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Abstract

Tobias Smollett’s last novel, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, articulates a deeply felt and acerbic indictment of British society. From the cesspools of Bath to the superficiality of London to the poverty of Scotland, Matthew Bramble and his family discover, in their travels, a nation suffering from the corrosive effects of institutional and systemic corruption. Even the country squirearchy, as represented by the Burdocks, the Bayards, and Lord Oxmington, spectacularly fails to provide the kind of hospitality and serenity so prized by traditionalists like Bramble. Given the parlous state of the kingdom, the sensible and sensitive Briton can only disengage and retreat ... but not too far. While condemning widespread anarchy and degeneracy in Britain, Humphry Clinker emphatically rejects a solution embraced by many disappointed or marginalized citizens: it abjures escape to the place where Moll Flanders and Jemy can “live as new People in a new World,” where Clarissa might hide her scandalous elopement until “all is blown over,” and where Henry Esmond finds serenity “far from Europe and its troubles, on the beautiful banks of the Potomac.”1 For Smollett, writing in 1771 during an alarming exodus from Scotland to the colonies, America represents a double danger: it siphons off manpower that could otherwise help build a strong post-Union Scotland, and it distributes wealth in the home country in a destructively egalitarian way. In Humphry Clinker, Smollett joins the argument against emigration by showing how colonial adventuring has damaged the social and political health of the mother nation and by depicting life in America as dangerously savage.

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