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

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
Letters 1803
Letters 1804
Letters 1805
Letters 1806
Letters 1807
Letters 1808
Letters 1809
Letters 1810
Letters 1811
Letters 1812
Letters 1813
Letters 1814
Letters 1815
Letters 1816
Letters 1817
Letters 1818
Letters 1819
Letters 1820
Letters 1821
Letters 1822
Letters 1823
Letters 1824
Letters 1825
Letters 1826
Letters 1827
Letters 1828
Letters 1829
Letters 1830
Letters 1831
Letters 1832
Letters 1833
Letters 1834
Letters 1835
Letters 1836
Letters 1837
Letters 1838
Letters 1839
Letters 1840
Letters 1841
Letters 1842
Letters 1843
Letters 1844
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His promotion in the Church was a step in life which added very materially to my father’s happiness. “Moralists tell you,” said he, “of the evils of wealth and station, and the happiness of poverty. I have been very poor the greatest part of my life, and have borne it as well, I believe, as most people, but I can safely say that I have been happier every guinea I have gained. I well remember, when Mrs. Sydney and I were young, in London, with no other equipage than my umbrella, when we went out to dinner in a hackney coach (a vehicle, by the bye, now become almost matter of history), when the rattling step was let down, and the proud, powdered red-plushes grinned, and her
gown was fringed with straw, how the iron entered into my soul.”

“I often thank God for my animal spirits. I called the other day on my friend and neighbour B——, and found him moping over the fire, wringing his hands, and in a state of the deepest melancholy. ‘Why, B——, what is the matter? Here you are in the prime of life, with health, talents, education, a sensible wife, pleasing children, just come into possession of this fine old place, and a good fortune, and have moreover the inestimable advantage of having me for a neighbour; what on earth can you want more to make you happy?’ ‘Very true, Sydney, very true; but’ (with a deep sigh) ‘have you considered the state of my roads?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘I have certainly not taken that point into consideration, but in future I will; so good morning, B——.’ Whilst I, who have never had a house, or land, or a farthing to spare, am sometimes mad with spirits, and must talk, laugh, or burst.”

He had now need of all his elasticity of spirits, for there came upon him what he declares was the first real sorrow he had known—and in truth it was a heavy one—the death of his eldest son Douglas, just as he had reached maturity, and gave promise of every excellence, both of heart and mind, that could endear him to his parents or gratify their pride.

He died, after a long and painful illness, in town, in the year 1829. I see, in my father’s note-book, this simple entry:—“April 14th. My beloved son Douglas died, aged twenty-four. Alas! alas!” And
afterwards: “So ends this year of my life,—a year of sorrow, from the loss of my beloved son Douglas,—the first great misfortune of my life, and one which I shall never forget.” In his last hours he often called his youngest son by the name of Douglas, showing that even then he was still in his thoughts.

It was perhaps well for all parties, that, his promotion to the Prebendal stall at Bristol having also entitled him to one of their livings, it became necessary for my father to resign Foston, and settle in Somersetshire; and here again the kindness of Lord Lyndhurst enabled him to exchange Foston for the much smaller, but more beautifully situated living, of Combe Florey, near Taunton.

We all at the time deeply regretted leaving our old haunts in Yorkshire, where we had lived so long, received so much hospitality, and made so many kind friends; but this entire change of scene, and the necessity for immediate exertion, was very useful to all under this severe affliction.

In the following letter, just sent me by one of our kind Yorkshire neighbours, he alludes touchingly to these feelings of regret for his lost son Douglas.

Combe Florey, August 6, 1829.
“Dear Mrs. Thomson,*

“I never heard till I came here of the intended kindness of Mr. Thomson and yourself, with a view to

* The present Dowager Lady Wenlock.

my remaining in Yorkshire. I was sensibly touched with it, and have laid it up in the archives of my mind. As to wood and lawn, cedar and fur, and pine and branching palm, I have exchanged for the better. Good, excellent, and amiable friends, such as we met with at Escrich, I did not expect to find. Fortune may grant such favours once in a life, but they must not be counted upon. Your family are always among our sincere regrets. This is a beautiful place; the house larger than Foston, with a wood of three or four acres belonging to it close to the house, and a glebe of sixty acres surrounding it, in a country everywhere most beautiful and fertile. The people are starving,—in the last stage of poverty and depression.
Mrs. Sydney, from sorrow and novelty, has forgotten her throat; I think the complaint has nearly vanished. I am busy from morning till night, in building,—not from the love of architecture, but from the fear of death,—not from a preference for any particular collocation of stones, but from an apprehension that, disdaining all collocation (as they are apt to do in ancient parsonages), they should come thundering about my head. In the meantime I have, from time to time, bitter visitations of sorrow. I never suspected how children weave themselves about the heart. My son had that quality which is longest remembered by those who remain behind,—a deep and earnest affection and respect for his parents. God save you, my dear Mrs. Thomson, from similar distress! Have you read ——’s America? If you have, I hope you dislike
it as much as I do. It is amusing, but very unjust and unfair. It will make his fortune at the Admiralty. Then he temporizes about the Slave Trade; with which no man should ever hold parley, but speak of it with abhorrence, as the greatest of all human abominations. We stay here till the beginning of the year, and then go into residence at Bristol. I hope to be in town in the spring, and hereafter to pay you a visit in Yorkshire, which will be a great pleasure to me. Accept, my dear Mrs. and Mr. Thomson, our united respect and regards,

“And believe me,
“Your sincere friend,
“Sydney Smith.”

We had almost to begin the labours of Foston over again, as we found the parsonage-house at Combe Florey in a most ruinous state, and requiring instant attention. But my father now brought considerable experience and increased wealth to the task; and, establishing us in one corner of the house, he turned in an immense gang of workmen, and in a very short time (at the expense of about two thousand pounds more of loss to his family, having almost to rebuild it) made one of the most comfortable and charming parsonage-houses I have ever seen,—a striking contrast, I must own, in every way, to poor Foston, of which our friend Mr. Loch, when he heard we had left it, said to my father, “Are you sure you have left Foston, Mr. Smith?” “Yes.” “Never to return?”
“Never.” “Well, then, I may venture to say that it was, without exception, the ugliest house I ever saw.”

The climate, the vegetation, and the soil were all in strong contrast to the north; and it well deserved the name of Combe Florey, for it really was a valley of flowers—a lovely little spot, where nature and art combined to realize the Happy Valley.

In the midst of our building operations, when the greater part of the roof of the house, which required renewing, was put together in rafters on the lawn, we received a visit from our friend Lord Jeffrey. I well remember our sitting out there amidst the rafters, surrounded by busy workmen, and animated by the delicious weather and the beauty of the scene around. He and my father gave full play to their fancy and imagination; and nothing could be more delightful than to sit and watch them, and listen to the playfulness and variety of their conversation. I have, I believe, omitted several of Lord Jeffrey’s visits; having no other recollections of them, I am sorry to say, than that of the pleasure they always afforded to both old and young. But this, I think, was his last visit to us; and it was touching to observe these two eminent men, who had begun the struggle of life together, who had loved each other so long and so well, who had both now attained eminence and honour in their respective professions without one act of baseness, sitting together in this little earthly paradise, and, in their elder age, talking over and looking back on the past with all the pleasure and satisfaction of well-
spent lives. Such scenes are pleasant and useful to dwell upon.

As a dignitary of the Church, my father now thought it more becoming to put his name to what he should hereafter write, and he therefore withdrew from the Edinburgh Review; collecting and publishing about ten years after the greater part of his contributions to it. He says, on doing so:—“I see very little in my reviews to alter or repent of. I always endeavoured to fight against evil, and what I thought evil then I think evil now. I am heartily glad that all our disqualifying laws for religious opinions are abolished, and I see nothing in such measures but unmixed good and real increase of strength to the Establishment. To set on foot such a journal in such times, to contribute towards it for many years, to bear patiently the reproach and poverty which it caused, and to look back and see that I have nothing to retract, and no intemperance and violence to reproach myself with, is a career of life which I must think to be extremely fortunate.

“Strange and ludicrous are the changes in human affairs! The Tories are now on the treadmill, and the well-paid Whigs are riding in chariots; with many faces however looking out of the windows (including that of our Prime Minister), which I never remember to have seen in the days of poverty and depression of Whiggism. Liberality is now a lucrative business. Whoever has any institution to destroy, may consider himself as a commissioner, and his fortune made; and,
to my utter and never-ending astonishment, I, an old Edinburgh Reviewer, find myself fighting, in the year 1839, against the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London for the existence of the National Church.”

