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Occasionally he took fits of an opposite nature; and I have seen him abating and dissolving pompous gentlemen with the most successful ridicule. He certainly had a good deal of humour; and I remember, amongst many other examples of it, that he kept us for two or three hours in a roar of laughter, at a dinner-party at his own house, playing upon the simplicity of a Scotch cousin, who had mistaken me for my gallant synonym, the hero of Acre. I never saw a more perfect comedy, nor heard ridicule so long and so well sustained.* Sir James had not only humour, but he had wit also; at least, new and sudden relations of ideas flashed across his mind in reasoning, and produced the same effect as wit, and would have been called wit, if a sense of their utility and im
"I can not conclude, sir, without thanking you for the very clear and distinct manner in which you have announced the proposition on which we are to vote. It is but common justice to add that public assemblies rarely witness articulation so perfect, language so select, and a manner so eminently remarkable for everything that is kind, impartial, and just.'"
This was in his early days at London, about the year 1807. Lady Holland (Memoir, p. 87) tells the story:
"It was on occasion of one of these suppers that Sir James Mackintosh happened to bring with him a raw Scotch cousin, an ensign in a Highland regiment. On hearing the name of his host he suddenly turned round, and, nudging Sir James, said in an audible whisper, 'Is that the great Sir Sudney?' 'Yes, yes,' said Sir James, much amused; and giving my father the hint, on the instant he assumed the military character, performed the part of the hero of Acre to perfection, fought all his battles over again, and showed how he had charged the Turks, to the infinite delight of the young Scotchman, who was quite enchanted' with the kindness and condescension of the great Sir Sudney,' as he called him, and to the absolute torture of the other guests, who were bursting with suppressed laughter at the scene before them. At last, after an evening of the most inimitable acting on the part both of my father and Sir James, nothing would serve the young Highlander but setting off, at twelve o'clock at night, to fetch the piper of his regiment to pipe to the great Sir Sudney,' who said he had never heard the bagpipes, upon which the whole party broke up and dispersed instantly, for Sir James said his Scotch cousin would infallibly cut his throat if he discovered his mistake. A few days afterward, when Sir James Mackintosh and his Scotch cousin were walking in the streets, they met my father with my mother on his arm. He introduced her as his wife, upon which the Scotch cousin said in a low voice to Sir James, and looking at my mother, 'I did na ken the great Sir Sudney was married.' 'Why, no,' said Sir James, a little embarrassed and winking at him, 'not ex-act-ly married-only an Egyptian slave he brought over with him; Fatima-you know-you understand.' My mother was long known in the little circle as Fatima."
portance had not often overpowered the admiration of novelty, and entitled them to the higher name of wisdom. Then the great thoughts and fine sayings of the great men of all ages were intimately present to his recollection, and came out. dazzling and delighting in his conversation. Justness of thinking was a strong feature in his understanding; he had a head in which nonsense and error could hardly vegetate: it was a soil utterly unfit for them. If his display in conversation had been only in maintaining splendid paradoxes, he would soon have wearied those he lived with; but no man could live long intimately with your father without finding that he was gaining upon doubt, correcting error, enlarging the boundaries, and strengthening the foundations of truth. It was worth while to listen to a master, whom not himself, but nature had appointed to the office, and who taught what it was not easy to forget, by methods which it was not easy to resist.*
Curran, the master of the rolls, said to Mr. Grattan, "You would be the greatest man of your age, Grattan, if you would buy a few yards of red tape, and tie up your bills and papers." This was the fault or misfortune of your excellent father; he never knew the use of red tape, and was utterly unfit for the common business of life.† That a guinea represented a quantity of shil
* In 1801 Smith wrote to Jeffrey: "Nothing has pleased me more in London than the conversation of Mackintosh. I never saw so theoretical a head which contained so much practical understanding. He has lived much among various men, with great observation, and has always tried his profound moral speculations by the experience of life. He has not contracted in the world a lazy contempt for theorists nor in the closet a peevish impatience of that grossness and corruptibility of mankind, which are ever marring the schemes of secluded benevolence. He does not wish for the best in politics or morals, but for the best which can be attained; and what that is he seems to know well. Now what I object to Scotch philosophers in general is, that they reason upon man as they would upon a divinity; they pursue truth without caring if it be useful truth. They are more fond of disputing on mind and matter than on anything which can have a reference to the real world, inhabited by real men, women, and children; a philosopher that descends to the present state of things is debased in their estimation. Look among our friends in Edinburgh, and see if there be not some truth in this. I do not speak of great prominent literary personages, but of the mass of reflecting men in Scotland."
