Oldalképek
PDF
ePub
[blocks in formation]

centre, a large chest, forming a table, and divided into compartments for soap, candles, salt, and sugar.

"Here you see,' said he, 'every human want before you :—

"Man wants but little here below,

As beef, veal, mutton, pork, lamb, venison show ;'

spreading out his arms to exhibit everything, and laughing."

Sydney Smith wrote a great deal about prisons and prisoners, crimes and penalties, and justice's justice. It is of positive value that we have this account of his own management in matters of rural police as a Justice of the Peace:

"He set vigorously to work to study Blackstone, and made himself master of as much law as possible, instead of blundering on, as many of his neighbours were content to do. Partly by this knowledge, partly by his good-humour, he gained a considerable influence in the quorum, which used to meet once a fortnight at the little inn, called the Lobster-house; and the people used to say they were going to get a little of Mr. Smith's lobster-sauce.' By dint of his powerful voice, and a little wooden hammer, he prevailed on Bob and Betty to speak one at a time; he always tried, and often succeeded, in turning foes into friends. Having a horror of the Game laws, then in full force, and knowing, as he states in his speech on the Reform Bill, that for every ten pheasants which fluttered in the wood one English peasant was rotting in jail, he was always secretly on the side of the poacher (much to the indignation of his fellow-magistrates, who in a poacher saw a monster of iniquity), and always contrived, if possible, to let him escape, rather than commit him to jail, with the certainty of his returning to the world an accomplished villain. He endeavoured to avoid exercising his function as magistrate in his own village when possible, as he wished to be at peace with all his parishioners.

"Young delinquents he never could bear to commit; but read them a severe lecture, and in extreme cases called out, 'John,

[blocks in formation]

bring me my private gallows! which infallibly brought the little urchins weeping on their knees, and, 'Oh! for God's sake, your honour, pray forgive us!' and his honour used graciously to pardon them for this time, and delay the arrival of the private gallows, and seldom had occasion to repeat the threat."

Such was the life at Foston, the poverty of a scholar and a country clergyman, supported by self-respect. His independence led him to make many sacrifices, but he had no hesitation in honourably accepting a favour. He received a hundred a year from his brother Robert, to support his son Douglas at Westminster school; but "Aunt Mary," an old lady, dying not long after, and unexpectedly leaving him a moderate legacy, he at once released his brother from the obligation.† Other accessions of prosperity followed, those affluent rills which the river is sure to meet with if its course be long continued. The neighbouring living of Londesborough, vacant for a short time, was added to his resources by the Earl of Carlisle, in 1825, which enabled him to visit Paris the next year.

The three weeks' journey, as it is recorded in daily letters to Mrs. Sydney Smith, supplies one of the most delightful and amusing portions of his always profitable and entertaining correspondence. It is full of the novelty, the gusto and enjoyment of the Englishman's or American's first pleasant impressions of the Continent, when everything appears gayer, brighter, better than ever before, and the senses are feasted by the brilliant theatrical display. Sydney Smith had a happy temperment, never above being surprised and delighted. From the moment of his crossing the channel his latent Gallic blood is all of a tingle. Calais is full of fine sensations. The bedroom at Dessein's is superb, and so is *Lady Holland's Memoir, p. 150.

To the Countess Grey, Foston, Nov. 21, 1821 :-"An old aunt has died and left me an estate in London; this puts me a little at my case, and will, in some degree save me from the hitherto necessary, but unpleasant practice of making sixpence perform the functions and assume the importance of a shilling.

"Part of my little estate is the Guildhall Coffee-house, in King street, Cheapside. I mean to give a ball there. Will you come?"

[blocks in formation]

the dinner. "I wish you could see me," he writes, with a husband's and a child's delight, to Mrs. Sydney, "with my wood fire and my little bed-room and fine sitting-room." The streets please him "exceedingly." Calais "is quite another world, and full of the greatest entertainment." As for the propriety and civility of the people, "I have not seen," he says, "a cobbler who is not better bred than an English gentleman." Everything is better than in England. The tea is better, the cookery "admirable;" and after a day's surfeit on the raree show, he throws himself to profound slumber "on a charming bed." One thing only is wanting-the presence of Mrs. Sydney and the family. They are well remembered. "You shall all see France; I am resolved upon that;" and again, "I most sincerely hope, one day or another, to conduct you all over it; the thought of doing so is one of my greatest pleasures in travelling." Paris, at which he arrives in a day or two, is great, but perhaps not quite equal to Calais. Under the influence of those rose-coloured first impressions, a hovel at the seaboard rivals a palace at Versailles, and a signboard a masterpiece at the Louvre. How many thousand Americans have been so overcome, on arriving at Havre, after a sea-voyage, by the raree show, and how human, caustic, witty, Sydney Smith appears in writing down all this nonsensical delusion—this capital trick of the Gallic puppets and scenery. At Paris we see the same process. Sydney takes lodgings in the Rue St. Honoré:-"My sitting-room is superb; my bed-room, close to it, very good; there is a balcony which looks upon the street. I am exceedingly pleased with everything I have seen at the hotel, and it will be, I think, [to Mrs. Sydney] here we shall lodge." Rather too fast this. The next letter has an amendment, with an apology for undue haste in locating the future air-castle-"of course, my opinions, from my imperfect information, are likely to change every day; but at present I am inclined to think that I ought to have gone, and that we will go, to the Boulevards." Then comes a course of dinners, under the auspices of the Holland family; talk, gossip, and visits. The

