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every person which is common to us all, and the perfect dauntlessness of modern journalism, were unknown to those times. And those were the days when our great men were young when Youth was abroad in the world, with all his daring and all his eagerness. There is no particular star of youth in the horizon of this second half of the nineteenth century, but this brilliant planet was in the ascendant as the old eighteenth ended its oldfashioned career of dulness. There was Jeffrey, sharp, sparkling, and versatile; there was Brougham, vehement and impetuous; there was Sydney, in his English breadth and all embracing mirthfulness; and there were others, all young young, clever, daring, exuberant, full of that youthful joyous courage which defies the world. They met, they talked, they argued strange enough, though there are published Lives of most of them, we have no clear account of those conversations -no Dies or Noctes, disclosing the eager discussions, the boundless animadversions, the satire, the fun, and the laughter of this brilliant fraternity in the high and airy habitations which suited their beginning fortune; but the result we are all very well acquainted with. Something came of the concussion of these young and eager intellects; they were all armed and ready for a grand tilt at things in general-a jubilant attack upon precedent and authority, after the manner of youth. Yes, some of them remain, ancient men-others of them have passed away in ripe old age; yet there they stand, the Revolutionists of Nature, the universal challengers, the fiery Crusaders of youth. It was not Whiggery, good our reader, though Pallas Athene is buff and blue-it was the genuine natural impulse, common to all young humankind, of pulling down the old and setting up the new.
Perhaps it is because we are better accustomed to good writing and clever speculation in these days-perhaps because there is now a wider freedom of speech and opinion than there used to be; but there is a most distinct and woeful difference, beyond dispute, between the beginning of literary enterprises in this time, and
in that brilliant and eventful period when Maga was born and the Edinburgh was young. Quarterly Reviews spring up everywhere in these days
grow into little comfortable private circulations-belong to particu lar" interests"-are read, and influential in their sphere; but who takes note of the day or hour of their appearing, or hails the advent of the new luminary? Then, the young periodical took the world by stormnow, nobody wots of it. The difference is notable; and perhaps, after all, we may be justly doubtful whether it really is better to have a great many people to do a thing indifferently, than to have one or two who can do it well.
Yes, we were enemies at our outset; we wrestled manfully, sometimes for fame, sometimes for principle, sometimes "for love;" yet, being foes, let us rejoice over them, worthy rivals in an honourable field. Jeffrey and Sydney Smith have gone upon the last journey-Christopher North is gathered to his fathers alas and alas! genius and fame and power are things of a day, as we are; yet it is hard to believe in their decline and decadence, when we look back upon these days of their youth.
The first idea of the Edinburgh Review originated with Sydney Smith. His proposal, as he says himself, was received with acclamation ;" and indeed it is easy to understand the exultation with which these daring young men must have anticipated possessing an organ of their own. He himself edited the first number; and though his name is not so entirely identified with this brilliant and successful enterprise as some of his colleagues, to him belongs the glory of the beginning. But his biographer does little justice to this interesting period of his life. We have glimpses of his history in Edinburgh only by means of sundry sensible and candid letters written to the father and mother of his pupil, in which, as might be expected, the said pupil, a respectable and mediocre Michael Beach, appears at greater length than his instructor. There is nothing remarkable in these letters, except the good sense and frankness with which the character of this pupil is exhi
bited; and this is as creditable to the young man's parents as it is to Sydney: but save for two or three domestic incidents, we see nothing more of the man, nor how he lived during this period which had so important an influence upon all his after life. Even Sydney Smith could not make everywhere such a brilliant little nucleus of society as that which he brightened and cheered in Edinburgh. We would gladly have seen more of the five years of his northern residence, and are much disposed to grudge that Lady Holland should take this time of all others to tell us about his writings, and to make a survey of all the future succession of his articles in the Edinburgh. These we can find out for ourselves; but we might surely have had a more articulate sketch of how our hero appeared among his equals at this beginning of his life.
