LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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A Memoir of the Reverend Sydney Smith
Chapter VII

Author's Preface
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
‣ Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Editor’s Preface
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Thus cheered by these occasional visits of his friends, turning his back upon London and former habits, by the aid of books and of the various new duties and interests he had created for himself, he contrived to pass through three years not unpleasantly or unprofitably; but, not having succeeded in his object of exchange, he, according to his promise to the Archbishop, set vigorously to work to build his house, and accomplished it in nine months after laying the first stone. But he shall here tell his own tale, as I have heard it at various times in detached portions.

“A diner-out, a wit, and a popular preacher, I was
suddenly caught up by the
Archbishop of York, and transported to my living in Yorkshire, where there had not been a resident clergyman for a hundred and fifty years. Fresh from London, not knowing a turnip from a carrot, I was compelled to farm three hundred acres, and without capital to build a parsonage-house.

“I asked and obtained three years’ leave from the Archbishop, in order to effect an exchange, if possible; and fixed myself meantime at a small village two miles from York, in which was a fine old house of the time of Queen Elizabeth, where resided the last of the squires, with his lady, who looked as if she had walked straight out of the Ark, or had been the wife of Enoch. He was a perfect specimen of the Trullibers of old; he smoked, hunted, drank beer at his door with his grooms and dogs, and spelt over the county paper on Sundays.

“At first, he heard I was a Jacobin and a dangerous fellow, and turned aside as I passed: but at length, when he found the peace of the village undisturbed, harvests much as usual, Juno and Ponto uninjured, he first bowed, then called, and at last reached such a pitch of confidence that he used to bring the papers, that I might explain the difficult words to him; actually discovered that I had made a joke, laughed till I thought he would have died of convulsions, and ended by inviting me to see his dogs.

“All my efforts for an exchange having failed, I asked and obtained from my friend the Archbishop another year to build in. And I then set my shoulder
to the wheel in good earnest; sent for an architect; he produced plans which would have ruined me. I made him my bow: ‘You build for glory, Sir; I, for use.’ I returned him his plans, with five-and-twenty pounds, and sat down in my thinking-chair, and in a few hours
Mrs. Sydney and I concocted a plan which has produced what I call the model of parsonage-houses.

“I then took to horse to provide bricks and timber; was advised to make my own bricks, of my own clay; of course, when the kiln was opened, all bad; mounted my horse again, and in twenty-four hours had bought thousands of bricks and tons of timber. Was advised by neighbouring gentlemen to employ oxen: bought four,—Tug and Lug, Hawl and Crawl; but Tug and Lug took to fainting, and required buckets of sal-volatile, and Hawl and Crawl to lie down in the mud. So I did as I ought to have done at first,—took the advice of the farmer instead of the gentleman; sold my oxen, bought a team of horses, and at last, in spite of a frost which delayed me six weeks, in spite of walls running down with wet, in spite of the advice and remonstrances of friends who predicted our death, in spite of an infant of six months old, who had never been out of the house, I landed my family in my new house nine months after laying the first stone, on the 20th of March; and performed my promise to the letter to the Archbishop, by issuing forth at midnight with a lantern to meet the last cart, with the cook and the cat, which had stuck in the
mud, and fairly established them before twelve o’clock at night in the new parsonage-house;—a feat, taking ignorance, inexperience, and poverty into consideration, requiring, I assure you, no small degree of energy.

“It made me a very poor man for many years, but I never repented it. I turned schoolmaster, to educate my son, as I could not afford to send him to school. Mrs. Sydney turned schoolmistress, to educate my girls, as I could not afford a governess. I turned farmer, as I could not let my land. A manservant was too expensive; so I caught up a little garden-girl, made like a milestone, christened her Bunch, put a napkin in her hand, and made her my butler. The girls taught her to read, Mrs. Sydney to wait, and I undertook her morals; Bunch became the best butler in the county.

“I had little furniture, so I bought a cart-load of deals; took a carpenter (who came to me for parish relief, called Jack Robinson) with a face like a full-moon, into my service; established him in a barn, and said, ‘Jack, furnish my house.’ You see the result!

“At last it was suggested that a carriage was much wanted in the establishment; after diligent search, I discovered in the back settlements of a York coachmaker an ancient green chariot, supposed to have been the earliest invention of the kind. I brought it home in triumph to my admiring family. Being somewhat dilapidated, the village tailor lined it, the village blacksmith repaired it; nay, (but for Mrs. Sydney’s earnest entreaties,) we believe the village painter would have
exercised his genius upon the exterior; it escaped this danger however, and the result was wonderful. Each year added to its charms: it grew younger and younger; a new wheel, a new spring; I christened it the Immortal; it was known all over the neighbourhood; the village boys cheered it, and the village dogs barked at it; but ‘Faber meæ fortunæ’ was my motto, and we had no false shame.

“Added to all these domestic cares, I was village parson, village doctor, village comforter, village magistrate, and Edinburgh Reviewer; so you see I had not much time left on my hands to regret London.

“My house was considered the ugliest in the county, but all admitted it was one of the most comfortable; and we did not die, as our friends had predicted, of the damp walls of the parsonage.”

This year (1813) was one of great exertion and anxiety to him, both in body and mind; he calculated that in the course of it he must have ridden several times round the world, in going backwards and forwards from Heslington to his living, as the offices of architect, superintendent of the works, farmer, clergyman, schoolmaster, were all centred in his person; while, to add to his anxieties and responsibilities, in September of this year another son was born to him.

