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

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
Letters 1801
Letters 1802
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Letters 1830
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In the year 1797, the period, I believe, at which my father arrived in Edinburgh with his pupil, Mr. Beach, that city was rich in talent, full of men who have acted important parts whilst they lived, and many of whom have left names that will live after them:—Jeffrey, Horner, Playfair, Walter Scott, Dugald Stewart, Brougham, Allen, Brown, Murray, Leyden, Lord Webb Seymour, Lord Woodhouselee,* Alison, Sir James Hall, and many others.

Society at that time in Edinburgh was upon the most easy and agreeable footing; the Scotch were neither rich nor ashamed of being poor, and there was not that struggle for display which so much diminishes the charm of London society, and has, with the increase of wealth, now crept into that of Edinburgh.

* Father of the historian Mr. Peter Tytler.

Few days passed without the meeting of some of these friends, either in each other’s houses, or in what was then very common oyster-cellars, where, I am told, the most delightful little suppers used to be given, in which every subject was discussed, with a freedom impossible in larger societies, and with a candour which is only found where men fight for truth and not for victory.

Into this soil, then, so congenial to his mind and tastes, my father was transplanted; and, though a perfect stranger, the kindness with which he was received is best shown by the strong attachment he ever retained for his Scotch friends, though far removed from them in after life, and by the pleasure with which he always looked back to this period, which he often refers to in his letters. In one of them he exclaims, “When shall I see Scotland again? Never shall I forget the happy days passed there, amidst odious smells, barbarous sounds, bad suppers, excellent hearts, and most enlightened and cultivated understandings!” I believe he kept up, with hardly any exception, the friendships then formed, and I heard an incident yesterday which, trifle as it was, showed such affection for my father’s memory that it quite touched me. One evening my father was at his old friend Lord Woodhouselee’s country-house, near Edinburgh, when a violent storm of wind arose, and shook the windows so as to annoy everybody present and prevent conversation. “Why do you not stop them?” mild my father; “give me a knife, a screw, and a
bit of wood, and I will cure it in a moment;” he soon effected his purpose, fixed up his little bit of wood, and it was christened
Sydney’s button. Fifty years after, one of the family finding Mr. Tytler papering and painting this room, exclaimed, “Oh! James, you are surely not touching Sydney’s button?” but on running to examine the old place at the window, she found Sydney’s button was there, preserved and respected amidst all the changes of masters, time, and taste.

Though truly loving them, his quick sense of the ludicrous made him derive great amusement from the little foibles and peculiarities of the Scotch; and often has he made them laugh by his descriptions of things which struck his English eye. “It requires,” he used to say, “a surgical operation to get a joke well into a Scotch understanding. Their only idea of wit, or rather that inferior variety of this electric talent which prevails occasionally in the North, and which, under the name of wut, is so infinitely distressing to people of good taste, is laughing immoderately at stated intervals. They are so imbued with metaphysics that they even make love metaphysically; I overheard a young lady of my acquaintance, at a dance in Edinburgh, exclaim, in a sudden pause of the music, ‘What you say, my Lord, is very true of love in the aibstract, but—’ here the fiddlers began fiddling furiously, and the rest was lost. No nation has so large a stock of benevolence of heart: if you meet with an accident, half Edinburgh immediately flocks to your door to
inquire after your pure hand or your pure foot, and with a degree of interest that convinces you their whole hearts are in the inquiry. You find they usually arrange their dishes at dinner by the points of the compass; ‘Sandy, put the gigot of mutton to the south, and move the singet sheep’s head a wee bit to the nor-wast.’ If you knock at the door, you hear a shrill female voice from the fifth flat shriek out, ‘Wha’s chapping at the door?’ which is presently opened by a lassie with short petticoats, bare legs, and thick ankles. My Scotch servants bargained they were not to have salmon more than three times a week, and always pulled off their stockings, in spite of my repeated objurgations, the moment my back was turned.” “Their temper stands anything but an attack on their climate; even the enlightened mind of
Jeffrey cannot shake off the illusion that myrtles flourish at Craig Crook. In vain I have represented to him that they are of the genus Carduus, and pointed out their prickly peculiarities. In vain I have reminded him that I have seen hackney-coaches drawn by four horses in the winter, on account of the snow; that I had rescued a man blown flat against my door by the violence of the winds, and black in the face; that even the experienced Scotch fowls did not venture to cross the streets, but sidled along, tails aloft, without venturing to encounter the gale. Jeffrey sticks to his myrtle illusions, and treats my attacks with as much contempt as if I had been a wild visionary, who had never breathed his caller air, nor lived
and suffered under the rigour of his climate, nor spent five years in discussing metaphysics and medicine in that garret of the earth—that knuckle-end of England—that land of
Calvin, oat-cakes, and sulphur.”

