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"Oh!" said Sydney Smith, "never mind; I'm sure that her Ladyship will be delighted to see our young friend: the weather's uncommonly hot, and you can say that you have brought with you the cool of the evening."
"I HOPE, my friend,” he said, kindly, to a brilliant young man, who had freely exhibited his opinions to the company, on a variety of subjects, "that you will know as much ten years hence as you do now!"
SMITH is reported to have have said of Dr. Whewell, of Cambridge, whose universality in authorship is one of the marvels of the time, that omniscience was his forte, and science his foible.
SITTING by a brother clergyman at dinner, he afterward remarked, that his dull neighbour had a twelve-parson power of conversation.
THERE are three things which every man fancies he can do— farm a small property, drive a gig, and write an article for a review.
AT a church conference on the expediency of securing the new street pavement of wooden blocks, he gave it as his opinion that the thing might be accomplished if the vestry would lay their heads together.
If men (writes Smith) are to be fools, it were better that they were fools in little matters than in great: dullness, turned up with temerity, is a livery all the worse for the facings; and the most tremendous of all things is a magnanimous dunce.
On one occasion, when some London visitors were expected, he called in art to aid nature, and caused oranges to be tied to the shrubs in the drive and garden. The stratagem succeeded admirably, and great was his exultation when an unlucky urchin from the village was detected in the act of sucking one through a quill. It was as good, he said, as the birds pecking at Zeuxis' grapes, or the donkeys munching Jeffrey's supposed myrtles for thistles. Another time, on a lady's happening to hint that the pretty paddock would be improved by deer, he fitted his two donkeys with antlers, and placed them with their extraordinary headgear immediately in front of the windows. The effect, enhanced by the puzzled looks of the animals, was ludicrous in the extreme.
But in his most frolicsome moods, he never practised what is called practical joking, agreeing in opinion on this topic with the late Marquis of Hertford, who checked a party of ingenious tormentors at Sudbourn with the remark, that the human mind was various, and that there was no knowing how much melted butter a gentleman would bear in his pocket without quarreling. There was one practical joke, however, which Sydney admitted he should like to see repeated, if only as an experiment in physics and metaphysics. It was the one played off in the last century on a Mr. O'Brien, whose bedroom windows were carefully boarded up, so that not a ray of light could penetrate. When he rang his bell in the morning, a servant appeared, half dressed and yawning with a candle, and anxiously asked if he was ill. Ashamed of the fancied irregularity, the patient recomposed himself to sleep, but at the end of a couple of hours rang again, and again the same pantomime was enacted. "Open the shutters." They were opened, and all without was as dark as a wolf's mouth. He was kept in bed till driven to desperation by hunger, when rushing out upon the landing-place, he found that he had only just time to dress for a late dinner.
In an argument with a serious baronet, who objected to clerical sporting in the abstract, he stood up for angling. "I give up fly
This and the five following paragraphs are from an article on Sydney Smith in the Edinburgh, Review, July, 1855.
fishing: it is a light, volatile, dissipated pursuit. But ground-bait, with a good steady float that never bobs without a bite, is an occupation for a bishop, and in no ways interferes with sermon-making.” He once discovered some tench in a pond at Sandhill Park (a seat of the Lethbridges close to Combe Florey) and kept the secret till he had caught every one of them (an exploit requiring several days), when he loudly triumphed over the fisherman of the family. Writing to Lady Grey, he says: "his [John Grey's] refusal of the living of Sunbury convinces me that he is not fond of gudgeon-fishing. I had figured to myself, you and Lord Grey, and myself, engaged in that occupation upon the river Thames."
"Eloquence," says Bolingbroke, "must flow like a stream that is fed by an abundant spring, and not sprout forth a little frothy water on some gaudy day, and remain dry the rest of the year.” So must humour, and Sydney Smith's was so fed; yet it was seldom overpowering, and never exhausting, except by the prolonged fits of laughter which it provoked. Although in one of his letters already quoted he calls himself a diner-out, he had none of the prescriptive attributes of that now happily almost extinct tribe. He had no notion of talking for display. He talked because he could not help it; because his spirits were excited, and his mind was full. He consciously or unconsciously, too, abided by Lord Chesterfield's rule, "Pay your own reckoning, but do not treat the whole company; This being one of the very few cases in which people do not care to be treated, every one being fully convinced that he has wherewithal to pay." His favourite maxim (copied from Swift) was "Take as many half-minutes as you can get, but never talk more than half a minute without pausing and giving others an opportunity to strike in." He vowed that Buchon, a clever and amiable man of letters, who talked on the opposite principle, was the identical Frenchman who murmured as he was anxiously watching a rival, "S'il crache ou tousse, il est perdu." Far from being jealous of competition, he was always anxious to dine in company with men who were able and entitled to hold their own; and he was never pleasanter than when some guest of cot
genial turn of mind assisted him to keep up the ball. On the occasion of the first attempt to bring him and Theodore Hook together, the late Mr. Lockhart arrived with the information, that Hook was priming himself (as was his wont), at the Athenæum Club, with a tumbler or two of hot punch. "Oh," exclaimed Sydney, "if it comes to that, let us start fair. When Mr. Hook is announced, announce Mr. Smith's Punch." When they did meet, they contracted a mutual liking, and Sydney ran on with his usual flow and felicity; but poor Hook had arrived at that period of his life when his wonderful powers required a greater amount of stimulants than could be decently imbibed at an ordinary London dinner with a clergyman.
A SCOTCH GARDENER.
WHEN he stopped to give directions to his servants or labourers he was well worth listening to. On it being pointed out to him that his gardener was tearing off too many of the leaves of a vine, he told him to desist. The man, a Scotchman, looked unconvinced. "Now, understand me," he continued; "you are probably right, but I don't wish you to do what is right; and as it is my vine, and there are no moral laws for pruning, you may as well do as I wish."
SIR HENRY HOLLAND's high authority is adduced in favour of Sydney's medical knowledge; but we have our doubts whether the health of either Foston or Combe Florey was improved by the indulgence of his hobby in this particular. A composition of bluepill which he was glad to "dart into the intestines" of any luckless wight whom he could induce to swallow it, sometimes operated in a manner which he had not anticipated. One morning, at Combe Florey, a regular practitioner from Taunton, who had been going his weekly round and was considerately employed to overlook the serious cases, came in with rather a long face, and stated that an elderly woman, who had been taking the pill during several consecutive nights for the lumbago, complained that her gums were sore, and he therefore advised the discontinuance of it. A London
visitor, who had tried it once, began to titter; and Sydney, after attempting a weak apology for his practice, heartily joined in the laugh, exclaiming: "What a story you will make of this, when you next breakfast with Rogers, and how he and Luttrell will triumph in it!"
A BISHOP'S COURTSHIP.
SOME one asked if the Bishop of was going to marry. "Perhaps he may-yet how can a bishop marry? How can he flirt? The most he can say is, 'I will see you in the vestry after service.""
Ir is an atrocious way of paying the clergy. The custom of tithe in kind will seem incredible to our posterity; no one will believe in the ramiferous priest officiating in the cornfield.
WE naturally lose illusions as we get older, like teeth; but there is no Cartwright to fit a new set into our understandings. I have, alas! only one illusion left, and that is the Archbishop of Canterbury.