Soon after engaging on the building of his house, the Archbishop, who had been made more fully aware of tho difficulties of my father’s situation, through the kind intervention of Mr. Harcourt and other friends, sent my father most unexpectedly his formal permis-
sion to avoid building. On hearing this, my father received many letters of remonstrance from
Mr. Allen, and his kind friends at Holland House, who always hoped that some exchange might turn up, to restore him again to the south; and indeed were constantly making exertions to accomplish this object; but as the negotiations failed, I have not named them. They were most unwilling that he should embark in an undertaking which they knew would hamper him for so many years to come. But my father felt it was his duty to himself, to his parish, and to the Archbishop, whose indulgence it would be base to abuse; and being thoroughly convinced of this, he persevered, in spite of this strong temptation; though the necessity of making farm-buildings, as well as a house, absorbed not only all his available capital, but left him with a heavy debt besides.

At last, however, the deed was done, and I well remember the landing at Foston, March, 1814. Indeed how should I forget it?—a day of such difficulty, discomfort, bustle, and delight, seldom occurs twice in one life.

It was a cold, bright March day, with a biting east wind. The beds we left in the morning had to be packed up and slept on at night; waggon after waggon of furniture poured in every minute; the roads were so cut up that the carriage could not reach the door; and my mother lost her shoe in the mud, which was ankle-deep, whilst bringing her infant up to the house in her arms.


But oh, the shout of joy as we entered and took possession!—the first time in our lives that we had inhabited a house of our own. How we admired it, ugly as it was! With what pride my dear father welcomed us, and took us from room to room; old Molly Mills, the milk-woman, who had had charge of the house, grinning with delight in the background. We thought it a palace; yet the drawing-room had no door, the bare plaster walls ran down with wet, the windows were like ground-glass from the moisture which had to be wiped up several times a day by the housemaid. No carpets, no chairs, nothing unpacked; rough men bringing in rougher packages at every moment. But then was the time to behold my father!—amid the confusion, he thought for everybody, cared for everybody, encouraged everybody, kept everybody in good-humour. How he exerted himself! how his loud, rich voice might be heard in all directions, ordering, arranging, explaining, till the household storm gradually subsided! Each half-hour improved our condition; fires blazed in every room; at last we all sat down to our tea, spread by ourselves on a huge package before the drawing-room fire, sitting on boxes round it; and retired to sleep on our beds placed on the floor;—the happiest, merriest, and busiest family in Christendom. In a few days, under my father’s active exertions, everything was arranged with tolerable comfort in the little household, and it began to assume its wonted appearance.

In speaking of the establishment of Foston, Annie
Kay must not be forgotten. She entered our service at nineteen years of age, but possessing a degree of sense and lady-like feeling not often found in her situation of life,—first as nurse, then as lady’s-maid, then housekeeper, apothecary’s boy, factotum, and friend. All who have been much at Foston or Combe Florey know Annie Kay; she was called into consultation on every family event, and proved herself a worthy oracle. Her counsels were delivered in the softest voice, with the sweetest smile, and in the broadest Yorkshire. She ended by nursing her old master through his long and painful illness, night and day; she was with him at his death; she followed him to his grave; she was remembered in his will; she survived him but two years, which she spent in my mother’s house; and, after her long and faithful service of thirty years, was buried by my mother in the same cemetery as her master, respected and lamented by all his family, as the most faithful of servants and friends.

So much for the interior of the establishment. Out-of-doors reigned Molly Mills,—cow, pig, poultry, garden, and post woman; with her short red petticoat, her legs like millposts, her high cheek-bones red and shrivelled like winter apples; a perfect specimen of a “yeowoman;” a sort of kindred spirit, too; for she was the wit of the village, and delighted in a crack with her master, when she could get it. She was as important in her vocation as Annie Kay in hers; and Molly here, and Molly there, might be heard in every
direction. Molly was always merry, willing, active, and true as gold; she had little book-learning, but enough to bring up two fine athletic sons, as honest as herself; though, unlike her, they were never seen to smile, but were as solemn as two owls, and would not have said a civil thing to save their lives. They ruled the farm. Add to these, the pet donkey, Bitty, already introduced to the public; a tame fawn, at last dismissed for eating the maid’s clothes, which he preferred to any other diet; and a lame goose, condemned at last to be roasted for eating all the fruit in the garden; together with Bunch and Jack Robinson, already mentioned,—and you have the establishment.

As magistrates were much wanted in our neighbourhood, my father had now, in addition to his numerous avocations, taken upon himself the duties of a Justice of the Peace. He set vigorously to work to study Blackstone, and made himself master of as much law as possible, instead of blundering on, as many of his neighbours were content to do. Partly by this knowledge, partly by his good-humour, he gained a considerable influence in the quorum, which used to meet once a fortnight at the little inn, called the Lobster-house; and the people used to say they were “going to get a little of Mr. Smith’s lobster-sauce.” By dint of his powerful voice, and a little wooden hammer, he prevailed on Bob and Betty to speak one at a time; he always tried, and often succeeded, in turning foes into friends. Having a horror of the Game-laws, then in full force, and knowing, as
he states in his speech on the Reform Bill, that for every ten pheasants which fluttered in the wood one English peasant was rotting in gaol, he was always secretly on the side of the poacher (much to the indignation of his fellow-magistrates, who in a poacher saw a monster of iniquity), and always contrived, if possible, to let him escape; rather than commit him to gaol, with the certainty of his returning to the world an accomplished villain. He endeavoured to avoid exercising his function as magistrate in his own village when possible, as he wished to be at peace with all his parishioners.

