Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)

Theodore Gumbril is tired of being a teacher in the English public school by which he’s employed.  Sitting in the cathedral, listening to the Headmaster drone on, he’s only conscious of the hard bench he’s occupying.  A sort of epiphany happens to him as he becomes aware that what church attenders really need are trousers with inflatable pads to sit on so that they’re more comfortable.  The pants could be deflated under ordinary circumstances, but could be blown up during long, tedious sermons.  So he immediately quits his job and moves to London to organize the start-up of his new company.

The first person he meets with is Bojanus, a tailor formerly in service to the Gumbrils, father and son.  They reach an understanding as to the shape and size of the new trousers;  Gumbril pays him a bit in advance and Bojanus gets to work.  Meanwhile, Theodore visits his father in his “rachitic house”, an old four-story edifice decaying at a steady rate, but home to the elder Gumbril’s architectural models, featuring a reworked London and various Italian creations close to his heart.  A flock of starlings inhabiting a nearby tree occupies a large portion of his time.  Their comings and goings en masse, and their conversations, he finds fascinating.  The flock will be silent for a long time, then burst out chattering to each other all at once, and then suddenly fall into silence again.  Somehow, Mr. Gumbril believes, they must be telepathic.

Theodore visits with some of his friends at a local cafe.  Shearwater is a biological researcher, fully occupied in his work to the total disregard of his wife.  Lypiatt is a painter of the grandiose sort, almost a precursor of Gulley Jimson, in Joyce Carey’s “The Horse’s Mouth”, except not as good and more of the arm-waving type.  Coleman is an aggressive negativist, forever riotously contemptuous and amused at ordinary human activities to the point of self-mutilation.  Mercaptan (in addition to being the chemical added to natural gas to make it detectable), is an effete columnist with super-refined tastes and an acid-dipped pen.  Myra Viveash is a belle-about-town, bored with the continual round of dancing, drinking and theater-going, and hoping for something exciting to occur in her life.  Mr. Boldero, an advertising expert, who, in the course of developing a plan for putting Gumbril’s pants up in neon lights, gets thrown down the stairs by Lypiatt because of his mindless offensive and insulting proposals.  These characters, plus some others who are barely mentioned (Piers Cotton, for example, who is only mentioned twice), are the central figures of the book.  They spend their time sleeping with each other,  imbibing strange liquors, and wasting time while participating in destructive and un-helpful activities that penultimately bore them and finally awaken a couple of them.  Lypiatt comes to understand that he’s a bad painter;  Shearwater realizes he has ignored his wife and lost her to others;  Mercaptan becomes locked into his own birdcage without realizing it;  and Gumbril never quite understands what life is, in his weak pursuit of his silly project, but at the end finds some sort of connection with Viveash, when they spend time together and decide to tour the continent.

I should mention Emily,  a young girl Gumbril falls in love with, but inadvertently leaves in the lurch, being caught up in following Viveash around, visiting restaurants, saloons, friends, and theaters instead of catching a train to meet her in the country.

This book was described as “humorous and comic”, but either the definitions of those qualities have changed a lot in the intervening years (it was written in 1922), or it totally misfired.  I suppose it was intended to be representation of the “lost generation” which was written about by many authors:  Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Mansfield, to name a few…  Huxley was interested, i believe, in finding the answers to some questions which many of us have pondered:  what does life mean, how does one lead a meaningful existence, is there another level of consciousness, what does it all mean…?  Many of these quandaries appeared in his subsequent works in different forms:  science fiction, social dramas, individual struggles of different sorts…  And i think his final work, “The Doors of Perception” was his attempt to provide final answers to them in one way or another.  The latter work was undertaken after Huxley’s thorough investigation into the qualities and effects of various drugs, however, and although his conclusions might be illuminating, they are in no way verifiable or even communicable.  I haven’t read “Doors” lately, although i did many years ago, but i don’t recall any memorable or mind altering revelations from the experience.

Anyway, “Antic” was not so much a book as a disorganized collection of anecdotes, tending to point toward what Huxley was thinking about, but not very enlightening in so far as leading into any kind of awareness or expanded understanding on the part of the reader is concerned.