In the winter of the year 1830 we all accompanied my father to his residence in Bristol, where his popularity increased more and more, in spite of the firmness with which he preached many unpalatable doctrines, and the minuteness with which he felt it his duty to investigate all the affairs of the Cathedral and Chapter. These, up to this time, had been left very much to take care of themselves: and as it was nobody’s business to look after them, they had fallen into great confusion and disorder.

This year the French Revolution took place (the probability of which he had foretold in his letters from Paris in 1826), producing the greatest consternation, distress, and excitement on the Continent.

In this country the riots at Bristol had broken out in the spring; and, later in the year, the resignation of the Duke of Wellington, the introduction of the Reform Bill after Lord Grey’s acceptance of the Ministry, the opposition to it in the House of Lords, and the dissolution of the Parliament, were exciting the deepest interest, and producing the greatest danger of violence and disturbance in every part of England.

There was to be a large county meeting held on the
subject at Taunton; and though, as a clergyman, my father generally avoided meetings purely political, yet at the present moment he saw so much dangerous excitement at work amongst the people, and felt the crisis to be one of such vital importance to the country, that he considered it the duty of every man, who had the power so to do, to raise his voice in favour of law and order; and to urge the people with calmness and perseverance to obtain those objects they would inevitably lose by violence. In this speech, amongst other things, he says:—

“Nothing can be more different than personal and political fear: it is the artifice of our opponents to confound them together. . . . The greater part of human improvements, I am sorry to say, are made after war, tumult, bloodshed, and civil commotion. . . . Mankind seem to object to every species of gratuitous happiness, and to consider every advantage as too cheap which is not purchased by some calamity. . . . I shall esteem it a singular act of God’s providence if this great nation, guided by these warnings of history, not waiting till tumult for reform, not trusting reform to the lowest of the people, shall amend their decayed institutions, at a period when they are ruled by a popular Sovereign, guided by an upright minister, and blest with profound peace. . . . If many are benefited by reform, and the lower orders are not injured, this alone is reason enough for the change. But the hewer of wood and the drawer of water are bene-
fited by reform; and the connection between the existence of
John Russell and the reduced price of bread and cheese will be as clear as it has been the object of his honest, wise, and useful life to make it. Don’t be led away by nonsense. All things are dearer under a bad government, and cheaper under a good one. . . . I am old and tired,—thank me for ending; but one word more before I sit down. I am old, but I thank God I have lived to see more than my observations on human nature taught me I had any right to expect. I have lived to see an honest King, in whose word his ministers could trust. I have lived to see a King with a good heart, who, surrounded by nobles, thinks of common men; who loves the great mass of English people, and wishes to be loved by them; and who, in spite of clamour, interest, prejudice, and fear, has the manliness to carry these wise changes into immediate execution. Gentlemen, farewell! Shout for the King!”

We attended him to the meeting. I had often seen the silent effect produced by his eloquence in crowded cathedrals, but I never before saw its effect on a multitude free to express their feelings; and were I to live a thousand years, I should never forget it.

His voice seemed heard without effort in every part of the assembly; his words flowed with unbroken fluency; his language was simple and nervous; he seemed to hold the very heartstrings of the people in his hands, and to play upon them, as upon an instrument, at his
pleasure; and when at last he sat down, the thunders of applause from that sea of heads beneath was perfectly thrilling. Such an exhibition of his powers filled one with regret that his voice was never likely to be raised in that assembly of his country where his talents and his character would have made him such an ornament, and where that noble voice would have been always raised for such noble purposes.

And here I must allude to what my father was too proud to speak of, except in two or three confidential letters to some of his oldest friends. Though he had at this period a firm conviction that a bishopric would be destructive of his peace and happiness, and a still firmer determination, in consequence, to reject it, should it ever be offered, yet I know he felt deeply to the hour of his death, that those by whose side he had fought for fifty years so bravely and so honestly in their adversity, and with the most unblemished reputation as a clergyman, should in their prosperity never have offered him that which they were bestowing on many, only known at that time, according to public report (whatever merits they may have since evinced), for their mediocrity or unpopularity.

He says, in one of these letters, after expressing his feeling on this subject:—“But, thank God, I never acted from the hope of preferment, but from the love of justice and truth which was bursting within me. When I began to express my opinions on Church politics, what hope could any but a madman have of gaining preferment by such a line of conduct?”


In another letter again he says:—“It is perhaps of little consequence to any party whether I adhere to it or not; but I always shall adhere to the Whigs, whoever may be put over my head; because I have an ardent love of truth and justice, and they are its best defenders. But, adhering to them under all circumstances, I cannot but feel whether I am well or ill used by them.”

This silence on his part I should have observed likewise, had not Lord Melbourne, with that noble candour for which his character was so remarkable, admitted the injury my father felt, and done my father the tardy justice of stating to a gentleman, a mutual friend, and a man of great accuracy (who came direct from his house expressly to state it to me), “That Lord Melbourne said there was nothing he more deeply regretted, in looking back on his past career, than the not having made Sydney Smith a bishop.”

And a juster cause of regret, I believe, was never felt. For my father’s estimate of what a bishop ought to be was so high, he was so bound in honour by his own writings to become what he had required others to be, and his power of doing what he felt he ought to do was so great,* that, had he ever accepted the offer, which I again repeat I firmly believe he never would at this period of his life (though ardently desiring it when he was a younger man), I as firmly believe

* He says, on one occasion, “I hope I am too much a man of honour to take an office without fashioning my manners and conversation so as not to bring it into discredit.”

there would have been no act in the whole of
Lord Melbourne’s Ministry that would have reflected more honour and distinction on him. But I bless his memory for this wish only of justice to my father.

The following short, manly statement of his case, in a letter to Lord John Russell, on the subject of his preferment, seems, as it were, to be extorted from him by that sense of justice which so powerfully influenced his feelings through life towards every person, and on every subject, less than by any wish to exalt himself, and therefore, to a certain degree, carries conviction with it. “I defy —— to quote one single passage of my writing contrary to the doctrines of the Church. I defy him to mention a single action of my life which he can call immoral. The only thing he could charge me with would be high spirits, and much innocent nonsense. I am distinguished as a preacher, and sedulous as a parochial clergyman. His real charge against me is that I am a high-spirited, honest, uncompromising man, whom he and all the bench of bishops could not turn upon vital questions: this is the reason why, as far as depends upon others, I am not a bishop. But I am thoroughly sincere in saying, I would not take any bishopric whatever.”*

I find a letter, written by his friend Lord John Russell, in answer, from which I shall give an extract, as it shows that this wish to do justice to my father was shared by his old friend, Lord John, likewise:—

* I see in this letter that he urges strongly the appointment of several of his friends, and apparently not without effect.

“Mr dear
Sydney,—I think you are quite right not to be ambitious of the prelacy, as it would lead to much disquiet for you; but if I had entirely my own way in these matters, you should have the opportunity of refusing it.”

And again, my father wrote at a later period to Lord Holland, saying, “You have said and written that you wished to see me a bishop, and, I have no doubt, would try to carry your wishes into effect. If proper vacancies had occurred in the beginning of Lord Grey’s administration, I believe this would have been done. Other politicians have succeeded, who entertain no such notion. But there is a still greater obstacle to my promotion, and that is, that I have entirely lost all wish to be a bishop. The thought is erased from my mind, and, in the very improbable event of a bishopric being offered me, I would steadily refuse it. In this I am perfectly honest and sincere, and make this communication to you to prevent your friendly exertion in my favour, and perhaps to spare you the regret of making that exertion in vain.”

I lament to find that a beautiful sketch he one day drew of what he conceived the duties of a bishop to be, has been lost from among his papers. But the following short extract from his fragment on the Irish Church sufficiently shows what he felt to be the duties of so exalted a station; though even here, as usual, he draws no ideal picture of excellence, impossible to attain, but one within the reach of any man of sense and real piety.


“What a blessing to this country would a real bishop be! . . .

“But I never remember in my time a real bishop—a grave, elderly man, full of Greek, with sound views of the middle voice and preterpluperfect tense, gentle and kind to his poor clergy, of powerful and commanding eloquence, in Parliament never to be put down when the great interests of mankind were concerned; leaning to the Government when it was right, leaning to the people when they were right; feeling that if the Spirit of God had called him to that high office, he was called for no mean purpose, but rather that seeing clearly, acting boldly, and intending purely, he might confer lasting benefit upon mankind.”