Young delinquents he never could bear to commit; but read them a severe lecture, and in extreme cases called out, “John, bring me my private gallows!” which infallibly brought the little urchins weeping on their knees, and, “Oh! for God’s sake, your honour, pray forgive us!” and his honour used graciously to pardon them for this time, and delay the arrival of the private gallows, and seldom had occasion to repeat the threat. Indeed the subject of imprisonment occupied his mind so much, that during a visit to town, having been much interested by the account of Mrs. Fry’s benevolent exertions in prisons, he requested permission to accompany her to Newgate; and I have heard him say he never felt more deeply affected or impressed than by the beautiful spectacle he there witnessed; it made him, he said, weep like a child. In a sermon he preached shortly after, he introduced the following passage:—


“There is a spectacle which this town now exhibits, that I will venture to call the most solemn, the most Christian, the most affecting which any human being ever witnessed. To see that holy woman in the midst of the wretched prisoners; to see them all calling earnestly upon God, soothed by her voice, animated by her look, clinging to the hem of her garment; and worshiping her as the only being who has ever loved them, or taught them, or noticed them, or spoken to them of God! This is the sight which breaks down the pageant of the world; which tells us that the short hour of life is passing away, and that we must prepare by some good deeds to meet God; that it is time to give, to pray, to comfort; to go, like this blessed woman, and do the work of our heavenly Saviour, Jesus, among the guilty, among the brokenhearted and the sick, and to labour in the deepest and darkest wretchedness of life.”

In February, 1815, we set out on a visit to the late Sir George Philips; and great was the general ship, and various the contrivances to persuade the farfamed Immortal to convey us all safely over Blackstone Edge, a sort of Alps between Yorkshire and Lancashire, in the depths of winter; but under such a Hannibal, all prospered, and the Immortal covered itself with glory.

In this house we spent some weeks so agreeably,—I believe, I may say, to both parties,—that the visit was by mutual consent repeated every two or three years. There was a constant succession of agreeable
guests; and our kind host so revelled in my father’s humour, that he was incessantly stimulating him to attack him, which my father certainly did most vigorously; yet I believe no one present enjoyed these attacks more than
Sir George himself, who laughed at them almost to exhaustion.

After our return home, the chief event in the course of the summer, which broke the even tenour of our lives, was a first visit from our great neighbours, Lord and Lady Carlisle. Though not begun under the most favourable auspices, it must be mentioned in these simple annals; as from this visit proceeded not only much agreeable society, but twenty years of such warm friendship; such delicate, unvarying, unoppressive kindness; such essential benefits, from every member of that family, both old and young, as must be always remembered with gratitude by us, contributing as they did to the pleasure and comfort of my father’s life, and giving him a command of books and society, which would otherwise have been quite out of his reach.

Our infant colony was still in so rude a state, that roads, save for a cart, had hardly been thought of, when suddenly a cry was raised, that a coach and four, with outriders, was plunging about in the midst of a ploughed field near the house, and showing signals of distress. Ploughmen and ploughwomen were immediately sent off to the rescue, and at last the gold coach (as Lady Carlisle used to call it), which had mistaken the road, was guided safely up to the house, and the kind old Lord and Lady, not a little
shaken, and a little cross at so rough a reception, entered the parsonage; but the shakes were soon forgotten, and good-humour restored; and after some severe sarcasms on the state of the approach to our house on the part of the old Earl, and promises of amendment on the part of my father,
Lord Carlisle* drove off, and made us promise to come and stay with him at Castle Howard.

This was the first and last difficulty he ever found in coming to Foston. From this time a week seldom passed without his driving over to occupy his snug corner by the parsonage fireside, where his conversation was so epigrammatic and full of anecdotes of past times, that it was always a most agreeable halfhour to old and young. He never went away without leaving some little gift in the shape of game, fruit, flowers, or other tokens of kindness.

In 1816, my father lost his only sister, Maria, my mother’s earliest friend. Charming in mind and character,† she had very delicate health, and lived unmarried with her father at Bath; my father was much attached to her, and felt her loss severely. He says, in a letter, “The loss of a person whom I would have cultivated as a friend, if nature had not given her to me as a relation, is a serious evil.” We all went to see my grandfather in consequence of her death, and remained some time with him.

* Grandfather of the present Earl of Carlisle.

Bobus used to say she had carried off all the good temper of the family.


