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RECOLLECTIONS OF FRANCIS HORNER.
LETTER FROM SYDNEY SMITH TO LEONARD HORNER.
MY DEAR SIR: You desire me to commit to paper my recollections of your brother, Francis Horner. I think that the many years which have elapsed since his death, have not at all impaired my memory of his virtues, at the same time that they have afforded me more ample means of comparing him with other important human beings with whom I have become acquainted since that period.
I first made the acquaintance of Francis Horner at Edinburgh, where he was among the most conspicuous young men in that energetic and infragrant city. My desire to know him proceeded first of all from being cautioned against him by some excellent and feeble people to whom I had brought letters of introduction, and who represented him to me as a person of violent political opinions. I interpreted this to mean a person who thought for himselfwho had firmness enough to take his own line in life, and who loved truth better than he loved Dundas, at that time the tyrant of Scotland. I found my interpretation to be just, and from thence till the period of his death, we lived in constant society, and friendship with each other.
There was something very remarkable in his countenance-the commandments were written on his face, and I have often told him there was not a crime he might not commit with impunity, as no judge or jury who saw him, would give the smallest degree of credit to any evidence against him: there was in his look a calm settled love of all that was honourable and good—an air of wis
dom and of sweetness; you saw at once that he was a great man, whom nature had intended for a leader of human beings; you ranged yourself willingly under his banners, and cheerfully submitted to his sway.
He had an intense love of knowledge; he wasted very little of the portion of life conceded to him, and was always improving himself, not in the most foolish of all schemes of education, in making long and short verses and scanning Greek choruses, but in the masculine pursuits of the philosophy of legislation, of political economy, of the constitutional history of the country, and of the history and changes of Ancient and Modern Europe. He had read so much, and so well, that he was a contemporary of all men, and a citizen of all states.
I never saw any person who took such a lively interest in the daily happiness of his friends. If you were unwell, if there was a sick child in the nursery, if any death happened in your family, he never forgot you for an instant! You always found there was a man with a good heart who was never far from
He loved truth so much, that he never could bear any jesting upon important subjects. I remember one evening the late Lord Dudley and myself pretended to justify the conduct of the government in stealing the Danish fleet; we carried on the argument with some wickedness against our graver friend; he could not stand it, but bolted indignantly out of the room; we flung up the sash, and, with loud peals of laughter, professed ourselves decided Scandinavians; we offered him not only the ships, but all the shot, powder, cordage, and even the biscuit, if he would come back: but nothing could turn him; he went home; and it took us a fortnight of serious behaviour before we were forgiven.
Francis Horner was a very modest person, which men of great understanding seldom are. It was his habit to confirm his opinión by the opinions of others; and often to form them from the same source.*
"Horner is a very happy *Writing to Jeffrey, in 1805, Smith says: man; his worth and talents are acknowledged by the world at a more carly period than those of any independent and upright man I ever remember. He verifies an observation I have often made, that the world do not dislike origi nality, liberality, and independence, so much as the insulting arrogance with which they are almost always accompanied. Now, Horner pleases the best judges, and does not offend the worst.”
His success in the House of Commons was decided and immediate, and went on increasing to the last day of his life. Though put into Parliament by some of the great borough lords, every one saw that he represented his own real opinions: without hereditary wealth, and known as a writer in the Edinburgh Review, his independence was never questioned: his integrity, sincerity, and moderation, were acknowledged by all sides, and respected even by those impudent assassins who live only to discourage honesty and traduce virtue. The House of Commons as a near relative of mine once observed,* has more good taste than any man in it. Horner, from his manners, his ability, and his integrity, became a general favourite with the House; they suspended for him their habitual dislike of lawyers, of political adventurers, and of young men of conseederable taalents from the North.
SIMPLICITY OF CHARACTER.
Your brother was wholly without pretensions or affectation. I have lived a long time in Scotland, and have seen very few affected Scotchmen; of those few he certainly was not one. In the ordinary course of life, he never bestowed a thought upon the effect he was producing; he trusted to his own good nature, and good intentions, and left the rest to chance.