George Orwell (1903-1950)

Arriving in Barcelona in 1936, George was looking for political things to write about.  He’d been a democratic socialist for many years and was in sympathy with the Communist side of the Spanish Civil War.  In a spurt of enthusiasm, he enlisted in a Catalonian troop of infantry and spent six weeks training and getting fit.  The poverty of the soldiers was blatant:  no uniforms, no guns, and little food.  Still, the cause was just, so George persevered…  When his squad moved out, he was appointed corporal over ten soldiers, but that didn’t mean very much because the Catalan army was totally socialist:  there was no difference between officers and grunts.  Orwell described the friendly and stressless intermingling of the men at length and seems to have reveled in the classlessness of it.  The brigade was sent to a spot in the mountains near Zaragoza, topographically constructed of limestone ridges separated by V-shaped valleys.  There was little action:  mainly, since the two sides, supposedly the Fascists versus the Communists, occupied the tops of two of the ridges about a half mile apart and spent most of their time lurking in trenches and firing occasional shots at random, since the chances of actually hitting anything were minimal.  The soldiers spent their time gathering firewood (which was hard to find) and fighting the intense cold.  Not to mention the ubiquitous vermin of all types.  After several months the group was moved to a location nearer Zaragoza that was not as mountainous.  Conditions were not much different, with the exception that instead of firing at the enemy, they yelled political slogans at each other through megaphones.

Orwell interspersed his account with two chapters devoted to explanations of the political situation, and later of the denouement of the struggle.

First, he attributed the war’s beginning to a revolution begun by the Catalans over low wages, poor food, and tyrannical behavior by the factory operators and land owners.  The feudal situation, in which most people were poor and starving and a few had all the money and power, led to desperate measures in the form of riots and rebellions, leading to the formation of socialistic organizations and systematic plans to overthrow the government.  Orwell insisted that the Communists and the Fascists were on the side of the capitalists, because that was where all the money was, and that the several democratic and liberal societies were on the side of the oppressed.  This in spite of the erroneous newspaper accounts attributing the war to the Communists against the Fascists.  The papers were owned by the rich and moneyed, and were quite influential, so most of the population got the wrong idea.  Tracing the history of the campaigns, Orwell showed how the anarchistic side gradually came into disfavor with the general public because of the slanted press, and how this operated to increase the role of the police organizations so that by the end of the war, the latter were totally dominated by a Fascist ethic and were jailing thousands of persons without trial in bad conditions and shooting them out of hand:  a telling example of how consistent lying by powerful interests can change the course of history.  In fact, George and Eileen (his wife)  only escaped from the country by the skin of their teeth.

Anyway, after about six months on the front lines, George was shot through the neck and hospitalized.  Recuperating back in Barcelona, he had time to think about his experiences and came to the conclusion that the war was futile and that Spain was doomed to be a Fascist state under Franco.  Which is exactly what happened.  The totalitarian attitudes of the local police made Orwell’s future look pretty grim so he left.  Several of his English friends were arrested and were never heard from again, even ones that had held high office in the army and presumably were influential persons.

Being such a wonderful writer, George penned many quotable lines, but one was:  “such things as individual liberty and a truthful press are simply not compatible with military efficiency”, and so result in tyranny and totalitarianism.

This was, and is, THE definitive work on the Spanish Civil War, in the eyes of many authorities, and it was a great read.  I’ve read The Sun Also Rises, and Laurie Lee’s experiences in the war, and it was pretty evident that Hemingway wasn’t trying to be factual, and that Lee was not very interested in understanding what was actually occurring around him. Orwell is such an easy writer to follow, even when he leads one into the swamp of politics or the miasma of partisan in-fighting, that he is able to convey the impression of what being there was really like, including the dirt and the physical misery.  Even what a great feeling it was to be able to have a bath after six weeks.  Admittedly, it was hard to follow all the various parties and off-shoots of the Anarchists, Communists and Fascists, but perfection was not necessary, as their individual roles were well explicated and the part each played in the national catastrophe was made clear.

Orwell was a rather crusty sort of person, with strong beliefs and little patience for most people;  but his work has lasted, obviously, and will most likely be around as long as the human species is able to avoid self-destruction.


James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851)

Captain Stephen Spike of the brigantine Molly Swash paces up and down on an East river dock while supervising the lading of the cargo (800 barrels of flour) into the ship’s hold.  He’s a little anxious about the presence of a government steam ship maneuvering in the vicinity, and is waiting, in addition, for the arrival of passengers:  Rose Bubb with her aunt, and Biddy Noon, retainer and friend.  Mrs. Bubb, Rose’s aunt, has booked a sea tour as she is convinced Rose has a pneumonic problem and because the late Captain Bubb swore on the efficacy of ocean voyages in the treatment of such ailments, she is following her husband’s advice.  Rose loves her aunt and succumbs to her insistence even though she knows nothing is amiss with her lungs.  Behind the trio of passengers, a small, rotund person arrives and boards, an assistant steward who is an experienced sailor and expert at seeing to the needs of finicky travelers.  A valued employee of the ship, Jack Tier and the captain have a long history together.