On our return home, our poor friend Mr. Horner, whose health had been gradually fading, and had given great anxiety to all his friends, was condemned to go and end his short but noble career in a foreign land; and came to make his farewell visit to us at Foston, where he was loved and valued as a brother. His mind appeared more pure and beautiful than ever; but it was a melancholy visit, extinguishing all hope, for death was stamped on his brow. Yet, young as he was, his virtues had created, in the hearts of all who knew him, a lasting monument of love and esteem, which death only can destroy. My father says, in the sketch he wrote of Mr. Horner, “There was in his look a calm, settled love of all that was honourable and good—an air of wisdom and of sweetness; you saw at once that he was a great man, whom nature had intended for a leader of human beings. You ranged yourself willingly under his banners, and cheerfully submitted to his sway.” He died at Pisa the following spring, attended by his brother, and soothed by the frequent society and regard of the Miss Allens, his early friends, who happened to be staying there: a death so mourned by his country, that I see Sir James Mackintosh says, “Never was so much honour paid in any age or nation to intrinsic claims alone: a man of thirty-eight, of obscure birth, who never filled an office, or had the power of obliging a single living creature, and whose grand title to this distinction from an English House of Commons was the belief of his virtue.” My father speaks of his feelings on this loss,
in the following letter to Mr. Horner’s younger brother:—

Foston, March 23, 1817.
“My dear Sir,

“I remember no misfortune of my life which I have felt so deeply as the loss of your brother. I never saw any man who combined together so much talent, worth, and warmth of heart; and we lived together in habits of great friendship and affection for many years. I shall always retain a most lively and affectionate remembrance of him to the day of my death. We shall be most happy to see you here if you can make us a visit; I shall always meet you with those sentiments of regard and respect which are due to yourself, but never without deep feelings of grief and emotion.

“God bless you!
“S. S.

“I beg of you to give my very kind regards to your father and mother; it is in vain to speak of their loss, to write to them: I dare not do it.”

And again, in a letter to Mr. Whishaw, he says:—

March 26, 1817.
“My dear Whishaw,

“I have received a melancholy fragment from poor Horner,—a letter half finished at his death. I cannot say how much I was affected by it; indeed, on looking back on my own mind, I never remember to have felt an event more deeply than his death. It is very
requisite that there should be a monument to Horner: it will be some little satisfaction to us all.”

And in another, he says:—

“I say nothing of the great and miserable loss we have all sustained. He will always live in our recollection; and it will be useful to us all, in the great occasions of life, to reflect how Horner would act and think in them, if God had prolonged his life.”

This year, 1816, from the failure of the harvest, the distress amongst the poor was excessive. The wheat was generally sprouted throughout the country, and unfit for bread; and good flour was not only dear, but hardly to be procured. We, like our poorer neighbours, being unable to afford it, were obliged to consume our own sprouted wheat; and we lived therefore a whole year, without tasting bread, on thin, unleavened, sweet-tasting cakes, like frost-bitten potatoes, baked on tins, the only way of using this damaged flour. The luxury of returning to bread again can hardly be imagined by those who have never been deprived of it. All this bad food produced much illness amongst our poor neighbours; and a fever of a very dangerous and infectious kind broke out in our village. My father was indefatigable in his exertions amongst them, going from cottage to cottage, and providing them with food and medicine, and seeing that they were properly attended to: his medical skill stood him in good stead now. He found it impossible at first to prevent the
peasants from crowding into the infected houses, till the number of deaths so alarmed them, that at last he had equal difficulty in making them go at all, or in obtaining nurses for the sick, or people even to convey the bodies to the grave, till he shamed them into it, by threatening to become one of the bearers himself.

He was much struck by the heroic conduct of some of the Quakers of the village, who, amid the general panic, were constant and active in their attention to the sick. “Are you aware of the danger?” said my father. “Oh, we have no fears; we are in the hands of God, thou knowest,” was the reply.

During the summer, Lord and Lady Holland came to look at the new parsonage-house, and pass judgment upon it, in their way to the North. They left their eldest daughter under my mother’s care during their absence, to our great happiness; during whose stay, Mr. Rogers spent a week at Foston, charming old and young by his kindness and inexhaustible fund of anecdote. Sir H. Davy, Mr. Warburton, and various others, also found their way to the “Rector’s Head” during the summer.

My father at this period was in the habit of riding a good deal, but, either from the badness of his horses or the badness of his riding, or perhaps from both (in spite of his various ingenious contrivances to keep himself in the saddle), he had several falls, and kept us in continual anxiety. He writes, in a letter, “I used to think a fall from a horse dangerous, but much
experience has convinced me to the contrary. I have had six falls in two years, and just behaved like the three per cents when they fall,—I got up again, and am not a bit the worse for it, any more than the stock in question.” In speaking of this, he says, “I left off riding, for the good of my parish and the peace of my family; for, somehow or other, my horse and I had a habit of parting company. On one occasion I found myself suddenly prostrate in the streets of York, much to the delight of the Dissenters. Another time, my horse Calamity flung me over his head into a neighbouring parish, as if I had been a shuttlecock, and I felt grateful it was not into a neighbouring planet; but as no harm came of it, I might have persevered perhaps, if, on a certain day, a Quaker tailor from a neighbouring village, to which I had said I was going to ride, had not taken it into his head to call, soon after my departure, and request to see
Mrs. Sydney. She instantly, conceiving I was thrown, if not killed, rushed down to the man, exclaiming, ‘Where is he? where is your master? is he hurt?’ The astonished and quaking snip stood silent from surprise. Still more agitated by his silence, she exclaimed, ‘Is he hurt? I insist upon knowing the worst.’ ‘Why, please, ma’am, it is only thy little bill, a very small account, I wanted thee to settle,’ replied he, in much surprise. After this, you may suppose, I sold my horse; however, it is some comfort to know that my friend Sir George is one fall ahead of me, and is certainly a worse rider. It is a great proof, too, of the
liberality of this county, where everybody can ride as soon as they are born, that they tolerate me at all.”

