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- The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom, Part I. - 1/39 -


by Tobias Smollett



With the Author's Preface, and an Introduction by G. H. Maynadier, Ph.D. Department of English, Harvard University.




CHAPTER I Some sage Observations that naturally introduce our important History II A superficial View of our Hero's Infancy III He is initiated in a Military Life, and has the good Fortune to acquire a generous Patron IV His Mother's Prowess and Death; together with some Instances of his own Sagacity V A brief Detail of his Education VI He meditates Schemes of Importance VII Engages in Partnership with a female Associate, in order to put his Talents in Action VIII Their first Attempt; with a Digression which some Readers may think impertinent IX The Confederates change their Battery, and achieve a remarkable Adventure X They proceed to levy Contributions with great Success, until our Hero sets out with the young Count for Vienna, where he enters into League with another Adventurer XI Fathom makes various Efforts in the World of Gallantry XII He effects a Lodgment in the House of a rich Jeweller XIII He is exposed to a most perilous Incident in the Course of his Intrigue with the Daughter XIV He is reduced to a dreadful Dilemma, in consequence of an Assignation with the Wife XV But at length succeeds in his Attempt upon both XVI His Success begets a blind Security, by which he is once again well-nigh entrapped in his Dulcinea's Apartment XVII The Step-dame's Suspicions being awakened, she lays a Snare for our Adventurer, from which he is delivered by the Interposition of his Good Genius XVIII Our Hero departs from Vienna, and quits the Domain of Venus for the rough Field of Mars XIX He puts himself under the Guidance of his Associate, and stumbles upon the French Camp, where he finishes his Military Career XX He prepares a Stratagem, but finds himself countermined-- Proceeds on his Journey, and is overtaken by a terrible Tempest XXI He falls upon Scylla, seeking to avoid Charybdis. XXII He arrives at Paris, and is pleased with his Reception XXIII Acquits himself with Address in a Nocturnal Riot XXIV He overlooks the Advances of his Friends, and smarts severely for his Neglect XXV He bears his Fate like a Philosopher; and contracts acquaintance with a very remarkable Personage XXVI The History of the Noble Castilian XXVII A flagrant Instance of Fathom's Virtue, in the Manner of his Retreat to England XXVIII Some Account of his Fellow-Travellers XXIX Another providential Deliverance from the Effects of the Smuggler's ingenious Conjecture XXX The singular Manner of Fathom's Attack and Triumph over the Virtue of the fair Elenor XXXI He by accident encounters his old Friend, with whom he holds a Conference, and renews a Treaty XXXII He appears in the great World with universal Applause and Admiration XXXIII He attracts the Envy and Ill Offices of the minor Knights of his own Order, over whom he obtains a complete Victory XXXIV He performs another Exploit, that conveys a true Idea of his Gratitude and Honour XXXV He repairs to Bristol Spring, where he reigns paramount during the whole Season XXXVI He is smitten with the Charms of a Female Adventurer, whose Allurements subject him to a new Vicissitude of Fortune XXXVII Fresh Cause for exerting his Equanimity and Fortitude XXXVIII The Biter is Bit


The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom, Smollett's third novel, was given to the world in 1753. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, writing to her daughter, the Countess of Bute, over a year later [January 1st, 1755], remarked that "my friend Smollett . . . has certainly a talent for invention, though I think it flags a little in his last work." Lady Mary was both right and wrong. The inventive power which we commonly think of as Smollett's was the ability to work over his own experience into realistic fiction. Of this, Ferdinand Count Fathom shows comparatively little. It shows relatively little, too, of Smollett's vigorous personality, which in his earlier works was present to give life and interest to almost every chapter, were it to describe a street brawl, a ludicrous situation, a whimsical character, or with venomous prejudice to gibbet some enemy. This individuality--the peculiar spirit of the author which can be felt rather than described--is present in the dedication of Fathom to Doctor ------, who is no other than Smollett himself, and a candid revelation of his character, by the way, this dedication contains. It is present, too, in the opening chapters, which show, likewise, in the picture of Fathom's mother, something of the author's peculiar "talent for invention." Subsequently, however, there is no denying that the Smollett invention and the Smollett spirit both flag. And yet, in a way, Fathom displays more invention than any of the author's novels; it is based far less than any other on personal experience. Unfortunately such thorough-going invention was not suited to Smollett's genius. The result is, that while uninteresting as a novel of contemporary manners, Fathom has an interest of its own in that it reveals a new side of its author. We think of Smollett, generally, as a rambling storyteller, a rational, unromantic man of the world, who fills his pages with his own oddly-metamorphosed acquaintances and experiences. The Smollett of Count Fathom, on the contrary, is rather a forerunner of the romantic school, who has created a tolerably organic tale of adventure out of his own brain. Though this is notably less readable than the author's earlier works, still the wonder is that when the man is so far "off his beat," he should yet know so well how to meet the strange conditions which confront him. To one whose idea of Smollett's genius is formed entirely by Random and Pickle and Humphry Clinker, Ferdinand Count Fathom will offer many surprises.

