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A Memoir of the Reverend Sydney Smith. By his Daughter, Lady Holland. With a Selection from his Letters, Edited by Mrs. Austin. 2 vols. London: Longman and Co., 1855. Men talk of that fiction called history, and of its twin-sister, historical romance, as instructive, amusing reading; but, in our mind, the biography of distinguished writers, particularly of men who have been, within the last fifty years, remarkable as political writers, is infinitely more useful and interesting; and the interest and usefulness are immeasurably increased when, as in the book before us, the biography is the work of writers intimately acquainted with the every-day life of him whose thoughts, words, and actions are recorded.

We have heard, and read it, objected to this Memoir, that it deals only with the private life of Sydney Smith, and that his public career receives little notice. To us, this complete picture of home life is the best, and chief attraction. We have been, thousands, in these Kingdoms, and in America, have been, earnest students of Sydney Smith's political and literary writings: we have longed to know how he wrote and how he lived his services to rational freedom and civil liberty are to all men known. He sprang into literary and political life at a time which, as he thirty-six years afterwards wrote, "was an awful period for those who had the misfortune to entertain 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 rogueprebendaries, deans, and bishops made over your headreverend 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: the man who breathed a syllable against the senseless bigotry of the two Georges, or hinted at the abominable tyranny and persecution exercised upon 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 or a poor man suffered, was treason against the Plousiocracy, and was bitterly and steadily resented."* Without fortune, without patronage, but with every thing to hope from a pliant, judicious dedication of his genius to the service of the Ministry, in his thirty-first year he abandoned all avenues to advancement by political prostitution of his intellect, and from that time to the hour of his death, we may apply to him his own noble eulogium upon the character of GRATTAN.


Men such as this require no record of their public lives from the pen of the biographer. Do we want a record of his sentiments upon the great questions of his time,-Catholic Emancipation, the Ballot, and Reform, we have them perfect in Peter Plymley's Letters, in the Speeches at Taunton, and in the papers of The Edinburgh Review. Do we require to know him, as he was amongst the first men of his time in genius, so he was amongst the first of that time's philanthropists,—we learn all in his essays entitled Prisons, Cruel Treatment of Untried Prisoners, Man Traps and Spring Guns, Mad Quakers, Botany Bay, Counsel for Prisoners, Poor Laws, Chimney Sweepers. Do we desire a knowledge of his opinions upon great events in our national history,-his papers on Charles Fox, on Fox's Historical Work, on Captain Rock, and on America, place these before us. Do we wish to know his detestation of cant or fanaticism, we have but to read his papers on Methodism, and on the Society for the Suppression of Vice; and if any require to know how truly and unchangeably he was the defender of every just right and privilege of that church to which he was an honor, his letters to Archdeacon Singleton, to Lord John Russell, and his paper Persecuting Bishops, evince it all, in every page, most nobly. Had Sydney Smith been a renegade, a time-server, a hanger-on at great men's levees; and had he, after desecrating his genius, hid his head in a mitre, his daughter and his friend might now be bound to write the history of, that is to extenuate, the unworthy deeds of his public life; but having done none of these things; knowing that his whole public life was in his public writings, they tell his friends, that is, they tell all the world who love him, and goodness of heart, when gracing high qualities of mind, what

* See Preface to Works, page 5.—ED. 1851.

kind of child, boy, husband, father, friend and priest, Sydney Smith was in the minds of those who knew him best.

And when one looks now through the pages of the book before us; when one recalls all the traits of Sydney Smith recorded in Jeffrey's Life; in Moore's Diary; in the late Lord Dudley and Ward's Letters; in Leonard Horner's Life of his brother Francis, we all feel, that in describing the character of Francis Horner, Sydney Smith but described his own.

This Memoir is of very great importance in correcting an error into which many persons have fallen, in estimating the character of Sydney. He has been generally looked upon. as one who existed only to enjoy himself in society, and as a churchman who cared nothing for his duties, save to discharge them with a regularity just sufficient to enable him, with decency, to receive the emoluments of his appointments. This latter error the Memoir fully corrects; but the former opinion is most curiously dissipated, by a letter to Sir George Philips, and corroborates an assertion in Moore's Diary, that Sydney Smith's natural disposition was grave and thoughtful. Moore writes, under date May 27th, 1926: "Breakfasted at Rogers's: Sydney Smith, Lord Cawdor, G. Fortescue, and Warburton. Smith, full of comicality and fancy, kept us all in roars of laughter. In talking of the stories about drinkers catching fire, pursued the idea in every possible shape. The inconvenience of a man coming too near the candle when he was speaking, 'Sir, your observation has caught fire.' Then imagined a parson breaking into a blaze in the pulpit; the engines called to put him out; no water to be had, the man at the waterworks being a Unitarian or an Atheist. Said of some one, He has no command over his understanding; it is always getting between his legs and tripping him up. Left Rogers's with Smith, to go and assist him in choosing a grand piano-forte found him (as I have often done before) change at once from the gay, uproarious wag into as solemn, grave, and austere a person as any bench of judges or bishops could supply this, I rather think, is his natural character."*

