Smollett held some political principles in common

with the Whigs, he did not consider himself one, for reasons he makes

clear in his definition of a modern Whig:

In speaking of the modern Whigs, we must forget the
original principles by which that party was distin-
guished, and remember that they were now characterized
by nothing but the implicit attachment they had shewn
to the house of Hanover; since the accession of which
family to the throne, they had engrossed the administra-
tion with a most iniquitous spirit of exclusion; conform-
ing themselves with the most servile complaisance to the
prejudice and predilection of their prince; enhancing
the prerogatives of the crown, in contradistinction to
all avowed maxims of their sect; and maintaining their
influence, partly by calumniating those of their fellow-
subjects, who disapproved of their measures; but chiefly
a uniform system of corruption, which they established
and maintained in order to secure a constant majority
in parliament. While they were thus employed in sapping
insensibly the very foundations of the constitution, they
affected on all occasions a spirit of toleration in mat-
ters of religion, they professed the abhorrence of their
ancestors to the doctrine of passive obedience and
indefeasible hereditary right: They took every oppor-
tunity to give themselves credit for the revolution,

to stigmatize the family of Stuart, and to brand all their
political adversaries with the odious names'of Tory and
Jacobite; which they affirmed to be synonymous terms..Such
were the modern Whigs, comprehending many noblemen and
gentlemen of great fortune and influence, the whole body
of Protestant dissenters, the majority of the creditors
of the nation, the managers of the public funds and the
greater part of the directors of all the monied corpora-
tions, so necessary to a government obliged to maintain an
expensive war on the sole strength of public credit. (IV, 255-56)

This definition of modern Whig principles follows the analysis of the

realignment of political interests after the Revolution formulated by

Viscount Bolingbroke, whom Smollett read for his historical research.24

In the Craftsman and A Dissertation Upon Parties, Bolingbroke accused

the Whigs under Robert Walpole of abandoning their original principles.

He tried to incorporate many of the old Whig principles into his own

political philosophy in an effort to forge an opposition, consisting

of country gentlemen and dissident Whigs, to Walpole. One of Smollett's

favorite ploys in the Briton was to suggest that his own political

philosophy was more truly Whig than that of his adversaries.

Smollett's analysis can be discussed under two headings: the

modern Whig association with the monied interest, and the accusation

of corruption. He regarded the shift in political power from the

landed interest to the monied interest as absolutely disastrous to

the liberty and independence of the English people. His vision of

genuine political society is the same as that attributed to Bolingbroke:

Political man in Bolingbroke's "genuine" political
society was an independent man, an owner of property
who was therefore capable of exercising his own
judgment on matters of state, calling upon his own
wisdom, virtue, and good sense. He was not dependent
on other politicians, ministers, or financial insti-
tutions for his course of action; nor were political

men, as a body, dependent on dependent men for whom
tallies, stocks, or other interests determined
political interests. The function of government was
not to pursue any special policy; it was to protect
the properties base for the continued independence
of the individual.25

This image of the independent political man is in turn based upon a

hierarchical vision of society, derived from Aristotle:

At the center of Bolingbroke's imagery, as in
Aristotle's notions of politics, is the household
or family unit with the independent master at its
head, and in a fixed subordinate position beneath
him, dependent servants. For both Aristotle and
Bolingbroke independence was equated with the
possession of real property and dependence with
its absence. For this reason money men were the
natural servants of the landed political masters.26

The modern Whig association with the monied interest, to the exclusion

of the landed interest, thus inverted the natural hierarchy, shifting

power from those most qualified to govern to those least qualified to

do so. The independent landed gentleman could afford to support the

public interest because his income derived from the land, but the

government creditors, whose wealth derived from the interest they

collected from loans, servilely supported the Whig administrations.

Private greed was thus elevated over the public interest.

Smollett also regarded the landed gentry as the guarantors of

the public interest. In the Briton No. 18 he characterizes George II's

council as "composed of men eminent for their wisdom and integrity,

who by their rank and understanding, are qualified for the office of

advising their Prince, and by their extensive property, inalienably

attached to the interest and concerns of the people." And in the

Briton No. 35 he declares "that the people of this nation, are not

to be ruled under an exclusion of three fourths of the men of natural

property in their country, equal at least to their antagonists in

integrity and abilities, from all posts of power and trust in the


Smollett also considered society to be a hierarchy, as Byron

Gassman explains: "Smollett's conviction . was that true English

liberty was the liberty of living in an ordered, well-regulated, and

well-administered society, a situation impossible when factions,

created by the levelling sentiment that all have an equal right to

govern, were continually struggling to displace one another."27

Smollett expresses this sentiment in the Briton No. 16 in which he

rejects the notion "that every individual has an equal right to inter-

medle in the administration of public affairs; a principle subversive

to all government, magistracy and subordination; a principle destruc-

tive to all industry and national quiet, as well as repugnant to every

fundamental maxim of society." Only "the honest, the sober, the

thriving sons of industry, who have an interest in the country they

inhabit, who have sense to value the blessings they enjoy," should

have a voice in government, he declares in the Briton No. 4.

Smollett saves his most vitriolic attacks for those politicians

who sought popular support from the London mob, the vulgus mobile, the

disaffected masses who had no stake in government because they had

neither property nor the franchise, and whose political voice could

only be expressed destructively through riots. In the Briton No. 6

he denounces them as "the base, unthinking rabble . without

principle, sentiment or understanding." To appeal to these dregs of

society is to abandon the principles of subordination that he believed


The result of the modern Whigs' alliance with the monied inter-

est was general corruption and its virtual synonym, luxury. The word

"corruption" should be understood both in its everyday sense of bribery

and the selling of offices and in a special political sense, defined

by Polybius and Machiavelli, of a disruption of the balanced consti-

tution, as J.G.A. Pocock explains:

Even the most perfect equipoise could only be main-
tained through human care and attention, and since
that was fallible, some theoretical attention had
to be paid to the cause and cure of degeneration in
the balanced constitution. In Machiavelli, the most
influential of the Renaissance transmitters of Poly-
bius, the technical term for this sort of degenera-
tion is "corruption." It arises when the balance is
disturbed, typically through the encroachment of one
of its . constituents upon the others; and since,
in Machiavellian thought, stability in the political
system is a precondition of morality in the individual
life, corruption is a moral as well as a political

Corruption, then, is a fact of political degeneration, and luxury

implies the same process in private life.

Smollett's attack on corruption and luxury joins a flood of

similar attacks, including the satire of Swift, Pope, and Gay in the

first half of the eighteenth century. "John Brown," writes Louis


summed up the whole case thoroughly and elaborately
when he published in 1757 his famous Estimate of the
Manners and Principles of the Times. The "ruling
character" of the times he asserted to be "a vain,
and selfish effeminacy." He laid the blame impartially

at the door of every portion of the public; but the
political significance of his indictment is evident
from his characterization of Walpole "in these few
words, that while he seemed to strengthen the Super-
structure, he weakened the Foundations of our
Constitution.-" 2

For Smollett, the history of England since the Revolution

revealed an alarming pattern of corruption which undermined the

constitution, kept able men out of government service, and contrib-

uted to the depravity of the general populace. It started as early

as the reign of William and Mary, when the belief was established

that every man consulted his own private interest
at the expence of the public: A belief that soon
grew into a maxim almost universally adopted. The
practice of bribing a majority in parliament had a
pernicious influence upon the morals of all ranks
of people, from the candidate to the lowest borough-
elector. The expedient of establishing funds of
credit for the raising of supplies to defray the
expense of government, threw large premiums and sums
of money into the hands of low, sordid usurers, bro-
kers, and jobbers, who distinguished themselves by the
name of the monied-interest. Intoxicated by this flow
of wealth, they affected to rival the luxury and mag-
nificence of their superiors; but being destitute of
sentiment and taste, to conduct them in their new
career, they ran into the most absurd and illiberal
extravagances. They laid aside all decorum; became
lewd, insolent, intemperate and riotous. Their
example was caught by the vulgar. All principle, and
even decency, was gradually banished; talent lay uncul-
tivated, and the land was deluged with a tide of ignor-
ance and profligacy. (I, 137-138)

Smollett repeats this charge for virtually every Whig administration

which follows. It should be pointed out that the principle of subor-

dination also applies to corruption. Corruption starts in the higher

orders of Parliament and the administration and gradually works its

way down to the vulgar. The nouveau riche ape the gentry, but their

tastelessness and lack of breeding become readily apparent. The price

paid for a society based on wealth rather than on the natural hierarchy

is a decay of learning and culture. Since the lower classes imitate

their betters, a reformation of manners must start at the top if it

is to succeed. One should keep this in mind when reading Smollett's

attacks on the mob.

As one might expect, however, Smollett reserves his most

trenchant attack for Robert Walpole, who systematized the practice

of corruption:

He was endued with a species of eloquence, which,
though neither nervous nor elegant, flowed with great
facility, and was so plausible on all subjects, that
even when he misrepresented the truth, whether from
ignorance or design, he seldom failed to persuade that
part of his audience for whose hearing his harangue
was chiefly intended. He was well acquainted with the
nature of the public funds and understood the whole
mystery of stock-jobbing. This knowledge produced a
connexion between him and the money-corporations,
which served to enhance his importance. He perceived
the bulk of mankind were actuated by a sordid thirst
of lucre; he had sagacity enough to convert the degen-
eracy of the times to his own advantage; and on this,
and this alone, he founded the whole superstructure of
his subsequent administration. . He knew the maxims
he had adopted would subject him to the hatred, the ridi-
cule, and reproach of some individuals, who had not yet
resigned all sentiments of patriotism, nor all views of
opposition: but the number of these was inconsiderable,
when compared to that which constituted the body of the
community; and he would not suffer the consideration of
such antagonists to come in competition with his schemes
of power, affluence and authority. (II, 137-38)

Later in the History, when Walpole asserts at the Parliamentary debate

over his removal from office that he never bribed any member, Smallett

remarks: "Such a declaration as this, in the hearing of so many persons,

who not only knew, but subsisted by his wages of corruption, was a

strong proof of the minister's being dead to all sense of shame and

all regard to veracity." (II, 251) This is the same portrait of

Walpole that we find in the writings of Pope, Swift, Gay, and

especially Bolingbroke, who, according to James T. Boulton, "considered

that the venal methods practised by Walpole were more dangerous 'than

Prerogative ever was'; and 'the Means of establishing a Government

of arbitrary Will, by Corruption, [is] more likely to prove effectual,

than those of doing it by Prerogative ever were.'"30

Smollett agrees with Bolingbroke in the first chapter of his

account of George II's reign:

The nature of prerogative, by which the liberties of
the nation had formerly been often endangered, was
now so well understood, and so securely restrained,
that it could no longer be used for the same oppressive
purposes. . The vice, luxury, and prostitution of
the age, the almost total extinction of sentiment,
honour, and public spirit, had prepared the minds of
men for slavery and corruption: The means were in the
hands of the ministry: The public treasure was at their
devotion. (II, 136)

In fact, Smollett felt that Walpole and his successors had become

more powerful than the King. "The Whig ministers," he writes in the

Briton No. 35, "have always been known to plume themselves in the

feathers they plucked from the prerogative; and have added to their

own persons that importance which they have filched from the crown";

but, he adds, the English people "abhor to see a fellow subject strut-

ting in the spoils of prerogative and usurping the attributes of


Smollett is kinder to Walpole's successor, Henry Pelham, whom

he calls "a man of honesty and candour, actuated by a sincere love for

his country, though he had been educated in erroneous principles of

government, and in some measure obliged to prosecute a fatal system

which descended to him by inheritance." (II, 389) He has nothing

good to say about Pelham's brother, the Duke of Newcastle, whom he

considered not only corrupt but incompetent. In the Briton No. 38,

Newcastle is pictured in a dream vision as "an old pilot conveyed

through the public streets upon an ass, his face turned to the tall,

with a cap and bells upon his head, a slavering-bib under his chin,

and a rattle in his hand." Worse things, as we shall see, are said

about him in The Adventures of an Atom.

Throughout the History, Smollett favors any legislation which

might limit the ability of the Whigs to corrupt the political process.

He cheers the defeat of Robert Walpole's Excise Bill because "it would

produce an additional swarm of excise-officers and warehouse-keepers,

appointed and paid by the Treasury, so as to multiply the dependents

on the crown, and enable it still further to influence the freedom of

elections." (II, 280) He also favors the repeal of the Septennial

Act, which called for parliamentary elections every seven years instead

of every three years, because members who had been bribed would stay

in office longer. Both of these measures were also favored by the

landed gentry.

