The Expedition of Humphry Clinker

Smollett, Tobias

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

  • Date of entry: Dec-19-1996


Humphry Clinker is an epistolary novel, a collection of letters, that charts the adventures of a family group traveling through Britain. The head of the family is Matthew Bramble, a gouty old man, who is constantly writing his doctor with his complaints and visiting areas supposed to be good for his condition. He is accompanied by his niece, Lydia, who is in love with a poor man, Wilson. Her brother, an Oxford student, also comes along, as does Bramble's unwed sister, Tabitha. Tabitha's maid, Winifred Jenkins, accompanies her.

The group travels to Bath, London, Edinburgh, and the Scottish Highlands. Along the way, they meet Humphry Clinker, a dull-headed creature who becomes devoted to Matthew Bramble, even saving his life. He turns out to be Bramble's illegitimate son. Lydia's lover is discovered to be the son of a wealthy man who is Bramble's friend; they are finally happily married.

Tabitha marries Lismahago, an eccentric captain. Winifred Jenkins joins the festivities by marrying Clinker. Relieved of the feminine presence and bother in his life, Bramble recovers his health, writing to his doctor that from now on he will go hunting rather than write letters.


Humphry Clinker contains very concrete details about the social and material world of eighteenth century Britain. Most pertinently, it is pervaded with references to health, sickness, and healing. As the family moves from one place of healing to the next, Bramble tries a wide range of cures and meets numerous people suffering from different ailments. He treats his doctor as his friend and companion. Though Smollett never finished his medical apprenticeship, he was obviously familiar with many of the period's medical concepts.


First published: 1771


Oxford Univ. Press

Place Published

New York