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LECTURES ON MORAL PHILOSOPHY.
If the world was indebted to the residence of Sydney Smith at Edinburgh for the establishment of the Review, and the series of brilliant articles with which he followed up its first successes, London was also immediately a gainer by the courses of lectures on Moral Philosophy, which he delivered during three successive seasons, upon his arrival in the great metropolis. These popular discourses, as well on abstract as familiar topics, were doubtless suggested by his attendance upon the thoughtful and stimulating lectures of Dugald Stewart, his intimacy with the Scottish ratiocinators generally, and with the original and inquiring Thomas Brown. But if he was under obligations to these men for the choice of subject, and a certain speculative habit in the technical portions of his course, there was a wide field lying all around these intellectual barriers which he made entirely his own. This was in what may be called the practical moralities of his text -the quick, genial, kindly introspection with which he penetrated to the heart of his subject, and brought to the world noble and charitable thoughts, full of liberality of opinion, zeal for virtue and human sympathy with his kind. The term moral philosophy truly characterizes them; for their subtle niceties of the intellect, their keen distinctions, and rapid play of wit, are subordinate to their healthy sentiment, and a certain ardent perception of the
There were twenty-seven lectures, in all, before the Royal Institution. Sydney Smith was led to undertake them by the proposals and encouragement of his friend Sir Thomas Bernard, who a reward to which I was not entitled." After this we may conclude that, in preaching the sermons of Barrow or Channing, he was doing nothing considered out of the way or dishonourable in the English Church. In this respect he would appear to have followed the practice of the chaplain so judiciously chosen by Sir Roger de Coverley, who, upon being asked of a Saturday night, who preached on the morrow, replied the Bishop of St. Asaph in the morning, and Dr. South in the afternoon. Another important qualification insisted upon by the good knight was possessed by the Reverend Sydney in perfection. He had "a good aspect and a clear voice." (Spectator,
had been associated a few years before with the American Count Rumford, in the foundation of the society. The success was immediate. An audience assembled, composed of the most intelligent society of the metropolis, large in numbers for a popular lecturer in London even at the present day, numbering six to eight hundred persons. This, though far below that of the company on any distinguished occasion of the kind in New York or Boston, of late years, was held to be an immense achievement. Ladies and philosophers were alike entrapped into admiration. A long time after, the lecturer, who was accustomed to speak lightly of the performance as a matter of literature, remembered with pleasure the brilliant result. Toward the close of his life he was applied to by Dr. Whewell for some information on the subject discussed, when he replied, "My lectures are gone to the dogs and are utterly forgotten. I knew nothing of moral philosophy, but I was thoroughly aware that I wanted two hundred pounds to furnish my house. The success, however, was prodigious; all Albemarle street blocked up with carriages, and such an uproar as I never remember to have been excited by any other literary imposture."* His friend Horner, who was in London, writes to Lady Mackintosh, at Bombay, that there were but two topics in London that winter, the young Roscius and the lectures of "the Right Reverend, our Bishop of Mickleham," which, as we learn from Lady Holland's Memoir was a familiar title given to Sydney Smith, from the seat of Conversation Sharp's cottage in Surrey, where the friendly circle frequently met. It was something, in the popular way, to en
* Letter to Dr. Whewell, April 8, 1843. Memoirs, ii. 456.
↑ Richard Sharp was distinguished in the conversational circles of the metropolis. Hence his sobriquet. His forte lay in metaphysics. There is an anecdote of Rogers having proposed to him some question of this kind, when he somewhat discourteously replied, "There are only two men in England [probably Mackintosh and Bobus Smith] with whom I ever talk on metaphysics." (Dyce's Table-Talk of Rogers.) Sharp was a careful, refined writer. His single volume, "Letters and Essays in Prose and Verse,' is the book of a scholar-thoughtful and polished. He was from 1806 till 182 in Parliament. He died ir 1835, agc of seventy-six, leaving ●
LETTER TO WHEWELL.
joy a fashionable mania at the same time with Master Betty who reaped that season, from his first London engagements, no less than eight thousand pounds. The literary journal which gives us an account of the latter with a portrait of the triumphant prodigy, has not a word of the lecturer at the Royal Institution. We remember how, not many years since, disappointment and chagrin at the success of Tom Thumb ended the career of the artist Haydon. Sydney Smith was made of other stuff. Had his fortune been different, had Roscius carried away his audience, the lecturer would have consoled himself with his own philosophy, laughed at the folly of the town, and kept his head on his shoulders for a more lucky time.