But these legislative actions were only temporary solutions

as far as Smollett was concerned. In his account of the year 1759, he

gives a despairing summary of the political situation in England and

suggests one solution:

The extensive influence of the crown, the general
corruptibility of individuals, and the obstacles so
industriously thrown in the way of every scheme con-
trived to vindicate the independency of parliaments,
must have produced very mortifying reflections in the
breast of every Briton warmed with the genuine love of
his country. He must have perceived that all the bul-
warks of the constitution were little better than but-
tresses of ice, which would infallibly thaw before the
heat of ministerial influence, when artfully concen-
trated: That either a minister's professions of
patriotism were insecure; or his credit insufficient
to effect any essential alteration in the unpopular
measures of government; and that, after all, the
liberties of the nation could never be so firmly estab-
lished, as by the power, generosity, and virtue of a
patriot king. (III, 577-78)

This last phrase recalls Bolingbroke's treatise, The Idea of a Patriot

King, published in 1749 but written in the 1730s. In that work he

adopts Machiavelli's position that a nation can become so corrupted

that only a strong virtuous man can restore it to its original prin-

ciples. According to Boulton, "Bolingbroke emphasized the need for

a patriot king who would impose discipline on society without exploit-

ing the situation to achieve a personal despotism."1 Although

Machiavelli's strong man uses force, Bolingbroke's "Patriot King

employs the example of his own behaviour to a far greater extent than

coercion to rescue the state from corruption."3 A Patriot King is

above party; he chooses ministers on their merits alone; he cares only

for the welfare of his people.

In the Briton, Smollett draws upon these phrases to describe

George III. In No. 17, for example, George is described as "a

patriot-king, whose chief aim is the happiness of his people." And

in No. 18, Smollett addresses this plea to his readers:

Let us depend upon the paternal affection of a virtuous
Sovereign, who can have no views distinct from the
interest and happiness of his people. Let us depend
upon the care and fidelity of an honest minister, who
is engaged by every tie of loyalty, of honour, and of
interest, to promote the patriot designs of his Master,
to consult the glory and welfare of the nation.

In the very first issue of the Briton, Smollett presents an even more

eulogistic portrait of George III:

Our Sovereign's character is in all respects so amiable
as to engage the affections of every one not blasted
with envy: . his heart benevolently sympathizes
with all the children of distress: . his hand is
liberally opened to every appearance of merit: . .
his sole aim is to augment and secure the happiness
of his people with the independence of his crown.

The last two passages-with their emphasis on George's paternal sympathy

for the children of distress-suggest that Smollett's image of political

society, like Bolingbroke's, is based on the family. George III is

like a father to his subjects, and he will use his prerogative to

restore the hierarchical structure of society which alone secures


It may seem ironic, and perhaps hypocritical, to find Smollett

defending royal prerogative in the Briton after warning of its dangers

in the History, but we should remember that Smollett, like Bolingbroke,

saw the system of corruption as a greater danger than prerogative.

Smollett's position is both reasonable and constitutional, for, as

Greene points out, "the responsibility of the cabinet to Parliament

rather than to the Crown was not accepted as constitutional until well

on into the nineteenth century. The king was supposed to be the

effective chief executive of the nation."3

Smollett defends the independence of the monarchy because, as

he puts it in the Briton No. 35, "all experience, and all history

informs us, that the genius of the people of England inclines them

to monarchy." When his adversaries accused him of advocating an

unlimited monarchy, he responded in the same paper:

God forbid that the British monarchy should be ever
other than independent: but, because it is independent,
does it follow, that it is unlimited? I am afraid, the
expression itself is little better than nonsense. British
monarchy, however independent, must be limited by the
constitution; if it is not, it is no longer British
monarchy, but despotism. As to independency, unless it
is independent within itself, if it is subject to the
control either of foreign power or domestic Insolence,
it equally ceases to be British monarchy.

This passage is crucial, not only for the proper understanding of

Smollett's political position but also as an illustration of the

delicate balancing act that distinguishes all writing concerning the

English constitution after the Glorious Revolution.

The English monarchy is independent of Parliament, but it does

not have unlimited powers. If the King oversteps the constitutional

limits of his prerogative, then British monarchy has dissolved into

despotism. As we have seen, Smollett, like almost every eighteenth-

century political theorist, argued that this had in fact happened dur-

ing the reign of James II, and he feared that the revolutionary settle-

ment had not gone far enough in curbing the King's power.

If the monarchy becomes subject to what Smollett calls "domestic

insolence," then the monarchy is transformed into a republic. This is

probably a reference to the objections of his adversaries that George III's

ministers, particularly Lord Bute, were unpopular. In Briton No. 36,

Smollett replied that the King's right to choose his ministers was not

only constitutional but a basic principle of Whig doctrine:

It is the first Article of the Whig's creed, and indeed
the sum of all the rest, That the King has a right to
chuse his servants, and that all his loyal subjects
should enjoy equal liberties and privileges. Thus it
was settled at the Revolution, and confirmed again by
the succession of the present Royal Family: but both
these articles you renounced and violated, in a late reign,
as well as in the present: for then, and now, you would
allow the King to have no servants, but such as you thought
fit to impose upon him, nor any subjects a post or place,
but such as you chose to promote.

King George III, then, is only reasserting a privilege that had fallen

into disuse during the Whig administrations of Robert Walpole and his


The last threat to the Independence of the monarchy cited by

Smollett, foreign control, is probably a reference to the many alli-

ances formed by George II to protect Hanover from attack. In his

account of the Parliamentary session of 1759, Smollett objects to the

new treaty with Prussia because it gives discretionary power, not to

the King of England, but to Frederick the Great: "On the whole, this

was perhaps the most extraordinary treaty that ever was concluded; for

it contains no specification of articles, except the payment of the

subsidy: Every article was left to the interpretation of his Prussian

majesty." (III, 378)

The reference to Frederick the Great introduces another important

topic in Smollett's political opinions: his opposition to the Seven

Years War. In his historical account, he never resists an opportunity

to condemn it, and he devotes a large part of the first chapter on

George III's reign to a summary of Israel Mauduit's Occasional Thoughts

on the Present German War, an anti-war tract which is, in Smollett's

words, "a recapitulation of the remarks and reflections disseminated

through the course of this history." (IV, 123)

Most of Smollett's objections can be found in the following


Many friends of their country exclaimed against the
projected army of observation in Germany, as the
commencement of a ruinous continental war, which it
was neither the interest of the nation to undertake,
nor in their power to maintain, without starving the
operations by sea, and in America, founded on British
principles; without contracting such an additional
load of debts and taxes, as could not fall to ter-
minate in bankruptcy and distress. To those depend-
ents of the ministry, who observed, that as Hanover
was threatened by France for its connexion with
Great Britain, it ought, in common gratitude, to be
protected, they replied, That every state, in assist-
ing any ally, ought to have a regard to its own pres-
ervation: . That the reluctance expressed by the
German princes to undertake the defence of these dominions,
flowed from a firm persuasion, founded on experience, that
England would interpose as a principal, and not only draw
her sword against the enemies of that electorate, but
concentrate her chief strength in that object, and waste
her treasures in purchasing their concurrance: That
exclusive of an ample revenue drained from the sweat of
the people, great part of which had been expended in
continental efforts, the whole national debt incurred,
since the accession of the late king, had been contracted
in pursuance of measures totally foreign to the interest
of these kingdoms. (III, 81-82)

In the first place, we should note that Smollett does not object to

the campaign in America; it was quite obviously in England's interest

to protect her colonies from the depredations of the French and the

Indians. He does, however, oppose the war on the continent, and his

strategy relied upon England's superior sea power to repel any

invasion from the continent, supply and reinforce the Americans, and

prey upon French trade routes.34 But, as the passage indicates,

Hanover was the tail that wagged the dog of British foreign policy.

George II doted on the Electorate, and in order to secure it from

invasion he had signed a defensive treaty with Frederick the Great,

which, in Smollett's words, "entailed upon Great Britain the enormous

burden of a continental war, without being productive of one advan-

tage .. to England or Hanover." (III, 53) The French strategy

was simple: to invade Hanover, "because they knew the English

would meet them there and fight them at such a disadvantage as might

balance all the success of the British arms in every other part of

the world." (IV, 126)

This opposition to the continental connection was a constant

in Smollett's political thinking. He was not enthusiastic about any

of the wars England had fought on the continent since the Revolution;

indeed, he almost sees them as one long war. The continental connec-

tion began with William III, who wanted to act as "umpire in all con-

tests in Europe," (I, 331) and who bequeathed a war to Queen Anne, and

which was in fact named after her. Then the Hanoverians made the con-

nection stronger because of their attachment to Hanover. Perhaps the

most futile of all the wars was the War of Jenkins' Ear, in which

Smollett himself had served as ship's surgeon. He observes that

"after the troubles of the empire began, the war was no longer maintained

on British principles. It became a continental contest, and was prose-

cuted on the side of the allies without conduct, spirit, or unanimity."

When the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle was signed, it avoided the very

issue over which the war was fought: "The right of English subjects

to navigate in the American seas, without being subject to search,

was not once mentioned, though this claim was the original source

of the differences between Great Britain and Spain." The upshot of

the war was "a dreadful expense of blood and treasure, disgrace upon

disgrace, and an additional load of grievous impositions, and the

national debt accumulated to the enormous sum of eighty millions

sterling." (III, 384-85) This was the lesson of history for Smollett

and this is why he opposed the Seven Years War.

Smollett also opposed wars because they tended to upset the

balance of the constitution; emergency measures had a way of becoming

permanent after the emergency had passed. When England feared invasion

during the Seven Years War, Smollett favored the Militia Bill to deal

with the threat, and, as Greene points out, this was "a traditional

Tory position of favoring the home-grown (if incompetent) militia, of

which the country gentlemen formed the corps of officers and their

tenants and dependents the body of troops, and which was theoretically

directly responsible to Parliament, as against the innovation of a

regular standing professional army, directly under the control of the

Crown." Smollett wanted nothing to do with standing armies; one of

his complaints about William III is that "he procured a parliamentary

sanction for a standing army, which now seems to be interwoven in the

constitution." (I, 331)

One of Smollett's tasks in the Briton was to defend the efforts

of the Bute administration to negotiate a peace, which were in progress

as he wrote. One argument in favor of the war was that "the Church was

in danger," but Smollett had a low tolerance for political cant of any

kind, and this cliche seems to have rankled him more than any other

because it was always used by unscrupulous politicians as a rallying

cry to go to war on the continent. When William Pitt used the expres-

sion in an address to Parliament in 1758, Smollett was moved to make

a long rebuttal in the History. He begins by observing that a compliant

Parliament would have voted funds

even though no mention had been made of the Protestant
religion, which to men of ordinary penetration,
appeared to have no natural concern in the present
dispute between the belligerent powers, although
former ministers had often violently introduced it
into messages and speeches from the throne, in order
to dazzle the eyes of the populace, even while they
insulted the understanding of those who were capable
of exercising their own reason. This pretext was
worn so threadbare, that, among the sensible part of
mankind, it could no longer be used without incurring
contempt and ridicule.

Smollett then makes an inventory of the Protestant countries in Europe

and finds that two of them, Denmark and the United Provinces, are

neutral, and that the rest-Sweden, Hungary, and Russia-are allied

with the two great Catholic powers-France and Austria-against England

and Prussia. Smollett concludes:

As, therefore, . no act of oppression towards any
Protestant state or society [was] pointed out, except
those that were exercised by the Protestants them-
selves, . the unprejudiced part of mankind will
be apt to conclude that the cry of religion was used,
as in former times, to arouse, alarm, and inflame;
nor did the artifice prove altogether unsuccessful.
Notwithstanding the general luke-warmth of the age
in matters of religion, it produced considerable
effect among the fanatic sectaries that swarm through
the kingdom of England. The leaders of those blind
enthusiasts, either actuated by the spirit of delusion,
or desirous of recommending themselves to the protec-
tion of the higher powers, immediately seized the hint,

expatiating vehemently on the danger that impended over
God's people; and exerting all their faculties to impress
the belief of a religious war, which never fails to exas-
perate and impel the minds of men to such deeds of
cruelty and revenge as must discredit all religion, and
even disgrace humanity. (III, 233-34)

Such words, one might think, would deliver the coup de grace to any

argument that the church was in danger, if indeed anyone actually

believed it to be.

As the passage above suggests, Smollett was no friend of dis-

senters. In the History, he laments the spread of fanaticism during

the reign of George III, declaring that "the progress of reason, and

free cultivation of the human mind, had not . entirely banished

those ridiculous sects and schisms of which the kingdom had been

formerly so productive." (IV, 106) Of course, he supported the Church

of England, but for political rather than religious reasons. "I con-

sider the Church not as a religious but as a political Establishment,"

he wrote to John Moore, "so minutely interwoven in our Constitution

that the one cannot be detached from the other, without the most immi-

nent danger of Destruction to both." Like most conservatives, he

regarded religious heterodoxy as a sign of political subversion.