There were at this time so many mischievous publications circulating amongst the people, and threatening letters so frequently sent to my father and other gentlemen in the neighbourhood, that he thought it right to endeavour to counteract them, and published some cheap letters for circulation amongst the poor, called “Letters to Swing,” of which the following is one which has been accidentally preserved.

From the ‘Taunton Courier’ of Wednesday, Dec. 8th, 1830.
“To Mr. Swing.

“The wool your coat is made of is spun by machinery, and this machinery makes your coat two or three shillings cheaper,—perhaps six or seven. Your white
hat is made by machinery at half price. The coals you burn are pulled out of the pit by machinery, and are sold to you much cheaper than they could be if they were pulled out by hand. You do not complain of these machines, because they do you good, though they throw many artisans out of work. But what right have you to object to fanning machines, which make bread cheaper to the artisans, and to avail yourselves of other machines which make manufactures cheaper to you?

“If all machinery were abolished, everything would be so dear that you would be ten times worse off than you now are. Poor people’s cloth would get up to a guinea a yard. Hats could not be sold for less than eighteen shillings. Coals would be three shillings per hundred. It would be quite impossible for a poor man to obtain any comfort.

“If you begin to object to machinery in farming, you may as well object to a plough, because it employs fewer men than a spade. You may object to a harrow, because it employs fewer men than a rake. You may object even to a spade, because it employs fewer men than fingers and sticks, with which savages scratch the ground in Otaheite. If you expect manufacturers to turn against machinery, look at the consequence. They may succeed, perhaps, in driving machinery out of the town they live in, but they often drive the manufacturer out of the town also. He sets up his trade in some distant part of the country, gets new men, and the disciples of Swing are left to starve in the scene of
their violence and folly. In this way the lace manufacture travelled in the time of Ludd, Swing’s grandfather, from Nottingham to Tiverton. Suppose a free importation of corn to be allowed, as it ought to be, and will be. If you will not allow farmers to grow corn here as cheap as they can, more corn will come from America; for every threshing-machine that is destroyed, more Americans will be employed, not more Englishmen.

“Swing! Swing! you are a stout fellow, but you are a bad adviser. The law is up, and the Judge is coming. Fifty persons in Kent are already transported, and will see their wives and children no more. Sixty persons will be hanged in Hampshire. There are two hundred for trial in Wiltshire—all scholars of Swing! I am no farmer: I have not a machine bigger than a pepper-mill. I am a sincere friend to the poor, and I think every man should live by his labour: but it cuts me to the very heart to see honest husbandmen perishing by that worst of all machines, the gallows,—under the guidance of that most fatal of all leaders—Swing!”

One of the earliest uses he made of his increase of wealth was to indulge himself by enlarging his library, and supplying those deficiencies before alluded to, which he had so long suffered under; and his books, which at Foston for many years had humbly occupied only the end of his little dining-room, now boldly spread themselves over three sides of a pretty odd room, dignified by the name of library,—about
twenty-eight feet long and eight feet high,—ending in a bay-window supported by pillars, looking into the garden, and which he had obtained by throwing a pantry, a passage, and a shoe-hole together. In this pretty, gay room we breakfasted, he sat, and when alone we spent the evening with him. He used to say, “No furniture so charming as books, even if you never open them, or read a single word.”

The cholera was now spreading rapidly over the country, and exciting the greatest alarm and anxiety. This immediately set all my father’s energy to work, to have every remedy at hand for himself and the poor of his parish, and to take every precaution which the learned suggested: one of these was, never to read the accounts of its progress, which often produced such panic that the patient was half dead of fear before the cholera arrived to perfect the deed. Luckily however, neither his remedies nor his precautions proved necessary, as the cholera respected our little happy valley, and never came near us.

In October, Lord John Russell and his family came to see us; and a joyful visit it was, as the Whigs had again assumed the reins of Government under their distinguished leader Lord Grey, and, with their return, gave assurance of obtaining the Reform Bill, and thus tranquillizing the country.

Shortly after, when we were staying on a visit with Lord Morley at Saltram, my father received the news that Lord Grey* had appointed him to a Prebendal

* One of the first things Lord Grey said on entering Downing-

stall at St. Paul’s, in exchange for the one of inferior value he held at Bristol, which had previously been presented to him by his friend
Lord Lyndhurst.* These glad tidings, together with the charm of the place, the weather, the society of our charming hostess, and the many kind, warm old friends he found assembled there, who all seemed to rejoice really as if the benefit had been conferred on themselves, produced such an effect on his spirits, that it would be difficult to forget that week. I hardly ever remember him more brilliant. On his return he wrote the little squib of Mrs. Partington and her battle with the Atlantic, which had a success quite unlooked for, spreading in every direction; and sketches of Mrs. Partington and her mop were to be seen in the windows of all the picture-shops about the country.

1632.—This year brought with it, amongst other events, the loss of one of his early and most valued friends, Sir James Mackintosh; just at the moment when his mind seemed in the highest vigour, and he was preparing for the world some of his most important works.

Their strong friendship had been much cemented by the intimacy of my mother with the ladies of his family, and his loss was deeply lamented by both.

street, to a relation who was with him, was, “Now I shall be able to do something for Sydney Smith.”

* His brother Bobus used to say that Sydney’s life was the only instance of undeviating honesty that he had ever known to answer.

My father loved to think of
Sir James, to speak of his virtues, and describe him; and it was a gratification to his feelings publicly to express his admiration of his old friend in the letter he addressed to his son, Mr. Mackintosh, and published in his Life of his father. In this he says:—“When I turn from living spectacles of stupidity, ignorance, and malice, and wish to think better of the world, I remember my great and benevolent friend Mackintosh.” And, speaking of his love of truth, his memory, and his knowledge, he says, “Those who lived with him found they were gaining upon doubt, correcting error, enlarging the boundaries and strengthening the foundations of truth.” And again he says:—“Whatever might assuage the angry passions, and arrange the conflicting interests of nations; whatever could promote peace, increase knowledge, extend commerce, diminish crime, and encourage industry; whatever could exalt human character, and could enlarge human understanding, struck at once to the heart of your father, and roused all his faculties. I have seen him in a moment, when this spirit came upon him, like a great ship of war, cut bis cable, and spread his enormous canvas, and launch into a wide sea of reasoning eloquence.”

During Sir James’s absence in Bombay, my father had boon in the habit of writing constantly to him, to tell him all that was going on in Europe. But these letters, full of interest, though kindly returned by Mr. Mackintosh on the death of his father, have, I fear, together with all the letters of my father’s boyhood,
preserved carefully by his poor mother, and given to mine, fallen a sacrifice to my father’s mania for burning papers. I remember these early letters of his were most original and characteristic; and it was one of our greatest pleasures as children to hear them read aloud in the evening by my mother. There was likewise a large collection of letters to his friend
Horner, which he destroyed from thinking them of no value; but which would have been amongst the most interesting of his correspondence, as there were few whom he more loved, trusted, and honoured.

In 1834 my father took a house for a short time in Stratford-place, from whence his eldest daughter was married to Dr. Holland. On this occasion he writes to Lady Holland:—“We are about to be married; and Saba will be one day Lady Holland: she must then fit herself up with Luttrells, Rogers, and John Russells, &c. &c.: Sydney Smith she has.” In the summer he welcomed Dr. Holland’s three children, as if they had been his own, to spend the whole autumn in his house at Combe Florey.

Whilst we were there, he was writing one morning in his favourite bay-window, when a pompous little man, in rusty black, was ushered in. “May I ask what procures me the honour of this visit?” said my father. “Oh,” said the little man, “I am compounding a history of the distinguished families in Somersetshire, and have called to obtain the Smith arms.” “I regret, Sir,” said my father, “not to be able to contribute to so valuable a work; but the Smiths never had
any arms, and have invariably sealed their letters with their thumbs.”

In truth, he could not have stumbled on a more perfect Goth than my father on the subject of ancestral distinctions. For though the Smiths were not literally reduced to their thumbs, yet, feeling how completely he had been the maker of his own fortunes, my father adopted the motto for his carriage of “Faber meæ fortunæ.” He loved to repeat that answer of Junot to the old noblesse, when boasting of their line of ancestors: “Ah, ma foi! je n’en sais rien; moi je suis mon ancêtre.”