The horse Calamity, whose name has been thus introduced, was the first-born of several young horses bred on the farm, who turned out very fine creatures, and gained him great glory, even amongst the knowing farmers of Yorkshire; but this first production was certainly not encouraging. To his dismay, a huge, lank, large-boned foal appeared, of chestnut colour, and with four white legs. It grew apace, but its bones became more and more conspicuous; its appetite was unbounded,—grass, hay, corn, beans, food moist and dry, were all supplied in vain, and vanished down his throat with incredible rapidity. He stood, a large living skeleton, with famine written in his face, and my father christened him Calamity. As Calamity grew to maturity, he was found to be as sluggish in disposition as his master was impetuous; so my father was driven to invent his patent Tantalus, which consisted of a small sieve of corn, suspended on a semicircular bar of iron, from the ends of the shafts, just beyond the horse’s nose. The corn, rattling as the vehicle proceeded, stimulated Calamity to unwonted exertions; and under the hope of overtaking this imaginary feed, he did more work than all the previous provender which had been poured down his throat had been able to obtain from him.

He was very fond of his young horses, and they all came running to meet him when he entered the field. He began their education from their birth: he taught
them to wear a girth, a bridle, a saddle, to meet flags, music, to bear the firing of a pistol at their heads, from their earliest years, and he maintained that no horses were so well broken as his.

After our establishment at Foston, an old lady, the widow of an artist, a woman of some fortune, large dimensions, considerable talents, and much oddity, came to establish herself in a small cottage at no great distance, and was so delighted with her neighbour, that she kindly offered to drop in (as she said) frequently to tea. My father, though the most sociable of human beings, felt rather alarmed at this threatened invasion of his privacy; yet, unwilling to hurt the old lady, he at last bethought himself of writing a most comical letter, full of all sorts of imaginary facts, to her, accepting her offer, only begging to have full notice of her approach: “for,” said he, “at home I sit in an old coat, which may have a hole in it; now I like to appear before you in my best. When alone we have the black kettle, we should have the urn for you; Bunch would have on her clean apron and her hair brushed, etc. etc.” This answered very well to both parties. But the tale goes further. The good widow, ripe in years, at last died, leaving her property to an amiable young female friend, whom she had adopted, and who thus became our neighbour. About the same time, an Italian refugee, of very good family, had come to settle at York, and most honourably endeavoured to support himself by giving lessons in Italian. He brought letters of introduction to my father from
Lord Holland, who had known him or his family in Italy. We found him a man of talent, cultivation, and high feeling, and the more we saw of him the more we liked him. The Count and our neighbour frequently met at our house, and seeming mutually to like each other, my father thought it right to make further inquiries respecting the character of the former, and finding it most satisfactory, he promoted their intercourse, and it ended in a marriage from our house. The evening before the marriage, my father, fearing the poor Count, from the necessary preparations for his marriage, might possibly be in some little difficulty for his immediate necessities, delicately offered to assist him; but, with a burst of gratitude, in his own beautiful tongue he exclaimed joyously, “No, no; thank God, I have paid every debt I owed in the world, and have still this in my pocket,” holding forth half-a-crown.

He did not live very many years to enjoy his good fortune, but we had frequent opportunities during that period of hearing of their mutual happiness.

It was somewhere about this period, I believe, that, by Lord Ossory’s death, the living of Ampthill, then vacant, came into his nephew, Lord Holland’s, gift; and he immediately wrote, with his usual kindness, to offer it to my father. But being untenable with Foston, and of inferior value, my father was obliged to relinquish what to him would have been a source of constant enjoyment, the vicinity to Lord Holland and to all his early friends; and to turn his mind, with re-
newed vigour, to the growing necessities of his little northern colony, which had suffered for the moment by this change of prospects put before him.

Nothing was more amusing than to accompany my father in a round of shopping, or providing for the ship, as he called it. On entering a shop where he was known, all were eager to serve him. Gradually, as he talked, all other business was suspended, and you often saw both customer and shop-boy forgetting their own business, and turning round to listen. In five minutes he seemed to know more of each man’s trade than he knew himself, and had extracted from him, before he was aware, not only all he meant to tell, but all he meant to conceal; and was off on his road again, laden with useful knowledge, before the astonished burgher was aware of the wisdom which had gone out of him.

One day, when we were on a visit at Bishopthorpe, soon after he had preached a visitation sermon, in which, amongst other things, he had recommended the clergy not to devote too much time to shooting and hunting, the Archbishop, who rode beautifully in his youth, and knew full well my father’s deficiencies in this respect, said, smiling and evidently much amused, “I hear, Mr. Smith, you do not approve of much riding for the clergy.” “Why, my Lord,” said my father, bowing with assumed gravity, “perhaps there is not much objection, provided they do not ride too well, and stick out their toes professionally.” Mr. M., a Catholic gentleman present,
looked out of the window of the room in which they were sitting. “Ah, I see, you think you will get out,” said my father, laughing, “but you are quite mistaken; this is the wing where the Archbishop shuts up the Catholics; the other wing is full of Dissenters.”