Whenever the dissenters expressed a political opinion, they were almost

always on the wrong side, as far as he was concerned. When dissenting

preachers objected to a provision of the Militia Bill which called for

troops to exercise on Sunday, he snorted: "Nothing could be more

ridiculously fanatic and impertinent than a declaration of such a

scruple against a practice so laudable and necessary, in a country

where that day of the week is generally spent in merry-making, riot,

and debauchery." (II, 86)

On other religious topics, Smollett's attitudes and opinions

are difficult to determine. He does not appear to have been a deeply

religious man; he betrays little interest in dogma, and even Knapp,

his biographer, is not sure what religion he professed, although Knapp

notes that Smollett was associated with the Church of England as a

citizen of Chelsea.3

We now turn to what may be the most fascinating topic in

Smollett's political opinions: William Pitt. Smollett's changing

attitudes have been briefly outlined above; Pitt was for a time the

repository of Smollett's hope and later the source of his disillu-

sionment. A detailed look at his feelings toward Pitt is called for,

however, because it touches on almost every point we have discussed

so far: corruption, the mob, patriotism, the royal prerogative, the

continental war. It is also important because Smollett's attitudes

are a key to The Adventures of an Atom in which Pitt is ferociously

satirized under the name of Taycho.

The first mention of Pitt is found in Smollett's first published

work, Advice, a formal verse satire printed in 1746. In line 21, he

calls Pitt "th' unshaken Abdiel yet unsung," a reference to Abdiel

in Book V of Paradise Lost, "unshaken" by Satan's speech urging rebel-

lion and who stayed on the side of the good angels. It is an ironic

reference because Pitt is included in a rogue's gallery of corrupt

Whigs, including the detested Duke of Newcastle, the Duke of Grafton,

the Earl of Granville, the Earl of Bath, the Earl of Cholmondeley, and

Sir William Yonge. As Knapp points out, "Smollett was merely reflect-

ing the sharp reaction against Pitt at that time, when as the result

of a sudden reversal in his policy toward George II, he became Paymaster

and the object of a widely circulated satirical ballad, 'The Unembar-

rassed Countenance.'"'

By 1757, however, Smollett so admired Pitt that he dedicated

his Complete History of England to him, and therein gives this portrait

of him:

This gentleman had been originally designed for the army,
in which he actually bore a commission; but fate reserved
him a more important station. In point of fortune he was
barely qualified to be elected member of parliament, when
he obtained a seat in the house of commons, where he soon
outshone all his compatriots. He displayed a surprising
extent and precision of political knowledge, an irresistible
energy of argument, and such power of elocution, as struck
his hearers with astonishment and admiration. It flashed
like the lightning of heaven against the ministers and
sons of corruption, blasting where it smote, and withering
the nerves of the opposition; but his more substantial
praise was founded upon his disinterested integrity, his
incorruptible heart, his unconquerable spirit of inde-
pendence, and his invariable attachment to the interest
and liberty of his country. (II, 352)

This is the portrait of a patriot: a man of integrity, incorruptible,

and devoted to his country. Nor were these personal attributes the

only thing that recommended Pitt to Smollett. When Pitt was brought

into the administration as secretary of state after a series of mili-

tary disasters early in the Seven Years War, Smollett was delighted

because he "had, upon sundry occasions, combated the gigantic plan of

continental connections with all the strength of reason, and all the

powers of eloquence." (III, 82) His solicitous attitude toward Pitt

can be seen by contrasting his treatment of the trial of Admiral Byng

with the trials of Admiral Knowles and George Sackville. Smollett

considers Byng the scapegoat of the incompetent ministry of the Duke

of Newcastle, but he is more judicious about the other two because the

military fiascos at Rochefort and the Battle of Minden occurred while

Pitt was a part of the ministry.

But Smollett soon became uneasy about Pitt. In the Critical

Review, we find this comment: "The public has a right to know, and

no doubt, will know in due time, why those continental measures,

which were so lately damned to reprobation, are now resumed in the

face of day, and carried on at such enormous expense."40 Indeed,

Pitt had pursued the continental war with vigor, and the early military

disasters had become great victories. But in victory or defeat,

Smollett's attitude toward the continental war was unchanged; in a

letter to John Harvie, dated 10 December, 1759, he writes:

The people here are in high spirits on account of our
successes, and Mr. Pitt is so popular that I may ven-
ture to say that all party is extinguished in Great-
Britain. That Minister is certainly in this respect
the most surprising phenomenon that ever appeared in
our hemisphere. If he had broke the spell by which
we are bewitched to the continent, I would have pro-
nounced him the greatest man that ever lived.41

When George III ascended the throne, Smollett was encouraged

by his desire to end the war. Pitt, however, resisted these efforts

and resigned from the government when his recommendation to expand the

war against Spain was rejected. Smollett repeats the following attacks

on Pitt with approval:

They taxed him with inconsistency, want of principle,
and the most turbulent ambition. They asserted that
he had no sooner forced himself into the administra-
tion by dint of popularity, than he turned tall to
those very principles by the very possession of which
that popularity was acquired: That he plunged with
the most desperate precipitation into those continen-
tal measures against which it had been the business

of his life to declaim: . That he not only espoused those
interests which he had so often stigmatized as disgraceful to
the crown, and pernicious to the kingdom; but espoused them
with such warmth as no former minister durst avow, without
running the risk of falling a sacrifice to popular resent-
ment: That enamoured of this new idol, he squandered upon
it immense sums, so as to impoverish his country, and accu-
mulate the load of her debts to such a degree that she could
scarce crouch under his burden. (IV, 219-20)

The pattern of integrity had become the pattern of changing principles

when it suited him. If Smollett's attitude toward Pitt changed, it

was because Pitt had changed. In a communication published on the

front page of The Gazeteer and London Daily Advertiser for Thursday,

October 7, 1762, he writes: "Though Mr. P[itt] as a M[iniste]r,

afterwards adapted [sic] those very principles against which he had so

long and so strenuously declaimed, I was surely under no obligation to

follow his example; to renounce the maxims which I had always avowed,

and violate my conscience out of respect to his character."42 This

want of principle becomes a recurring theme in the Briton. In an

address to the Whigs in No. 36, Smollett cautions: "Besides, gentlemen,

you are not sure that you don't count too fast, when you reckon him of

your side, for you know, that his principles are of the motley kind.

. So far as we can judge this gentleman's public conduct, he

seems never to have any set of fixed principles at all, but that, on

the contrary, he left himself at the convenient liberty of veering

about as his occasions required."

Demagoguery is another charge levelled against Pitt in the

Briton, for his eloquence was now being used to stir up mob sentiment

against the Bute administration. In the Briton No. 5, he is accused

of having "raised himself into a colossal idol of popularity." In

No. 37, Smollett refutes a comparison that had been made between Pitt

and Scipio Africanus, saying that Scipio did not "climb upon the

shoulders of the mob to the first offices of the state. . nor use

the lowest arts of popularity to play upon the passions of the vulgar,

and raise the most dangerous spirit of discontent among his fellow-


Another criticism of Pitt in the Briton is his acceptance of

a pension when he resigned. To Smollett, this cast severe doubts on

Pitt's reputation for incorruptibility. In No. 7, he says that he

never believed Pitt was moved by avarice, and added: "therefore I

was the more surprised when he accepted of a pension." At best,

Pitt's denunciation of the policy of peace after he had accepted the

King's bounty was "kicking his heels in the face of his benefactor,"

as Smollett writes in No. 3. Seen from Smollett's perspective, Pitt's

transformation from incorruptible patriot to corrupt demagogue is

indeed remarkable, and it is no wonder that Pitt became the villain

of The Adventures of an Atom.

In sum, it can be said that, although Smollett's positions on

particular men or events superficially exhibit the contradictions that

annoy Milton Goldberg, his basic political stance is indeed fairly

consistent, as Gassman suggests. This consistency comes from Smollett's

identification with the conservative political philosophy of the landed

interest. It is a natural allegiance, for Smollett himself was born

into that class and, had he lived four years longer, would have suc-

ceeded his cousin James as master of Bonhill.43 Like the landed

gentlemen, Smollett regarded the English constitution as a balance of

independent parts. He was suspicious of power and became alarmed when

one part-either King or Parliament-threatened to dominate the other.

He valued stability and subordination, which he associated with the

ownership of land by a natural aristocracy, and he was appalled by the

shift in power to the monied interest during the Whig administrations

of Robert Walpole and his successors. The system of corruption insti-

tuted by the Whigs seemed to Smollett to be more dangerous to English

liberty than the King's prerogative ever was, and he supported every

piece of legislation designed to dismantle it. Eventually he came

to the conclusion that the degeneracy of the times could be arrested

only by the rule of a Patriot King like George III, above party and

ruling by the force of virtuous example. Smollett acted on his convic-

tions by becoming a ministerial writer, defending the Patriot administra-

tion of Lord Bute, especially his efforts to end the Seven Years War.

Smollett's hope that a Patriot King and his administration

would restore English liberty was disappointed. The Patriot program

failed for a number of reasons-among them, the idealism of the venture,

the formidable array of Whig politicians in opposition to the adminis-

tration, and the political inexperience of Lord Bute. The Peace of

Paris was virtually the only accomplishment of the Patriots, and as

soon as it received the approval of Parliament, Lord Bute resigned.

Smollett's political disappointment was aggravated by his broken

health and the death of his only child, Elizabeth, aged fifteen. He

left England, seeking warmer climes to recover his health. The first

letter of his Travels Through France and Italy reveals his state of

mind: "You know with what eagerness I fled from my country as a scene

of illiberal dispute, and incredible infatuation, where a few worthless

incendiaries had, by dint of perfidious calumnies and atrocious abuse,

kindled up a flame which threatened all the horrors of civil dissention."44

The same bleak picture of England on the brink of collapse is presented

in The History and Adventures of an Atom.


M. A. Goldberg, Smollett and the Scottish School (Albuquerque:
University of New Mexico Press, 1959), p. 3.

2 Byron Gassman, "The Briton and Humphry Clinker," SEL, 3 (1963),
p. 414.

Gassman, p. 398.

4 Critical Review, 5 (1758), 2.

For a review of the reputation of Smollett's History, see
Donald Greene, "Smollett as Historian," pp. 25-30.

Lewis Knapp, ed., The Letters of Tobias Smollett (Oxford:
Clarendon, 1970), p. 65. Hereafter cited as Letters.

7 Letters, p. 69.

Greene, "Smollett as Historian," p. 53.

Donald Greene, The Politics of Samuel Johnson (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1960), p. 5.

The Briton No. 4.

Letters, p. 133.

Alexander Carlyle, Anecdotes and Characters of the Times,
ed. James Kingsley (London: Oxford University Press, 1973), p. 99.

13 Greene, Politics, p. 13.

1J.G.A. Pocock, "Machiavelli, Harrington, and English Political
Ideologies in the Eighteenth Century," William and Mary Quarterly,
22 (1965), 565.

15 Greene, Politics, p. 8.

Greene, "Smollett as Historian," p. 53.

References in the text are to Tobias Smollett, The History
of England (Philadelphia: Robert Campbell and Co., 1796-97), 4 vols.
In order to explain my preference for this edition, a brief summary
of the publishing history of Smollett's historical writings is
necessary. In 1757-58, Smollett published in four volumes The Complete
History of England, covering British history from Julius Caesar to the
Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748. In the 1760s, Smollet updated the
work to 1765 by printing weekly installments and eventually gathering
them together in book form as The Continuation to the Complete History
of England. Most readers encounter Smollett the historian in the
"Continuation to Hume's History" format, which was neither Smollett's
nor Hume's idea but a bookseller's gimmick concocted after both men
were dead. Since Hume's History ends with the Glorious Revolution,
the booksellers used Smollett's History and Continuation to carry the
account to the death of George II in 1760. As a result, the first
part of the History and the last part of the Continuation are consigned
to oblivion. The American edition I am using is another "Continuation
of Hume," but it is superior to the others because it reprints the
Continuation complete to 1765. Since the years 1757-65 are crucial
for the understanding of the Atom, I have decided to use this edition.

Smollett also espouses the contract theory in the Critical
Review, 2 (1756), 471-72.

19 Critical Review, 1 (1756), 220.

2George Nobbe, The North Briton (New York: Columbia University
Press, 1939), p. 39.

Robert R. Rea, The English Press in Politics 1760-1774
(Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1963), p. 31.

Letters, p. 137.

2Liberty of the press was a thorny issue for any eighteenth-
century writer who addressed the issue. Irvin Ehrenpreis, "Swift on
Liberty," JHI, 13 (1952), 137-38, points out that Swift, like Smollett,
urged Bolingbroke to make examples of opposition pamphleteers during
the negotiations for the Treaty of Utrecht, but that he later attacked

Walpole for trying to curb the press. According to James T. Boulton,
David Hume also had second thoughts about the liberty of the press,
which are reflected in the revisions he made in the various editions
of his Essays: "Whereas in 1742-the first edition-he extolled the
value of a free press addressing an intelligent public, in 1777 he
omitted these sentiments and described 'the unbounded liberty of the
press' as 'one of the evils attending mixed forms of government'"
(Arbitrary Power: An Eighteenth Century Obsession, inaugural lecture,
University of Nottingham [1967J, p. 17).

