Saturday, September 24, 2016




It was great growing up in the Vale of Leven (“the Vale”) during the 60s and 70s. Perhaps it more aptly could have been called “Smollettsville” on account of the Smollett family owning vast tracts of land there back in the day. Indeed, the Vale of Leven town of Alexandria was named after Alexander Smollett, and Renton was named after a daughter-in-law of Jane Telfer Smollett in 1762.

As a kid I used to pick strawberries for Patrick Tobias Telfer Smollett at his Cameron House on the southwest shore of Loch Lomond. He died in 1997. During the late 60s he kindly let me build a pigeon-hut as a young teenager on a piece of his land at the old ruin of Tullichewan Castle. Kilt-clad he would stop his car and come over for a chat whenever he saw me tending to my pigeons. A gentleman. I read a book written by one of his ancestors, one Tobias Smollett. The book, written in 1748, is called “The Adventures of Roderick Random.” There was a road in the Vale called “Random Street” apparently after this novel. Of course, like most of old Alexandria, this street has disappeared forever.

I read “The Adventures of Roderick Random” on a trip to Hawaii my wife and I made back in 2012. Forget about flight movies, I couldn’t put this book down! (Actually, it was a Kindle version.) Anyway, here was this red-headed Scotsman, back in 1748, getting himself into all sorts of exciting, humorous, and romantic adventures. I was riveted to the story while lying soaking up the tropical sun on the golden sands of Waikiki Beach. The bit where the gold-digger Random attempts to visit in person the rich, and as he thought, very beautiful woman in her stately home is particularly hilarious. All is not as it seems. Surely Robert Louis Stevenson got the idea for his “Treasure Island” after reading about Random’s exploits in the Caribbean after he was press-ganged into service on the high seas. Apparently the great English novelist Charles Dickens tipped his hat to Tobias Smollett. Wow!

I finished the book on the flight home from Hawaii wanting more, much more.

On a trip back to Scotland from Australia, I visited the Tobias Smollett monument which, though it used to stand in front of the Renton Primary School, still stands in (the) Renton.
My very good friends, Graham and Jacqui Black visited his grave in Livorno, Italy where Tobias died and was buried in 1771.

(The following is my review of the book on US Amazon):

The Adventures of Roderick Random is a great read! Written in the mid-1700s by a man from the same town in Scotland in which I grew up (Vale of Leven). Smollett has a beautifully descriptive and poetic turn of phrase, is witty, and has an acute eye for human foibles and our fallen disposition. This is Stevenson's Treasure Island and Scott's Rob Roy rolled into one! This novel is surprisingly modern, not in language (which nevertheless is exquisite), but in its vivid description of human nature when faced with feast or famine. Loved it!

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