Shortly after the first appearance of the Review, Sydney Smith left Edinburgh, whence, having "finished" his pupil, and finding it necessary to make some more permanent provision for his family, he removed to London, where he seems-no disparagement to his manly and independent character-to have lived for some time upon his wits, making strenuous efforts to improve his condition, and bearing what he could not mend with the gayest and most light-hearted philosophy. During this time he delivered his famous lectures upon moral philosophy-about the earliest example, we suppose, of literary lecturings; a course of popular instruction which found immense favour in the eyes of a curious and discerning public. Audiences, crowded, fashionable, and clever, listened with eager ness to his exposition of the doctrines and history of metaphysics. Into this Scotchest of sciences, Sydney, who was no metaphysician, made a rapid and daring leap. We do not pause to inquire whether his style was the perfect English which some of his friends assert it to be at least it was luminous, clear, and flowing, full of good sense, and bright with lively sparkles of wit and high intelligence. To these lectures everybody" went; and very creditable it seems to everybody, that this unbene
ficed and unaristocratic clergyman, known solely by his great and fearless talents, and as far removed from a courtier of fashion as it is possible to conceive, should have congregated together so large and so enthusiastie an audience. The manner in which the lecturer himself speaks of this popular course of philosophy, and the reputation he acquired by it, is amusing enough. Writing to Jeffrey, he says:
"My lectures are just now at such an absurd pitch of celebrity, that I must lose a good deal of reputation before the public settles into a just equilibrium respecting them. I am most heartily ashamed of my own fame, because I am conscious I do not deserve it; and that the moment men of sense are provoked by the clamour to look into my claims, it will be at an end."
This prediction has not been fulfilled-nor are the lectures themselves of the brilliant, faulty, and dashing description, which from this account one might suppose them to be.
They are, in fact, as honest and truthful as everything else which belongs to their author. When we read them now, we cannot quite account for the sensation they made then; yet we do not throw them into the list of undeserved or fallacious successes. They merited much though not all of their fame; and the social success and reputation of their author seems to have grown progressed from this time. He was a universal favourite in that mystical region called "Society," at least in every quarter of it to which his political opinions gave him access; and this public appearance made him henceforth a recognisable personage to the universal public eye. He was still poor and struggling with many difficulties; but he was surrounded with fit companions, and full of exuberant spirits-an admirable example, though unfortunately a rare one, of how well a heart at ease can hold its place against all the cares of life.
Out of this brief but brilliant season of triumph, poverty, and happiness, it was at last the fortune of Sydney Smith to find prefermentwhich means, in other words, he got a living-an unobtrusive comfortable
living, which permitted its incumbent to remain quietly in town, and, having no parsonage to lodge him in, considerately gave him no manner of trouble. But this state of things was much too good to last, and the unfortunate Rector, a year or two after his appointment, was summoned not only to his post, but to the less obvious duty of making that post tenable. We cannot, we are afraid, perceive much hardship in the necessity of residence, even though the parish was a parish of clay, in Yorkshire, and out of the world; but the building of the parsonage was certainly quite a different matter, and a grievous burden upon a man whose hands already were full enough. Yet the story of this settlement at Foston is the pleasantest of stories-the cheeriest, brightest, prettiest picture imaginable of a Crusoe family-scene. For ourselves, we turn from all the other triumphs of his life-and all his triumphs, so joyfully achieved, are exhilarating to hear of-to dwell upon this delightful conquest of little ills and vulgar difficulties, of brick and timber, architecture and carpentry, slow village minds, and unaccommodating circumstances. Sydney Smith never met his foes vicariously, but with shout and sound of triumph went forth against them, an host in his own person, taking everything at first hand, and trusting to no deputy. The result was, that his work was done-briskly, well, and with satisfaction to everybody; though, supposing Sydney's successor in this clayey parish to be a medieval man, to whom gables are a point of doctrine, and Gothic porches a necessity, we fear this square box, ugly and comfortable, must have been the good priest's death. It was a home of the brightest to its builder and his family. We will not quote the quaint history, because everybody has quoted it; but of this we are very sure, that the ugly house at Foston, with all its odd contrivances-its Immortal, its Jack Robinson, its feminine butler twelve years old, its good cheer, its comfort, its fun, and all the hospitalities of "the Rector's Head"-are pleasanter and more lasting memorabilia than scores of Plym
ley letters. We know no tale of honest, simple, kindly human interest which has attracted us more.