24 In his edition of Voltaire, VI, p. 54, Smollett makes refer-
ence to "my lord Bolingbroke's Memoirs" in a footnote.

25 Isaac Kramnick, Bolinbroke and His Circle (Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 1968), p. 81.

Kramnick, p. 80.

27 Cassman, p. 410.

2Pocock, p. 509.

29 "The Gloom of the Tory Satirists," in Pope and His Contempo-
raries, eds. James L. Clifford and Louis Landa (Oxford: Clarendon,
1949), p. 13. Brown's book received a generally favorable notice in
the Critical Review, 3 (1758), 338-47.

30 Boulton, p. 10.

3Boulton, p. 16.

3Jeffrey Hart, Viscount Bolingbroke: Tory Humanist (London:
Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1965), pp. 126-27.

Greene, Politics, p. 5.

34 J. H. Plumb, The First Four Georges (London: B. T. Batsford,
1956), p. 88, points out that this was also William Pitt's war strategy
before he became part of the administration.

SGreene, Politics, pp. 157-58.

36 Letters, p. 73.

Knapp, Tobias Smollett, p. 307.


3Donald M. Korte, "Toblas Smollett's 'Advice' and 'Reproof',"
Thoth, 8 (1967), 49.

3Lewis Knapp, "Smollett and the Elder Pitt," MLN, 59 (1944), 250.

40 Critical Review, 6 (1758), 171.

41 Letters, p. 87.

42 Quoted in Knapp, "Smollett and the Elder Pitt," p. 255.

43 Alice Parker, "Tobias Smollett and the Law," SP, 39 (1947), 545.

4Travels, p. 1.


Why the adventures of an Atom? That is, why did Smollett choose

a nonhuman narrator, the Atom, to tell his story? Critics who have

addressed this question have pointed out that novels with nonhuman

narrators were enjoying a literary vogue during the time the Atom was

written. They note in particular Voltaire's Micromegas (1752), which

Smollett himself translated, and Charles Johnstone's Chrystal, or

the Adventures of a Guinea (1760; 1765). Chrystal does indeed have

much in common with the Atom, for it covers the same period of English

history and, though not so exclusively a political satire as Smollett's

work, it deals with many of the same public figures: George II, Pitt,

Lord Bute, Admiral Byng, John Wilkes, Charles Churchill, to name a few.

In his discussion of the nonhuman narrator in both Johnstone and Smol-

lett, Ronald Paulson points out that "Johnstone makes Chrystal not only

a guinea but, at the same time, the spirit of gold, which can enter into

the possessor's mind."2 The episodes of Johnstone's satire are, there-

fore, according to Paulson, "held together by the theme of man's lust

for and dependence on gold.3 Curiously, Paulson does not suggest a

similar function for the Atom, namely that the Atom symbolizes the

"spirit" of Epicureanism, which in the minds of many thinkers of the

age was associated with the decline of great states, especially Athens

and Rome.

Epicurean philosophy had a generally bad reputation in the

seventeenth century. According to Charles Harrison:

The basic objection to both Democritus and Epicurus
was their theology. Both were accounted atheists. Of
course it was generally recognized that they had admit-
ted the existence of gods; but the word "atheism" was
subject to considerable subtlety of Interpretation.
Some years earlier (1640), Thomas Fuller had distin-
guished three kinds of atheists: in life and conver-
sation; in will and desire; in judgment and opinion.
This last is a group of "speculative atheists," among
whom the Atomists came to be accounted preeminent.
"The word atheist," says Fuller, "is of large extent:
every polytheist is, in effect, an atheist; for he
that multiplies a Deity annihilates it; and he that
divides it destroys it."4

The second objection to Epicureanism was that it urged the practice of


Many thinkers found much to admire in Epicureanism, however,

and their explanations of the philosophy did much to rehabilitate it

by the turn of the seventeenth century. In Epicurus's Morals (1656),

Walter Charleton met the theological objections to Epicureanism by

adopting the Christianized atomism of Pierre Gassendi, who argued that

Epicureanism was not necessarily contrary to Christian doctrine.5

Thomas Stanley's History of Philosophy separated the actual doctrine

of Epicurus from the hedonism derived from Aristippus and the Cyrenaics,

which had been confused with Epicureanism. In "Upon the Gardens of

Epicurus," Sir William Temple dwelled upon the virtues of Epicureanism,

which he noted were not very different from the Stoics: "The Stoics

would have [happinessJ to consist in virtue, and the Epicureans in

pleasure; yet the most reasonable of the Stoics made the pleasure of

virtue to be the greatest happiness; and the best of the Epicureans

made the greatest pleasure to consist in virtue; and the difference

between these two seems not easily discovered."' Temple further

explains that Epicurean pleasure consists of "tranquility of mind and

indolence of body," not the pursuit of sensual pleasure often asso-
ciated with Epicureanism.

Despite these efforts, there was still an antagonism toward

Epicureanism in the eighteenth century, especially among historians

examining the decline of Rome. In general, these historians agreed

that Epicureanism had contributed to the decline in the Roman republic

by undermining the devotion to public service which had sustained its

political life. Unfortunately, the connection between Epicureanism

and decline was so commonplace that it was more often asserted than

explained, so that it is difficult to pin down exactly how the philos-

ophy destroyed the state.

Perhaps the bluntest, if not the clearest, exposition of the

malign effects of Epicureanism can be found in Montesquieu's Consid-

erations on the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and their Decline:

I believe the sect of Epicurus, which was introduced at
Rome toward the end of the republic, contributed much
toward tainting the heart and mind of the Romans. The
Greeks had been infatuated with this sect earlier and
thus were corrupted sooner.9

The effect of Epicureanism, according to Montesquieu, was the erosion

of religious values. Citing Polybius as the authority that "a Greek's

oaths inspired no confidence, whereas a Roman was, so to speak,

enchained by his," Montesquieu goes on to quote a letter from Cicero

to Atticus concerning a bribe offered to some consuls to get them to

swear falsely.0 The lesson Montesquieu draws from this association

is this:

Aside from the fact that religion is always the best
guarantee one can have of the morals of men, it was
a special trait of the Romans that they mingled some
religious sentiment with their love of country. This
city, founded under the best auspices; this Romulus,
their king and their god; this Capitol, eternal like
the city-these, in earlier times, had made an impres-
sion on the mind of the Romans which it would have been
desirable to preserve.11

Montesquieu does not explain how Epicureanism contributed to the ero-

sion of religious values. Presumably it was the atheistic aspect of

Epicureanism-the belief that the gods did not meddle in the affairs

of men-which caused the Romans to break their oaths. In any case,

Montesquieu forges a connection between Epicureanism, the undermining

of established religion and the corruption of the political process

through bribery-a chain of events which one finds repeated in other

analyses of the decline of nations.

Because the Prince was also the head of the Church of England,

English thinkers, even more than Montesquieu, considered any philosophy

which threatened religious beliefs to be politically subversive. Very

often their discussion of religious and political subversion comes-in

the context of Eplcureanism. In Section XI of An Enquiry Concerning

Human Understanding, for example, David Hume discusses the practical

consequences of natural religion. The section is cast in the form of

a dialogue between Hume and a friend who offers a speech for Epicurus

to deliver to the people of Athens, arguing that his philosophy is not

subversive to the state. Hume's answer to the speech is this:

Men reason not in the same Manner you do, but draw
many Consequences from the Belief of a divine Existence,
and suppose, that the Deity will Inflict Punishments on
Vice, and bestow Rewards on Virtue, beyond what appears
in the ordinary Course of Nature. Whether this Reason-
ing of theirs be just or not, is no Matter. Its Influ-
ence on their Life and Conduct must still be the same.
And those, who attempt to disabuse them of such Prejudices,
may, for aught I know, be good Reasoners, but I cannot
allow them to be good Citizens and Politicians; since
they free Men from one Restraint upon their Passions, and
make the Infringement of the Laws of Equity and Society,
in one respect, more easy and secure.12

With this answer to his friend, Hume vindicates the position he takes

earlier in Section XI "that a wise Magistrate can justly be jealous

of certain Tenets of Philosophy, such as those of Epicurus, which

denying a divine Existence, and consequently a Providence and a future

State, seem to loosen, in great Measure, the Ties of Morality, and may

be supposed for that Reason, pernicious to the Peace of civil Society."13

Eighteenth-century thinkers applied the lessons they learned

from ancient history to contemporary affairs and they noticed a connec-

tion between the decline of modern states and Epicureanism. In his

Thoughts on Various Subjects, written during a visit with Pope in 1726,

Swift finds analogies between Rome and England during the reign of

Charles II: "The Epicureans began to spread at Rome in the empire of

Augustus, as the Socinians and even the Epicureans, too, did in England

toward the end of King Charles the Second's reign. . They both

seem to be corruptions occasioned by luxury and peace, and by polite-

ness beginning to decline."14 Like Montesquieu and Hume, Swift seems

first to be concerned about the impact of Epicureanism on religious

values. Linking Epicureanism with the anti-Trinitarian doctrine of

the Socinians, Swift implies that both are subversive to orthodox


In the second part of his remarks, Swift establishes a further

link between Epicureanism and luxury. Montesquieu makes a similar

connection in the section of the Considerations previously alluded to.

Following his discussion of bribing public officials, Montesquieu


The greatness of the state caused the greatness of
personal fortune. But since opulence consists in
morals, not riches, the riches of the Romans, which
continued to have limits, produced a luxury and pro-
fusion which did not . . With possessions beyond
the needs of private life it was difficult to be a
good citizen.15

It is difficult to distinguish cause and effect in the relationship

between Epicureanism and luxury, but both Montesquieu and Swift agree

that economic prosperity combined with the Epicurean emphasis on per-

sonal pleasure will lead to the dissolution of the state and the loss

of liberty for its citizens.

Many writers, including Smollett, feared that the increased

prosperity would make the English luxurious. The most forceful and

pessimistic exposition of this belief is found in John Brown's Estimate

of the Manners and Principles of the Times, where Brown writes that

"the Character of the Manners of our Times . on fair examination,

will probably appear to be that of a 'vain, luxurious, and selfish

EFFIMINACY.'" Brown is especially concerned about the effect of

luxury on the ruling classes:

For though the Sum Total of a Nation's immediate
Happiness must arise, and be estimated from the
Manners and Principles of the Whole; yet the Man-
ners and Principles of those who lead, not of

those who are led; of those who govern, not of
those who are governed; of those, in short, who
make Laws or execute them, will ever determine
the Strength or Weakness and therefore the Con-
tinuance or Dissolution of a State.17

Besides undermining established religion and contributing to the

rise of luxury, Epicureanism was considered detrimental to the state

because it discouraged involvement in politics as being contrary to

its vision of private ease and contentment. It is probably this aspect

of Epicureanism which caused Gibbon to include the Philosophy as one

of the causes of the decline of Rome: "The rich and polite Italians,

who had almost universally embraced the philosophy of Epicurus,

enjoyed the present blessedness of ease and tranquility, and suffered

not the pleasing dream to be interrupted by the memory of their old
tumultuous freedom." The ruling classes of Rome, then, contributed

to its decline by not trying to arrest it, thereby losing their free-

dom in the process.

One Roman who did not acquiesce to the erosion of liberty was

Cato, who was admired by followers of all factions as the paragon of

public virtue. According to James William Johnson,

Cato possessed the most apt qualifications to become
a practical guide for the Englishman. He had been
the epitome of self-sacrifice and patriotism, yet
he was but one man, a single private citizen, in a
representative republic. He lacked the ambition
and thirst for fame which rendered kings suspect
in their actions. He eschewed luxury and extrava-
gance, as well as the other characteristics of the
intemperate man. His reason and self-control were
Neo-Classical ideals. As a model, however, Cato
was not so far removed from the generality of man-
kind as to be a useless abstraction or an unapproach-
able ideal. Cato's admirers thought him a working
model, a man for practical men to look to and imi-

Cato was a Stoic and his behavior during the decline of the Roman

republic offers a striking contrast to that of the Epicurean nobility

described by Gibbon. In his Life of M. Tullius Cicero, Conyers

Middleton makes an explicit contrast between Stoicism personified by

Cato and Epicureanism personified by Atticus. "In an age. . of the

utmost libertinism," writes Middleton, "when the public discipline was

lost, and the government itself tottering, [Cato] struggled with the

same zeal against all corruption, and waged a perpetual war with a

superior force, whilst the rigour of his principles tended rather to

alienate friends, than reconcile enemies; and by provoking the power

that he could not subdue, helped to hasten the ruin which he was striving

to avert."20 On the other hand, Atticus "had all the talents that

could qualify a man to be useful to society: great parts, learning,

judgment, candour, benevolence, generosity; the same love of his

country, and the same sentiments in politics with Cicero, whom he was

always advising, and urging to act, yet determined never to act himself,

or never at least so far, as to disturb his ease, or endanger his

safety."21 In order to exalt his own subject, Cicero, Middleton con-

cludes that both men were equally ineffective in halting the decline of

Rome: "Thus two excellent men, by their mistaken notions of virtue,

drawn from the principles of their philosophy, were made useless in

a manner to their country; each in a different extreme of life; the

one always acting and exposing himself to dangers, without the prospect

of doing good; the other, without attempting to do any, resolving never

to act at all."22 For many English Patriots in the eighteenth century,

Cato's zeal was preferable to Atticus' timidity.

