« ElőzőTovább »
EXCURSION TO THE HIGHLANDS.
faithful guardian. While he stimulated mental exertion and exacted personal respect he was, no doubt, a very agreeable one. His admirable art of conveying information, must have made instruction very much a pastime. The tuition was moreover relieved by summer excursions in the Highlands and Wales, and winter advances into the attractive circles of Edinburgh society.
A passage of the Highland experiences is characteristic in its double consciousness of sublimity and inconvenience. knows not the earth," Sydney writes, "who has only seen it swelling into the moderate elevation, or sinking to the gentle descent of southern hills and valleys. He has never trod on the margin of the fearful precipice, journeyed over the silent wilderness, and gazed at the torrent hiding itself in the profound glen. He has never viewed Nature but as she is associated with human industry; and is unacquainted with large tracts of the earth from which the care of man can hope for no return; which seem never to have been quickened with the principle of vegetation, or to have participated in the bounties of Him whose providence is over all. This we have seen in the Highlands; but we have mortified the body in gratifying the mind. We have been forced to associate oat-cakes and whiskey with rocks and waterfalls, and humble in a dirty room the conceptions we indulged in a romantic glen."
Edinburgh society was then on the verge of a new intellectual development. It was rich in honour and promise. Taking the year of Sydney Smith's arrival for a glance at its celebrities, we find Jeffrey, his future intimate and associate in friendship and letters, at the age of twenty-four, recently entered at the bar, fresh from his energetic, youthful studies, and the invigorating, mental exercises of the Speculative Society. Brougham, a young man, just entered at the Speculative, was laying the foundation of his great public career. Walter Scott, the mention of whose name gives a glow to the time, was twenty-six, an advocate-his head filled with as yet undeveloped studies of romantic history, which was all living reality in the heart of the young lover at the feet of
the future Lady Scott. Francis Horner, one of the youngest members of the whig circle of the town, destined to become honourably distinguished in a brief, public career, was that year absent from his native place, polishing off in England the asperities of his native dialect. Sydney Smith, attracted to him by his personal worth and liberal politics, sought his acquaintance on his return, and formed a noble friendship interrupted only by death. John Allen who, not long after, was recommended by Sydney Smith to Lord Holland as his travelling-companion in Spain, whose historical studies and personal qualities secured for him a forty years' residence at Holland House, was a physician and reform politician, at the age of twenty-seven; highly distinguished for his Edinburgh Lectures on the Animal Economy.* Lord Webb Seymour, brother of the Duke of Somerset, attracted by the opportunities of study afforded by the University, came from Christ Church, Oxford, to Edinburgh about the same time. He was then at the age of twenty, a young man of singular worth of character, and distinguished by conscientious application to the mathematical and metaphysical sciences, which, had he possessed more vivacious powers of mind, would have doubtless produced some lasting literary monument for the world. Before he had completed the studies, which, indeed, would have been life long with one of his tastes and temper, he fell into ill health and died at Edinburgh,
* Allen, who frequently figures in the Sydney Smith Letters, was one of those useful students whose conversation is more productive to the world than their writings. He assisted Lord Holland in his historical speeches, and was a great authority at Holland House on matters of physical and moral science, politics and metaphysics. Lord Brougham, in his "British Statesmen," speaks of his "combination of general views with details of fact," with warm admiration. He published an article in the Edinburgh Review for June, 1816, on the Constitution of Parliament, which was highly spoken of by Mackintosh. He wrote the Life of Fox in the Encyclopædia Britannica; "An Inquiry into the Rise and Growth of the Royal Prerogative in England," "A Vindication of the Independence of Scotland," and a reply to Lingard, whose history he had reviewed in the Edinburgh. He was made Master of Dulwich College He died in 1843, at the age of seventy-three leaving property of about seven or eight thousand pounds.
which he had continued to make his home, at the age
in 1819. He was the intimate friend of Horner, and an important member of the youthful society from England which had then gathered in the Scottish metropolis. Dugald Stewart was at that time in the full enjoyment of his great reputation, at once popular and profound, in his lectures and books, at the University and with the public. Thomas Brown, his successor in the chair of Moral Philosophy, uniting much of the poetical with more of the philosophic mind, was a keen, sensitive youth of twenty, already becoming distinguished by his scientific attainments. Smith afterward recalled the Sunday dinner in Edinburgh with this intimate friend; and added the eulogy: "He was a Lake-poet, a profound metaphysician, and one of the most virtuous men that ever lived." John Murray, afterward Lord Murray, eminent in political and judicial life, was one of the early esteemed companions of Sydney Smith; a friendship which lasted to the end. John Thomson, subsequently known to the world as one of the most learned physicians of his day, was also on Sydney's select list of intimates. Another early acquaintance was Charles Hope, afterward Lord President of the Court of Session, whose judicial eloquence and weight of character are celebrated in the eulogy of Lockhart. The sweet, Scottish poet, and zealous oriental scholar, John Leyden, remarkable in the annals of self-educated men, had come up to Edinburgh from the wilds of Roxburghshire, was detected by Scott as a poet, appreciated by Smith, and not long after liberally aided out of the narrow income of the latter, with a handsome contribution of forty pounds to his outfit for India. There he perished, a devotee to science, leaving a few verses, still admired, as the Ode to an Indian Gold Coin, the memorial of his toil and sen
* Biographical notice of Lord Webb Seymour, by Henry Hallam, in the Appendix to vol. i. of the Memoirs of Horner; a carefully-elaborated composition which Lord Cockburn, in his Life of Jeffrey, characterizes as of the best portraits of a character in writing that exists."