The visitors at "the Rector's Head" were illustrious people — noble Greys, Carlisles, and Hollands, and a flood of philosophers and literary folk as notable in their way. In this book, however, there are but slender traces of this memorable "run upon the road." We can perceive the visitor's carriage floundering in the ploughed field, but we do not come to any very distinct perception of the visitor. Let us not grumble; the noble Whigs and the philosophic heroes are misty and illegible; but the setting-out of the family chariot, its freight, harness, and history, is as quaint and clear as anything in the Vicar of Wakefield and, to tell you the truth, by no means unlike the same.
From Foston our hero, now the author of Peter Plymley's Letters, comes to greater preferment, and is advanced to Combe Florey, his vale of flowers-strange type of human successes at a time when grievous trouble had come upon this happyhearted man-the loss of his eldest son; and from this period his course is all prosperous. He does not, it is true, get his bishopric, but he is Canon of St Paul's-is able to spend a good deal of time in his beloved London-keeps up his high reputation in the world of wit and intelligence-and finally grows rich as he grows an old man. Sorrowful is this period of old age; and even the wit of Sydney Smith cannot veil the sadness of that mournful time, when death after death breaks up the original circle-when children are gone out of the parental house, and friends vanish out of the social world. Strangest of all human desires is that universal desire to live long. How melancholy is the ending of every record of a lengthened life! It is grievous to linger upon the tale of weaknesses and sorrows. Surely this art of biography ought to be one of the weightiest of moral teachers; for even such a joyous heart as this, though everywhere it finds relief and compensation, does not escape from that lengthened sojourn in the valley of the shadow. Earl Grey, his old political leader, was upon his
last sick-bed when Sydney Smith, too weak to bear even the thanks of a grateful man whom he was not too weak to serve, made an end of his benevolent and upright days; and messages of mutual sympathy and good wishes passed between these two, who had wished each other well in other and more exciting warfares. So, after a long day of manly work and honest exertion, one of the cheeriest and most courageous of lives came to its conclusion. His contemporaries had been falling around him for years his brother died immediately after his friend Jeffrey did not long survive him. They are now almost all gone, these old men, who were once such eloquent and daring leaders of the impetuous genius of youth. The Edinburgh Review has fallen into respectable matronhood, and no longer shivers a sparkling lance upon the powers that be. So wears the world away.
We cannot venture to stray into those painful and elaborate definitions of wit, which so many people seem constrained to enter upon at the very name of Sydney Smith. To our humble thinking, there is an undiscriminated region of fun, a lesser and lower world than that in which Wit and Humour contend for the kingship, to which many of his triumphs belong. We do not disparage his claims as a wit; we do not deny to him that more tender and delicate touch of sentiment and kindness which seems to us the distinguishing characteristic of the humourist; we acknowledge the acute edge of his satire, and the sweeter power of that joyous ridicule which did not aim at giving pain, but dealt with its victim as old Izaak dealt with his frog,
as if he loved it." But the general atmosphere through which this occasional flash breaks out so brilliantly, is an atmosphere of genial and spontaneous mirth, a universal suffusion of fun and high spirits, bright and natural and unoppressive. After all, many of Sydney Smith's recorded witticisms are not particularly witty; yet it is perfectly easy to understand how, from his own lips, and in the general current of his own joyous talk, they must once have been irresistible. These
felicitous absurdities will not be judged by the rule and line of criticism; they by no means fit into the regulated proportions of orthodox humour. They are not born of a distinct intellectual faculty, nor do they aim at the perfectness of individual and separate productions. Instead of that, they are the mere natural overflowings of natural character, gaiety, and high spirits. We call them wit because we recognise their author as a man from whom wit is to be expected. But who does not know that wide happy atmosphere of fun which brightens many household circle where nobody pretends to be witty-who does not know how contagious and irresistible is this humbler influence, and how it catches up and inspires the common talk of all our pleasant meetings, giving to almost every family a little fund of odd or merry sayings-not witty, yet the source of unfailing mirthfulness? An acknowledged wit is a man to be pitied; and there is no more woeful position in society than that of