The poems, plays, and political writings included in this volume are essential to an understanding of Tobias Smollett and the literary and social currents of eighteenth-century England. In introductions to the separate sections of the volume, Byron Gassman identifies the circumstances that prompted Smollett to undertake these writings, traces the history of their publication and reception, and provides extensive explanations of historical and literary allusions.
The poems in the volume represent Smollett's entire achievement as a poet. Among the shorter poems are "A New Song," his first printed work; "The Tears of Scotland," an early expression of his defiant spirit; and the popular "Ode to Independence," written during the last decade of his life. Two longer works, "Advice" (1746) and its sequel, "Reproof" (1747), are satires written in Popean heroic couplets; they mark the beginnings of Smollett's attacks on theater managers, corrupt politicians, iniquitous military leaders, and other well-known personalities of the day. An appendix to this volume includes five additional poems assigned but not definitely attributed to Smollett.
The Reprisal; or The Tars of Old England and The Regicide are the only extant plays by Smollett. The Regicide, written when the author was only eighteen or nineteen, dramatizes the story of the murder of James I of Scotland. The Reprisal, a patriotic comedy performed as an afterpiece at the Theatre Royal, was a moderate theatrical success.
Smollett's political writings for The Briton, a weekly journal he established in 1762 for defending the policies of the Earl of Bute, mark a particularly painful period in the author's life. A paper war erupted with the first number, and Smollett and Bute became the objects of scathing counterattacks, particularly in the writings of John Wilkes. This volume brings together for the first time all issues of The Briton and also includes a key identifying the weekly's numerous elliptical references to persons and places.