The reigning bore at this time in Edinburgh was ——; his favourite subject, the North Pole. It mattered not how far south you began, you found yourself transported to the north pole before you could take breath; no one escaped him. My father declared he should invent a slip button. Jeffrey fled from him as from the plague, when possible; but one day his arch-tormentor met him in a narrow lane, and began instantly on the north pole. Jeffrey, in despair and out of all patience, darted past him, exclaiming, “D— the north pole!”* My father met him shortly after, boiling with indignation at Jeffrey’s contempt of the north pole. “Oh, my dear fellow,” said my father, “never mind; no one minds what Jeffrey says, you know; he is a privileged person; he respects nothing, absolutely nothing. Why, you will scarcely believe it, but it is not more than a week ago that I heard him speak disrespectfully of the equator!”

My father tells of his first acquaintance with Horner, who was at that time among the most conspicuous young men in “that energetic and unfragrant city.” “My desire to know him proceeded first of all from being cautioned against him by some excellent and

* I see this anecdote in Mr. Moore’s Memoirs attributed to Leslie, but I have so often heard it told as applying to a very different person, that I think he was mistaken.

feeble people to whom I brought letters of introduction, and who represented him as a person of violent political opinions. I interpreted this to mean a person who thought for himself, who had firmness enough to take his own line in life, and who loved truth better than he loved
Dundas, at that time the tyrant of Scotland. I found my interpretation just, and from then till the period of his death we lived in constant society and friendship with each other.” In speaking of him after his death, in a letter to his brother, he says, “Horner loved truth so much that he never could bear any jesting upon important subjects. I remember one evening the late Lord Dudley and myself pretended to justify the conduct of the Government in stealing the Danish fleet. We carried on the argument with some wickedness against our graver friend; he could not stand it, but bolted indignantly out of the room. We flung up the sash, and, with a loud peal of laughter, professed ourselves decided Scandinavians; we offered him not only the ships, but all the shot, powder, cordage, and even the biscuit, if he would come back; but nothing could turn him; he went home, and it took us a fortnight of serious behaviour before we were forgiven.” I wish his pen had left us any account of the other distinguished men whose friendship he obtained in Edinburgh; but it has left but one other, and that, I believe, was written at a later period of life.

After two years’ residence in Edinburgh he returned to England, to marry Miss Pybus, to whom he had
long been engaged, and whom he had known from a very early period of his life, as she was the intimate friend and schoolfellow of his only sister,
Maria. This marriage took place with the entire consent of her mother, Mrs. Pybus; but with so vehement an opposition on the part of her brother, Mr. Charles Pybus, (who was a strong politician, and one of the Lords of the Admiralty under Mr. Pitt,) as produced a complete breach between them, and deprived them of the assistance and protection he might have given them on their entrance into life.

Thus deprived of the only relation capable of affording her protection and assistance, it was lucky that Miss Pybus had some fortune, for my father’s only contribution towards their future menage (save his own talents and character) were six small silver teaspoons, which, from much wear, had become the ghosts of their former selves. One day, in the madness of his joy, he came running into the room and flung these into her lap, saying, “There, Kate, you lucky girl, I give you all my fortune!”

Upon this small portion (which my father’s first step was to secure in the strictest manner to his wife and children, though Mrs. Pybus, who had perfect confidence in him, had thought it would have been better to leave a portion of it unsettled in case of need,) and the six silver spoons, they determined to return to Edinburgh and set up housekeeping.

“One of our early difficulties,” said my mother, “was, how we should buy the necessary plate and
linen for our new household; but my dear mother’s liberality had furnished me with the means, by bestowing on me, when I entered the world, my sister,
Lady Fletcher’s, necklace, consisting of a double row of pearls, which were said to be the finest, except Mrs. Hastings’, that had been brought to this country. I took them to ——, and sold them for £500, and all we most wanted was thus obtained. Several years after, when visiting the shop with Miss Fox and Miss Vernon, I saw in one of the glass cases my own necklace, every pearl of which I knew, and had often strung. I had the curiosity to ask the price; ‘Fifteen hundred pounds,’ was the answer.”

