opinions upon political subjects a little too liberal for the dynasty of Dundas, then exercising supreme power over the northern division of the island.

"One day we happened to meet in the eighth or ninth story or flat in Buccleugh-place, the elevated residence of the then Mr. Jeffrey. I proposed that we should set up a Review; this was acceded to with acclamation. I was appointed editor, and remained long enough in Edinburgh to edit the first number of the Edinburgh Review. The motto I proposed for the review was,

“Tenui musam meditamur avena.'

"We cultivate literature upon a little oatmeal.'

But this was too near the truth to be admitted, and so we took our present grave motto from Publius Syrus, of whom none of us had, I am sure, ever read a single line; and so began what has since turned out to be a very important and able journal."*

Jeffrey wrote a more circumstantial account of the origin of the Review, in a letter to Mr. Robert Chambers, which corroborates this statement. It was not, however, quite the extempore undertaking which might be inferred from the language in which Sydney Smith lightly speaks of his apparently off-hand proposition. There were "serious consultations" about it, we are told by Jeffrey, which "were attended by Sydney Smith, Horner, Dr. Thomas Brown, Lord Murray, and some of them, also by Lord Webb Seymour, Dr. John Thomson and Thomas Thomson." Smith and Jeffrey were the leaders of the set; they had the best capacity for, and took the largest share in, the enterprise, and it was probably due to the superior hopefulness of the former, united with his constitutional energy, that the work was undertaken at all. Jeffrey, whose habit of mind was to be, as his biographer, Lord Cockburn, has given the description, "generally in a state of lively, argumentative despair," croaked dismally over the affair, before the

Preface to Works of the Rev. Sydney Smith. Longmans, 1839.

[blocks in formation]

first number was out of the press-room. Sydney, through all difficulties, seems to have held to the opinion, that if conducted fairly and with discretion the success was certain.

[ocr errors]

When Jeffrey collected his Contributions to the Review for publication in 1844, he dedicated them to Sydney Smith, as "the original projector of the Edinburgh Review." To Jeffrey who brought considerable experience as a trained reviewer to the work, belongs the honour of having written the first article-a discussion of the share borne by the French philosophers in producing their great national Revolution -thus striking at once into the main question of the troubled times. For thirty-eight years he continued to contribute to it compositions, distinguished at once by subtlety and enthusiasm; opening to the public stores of acute, philosophical thinking; and widening this influence by disclosing novel methods of criticism and historical description, for a new school of writers. He was the prince of modern reviewers; full, ready, ingenious, expert, rational and eloquent. Readers of the present day owe him a monument for originating and developing

*There is a letter from Jeffrey to Horner, giving a lively account of the various dispositions of the parties to the undertaking, dated April, 1802; the Review appearing the following November: "We are in a miserable state of backwardness, you must know, and have been giving some symptoms of despondency. . . . . Something is done, however, and a good deal, I hope, is doing. Smith has gone through more than half his task. So has Hamilton (Alexander, afterward Professor of Sanscrit at Hayleybury). Allen has made some progress: and Murray (John A., afterward Lord Murray) and myself, I believe, have studied our parts, and tuned our instruments; and are almost ready to begin. On the other hand Thomson (Dr. John) is sick. Brown (Dr. Thomas, the metaphysician) has engaged for nothing but Miss Baillie's Plays; and Timothy (Thomas Thomson, the lawyer) has engaged for nothing, but professed it to be his opinion, the other day, that he would never put pen to paper in our cause. Brougham must have a sentence to himself; and I am afraid you will not think it a pleasant one. You remember how cheerfully he approved of our plan at first, and agreed to give us an article or two without hesitation. Three or four days ago I proposed two or three books that I thought would suit him; he answered, with perfect good humour, that he had changed his view of our plan a little, and rather thought, now, that he should decline to have any connection with it."-Horner's Correspondence, i. 186.



that intellectual luxury, the speculative, appreciative, picturesque Article-a profound and entertaining compound of metaphysics, biography, history and criticism of the highest gusto.

