[blocks in formation]

you had laughed. Few men-wits by profession-ever said so many memorable things as those recorded of Sydney Smith."*

The Letters of Sydney Smith have little pretension in their form as epistolary compositions; but they are rare specimens of a rare class; ranking, for their terseness and witty flavour, with the notes and "notelets" of Charles Lamb. They are generally brief, never attempt any regular or didactic exposition of a subject, but contain, in virtue of their epigrammatic truthfulness-to say nothing of the constant entertainment-profitable matter of general wisdom and information of the men and affairs of his day, to take their place with the published correspondence of the greatest of his contemporaries. In a few lines he settles a moral question, draws the portrait of a public man, pleasantly corrects a defect, or rallies the spirits of a friend. He wrote often to Jeffrey, and to John Murray; less frequently to Allen, Lord Holland, Earl Grey, and in the latter part of his life exchanged a gouty correspondence with Sir George Philips, and wrote warm complimentary notes to Dickens. But most of his letters are addressed to ladies; to Lady Holland, to Mrs, Meynell, to Miss Georgiana Harcourt, daughter of the Archbishop of York, the Countess Grey, Lady Mary Bennett, and others. Playful and sincerely affectionate, they are the perfection of ingenious flattery, the sweetness of the adulation being taken off by the humourous extravagance.

A paragraph is due to Holland House, a seat sacred in the history of Letters, the centre of the important social, literary, and political circle with which Sydney Smith revolved during the greater part of his life. Its traditions go back to the early years of the seventeenth century, when it was built by Sir Walter Cope. The grounds had belonged to the noble family of the De

*Common-Place Book of Thoughts, Memories and Fancies, p. 49. There is a pleasant account of the historical incidents connected with Holland House, in two papers by Leigh Hunt, in Nos. 204 and 205 of Household Words.

[blocks in formation]

Vere's since the Conquest. The house was bequeathed by Cope to his son-in-law, Henry Rich, first Earl of Holland, a son of the first Earl of Warwick. Rich was a gallant man, a favourite at the court of Charles I. In the beginning of the civil war he sided with the Parliament, then took up arms for the King-was taken prisoner and executed in 1648. Fairfax, the Parliamentary general, next occupied the mansion; when, as tradition goes, it was privy to the deliberations of Cromwell. After the Restoration it had various occupants, Pope's "downright Shippen" among them. Before establishing himself at Kensington, King William, as we learn, from Macaulay's History, thought of the House as a residence, and occupied it a few weeks.* The second Earl of Holland, the elder branch of his family failing, united the titles of Warwick and Holland. Marriage with the widow of his son, the Countess of Warwick, in 1716, made Addison an inmate of Holland House. The poet passed there the last three years of his life, not very happily, as Johnson would have us infer, who represents him as a slave to the rank of the Countess. He gained new titles of his own to honour, however, at the time, for it was in the second year of his marriage that he was made Secretary of State. There is a doubtful story of his meditating Spectators in the library, refreshed by a bottle of wine at either end of the room. This, if it occurred at all, must have been before his marriage, since the Spectator closed with the year 1714. It was in a chamber of Holland House that the death scene occurred, when Addison called to him his step-son, the young Earl of Warwick, to "see how a Christian can die." The family of the Earls of Holland becoming extinct, in 1759, the house became, soon after, by purchase, the property of Henry Fox, the crafty politician of the Walpole era, who was created Lord Holland, the first of the present line. His father was Sir Stephen Fox, who, from being a chorister boy at Salisbury Cathedral, was called to an inferior situation at court, attended Charles II. in exile, and on his return *Chapter xi., vol. iii.

[blocks in formation]

secured an honourable fortune by his financial skill and integrity. "In a word," says Evelyn, in his Diary, "never was man more fortunate than Sir Stephen; he is a handsome person, virtuous, and very religious."* He was seventy-six years old when he married a second time, and became the father of Henry Fox. A son of the latter, Stephen Fox, was the second Lord Holland, elder brother of Charles James Fox. Stephen Fox died young, and left the title to the late Lord Holland, who restored the literary prestige of the house, not only by his own writings, but by his patronage of merit. His liberal parliamentary career is matter of recent history. His chief writings are, Lives of Lope de Vega and Guillem de Castro, a translation of three Spanish comedies, and of a Canto of the Orlando Furioso, the Preface to Fox's History of James II., for the copyright of which Murray paid the magnificent sum of four thousand pounds, the Prefaces to his editions, from the original MSS., of Earl Waldegrave's Memoirs, and Horace Walpole's Last Ten Years of the Reign of George II., and posthumous Recollections of Foreign Courts, and Memoirs of the Whig party. He was a clever writer of occasional verses. Iis couplet to the poet Rogers, affixed to a garden-seat in the grounds of Holland House, is very neat:—

"Here Rogers sat; and here for ever dwell

To me, those Pleasures that he sang so well.”

