LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

A Memoir of the Reverend Sydney Smith
Letters 1816

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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113.] To Francis Jeffrey, Esq.
Bath, 1816.
My dear Jeffrey,

I have a fancy to know how you do, and what has befallen you since your journey to Foston. I write this from Bath, where I am living, on a visit to my father. I shall not be in London before the month of May; have I any chance of seeing you there?

Lord and Lady Byron are, you know, separated. He said to Rogers, that Lady Byron had parted with him, apparently in good friendship, on a visit to her father, and that he had no idea of their being about to part, when he received her decision to that effect. He stated that his own temper, naturally bad, had been rendered more irritable by the derangement of his fortune—and that Lady Byron was entirely blameless. The truth is, he is a very unprincipled fellow.

Leach will be Chancellor: I had heard last year that he was strongly solicited, by that bribe, to desert his party, and at last I see his virtue has given way. I have heard nothing of ——’s success; but what success can any man obtain,—on what side (Ireland excepted) can the Administration be assailed with any chance of success?

Madame de Staël is at Pisa, attending Rocca, who
is dying. Have you read
Stewart’s preliminary dissertation? What do you think of it? He is an excellent man. How does Brown’s new poem turn out? I beg, my dear Jeffrey, you will not class me amongst the tribe of irritable correspondents; unless I write to you upon points of business, I hold it to be perfectly fair for you to answer me or not, and that you may keep the most profound silence, “salvâ amicitiâ,” but it always gives me sincere pleasure to hear from you. I shall be here till about the 20th. Pray remember me very kindly to Murray and all friends.

Sydney Smith.

114.] To Francis Jeffrey, Esq.
Foston, 1816.
Dear Jeffrey,

I should have set off this day for Lord Grey and you, but Douglas was seized with typhus fever, and Mrs. Sydney hurried up to London. He is much better, and will do well if there is no relapse; in the meantime, I am prisoner here, because I must be jailor to my three remaining children. I was a good deal suprised to see in the ‘Times’ a part of my review on the Abbé Georgel quoted before the Review is published; is this quite right on the part of Constable? I am truly sorry to lose my visit to you, and the more so, because I know you are not quite well. Pray say how that is, and promise me amendment in this respect.

I have two short reviews to write of two French books,—Madame d’Epinay and Madame de Genlis, and then I am at a loss for a subject. The trial of Horne
I relinquished on account of the invincible candour of my nature. Pray answer all my queries distinctly; and how happy should I be if you would dictate your letters, and not write them yourself! I can scarcely ever read them.

I have just now received your letter, and am truly afflicted to receive so melancholy an account of your health; and the more so, as I had not a suspicion, before Murray’s letter, that you were at all ill. For God’s sake be wise and obedient and meek to your bloody butchers, and let me hear from you very soon. I have a letter from Mrs. Sydney this morning; Douglas very weak, and I hardly think will remain in London.

Sydney Smith.

115.] To Lady Holland.
February 2nd, 1816.
My dear Lady Holland,

My father seems to bear his great misfortune with equanimity. He is as well as he was fifteen years ago, and as young, at the nominal age of seventy-six. My sister was a most amiable and enlightened woman; she had run through all the stamina of constitution nature had allotted her, and died of old-age, in youth. The loss of a person whom I would have cultivated as a friend, if nature had not given her to me as a relation, is a serious evil.

I thank you most sincerely for your very handsome and delightful present, of Madame de Sévigné, which will beguile many a Yorkshire hour.

Sydney Smith.

116.] To Lord Holland.
August, 1816.
Dear Lord Holland,

I can buy you some sheep by means of the agent I employ for myself; but, then, there is a history to tell. I live only “from hand to mouth” (as the common people say), and for weeks together I am not master of ten pounds, nor do I know where to get as much; therefore you must give me a power of drawing on your bankers for any sum not exceeding ninety pounds, which will more than cover every possible expense, though I hope they will be bought much more advantageously. You will, I am sure, excuse my frankness; but it may very possibly happen, when the time comes for buying the sheep, that I may be entirely without money. I will write to Johnson; but I think the better way would be, to send them at once to Holland House. God bless you!

Sydney Smith.

117.] To the Countess Grey.
York, Nov. 3rd, 1816.