Sailing down the river toward the ocean, they are followed by the revenue steamer and Spike goes out of his way to evade the boat, trying to make it appear as if he’s just pursuing his usual course.  After a sort of hide and seek progress, the two ships approach Montauk point, the last bit of land before committing themselves to the Atlantic.  A lookout on the Molly espies the steamer lurking behind Blok Island just at sunset;  Spike bides his time until it’s almost dark, then tacks toward the island and escapes by creeping around between the steamer and the island so as not to be seen, then makes full sail as they enter the rolling swells of the ocean.  The Molly is a notoriously fast cruiser, so the captain is unconcerned about being caught.

Their destination is the Caribbean, via Cuba to New Orleans, so the crew and passengers relax into the regular patterns employed on long voyages.  The first mate is Harry Mulford, an experienced seaman and a handsome young man.  Soon Rose and Harry are very aware of each other.  Rose’s aunt often traveled with her husband on his journeys and she picked up much of the terminology used on board ships of the time.  Unfortunately, she misuses her naval vocabulary in such a way as to make herself a fool to the other crew members.  She expresses herself in a series of Spooneristic utterances that are humorous and confusing.  But since Rose loves her aunt dearly, no-one dares to correct her or make fun of her.  For instance, she thinks a dog watch is a sort of  time-piece used to control ship’s pets.  This gets pretty hilarious at times.

Upon arriving at the south Pass between Cuba and Jamaica, the Molly is boarded by a government revenue cruiser keeping tabs on traffic headed for the Gulf of Mexico (the Mexican-American war 1846-48 has been underway for some time).  A Lieutenant Wallace, a cheerful soul, interviews Spike and performs a desultory inspection of the cargo and then departs.  But the captain has a fit of nerves and decides to go all the way down to the Yucatan peninsula to escape further observation.  In fact, it becomes clear at this point that the destination of the Molly is not to New Orleans at all, but instead to the Dry Tortugas (a series of low-lying islets at the end of a chain of reefs extending to the west from Key West).  They arrive there and meet a Don Juan Falderon, a representative of Mexico, who purportedly is there to buy the flour.  About a hundred and fifty barrels are unloaded on the shore when Lieutenant Wallace’s ship appears on the horizon.  Before Spike can invent an excuse for his unusual activities, the Poughkeepsie fires a shell at them and it lands amidst the beached barrels.  A tremendous explosion results and reveals the truth about Spike’s nefarious plans:  he’s selling gunpowder to Mexico.

At this point the plot really gets going.  The Molly, the Poughkeepsie, the Mexican schooner that Don Juan came in, and various jolly boats, yawls, and gigs are all utilized in Spike’s evasions of governmental investigations.  Spike is principally interested in the doubloons that Don Juan has brought to pay for the gunpowder, and in his endeavours to grab the gold, he raises a sunken schooner twice and leads the revenue ship in several chases in and through the very dangerous channels and leads that permeate the reefs.  Harry is stranded on a rock once by Spike, after he’s abandoned the Molly upon discovering Spike’s evil plot, and is only rescued after a series of perilous and adventuresome excursions by Jack Tier and Rose.  At the denouement, the Molly is cornered in a dead end channel and Spike and his crew…  well, i don’t want to spoil things for whoever might read the book.  But the real question that is never answered until the very last is:  WHO IS JACK TIER?  If some curious person out there in Internet Land has the answer, they will receive an official mudpuddle GOLD STAR!

