Scotophilia and Humphry Clinker: The Politics of Beggary, Bugs, and Buttocks
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ERIC ROTHSTEIN Scotophilia and Humphry Clinker: The Politics of Beggary, Bugs, and Buttocks Many scholars have commented on Horace Walpole's words about Humphry Clinker: 'a party novel, written by the profligate hireling Smollett, to vindicate the Scots and cry down juries." Behind Walpole's hyperbole lies fact: Smollett's attempt to wean the English from their inveterate animus against his native land. Habitual scorn had turned into active hatred, fanned by party writers opposed to the court, during the years of Lord Bute's influence, the earlier 1760s. This concentrated attack, I propose, established an agenda for the irenic Humphry Clinker (1771) by setting forth a number of topics, charges against the Scots, which Smollett tried to annul or, if possible, to turn to his own persuasive advantage. Iam led to this general hypothesis by joining two facts. The first, from the novel itself, sticks in the memory of every reader. When the titular hero comes upon the scene, he is so ragged that his buttocks show through his clothes, thus amusing Jery, entrancing Winifred, and outraging Tabby. He has also been ill and hungry, 'his looks denote famine: and Tabby sums him up as 'a filthy tatterdemalion ... [who will] fill the room full of vermin: a 'mangy hound' (Jery, 24 May).' The second fact does not stick in the memories of present-day readers but, Isuggest, stuckat least in the unconscious memories of readers in Smollett's day. It is that, although Humphry is ofEnglish birth, the anti-Scots propaganda ofthe 1760s made bare buttocks, beggarliness, mange, and filth standard accusations against 'North Britons.' Some of these accusations, of course, predated the Bute years and even predated the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, after which, according to Sir Charles Hanbury Williams, the cowardly Scots ran joyfully home 'To beggary, Oatmeal, and Itch.'3 The itch itselfis probably why in the middle of the previous century John Cleveland called Scotland a 'scabbie Land.'From at least as far back as the mid-1670S (in Rochester's 'Tunbridge Wells: line 113) it had the name 'the Scotch fiddle: from the bow-like action of the scratching hand or finger. Slightly later in Thomas Durfey's play The Royalists (1682) is mentioned Sawny Scrubbam, 'a red-haired Scotchman, that will engage upon his honour to give the Itch to a whole Army; and to that degree, thatin a short time they shallscratch themselves to Death' (p 48). In domestic animals this itch was called the 'mange: as Johnson's Dictionary and the OED note; hence Tabby's 'mangy hound.' UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 52, NUMBER I, FALL 19~b 0042.0247/8211000--0063-0078$01.5°/0 @UNIVERSITYOFTORONTOPRESS 64 ERIC ROTHSTEIN Her vermin may well also be related to the mange, for by the early eighteenth century microscopic vermin were blamed for such itches. Dr Richard Mead had told the Royal Society in 1703 of an Italian physician's inference that subcutaneous mites, fast-moving on the surface of the skin and fast-breeding, caused or at least spread the itch.5 Entries under 'itch' in Johnson's Dictionary (1755) and Rees's edition of Chambers's Cyclopaedia (vol II, "779) show that this theory remained current in the time of Humphry Clinker. Beggary and filth, far less specific libels, are equally endemic in anti-Scots literature from before the start of Smollett's literary career. The charge of bare buttocks, however, is quite specific, and probably originated with Highland dress, the wearing of which was outlawed after the 45" The influx of Scots with Bute at the accession of George III in 1760 meant that the Highland lover 'Trotting with his buttocks bare,' according to John Hall-Stevenson in "76", began to be clad as an Englishman and to cover a nakedness which anti-Scots writers were glad to attribute to poverty.7 As seen by Hugh Dalrymple in Rodondo; or, the State Jugglers (1763), bare a--s'd Caledonian Rogues ForsooktheirOatmeal, Plaids,and Brogues; And over Berwick Bridge came flocking, For Galligaskin, Shoe and Stocking. (P 2) In a salacious, mock-Ossianic account of this influx, Gisbal, an Hyperborean Tale, Bute himselfis joined byScots like'Heth, whose skinwas spotted...


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