Coming down one morning at Foston, I found Bunch pacing up and down the passage before her master’s door, in a state of great perturbation. “What is the matter, Bunch?” “Oh, Ma’am, I can’t get no peace of mind till I’ve got master shaved, and he’s so late this morning; he’s not come down yet.” This getting master shaved, consisted in making ready for him, with a large painter’s brush, a thick lather in a huge wooden bowl, as big as Mambrino’s helmet, which she always considered as the most important avocation of the morning.

Johnson says, “The truly strong and sound mind is the mind that can embrace equally great things and small.” If this definition be just, my father’s mind fully deserved these epithets, for he thought nothing unworthy of his talents that could be improved by them. “I dislike those large white blinds,” I remember he said on one occasion; “I can’t afford painted ones; now, girls, why not try patchwork? Get rich glazed cottons, combine your colours well, and select a classical pattern, and I am sure the effect will, he very good.” We exclaimed, laughed at him, remonstrated, declared it would be hideous, but obeyed. Each took a window; and under my mother’s skilful direction, much to our own surprise, executed his idea
with such success that the Combe Florey and Foston blinds excited universal admiration; and there are many now alive who, I daresay, remember them, and some who imitated them.

In the summer, hearing that an old friend, a lawyer of great eminence, with his family, had been unexpectedly detained at York by the dangerous illness of a near relation, whilst his two little girls were pining for fresh air after the hooping-cough, which they had just had, my father immediately insisted that they should be sent to Foston, and entrusted to my mother’s care. This made us a little anxious, as he had never had the complaint himself: a rule therefore was made, that the dear little girls were never to approach him nearer than arm and stick length. I can see him even now, laughingly warding them off, or running away from them in the garden at Foston, to their great delight, whilst they pursued, and their bright young faces in merry conference with him at the end of his stick. Years and years have passed away since that time, and they, after having grown up into that beauty of mind and body which so fitted them for it, have long, long since, I will not say sunk into their graves, but risen to that heaven, of which their pure and blameless lives made all who knew them feel they were so worthy. No evil ensued; and this little incident only served to cement still closer a friendship of many years’ standing. I only allude to it now to show my father’s forgetfulness of self where his heart was concerned.


He never indulged in any pleasures in which his family did not share. Passionately fond of books, he hardly added one volume, through all his years of poverty, to the precious little store he brought down with him from London; though without a Cyclopædia, or many of those books of reference, of which he so often felt the want in his literary pursuits. These circumstances render yet more remarkable all that he has said and done during this period. When a present of books arrived (no very unfrequent event) from some of his kind old friends, who knew the pleasure it would afford, he was almost childlike in his delight, particularly if the binding was gay; and I have often been summoned (in my office of librarian, which I held, together with that of apothecary’s boy) to arrange and re-arrange them on the shelves, in order to place them in the most conspicuous situation.

We had all our offices: he appointed my sister (who, from her talents, was well fitted for this office) to be his Livy; and we have often laughed over his suggestions as to how our domestic events ought to he recorded for the advantage of posterity. But his Livy was carried off too young, I fear, to have made any progress in her history. My dear mother, from her skill in domestic economy, he christened Mrs. Balwhidder, in allusion to that pretty tale by Galt, called ‘Annals of the Parish,’ which he delighted in. Annie Kay was prime minister; in short, my father infused something of his spirit into the most commonplace events of life, and he could not order even a dose of
physic for his carter but there was fun and originality in the act.

It is said that nobody could stand with Burke under a doorway in a shower of rain without finding him out to be an extraordinary man: so, of my father, I have heard it often said that it was impossible to converse with him for five minutes, and not feel he was not like other men. I have seen him melt an exquisite of the first water, in a most amusing manner. Being very punctual (too punctual indeed,—it was the only virtue he made disagreeable), he not unfrequently arrived to dinner before the lady of the house was dressed, and received her company for her. A dandy would appear all glorious without, whose neckcloth, shirt, and white gloves were unimpeachable, and the evident result of profound study; and who, not having been introduced, of course, in true English style, appeared unconscious that another mortal was in the same room with him. My father, whose neckcloth always looked like a pudding tied round his throat, and the arrangement of whose garments seemed more the result of accident than design (yet, I ought to add, as I am now writing for those who knew him not, always looked like a gentleman, in its best sense,—that is, as one who deserved respect),—eyed him calmly for a minute, as if to take his measure, then addressed him. The dandy started, and bowed stiffly over his neckcloth. The second observation made him evidently say to himself, “Can that observation come out of that neckcloth?” The third convinced him
there was something better or at least equal to neckcloths in the world; and by the time the lady of the house arrived they had sworn eternal friendship.

In the summer of this year, 1817, my uncle and his family joined us for a month at Scarborough, and afterwards returned with us to Foston; and it was during this visit that, finding my father quite unable to afford sending his eldest son Douglas to school, he most kindly offered to assist him. Not thinking himself justified in refusing Douglas so great an advantage, my father accepted a hundred a year for this purpose; and in the following year placed him at Westminster school, which he quitted some years after with great distinction, as Captain of the College.