*

[blocks in formation]

wonder becomes less wonderful, and admiration, still kept up, is here and there chilled by criticism. First impressions need revision. A confession of the dinner table has a wider application out-of-doors than its admirable individual lessons within. "I dined with Lord Holland; there was at table Barras, the Ex-Director, in whose countenance I immediately discovered all the signs of blood and cruelty which distinguished his conduct. I found out, however, at the end of dinner, that it was not Barras, but M. de Barente, an historian and man of letters, who, I believe, has never killed anything greater than a flea." Sir Sidney Smith, the Admiral, was then in Paris, and there is some pleasant confusion between the two celebrities. The clerical Sydney meets Talleyrand, Humboldt and Cuvier; sees Mars and Talma at the theatre, attends the opera; finds Charles X. growing very old since he dined with him at the Duke of Buccleugh's, in Scotland, and acting very foolishly in his government, which leads to the prophecy, soon to be fulfilled, that "if this man lives, another revolution is inevitable." The local pictures are exquisite. "It is curious to see in what little apartments a French savant lives; you find him at his books, covered with snuff, with a little dog that bites your legs." "The Parisians are very fond of adorning their public fountains: sometimes water pours forth from a rock, sometimes trickles from the jaws of a serpent. The dull and prosaic English turn a brass cock or pull out a plug. What a nation!" He finally leaves France, having purchased for himself the coat-of-arms of a French peer, on a seal, which took his fancy, as he professed, for family use,* a “Cuisinier Bourgeois," and some rolls of French paper, to

* Smith was fond of joking on this subject, as on all others, for that matter. Lady Holland has the following anecdote of Combe Florey, some years later:-"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.'”

[blocks in formation]

add a cheap magnificence to the humble Foston. So closed this charming episode in the life of the north country Rector. It may be here added that Sydney Smith did carry out his good intention of taking Mrs. Sydney to Paris. The visit came off in the autumn of 1835. Dessein's hotel, at Calais, was still magnificent; Rouen afforded a glowing sensation; gentlemen and ladies in blouses and caps were as common on the streets as before; the cookery of Paris had a nicer appreciation from a palate which had been much cultivated by London dinners in the interval:-"I shall not easily," he writes to Lady Grey, "forget a matelote at the Rocher de Cancale and almond tart at Montreuil, or a poulet a la Tartare, at Grignon's. These are impressions which no change in future life can obliterate."* Sydney Smith crossed the channel once more in 1837, to visit Holland, but the gout was then the companion of his journey, and the rose-coloured atmosphere had vanished. Worldly prosperity had advanced, but youth had receded.

In the beginning of 1828, his youngest daughter was married at York, and in the same month of January, he received the prebendal stall at Bristol, intelligence of which was gracefully communicated to him by Lady Lyndhurst. Thither he at once removed, and inaugurated his labours by preaching a sermon before the startled mayor and corporation, in the Cathedral, on the fifth of November, Guy Faux's day, in support of religious toleration, particularly in reference to the Catholics.†

*Sydney Smith was not an epicure, in the vulgar sense of the word; but he was undoubtedly something of the gourmet. He knew the value of flavours and sauces to life. He seasoned his curate's dish of potatoes, on Salisbury Plain, with ketchup; studied, as we see, the mysteries of taste in Paris, and on one occasion (recorded by Dyce, in the Table Talk of Rogers) rose in a bravura of fancy to the declaration that "his idea of heaven was eating foie gras to the sound of trumpets!" Smith wrote well on temperance, and practised it. Fine sayings like these, however, the immortal salad receipt, and records of innumerable "dinings out," in the Memoirs and Letters, will render his memory fragrant in the traditions of gastronomy.

↑ He thus mentions it in a letter to Lord Holland, Bristol, Nov. 5, 1828 :"MY DEAR LORD HOLLAND, To-day I have preached an honest sermon [5th

« ElőzőTovább »