The momentum of Jeffrey increased as he proceeded, his treatment growing more easy, varied and commanding; Smith struck his peculiar vein at the outset. The latter wrote seven articles for the

first number of the Edinburgh. His first paragraph was a famous description of Dr. Parr's wig, humourously turned into a quiz on the arrangement of his text and notes. A few pages further on he despatched, in two or three sentences of witty drollery, an Anniversary Sermon before the Humane Society, by a Doctor in Divinity. There are also some grave words of counsel administered to Dr. Rennell, Master of the Temple, for his aptness "to put on the appearance of a holy bully, an evangelical swaggerer, as if he could carry his point against infidelity by big words and strong abuse, and kick and cuff men into Christians." A Mr. John Bowles is also pungently rebuked for his vulgar style of writing on the affairs of France. In fine, there is proof in this very first number, of that moral courage, and of most of those brilliant powers of thought and expression which, for nearly half a century after, were the delight of Smith's intimates among the brightest and most cultivated men of England. His style appears to have been fully formed: nor is it any marvel, as, with the favourable natural disposition which he inherited, he had been a precocious youth in his studies; had been well disciplined at Oxford; since sluggish fortune had afforded him opportunity for meditation on the silent desert of Salisbury Plain, and the habit of teaching had brought all his faculties promptly to the surface; and he had, moreover, enjoyed, for several years, the sharp contests of the Edinburgh wits, to give the keenest edge to his understanding. In October, 1802, the date of the first publication of the Edinburgh Review, he was in his thirty-second year, a mature age for his work. His contributions to the first three volumes were numerous; they were then intermitted, for a time, till they were



vigorously resumed in 1807, and continued, with little interruption, for the next twenty years. There were occasional conflicts between Sydney's humourous style and the editor's more sober judgment; but, happily for the Review, and for posterity, the wit had pretty much his own way, in spite of the snubbing. "I think," Smith writes, in 1807, to Jeffrey, "you have spoilt many of my jokes ;" and we find the humourist, even after he had established a reputation, restricted "on the subject of raillery."*

The prospects of the Review did not, at the outset, promise a fortune to the contributors and projectors. Indeed, at the commencement, the literary services rendered to it were voluntary and unpaid. It was only after some consideration, and the abandonment of false notions on the subject, that it was found essential to establish the work on a sound mercantile basis, with a paid editor, and paid writers. In this period of indecision, with the purse held aloof, and with the fortunes of the Review yet to make, Sydney Smith, whose profitable pupils had now outgrown his services, taking counsel from his wife, resolved to carry his talents to London, as the best mart of intellect and literature, doubtless looking for a bettèr field for his pulpit oratory, with better chances of church promotion than the scant episcopacy of Scotland afforded. He had preached frequently in the Edinburgh chapel, the assistant of its regular occupant, Bishop Sandford, with success, and had published a first collection of "Six Sermons," with a striking preface, commenting freely on the not uncommon lethargy, and other defects of the pulpit. He took with him, from Edinburgh, in addition, a respectable knowledge of medicine, acquired by attending the hospitals-sufficient, at least, to enrich his vocabulary with anatomical and other professional terms, occasionally employed in his writings with felicity; and practical enough to alleviate the imaginary or real ailments of his country parishioners. He became quite fond of the practice in an amateur *Letter to Jeffrey, March 17, 1822.

† Six Sermons. Edinburgh, 1800. 12mo.



way, stirring up wit with his prescriptions, and playing a merry

jingle with his pestle.

Arriving in London, he at first occupied a small house in Doughty street, Russell Square, which he chose, we are told, for the legal society of the neighbourhood. His habits of mind qualified him to enjoy the best points of the profession. Romilly and Mackintosh were among his acquaintances at the time, and he rapidly found his way into the brilliant circle of wits and dinersout who centred about Holland House. The family alliance of his brother facilitated this social connection, which common political views and congenial powers of mind firmly cemented. Among the wits and statesmen who have gathered in those historical halls, sacred to literature and freedom, in the group of Lansdowne, Russell, Horner, Mackintosh, Allen, Sharp, Rogers, Moore, Luttrell, Dudley, and all that gifted race of beings, the figure of Sydney Smith will always be remembered.

But the brilliant young divine had something else to attend to, at this time, besides forming distinguished friendships. A narrow purse had to be expanded and filled, to meet the wants of an increasing family, which now included a son and daughter; Saba (his recent biographer, Lady Holland), born at Edinburgh, and Douglas. He applied himself to his profession, preaching several occasional sermons, one of which, before a company of volunteers when a French invasion seemed imminent, attracted some attention from the public. He was soon recommended by the friendship of Sir Thomas Bernard,* to an evening preachership at the

*This eminent philanthropist was the son of Sir Francis Bernard, the Colonial Governor of New Jersey and Massachusetts. He was an Alumnus of Harvard College, of the class of 1767. Returning to England, he was called to the bar in 1780, by the Society of the Middle Temple. Having become wealthy by marriage, and the practice of his profession, he devoted himself to measures of philanthropy. In 1795, he was elected treasurer of the Foundling Hospital, and adopted Count Rumford's plans for economy in food and fuel. He projected the Society for Bettering the Condition of the Poor, and was one of the originators, in 1799, of the Royal Institution, intended for the "improvement of the means of industry and domestic comfort

« ElőzőTovább »