In 1820 my father went on a visit of a few days to Lord Grey’s; then to Edinburgh to see Jeffrey and his other old friends; and returned by Lord Lauderdale’s house at Dunbar. Speaking of this journey, he says, “Most people sulk in stage coaches, I always talk. I have had some amusing journeys from this habit. On one occasion, a gentleman in the coach with me, with whom I had been conversing for some time, suddenly looked out of the window as we approached York and said, ‘There is a very clever man, they say, but a d—s odd fellow, lives near here,—Sydney Smith, I believe.’ ‘He may be a very odd fellow,’ said I (taking off my hat to him and laughing), ‘and I daresay he is; but odd as he is, he is here, very much at your service.’ Poor man! I thought he would have sunk into his boots, and vanished through the bed of the
carriage, he was so distressed; but I thought I had better tell him at once, or he might proceed to say I had murdered my grandmother, which I must have resented, you know.

“On another occasion some years later, when going to Brougham Hall, two raw Scotch girls got into the coach in the dark, near Carlisle. ‘It is very disagreeable getting into a coach in the dark,’ exclaimed one, after arranging her bandboxes; ‘one cannot see one’s company.’ ‘Very true, Ma’am, and you have a great loss in not seeing me, for I am a remarkably handsome man.’ ‘No, Sir! are you really?’ said both. ‘Yes, and in the flower of my youth.’ ‘What a pity!’ said they. We soon passed near a lamp-post: they both darted forward to get a look at me. ‘La, Sir, you seem very stout.’ ‘Oh no, not at all, Ma’am, it’s only my great coat.’ ‘Where are you going, Sir?’ ‘To Brougham Hall.’ ‘Why, you must be a very remarkable man, to be going to Brougham Hall.’ ‘I am a very remarkable man, Ma’am.’ At Penrith they got out, after having talked incessantly, and tried every possible means to discover who I was, exclaiming as they went off laughing, ‘Well, it is very provoking we can’t see you, but we’ll find out who you are at the ball; Lord Brougham always comes to the ball at Penrith, and we shall certainly be there, and shall soon discover your name.’”

In the summer, Dr. and Mrs. Marcet came with their two daughters to spend some days with us.

Mrs. Marcet writes:—“Mr. Smith was talking after breakfast with Dr. Marcet, in a very impressive and
serious tone, on scientific subjects, and I was admiring the enlarged and philosophic manner in which he discoursed on them, when suddenly starting up, he stretched out his arms and said, ‘Come, now let us talk a little nonsense.’ And then came such a flow of wit, and joke, and anecdote, such a burst of spirits, such a charm and freshness-of manner, such an irresistible laugh, that Solomon himself would have yielded to the infection, and called out, Nonsense forever!”

I have been told it is the opinion of one who knew my father well, and whose opinion I value, that I have hardly done justice to the more serious part of his character. If this be so, I have indeed done him grievous wrong; for this was the foundation, or rather storehouse, from which all his wit and imagination sprang, and which gave them such value in the eyes of the world. The expression of my father’s face when at rest was that of sense and dignity; and this was the picture of his mind in the calmer and graver hours of life: but when he found (as we sometimes do) a passage that bore the stamp of immortality, his countenance in an instant changed and lighted up, and a sublime thought, sight, or action, struck on his soul at once, and found a kindred spark within it.

Mrs. Marcet has just spoken of his rapid transition from sense to nonsense; I remember a similar instance of his rapid transition from gaiety to the deepest pathos. Some ladies walking with me, seeing my father sitting at his singular writing establishment in the bay, went in through his glorified windows, and esta-
blished themselves round his table, he talking in his gayest and most animated manner;—in an instant his countenance and tone changed, and he gave expression to the thought within him, with a pathos that touched all, for there was a tear in every eye. Strange to say, vivid as this scene is to my mind, I can neither recall a word he said, nor the subject of the conversation; but it struck me as an instance of great power. His reasoning powers are sufficiently before the world in his works. He loved argument on serious and important subjects, but always after his own fashion; throwing aside all extraneous matter, and by two or three pointed questions, marching up at once to the point. He argued with perfect temper in society, or if he saw the argument becoming long or warm, in a moment he dashed over his opponent’s trenches, and was laughingly attacking him on some fresh point. In sorrow or misfortune, he used to say, the great sting was self-reproach. In all the important affairs of life a man ought to make every possible exertion that he can with honour, and then, and not till then, sit down and cast his care upon God, for he careth for him. I have heard him say, “Some very excellent people tell you they dare not hope; why do they not dare to hope? To me it seems much more impious to dare to despair.” I have already shown that he studied much, and had always some useful purpose in hand. The real way to improve, he said, is not so much by varied reading, as by finding out your weak points on any subject, and mastering them; this was his constant practice. But to return to Mrs. Marcet:—


“I was coming downstairs the next morning (she continues), when Mr. Smith suddenly said to Bunch, who was passing, ‘Bunch, do you like roast duck or boiled chicken?’ Bunch had probably never tasted either the one or the other in her life, but answered, without a moment’s hesitation, ‘Roast duck, please, Sir,’ and disappeared. I laughed. ‘You may laugh,’ said he, ‘but you have no idea of the labour it has cost me to give her that decision of character. The Yorkshire peasantry are the quickest and shrewdest in the world, but you can never get a direct answer from them; if you ask them even their own names, they always scratch their heads, and say, ‘A’s sur ai don’t knaw, Sir;’ but I have brought Bunch to such perfection, that she never hesitates now on any subject, however difficult. I am very strict with her. Would you like to hear her repeat her crimes? She has them by heart, and repeats them every day.’