The first of these is the comparative lifelessness of the book. True, here again are action and incident galore, but generally unaccompanied by that rough Georgian hurly-burly, common in Smollett, which is so interesting to contemplate from a comfortable distance, and which goes so far towards making his fiction seem real. Nor are the characters, for the most part, life-like enough to be interesting. There is an apparent exception, to be sure, in the hero's mother, already mentioned, the hardened camp-follower, whom we confidently expect to become vitalised after the savage fashion of Smollett's characters. But, alas! we have no chance to learn the lady's style of conversation, for the few words that come from her lips are but partially characteristic; we have only too little chance to learn her manners and customs. In the fourth chapter, while she is making sure with her dagger that all those on the field of battle whom she wishes to rifle are really dead, an officer of the hussars, who has been watching her lucrative progress, unfeelingly puts a brace of bullets into the lady's brain, just as she raises her hand to smite him to the heart. Perhaps it is as well that she is thus removed before our disappointment at the non-fulfilment of her promise becomes poignant. So far as we may judge from the other personages of Count Fathom, even this interesting Amazon would sooner or later have turned into a wooden figure, with a label giving the necessary information as to her character.

Such certainly is her son, Fathom, the hero of the book. Because he is placarded, "Shrewd villain of monstrous inhumanity," we are fain to accept him for what his creator intended; but seldom in word or deed is he a convincingly real villain. His friend and foil, the noble young Count de Melvil, is no more alive than he; and equally wooden are Joshua, the high-minded, saint-like Jew, and that tedious, foolish Don Diego. Neither is the heroine alive, the peerless Monimia, but then, in her case, want of vitality is not surprising; the presence of it would amaze us. If she were a woman throbbing with life, she would be different from Smollett's other heroines. The "second lady" of the melodrama, Mademoiselle de Melvil, though by no means vivified, is yet more real than her sister-in-law.

The fact that they are mostly inanimate figures is not the only surprise given us by the personages of Count Fathom. It is a surprise to find few of them strikingly whimsical; it is a surprise to find them in some cases far more distinctly conceived than any of the people in Roderick Random or Peregrine Pickle. In the second of these, we saw Smollett beginning to understand the use of incident to indicate consistent development of character. In Count Fathom, he seems fully to understand this principle of art, though he has not learned to apply it successfully. And so, in spite of an excellent conception, Fathom, as I have said, is unreal. After all his villainies, which he perpetrates without any apparent qualms of conscience, it is incredible that he should honestly repent of his crimes. We are much inclined to doubt when we read that "his vice and ambition was now quite mortified within him," the subsequent testimony of Matthew Bramble, Esq., in Humphry Clinker, to the contrary, notwithstanding. Yet Fathom up to this point is consistently drawn, and drawn for a purpose:--to show that cold-blooded roguery, though successful for a while, will come to grief in the end. To heighten the effect of his scoundrel, Smollett develops parallel with him the virtuous Count de Melvil. The author's scheme of thus using one character as the foil of another, though not conspicuous for its originality, shows a decided advance in the theory of constructive technique. Only, as I have said, Smollett's execution is now defective.

"But," one will naturally ask, "if Fathom lacks the amusing, and not infrequently stimulating, hurly-burly of Smollett's former novels; if its characters, though well-conceived, are seldom divertingly fantastic and never thoroughly animate; what makes the book interesting?" The surprise will be greater than ever when the answer is given that, to a large

The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom, Part I. - 1/39

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