Having known him well before he had acquired a great London reputation, I never observed that his fame produced the slightest alteration in his deportment; he was as affable to me, and to all his old friends, as when we were debating metaphysics in a garret in Edinburgh. I don't think it was in the power of ermine or mace, or seals, or lawn, or lace, or of any of those emblems and ornaments with which power loves to decorate itself, to have destroyed the simplicity of his character. I believe it would have defied all the corrupting appellations of human vanity: Severe, Honourable, Right Honourable, Sacred, Reverend, Right Reverend, Lord High, Earl, Marquis, Lord Mayor, Your Grace, Your Honour, and every oth vocable which folly has invented, and idolatry cherished, would all have been lavished on him in vain.
The character of his understanding was the exercise of vigorous › reasoning, in pursuit of important and difficult truth. He had no wit; nor did he condescend to that inferior variety of this electric talent which prevails occasionally in the North, and which, under the name of Wut, is so infinitely distressing to persons of good *His brother Robert Smith.
taste. He had no very ardent and poetical imagination, but he had that innate force, which,
Your late excellent father, though a very well-informed person, was not what would be called a literary man, and you will readily concede to me that none of his family would pretend to rival your brother in point of talents. I never saw more constant and highprincipled attention to parents than in his instance; more habitual and respectful deference to their opinions and wishes. I never saw brothers and sisters, over whom he might have assumed a family sovereignty, treated with more cheerful and endearing equality. I mention these things, because men who do good things are so much more valuable than those who say wise ones; because the order of human excellence is so often inverted, and great talents considered as an excuse for the absence of obscure virtues.
Francis Horner was always very guarded in his political opinions; guarded, I mean, against the excesses into which so many young men of talents were betrayed by their admiration of the French revolution. He was an English Whig, and no more than an English Whig. He mourned sincerely over the crimes and madness of France, and never, for a single moment, surrendered his understanding to the novelty and nonsense which infested the world at that strange era of human affairs.
I remember the death of many eminent Englishmen, but I can safely say, I never remember an impression so general as that ex
* Part of the address of Lucretius to Memmius in the opening of his great philosophical poem De Rerum Natura, where the author is warmed by friend ship to overcome the difficulties of presenting Greek themes in Latin measures; in Creech's loose version :—
"Yet for respect of you with great delight
Smith has adapted the passage by some slight changes.
cited by the death of Francis Horner.* The public looked upon him as a powerful and safe man, who was labouring, not for himself or his party, but for them. They were convinced of his talents, they confided in his moderation, and they were sure of his motives; he had improved so quickly and so much, that his early death was looked upon as the destruction of a great statesman, who had done but a small part of the good which might be expected from him, who would infallibly have risen to the highest offices, and as infallibly have filled them to the public good. Then, as he had never lost a friend, and made so few enemies, there was no friction, no drawback; public feeling had its free course; the image of a good and great man was broadly before the world, unsullied by any breath of hatred; there was nothing but pure sorrow! Youth destroyed before its time, great talents and wisdom hurried to the grave, a kind and good man, who might have lived for the glory of England, torn from us in the flower of his life!—but all this is gone and past, and, as Galileo said of his lost sight, "It has pleased God it should be so, and it must please me also."
Ever truly, yours, COMBE FLORET, 26th August, 1842.
*Horner died at Pisa, in February, 1817, in the thirty-ninth year of his age. He was born in Edinburgh, in 1778, and was the playmate, in childhood, of Henry Brougham. Educated at the University of Edinburgh, he pursued his studies in England; wrote for the first number of the Edinburgh Review, practised law in Scotland, and was called to the English bar in 1807. He was best known by his career in the House of Commons, from 1806 to his death. He was at home on the currency, the corn laws, and other laborious questions of government and trade. His Memoir and Correspondence, edited by his brother, Leonard Horner, to which Sydney Smith's letter was a contribution, are a noble monument to his memory. Lady Holland (Memoir, p. 154) supplies these additional memoranda of Sydney Smith's affection and respect for his friend: "My father speaks of his feelings on this loss, in the following letter to Mr. Horner's younger brother: 'Foston, March, 23, 1817. I remember no misfortune of my life which I have felt so deeply as the loss of your brother. I never saw any man who combined together so much talent, worth, and warmth of heart; and we lived together in habits of great friendship and affection for many years. I shall always retain a most lively and affectionate remembrance of him to the day of my death.' Again, in a letter to Mr. John Whishaw (March 26, 1817), he says: 'I have received a melancholy fragment from poor Horner - a letter half-finished at his death. I cannot say how much I was affected by it; indeed, on looking back on my own mind, I never remember to have felt an event more deeply than his death '"