During Lord Grey’s administration, which terminated in July, 1834, there had been but two or three vacancies for bishoprics in England (Ireland, for my father, was out of the question). There were, of course, numerous claims on Lord Grey; and out of this small number, King William IV., from kindness to Lord Grey, insisted on appointing Dr. Grey, his brother, without even consulting Lord Grey. Had Lord Grey had more to bestow and remained longer in power, I have good reason to believe that his old friend Sydney Smith would not have been forgotten. This belief, it has been seen, my father stated in his letters during Lord Grey’s life—and since his death I find it confirmed, from papers I possess, by one who best knew Lord Grey’s feelings.

I think it was about this period that an incident happened to a poor half-mad woman, who lived at the end of our village—with a drunken husband, and a
swarm of children—all sunk, in consequence, into a hopeless state of poverty, dirt, and idleness, save one son, who, strange to say, had escaped the general contagion. This boy, first at school, then as apprentice to a shoemaker in a neighbouring village, had established a high character, and was the pride of his old mother’s heart. Unfortunately, on carrying home some work, he was tempted into a public-house to drink (what no Somersetshire-man can resist) a draught of cider. Some strangers were in the room, and shortly after the boy’s entrance a silk handkerchief was missed, immediate search made, and the handkerchief found on young Treble, to the poor boy’s utter horror. A warrant was obtained, the boy taken before the magistrates, who, upon the evidence, and the general character of the family, were about to commit him to prison. The poor old mother, frantic with grief, came before my father, imploring his assistance, and asserting the entire innocence of her son. My father, no longer a magistrate, but touched by her sorrow, and believing the possible innocence of the boy from his previous knowledge of him, undertook the affair; went instantly to a neighbouring village, where the magistrates were sitting; obtained with some difficulty a delay, upon his undertaking to bring fresh evidence in favour of the boy; and then, with as much ardour as if his own life, and honour, and everything he held most dear, were at stake, he wrote, he investigated, he cross-examined for nearly a week, and on the day appointed attended the trial. He secured the
best lawyer he could find to conduct the cause; then, I believe, spoke for the boy himself; and, by the evidence he produced, succeeded in showing, to the satisfaction of all, that the handkerchief had been hid where the boy could not have hid it under the circumstances; and that the real culprit was undoubtedly one of the men present, of notoriously bad character, who, to save himself, when the search was made, dexterously contrived to stuff it down the innocent boy’s collar as he was pretending to assist in the search.

Treble was acquitted; and the wild joy and gratitude of the old ragged mother were deeply felt by my father, and her prayers for her protector I cannot believe were unheard in Heaven.

He never shrank from any duty, however revolting to his feelings. On one occasion he set out on a winter’s night, lantern in hand, to visit a poor cottager seized with epileptic fits, of which, from some painful early associations, he had a peculiar horror; but they wished for him, and he went as usual; and I remember on his return he was much overpowered by the scene he had witnessed, which haunted him for many days. Several volumes of manuscript remain of his prescriptions for the poor, of which he always kept a record, that he might refer to them if necessary; and they now help me to bear testimony to his attentions and kindness to them.

Soon after coming to town the following year, at my request, he christened my eldest girl; and the emotion and deep feeling he evinced on the occasion added not a little, I remember, to the impressiveness of that beautiful service. On this occasion
added not a little, I remember, to the impressiveness of that beautiful service. On this occasion
Miss Fox, Lord Holland’s sister, stood as godmother to my little girl, and bestowed on her her own name. A few years ago my old friend Mr. Rogers said to me, “What a privileged person you are, to have had such a father and such an uncle!” In truth I feel it so. But he might have added, “And such a friend as Miss Fox,” though I must share this last with so many; for who was ever so loved, so honoured, or so worthy to be so, as Miss Fox? Not to speak of her understanding (which was such as is rarely bestowed on women), there was such an atmosphere of purity, simplicity, and indulgent kindness about her, that all evil passions seemed to fly away at her approach, and a better and more amiable tone to be infused into society. Her heart was as a spot to repose on in the moral world, a place of refuge in distress, of sympathy in joy or sorrow, and of warm unvarying friendship in weal or woe.

In the autumn my father bought a small house in Charles-street, No. 33, near St. John’s Chapel, where he had preached with so much success when a young man on first coming to London; and he gives a comical account, in one of his letters, of the short time he should require to paper, paint, furnish it, and set it in order.

In October he took my mother and Mr. and Mrs. Hibbert to Paris for a short time; and in November came to town for his residence at St. Paul’s and to
enter upon his new duties there, to his performance of which (even those least known to the world, and which he might have neglected almost without blame) some of his fellow-labourers have given most kind and gratifying testimony, as I find in this letter to
Lady B——, sent to my mother from Mr. Cockerell, architect and superintendent of St. Paul’s Cathedral, which I give, as showing a part of his character little known to the world—his powers of business.

Hampstead, Oct. 24th, 1851.
“Dear Lady B——,

“I have great pleasure in committing to writing, according to your request, some of those anecdotes on the practical qualities of our lamented friend, the Rev. Sydney Smith, which you listened to with so much interest last year. Referring as they do to his Gesta as Canon Residentiary of St. Paul’s, superintending more especially the repairs of the fabric, and my agency therein as the appointed surveyor and paymaster; they certainly exhibit the bold originality of his mind, and the integrity of his habits in the common transactions of business, in which duty and fidelity are alone concerned, with as much advantage as the better-known acts of his public life. And you justly insist upon my relation of them, however humble, and commonly considered beneath the dignity of biography; as perhaps more illustrative of conscientious motive and intrinsic merit, than the more striking talents which made him so justly valued and admired by the world, and as exhibiting his character from a point of view not hitherto perhaps taken sufficiently into account.

“The routine and technical conduct of the current busi-
ness of public bodies is ordinarily committed confidentially by them to those hands which have been found worthy of the trust; but on his appointment the new Canon avowed his diffidence of them in general. His experience, acquired by the habit of careful observation, had taught him to suspect, wherever the clearest evidence of rectitude was deficient; and he investigated with the greatest minuteness all transactions which were placed under his superintendence, and that with a severity of discipline neither called for nor agreeable.

“His early communications, therefore, with myself, and I may say with all the officers of the Chapter, were extremely unpleasant; but when satisfied by his methods of investigation, and by a ‘little collision,’ as he termed it, that all was honest and right, nothing could be more candid or kind than his subsequent treatment; and our early dislike was at length converted into unalloyed confidence and regard. As he expressed himself to one of the most valued of our staff, ‘When I heard every one speak well of you, I entertained the most vehement suspicions; and I treated you as a rogue until I had tried you so far, that you could endure such harsh treatment no longer.’

“As nothing was taken upon trust at first, great were our disputes as to contracts, materials, and prices: with all of which, from the rates in the market, to those of Portland stone, putty, and white lead, he armed himself with competent information: every item was taxed, and we owe several important improvements in the administration of the works and accounts to his acumen, punctuality, and vigour. Not only did he thus adjust and scrutinize the payment of works, but nothing new could be undertaken without his survey and personal superintendence. An unpractised head and a podagrous disposition of limbs might well have excused the survey of those pinnacles and heights
of our cathedral, which are to all both awful and fatiguing; but nothing daunted him; and once, when I suggested a fear that his portly person might stick fast in a narrow opening of the western towers, which we were surveying, he reassured me by declaring, that if there were six inches of space, there would be room enough for him.’

“During more than a quarter of a century of my direction of these repairs, I had met with no similar sacrifice or minute attention to this department; and when it is remembered that this duty in no degree affects the funds of the Dean and Chapter, and that these repairs are from a separate fund, the administration of which only is entrusted to one of the Canons, we shall the more admire so conscientious a discharge of this duty. Such was the minor process; but the greater measures for the enduring security of this magnificent cathedral were most important and conspicuous. The disasters of York Cathedral had exhibited the unwarrantable neglect, so general in these sacred edifices, of the common security of insurance; and in 1840, I believe, Canterbury was the only cathedral church insured. St. Paul’s was speedily and effectually insured in some of the most substantial offices of London: not satisfied with this security, he advised the introduction of the mains of the New River into the lower parts of the fabric, and cisterns and movable engines in the roof; and quite justifiable was his joke, that ‘he would reproduce the Deluge in our cathedral.’