one who, when he opens his lips, be it to speak the most commonplace, sees everybody around him preparing for laughter. We can perceive a little of this dire necessity even in Sydney Smith. No doubt, it was whimsical and odd and pleasant to hear a merry voice giving such a quaint order as that to " glorify the room"-yet we are afraid, by-andby, when people came to hear it every morning, that some indifferent member of the family circle must have been disposed to shout forth the commonplace injunction, "Draw up the blinds!" to the forestalment of Sydney. But the broad lower atmosphere of fun was full about this genial and gifted man. He speaks nonsense with the most admirable success. Nonsense is a very important ingredient in the conversation of all circles which are, or have a right to be, called brilliant. It is often an appropriate surrounding medium, through which wit may flash and play; but it is not wit, let us name it ever so arbitrarily; and for our own part, we frankly confess that an hour of common and simple fun, with one morsel of genuine wit in it
an unexpected sparkle-is much more pleasant in our eyes than an
hour hard pressed with sharp and brilliant witticisms, be they the very perfection of the article-the best that can be made. But we distinctly object to confound together these two separate and differing things. We say this, not in depreciation of the acknowledged wit of our hero, but because his biographer pauses gravely at several periods of this Memoir, to give examples of the "slow perception of humour" evidenced by various people, who did not understand the happy extravagances of Sydney. We do not always agree with Lady Holland in her estimate of her father's witticisms Here is one of her instances:
"Miss 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."
Now this is very funny, but everybody must perceive at a glance that it is neither wit nor humour, properly so called; it is pure nonsense, gay and extravagant, and in reality requires a dull understanding, receiving it in the mere literal meaning of the words, to bring out and heighten its effect. The "sayings" of this book, indeed, are by no means up to the reputation of the speaker; they are often heavily told, and sometimes in themselves far from striking. But it does not appear that the wit of Sydney Smith was of a kind to evaporate in sayings; it was not so much a thing as an atmosphere an envelopment of mirth and sunshine, in which the whole man moved and spoke.
It is not easy to mark out and discriminate the intellectual character of a man like this; for there are few men so undividable-few with whom the ordinary separation of mental and physical is so complete an impossibility. He is one whole individual person, honest and genuine in all his appearances, and entirely transcending as a man, in natural force and influence, anything that can be said of him in any special
character as author, politician, or wit. To our own thinking, Sydney Smith is a complete impersonation of English breadth, manliness, and reality. He is no diver into things unseen, nor has he a strong wing skyward; but he walks upon the resounding earth with a sturdy tread, and has the clearest and most healthful perception of all the actual duties. and common principles of life. This strong realisation of good and evil, according to the ordinary conditions of humanity-actual, present, visible benefit or disadvantage seems the most marked feature of at least his political writings. The Plymley Letters, for instance, never touch upon the soul of the question they discuss. So far as they go, they are admirably clear and pointed-a distinct and powerful exposition of all the phases of expediency; but there they pause, and go no farther. The argument touches only things external, inducements and consequences. These are stated so forcibly and clearly that we do not wonder at their immediate effect and popularity; for the common mind is easily swayed by reasoning of this practical and tangible description, and it is impossible to misunderstand so undeniable a statement of advantage and disadvantage. But the grand principles on either side of the question-the old lofty notion of a Christian nation, and the duty it owed to God, on the one hand, and the rights of conscience and individual belief upon the other-find no place in the plea. Our native Scottish tendency to consider things "in the abstract" was a favourite subject of Sydney's gleeful and kindly ridicule. It is the last temptation in the world to which he himself was like to yield; and indeed it is remarkable to note his entire want of this northern foible his strong English bias to the practical and evident. He has no idea of throwing the whole weight of his cause upon a mere theoretic right and wrong. His first step is to intrench and fortify his position-to build himself round with a Torres Vedras of realities, distinct to touch and vision; and while a preacher of another mind solemnly denounces what is wrong, it is his business to show you what is foolish-to point out the spot where