Reading Cooper is often a bit difficult because he wrote in a sort of subjunctive style, with lots of clauses, subordinate and main.  But there’s lots of excitement and involved plotting and frequently humorous characterizations, as well as curious interjections concerning the political situations of the day.  But i’ve read quite a few of his books and enjoyed them and if i did, anyone else can…  If no-one comes up with the answer to the question, i’ll reveal it on the next post…  maybe…



Francis Yeats-Brown (1886-1944)

Early in the morning, before the sun came up, Francis and his pilot were out on the runway getting their old Maurice-Farman biplane ready for the mission.  Which was blowing up telephone poles in the Arabian desert during the first World War.  Taking off from the airfield, located near the Tigris river, they flew over to the telegraph line linking Bagdad and Aleppo and made a perfect three-point landing.  It looked like an easy chore:  inserting the fulminate of mercury pencils into the sticks of gun-cotton and running the fuse wire back to the plane to be ignited.  Except the pilot didn’t estimate the distance to the pole correctly and accidentally ran into it, damaging the wing so they couldn’t take off again.  At the same time, a band of native irregulars appeared, firing their rifles and machine guns, seriously annoying Francis while he was rigging up the explosives.  He did notice, out of the corners of his eyes, spurts of sand shooting up out of the ground.  Taking the hint, he ran, igniting the fuse at the same time, and was soon rewarded by hearing explosions behind him.  About the same time he and the pilot were surrounded and quite severely mistreated by alarmed and wild-eyed Bedouins.  Luckily the Arabian gendarme stopped the general enthusiasm, shook hands with Francis and gave him back his revolver.  Shortly after, however, he was felled to the ground by a sword stroke.  Fortunately, only the flat of the blade contacted his neck, so he was bruised but not dead.  And it soon became clear that the native troops were much more interested in robbing them than in killing them.

On arriving in Bagdad, they were marched to the local prison while being abused by hostile crowds of incensed indigenes.  As a result of the mistreatment, they were admitted to a local hospital and soothed with whiskey and food.  Shortly afterward, General Townshend made an abortive attack on the city and provided Francis with an opportunity to observe Turkish military tactics:  they gathered up crowds of citizens men, women, and children, and shoved into the front lines in order to prevent the soldiers from being shot.  Many of the inhabitants were wounded and killed.  Francis wrote:  “only prisoners see the full absurdity of war”.  Some of the jailers were kind, though, mainly the cavalry officers;  and the herds of geese that evidenced great curiosity as to the taste and appearance of the hospitalized officers.

Upon recovery of their health, the two captives were transferred to Mosul which Francis described as a huge garbage dump with every imaginable disease, acres of mud mixed in with substantial amounts of blood.  The officers were incarcerated in two relatively clean and quiet rooms, but they soon discovered that the regular infantry, the enlistees, were all -200 or so- jammed into one nearby cage with not food, water, or health care.  Many of them were beaten and/or died of starvation.  Francis made one of the guards cry by staring at him through his monocle;  apparently the man thought he was being cursed by some sort of wizard.  The officers were permitted to shop in the town, using funds sent to them by relatives, in Francis’s case, his father.  They occupied the time by playing cards, singing, discussing Bergson, or in practicing laughing (they found that this cheered them up).

Spending a period of time in an Armenian church, while plotting escapes and concocting cyphers, they managed to arrange a series of lectures and study groups, utilizing the many educated officers that were fellow prisoners, and acquiring an impressive library of books from the local denizens and from charity groups.  Soon, however, they were all transferred again to Afion-Kara-Hissar, a town closer to Bagdad, where they were confined during the winter of 1917-18 which was bitterly cold.  They all suffered a lot:  there were no windows in the houses they lived in.  Bathing was easier, though, as all the men had to do was take their clothes off and roll around in the snow.

Francis, fed up with the situation, pretended to become an opium addict and had himself transferred to a hospital in Constantinople.  He and his fellow officers made numerous attempts to escape but were not successful until two months before the end of the war.  Basically, they disguised themselves as Greek members of the local ministry and walked out through the gates.  But how Francis survived and at the end of hostilities became the proud possessor of General Liman Von Sanders’ 56 horsepower Mercedes Benz, together with the chauffer’s diary, is another amazing tale.  Not to mention that while garaged, it was looked after by a bear…

Many years ago, i read “Lives of a Bengal Lancer” by Yeats-Brown and i never forgot it.  So when i saw this one by him on “Faded Pages”(the Gutenberg of Canada), i downloaded it and read it.  It’s not as thrilling as “Lives”, but it has the same characteristic style that Y-B was a master of:  he grabs the reader and doesn’t release him until the end of the book. If i was to recommend either of these, i’d favor the “Lives”:  it’s better written and more well known.