To sum up, in the eighteenth century Epicureanism was associated

with the decline of nations. The philosophy was understood to undermine

religious principles which were the bulwarks of the state, for religion

instilled in the citizens principles of right and wrong, of eternal

reward and punishment without which no state could long survive. The

Epicurean emphasis on personal pleasure and contentment could easily

degenerate into a selfish pursuit of luxury and sensuous pleasure,

which inevitably led to a decline in the state. Finally, Epicureanism

discouraged good men from participating in politics, leaving the impor-

tant task of governing to men of less virtue and ability.

By choosing an Atom as his narrator, Smollett evokes all of these

evil associations with Epicureanism. His particular target is the Duke

of Newcastle, named Fika-kaka in the Atom, who embodies all of the

faults of the English ruling class envisioned by John Brown in his

Estimate. With men like Fika-kaka in charge of the state, dissolution

is inevitable, and by the end of the satire Japan, that is England, is

on the verge of collapse.

In order to explain how Fika-kaka rose to such eminence, the

Atom has recourse to the vocabulary of Epicureanism. Fika-kaka enjoys

an intimacy with Got-hama-baba (George II) because "they were like twin

particles of matter, which, having been divorced from one another by a

most violent shock, had floated many thousand years in the ocean of the

universe, till at length, meeting by accident and approaching within

the spheres of each other's attraction, they rush together with an

eager embrace, and continue united ever after." (241) The Atom

evokes the Epicurean doctrine of the creation by a fortuitous concourse

of atoms. Since Fika-kaka has "no understanding, no economy, no

courage, no industry, no steadiness, no discernment, no vigour, no

retention," (239) he could not have been elevated to his position

because of his merit.

The anatomy of Newcastle's faults is often cast in terms of

the malign association with Epicureanism. In the first place, Fika-kaka

is an Epicurean in the vulgar sense of the term: he is a glutton.

Smollett describes the ill effects that result from Newcastle's

delights at table:

He hired cooks from China [France] at an enormous
expence, and drank huge quantities of the strong
liquor distilled from rice, which, by producing
repeated intoxification, had an unlucky effect upon
his brain, that was naturally of a loose, flimsy
texture. The immoderate use of this potation was
likewise said to have greatly impaired his retentive
faculty; inasmuch as he was subject upon every extra-
ordinary emotion of spirit to an involuntary discharge
from the last of the intestines. (240)

Newcastle's impaired mental "retentive faculty," his proverbial absent-

mindedness, manifests itself in his failure to control his bowels. His

involuntary discharges when he is agitated continue to embarrass him

throughout the satire.

Newcastle's preoccupation with food interferes with his political

duties; it does not take much to sidetrack him from politics to recipes

during a political address to the cabinet:

I have been so hurried with state affairs, that I
could not eat a comfortable meal in a whole fort-
night: and what rendered this misfortune the greater,
my chief cook had dressed an olio a la Chine. I say
an olio, I say an olio, my lords, such an olio as

never appeared before upon a table in Japan-by
the lord it cost me fifty obans; and I had not time
to taste a morsel. (275)

This episode could be used to illustrate Cato's complaint that there

was a greater interest in food than in public service during his

time,23 for Fika-kaka never returns to the subject to be discussed at

the meeting-what to do about the loss of Motao (Minorca), one of the

early military disasters of the Seven Years War.

It may be significant, too, that the dish which distracts Fika-

kaka is an olio, a highly spiced stew. In his Estimate, John Brown

denounced this luxurious cuisine:

High Soups and Sauces, every Mode of foreign Cookery
that can quicken Taste, and spur the lagging Appe-
tite, is assiduously employed. The End of Eating is
not the allaying of natural Hunger, but the Gratifi-
cation of sordid and debasing Appetite. Hence the most
inflaming Foods, not those which nourish, but those
which irritate, are adopted; while the cool and tem-
perate Diets that purify the Blood, are banished to
inferior Tables.24

Fika-kaka has moved beyond the mere satisfaction of hunger to the stimu-

lation and gratification of appetite. He is willing to pay a great

price for his pleasures (fifty obans), but his country pays a greater

price through his neglect of his duty.

Not even the pleasures at table, however, can match the sensual

pleasure Fika-kaka receives from submitting to the debasing ritual of

being kicked by his sovereign: "He presented his posteriors to be

kicked as regularly as the day revolved; and presented them not barely

with submission, but with all the appearance of fond desire: and truly

this diurnal exposure was attended with such delectation as he never

enjoyed in any other attitude." (243) Fika-kaka yearns for the kicks

of Got-hama-baba because he suffers from an itching of the podex

caused by "the juxtaposition of two atoms quarelling for precedency,

in this the Cuboy's seat of honour. Their pressing and squeezing and

elbowing and Jostling, though of no effect in discomposing one another,

occasioned all this irritation and titillation in the posteriors of

Fika-kaka." (244)

Fika-kaka's condition is alleviated somewhat by the abrasion

caused by the kicks of his king. But on one memorable occasion a

prodigious kick inserts the Atom, who had been located under the nail

of the king's great toe, "exactly in the interstice between the two

hostile particles, which were thus in some measure restrained from

wrangling; though it was not in my power to keep the peace entirely.

Nevertheless, Fika-kaka's torture was immediately suspended; and he

was even seized with an orgasm of pleasure, analagous to that which

characterizes the ecstacy of love." (245)

Having experienced this orgasm, Fika-kaka easily moves from the

desire to relieve his itch to the quest for sensual pleasure. The

Atom declares that "pleasure and pain are simple, independent ideas,

incapable of definition; and this which Fika-kaka felt was an ecstasy

compounded of positive pleasure ingrafted upon removal of pain." (245)

Fika-kaka thus moves from the Epicurean ideal of bodily indolence

through avoiding pain to the hedonistic pursuit of pleasure.

Fika-kaka discovers a way of increasing his pleasure when he

asks a flunkey with a beard

to make oral application to the part affected. The
proposal was embraced without hesitation, and effect
even transcended the hope of the Cuboy. The oscula-
tion itself was soft, warm, emollient, and comfortable;
but when the nervous papillae were gently streaked,
and, as it were, fondled by the long elastic, peri-
staltic, abstersive fibres that composed this
reverend verriculum, such a delectable titillation
ensued, that Fika-kaka was quite in raptures. (246)

Like the gluttons described by "Estimate" Brown, Fika-kaka makes a

luxurious habit of inflaming his appetite in order to have it satis-

fied by his bearded underlings:

That which he intended at first for a medicine he
now converted into an article of luxury. All the
Bonzas who enrolled themselves in the number of his
dependants . were enjoined every day to perform
this additional and posterior rite of worship so
productive of delight to the Cuboy, that he was
every morning impatient to receive the Dairo's
calcitration, or rather his pedestrian digitation;
after which he flew with all the eagerness of de-
sire to the subsequent part of his entertainment."

In order to indulge his appetite, Fika-kaka chooses his dependents

according to the length, color, and texture of their beards. He

prefers black beards, however, because of the electrical crackle emitted

during posterior osculation. The Atom explains that "a black beard,

like the back of a black cat, becomes a phosphorous in the dark, and

emits sparkles upon friction," (248) and Fika-kaka "being ignorant of

philosophy, ascribed it to some supernatural virtue, in consequence of

which they were promoted as the holiest of the Bonzes [priests]. But

you and I know, that such a phosphorous is obtained from the most

worthless and corrupted materials, such as rotten wood, putrefied veal,

and stinking whiting." (249) By having those who seek his patronage

this debasing ritual, Fika-kaka ensures that the governing classes

will be composed of the most worthless and corrupted materials men-

tioned in the passage. Pursuing his own pleasure, he ignores the

consequences to the state.

The intimations of homosexuality, suggested by the sexual

ecstasy Fika-kaka experiences while his flunkeys kiss his arse, are

probably deliberate. "Estimate" Brown points out in a passage already

quoted that luxury leads to effeminacy. Historians also pointed to

the depraved sexuality portrayed in Petronius as an example of the

corruptions of Epicureanism. Pope made similar Innuendoes about the

sexuality of Lord Hervey in his character of Sporus; Lord Hervey's

sexual tastes are seen as the outward manifestation of his corrupt

alliance with Robert Walpole. Smollett is also fond of such innuendoes:

Earl Strutwell in Roderick Random tries to seduce the hero by inquiring

about his opinion of the love depicted in Petronius, and in Peregrine

Pickle there is a feast in imitation of the ancients recalling Trimal-

chio's feast in The Satyricon.

Fika-kaka displays not only the pursuit of sensual pleasure often

associated with Epicureanism but also the absence of religious prin-

ciple. This want of principle is dramatized in an incident where

Fika-kaka inquires about the nature of the soul. He is led to this

inquiry by the suspicion that Taycho (Pitt) has achieved his mastery

over the mob by witchcraft. Smollett presents his thinking this way:

"For if there is no devil," said he, "there is no soul
to be damned; and it would be a reproach to the jus-
tice of heaven, to suppose that all souls are to be
saved, considering what rascally stuff mankind are
made of." This was an inference which gave him great
disturbance; for he was one of those who would rather

encounter eternal damnation, than run risk of being
annihilated. (331)

Fika-kaka calls on twenty priests to explain the nature of the soul to

him and they give him twenty different answers. More confused than

ever, he asks the advice of Mura-clami (Lord Mansfield):

"My dear Mura, as I have a soul to be saved!-A soul to
be saved!--ay, there's the rub!-the devil a soul have
I! Those Bonzes [priests] are good for nothing but to
kiss my a-se; a parcel of ignorant asses! Pox on their
philosophy! Instead of demonstrating the immortality
of the soul, they have plainly proved the soul is a
chimera, a Will-o'-the-wisp, a bubble, a term, a word,
a nothing! My dear Mura! prove but that I have a
soul, and I shall be contented to be damned to all
eternity!" "If that be the case," said the other,
"your Quambukuship [Excellency] may set your heart at
rest: for, if you proceed to govern this empire, in
conjunction with Taycho [Pitt], as you have begun, it
will become a point of eternal justice to give you an
immortal soul (if you have not one already), that you
may undergo eternal punishment, according to your
demerits." (332-33)

It is not surprising that the priests cannot give Fika-kaka the answers

he seeks, because they are as corrupt as he is, having achieved their

position not through merit or virtue but because of their willingness

to debase themselves to satisfy Fika-kaka s sensual appetite. After

hearing Mura-clami's argument that he has a soul in order to be pun-

ished for his sins, Fika-kaka demonstrates the depth of his corruption:

The Cuboy was much comforted by this assurance, and
returned to his former occupations with redoubled
ardour. He continued to confer benefices on his
back-friends, the Bonzes; to regulate the whole army
of tax-gatherers; to bribe the tribunes, the centurions,
the decuriones, and all the inferior mob-drivers of the
empire. . He possessed all the pomp of ostentation;
the vanity of levees, the pride of being kicked by his

sovereign and kissed by his Bonzes; and, above all,
the delights of the stomach and the close-stool,
which recurred in perpetual succession, and which he
seemed to enjoy with a particular relish: for, it
must be observed, to the honour of Fika-kaka, that
what he eagerly received at one end, he as liberally
refunded at the other. (332-33)

Religious principle is dead in Fika-kaka, so the prospect of eternal

damnation only moves him to redouble his efforts to pursue his selfish

pleasures while undermining the political process through bribery and

corruption. By dramatizing Fika-kaka's defiance of God's justice,

Smollett is suggesting that Newcastle, despite his ludicrous idiosyn-

crasies, is no mere fool but a genuine villain.

Mura-clami's speech on divine justice brings into focus the other

references to Providence and the will of the gods in the satire. The

intimacy between Got-hama-baba and Fika-kaka, for example, is said

to fulfill "the ends of Providence" (240) and there are other refer-

ences (392) to the "interposition" of Providence. The traditional signs

of decline-Eplcureanism, the pursuit of personal pleasure, the decline

of public virtue, the corruption of the political process through

bribery, the erosion of religious principle-are thus placed in a

larger context as God's judgment on the people of England for turning

away from Him.

In the "Advertisement From the Publisher to the Reader," which

precedes the Atom, S. Etherington, Smollett's fictional publisher, com-

pares the Atom to "the Vision of Ezekiel, or the Lamentations of Jere-

miah the prophet." (226) The Atom is indeed a jeremiad, a generalized

denunciation of the badness of the times. Just as Jeremiah prophesied

the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian Captivity when the

Israelites turned away from God, so too does Smollett predict the

decline of England into the"gulph of perdition" which opens up on the

last page of the Atom.