Writing, on the 28th February, 1836, to Sir George Philips, Smith himself thus observes upon his own character :— "My dear Philips,-You say I have many comic ideas

See "Memoirs, Journal and Correspondence of Thomas Moore." Vol. V. p. 75.

rising in my mind; this may be true, but the champagne bottle is no better for holding the champagne. Don't you remember the old story of Carlini, the French harlequin ? * I don't mean to say I am prone to melancholy; but I acknowledge my weakness enough to confess, that I want the aid of society, and dislike a solitary life."+

The volumes before us are the work of Sydney Smith's daughter, Lady Holland, wife of the well known physician, Sir Henry Holland, author of the interesting book, Medical Notes and Experiences; and of Mrs. Sarah Austin, the writer of some most admirable works, and translator of Ranke's History of the Popes of Rome,-the lady whom Macaulay has so justly lauded in his famous essay. The work is formed upon the plan adopted by Lord Cockburn in his biography of Jeffrey, the first volume containing the memoir, and second volume consisting of a selection from the letters of the subject; a change from the plan introduced by Mason in his life of Gray, and which we do not consider, in most cases, an improvement.

That his daughter and a female friend should write the memoir of Sydney Smith is, in our opinion, natural. No history, as we have endeavored to show, of his public life was necessary; and of his private life none could write, so truly and so graceful, as two women whose association he had enjoyed. All his life long he had cherished and sought for female society. A mind like his, playful and brilliant, yet strong and vehement, when the exertion of those sterner qualities was needed, finds in the gentle intercourse of thoughtful women, who are not, in the faintest tinge, "blue," a charm and a solace such as men of deeper energy of charaeter, but of lesser fancy, can hardly appreciate. For ourselves, we believe that if this memoir were the work of a man, its charm would be in a great degree diminished. We might possibly hear more of politics and of divinity, but we should certainly

*This refers to Carlini, the drollest Buffoon ever known on the Italian stage at Paris. He complained to a celebrated French physician of intense melancholy; and the doctor ordering him to frequent the theatres, particularly the Italian theatre, said, "If Carlini does not dispel your gloom your case must be desperate!" "Alas," replied the patient," I am Carlini, and whilst I make all Paris laugh, I am myself actually dying with chagrin and melancholy."

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† See Memoir," Vol. II. p. 388.

know less, far less, of Foston and of Combe Florey. And, after all, what public life have literary politicians? That Sydney Smith thought little of his public career, is evidenced by a letter which he addressed, in the year 1844, to M. Eugène Robin, in which he observes:-" It is scarcely possible to speak much of self, and I have little or nothing to tell which has not been told before in my preface. I am seventy-four years of age; and being a Canon of St. Paul's in London, and a rector of a parish in the country, my time is divided equally between town and country. I am living amongst the best society in the metropolis, and at ease in my circumstances; in tolerable health, a mild Whig, a tolerating Churchman, and much given to talking, laughing, and noise. I dine with the rich in London, and physic the poor in the country; passing from the sauces of Dives to the sores of Lazarus. I am, upon the whole, a happy man; have found the world an entertaining world, and am thankful to Providence for the part allotted to me in it."*

So much for his own views of his life; and herein, in this playful, half Epicurean, tone, lies a considerable portion of the interest of these volumes. We might know Sydney Smith as a patriot, as a politician, as a reviewer, or as a wit, but not knowing him as a man, as a man in his home life, we know him not at all. Therefore it is that we welcome this book, given to the world by two women, each of whom is eminently suited to discharge her peculiar part, with justice to her subject, and with entertainment to the reader.

The prefaces to these volumes are not the least interesting portion of their contents: the daughter writes, that some memorial of her father, from those who knew him, may record his struggles, his temptations, his honesty, and his patriotism: the friend edits, that the world may know this man's mind, as his letters display it; and thus both child and friend prove the truth of his own declaration, "I printed my reviews to show, if I could, that I had not passed my life merely in making jokes, but had made use of what little powers of pleasantry I might be endowed with, to discountenance bad, and to encourage liberal and wise principle."+

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In the year 1771, an odd, inquisitive, sagacious man, named

See "Memoir," Vol. II., p. 531.

† See Vol. II., p. 428,

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