“‘Come here, Bunch!’ (calling out to her), ‘come and repeat your crimes to Mrs. Marcet;’ and Bunch, a clean, fair, squat, tidy little girl, about ten or twelve years of age, quite as a matter of course, as grave as a judge, without the least hesitation, and with a loud voice, began to repeat—‘Plate-snatching, gravy-spilling, door-slamming, blue-bottle fly-catching, and curtsey-bobbing.’ ‘Explain to Mrs. Marcet what blue-bottle fly-catching is.’ ‘Standing with my mouth open and not attending, Sir.’ ‘And what is curtsey-bobbing?’ ‘Curtseying to the centre of the earth, please, Sir.’ ‘Good girl! now you may go. She makes a capital waiter, I assure you; on state occa-
sions Jack Robinson, my carpenter, takes off his apron and waits too, and does pretty well, but he sometimes naturally makes a mistake and sticks a gimlet into the bread instead of a fork.’”

Once, when we were on a visit at Lord ——’s, we were sitting with a large party at luncheon, when our host’s eldest son, a fine boy of between eight and nine, burst into the room, and, running up to his father, began a playful skirmish with him; the boy, half in play, half in earnest, hit his father in the face, who, to carry on the joke, put up both his hands, saying, “Oh, B——, you have put out my eye.” In an instant the blood mounted to the boy’s temples, he flung his little arms round his father, and sobbed in such a paroxysm of grief and despair, that it was some time before even his father’s two bright eyes beaming on him with pleasure could convince him of the truth, and restore him to tranquillity.

When he left the room, my father, who had silently looked with much interest and emotion on the scene, said, “I congratulate you; I guarantee that boy; make your hearts easy; however he may be tossed about the world, with those feelings, and such a heart, he will come out unscathed.”

The father, one of those who consider their fortune but as a loan, to be employed in spreading an atmosphere of virtue and happiness around them as far as their influence reaches, is now no more, and this son occupies his place; but his widowed mother the other day reminded me how true the prophecy had proved;
and the scene was so touching that I cannot resist giving it.

My father comically alludes to the solitary life we led at this time, saying in one of his letters to a friend, “Let us know when you pass, and we will write a letter to tell you whether we are at home or not. It is twenty to one against our being engaged, as we only dine out once in seven or eight years, and that septennial exertion was made last year.”

As our opportunities for society were thus few, my father occasionally took lodgings for us during the assizes in York, which enabled us to see a great deal of the principal lawyers on the northern circuit. Amongst these were some of the early legal friends he had made when first settling in his little house in Doughty-street, such as Mr. Scarlett, Brougham, Parke, Tindal, and many others then beginning life, but all since become of high eminence in their profession. It was on the occasion of one of these York assizes that Lord Lyndhurst, then Sir John Copley, came there on a special retainer, and dined with us, together with a large party of lawyers; and contributed not a little, by his powers of conversation, to one of the most agreeable dinners I ever remember. Little did we then guess how much he was to contribute hereafter, to the happiness and comfort of my father’s life. At this time Hunt’s trial was going on, and excited much interest in the public mind. My father attended through the whole trial, and has expressed in some of his letters how much he was struck by
the natural and untaught ability which Hunt evinced in the conduct and defence of his cause.

This summer my father went with his family to Bishop’s Lydiard, in Somersetshire, to visit my grandfather, who, though a very old man, was still in high vigour, both of body and mind; and, I think, more picturesque and agreeable than ever.

On our return in the autumn, we were in great danger of having a repetition of the disastrous harvest of 1816, from the precarious state of the weather; and it was only by my father’s constant activity and energy that it was prevented. For he infused, by his presence, approbation, and good-humour, such activity and goodwill amongst his workmen, that they volunteered to continue their labours in relays all night, and persevered till the harvest was saved; while he came amongst them continually, and took care to have large tables in the barn covered with meat and drink for them.

Amongst the friends my father made at the later period of his residence in London, was Mr. Grattan. Attracted not only by what attracted all the world (Mr. Grattan’s high character and great abilities), but by his ardent zeal for the two objects my father had always most at heart—Ireland, and the Catholic question,—he sought every opportunity of cultivating Mr. Grattan’s society which the short visits he was now able to make to London afforded.

The death of this great man, which took place in 1820, about the period I am now arrived at, was
ascribed in great measure to his coming over with a petition on the Catholic question, when in a state of health which rendered him unfit for such exertion. My father joined warmly in the general regret for the loss of such a man, and, in an article in the
Edinburgh Review, on “Ireland,” shortly after, expresses his admiration in a sketch of his friend, which, being as short as it is beautiful, I shall extract.

“Great men hallow a whole people, and lift up all who live in their time. What Irishman does not feel proud that he has lived in the days of Grattan? Who has not turned to him for comfort, from the false friends and open enemies of Ireland? who did not remember him in the days of its burnings, wastings, and murders? No government ever dismayed him—the world could not bribe him—he thought only of Ireland: lived for no other object, dedicated to her his beautiful fancy, his elegant wit, his manly courage, and all the splendour of his astonishing eloquence.

“He was so born, so gifted, that poetry, forensic skill, elegant literature, and all the highest attainments of human genius were within his reach; but he thought the noblest occupation of a man was to make other men happy and free; and in that straight line he kept for fifty years, without one side-look, one yielding thought, one motive in his heart which he might not have laid open to the view of God or man.”