Foster, p. 1032.

2Paulson, p. 1
Paulson, p. 193.
Paulson, p. 192.

4Charles Harrison, "Ancient Atomists and English Literature in
the Seventeenth Century," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology,
45 (1934), 26.

5For a discussion of Charleton's version of Epicurus, see
Thomas Franklin Mayo, Epicurus in England 1650-1725 (Dallas: South-
west Press, 1934), PP. 33-42.

Mayo, pp. 51-54.

Sir William Temple, Five Miscellaneous Essays, ed. Samuel Holt
Monk (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1963), p. 6.

Temple, p. 7.

Charles de Secondat, baron de la Brede et de Montesquieu,
Considerations on the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and their
Decline, ed. David Lowenthal (New York: Free Press, 1965), p. 97.

Montesquieu, p. 97.

Montesquieu, p..98.

David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding and
Other Essays, ed. Ernest C. Mossner (New York: Washington Square
Press, 1963), p. 142.

13 Hume, p. 130.

14 Quoted in Mayo, p. 213

15 Montesquieu, p. 98.

John Brown, An Estimate of the Manners and Principles of the
Times, 7th ed. (London, 1758), p. 19.

17 Brown, pp. 16-17.

Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the
Roman Empire, ed. J. B. Bury, 5th ed. (London: Methuen, 1909), I, p. 60.

19 James William Johnson, The Formation of English Neo-Classical
Thought (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967), p. 105.

20 Conyers Middleton, The Life of M. Tullius Cicero (London,
1823), II, p. 436.

21 Middleton, II, p. 436.

Middleton, II, p. 437.

23 Donald Earl, The Moral and Political Tradition of Rome
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1967), p. 45.

24 Brown, p. 23.


The writer of political satire in the eighteenth century always

ran the risk of prosecution for seditious libel. According to

Laurence Hanson,

A seditious libel . was one likely to bring into
hatred or contempt, or to excite disaffection against,
the King or his heirs, the government, the Houses of
Parliament, or the administration of Justice, or to
incite people to alter anything in Church or State by
other than lawful means. Nor was it libellous only
to condemn the existing government. It was equally
criminal to libel the State as an institution.1

The breadth of this definition virtually precluded direct criticism of

political affairs, and even writers who made their points obliquely

through innuendo often went to great lengths to head off the possibility

of prosecution.

Some of the mysterious circumstances surrounding the publication

of the Atom may have been sensible precautions taken to stay out of

court. Anonymous authorship is only the most obvious ploy. James R.

Foster thinks that the juggling of printers may have been a trick to

"baffle the authorities" further concerning the authorship of the Atom,2

a remarkable precaution indeed, for Smollett was living in Europe out

of reach of English law. Another possible ploy is the misdating of

the first edition as 1748 instead of 1769, which is apparently delib-

erate, because Smollett's fictional publisher, "S. Etherington," says

that he received the manuscript "in the present year 1748."(225)

Fraudulent dates were often employed by publishers of satire because

it was legally important to have the edition closest to the author's

original manuscript to determine if he had written the libel. Since,

as C. R. Kropf notes, most defenses in libel actions were "usually

based on technicalities,"4 It appears likely that these subterfuges

were attempts to lay the groundwork for a defense against seditious

libel. Since Smollett had already received an expensive legal educa-

tion when he lost a libel action brought by Admiral Knowles, for

which he served eleven weeks in King's Bench Prison, his caution is


Smollett does not make his points directly in the Atom itself

but employs the time-honored device of allegory. "For the benefit of

you miserable mortals," the Atom tells Nathaniel Peacock, "I am deter-

mined to promulgate the history of one period, during which I underwent

some strange revolutions in the empire of Japan, and was conscious of

some political anecdotes now to be divulged for the instruction of

British ministers." (229) This hint is taken up by "S.Etherington"

in his "Advertisement From the Publisher to the Reader" where he sup-

plies the source for Smollett's Japanese allegory:

As to the MS. before I would treat for it, I read it
over attentively, and found it contained divers curious
particulars of a foreign history, without any allusion
to, or resemblance with, the transactions of these times.
I likewise turned over to Kempfer and the Universal
History, and found in their several accounts of Japan
many of the names and much of the matter specified in
the following sheets. (225-26)


By protesting too much about the irrelevance of the Atom to current

events, "Etherington" invites the reader to make analogies. The Atom,

then, poses as a dream vision and a mirror for magistrates, "predicting"

English history from the perspective of 1748 and using the history of

Japan as its allegorical vehicle. The irony for Smollett's readers is

that from the perspective of 1769 the prophecy had come true.

Smollett's knowledge of Japanese history probably came from

the second source mentioned by "Etherington," the account of Japan

and the East Indies in the Universal History, which in turn relied

heavily upon Engelbert Kaempfer's History of Japan, published in two

volumes in 1727-28. Smollett had been involved in much of the editing

and compilation of material in the Universal History, but it does not

seem likely that he compiled the History of Japan.5 Shortly after the

Universal History volume was published, however, a notice appeared in

the Critical Review, which Louis Martz attributes to Smollett. This

review appears to be the germ of the Atom. Seizing upon the author's

comparison of Japan and England, the reviewer lists other similarities

in coasts, climate, produce, resources, and, above all, "the genius

and disposition of the people." The reviewer concludes his comparison

of the English and the Japanese with this description of their similar

vices and foibles: "The Japanese are proud, supercilious, passionate,

humourous, and addicted to suicide; split into a multitude of religious

sects, and so distracted by political factions, that the nation is at

last divided between two separate governments." This description of

the Japanese is very much in the spirit of Smollett's denunciations of

the mob in The Briton and his characterization of the Japanese in the


In the Atom, however, the oblique method of talking about Eng-

land by talking about Japan is far more specific than the article in

the Critical Review. The elements from Japanese history are carefully

selected for their analogous relationship to very specific targets of

satire. A good example of this use of analogies is Smollett's adop-

tion of the Japanese religion of Fakku-basi to stand for English

foreign policy regarding Hanover. The Universal History gives this

account of the establishment of Fakku-basi: "Bupo, otherwise called

Kobot, landed in Japan, from the Indies and brought with him, on a

white horse, a book, called Kio, containing the mysteries of his

religion; not long after which, a temple was erected to him, which is

still called Fakkubasi, or the temple of the white horse." This

passage serves as an outline for Smollett's account in the Atom, but

more details are added to make it fit the English situation:

The prince, who held the reins of government in the
short period which I intend to record, was not a
lineal descendent of the ancient Dairos, the imme-
diate succession having failed, but sprung from a
collateral branch which was invited from a foreign
country in the person of Bupo, in honour of whom
the Japanese erected Fakku-basi, or the temple of
the white horse. So much were all his successors
devoted to the culture of this idol, which, by the
by, was made of the vilest materials, that, in order
to enrich his shrine, they impoverished the whole
empire. (234-35)

By adding the information about the interrupted succession, Smollett

transforms Bupo into George I, who also came from a foreign country.

Smollett's readers would have associated the religion with Hanover

because of the white horse, which not only refers to the idol in the

temple but also to the insignia worn by the hated Hessian mercenaries

when they were quartered in England.9

Smollett dwells on the religious aspects of Fakku-basi, calling

it in another passage "the orthodox faith in Japan, . founded, as

St. Paul saith of the Christian religion, upon the evidence of things

not seen." (262) Smollett also provides a creed for Fakku-basi,

"which the Japonese ministers swallowed as glib as the English clergy

swallowed the thirty-nine articles." (263) Besides nonsensical tenets,

like the belief that the moon is made of green cheese, the creed

includes an overt expression of Hanoverian foreign policy: "I believe

that the island of Niphon is joined to the continent of Jeddo, and that

whoever thinks otherwise shall be damned to all eternity." (262)

Smollett emphasizes the religious aspects of Fakku-basi to point out

that the English position regarding Hanover is not a rational foreign

policy but a superstition based on the evidence of things not seen.

It asserts a connection between English and Hanoverian interests which

does not exist, yet the English ministers are willing to impoverish the

kingdom to protect the Electorate. Fakku-basi also serves as an appro-

priate vehicle to convey Smollett's disgust over the slogan, "The Church

is in danger," which, as we have seen, he considered a cant phrase

meaning that Hanover was in danger.

Smollett also found a parallel with English history in the fate

of the Japanese rulers:

Antiently the emperors were likewise sovereign pontiffs,
under the title of dairo's; at which time, their
persons and dignity were held so sacred that not
only every rebellion against them, but even every con-
travention to their decrees . were detested as
crimes against the Deity itself. . And as they
lived thus in the grandest splendor, luxury, and

effeminacy, they committed the chief care of the civil,
and all the military, affairs to their prime minister,
who was styled cubo, . and it was by one of these
cubo's that the dairo's were stripped of their whole
civil authority. . The former is still permitted
to live in the same state and grandeur as his ances-
tors did, and the latter is still obliged to pay him
a kind of homage, as if he acted only as his deputy,
or viceroy: but all that is mere ceremony.10

Concerned as he was with the erosion of the King's prerogative, Smollett

must have found the Japanese Dairo an apt emblem for the King of England.

In fact, the Dairo is used as an emblem for the figurehead monarch in

the Briton No. 25, in which Smollett poses as a citizen of London who

recommends that the Lord Mayor of London become the de facto ruler of


You may be surprised, that in this sketch of reforma-
tion, I have scarce mentioned the k[in]g by name; but
the truth is, I would consider it as a name only, a
vox et praeterea nihil. I would have the k[in]g of
E[nglanjd like the last Caliphs of Bagdat, or the
Dairo of Japan, or that race of sovereigns, known
in France by the epithet Faineans. They enjoyed the
nominal honours, the personal veneration of the sub-
jects, the form, the pomp, the trappings and gewgaws
of royalty; but the substance of empire, the power,
the influence and authority resided in the sultan,
the cuba, and the mayor of the palace.

The citizen of London impersonated by Smollett represents all the

enemies of subordination, who would "reform" the English constitution

by bringing the King down to their level in order to improve their


In the Atom, Smollett adopts the relationship between the Dairo

and the Cuboy to describe the shift in power from the King to the prime

minister, which alarmed him:

Japan was originally governed by monarchs who pos-
sessed an absolute power, and succeeded by heredi-
tary right, under the title of Dairo; but in the
beginning of the period of Foggien, this emperor
became a cypher and the whole administration de-
volved into the hands of the prime minister, or
cuboy, who now exercises all the power and author-
ity, leaving the trappings of royalty to the
inactive Dairo. (234)

The cuboy or prime minister in the Atom is named Taycho, and

stands for William Pitt. According to the Universal History, the

Japanese Taycho was a military hero of common birth who "stripped the

emperors of the last remains of their secular authority, and made him-

self absolutely independent of them in secular affairs." Although

Pitt never led men into battle, he did take charge of the war after he

became a part of the administration and was credited with the British

victories. "Since Marlborough," J. H. Plumb writes, "England had

never known such a triumph of arms. The public's regard for Pitt

bordered on idolatry."12

Once in office, the Japanese Taycho, like Pitt, does not take

long to establish a tyranny. Before he can take over the conduct of

the war, he has to "establish a despotism in the council of Twenty-

Eight, some members of which had still the presumption to offer their

advice towards the administration of affairs." (341) Taycho/Pitt

refuses to co-operate with the other members of the council, responding

to questions at a meeting with baby talk. He then blindfolds the King

and padlocks the lips of the ministers, explaining that

it was necessary that his imperial majesty should
remain in the dark, and that the whole council
should be muzzled for a season, otherwise he could

not accomplish the great things he had projected
in favour of the farm of Yesso [Hanover]. . .
He therefore exhorted him to undergo a total pri-
vation of eye-sight, which was at best a trouble-
some faculty, that exposed mankind to a great
variety of disagreeable spectacles. (342-43)

Because of his attachment to Hanover, the King gives in. Smollett's

lesson is clear: the erosion of the King's prerogative results in a

tyrant like William Pitt.

It can be said, then, that Smollett went to some pains to find

appropriate analogies from the history of Japan to express his satiri-

cal thrusts against the folly of Hanoverian foreign policy and the

danger to the constitution of the shift in authority from the King

to the prime minister. One suspects, however, that the accuracy of

the analogies was probably lost on his readers, who can hardly have

been expected to consult Kaempfer, despite Smollett's two footnotes

referring to the work.

If the Japanese imagery in the Atom was obscure to Smollett's

readers, the same cannot be said for the rest of the emblematic imagery,

which draws upon a tradition of political iconography found in pamphlets,

ballads, newspapers, and pictorial satire going back a century or more.

