Literary Daybook, Jan. 15

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

Published January 15, 2002 8:00PM (EST)

Today in fiction

On Jan. 15, 1991, five members of the Ninety South Expedition reach the South Pole.
-- "Antarctic Navigation" (1994)
by Elizabeth Arthur

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
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Today in Literary History

On this day in 1752, the British novelist Tobias Smollett published (under an all-important pseudonym) a pamphlet entitled "A Faithful Narrative of the Base and Inhuman Acts" that were lately practiced upon the brain of Habbakkuk Hilding, Justice, Dealer and Chapman. In the clubby, coffee-house subculture to which Smollett and the other London wits belonged, "Habbakkuk Hilding" was understood to be fellow-novelist Henry Fielding; among other grudges, the pamphlet charged Fielding with having stolen some of Smollett's characters in "Roderick Random" (1748) for his own "Tom Jones." Attack-by-pamphlet was an acceptable recreation among gentleman, and one enjoyed by the general public, but Smollett tended to play rougher than most. His portrait of Fielding as one "in a deplorable state of Lunacy, a dreadful Monument to False Friendship and Delusion," was, as the "Cambridge History of English and American Literature" puts it, "one of his most savage and indecent performances." Eight years later Smollett spent three months in prison for writing in his "Critical Review" that Sir Charles Knowles was "an admiral without conduct, an engineer without knowledge, an officer without resolution, and a man without veracity." In his satiric novels, too, Smollett could get chippy: Though he and Fielding are regarded by the "Cambridge History" as "the two greatest of English eighteenth century novelists," Smollett's books "have about them more of the quarry and less of the statue."

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," e-mail Steve King.

By the Salon Books Editors

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