Mr. Beach presented my father, soon after, with a thousand pounds for his care of his eldest son, which he put into the Stocks, and in which consisted his whole worldly wealth. And here I must introduce a little trait, which, though trifling in itself, yet, considering his circumstances, deserves to be mentioned.

He had made the acquaintance, during his residence in Edinburgh, of a family consisting of a lady (one of the most beautiful specimens of old-age I have ever met) and four daughters, who seemed to live for no other object than this mother. He accidentally discovered that this interesting old lady was suddenly involved in pecuniary difficulties. Regretting how little he had to offer, he entreated she would not refuse the loan of a hundred pounds out of his little store; it was accepted with the same kind feeling with which it was offered. I never heard the circumstance till
after his death, and I only mention it now because she who received it is no more, and those few who survive her would, I know, gladly contribute anything that would honour the memory of their old friend. What added to the generosity of this little offering was, that he was then about to become a father, and had but little prospect of increasing his means.

Another instance of his generosity at that time was in behalf of Mr. Leyden, who, born a poor shepherd-boy in Teviotdale, had become so remarkable by his learning, that an effort was made by subscription to enable him to attend the College classes in Edinburgh, where he made the most astonishing progress in almost every branch of knowledge taught there. Having obtained, through Mr. Dundas, an appointment to India, he was quite unable to accomplish his outfit. Sir Walter Scott and my father, and a few others, were chiefly instrumental in effecting it, the latter contributing £40 out of his very small means. Mr. Leyden afterwards died in India.

About this period Lord Holland, with whom my father had been slightly acquainted, wrote to ask if he could recommend any clever young medical man to accompany him to Spain, where he was going. My father had the pleasure of recommending his friend Mr. Allen, whose high character and talents were so valued at Holland House, that he never after left it, but remained there even after Lord Holland’s death, and died loved, honoured, and respected by the whole of Lord Holland’s family.


As the time approached for the birth of his child, he constantly expressed his wish, first, that it might be a daughter, and secondly, that she might be born with one eye, that he might never lose her. The daughter came in due time, according to his wish, but, unfortunately, with two eyes; however, in spite of this unpropitious circumstance, she was very graciously received, and the nurse, to her horror, during five minutes’ absence, found he had stolen her from the nursery a few hours after she was born, to introduce her in triumph to Jeffrey and the future Edinburgh Reviewers.

Being now in possession of a daughter with two eyes, it became necessary to give her a name; and nobody would believe the meditations, the consultations, and the discussions he held on this important point. At last he determined to invent one, and Saba was the result.

About the period in which he was engaged in settling this important domestic point, he was likewise employed in arranging with Messrs. Jeffrey, Brougham, Murray, and his other friends, the preliminaries of that periodical which, under the name of the ‘Edinburgh Review,’ has grown into such importance, has produced such useful results, and has bestowed on its chief contributors a European reputation.

He must state its origin and results:—“Towards the end of my residence in Edinburgh, Brougham, Jeffrey, and myself happened to meet in the eighth or ninth story or flat in Buccleugh Place, the then
elevated residence of Mr. Jeffrey. I proposed that we should set up a Review; this was acceded to with acclamation; I was appointed editor, and remained long enough in Edinburgh to edit the first number of the Review. The motto I proposed for the Review was, ‘Tenui Musam meditamur avenâ’—‘We cultivate literature on a little oatmeal;’ but this was too near the truth to be admitted, so we took our present grave motto from
Publius Syrus, of whom none of us had, I am sure, read a single line; and so began what has since turned out to be a very important and able journal. When I left Edinburgh it fell into the stronger hands of Lords Jeffrey and Brougham, and reached the highest point of popularity and success.”* “To appreciate the value of the Edinburgh Review, the state of England at the period when that journal began should be had in remembrance. The Catholics were not emancipated. The Corporation and Test Acts were unrepealed. The Game-laws were horribly oppressive; steel-traps and spring-guns were set all over the country; prisoners tried for their lives could have no counsel. Lord Eldon and the Court of

* A distinguished periodical, speaking of the Edinburgh Review, says:—“The world will long look to this as to the opening of an important era in English literary history, for then, so to say, was founded an empire of criticism, wider in its objects, more vigorous in its provisions, more perfect in its administrative machinery, than any of the dynasty which had flourished in the eighteenth century. The cause of tolerance without licentiousness, and philanthropy without cant, was substantially aided by its exertions and the attention they commanded. If the good done thereby should be apportioned out, a large share would fall to the Rev. Sydney Smith.”

