[blocks in formation]

of comfort, crept steadily on, and in October, 1844, a last attack, an affection of water on the chest, consequent on disease of the heart, seized its victim in the country at Combe Florey. He was removed to town, was attended by his beloved son-in-law, Dr. Holland, and by his nurse, Annie Kay, who had been with him since the old days at Foston. Earl Grey sent him messages of sympathy from his own death-bed. In one of his last hours the wonted fire of the preacher of St. Paul's burst forth in the recitation of a touching and eloquent passage from his sermon on Riches. "One evening," his daughter, Lady Holland, tells us, "when the room was half darkened, and he had been resting long in silence, and I thought him asleep, he suddenly burst forth, in a voice so strong and full that it startled us-'We talk of human life as a journey, but how variously is that journey performed! There are some who come forth girt, and shod, and mantled, to walk on velvet lawns and smooth terraces, where every gale is arrested, and every beam is tempered. There are others who walk on the Alpine path of life, against driving misery, and through stormy sorrows, over sharp afflictions; walk with bare feet, and naked breast, jaded, mangled, and chilled." But these inequalities of life were now over. He had arrived at the common level of mortality. The end had come. He calmly met death the 22d of February, 1845. His remains were laid in the cemetery of Kensal Green. The tomb upon which his epitaph is written has also an inscription to the memory of his son Douglas; and there, too, rests all that was mortal of his wife who soon followed him to the grave.*

In person, Sydney Smith, as he has been described to us by those who knew.. m, was of the medium height; plethoric in habit though of great activity, of a dense brown complexion, a dark ex

* Sydney Smith's personal property was sworn under £80,000. His wife, for whom liberal provision was made, was sole executrix of his will. There was a legacy of £30,000 to his son Wyndham, and his servants were mentioned in several bequests.



pressive eye, an open countenance, indicative of shrewdness, humour, and benevolence. There is a look, too, in the English engraved portraits, of a thoughtful seriousness. A certain heaviness in his figure was neutralized by constitutional vivacity. His 'sense, wit, and clumsiness," said a college companion, gave "the idea of an Athenian carter." He once sat to his friend, Gilbert Stuart Newton, for an abbot, in a painting.


Newton made a portrait of Smith, representing him in the later period of life when all his faculties were mellowed and refined. It was while in attendance upon the artist for this picture, on a warm day, that the wit remarked he would prefer to take off his flesh and sit in his bones !* After Newton's death the portrait was brought to America by his widow. In 1847, a copy was made from it for Captain E. E. Morgan, by Miss Ann Leslie, sister of the well-known artist. Not long after, the original was destroyed by fire. The copy has been kindly lent to us by its owner, and the engraving placed as the frontispiece to the present volume is made after it.

The practical, sound, every-day, working character of Sydney Smith's life, is its greatest lesson. He united in a rare manner

*The jest, a thing not uncommon with humourists, seems to have done duty on another occasion. We have this report of it among various scraps of conversation, in Lady Holland's Memoir (p. 238), with the pleasant addition of Mrs. Jackson's wonderment:

[ocr errors]

Nothing amuses me more than to observe the utter want of perception of a joke in some minds. Mrs. Jackson called the other day, and spoke of the oppressive heat of last week. 'Heat, ma'am !' I said, 'it was so dreadful here, that I found there was nothing left for it but to take off my flesh and sit in my bones.' 'Take off your flesh and sit in your bones, sir! Oh! Mr. Smith! how could you do that?' she exclaimed, with the utmost gravity. 'Nothing more easy, ma'am; come and see next time.' But she ordered her carriage, and evidently thought it a very unorthodox proceeding."

There is another anecdote of Newton's studio. The artist was engaged in painting a portrait of Moore, which the poet took Smith, from a breakfast with Rogers, to see. 'Couldn't you contrive," said Sydney, in his gravest manner to Newton, "to throw into his face somewhat of a stronger expression of hostility to the Church Establishment?" (Moore's Diary, May 27, 1826.)

