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or thirty? Or, is it to be regulated by time? If the latter, the standard is unequal, for your Sydney Smith will let off a hundred witticisms while your dullard is feebly labouring at one, and voluble nonsense will triumph when wise meditation is silenced. At what precise moment must the wrinkled grin be smoothed down into the platitude of propriety? Is the sin in the strength of the article? Is a smile orthodox, and is a laugh heretical? May a good man, without violation of his goodness, cause his companion to shake in his chair, with gentle titillations, while it becomes sinful to inflict the acuter displays of wit, the inextinguishable laughter of the immortals. Gentle dullness, we know on good poetical authority, ever loves a joke, but must all jokes be conformed to the standard of dullness? "You are always aiming at wit," said some one of the class of objectors to Charles Lamb. "It is better, at any rate," was the retort, "than always aiming at dullness." It was in reference to the same race of critics that the eminent divine, Dr. Samuel Clarke, being once engaged in a game of romps, seeing a mere formalist approaching, exclaimed, "Let us give over, there's a fool coming." The common sense of the world sets any objection at rest. Practically, we have never known any one to possess wit and despise it. On the contrary, we have seen very pious clergymen exult at the perpetration of very feeble jokes. We have observed them also, at a loss for a witticism, run to the Bible for a text. Indeed, they frequently fall into the error of a familiar and irreverent use of Scripture texts in conversation and on public occasions, from lack of that very culture of wit and literature which would place other and more appropriate weapons at their disposal.
There were clerical wits before Smith in the English Church; Latimer, with his rough, homely, vigorous way; the quaint humourist, Dr. Thomas Fuller, the Church historian, whose incessant quips and cranks were always subservient to his much reading and a sound, healthy understanding; Echard, whose "Letters on the Grounds and Occasions of the Contempt of the Clergy," were the
godfathers of Sydney Smith's papers on clerical topics; the rich, mellow wit of South, in his pure-toned, eloquent discourses; the scornful mood of Swift; the pulpit attitudinarianism of Sterne. Some of the sermons of these men must have tempted the laughter of their congregations; a natural tribute to honest convictions of truth which would seldom be tolerated within modern church walls. Much might be said in defence of the pulpit wit of South, and his example might be commended as a resource to preachers who cannot afford, at this time of day, to lose a single potent instrument of arousing the susceptibility of their hearers. Sydney Smith, however, does not ask this vindication or indulgence. His published sermons are as solemn, as free from unseemly jesting, as those of the gravest and dullest of his brethren. He drew the line distinctly between levity and sanctity; never confounding the choir of St. Paul's with the dining-room of Holland House. His friend, Mrs. Austin, when she first heard him preach at the London Cathedral, confesses that she had "some misgivings as to the effect which that well-known face and voice, ever associated with wit and mirth, might have upon her, even in the sacred place. Never (she adds) were misgivings more quickly and entirely dissipated. The moment he appeared in the pulpit, all the weight of his duty, all the authority of his office, were written on his countenance; and without a particle of affectation (of which he was incapable), his whole demeanor bespoke the gravity of his purpose."* This was the habitual effect of his ministerial duties, and it might have been looked for. Nor was this gravity confined to the pulbit. After leaving one of Rogers' breakfasts, with Sydney, Moore tells us, "I found him (as I have often done before) change at once from the gay, uproarious way, into as solemn, grave, and austere a person as any bench of judges or bishops could supply: this I rather think his natural character." The topics of these wits were not always the lightest, as another striking entry in Moore's Diary witnesses. It was in London, in June, 1831:† Moore's Diary, May 27, 1826.
*Memoir, p. 273.
THE CLERICAL CHARAC1ER.
"Walked with Sydney Smith; told me his age; turned sixty. Asked me how I felt about dying. Answered that if my mind was but at ease about the comfort of those I left behind, I should leave the world without much regret, having passed a very happy life, and enjoyed (as much, perhaps, as ever man did yet) all that is enjoyable in it; the only single thing I have had to complain of being want of money. I could, therefore, die with the same words that Jortin died, 'I have had enough of everything.' reply of the divine was we are not informed.
True wit is a precious commodity, the distillation of a generous, richly-gifted nature, and such a disposition must be founded on seriousness. There is a light, frivolous wit, a melancholy, scoffing wit; but these do not belong to the nature to which we allude. We hold it to be utterly impossible that a man should possess the honest mirth of Sydney Smith and be insensible to the gravities of life; that he should penetrate to the heart of social abuses, of conventionalisms, of cant of every kind with a loving eye to the real welfare of his race, and should want at the same time sympathy with sadness, tears for grief, or a sacred regard for religious obligations.