Chancery pressed heavily on mankind. Libel was punished by the most cruel and vindictive imprisonments. The principles of political economy were little understood.* The laws of debt and conspiracy were upon the worst footing. The enormous wickedness of the slave-trade was tolerated. A thousand evils were in existence, which the talents of good and able men have since lessened or removed; and these efforts have been not a little assisted by the honest boldness of the Edinburgh Review.”

To estimate justly my father’s moral courage in projecting and contributing to such a Review, not only the personal risk to which those who expressed liberal opinions were exposed (of which nothing gives a more vivid impression than the third volume of Mr. Fox’s letters, just published), should be taken into consideration, but his profession, and the corrupt state of that profession at this period. As this is a subject of which I am quite incompetent to speak, I shall quote a short passage from a remarkable article on Church Parties in the Edinburgh Review, which gives a very striking description of it. “The thermometer of the Church of England sank to its lowest point in the first thirty years of George III. Unbelieving bishops, and a slothful clergy, had succeeded in driving from the Church the faith and zeal of Methodism which Wesley had

* “In a scarcity which occurred little more than twenty years ago, every judge (except the Chancellor and Sergeant Runnington), when they charged the Grand Jury, attributed the scarcity to the combinations of the farmers. Such doctrines would not now be tolerated in the mouth of a school-boy.”

organized within her pale. The spirit was expelled, and the dregs remained. That was the age when jobbery and corruption, long supreme in the State, had triumphed over the virtue of the Church; when the money-changers not only entered the temple, but drove out the worshipers; when ecclesiastical revenues were monopolized by wealthy pluralists; when the name of curate lost its legal meaning, and, instead of denoting the incumbent of a living, came to signify the deputy of an absentee.”

The Dean of St. Paul’s and others have spoken of the remarkable increase in vigour of style and boldness of illustration in my father’s writings as he advanced in years; but I have seldom seen it noticed, except in a very clever sketch of him written by some friend soon after his death, that he had no youth in his writings; no period of those crude, extravagant theoretical opinions, with which the French Revolution had infected society to a degree of which we can hardly now form any estimate; though it is alluded to in almost every publication of the times.

A letter from Mr. Montagu to Mr. Mackintosh, given in the Life of his father Sir James Mackintosh, describes this vividly. “At this time, the wild opinions which prevailed at the commencement of the French Revolution misled most of us who were not as wise as your father, and he did not wholly escape their fascinating influence. The prevalent doctrines were, that man was so benevolent as to wish only the happiness of his fellow-creatures, so intellectual as to
be able readily to discover what was best, and so far above the power of temptation as never to be drawn by any allurements from the paths of virtue. Gratitude was said to be a vice, marriage an improper restraint, law an imposition, and lawyers aiders of fraud. It is scarcely possible to conceive the extensive influence which these visions had on society.”

“Yet in the midst of this“ (continues the writer to whom I have alluded) “Sydney Smith showed, from the outset, a singular union of courage and good sense, without a tincture of the extravagance by which, in so many young men of ability, they were at that time accompanied. He did not hesitate to embrace and avow a sound principle, however obnoxious; but neither enthusiasm or party spirit could carry him a hair’s-breadth beyond what his judgment approved.”