Graphic satire in particular had become an effective transmitter of

political propaganda by the middle of the eighteenth century. Accord-

ing to Herbert Atherton,

Before 1727 the bulk of graphic satire occupied a
subsidiary place, as frontispiece and illustration
to pamphlet and broadside. By the 1760s the political
print, in which the graphic design was the focus of
attention, with verses and commentary in ancillary
roles, flourished. The publication of collections of
prints in book-form, beginning in the late 1750s, is
proof of the independent identity of this satiric

As M. Dorothy George points out, most of these prints-especially during

the Bute administration-were anti-ministerial:

It seems odd that the Ministry made almost no
attempt at pictorial counter-propaganda, though
there were ministerial journalists and pamphlet-
eers (much abused in the prints). Speaking very
roughly, there are extant some 400 prints against
Bute-not counting all the copies and piracies-
and only four on the other side.14

Quantity should not be equated with effectiveness, however. One

of the prints supporting Bute was William Hogarth's The Times (1762),

which depicted Pitt, John Wilkes, Charles Churchill, and other opposi-

tion figures as incendiaries fanning the flames of faction and interfer-

ing with the efforts of George III and his ministers to put out the fire.

Wilkes and Churchill sought to diminish the impact of this print drawn

by an artist of Hogarth's talent and prestige by launching a campaign

of personal abuse, which accused Hogarth of prostituting his talent

for personal gain.

It is hard to exaggerate the grossness and scurrility which

characterize the verbal and graphic political satire of this period.

Most of the attacks on Bute, for example, asserted a sexual relation-

ship between him and the King's mother, which left little to the

imagination.15 Smollett attacked the scurrility of the prints in the

Briton No. 16 and No. 32; in the latter he urges in all seriousness that

the vendors and publishers "be scourged, branded and have their ears

cut off." He never understood why the administration did not take

legal action on the grounds of seditious libel and attributed the

inaction to Lord Bute's "absurd stoicism." M. Dorothy George, who

agrees that the prints probably were actionable, suggests that the

administration did not want the offensive libel circulated further by

the publicity which a trial would engender.16

As a ministerial writer, Smollett was himself caricatured in the

prints. James R. Foster's article on "Smollett and the Atom" reproduces

a print of Smollett "as zany to Bute, the Mountebank, who offers his

gold lozenges to the 'bonny lads from the north of the Tweed' as a

sovereign remedy for their 'golden itch.'"17 Atherton reproduces

another attack on Smollett, John Bull's House sett in Flames

[BMC 3890], which reverses the imagery of The Times by portraying Bute

and his allies as incendiaries with Pitt attempting to put out the

flames. Bute says, "Brother SMALL WIT We had better retreat." These

personal attacks may have inspired Smollett to respond with a political

"cartoon" of his own, the Atom, drawing upon the same arsenal of politi-

cal icons that his enemies used against him.
The only direct allusion to graphic art in the Atom is/Hogarth,

which comes during the ministerial deliberations over the loss of Motao

(Minorca). Having lost control of his bowels out of fear of the mob

(as he often does in the Atom), Fika-kaka (Newcastle) "sat about five

seconds in silence, having in his countenance nearly the same expression

which you have seen in the face and attitude of Felix on his tribunal,

as represented by the facetious Hogarth, in his print done after the

Dutch taste." (275) Smollett refers to Hogarth's Paul Before Felix

Burlesqued, a parody of his own painting Paul Before Felix. Paul's

effect on Felix has been to move his bowels, and the governor sits on

his throne with an expression of embarrassment and discomfort, the per-

fect analogy to Newcastle.

Paul Before Felix Burlesqued is not a political print, but

Smollett appears to have had Hogarth's The Times in mind in another

passage where Taycho (Pitt) attacks the continental connection:

He declared, that not a man should be sent to the
continent, nor a subsidy granted to any greedy,
mercenary, freebooting Tartar [Frederick the Great];
and threatened, that if any corrupt minister should
dare to form such a connexion, he would hang it about
his neck, like a millstone, to sink him to perdition.
The bellows of Taycho's oratory blew up such a flame
in the nation, that the Cuboy and all his partizans
were afraid to whisper one syllable about the farm
[Hanover]. (285)

According to J. H. Plumb, Pitt in fact made a speech using the figure
of the millstone to characterize the continental connection.1 Since

he later came to support Hanoverian foreign policy when he was admitted

to the administration, he condemned himself out of his own mouth, as

far as Smollett was concerned. A millstone appears hanging around

Pitt's neck in The Times marked "3000 pounds per annum" the amount of

a pension granted to him after he left the government. Smollett and

other ministerial writers often referred to Pitt sarcastically as

"The Great Pensioner," criticizing him for accepting it from the King

whose policies he attacked after he left office. In Smollett's mind,

Pitt's about-face concerning Hanover was a greater hypocrisy than

accepting the pension, so he changes the meaning of the millstone

accordingly. Also, in The Times Pitt is seen fanning the flames with

a bellows, just as Taycho does in the Atom.

The clearest example of Smollett's borrowing from graphic politi-

cal satire, however, is his account of the abortive expedition against

the coast of China (France):


In surveying the shore through spying glasses, [the
commander] perceived the whole beach instantaneously
fortified, as it were, with parapets of sand, which
had escaped the naked eye; and at one particular part,
there appeared a body of giants with very hideous
features, peeping, as it were, from behind those
parapets; from which circumstance the Japanese gen-
eral concluded there was a very formidable ambuscade,
which he thought it would be madness to encounter,
and even folly to ascertain. . I shall now,
Peacock, let you into the whole secret. This great
officer was deceived by the carelessness of the com-
misary, who instead of perspectives, had furnished
him with glasses peculiar to Japan, that magnified
and multiplied objects at the same time. . The
large parapets of sand were a couple of mole-hills;
and the gigantic faces of grim aspect, were the
posteriors of an old woman sacrificing sub dio, to
the powers of digestion. (321)

This passage seems to be based on a print entitled The Whiskers. Or

Sr Jno Suckling's Bugga Boh's [BMC 3625], published in 1757. The print

depicts the English commander on the deck of his ship surveying the

shore through a telescope. On the shore, a troop of women expose their

posteriors to the ship. A thought balloon issues from Sir John Suckling

which says, "Oh! Lord. I am sure they are the Swiss Guards. I know

them by their Broad Faces & their Whiskers." The description of the

print in the British Museum Catalogue points out that "this print is

intended to ridicule the failure of the expedition sent against Roche-

fort, especially that part of the defense of Sir John Mordaunt, the

commander in chief, where he magnified the probable number of the French

forces prepared to oppose him." Smollett has reduced the troop of

women to one old woman, and Sir John Mordaunt's exaggeration of the

number of troops is attributed to the special glasses issued by the

commissary, but otherwise the imagery is identical. Smollett's readers

would surely have made the connection between the print and this account.

Once the Atom is placed against the background of political

iconography, other bizarre elements become intelligible. The prominent

buttock-kicking and buttock-kissing, for example, might strike the

modern reader as an appropriate reductive metaphor for the relationship

between superior and inferior in politics-and perhaps it is. Smollett,

however, restricts this practice to the reign of George II; when George

III ascends the throne, Newcastle offers himself to be kicked, but the

new King refuses. "Different reigns," Smollett observes drily, "dif-

ferent customs." (377)

By restricting the custom to George II, Smollett appears to be

reviving some old satires against that sovereign from the 1730s.

Smollett himself noted in the History that George II was reputed to

have a short temper when he was young.2 James R. Foster points out,

further, that "it was common knowledge that George II often gave vent to

his anger by kicking his hat or wig around; and the story of how he

kicked the famous quack, Dr. 'Spot' Ward, who while examining an

infected royal thumb gave it a painful squeeze, circulated widely."21

This personal quirk was exploited by graphic satirists in 1737 when the

King was very unpopular. M. Dorothy George describes two prints satiriz-

ing George:

Aeneas in a Storm [2326] shows the King's ship tempest-
tost, while Britannia waits his return to England from
Hanover; one of the winds in the clouds is kicking a
hat. Much more disrespectful is The Festival of the
Golden Hump [2327] in the same year. . It is based on
"The Vision of the Golden Rump" in Common Sense or the
Englishmen's Journal (written by Lord Chesterfield and
others) for 19 March: the King is a "pagod" on an altar,
a satyr with a golden rump; his high priestess (the
Queen) tried to appease him "when he lifted up his
cloven hoof to correct his domesticks."22

Common Sense for 11 June 1737 also printed "An Essay on Kicking," In

which the author suggests that "Kicking might be introduced into public

Business instead of Bribing; I don't doubt but it might answer all the

same Purposes, for I am firmly of the Opinion, that whoever will take

a Bribe will take a Kicking." Fearing that the King might exhaust

himself if he tried to kick everyone in his numerous court, the author

adds, "I should therefore be of Opinion, that no body should have the

Honour of being kick'd by the Sovereign except the first Minister, the

principal Secretaries of State, the President of his Councils, and some

few others the great Officers of the Crown."

Kicking, then, was understood to be a symbolic action summing

up the topsy-turvy morality of George II's reign. To be kicked was no

longer a sign of disapproval but of honor, just as bribe taking was

transformed from an immoral practice to the habitual means of governing

the nation. Kicking carries these same associations in the Atom.

It is important that the new reign should bring new customs, for

it implies that George III will repudiate the immoral practices of the

previous reign:

This Dairo never dreamed of kicking those whom he
delighted to honour. It was a secret of state which
had not yet come to his knowledge; and Yak-strot
[Bute] had always assured him that kicking in the
breech always and everywhere implied disgrace, as
kicking the parts before, betokens ungovernable
passion. (377-78)

Tutored in the principles of Patriotism by Lord Bute, George III

promises to restore morality to government, bestowing honors because

the recipients are worthy of them, not because he needs their votes

in Parliament. Smollett introduces a discordant note, however, when

he says that George has not yet learned this "secret of state," imply-

ing that George will learn the necessity of bribery. Unfortunately,

this turns out to be the case, for the corruption of politicians has

gone on for so long that Lord Bute is forced to make an alliance with

Henry Fox (Fokh-si-rokhu), who distributes perquisites to the Members

of Parliament: "Fokh-si-rokhu and his brother-undertakers, having

the treasure of Japan at their command, had anointed the greatest

part of the assembly with a certain precious salve, which preserved them

effectually from the fascinating arts of Taycho [Pitt]." (411-12) The

kicking may have disappeared during the reign of George III, but the

practice of bribery continued.

The buttock-kissing in the Atom also can be found in political

propaganda. Maynard Mack describes one print [BMC 2447], published

in 1740: "Entitled Idol Worship or the Way to Preferment, it portrays

a broad bared Walpolian posterior straddling a road that leads under a

great gate to various government employment and requiring to be paid
suitable homage by all who wish to pass beneath it."23 As the heir to

Walpole's corrupt political system, Newcastle demands the same homage

in the Atom.

The political icons found in the prints also shed some light

upon what is perhaps the most grotesque incident in the Atom-Fika-

kaka's [Newcastle's] metamorphosis into a woman. The transformation

occurs after Fika-kaka has been shunted aside by the new administration;

Qio-gio [George III] prevents him from "touching a certain sum out of

the treasury, which he had been accustomed to throw out of his windows

at stated periods, in order to keep up an interest among the dregs of

the people." (396) Deprived of his capacity to buy votes, Fika-kaka

loses power in the administration and becomes, in effect, an old


A study of political prints reveals that this imagery is not

original with Smollett. George points out that in the prints "New-

castle was often a goose or an old woman, sometimes an ass, the dupe

of Fox, and misled by his own minister and all-powerful secretary,

Andrew Stone."24 The first two icons are especially important in the

Atom, because they mark the final two steps of Fika-kaka's fall from

power. Fika-kaka first begins to worry his followers when he starts

to have conferences with midwives, but the more alarming incident comes

when "observing a nest with some eggs, which the goose had quitted, he

forthwith dropped his trowsers, and squatting down in the attitude of

incubation, began to stretch his neck, to hiss and to cackle, as if he

had been really metamorphosed into the animal whose place he now

supplied." (386-87) These signs of his effeminacy are confirmed when

one of his underlings prepares to render the expected posterior oscula-

tion and "spied something, or rather nothing, and was exceedingly

affrighted." Gio-Gio and Yak-strot (Bute) have Fika-kaka examined by

a jury of matrons who find him non mas: "The unhappy Cuboy, being thus

convicted, was divested of his office, and confined to his palace in

the country; while Gio-gio, by the advice of his favorite, published

a proclamation, declaring it was not for the honour of Japan that her

treasury should be managed by . an old woman." (397) The icons of

the goose and the old woman, which had been associated with Newcastle

as emblems of his distracted and ineffectual character, are used by

Smollett as demeaning metaphors to describe Fika-kaka's fall from high

office. His manliness derives solely from his power to distribute

bribes and offices to other politicians. Stripped of this power, he

reverts to his true nature: He becomes first a goose and then an old


In his treatment of Lord Bute and William Pitt, Smollett employs

political icons and motifs which were almost archetypal figures in the

popular imagination, having perhaps the same status to the eighteenth

century audience that the Republican elephant or the Democratic donkey

have in today's editorial cartoons. Taken together, they comprise

what Atherton has termed "The Statesman's Progress," a complex of

images and themes depicting the rise, temporary success, and downfall

of evil ministers. "The Statesman's Progress" was the collective crea-

tion of the Opposition writers to Robert Walpole and provided Smollett

with an arsenal of abusive icons and motifs to attack the politicians

of his time.