If you and Lord Grey will consider yourselves as solemnly pledged to me not to reveal the contents of the enclosed note, open it, and you will read a marriage which will make you laugh. If you cannot give that pledge, fling it into the fire. I am quite serious in exacting the pledge, and as serious in assuring you, dear Lady Grey, of my great regard and respect.

Sydney Smith.
[Enclosed Note.]

Sorry to treat with apparent harshness one whom I so much respect, but cannot grant your Ladyship the slightest indulgence. On the contrary, must prohibit, in the severest manner, the disclosure of the secret, either to aliens or your own blood.

Though necessity compels me to this rigour, I feel for your situation, and am not without fears for your health; you should avoid meat and wine, and live with the greatest care, till relief can be gained by disclosure. I assure you that the information is no joke on my part. I sincerely believe it myself, for it comes to me from a source that I must consider to be unquestionable. I remain, dear Lady Grey, most truly yours,

Sydney Smith.

118.] To Lady Holland.
November 8th, 1816.
My dear Lady Holland,

I found and left Lord Grey in very good health. He is extremely pleased with the match, and most probably rightly pleased. We had, at Howick, Sir —— ——, with whom I was much taken; quick, shrewd, original, well-informed, eccentric, paradoxical, and contradictory.

It is not possible to speak of Horner! I have a most sincere affection for him.

I found everywhere in Northumberland and Scotland wretched crops, failing tenants, and distressed landlords (unlike Atlas), bending down with the weight of land suddenly flung upon their shoulders.


Lord Morpeth called here the other day. I esteem myself most fortunate in being near so excellent and enlightened a man, and will cultivate him as much as he will let me. I am concerned to hear of Lord Holland’s gout. I observe that gout loves ancestors and genealogy; it needs five or six generations of gentlemen or noblemen to give it its full vigour. Allen deserves the gout more than Lord Holland. I have seen the latter personage resorting occasionally to plain dishes, but Allen passionately loves complexity and artifice in his food.

I suppose Samuel Rogers is mortgaged to your Ladyship for the autumn and the early part of the winter. Perhaps you would have the goodness to say, that Miss —— thinks him charming! Next to the Congreve rocket, he is the most mischievous and powerful of modern inventions.

I have now read three volumes of Madame de Sévigné, with a conviction that her letters are very much over-praised. Mr. Thomas Grenville says he has made seven vigorous attacks upon Madame de Sévigné, and has been as often repulsed. I presume you have read ‘Rhoda;’ if not, read it, at my peril. I was pestered into reading it, and felt myself very much obliged to my persecutors.

I think of my visit to Holland House last summer with the greatest pleasure, and hope to renew it again this year, if I am rich enough. I promise to be agreeable.

Always your grateful and affectionate friend,
Sydney Smith.

119.] To Lady Holland.
Foston, Nov. 16th, 1816.
My dear Lady Holland,

I am as sensible of the advantages of bringing my children to London as any one can be. I like to be there myself, and nobody enjoys more sincerely the society of friends; but the duties of economy are paramount. Such slender means as mine admit of no imprudence and no excess.

Yours, dear Lady Holland, most truly,
Sydney Smith.

120.] To Francis Horner, Esq.
Foston, Nov. 25th, 1816.
My dear Horner,

Since I saw you, I have paid a visit to Lord Grey. I met there Lambton, the about-to-be son-in-law; a clever person. To him add Sir —— ——, and Sir —— ——, with whom I was very much pleased. I have seldom seen a more original or a quicker man; eccentric, and affecting to be more so than he is, as is the case commonly with eccentric persons. From Lord Grey’s I went to visit ——, whom I found unchanged, except that they are become a little more Methodistical. I endeavour in vain to give them more cheerful ideas of religion; to teach them that God is not a jealous, childish, merciless tyrant; that he is best served by a regular tenour of good actions,—not by bad singing, ill-composed prayers, and eternal apprehensions. But the luxury of false religion is, to be unhappy!


I went in quest of schools for Douglas. At Ripon I found an insignificant man, in melancholy premises, and boys two in a bed. At Richmond I was extremely pleased with Mr. Tate, who takes thirty boys, and appears to be a very enlightened man. Westminster costs about £150 or £200 per annum. I have little to do, and am extremely poor. Why not keep Douglas at home till he is sixteen, send him for three years to Mr. Tate, then to Cambridge? I cannot think that his moral or literary improvement will be less; at the same time, if it were my duty to make the sacrifice, of course, I would make it, but, after all the attention I can give to it, I cannot discover a better plan, even if I had £10,000 per annum; of course it is taken for granted that I am able to teach him well, and that I shall stick to my duty.*

It gives us the greatest pleasure to find you have got so far so well. Our kindest affections and warmest good wishes move on with you, and hang like a dew on the glasses of your carriage. God bless you, my dear Horner!