“The fine library of the fabric, the estimation of which was always cited by Dean Vanmildert, had long suffered by dilapidation and damp; but a stove, American indeed, and better suited to our slender finances than the dignity of our library, soon dispelled one evil, and rendered it accessible and comfortable to the studious at the same time; and the bindings were all roughly, but substantially, re-
paired. The restoration of the noble model, the favourite scheme of
Sir Christopher Wren,—now, alas! a ruin, after one hundred and forty years of neglect,—was no less in his constant contemplation; but our funds were insufficient. The successful result of a singular dispute as to the will of Dr. Clarke, in 1675, which had been brought before the Chapter by our respected Chapter clerk, Mr. Hodgson, during Mr. Sydney Smith’s administration, caused a great addition to the fabric fund, which had before been insufficient for its purposes, and effected an increase which it is hoped will secure the cathedral from dilapidation.

“A question of law was well suited to Mr. Smith’s acumen and vigour, and he very materially assisted, during the progress of a suit in Chancery, instituted for the purpose of establishing the will, to its being brought to a speedy and satisfactory conclusion, to the lasting benefit of the cathedral.

“These are some of the efficient labours of our valued friend within my own professional knowledge, and they might be greatly increased by that of my colleagues in office at St. Paul’s; in proof of which, I am permitted by Mr. Hodgson, who loved and honoured him, to quote a constant saying of his, ‘That Mr. Sydney Smith was one of the most strictly honest men he ever met in business.’ Thus established in the respect and friendship, I may truly say, of all of us, you will conceive the regret with which I received his announcement, by a note, some years before his lamented departure, that ‘I should hear with pleasure, after so much trouble, that being in the expectation of his first paralytic, he was about to give up his superintendence of my department to abler hands.’

“I have great pleasure, dear Madam, in offering you these few anecdotes, in testimony of a beloved and honoured memory, however humble and insufficiently expressed. To
contribute, in any truthful and impartial way, to the just appreciation of an honest and illustrious character, is one of the most delightful duties we can he called upon to perform; and surely these traits of conscience and integrity, of which I have been the witness only, in the fastidious, troublesome, and inconspicuous duties of the business transactions of fabric accounts and repairs, may, in this sense, well deserve the record to which you have so earnestly invited me. And I have the honour to be, dear Madam, your most respectful friend and servant,

“C. R. Cockerell.”

The following, from his old friend, the Dean of St. Paul’s, is so valuable that I cannot resist inserting it.

“No man, I should say, went on improving to so late a period of his life, both in acuteness of thought and felicity of expression. . . . Indeed the business in which I am at present engaged brings at every turn my old friend before me. I find traces of him in every particular of Chapter affairs; and on every occasion where his hand appears, I find stronger reason for respecting his sound judgment, knowledge of business, and activity of mind; above all, the perfect fidelity of his stewardship. In his care of his own interests as member of the Chapter, there was ever the most honest (rarely, if I may not say singularly honest) regard for the interests of the Chapter and the Church. His management of the affairs of St. Paul’s (for at one time he seems to have been the manager) only commenced too late, and terminated too soon.”


In the year 1837 he made a short tour into Holland, with my mother. He always lamented that the power of travelling had been denied him till his body had become almost unequal to the fatigue of doing so. He was ever most eager to see and to hear; but with the same rapidity that characterized his thoughts, he only liked first impressions, and never dwelt ten minutes together on the same scene or picture; declared he had mastered the Louvre in a quarter of an hour, and could judge of Talma’s powers in ten minutes.*

On his return, by Brussels, he received much kindness and attention from his friend Mr. Van de Weyer, who was then staying there, and made acquaintance with Madame Van de Weyer, his mother, with whom he was excessively struck, both from her talent and her vigour of character. He had, whilst here, the honour of an interview with King Leopold, who afterwards sent him an invitation to dine with him at his palace at Laeken, and was kind enough to send his carriage to Brussels to take him there and bring him back. He felt this unexpected honour and attention from the sovereign of a foreign country as he ought. But am I wrong in believing that such honours do more honour even to the giver than the receiver? for are they not a pledge to the people that their sovereign prizes talents and honesty wherever they are found, and whether they have been employed, as my

* It was this love of change that made him often write and speak of Combe Florey as an earthly paradise; and again, after some weeks, describe it as un tombeau. Both were genuine feelings at the moment.

father says, “in protecting the just rights of kings or restraining their unlawful ambition”?

He says, in a letter from Brussels, “Holland is dear, dirty, ugly. I was much struck with the commercial grandeur of Amsterdam. You must excuse me for thinking the English to be the greatest and wisest nation that ever existed in the world; we are excelled however in many things,—in buildings, cooking, baking, and in good manners. In setting out we went by Dunkirk, over a most atrocious country. With Dunkirk I was agreeably surprised; I found an excellent inn, good shops, and noble church and tower, and altogether a handsome city. At Ypres I was delighted with the Hotel de Ville, one of the most magnificent Gothic buildings I ever saw. At Bruges the hall and tower are quite surprising, as is the townhouse here. The Flemings are hideously ugly; so is their country; the inns are all very good. All their great towns are melancholy and under-peopled.

“I dined yesterday with Sir Hamilton Seymour. Van de Weyer has been extremely kind and hospitable to us, and his old mother is an excellent person. I am to be presented to the King today.”

In the autumn he came again for his residence at St. Paul’s, and the eagerness to obtain his society seemed to increase with his years. He used, dining his stay in town, to give an evening party once a week. These parties were always popular, though, from the numbers now assembled at them, they had not the charm of the little select suppers of his youth.

One evening, at his house, a few friends had come
in to tea; amongst others,
Lord Jeffrey, Dr. Holland, and his sister. Some one spoke of Talleyrand. “Oh,” said Sydney, “Lady Holland laboured incessantly to convince me that Talleyrand was agreeable, and was very angry because his arrival was usually a signal for my departure; but, in the first place, he never spoke at all till he had not only devoured but digested his dinner, and as this was a slow process with him, it did not occur till everybody else was asleep, or ought to have been so; and when he did speak he was so inarticulate I never could understand a word he said.” “It was otherwise with me,” said Dr. Holland; “I never found much difficulty in following him.” “Did not you? why it was an abuse of terms to call it talking at all; for he had no teeth, and, I believe, no roof to his mouth—no uvula—no larynx—no trachea—no epiglottis—no anything. It was not talking, it was gargling; and that, by the bye, now I think of it, must be the very reason why Holland understood him so much better than I did,” turning suddenly round on him with his merry laugh.

“Yet nobody’s wit was of so high an order as Talleyrand’s when it did come, or has so well stood the test of time. You remember when his friend Montrond* was taken ill, and exclaimed, ‘Mon ami, je sens les touraiens de l’enfer.’ ‘Quoi! déjà?’ was his reply. And when he sat at dinner between Madame de Staël

* I find that Talleyrand used to tell this story as having passed between Cardinal De la Roche-Guyon, a celebrated epicure, and his confessor.

Madame Récamier, the celebrated beauty, Madame de Staël, whose beauties were certainly not those of the person, jealous of his attentions to her rival, insisted upon knowing which he would save if they were both drowning. After seeking in vain to evade her, he at last turned towards her and said, with his usual shrug, ‘Ah, madame, vous savez nager.’ And when —— exclaimed, ‘Me voilà entre l’esprit et la beauté,’ he answered, ‘Oui, et sans posséder ni l’un ni l’autre.’ And of Madame ——, ‘Oui, elle est belle, très-belle; mais pour la toilette, cela commence trop tard, et finit trop tôt.’ Of Lord —— he said, ‘C’est la bienveillance même, mais la bienveillance la plus perturbative que j’ai jamais connu.’ To a friend of mine he said on one occasion, ‘Miladi, voulez-vous me prêter ce livre?’ ‘Oui, mais vous me le rendrez?’ ‘Oui.’ ‘Parole d’honneur?’ ‘Oui.’ ‘Vous en êtes sûr?’ ‘Oui, oui, miladi; mais, pour vous le rendre, il faut absolument d’abord me le prêter.’

“What a talker that Frenchman Buchon is! Macaulay is a Trappist compared to him.

“I was, many years ago, talking in Talleyrand’s presence to my brother Bobus, who was just then beginning his career at the Bar, and said, ‘Mind, Bobus, when you are Chancellor I shall expect one of your best livings.’ ‘Oui, mon ami,’ said Bobus, ‘mais d’abord je vous ferai commettre toutes les bassesses dont les prêtres sont capables.’ On which Talleyrand, throwing up his hands and eyes, exclaimed, with a shrug, ‘Mais quelle latitude énorme!’”


