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In the midst of all embarrassments, however, Foston was not an unhappy home. The humours of its lord had full play. He was the hero of domestic life, his resources-his kindness, his wit, his personal humour, never failing. Numerous anecdotes of this nature are preserved in the narrative of his daughter-the charm of whose work is its thoroughly woman's picture of the household habits, which, after all, stamp the man. They may be briefly summed up in his art of happiness; his industry, constant self-culture, a curious fondness for the minutiae of the menage, attention to the common duties of life, care of his parishioners, attachment of his servants, and the cement of those noble friendships which brought Horner, Mackintosh, Jeffrey, the Hollands, Rogers, to his hospitable home—an inviting baiting-place for these keen appreciators of wit and good-nature, which he characteristically christened the Rector's Head.
Within doors he made good taste and original management do the work of wealth in promoting comfort. He contrived cheap decorations for his windows, his ceilings, and his fireplaces, ingeniously brightening his fires by a ventilating aperture. His bed-rooms were placarded with unframed prints, full of elevating suggestions. The arrangements of his store-room and apothecary's shop were among the curiosities of the place. Out of doors his management was quite as peculiar. He oddly economized time in farming his acres, by the use of a tremendous speaking trumpet" at his door, with the supplement of a spy-glass, to bring the operations under view. His humanity to his cattle was shown in a way said to have been practised by a Duke of Argyle, in alleviating the distressed cuticles of his irritated tenantry. He set up a skeleton machine in the midst of a field, ingeniously arranged for every four-footed creature to rub against, which he called his Universal Scratcher. He carried his household to church, a mile distant from the parsonage, through the miry clay, more successfully than the family of the Vicar of Wakefield, in the adventure of Blackberry and the pillion, in his old furbished-up carriage, the
Immortal, drawn by his cart-horse in shafts, and guided by the carter on foot. At the barn-like church fifty persons were, on one occasion, probably an average one, present.
The portrait of Bunch, that important portion of the Foston. family, is immortal; a sketch from reality equal to the imagination of Dickens. Mrs. Marcet, the author of the Conversations on Political Economy, an old friend of the host, exhibits her in full play :
"I was coming down stairs one morning, when Mr. Smith suddenly said to Bunch, who was passing, Bunch, do you like roast duck or boiled chicken?' Bunch had probably never tasted either the one or the other in her life, but answered, without a moment's hesitation, Roast duck, please, sir,' and disappeared. I laughed. "You may laugh,' said he, 'but you have no idea of the labour it has cost me to give her that decision of character. The Yorkshire peasantry are the quickest and shrewdest in the world, but you can never get a direct answer from them; if you ask them even their own names, they always scratch their heads, and say, 'A's sur ai don't knaw, sir;' but I have brought Bunch to such perfection, that she never hesitates now on any subject, however difficult. I am very strict with her. Would you like to hear her repeat her crimes? She has them by heart, and repeats them every day.' 'Come here, Bunch!' calling out to her, 'come and repeat your crimes to Mrs. Marcet;' and Bunch, a clean, fair, squat, tidy little girl, about ten or twelve years of age, quite as a matter of course, as grave as a judge, without the least hesitation, and with a loud voice, began to repeat: Plate-snatching, gravy-spilling, doorslamming, blue-bottle-fly-catching, and courtesy-bobbing.' 'Explain to Mrs. Marcet what blue-bottle-fly-catching is.' 'Standing, with my mouth open and not attending, sir.' 'And what is courtesy-bobbing? Courtesying to the centre of the earth, please, sir.'Good girl! now you may go.' She makes a capital waiter, I assure you; on state occasions Jack Robinson, my carpenter, takes off his apron and waits too, and does pretty well, but
he sometimes naturally makes a mistake and sticks a gimlet into the bread instead of a fork.""
Mrs. Marcet also supplies to the "Memoir" some pleasing anecdotes of those medical traits, the foundation of which had been laid at Edinburgh. Sydney is taking her the rounds of his Foston parsonage :—
"But I came up to speak to Annie Kay. Where is Annie Kay? Ring the bell for Annie Kay.' Kay appeared. Bring me my medicine-book, Annie Kay. Kay is my apothecary's boy, and makes up my medicines.' Kay appears with the book. 'I am a great doctor; would you like to hear some of my medicines?' 'Oh yes, Mr. Sydney.' 'There is the gentlejog, a pleasure to take it the Bull-dog, for more serious cases- -Peter's pukeHeart's delight, the comfort of all the old women in the villageRub-a-dub, a capital embrocation-Dead-stop, settles the matter at once-Up-with-it-then needs no explanation; and so on. Now, Annie Kay, give Mrs. Spratt a bottle of Rub-a-dub; and to Mr. Coles a dose of Dead-stop and twenty drops of laudanum.'
"This is the house to be ill in,' turning to us; 'indeed everybody who comes is expected to take a little something; I consider it a delicate compliment when my guests have a slight illness here. We have contrivances for everything. Have you seen my patent armour? No? Annie Kay bring my patent armour. Now, look here: if you have a stiff-neck or swelled-face, here is this sweet case of tin filled with hot water, and covered with flannel, to put round your neck, and you are well directly. Likewise, a patent tin shoulder, in case of rheumatism. There you see a stomachtin, the greatest comfort in life; and lastly, here is a tin slipper, to be filled with hot water, which you can sit with in the drawingroom, should you come in chilled, without wetting your feet. Come and see my apothecary's shop.'
"We all went down stairs, and entered a room filled entirely on one side with medicines, and on the other with every description of groceries and household or agricultural necessaries; in the
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,
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 ease, 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?"