+ Letter to Sir George Philips, Feb. 28, 1836.
Peter's Letters t his Kinsfolk, ii. 102.
sibility. It wa at this season, too, that Thomas Campbell, having established himself in Edinburgh the year of Smith's arrival, published, in 1799, the first edition of his Pleasures of Hope, a literary advent of mark in the annals of that metropolis. We do not hear of any particular intimacy at the time between Campbell and Smith, but they must have been well acquainted. In a list of the Friday Club which grew up at Edinburgh, about the time Smith left for London, both his name and Campbell's are among the members.* When Campbell went to London, Sydney Smith did him some "kind offices," and in later life they met on pleasant terms as brother wits.† Amongst the older members of the society, Playfair, Professor of Mathematics at the University was in the maturity of his powers, ripening at the close of middle life. Of an elder generation, Dr. Hugh Blair, an octogenarian, was approaching the term of his prolonged career. Henry Mackenzie, whose extended existence brought down almost to the present day the literary association of century ago, was then warm in the es
*Cockburn's Life of Jeffrey, i. 119.
† Campbell, in a letter, Jan. 1808 (Beattie's Life and Letters of Campbell, i. 485), says: “Off I marched [from his first dinner at Holland House] with Sydney Smith; Sydney is an excellent subject-but he too has done me some kind offices, and that is enough to produce a most green-eyed jealousy in my noble and heroic disposition! I was determined I should make as many good jokes, and speak as much as himself; and so I did, for though I was dressed at the dinner-table much like a barber's clerk, I arrogated greatly, talked quizzically, metaphorically; Sydney said a few good things, I said many! Saul slew his thousands, David his tens of thousands." Thirty years later, when Campbell was sixty, there is an entry in his Diary of a street rencontre with Sydney Smith, a passing glimpse of these venerable wits: June 16, 1838-I met Sydney Smith the other day. 'Campbell,' he said, 'we met last, two years ago, in Fleet street; and, as you may remember, we got into a violent argument, but were separated by a wagon, and have never met since. Let us have out that argument now. Do you recollect the subject?' 'No,' I said; 'I have clean forgotten the subject; but I remember that I was in the right and that you were violent and in the wrong!' I had scarcely uttered these words when a violent shower came on. I took refuge in a shop, and he in a cab. He parted with a proud threat that he would renew the argument the next time we met. Very well,' I said; 'but you sha't.'t get off again, either in a wagon or a cab.'"
teem of a new generation of the admirers of the Man of Feeling and Julia de Roubigné. He was a genial, bustling man, who put his melancholy in his books and gave his mirth to his friends.
Such was the society into which the young Sydney Smith was introduced a society abounding in intellectual activity, living on its acquired honours in British literature, teeming with elements of further progress. It was remarked that, in after-life, while the genial humourist indulged his wit freely-after the example of Dr. Samuel Johnson-at the expense of Scottish characteristics of manners and conversation, and the peculiarities of some of his intimates, he looked back upon this time with respect and affection. It is at least a proof that he had been well received. His poverty, united with his susceptible nature, might readily have made him sensitive in the matter.
He passed five years at Edinburgh, at the end of the second making a short visit to London, to marry a lady to whom he had been engaged some time before, Miss Catherine Amelia Pybus, an intimate friend of his sister. The connection was a most happy one, enduring through nearly half a century, supported by many virtues and felicities. It may be mentioned, for the consolation of those who enter upon married life under similar difficulties, that this union, though approved of by the lady's mother, was violently opposed by her brother, Mr. Charles Pybus, a member of Parliament, and commissioner of the treasury in Pitt's administration.* A poor curate, the tutor to the son of a
* Charles Small Pybus acquired some literary notoriety at the beginning of the century, from the publication (in 1800) of a peculiarly ill-timed poem, entitled "The Sovereign; Addressed to his Imperial Majesty Paul, Emperor of all the Russias." It was a eulogy of the Emperor as a member of the coalition against France; but, unhappily, at the time of publication, Paul broke off from the alliance, and appeared in all his hideous insanity to the English public. Mr. Pybus' mode of publication, too, was unfortunate. He issued his flat heroic couplets in a folio of sixty pages, with his own portrait prefixed at the price of a guinea. The Gentleman's Magazine (September, 1800) gave it a brief and significant notice: "Unfortunate experience has shown, that the subject of this poem was unhappily chosen. What