I should mention that the photograph above, is a shot of Francis in one of his escape costumes, in this case, as a Hungarian Mechanic…


Jack Kerouac (1922-1969)

Wesley Martin, an able-bodied merchant seaman, has just finished a long job and is drunk.  He’s been drunk for a week and has spent $800 on whiskey and wild women in a number of saloons in New York City.  He begins a conversation with William Everhart, an English professor at Columbia University, a position that is palling on the latter’s sensibilities.  After the two spend another day in bibulous behavior, Bill decides to leave his job and join Wes aboard ship as a merchant seaman.  He is chasing freedom from responsibilities and escaping from what he regards as a dead-end job.  The two run out of money and hitch-hike to Boston, where Wes’s father owns a bar.  In Boston, as well, is the Union Hall for sailors seeking work, where, assured by Wes, Bill is sure to find a job as an ordinary seaman.  Both men sign up to ship out on the Westminster, an old freighter leaving for Greenland. In the meantime they retire to Wes’s father’s bar to drink some more.

Mrs. Martin, Wes’s wife, who he hasn’t seen for ten years, appears and wants to re-unite with her husband.  After yet more drinking, he promises to see her again, but boards his ship and reneges on the promise.  Meanwhile, Bill  has obtained his registration papers and has boarded the ship as well.  They meet other shipmates and desultory conversations ensue, relating to freedom and responsibilities.  Wes leaves again to drink some more and appears to miss the departure date.  But after the ship leaves harbor, he is there, performing his duties.  The band of crewmen sort themselves out after a short physical melee with black eyes and split lips as a result:  they all agree to the unwritten code of the sea which is that everyone must be considerate and polite and avoid rancor at all costs.  Otherwise, the habitual offender is liable to disappear overnight.

Wes loves his job because he is mesmerized by the ocean in all it’s different appearances and moods: the storms, the rolling, rhythmic motions, the infinitely varying colors and shapes.  He associates the sea with freedom, his highest and most important value.  Bill likes his job also, fitting in well with the others, pursuing his position as waiter and ambulatory potato peeler.  What occurs to this group of sailors would constitute a spoiler, which i am committed to avoid.  Therefore…

I was impressed with this book, mainly because, although I have had a rather negative opinion of K’s writing abilities, I saw some evidence of existential comprehension in his analyses of Bill and Wes’s thoughts and actions.  He showed that he was aware of the relationship between responsibility and freedom:   that possessing one entailed the presence of the other.  The concept of freedom is illusory, in other words, because it can’t exist without attending to it’s underpinnings:  sort of like having to use a pail to carry water.  Whoever it was that said “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” understood a basic principle of the operation of the universe.  TANSTAAFL, as it is known in physics, has to do with the second law of Thermodynamics, which states that you can’t have your cake and eat it.  In a non-open- ended system, being implies process, which in turn represents work.  I’m not sure Kerouac understood this in a formal way, but he certainly demonstrates it in the way he develops his characters.  Bill comes to a sort of awakening when he realizes that work, regardless of what sort, is mandatory to the leading of a contented life.  And Wes, although he seems a mindless wanderer, apparently knows that his ideas of freedom require some sort of payment on his part:  the periodic devotion of his time to employment.

I’m not sure how far K traveled in his search for understanding the precepts of living and how they applied to himself, but he did comprehend that the basic individualism he prized so greatly, as depicted in his dream of “freedom”, was not a quality ordinarily appreciated by the common man.  That he pursued his understanding in increasingly anti-social and self-destructive ways is beyond question.  With a more relaxed or guided conception, he might have developed into a respected figure in his chosen field.  Later in life, he studied Buddhism and  associated philosophies and apparently was influenced by them in some ways, but not to the extent that his comprehension could rise above his uncontrolled drinking or his manic traveling.

I can’t say i really liked this book much.  It was different than the other books by him that i have tried to read, and indicated that he had more than an ordinary talent.  But since he never developed his knowledge in a disciplined way, it all more or less got lost in left field.  This was, according to the publisher, his first book, and as such, was a good signpost directing the reader to what might have been…



Tobias Smollett (1721-1771)

A rainy night on the London to York road.  At the Black Lion inn, four travelers are taking advantage of the fire to dry themselves out.  Three of them, Captain Crowe, Dr. Fillet, and Tom Clarke, a recently accredited lawyer, were sharing a bowl of rumbo, while the fourth, Ferret, lounged by himself in another corner.  The latter was a tall, thin irascible appearing gentleman, with a somewhat anti-social and sardonic mien.  A loud banging at the door and a tall, powerful, figure dressed in black, carrying a heavy load entered and dumped the body of a squat, dumpy appearing person down onto one of the chairs.  Addressing the trio, the armor-clad individual explained:  “My squire and I were caught crossing a creek and he fell off his horse and absorbed an excess amount of water”.  After which the personage left to tend to his horses in the stable.