Sydney Smith.

121.] To Francis Horner, Esq.
Foston, 1816.
My dear Horner,

We are tolerably well pleased with the account you give of yourself. It would have been unreasonable to expect that you could gain anything during the fatigue of travelling; it is much that you have not lost. Now is your beginning! I hope you will have the

* Mr. Horner was Douglas’s godfather.

resolution to withstand the importunities of friends, and hermetically to seal yourself. Dear little F—— A—— has the best heart in the world, but you must not let her excite you to much talking. If —— were at Pisa, you would of course order horses.

I have just read Dugald Stewart’s ‘Preliminary Dissertations.’ In the first place, it is totally clear of all his defects. No insane dread of misrepresentation; no discussion put off till another time, just at the moment it was expected, and would have been interesting; no unmanly timidity; less formality of style and cathedral pomp of sentence. The good, it would be trite to enumerate:—the love of human happiness and virtue, the ardour for the extension of knowledge, the command of fine language, happiness of allusion, varied and pleasing literature, tact, wisdom, and moderation! Without these high qualities, we all know Stewart cannot write. I suspect he has misrepresented Horne Tooke, and his silence respecting Hartley is very censurable. I was amazingly pleased with his comparison of the Universities to enormous hulks confined with mooring-chains, everything flowing and progressing around them. Nothing can be more happy.

I speak of books as I read them, and I read them as I can get them. You are read up to twelve o’clock of the preceding day, and therefore must pardon the staleness of my subjects. I read yesterday the evidence of the Elgin Marble Committee. Lord Elgin has done a very useful thing in taking them away from the Turks. Do not throw pearls to swine; and take them away from swine when they are so thrown. They would have been destroyed there, or the French
would have had them. He is underpaid for them.
Flaxman’s evidence (some little ostentation excepted) is very ingenious. Payne Knight makes a very poor figure;—unshaken confidence, upon the most scanty foundations.

We are all perfectly well. Corn is rather bad than dear, but makes good unleavened bread; and the poor, I find, seldom make any other than unleavened bread, even in the best seasons. I have seen nobody, and heard from nobody, since I last wrote. Seven years’ absence from London is too severe a trial for correspondents. Even Astrea Whishaw has given way.

I remain always your affectionate friend,
Sydney Smith.

122.] To Lady Mary Bennett.
Foston, November, 1816.
Dear Lady Mary,

I have not written to you, because I have been very busy; but I always felt that I ought, and that I wished, to write to you.

We pressed —— to stay longer, but she is a great politician, and has some mysterious reasons for returning, which I could not fathom, though I let down my deep-sea line; probably they are connected with the present precarious state of the Bourbons, and the lingering and protracted war carried on in the Spanish colonies. The natives admired her eyes very much, and said they were very different from Yorkshire eyes. They indeed express every soft and amiable virtue, with just as much of wickedness as is necessary to prevent insipidity.


I ought to apologize to you for not having said anything of the Princess. Youth and fertility quenched by death is a melancholy event, let the rank of the victim be what it may; but her death is not of any political importance; the root remains deep in the earth, and it matters not which becomes the leading shoot.

I shall bring up your friend Douglas to Westminster after Easter, when I hope, my dear little friend, to see you in town. I shall have a mean idea of your powers, if, between coaxing, scolding, plaguing, and reasoning, you cannot make Lord Tankerville take a house.

I always tell you all the books worth notice that I read, and I rather counsel you to read Jacob’sSpain,’ a book with some good sense in it, and not unentertaining; also, by all means, the first volume of Franklin’s Letters. I will disinherit you if you do not admire everything written by Franklin. In addition to all other good qualities, he was thoroughly honest.

We have had Sir Humphry Davy here. A spurious Aladdin has sprung up in Northumberland, and pretends that the magical lamp belongs to him. There is no end to human presumption and arrogance,—though nobody has as yet pretended to be Lady Mary Bennett.

Sydney Smith.