The conversation then turned on society in London, and its effect upon character. “I always tell Lady P—— she has preserved the two impossible concomitants of a London life—a good complexion and a good heart. Most London dinners evaporate in whispers to one’s next-door neighbour. I make it a rule never to speak a word to mine, but fire across the table; though I broke it once when I heard a lady who sat next me, in a low, sweet voice, say, ‘No gravy, Sir.’ I had never seen her before, but I turned suddenly round and said, ‘Madam, I have been looking for a person who disliked gravy all my life; let us swear eternal friendship.’ She looked astonished, but took the oath, and what is better, kept it. You laugh, Miss ——; but what more usual foundation for friendship, let me ask, than similarity of tastes?”

Talking of tastes, my father quite shared in his friend Mrs. Opie’s for light, heat, and fragrance. The first was almost a passion with him, which he indulged by means of little tin lamps with mutton-fat, in the days of his poverty—these, when a little richer, to our great joy, were exchanged for oil-lamps—and lastly, in the days of his wealth, for a profusion of wax-lights. The heat of his patent fireplaces has been mentioned, and his delight in flowers was extreme. He often went into the garden the moment he was dressed, and returned with his hands full of roses, to place them on the plates at breakfast. He liked to see the young people staying in his house dressed with natural flowers, and encouraged us to
invent all sorts of flowery ornaments, such as earrings and necklaces, some of which were really very graceful.

The following are some fragments of my father’s conversation in London.

Some one asked if the Bishop of —— was going to marry. “Perhaps he may,” said my father; “yet how can a bishop marry? How can he flirt? The most he can say is, ‘I will see you in the vestry after service.’”

“Oh, don’t read those twelve volumes till they are made into a consommé of two. Lord Dudley did still better, he waited till they blew over.”

Talking of tithes: “It is an atrocious way of paying the clergy. The custom of tithe in kind will seem incredible to our posterity; no one will believe in the ramiferous priest officiating in the cornfield.”

“Our friend —— makes all the country smell like Piccadilly.”

An argument arose, in which my father observed how many of the most eminent men of the world had been diminutive in person, and after naming several among the ancients, he added, “Why, look there, at Jeffrey; and there is my little friend ——, who has not body enough to cover his mind decently with; his intellect is improperly exposed.”

“Oh, don’t mind the caprices of fashionable women; they are as gross as poodles fed on milk and muffins.”

Fox wrote drop by drop.”


“Simplicity is a great object in a great book; it is not wanted in a short one.”

“You will generally see in human life the round man and the angular man planted in the wrong hole; but the Bishop of ——, being a round man, has fallen into a triangular hole, and is far better off than many triangular men who have fallen into round holes.”

“The great charm of Sheridan’s speaking was his multifariousness of style.”

“When I took my Yorkshire servants into Somersetshire, I found that they thought making a drink out of apples was a tempting of Providence, who had intended barley to be the only natural material of intoxication.”

“We naturally lose illusions as we get older, like teeth, but there is no Cartwright to fit a new set into our understandings. I have, alas, only one illusion left, and that is the Archbishop of Canterbury.”

Speaking of the long debates in the House: “Why will not people remember the Flood? If they had lived before it, with the patriarchs, they might have talked any stuff they pleased; but do let them remember how little time they have under this new order of things.”

“The charm of London is that you are never glad or sorry for ten minutes together: in the country you are the one and the other for weeks.”

“There is a New Zealand attorney arrived in London, with 6s. 8d. tattooed all over his face.”

“Yes, he has spent all his life in letting down empty
buckets into empty wells; and he is frittering away his age in trying to draw them up again.”

“If you masthead a sailor for not doing his duty, why should you not weathercock a parishioner for refusing to pay tithes?”

“How is ——?” “He is not very well.” “Why, what is the matter?” “Oh, don’t you know he has produced a couplet? When our friend is delivered of a couplet, with infinite labour and pain, he takes to his bed, has straw laid down, the knocker tied up, expects his friends to call and make inquiries, and the answer at the door invariably is, ‘Mr. —— and his little couplet are as well as can be expected.’ When he produces an Alexandrine he keeps his bed a day longer.”

“You will find a Scotchman always says what is undermost. I, on the contrary, say everything that comes uppermost, and have all sorts of bad jokes put upon me in consequence. An American published a book, and declared I had told him there were more mad Quakers in lunatic asylums than any other sect;—quite an invention on his part. Another time Prince P. M. published my conversations; so when I next met him, I inquired whether this was to be a printed or manuscript one, as I should talk accordingly. He did his best to blush.”

One evening, when drinking tea with Mrs. Austin, the servant entering into a crowded room, with a boiling tea-kettle in his hand, it seemed doubtful, nay impossible, he should make his way among the numerous groups; but, on the first approach of the steam-
ing kettle, the crowd receded on all sides, my father amongst the rest, though carefully watching the progress of the lad to the table:—“I declare,” said he (addressing Mrs. Austin), “a man who wishes to make his way in life could do nothing better than go through the world with a boiling tea-kettle in his hand.”

“Never neglect your fireplaces: I have paid great attention to mine, and could burn you all out in a moment. Much of the cheerfulness of life depends upon it. Who could be miserable with that fire? What makes a fire so pleasant is, I think, that it is a live thing in a dead room.”

“Such is the horror the French have of our cuisine, that at the dinner given in honour of Guizot at the Athenæum, they say his cook was heard to exclaim, ‘Ah, mon pauvre maître! je ne le reverrai plus.’’

Lord Wenlock told me that his ground-rent cost him five pounds a foot; that is about the price of a London footman six foot high,—thirty guineas per annum.”

“I believe the parallelogram between Oxford-street, Piccadilly, Regent-street, and Hyde Park, encloses more intelligence and human ability, to say nothing of wealth and beauty, than the world has ever collected in such a space before.”

“When I praised the author of the New Poor Law the other day, three gentlemen at table took it to themselves, and blushed up to the eyes.”

“Yes! you find people ready enough to do the Samaritan, without the oil and twopence.”


“It is a great proof of shyness to crumble bread at dinner. ‘Oh, I see you are afraid of me’ (turning to a young lady who sat by him), ‘you crumble your bread.’ I do it when I sit by the Bishop of London, and with both hands when I sit by the Archbishop.”

Addressing Rogers: “My dear R., if we were both in America, we should be tarred and feathered; and, lovely as we are by nature, I should be an ostrich and you an emu.”

“I once saw a dressed statue of Venus in a serious house—the Venus Millinaria.”

“Ah, you flavour everything; you are the vanille of society.”

“I think it was Luttrell who used to say ‘——’s face always reminded him of boiled mutton and near relations.’”

“I fully intended going to America; but my parishioners held a meeting, and came to a resolution that they could not trust me with the canvas-back ducks; and I felt they were right, so gave up the project.”

“Of course, if I ever did go to a fancy ball at all, I should go as a Dissenter.”

“Some people seem to be born out of their proper century. —— should have lived in the Italian Republics, and —— under Charles II.”

“My living in Yorkshire was so far out of the way, that it was actually twelve miles from a lemon.”

“Don’t you know, as the French say, there are three sexes—men, women, and clergymen?”

“One of my great objections to the country is, that
you get your letters but once a day; here they come every five minutes.”

On some one offering him oat-cake, “No, I can’t eat oat-cake, it is too rich for me.”

“Harrowgate seemed to me the most heaven-forgotten country under the sun. When I saw it, there were only nine mangy fir-trees there; and even they all leant away from it.”

Dining at Mr. Grenville’s, he as usual arrived before the rest of the party; some ladies were shortly after announced; as Mr. Grenville, with his graceful dignity and cheerfulness, went forward to receive them, my father, looking after him, exclaimed to Mr. Panizzi, “There, that is the man from whom we all ought to learn how to grow old!” The conversation at table turned on a subject lately treated of in Sir Charles Lyell’s book, the phenomena which the earth might present to the geologists of some future period; “Let us imagine,” said my father, “an excavation on the site of St. Paul’s. Fancy a lecture, by the Owen of some future age, on the thigh-bone of a Minor Canon, or the tooth of a Dean,—the form, qualities, the knowledge, tastes, propensities, he would discover from them.” And off he went, his imagination playing on this idea in every possible way.

Some one spoke of the state of financial embarrassment of the London University at that time. “Yes, it is so great, that I understand they have already seized on the air-pump, the exhausted receiver, and galvanic batteries; and that bailiffs have been seen chasing
the Professor of Modern History round the quadrangle.”