Meanwhile, Tom becomes attracted to and impresses Dolly, the servant and maid of all work and general dogsbody for the inn.  And Ferret expresses some bitter and acrid commentary, that identifies him as a tract writer and raconteur, a spur in the tender firmament of the local political scene.  In a short while, the company arranges for rooms for the night and begin to relate their histories, the most important of which, considering the novel’s subject, is that of Lancelot, the tall dark fellow wearing armor.  He’s been inspired by his education and experiences to act in the interests of chivalry and honor to the benefit of the poor and down-trodden where ever he should happen to encounter them.  In fact, he’s received a letter from his beloved, Aurelia Darnel, stating that she is going to marry someone else.  He’s just returned from France, to which he resorted after his father’s decease and after receiving said letter.  He’s mentally distracted and indeed, half mad, from the almost fatal blows he’s suffered, and has decided to dedicate his life to aiding other victims of evil providence, regardless of their social standing.  His Sancho Panza is a low stable mucker-out named Crabshaw, doomed to suffer beatings and all the misfortunes of a malignant karma while serving as squire to his master Lancelot.

The ensuing pages detail the difficulties, legal and physical into which the pair of cavaliers fall, and how they manage to survive and evolve in the process of resolving and dealing with them.  Affairs become quite complex after two more pairs of chivalrously inclined characters enter the picture.  Captain Crowe is so impressed with the idea of knightly adventuring that he acquires a leather suit covered with random scraps of metal along with a pot lid for a shield and a stewpot for a helmet and enlists his nephew, Tom, as squire.  And Sir Sycamore, the intended husband of Lancelot’s lost love, decides to avenge himself on Lancelot because he has discovered that Aurelia loves the latter rather than the former.  Accompanying him as general factotum and menial is Davy Dawdle, a devious and ill-mannered miscreant.  (Apparently Smollett couldn’t bear the thought of only one Quixote in his plot, so he added another brace of them.)

These characters participate in a long series of battles, legal embarrassments, and droll situations, involving prison, trials, elections and more, as they pursue the right and moral goals to which they’re dedicated.  At one point, Sycamore challenges Lancelot to a joust.  They charge each other but Sycamore falls off his horse because of the weight of his armor.  Lancelot offers to help him remount, but the poor man is so bruised by the fall that he has to be carried off on a stretcher.  Eventually Lancelot and Crabshaw realize that Aurelia has been abducted to London, so they pursue her.  Upon arrival, though, they are at a loss about how to find her.  Lancelot receives a note supposedly from her, arranging an appointment in a nearby field.  He dashes off to the rescue, but is kidnapped and imprisoned in a madhouse.  And much to his surprise, he hears a familiar voice in the adjoining apartment.

How the star-crossed pair reunite and what happens to all the ancillary characters are features of the novel to be discovered by the reader…  It’s exciting, silly, satirical, and hilarious, to say the least.

Smollett was a surgeon and spent time as a doctor for the navy, sailing as far as the Caribbean.  He was a would-be playwright, but never managed to get one produced.  So he became one of the most accomplished writers of picaresque novels ever to achieve fame (not fortune so much, though…).  He was a serious critic of English legal and political affairs and statutes and he graphically described the situations of the poor and under-privileged:  expressing through humor and satire some of the dire results of British laws and social classicism as practiced in towns and country.  And he did become bitter as he aged, apparently realizing that the black side of how his nation operated could not easily be altered or transmuted.  His Journal of Travels, written when he was old and dying reveals how cranky and critical he became.  His antagonism toward almost all of the inns  he stayed in and toward the various transportation options he employed is painfully expressed daily.  This may have been the result of physical discomfort, but i think there’s no question that he was disappointed  spiritually and morally, that he’d not been able to alter England’s inept and damaging attitudes toward the poor and the corrupt and immoral practices of its rulers, and that this disappointment colored the last part of his life.

I think he was a brilliant writer:  reading his prose is like surfing an endless wave:  it’s quite poetic in the way that the appropriate word or phrase seems to magically occupy the right place just at the right time.  The organization of sentences and ideas is not much like a modern writer would do it, but it definitely has attraction, and, imo, is much easier to read than many modern productions….  George Orwell said once that he thought Smollett was the best writer of english he’d ever read…