He seems to have discerned, in the first blush of youth, that true liberty was never in such danger of destruction as when seized by the rude hands of her intemperate and unenlightened worshipers; and that true religion was never in such peril of being brought into ridicule and contempt, as when disfigured by the indiscreet zeal of ignorance and fanaticism. These convictions will, I think, be seen to pervade all his works, and even his correspondence,—to have been the great incentives under which he laboured to open the eyes of our rulers, under which he endeavoured to promote reforms at their legitimate source, and to ward off those horrors which the long neglect of reform had so recently produced in France. Speaking
of reforms, in one of his early letters, he says: “What I want to see the State do, is to listen in these sad times to some of its numerous enemies. Why not do something for the Catholics, and scratch them off the list? then the Dissenters, a mitigation of the Game-laws, etc., anything that would show the Government to the people in some other attitude than that of taxing, punishing, and restraining.” It is curious, in going through his writings, to observe that there is scarcely any one principle he has advocated, with the exception of the payment of the Catholic clergy, that has not been granted bit by bit; and, as my father says, after many throes and struggles, and hard-fought battles, that justice has been reluctantly conceded in the midst of fear and degradation, often when it was too late, which, had it been yielded in times of peace and strength, would have prevented many of the miseries the last forty years have witnessed in Ireland, and the many turmoils that have at various times agitated this country, and placed it on the verge of revolution. “In this way peace was concluded with America, and emancipation granted to the Catholics; and in this way the war of complexion will be finished in the West Indies.” And again, he says: “Most of the concessions which have been given to Ireland, have been given in fear. Ireland would have been lost to this country, if the British Legislature had not, with all the rapidity and precipitation of the truest panic, passed those Acts which Ireland did not ask, but demanded, in the times of her armed association.” Yet
now these measures are so confirmed by the general sanction of society, that it seems almost trite and commonplace to allude to them.

I shall leave my father to paint the fate of those who ventured to maintain such opinions at the period of which I am speaking.

“From the beginning of the century (about which time the Review began), to the death of Lord Liverpool, was an awful period for those who ventured to maintain liberal opinions; and who were too honest to sell them for the ermine of the judge, or the lawn of the prelate. A long and hopeless career in your profession, the chuckling grin of noodles, the sarcastic leer of the genuine political rogue; prebendaries, deans, bishops made over your head; reverend renegades advanced to the highest dignities of the Church, for helping to rivet the fetters of Catholic and Protestant Dissenters; and no more chance of a Whig administration than of a thaw in Zembla. These were the penalties exacted for liberality of opinion at that period, and not only was there no pay, but there were many stripes.”

“It is always considered a piece of impertinence in England if a man of less than two or three thousand a year has any opinions at all on important subjects; and in addition he was sure to be assailed with all the Billingsgate of the French Revolution,—Jacobin, leveller, atheist, Socinian, incendiary, regicide, were the gentlest appellations used; and any man who breathed a syllable against the senseless bigotry of the two
Georges, or hinted at the abominable tyranny and persecution exercised against Catholic Ireland, was shunned as unfit for the relations of social life. Not a murmur against any abuse was permitted; to say a word against the suitorcide delays of the Court of Chancery,* or the cruel punishments of the game-laws, or against any abuse which a rich man inflicted and a poor man suffered, was treason against the plousiocracy, and was bitterly and steadily resented.
Lord Grey had not then taken off the bearing-rein from the English people, as Sir Francis Head has now done from horses.”

My father speaks of himself as having a passionate love of common justice and common sense. He says, speaking of justice, “Truth is its handmaid, freedom is its child, peace is its companion, safety walks in its steps, victory follows in its train; it is the brightest emanation from the Gospel, it is the greatest attribute of God. It is that centre round which human motives and passions turn; and justice, sitting on high, sees genius, and power, and wealth, and birth revolving round her throne, and teaches their paths, and marks

* He says, on this subject, in his speech on the Reform Bill: “Look at the gigantic Brougham, sworn in at twelve, and before six o’clock has a bill on the table abolishing the abuses of a court which has been the curse of England for centuries. For twenty-five long years did Lord Eldon sit in the court, surrounded with misery and sorrow, which he never held up a finger to alleviate. The widow and the orphan cried to him as vainly as the town-crier cries when he offers a small reward for a full purse; the bankrupt of the court became the lunatic of the court; estates mouldered away and mansions fell down, but the fees came in and all was well; but in an instant the iron mace of Brougham shivered to atoms this house of fraud and of delay.”

out their orbits, and warns with a loud voice, and rules with a strong hand, and carries order and discipline into a world which but for her would be a wild waste of passions.”

Entering life then with these feelings, we shall, I think, best find their fruits by following the efforts of his pen through the greater part of his life in the Edinburgh Review. I have been told that I ought to give some analysis of them here; but they are now before the public in such various forms, are so well known, and, after various trials, I find them so much injured by any attempt to condense them, that I shall make his friend, Lord Monteagle, speak for me (as he states in a few lines what it would have cost me many pages to tell), and shall merely content myself with shortly enumerating what were the subjects that occupied my father’s thoughts and employed his pen during so large a portion of his life; a pen which, I think I may venture to assert, was never sullied by private passion or private interest, never degraded by an impure or unworthy motive, and, with all its unexampled powers of sarcasm, never wounding but for the public good.