Sydney Smith, following the definition of Moral Philosophy in use in the Scottish Universities where he had found it comprehending mental philosophy as well, ran over the history of ancient and modern theories, discussed the faculties of the mind, laws of conception, the memory, imagination, judgment; the theories of the beautiful and the sublime; the escaping essences of wit and humour; the qualities and methods of the more direct moral affections; the practical conduct of the understanding, and the everyday virtues of life. "Every week," he writes, in the letter to Dr. Whewell, which we have cited, "I had a new theory about conception and perception; and supported by a natural manner, a torrent of words, and an impudence scarcely credible in this prudent age. Still, in justice to myself, I must say there were some good things in them. But good and bad are all gone." He did not publish them at the time or afterward. Resorting to them as a quarry, he drew forth some passages on education for his arti
fortune of a quarter of a million sterling, which he acquired in business, as a wholesale hatter. There is a pleasing anecdote of Grattan in connection with Sharp's seat at Mickleham. In the old age of the Irish statesman, Horner took him down there on a visit, in the spring, "on purpose to hear the nightingales, for he loves music like an Italian, and the country like a true-born Englishman." (Horner Correspondence, May, 1816 ii. 355.)
* European Magazine, xlvii. 974,
MERITS OF THE LECTURES.
cles in the Edinburgh Review, destroyed many of the remaining pages, and would have burnt the whole had not his wife interposed and saved the mutilated manuscripts for posthumous publication. Enough fortunately survived to fill an octavo of four hundred pages, which was published in London, in 1850.* Though incomplete as a view of mental science, it is not without considerable meril on that score. It is a mine of pleasantries and subtleties, of sound thinking in eloquent terms, of description and sentiment, of human nature and natural history, of quips and cranks, familiarities and profundities, theories of morality, equally below the clouds and above the earth. The style was well adapted to the purposes of the popular lecturer with whom it is a necessity to mix entertainment with instruction; though there are few who can equal Sydney Smith in a laughing course of morals and metaphysics.†
The house, situated in Orchard street, was furnished with the proceeds, and Sydney Smith continued to occupy it during his early
* Elementary Sketches of Moral Philosophy, delivered at the Royal Institution, in the years 1804, 1805, and 1806, by the late Rev. Sydney Smith, M.A. London: Longmans, 1850, 8vo. pp. 424.
Henry Rogers, the metaphysician, author of the essay on "Reason and Faith," in an article in the Edinburgh Review says of the Lectures :-" Inexhaustible vivacity and variety of illustration, one would, of course, expect from such a mind; but this is far from being all. The sound judgment and discrimination with which he often treats very difficult topics-the equilibrium of mind which he maintains when discussing those on which his own idiosyncracy might be supposed to have led him astray-of which an instance is seen in his temperate estimate of the value of wit and humour-the union of independence and modesty with which he canvasses the opinions of those from whom he differs-the comprehensiveness of many of his speculations and the ingenuity of others—the masterly case and perspicuity with which even abstruse thoughts are expressed, and the frequently original, and sometimes profound remarks on human nature, to which he gives utterance -remarks hardly to be expected from any young metaphysician, and least of all from one of so lively and mercurial a temperament—all render these lectures very profitable as well as very pleasant reading; and show conclusively that the author might, if he had pleased, have acquired no mean reputation as an expositor of the very arduous branch of science to which the elate.' (Ed. Ro April, 1850.)
residence in London. The sketchers of his biography have dwelt with pleasure upon his mode of living at this time. With an increasing family, his means were narrow and required the practice of rigid economy. Still he supported his family with honour, and enjoyed, in their essentials, the delights of English hospitality. Costly entertainments he could not, and, what was more to the purpose of virtuous independence, would not give; but he encouraged a weekly meeting of friends at his house by the entertainment of a frugal supper, and when such men as Horner, Mackintosh, Romilly, Luttrell, Lord Holland, and others of that stamp, came, each guest, as Goldsmith says in the Retaliation, brought the best dish in himself. We are not to suppose, however, that the company ever went away hungry or thirsty. We find him, too,
member of a weekly dining "King of Clubs," where the intellect justified the name. There never was a time in his life, apparently, when the social powers of Smith were not in requisition. He was eminently what Dr. Johnson said Sir John Hawkins was not, a clubable man. In after-life, in London, he became a member of Johnson's own famous Literary Club. Pity that no Bo-well bore him company in these resorts!*
When, in those early London days, the host made his way on foot to the dinner parties of the wealthy, he neutralized the astonishment of the lackeys in the hall, as he released his grimed overshoes, by his humourous remarks on the occasion. Far preferuble was this cheerful encounter with the world, this adroit turning of its conventionalities, this healthy share in its activity, to the
The King of Clubs was founded about the end of the last century by a party at Sir James Mackintosh's house consisting of himself and Mr. Rogers, Mr. Sharp, Mr. Robert Smith (who gave the name to the club) Mr. Scarlett and Mr. John Allen. To these original members were afterward added the names of many of the most distinguished men of the time, amongst others, Lords Lansdowne, Holland, Brougham, Cooper, King and Selkirk; Messrs. Porson, Romilly, Payne Knight, Horner, Bryan Edwards, Sydney Smith, Dumont, Jeffrey, Smithson, Tennant, Whishaw, Alexander Baring, Luttrell, Blake, Hallam, Ricardo, Hoppner. Mr. Windham was to be balloted for on the Saturday succeeding his lamented death. The King of Clubs came to a sudden dissolution in the year 1824.-Life of Sir James Mackintosh, i. 137.