Conversing in the evening, with a small circle, round Miss Berry’s tea-table (who, though far advanced towards the fourscore years and ten which she afterwards attained, was still remarkable for her vigour of mind and beauty of person), my father observed the entrance of a no less remarkable person, both for talents and years, dressed in a beautiful crimson velvet gown; he started up to meet his fine old friend, exclaiming, “Exactly the colour of my preaching cushion!” and leading her forward to the light, he pretended to be lost in admiration, saying, “I really can hardly keep my hands off you; I shall be preaching on you, I fear,” etc., and played with the subject to the infinite amusement of his old friend and the little circle assembled round her.

Playfair was certainly the most delightful philomath I ever knew.”

“Have you heard of Niebuhr’s discoveries? All Roman history reversed; Tarquin turning out an excellent family man, and Lucretia a very doubtful character, whom Lady —— would not have visited.”

The ladies having left the room, at a dinner at Sir G. Philips’s, the conversation turned on the black population of America. My father, turning to an eminent American jurist, who was here some years ago, “Pray, Mr. ——, tell us why you can’t live on better terms with your black population.” “Why, to tell you the truth, Mr. Smith, they smell so abominably
that we can’t bear them near us.” “Possibly not,” said my father, “but men must not be led by the nose in that way: if you don’t like asking them to dinner, it is surely no reason why you should not make citizens of them.
“Et si non alium latè jactaret odorem,
Civis erat.’”*

“Don’t talk to me of not being able to cough a speaker down: try the hooping-cough.”

Mr. Monckton Milnes was talking to Alderman ——, when the latter turned away: “You were speaking,” said Sydney, “to the Lord Mayor elect. I myself felt in his presence like the Roman whom Pyrrhus tried to frighten with an elephant, and remained calm.”

“When so showy a woman as Mrs. —— appears at a place, though there is no garrison within twelve miles, the horizon is immediately clouded with majors.”

“To take Macaulay out of literature and society, and put him in the House of Commons, is like taking the chief physician out of London during a pestilence.”

“How bored children are with the wisdom of Telemachus! they can’t think why Calypso is so fond of him.”

Some one observing the wonderful improvement in —— since his success, “Ah!” he said, “praise is the best diet for us, after all.”

One day, Mr. Rogers took Mr. Moore and my father home in his carriage, from a breakfast; and insisted on showing them, by the way, Dryden’s house,

* Virgil, Georgics ii. 132. Laurus in the original.

in some obscure street. It was very wet; the house looked very much like other old houses; and having thin shoes on, they both remonstrated; but in vain. Rogers got out, and stood expecting them. “Oh! you see why Rogers don’t mind getting out,” exclaimed my father, laughing and leaning out of the carriage, “he has got goloshes on—but, Rogers, lend us each a golosh, and we will then stand on one leg, and admire as long as you please.”

“When Prescott comes to England, a Caspian Sea of soup awaits him.”

“An American said to me, ‘You are so funny, Mr. Smith! do you know, you remind me of our great joker, Dr. Chamberlaque.’ ‘I am much honoured,’ I replied, ‘but I was not aware you had such a functionary in the United States.’”

At Mr. Romilly’s there arose a discussion on the Inferno of Dante, and the tortures he had invented. “He may be a great poet,” said my father, “but as to invention, I consider him a mere bungler,—no imagination, no knowledge of the human heart. If I had taken it in hand, I would show you what torture really was; for instance (turning, merrily, to his old friend Mrs. Marcet), you should be doomed to listen, for a thousand years, to conversations between Caroline and Emily, where Caroline should always give wrong explanations in chemistry, and Emily in the end be unable to distinguish an acid from an alkali. You, Macaulay, let me consider?—oh, you should be dumb. False dates and facts of the reign of Queen
Anne should for ever be shouted in your ears; all liberal and honest opinions should be ridiculed in your presence; and you should not be able to say a single word during that period in their defence.” “And what would you condemn me to, Mr. Sydney?” said a young mother. “Why, you should for ever see those three sweet little girls of yours on the point of falling downstairs, and never be able to save them. There, what tortures are there in Dante equal to these?”

Daniel Webster struck me much like a steam-engine in trousers.”

“When I began to thump the cushion of my pulpit, on first coming to Foston, as is my wont when I preach, the accumulated dust of a hundred and fifty years made such a cloud, that for some minutes I lost sight of my congregation.”

“Nothing amuses me more than to observe the utter want of perception of a joke in some minds. Mrs. Jackson called the other day, and spoke of the oppressive heat of last week. ‘Heat, Ma’am!’ I said; ‘it was so dreadful here, that I found there was nothing left for it but to take off my flesh and sit in my bones.’ ‘Take off your flesh and sit in your bones, Sir! Oh, Mr. Smith! how could you do that?’ she exclaimed, with the utmost gravity. ‘Nothing more easy, Ma’am; come and see next time.’ But she ordered her carriage, and evidently thought it a very unorthodox proceeding.”

“Miss ——, too, the other day, walking round the grounds at Combe Florey, exclaimed, ‘Oh, why do
you chain up that fine Newfoundland dog,
Mr. Smith?’ ‘Because it has a passion for breakfasting on parish boys.’ ‘Parish boys!’ she exclaimed,’ does he really eat boys, Mr. Smith?’ ‘Yes, he devours them, buttons and all.’ Her face of horror made me die of laughing.”

A most curious instance of this slow perception of humour occurred once in Brook-street, where a gentleman of some rank dined at our house, with a large party, of which my father and Mr. Luttrell formed a portion. My father was in high spirits, and in one of his happiest veins; and much brilliant conversation passed around from Mr. Luttrell and others. Mr. —— sat through it all with the utmost gravity. This seemed only to stimulate my father, who became more and more brilliant, till the table was in a perfect roar of laughter. The servants even, forgetting all decorum, were obliged to turn away to conceal their mirth. Mr. —— alone sat unmoved, and gazing with solemn wonder at the scene around. Luttrell was so struck by this that he said, “Mr. —— was a natural phenomenon whom he must observe;” so letting the side-dishes pass by, he took out his eye-glass to watch. At last my father accidentally struck out a subject (which, for social reasons, I must not give, though it was inimitable,) which touched the right spring, and he could resist no longer, but actually laughed out. Luttrell shouted victory in my ear; and resumed his wonted attention to the dinner, saying, he had never witnessed so curious a scene.


The conversation turned upon pictures. “I like pictures, without knowing anything about them; but I hate coxcombry in the fine arts, as well as in anything else. I got into dreadful disgrace with Sir G. B. once, who, standing before a picture at Bowood, exclaimed, turning to me, ‘Immense breadth of light and shade!’ I innocently said, ‘Yes;—about an inch and a half.’ He gave me a look that ought to have killed me.”

At a large dinner party my father, or some one else, announced the death of Mr. Dugald Stewart; one whose name ever brings with it feelings of respect for his talents and high character. The news was received with so much levity by a lady of rank, who sat by him, that he turned round and said, “Madam, when we are told of the death of so great a man as Mr. Dugald Stewart, it is usual, in civilized society, to look grave for at least the space of five seconds.”

“They do nothing in Ireland as they would elsewhere. When the Dublin mail was stopped and robbed, my brother declares that a sweet female voice was heard behind the hedge, exclaiming, ‘Shoot the gintleman, then, Patrick dear!’”

We were all assembled to look at a turtle that had been sent to the house of a friend, when a child of the party stooped down and began eagerly stroking the shell of the turtle. “Why are you doing that, B——?” said my father. “Oh, to please the turtle.” “Why, child, you might as well stroke the dome of St. Paul’s, to please the Dean and Chapter.”


Some one naming —— as not very orthodox, “Accuse a man of being a Socinian, and it is all over with him; for the country gentlemen all think it has something to do with poaching.”

“I hate bare walls; so I cover mine, you see, with pictures. The public, it must be owned, treat them with great contempt; and even Hibbert, who has been brought up in the midst of fine pictures, and might know better, never will admire them. But look at that sea-piece, now; what would you desire more? It is true, the moon in the corner was rather dingy when I first bought it; so I had a new moon put in for half-a-crown, and now I consider it perfect.”

Of my father’s conversation in London, where of course such powers were most excited and most brilliant, (except in these slight specimens, principally furnished by the kindness of a friend) I have hardly attempted to give any idea; partly because the documents that would best have enabled me to do so (his daily letters, when absent, to my mother) have not been preserved;—partly because of such journals so little can and ought to be published, that they serve but to remind one of Sancho Panza’s feast, where a splendid list of names promises everything, and produces nothing—and last, though not least, as his friend Lord John Russell observes, because it is hardly possible to describe his manner, or convey the slightest idea of what his powers really were, in their most brilliant moments, to those who have never witnessed them. Lord John adds,—and all who knew my father will
agree with his conclusion,—that “in his peculiar style he has never been equalled, and perhaps will not be surpassed.” I observe, with pleasure, that every sketch which has appeared of him has laid great stress upon the wonderful degree of truth, wisdom, and bold illustration, that was often concealed in these ludicrous pictures and apparent nonsense; and which not only made them valuable, but prevented their ever palling, or degenerating into mere buffoonery.