Lord Monteagle says: “Looking at all he did, and the way in which he did it, it must be an inexpressible pleasure to all who knew, valued, and loved him, to observe that there was scarcely one question in which the moral, the intellectual, social, or even physical well-being of his fellow-men were concerned, to the advancement of which he has not endeavoured to contribute.”


Some of his earliest efforts seem to have been directed to subjects more immediately belonging to his profession, such as the use and abuse of the pulpit for political subjects, and the very inefficient state of pulpit eloquence. He touches on clerical reforms; he endeavours to protect the curates and inferior clergy, and to restrain the increasing power of the bishops, or rather to define those powers by laws, not leaving them dependent on the caprice of individual character or prejudice, as they then were. Toleration, from every motive, private, political, and religious, he inculcates on all occasions and in every form; and, as connected with and mainly depending on this, no subject more earnestly or frequently occupied his thoughts than the state of Ireland.

Education, as existing in this country in every class and in both sexes, claimed his attention. The injurious effects of Methodism and fanaticism on true religion in this country; the infinite importance of correcting vice in such a manner as should not produce hatred to virtue; the danger of religious wars, or of the total loss of our Indian possessions from the injudicious attempts at conversion by men totally unfitted for so important a work; the injuries we were inflicting on some of our finest colonies by bad governors and worse laws,—all these he describes and deprecates. He found in the cell of the lunatic chains, darkness, terror, cruelty, everything that unrestrained power and human passions could add of horror to that heaviest of God’s afflictions, and he brought into
public notice the mild and humane treatment of the Quakers and its beneficial effects. He examined the state of our gaols; he read the reports of good and laborious men who had dedicated much time and attention to the subject, “but men whom the fat and sleek people, the enjoyers, the mumpsimus, the well-as-we-are people of the world,” had contrived to keep down and hide from the public eye; and he endeavoured to convince the unsuspecting world that we were paying and nourishing in every county of England a public school for the instruction and encouragement of profligacy and vice: no order, no division, no public eye; the innocent with the guilty; youth just tottering on the threshold of sin, living with and learning from the most hardened profligates; punishments inflicted before trial at the caprice of the magistrate or governor; and many other evils, moral as well as physical, which it only wanted the public eye and public attention to correct and improve.

At a time when the greater part of the Bench, as well as the Bar, with some noble exceptions, were opposed strongly to any change in our criminal procedure, he looked with horror at the scenes he witnessed in our courts of law, and the judicial murders that he felt must often occur under such a system; and he pleaded the cause of the poor unprotected prisoner in language so earnest and so forcible, that it may, I hope, entitle him to share with his great friends, Sir S. Romilly and Sir J. Mackintosh, the merit of having aided in that great work of mercy
they fought for so long and so ably, and the prisoner yet unborn may live to bless their names.

Though living in the midst of large landed proprietors, all zealous in the preservation of their game, the cruelty, injustice, and increasing severity of the Game-laws,* and their oppressive and demoralizing effects on the poor, frequently occupied his attention and excited his most earnest opposition. The perplexing, but, as he says, most trite of subjects, the Poor-laws, occupied his thoughts; though, I fear, with as little result as has generally been produced by all the thought that has been expended on this most difficult question.

“Thinking (as he says) the United States the most magnificent picture of human happiness,” and feeling the importance of the great political experiments that were going on there, he endeavoured to bring forward and attract public attention to both their merits and defects, urging America not to abuse the advantages she possessed, inciting Europe to profit by the example she set, and concluding by warning her, in a well-known passage, against a taste for military glory.

These, I think, were amongst the most important subjects he treated of; but there were many others of a lighter character, which he handled always with the same objects in view—to promote truth and expose evil. He leads us amusingly through the wanderings of Waterton; he unmasks the mischievous sophistry

* In the course of the preceding year no fewer than 12,000 persons were committed for offences against the Game-laws.

Madame de Staël’sDelphine;’ he shows the comparatively innocuous effects which the plain, unvarnished exposure of vice in ‘Anastasius’ was calculated to produce; he points out the truth of the social picture given in ‘Granby;’ he acts as middle-man to Bentham; he brings out to public notice, from the mass of blue-books under which they were buried, all the cruelties to which the poor climbing-boys were exposed in sweeping chimneys; he points out the utility of the Hamiltonian system in diminishing the long and valuable period of time sacrificed in our places of education to acquiring a knowledge of the learned languages. There are some few others which he has not republished, no longer thinking them of any general interest.