The lines which were found on his dressing-table at his death, are as finely conceived:

"Nephew of Fox and friend of Grey —

Enough my meed of fame,

If those who deigned to observe me say
I injured neither name."

The amiable character of Lord Holland, no less than his intellectual characteristics, endeared him to Sydney Smith. Lady Holland celebrates their conversation:-"short, varied, interspersed with wit, illustration and anecdote on both sides; the perfection of so* Diary, September, 6, 1680.

[blocks in formation]

cial intercourse, a sort of mental dram-drinking, rare as it was delightful."

An important position in the literary annals of Holland House belongs to Lady Holland. She was the daughter and heir of Richard Vassall and the divorced wife of Sir Godfrey Webster. Lord Holland, previous to his marriage to her, in 1797, paid to her husband six thousand pounds damages in a criminal action. He took, at the marriage, the name of Vassall. Lady Holland had talent, knew how to shine among the wits, be fascinating and influential, was often a warm friend, while her domineering patronage appears at times to have been sufficiently offensive. It is curious to note Sydney Smith's recognition of a Hollandophobia visiting all new guests at the house. age of thirty, went there with dread. to a friend, " is a formidable woman. degrees, than Buonaparte." her manner:-"When Lady Holland wanted to get rid of a fop, she used to say, 'I beg your pardon, but I wish you would sit a little further off; there is something on your handkerchief which I don't quite like.'"+ Very unlike this was Sydney Smith's description of the kind and intellectual Miss Fox, Lord Holland's sister:“Oh, she is perfection: she always gives me the idea of an aged angel."

The poet Campbell, at the "Lady Holland,” he writes She is cleverer, by several Rogers told a characteristic story of

Byron gave some caustic touches to the literary set at Holland House, in his English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, with a cutting glance at "My lady." There are some instances of her rule in Rogers' Table Talk. and an occasional glimpse, in Moore's Diary, of her * Memoirs, i. 78.

† Dyce's Table Talk, p. 273.

Take one for the sake of the adroitly-turned compliment at the close :"Lord Holland never ventured to ask any one to dinner (not even me, whom he had known so long and so intimately) without previously consulting Lady H. Shortly before his death I called at Holland House, and found only Lady H. within. As I was coming out I met Lord Holland, who said, 'Well, do you return to dinner?' I answered, 'No; I have not been invited.' Perhaps this deference to Lady H. was not to be regretted; for Lord Holland was so

[blocks in formation]

There were to

Sydney Smith indeed any one

"rather bravura mood." A Sunday garden scene, in that record, is picturesque: "Breakfasted with Rogers. Went out to Holland House. The levee there of a Sunday always delightful. My Lord on his stock-still pony, taking exercise, as he thinks: and my Lady in her whiskey, surrounded by savans. day Sydney Smith, Brougham, Jeffrey, &c. praised my 'Byron,' the first book of mine (or else's) I ever heard him give a good word to; seemed to do it, too, with sincerity." Elsewhere Moore chronicles Lord Holland at breakfast"in his gouty chair, but with a face as gay and shining as that of a schoolboy." He has a happy look in Leslie's picture of the Library at Holland House, where he is introduced with full lengths of Lady Holland and their constant companion, Allen; who appears as well filled out in person and beneficent in countenance as his Lordship.

[ocr errors]

There are some very pleasant glimpses of Holland House in Sydney Smith's Letters. Writing to Lady Holland, he says:-"I am sure it is better for Lord Holland and you to be at Holland House, because you both hate exercise (as every person of sense does), and you must be put in situations where it can be easily and pleasantly taken. Even Allen gets some exercise at Holland House, for Horner, Sheridan, and Lord Lauderdale take him out on the gravel-walk, to milk him for bullion, Spain, America, and India; whereas, in London, he is milked in that stall below stairs."†

In another letter to Lady Holland, without date, Allen reappears :-"I know nothing more agreeable than a dinner at Holland House; but it must not begin at ten in the morning, and last till six. I should be incapable, for the last four hours, of laughing at Lord Holland's jokes, eating Raffaelle's cakes, or repelling Mr. Allen's attacks upon the church."

hospitable and good-natured, that, had he been left to himself, he would have had a crowd at his table daily."-(Dyce's Recollections, p. 275.)

*Moore's Diary, May 2, 1830.

Heslington, April 21, 1810.

« ElőzőTovább »