[blocks in formation]

the virtues of the optimist and the reformer. An ardent devotee of human happiness, he did not destroy life to improve it; nor did he ever cease to oppose evils in the way of its prosperity. While he appears taking his ease in that great inn, the world, enjoying himself and communicating pleasure to others, he is quarrelling with all sorts of injustice in high places; contending for the peasant and the labourer; advocating the rights of accused criminals, with a word for poor chimney-sweeps; reading lessons to squires, parliament men and bishops; battling for religious and political free

He fought a long fight with dullness, pedantry, prejudice, private and political interest, and came off conqueror. His honest laugh rang through the whole field. An instinctive genius, the inspiration of common sense, was his weapon. He had an advantage of position too in favour of his wit and his reforms in fighting under the protection and in defence of the established Church; for the best reformer is not all reformer. He must have some point of support, or how can he wage war with success? Where can he deposit the fruits of victory? There are noisy reformers who cut themselves loose from all positive institutions, and, like the poets' "cats in air-pumps," attempt subsistence in a vacuum. Sydney Smith was not one of these empty whims.

The most genial and conciliatory, he was the most independent of men. His independence was, with his other virtues, of a practical character; alike above obsequiousness, indolence and churlishness. He had a just knowledge of the respect due his faculties and attainments, of his claims upon the society to which he belonged, his party and his church. On proper occasions he asserted them in a manly way; when they were not acknowledged he bore the loss philosophically, and even sported with his misfortunes. There was no misanthropy in his disposition.

In the art of getting on in the world, he was certainly not indifferent to the main chance, while his life affords an illustration of the benevolence of men of moderate means. During a considerable part of his career in narrow circumstances, and compelled to

[blocks in formation]

economy, whether selling his wife's jewels, preaching at chapels, lecturing, reviewing, eking out a curate's humbleness by drafts on humour and imagination, he is constantly doing liberal acts; a man of charity and beneficence; bestowing free-will offerings from a life of self-denial and honourable industry; contributions which a generous nature extorted from a stock almost too small for home necessities.

Independence of opinion and of fortune he valued most highly, and pursued steadily and successfully, the one for the other, the inferior for the superior. In the wisdom of Burns the poet's manly Epistle, he "assiduously waited" upon Fortune and gathered wealth

"Not for to hide it in a hedge,

Nor for a train attendant,
But for the glorious privilege

Of being independent."

He had the courage in a luxurious, artificial society, where weak men are crushed by conventionalisms, of appearing what he was and spending no more than he could afford. An instance of his business punctilio in pecuniary obligations occurs in one of his letters to his early friend Mr. Beach. The latter had a small sum of money left in his hands on settlement with his son's tutor. Mr. Beach credits the account with five per cent. interest. Sydney insists positively that it must be but four, and will be under no obligation for any more.*

His personal independence was shown in many instances during the period of his alliance with a political party out of office; an association unfriendly to his clerical advancement. In a less public light it was exhibited in the manly freedom of his intercourse with his friends. His wit spared none of their absurdities. His letters, frequently models of courtesy and compliment, are always frank and truthful.

This resolute self-possession, though based on brave, natural

*Fourth English edition of the Memoirs, i. 109.

[blocks in formation]

qualities, and developed with freedom, was also an affair of conviction and the will. Bashfulness is one of the last qualities which would be assigned to Sydney Smith, but we read that he was shy even in his early manhood. His acuteness of mind, however, soon corrected the evil. He first discovered, he says, "that all mankind were not solely employed in observing him, as all young people think, and that shamming was of no use, the world being very clear-sighted, and soon estimating a man at his just value. This cured me, and I determined to be natural, and let the world find me out."*

Subsidiary to this personal courage was his hopeful way of looking at the world. He was always practising and inculcating the disposition. "Some very excellent people," he said, "tell you they dare not hope. To me it seems much more impious to dare to despair." He had an excellent rule for the happiness and wisdom of life as to the future, not to look too far into it for inevitable though probably distant disaster. "Take short views, hope for the best, and trust in God."† Inclined by temperament to anticipate coming evils-for our wit, spite of his many jests, was a serious man-he resisted the atrabilious tendency, and avoided drawing drafts on the misery of futurity. "Never," he said, "give way to melancholy; nothing encroaches more: I fight against it vigorously. One great remedy is, to take short views of life. Are you happy now? Are you likely to remain so till this evening? or next week? or next month? or next year? Then why destroy present happiness by a distant misery, which may never come at all, or you may never live to see it? for every substantial grief has twenty shadows, and most of them shadows of your own making." It was said of the happy nature of Oliver Goldsmith that he had a knack at hoping: with Sydney Smith it was a principle. Cheerfulness he made an art. He liked household illuminations of a good English coal fire, "the living thing," he said, "in a dead room," abundance of lights, flowers on his *Mem. i. 77, 324. † Ib. i. 167,


« ElőzőTovább »