About this period began his contest with the Ecclesiastical Commission, which lasted nearly four years, and was carried on principally in a series of letters addressed to Archdeacon Singleton. In these letters, after touching slightly upon the injustice of forming such a Commission without any one to protect the interests of the inferior clergy—on the permanent and arbitrary powers granted to the Commission, under a Whig ministry—on the inclination the Commission evinced to appropriate the patronage, at the same time that they were claiming the honours of martyrdom (à propos to which he introduced the episode of the old chronicle of Dort);—touching on these, together with many other clauses very oppressive to the clergy (which were afterwards given up), he proceeds to enforce two principles. First, that if the laity desire an Establishment into which birth, wealth, station, talent, education, and character should flow; and bestow on it a revenue which, if equally divided, would hardly place the clergy on a footing with the upper servants of a nobleman’s family, and would not, accord-
ing to the proposed plan of spoliation, be an addition of more than £5. 12s. 6½d. per man—payment by hope, or inequality of division, were the only means of obtaining the desired end; and the prizes in the lottery must be left. Or, if the inequality in some instances was too great, the remedy should be applied where the greatest evil existed. Secondly, that the Commission, by attacking vested interests during the lifetime of the incumbents, were not only guilty of great present injustice, but were admitting a most dangerous precedent, and overturning a principle that all governments had hitherto respected.

These letters, which by many have been considered as evincing more talent than almost anything he has written, produced considerable effect at the time; and the many private letters I possess, as well as the testimony of the public press, show that public opinion was strongly with him—that these measures were changes, but not reforms—that they contributed nothing to the public good—and that they diminished nothing of the public hostility to the Church. How it terminated is well known. He concludes the controversy with this tribute to his old friend and opponent, Lord John Russell:—“You know very well, my dear Lord, in criticizing parts of your Church reform, I mean nothing unkind or unfriendly to you personally. I have known you for thirty years; and I do not believe that in this country, full of good men, there is one more honest, upright, and intrepid than yourself.” My father, I find, states that he has the most honourable testi-
mony from Lord John himself, that in conducting this dispute he never exceeded the bounds of free discussion; and that he was influenced by no motive that did not affect equally the whole body to which he belonged, and whose interests he felt bound to defend.*

I am aware that these letters have afforded plausible ground for the insinuations that were made by some few, that my father, a Whig all his life, deserted his party, and attacked his friends; and, a reformer, opposed reform the moment it affected his own interest. These are grave charges, but are best met by a few facts. He attacked the Whigs when they were in power, and had everything to bestow; when they were poor and powerless, he was ever found fighting at their side. This does not look mean and base. He opposed not reform, but this reform; and this reform he had opposed upon the same principle, twenty years before, in the Edinburgh Review, under a Tory administration, when in his wildest dreams he had never hoped to be a Canon of St. Paul’s.† He did not, therefore, change

* I might add to this statement, that I have very lately received from Lord John Russell the most generous praise of these very letters (always excepting a well-known passage, which he considered unjust); and Lord John’s last act has indeed so proved its injustice, that I feel sure my father, were he alive, would be the first to retract it, and to do honour to the sacrifice that has been made by his friend.

† There is also amongst his papers an amusing fragment on the subject of tithes, written about the period that question was being discussed, which, as it is but a fragment, is hardly worth inserting. But in this again he speaks strongly of the necessity of inequality of payment, in order to support an Establishment so ill provided for as the Church of England; showing still further how consistent he was from first to last in his opinions on this subject as well as others.

his opinions with his position. It did not affect his personal interests, as he wanted the patronage neither for himself nor his family; and the noble use he made of valuable patronage when it did come into his hands, must sufficiently exonerate him from the suspicion of acting from interested motives in the eyes of any candid man.

The following petition from the Rev. Sydney Smith, was presented and read to the House of Lords by the Hon. the Lord Bishop of Rochester, July, 1840.

To the Right Honourable the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled.

“The humble petition of the Rev. Sydney Smith, Canon Residentiary of St. Paul’s, humbly showeth,—That your petitioner has bestowed considerable thought and attention upon the subject of the Ecclesiastical Duties and Revenues Bill, and prays that the same may not pass into a law; for the following reasons:—

“The Bill applies to the spiritual destitution of the Church, that which was left for the ornaments and rewards of the Church; and in this way gets rid of the burden of supporting the clergy, by tampering with the sacred laws of property; making, at the same time, the multitude believe that they are reforming abuses, while they are only evading duties and weakening principles.

“By lessening the rewards of the Church, it prevents men of capital from entering into it; and makes the
whole wealth of those who are engaged in the service of the Church, less, instead of increasing it.

“The whole mass of property which the Bill proposes to confiscate, will make the poor clergy a very little less poor, while its confiscation destroys the powerful stimulus of hope, at the beginning of an ecclesiastical life. Two-thirds of the present deans and prebendaries have been curates and small vicars: they would, at the lowest period of their fortunes, have refused to barter their hope of future competence, for the addition of a few pounds to their income; and this is most unquestionably the state of feeling among the lower clergy at the present moment.

“The whole of the Bill supposes that deans and chapters have made a worse use of their patronage than bishops, and this is directly contrary to truth. But what is true of this Bill is, that one order in the Church who have no votes in Parliament, have been completely sacrificed to those who have votes,—that deans and prebendaries, carefully excluded from the Commission, have been condemned to confiscation,—and that the Prelate Commissioners have not sacrificed one shilling of the aggregate income of the bishops to those spiritual destitutions of the Church, which they feel so strongly, but relieve with property not their own.

“The Bill destroys many ecclesiastical offices, which, with a little care and thought, might have been made eminently useful to literature; to the present plans of national education; to the care of dioceses in the de-
cay and old-age of bishops, and to the general support of episcopal authority; or, what is of more importance (in the present unrepresented and unsupported state of the parochial clergy), to the checks upon episcopal authority.

“This Bill habituates the Legislature to the easy and inviting power of tampering with the property of the Church. It is utterly impossible to believe that this will be the last and the worst act of that nature.

“The law, as it now stands, enables dignified clergymen to bestow their patronage on their children and relations, who may be deserving of it. Under this sanction they have given to their sons very expensive educations at the Universities. The present Bill destroys these expectations; sets at nought vested rights; and, instead of applying this provision to future members of chapters, cuts off from their rights the ancient members of those bodies, who have laid out their whole plan of life upon the faith of laws unimpugned and unrepealed for centuries; and this appears to your Petitioner to be a gross act of spoliation and injustice, and contrary to the express provisions and arrangements of the Commissioners themselves.

“To give to every clergyman who has gone through the expense of an English University, and who is married and settled in the country, the income which they ought in decency and in justice to receive, would require, not only the confiscation of all the cathedral and episcopal property, but some millions of money in addition. A church provided for as ours now is, can
obtain a well-educated and respectable clergy only by those hopes which are excited by the unequal division and lottery of preferment. This is the real cause which has brought capital and respectability into the English Church, and peopled it with the well-educated sons of gentlemen,—an object of the greatest importance in a rich country like England. Nothing would so rapidly and certainly ensure the degradation of the Church of England, as the equal division of all its revenues among all its members.

“For these reasons, your Petitioner believes the Bill in question (however well intended) to be founded on a very short-sighted policy, and that it will entail great evils upon a Church no longer unfavourable to the civil liberties of mankind—as yet untainted by fanaticism—carried forward by the labours of a highly improved clergy—and now become as useful and as active as any church establishment which the world has yet seen.

“This, as it seems to your Petitioner, is the last of all our institutions upon which an experiment so daring and so dangerous ought to be tried. For these reasons, your Petitioner humbly prays that the Ecclesiastical Duties and Revenues Bill may not pass into a law.

“Sydney Smith.”

In the previous year, a statue having been erected at Newcastle, in honour of Earl Grey, my father was requested to write the inscription for it. He sent the following; but as it did not entirely meet the views of
all the subscribers, it was not adopted; though I have reason to believe it was much approved of by his family.