Smith, writing to the Countess Grey of Mackintosh's visit to Foston in 1823, says of his guest: "Mackintosh had seventy volumes in his
lings, and that it would barter for a quantity of cloth, he was well aware; but the accurate number of the baser coin, or the just measurement of the manufactured article, to which he was entitled for his gold, he could never learn, and it was impossible to teach him. Hence his life was often an example of the ancient and melancholy struggle of genius, with the difficulties of existence.
I have often heard Sir James Mackintosh say of himself, that he was born to be the professor of a university. Happy, and for ages celebrated, would have been the university, which had so possessed him, but in this view he was unjust to himself. Still, however, his style of speaking in Parliament was certainly more academic than forensic; it was not sufficiently short and quick for a busy and impatient assembly. He often spoke over the heads of his hearers-was too much in advance of feeling for their sympathies, and of reasoning for their comprehension. He began too much at the beginning, and went too much to the right and left of the question, making rather a lecture or a dissertation than a speech. His voice was bad and nasal; and though nobody was in reality more sincere, he seemed not only not to feel, but hardly to think what he was saying.
Your father had very little science, and no great knowledge of physics. His notions of his early pursuit-the study of medicine
were imperfect and antiquated, and he was but an indifferent classical scholar, for the Greek language has never crossed the Tweed in any great force. In history the whole stream of time was open before him; he had looked into every moral and metaphysical question from Plato to Paley, and had waded through morasses of international law, where the step of no living man could follow him. Political economy is of modern invention; I am old enough to recollect when every judge on the bench (Lord Eldon and Sergeant Runnington excepted), in their charges to the grand juries, attributed the then high prices of corn to the scandalous combination of farmers. Sir James knew what is commonly agreed upon by political economists, without taking much pleasure in the science, and with a disposition to blame the very speculative and metaphysical disquisitions into which it has carriage! None of the glasses would draw up or let down, but one; and he left his hat behind him at our house."
wandered, but with a full conviction also (which many able men of his standing are without) of the immense importance of the science to the welfare of society.
I think (though, perhaps, some of his friends may not agree with me in this opinion) that he was an acute judge of character, and of the good as well as evil in character. He was, in truth, with the appearance of distraction and of one occupied with other things, a very minute observer of human nature; and I have seen him analyze, to the very springs of the heart, men who had not the most distant suspicion of the sharpness of his vision, nor a belief that he could read anything but books.
Sufficient justice has not been done to his political integrity. He was not rich, was from the northern part of the island, possessed great facility of temper, and had therefore every excuse for political lubricity, which that vice (more common in those days than I hope it will ever be again) could possibly require. Invited by every party, upon his arrival from India, he remained steadfast to his old friends the whigs, whose admission to office, or enjoyment of political power, would at that period have been considered as the most visionary of all human speculations; yet, during his lifetime, everybody seemed more ready to have forgiven the tergiversation of which he was not guilty, than to admire the actual firmness he had displayed. With all this he never made the slightest efforts to advance his interests with his political friends, never mentioned his sacrifices nor his services, expressed no resentment at neglect, and was therefore pushed into such situations as fall to the lot of the feeble and delicate in a crowd.
A high merit in Sir James Mackintosh was his real and unaffected philanthropy. He did not make the improvement of the great mass of mankind an engine of popularity, and a steppingstone to power, but he had a genuine love of human happiness. 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 at 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 his cable, and spread his enormous canvass and launch into a wide sea of reasoning eloquence.
But though easily warmed by great schemes of benevolence and human improvement, his manner was cold to individuals. There was an apparent want of heartiness and cordiality. It seemed as if he had more affection for the species than for the ingredients of which it was composed. He was in reality very hospitable, and so fond of company, that he was hardly happy out of it; but he did not receive his friends with that honest joy which warms more than dinner or wine.*
This is the good and evil of your father which comes uppermost. If he had been arrogant and grasping; if he had been faithless and false; if he had always been eager to strangle infant genius in its cradle; always ready to betray and to blacken those with whom he sat at meat; he would have passed many men, who, in the course of his long life, have passed him; but, without selling his soul for pottage, if he only had had a little more prudence for the promotion of his interests, and more of angry passions for the punishment of those detractors who envied his fame and presumed upon his sweetness; if he had been more aware of his powers, and of that space which nature intended him to occupy: he would have acted a great part in life, and remained a character in history. As it is, he has left, in many of the best men in England, and of the continent, the deepest admiration of his talents, his wisdom, his knowledge, and his benevolence. I remain, my dear sir, very truly yours,
*In reference to this passage a Quarterly reviewer remarked: "Mr. Sydney Smith is remarkable for the quality he describes as wanting in Mackintosh; and to have passed a day at Combe Florey, the paragon of parsonages, is an epoch in the life of any man." (Quar. Rev., Feb., 1836.)