I am anxious, in this sketch, not to be thought to attribute an undue share of influence to my father’s efforts for the public good. It is often difficult to say who gave the death-blow to an abuse; and my father’s blows, all will admit, were no light ones where they fell; yet he was but one of the many wise men who have used their talents for the benefit of their fellow-creatures, and many of them have devoted more time and attention to these objects than my father was enabled to do. But I think he has one peculiarity above almost any writer of his day,—that of attracting public attention; he was born for a teacher of the people, and, as Lord Ashburton says in his striking address to schoolmasters, “I wish to familiarize to the youngest amongst you this important truth, that no know-
ledge, however profound, can constitute a teacher. A teacher must have knowledge, as an orator must have knowledge, as a builder must have materials; but as, in choosing the builder of my house, I do not select the man who has the most materials in his yard, but I proceed to select him by reference to his skill, ingenuity, and taste; so also, in testing an orator or a teacher, I satisfy myself that they fulfil the comparatively easy condition of possessing sufficient materials of knowledge with which to work; I look then to those high and noble qualities which are the characteristics of their peculiar calling. There were hundreds at Athens who knew more than
Demosthenes, many more that knew more at Rome than Cicero, but there was but one Demosthenes and one Cicero.” So I think, though there are hundreds who have known more, laboured more, thought more, in England, yet in our day there was but one Sydney Smith.

He was a sort of rough-rider of a subject; sometimes originating, but more frequently taking up what others had for years been stating humbly, or timidly, or obscurely, or lengthily, or imperfectly, or dully, to the world; extracting at once its essence, unveiling the motives of his opponents, and placing his case clearly, concisely, simply, eloquently, boldly, brightly before the public eye. Thus the subject became read, thought of, discussed, and often acted upon by thousands of persons, dispersed over various parts of the world. This cannot have been without powerful influence on the opinions and conduct of society.


The peculiar talent possessed by my father is well described in a sketch by a personal friend of considerable talent, printed at the time of his death.

“In fact, he had read much, and always with the sincerest desire to arrive at truth; and if he lacked that quality of intellect which is capable of imparting original views on profound subjects, no man was ever more successful in possessing himself of the results of other men’s thoughts, and in diffusing them in a form suited to the apprehension of ordinary readers. A distinguished scholar now living, writing of Sydney Smith to a friend in 1840, observes:—‘Ridicule seems to me to be admirably fitted to confound fools and to destroy their prejudices. It is not needed in order to recommend truth to wise men, and indeed, from its generally dealing in exaggeration and slight misrepresentation, is likely to offend them. It is his mastery of ridicule which renders Sydney Smith so powerful as a diffuser of ideas, for in order to diffuse widely it is necessary to be able to address fools. His powers as a diffuser, as compared with the powers of a great inventor, who was latterly altogether wanting in the diffusing power, are well shown in his article on Bentham’s Book of Fallacies; indeed, as a diffuser of the good ideas of other men, I do not know whether he ever had an equal.’

“When the imaginative faculty was in question, however, Sydney Smith was creative and original enough, God knows. When in good spirits, the exuberance of his fancy showed itself in the most fan-
tastic images and most ingenious absurdities, till his hearers and himself were at times fatigued with the merriment they excited. He had the art, too, of divesting personalities of vulgarity, and not unfrequently was the object of his wit seen to enjoy the exercise of it quite as much as others; in fact, many persons rather felt it as a compliment when Sydney singled them out for sport.”

In another sketch of my father’s writings I have met with this passage, which I think so just that I shall insert it.

“Few men could write with his disregard of common forms, and his perfect expression of individual peculiarities, without falling into coarseness or buffoonery; the writings of Sydney are free from all vulgarities usual to the familiar writer. The great peculiarity of his works is their singular blending of the beautiful with the ludicrous, and this is the source of his refinement; he is keen and personal, almost fierce and merciless, in his attacks on public abuses; he has no check on his humour from authority or conventional forms, and yet he very rarely violates good taste; there is much good-humour in him in spite of his severity: it would be difficult to point out the source of this power of fascination, but it strikes us as being different from anything else we have ever seen.”