What is thus true between man and man does not become false when a clergyman is the subject. It is only where a low, injurious view of the clerical character is taken, that there can be any misconception of the matter. It is as absurd to say that a minister of any religious denomination shall not laugh, and that loudly and frequently too, if he please, because his duty is to worship and to pray, as it would be to forbid a healthy-lunged layman joining in the litanies of the church on account of his gay temperament, and his faculty of enjoying himself prodigiously at festive enter
There is a popular delusion among good men on the matter. The clergyman, whatever his natural disposition may be, is expected by many people, not accustomed to get to the heart of a subject, to wear always the externals of piety and to relax nothing from the
rigours of a ghastly white cravat, an unbending, facial muscle, and a stolid, glazed eye. There is consequently a struggle of nature against him. Humanity keeps at a distance from him; and humanity, in the end, will have the advantage over him; for it is too much for any one man or any set of men. If a clergyman assumes a conventional dress and manner, he invites and is pretty sure to receive from the world a conventional treatment. A thousand social hypocrisies start up to meet him. His sanctities are admitted as a matter of fashion; it is respectable to speak well of the cloth, as it is termed, but how is the influence of the man within the garment abated! In another way, also occasional and too frequent injury is sustained. Professional decorum, once established, becomes a mask which it is easier to wear than to challenge the rewards of holiness by practising rigorously its duties; the genial, active life of mental and personal industry, of courage, liberality, and honour; mingling freely with the world, at once in it and above it; the true friendship of publicans and sinners, of the poor and the contemned.
It is to be considered, in illustration of these remarks, in the case of Sydney Smith, how greatly his wit enlarged his influence with the world in the cause of truth; how it pointed and feathered the arrows which were to carry conviction to dull understandings; how it was constantly and uniformly exerted in levelling oppression and injustice; how much it added to the power of the great practical reformer. We may add that it sometimes gave him an authority in rebuking infidelity itself, where a heavier weapon would have failed. At a dinner once at Holland House he met a French savant who took it upon himself to annoy the best disposed of the company by a variety of free-thinking speculations. He ended by avowing himself a materialist. "Very good soup this," "Oui, Monsieur, c'est excellente." "Pray, sir," was the retort which for that time and place was worth a library of argument, "do you believe in a cook ?"*
struck in Mr. Smith.
* Memoir of Rev. Richard Barham, p. 105.
The Rev. Sydney Smith was sound at heart on this subject. When he saw some signs of unseemly levity, as he thought, in an article* in the Edinburgh Review, he wrote to the editor, Jeffrey, rebuking the license as injurious, by its indiscretion, and rendering it "perilous to a clergyman in particular to be concerned in the Review." Ten years later he wrote again to Jeffrey-"I must beg the favour of you to be explicit on one point. Do you mean to take care that the Review shall not profess or encourage infidel principles? Unless this is the case I must absolutely give up all thoughts of connecting myself with it.”†
Sydney Smith must thus be absolved from the charge of employing his wit to the injury of sound religious principle. As a matter of taste he sometimes, it must be admitted, pushed his jest to an extremity with professional ecclesiastical arrangements, and, in a few instances, as in his description of Rogers' dining-room, with "a blaze of light above, and below nothing but darkness and gnashing of teeth," may be rebuked by the censure of Dr
It was an article in the Review for Jan., 1808, making sport of a heavy and absurd epic poem, by Charles Hoyle, of Cambridge, on the departure of the Israelites from Egypt, entitled Exodus, an example of the not uncommon delusion of crude imitators of Homer and Milton. The article follows one of Sydney Smith on Methodism, which at least to those who winced under it, would appear far more reprehensible than speaking lightly of Pharaoh and the jugglers of his court. Smith's objection to the latter article showed his sensitiveness as a wit as well as his sense of the proprieties. "The levities," he says, "are ponderous and vulgar, as well as indiscreet." Scripture was one thing in the eyes of Sydney Smith, and the Methodism of the begin ning of the century quite another. His treatment of what he considered the eccentricities of the latter was vigorous and unsparing. In reading his reply to Mr. John Styles, who ventured a retort, we feel that it is "excellent to have a giant's strength," and perhaps, "tyrannous to use it like a giant."
† Letter 141.
Dyce's Table Talk of Rogers. Rogers arrays the poetical authorities on the distribution of light, in a note to his "Epistle to a Friend," citing Homer, Lucretius, Virgil, Leonardo da Vinci, and Milton. A Quarterly Reviewer remarks upon this: "There are few precepts of taste that are no practised in Mr. Rogers' establishment, as well as recommended in his works; but he has hit upon a novel and ingenious mode of lighting a dining-room. Lamps above, or candles or the table, there are none; all the light is reflected