Smollett's presentation of Lord Bute in the Atom is perhaps

the most important aspect of the satire, because it revises considerably

the picture of him in The Briton. As a ministerial writer, Smollett

had no choice but to heap encomiums on Bute which he perhaps did not

believe himself. While he no doubt preferred Bute to Pitt, he had

reservations about Bute's performance while in office, which he could

express in the Atom.

Smollett depicts Bute as a puppet master, which is a political

icon with a long history of negative connotations. The first appear-

ance of the puppet show as a metaphor for politics in graphic satire

shows Charles II as "a raree-show man with his pack on his back, a

peep show containing the Parliament which he is carrying off to

Oxford."25 The raree-show was so called because the French puppet

masters mispronounced the English words when calling out their per-

formance. The general development of the metaphor is clearly set

out in this print: Parliament is a stage for its puppet members

who are in reality controlled by the King.

It is an indication of the shift in power from the King to the

prime minister that the puppet-master emblem was used so extensively

in ballads, poems, plays, and prints to depict Robert Walpole.

Walpole was often shown manipulating politicians by pulling red and

blue strings, symbolic of his Order of the Bath and Order of the

Carter. Malcolm G. Largmann points out some of the connotations of

the puppet show metaphor:

Judgments against Harlequin and Punch performances
by serious drama critics in eighteenth-century
journals, because such productions obscured the
conceptual meaning of the action and, consequently,
reduced the didactic impact of the piece, afforded
Tory journalists an additional barb with which to
pierce Walpole's supposed double-talking and double-
dealing. The First Minister is cast not merely as a
low character but his conduct is reflected in a
vulgar stage genre.26

Even after Walpole left office, he was suspected of manipulating

politics behind the scenes and attacked in a print entitled The Screen

[BMC 2540]:

Walpole (now Lord Orford) behind the screen is still
Punch, pulling the strings of puppet M. P.s; Pulteney
"Dear William," is informed:

. He was the Punch at first you saw;
He gives the other Puppets Law,
And by his secret Strings he still
Governs the others as he will;
And all the difference that is known.
You only hear another Tone:
The Puppet Man,--behind the Screen, 27
Is the same man,-although not seen.

A variation of the puppet theme surfaced during Newcastle's

administration in a print entitled Punch's Opera with the Humours

of Little Ben the Sailor [BMC 3394]. Lord Hardwicke, Lord Holdernesse,

Newcastle, Fox, Lyttleton, and Anson are presented as puppets by a

raree-show man who says, "These are my Figures of Fun Toute Noveau

(sic)." The British Museum Catalogue points out that "each puppet is

marked with one or more fleurs-de-lis, thus signifying the alleged sub-

servience of the ministers to French counsels." This print uses to

advantage the well-known fact that raree-show men were usually French

to imply the manipulation of English policy from abroad.

Like every other derogatory political emblem, the puppet-master

metaphor was applied to Lord Bute, especially after he resigned from

office on April 8, 1763. "For many years," George notes,

he remained a political bogy: the favourite, the
personification of "secret influence." This widely
held belief lost all touch with reality from 1765,
but persisted as part of the Whig doctrine of an
attempt by George III to regain the power of the
Crown and subvert the Constitution by ruling through
"King's Friends" and so by-pass the Cabinet. All
this is fully illustrated and exaggerated in the
prints, where Bute remains a prime villain through-
out the war with America-indeed for about thirty
years. The note was set as soon as he resigned in a
print with a title highly disrespectful to the King:
The S- Puppitt Shew or the whole Play of King
Solomon the Wise L4040]. Bute and the Devil are on
the stage, drawing back a curtain to display a row
of puppets among whom are the King and his mother.

Bute says, "Tho' I am out it's known for Certain,/
I prompt 'em still behind the Curtain." The King:
"War is no more & Smileing Peace/ Shall Taxes thro
the Land encrease."28

It is a sign of Smollett's disenchantment with Bute that he uses so

unflattering an image as the puppet-master to characterize him. He

does, however, change the emphasis of the metaphor to express his con-

viction that, despite his good intentions, Bute did not have the politi-

cal ability to put the Patriotic program into effect. Previously,

the icon was used to express the fear that one man could dictate to

politicians the way a puppet-master controls his puppets, but in the

Atom Yak-strot (Bute) is satirized as an incompetent puppet-master

whose puppets will not take orders. He is a comic figure, desperately

trying to arrange coalitions between incompatible factions in the

Cabinet, without success. He is a fool rather than a knave.

At first Yak-strot tries to work his will with the current com-

position of the Cabinet, but he soon changes his mind:

Yak-strot, who understood mechanics, and had studied
the art of puppet playing, tried an experiment on the
organs of the cabal, which he tempered with individually
without success. Instead of uttering what he prompted,
the sounds came out quite altered in their passage . .
In short, they were found so perverse and refractory
that the master of the motion kicked them off the
stage, and supplied the scene with a new set of
puppets made of very extraordinary materials. They
were the very figures through whose pipes the charge
of mal-administration had been so loudly sounded
against the Ximian [Scotch] favourite. They were now
mustered. . and hung upon the pegs of the very same
puppet-shew man against whom they had so vehemently
inveighed. (422)

As one might expect, this alliance with the ministers who had earlier

denounced him does not work out:

The first exhibition of the new puppets was called
Topsy-turvy, a farce in which they overthrew all the
paper houses which their predecessors had built;
but they performed their parts in such confusion,
that Yak-strot interposing to keep them in order
received divers contusions and severe kicks on the
shins, which made his eyes water; and, indeed, he
had in a little time reason enough to repent of the
revolution he had brought about. (423)

Eventually, Yak-strot becomes so desperate that Taycho is taken back

into the administration. Smollett calls this "the greatest master-

piece in politics that ever Yak-strot performed. Taycho, the formid-

able Taycho! whom in his single person he dreaded more than all his

other enemies of Japan united, was now become his coadjutor, abettor,

and advocate." (425)

Not even Taycho's presence can keep the government from collaps-

ing, however. Taycho falls prey to mental illness-Plumb describes

Pitt as a victim of "bouts of profound melancholia" during this

period 29and the other politicians form a conspiracy against Yak-strot,

tampering with some of the acting puppets, to join
their cabal, and make head against their master.
These exoterics grew so refractory, that, when he
tried to wheel them to the right, they turned to
the left about; and instead of joining hands in the
dance of politics, rapped their heads against each
other with such violence, that the noise of the col-
lision was heard in the street; and, if they had not
been made of the hardest wood in Japan, some of them
should certainly have been split in the encounter. (427)

In this passage, Smollett is working a variation on the old joke that

politician-puppets are dumb placemen who neither speak nor think inde-

pendently.30 These placemen think only too independently; they work

against the orders of their master, only to knock their block heads


All of Bute's attempts to form a coalition to govern England

fail. The end of the Atom finds Yak-strot desperately trying to impose

some order without success:

He now summoned council after council to deliberate
upon conciliatory expendients;but found the motley
crew so divided by self-interest, faction, and mutual
rancour, that no consistent plan could be formed; all
was nonsense, clamour, and contradiction. The ximian
favourite now wished all his puppets at the devil, and
secretly cursed the hour in which he first undertook
the motion. He even fell sick of chagrin, and resolved
in good earnest to withdraw himself entirely from the
political helm, which he was now convinced he had no
talents to guide. (433)

Bute's administration collapses both because of his own incompetence

and the self-interest of the faction arrayed against him.

If Smollett's criticism of Bute is tinged with some sympathy,

his attack on Pitt paints him as the blackest of villains. Virtually

every icon and motif of The Statesman's Progress" is used to abuse

Pitt and to reinforce the analogy between him and the detested Robert


One motif in both the political propaganda against Walpole and

the Atom is the theme that the evil minister is aided by Fortune. As

Atherton explains, "the notion that prosperous ministers were the

'insolent Creatures of Fortune' was the usual explanation of how vice

could temporarily gain triumph over virtue." Atherton points to

R-B-n's Progress in Eight Scenes [BMC 1938] in which Fortune in the

image of a semi-naked female presides over the triumph of Robert Walpole.

Fortune is also prominent in the frontispiece of Bolingbroke's A Disserta-

tion upon Parties [BMC 2150], and in The Wheel of Fortune, or, the Scot's

Step, Completed [BMC 2537] her wheel provides the motif.

In the Atom, Pitt's success in getting popular support for his

political programs is dismissed as the fortunate concurrence of the

inconstant feelings of the English people with Pitt's intentions:

One would have imagined that all the inconsistencies
and absurdities which characterize the Japonese
[English] nation, had taken their turns to reign,
just as the interest of Taycho's [Pitt's] ambition
required. When it was necessary for him to estab-
lish new principles, at that very instant their
levity prompted them to renounce their former maxims.
Just as he had occasion to fascinate their senses,
the daemon of caprice instigated them to shut their
eyes, and hold out their necks, that they might be
led by the noose. . Thus every thing concurred
to establish for orator Taycho a despotism of popu-
larity, and that not planned by reason, or raised by
art, but founded by fatality and finished by accident.

Pitt's good fortune persists when he decides to take personal

charge of the war: "The time was now come when Fortune, which hitherto

smiled upon the Chinese [French] arms, resolved to turn tail to that

vainglorious nation, and precisely at the same instant Taycho undertook

to display his whole capacity in the management of the war." (341)

The great English military victories are thus explained away as the

mere shift of fortune.

Smollett exposes the role of chance in Pitt's military success

by making the reader privy to his strategic ruminations. This, for

example, is Pitt's strategic reasoning for the campaign against Quebec:

He reflected that fortune, which had such a share in
all military events, in inconstant and variable; that
as the Chinese had been so long successful in Fatsisio
[North America], it was now their turn to be unfortunate.
He reflected that the demon of folly was capricious, and

that it had so long possessed the rulers and generals
of Japan, it was high time it should shift its quarters
and occupy the brains of the enemy, in which case they
would quit their advantageous posts, and commit some
blunder that would lay them at the mercy of the Japonese.

Again fortune co-operates with Pitt. The capture of Quebec was a great

victory, marred only by the death of the English commander, Wolfe, whom

Smollett praises both in the Atom and in the History.

Another motif from political propaganda employed by Smollett

against Pitt is the theme of the "king in toils." "The belief in a

captive sovereign, exploited and befuddled by conniving ministers,"

writes Atherton, "was a logical derivation of the legal fiction that

the king could do no wrong-a stock charge of Leicester House Oppositions.

This myth does not begin to appear in the prints until the era of the

Pelhams."32 Prints from this period usually depict the King, either

in his own person or as the British lion, fettered by his ministers.

The Mirrour: Or the British Lion's back friends detected [BMC 3487]

shows that "the lion's front legs are in fetters, attached to chains

which four members of Newcastle's government hold at the right side of

the lion."33 Tempora Mutantur [BMC 3886] employs a similar motif:

George III is depicted in his own person sitting on the throne blind-


Smollett employs similar imagery in an episode where Taycho

[Pitt] succeeds in having the Cabinet muzzled and the King blindfolded:

"He assured the Dairo [King] it was necessary that his imperial majesty

should remain in the dark, and that the whole council should be muzzled

for a season, otherwise he could not accomplish the great things he

had projected in favour of the farm of Yesso [Hanover]." (342) Taycho

exhorts the King "to undergo a total privation of eye-sight, which was

at best a troublesome faculty, that exposed mankind to a great variety

of disagreeable spectacles." (343) Out of his concern for Hanover,

the King consents to Pitt's wishes: "Rather than the dear farm should

fall into the hands of the Chinese [French], I would be contented to

be led about blindfold all the days of my life. Proceed in your own

way. I invest you with full power and authority, not only to gag my

whole council, but even to nail their ears to the pillory, should it

be found necessary for the benefit of Yesso." (344) Smollett's use

of the "king in toils" motif does not exculpate George II from respon-

sibility for the policies of his reign; rather, he is seen as willingly

giving up his authority to the tyrant, Pitt.

Of all the political icons used in Smollett's attack on Pitt,

perhaps the most damaging are the hydra and the quack, which represent

the mob and Pitt, respectively. Pitt and the mob are complements; he

not only manipulates the mob through trickery and deceit, but he is

also the expression of its will. The relationship between the hydra

and the quack is an allegorical depiction of the importance of Pitt's

popularity which vaulted him into political prominence.

As George points out, the hydra had a varied genealogy and was

used for a variety of propagandistic purposes: "A monster with seven

heads or more, verging sometimes towards a medieval dragon, sometimes

a hydra, sometimes a blend of Beast and hydra, became part of the stock-

in-trade of the satirical artist. It may represent a person or persons,

or sometimes a grievance, such as Excise or 'Corruption."35 The

hydra's derivation from the Beast of Revelation made it a good vehicle

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