Oldalképek
PDF
ePub
[blocks in formation]

them. Posterity will find it hard to comprehend or to believe the amount of ignorance, prejudice, intolerance, and cant against which he contended, and over which he triumphed.

But even when the questions which were fought out in the earlier portion of this century, with all the fury of party strife, are forgotten, the writings of Sydney Smith will be read and cherished wherever the English tongue is spoken, for their broad and benevolent wisdom-for their exquisite flavour of expression-for their gladsome humour -for that wit which glittered like the good sword "Joyeuse," but never turned its edge, except on the false or the vile-for admirable sense applied to the business of life-and for that enlightened Christian spirit which rose without affectation to the loftiest piety, and to the noblest lessons of duty. The most salient of these passages (though by no means all which might be selected from his works) will be found in the present volume.

In the arrangement of them under separate headings, for which the Editor is responsible, the chronological order of the series has not been strictly observed, though the first portion of the collection is chiefly selected from articles contributed to the Edinburgh Review, the second from pamphlets, sermons, and the Lectures on Moral

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][subsumed]
[blocks in formation]

Philosophy, the third from the Memoirs and Correspondence. The short reference at the end of each extract denotes the source from which it is taken. But the design of the Editor has rather been to follow the course of subjects, as they arose, and to class together passages relating to the same topic, without reference to the period at which they were written. With very slight exceptions, it will be found that an entire consistency pervades the whole series, though it extends over a period of more than thirty years; and where those exceptions do occur they are attributable to changes in the state of things or in the conduct of other men, not to any modification of the fixed and steadfast principles which governed the mind and the life of Sydney Smith. Not unfrequently it will be observed, that his remarks on the tendency of events have been verified in a very remarkable manner, long after he himself had ceased to watch the courses of the world—thus his prognostications of the results of the French Revolution (p. 7), published in 1802, and of the danger of religious fears as a source of disaffection in British India (p. 70), published in 1808, have been respectively verified by the second Empire and the Indian Mutiny, just fifty years after those passages were composed.

[blocks in formation]

It may be proper to remark, in conclusion, that a volume under a title similar to that which is here adopted, was published in 1856, in the United States, by Mr. Duyckink, and has had, as might be anticipated, a wide circulation in America. The proprietors of the copyrights in this country were desirous that the same facility for procuring the “Wit and Wisdom of Sydney Smith," in a compendious form, should be offered to the British public in addition to the cheap editions of the entire collection of his writings which have already issued from the press. With this view the present selection has been made, but upon a principle differing altogether from the plan adopted by the American Editor. The volume prepared by Mr. Duyckink is in fact an abridgment of the life and of the principal works of Sydney Smith, and an attempt has been made by long extracts to preserve their sequence and connection; in the collection here presented to the reader, on the contrary, each passage is separate, detached, and in itself complete. In this form it is believed that the fragments of Sydney Smith may rank beside the thoughts of Pascal without his mysticism, and eclipse the wit of La Rochefoucauld without his misanthropy.

WIT AND WISDOM OF SYDNEY SMITH.

ORIGIN OF THE EDINBURGH REVIEW (1802).

TOWARDS the end of my residence in Edinburgh, Brougham, Jeffrey, and myself happened to meet in the eighth or ninth story or flat in Buccleugh Place, the then elevated residence of Mr. Jeffrey. I proposed that we should set up a Review. This was acceded to with acclamation. I was appointed editor, and remained long enough in Edinburgh to edit the first number of the Review. The motto I proposed for the Review was, "Tenui Musam meditamur avenâ”—“We cultivate literature on a little oatmeal." But this was too near the truth to be admitted; so we took our present grave motto from Publius Syrus, of whom none of us had, I am sure, read a single line; and so began what has since turned out to be a very important and able journal.

PUBLIC OPINION IN ENGLAND IN 1802.

FROM the beginning of the century (about which time the Review began), to the death of Lord Liverpool, was an awful period for those who ventured to maintain liberal opinions; and who were too honest to sell them

B

[blocks in formation]

for the ermine of the judge, or the lawn of the prelate. A long and hopeless career in your profession, the chuckling grin of noodles, the sarcastic leer of the genuine political rogue; prebendaries, deans, bishops made over your head; reverend renegades advanced to the highest dignities of the Church, for helping to rivet the fetters of Catholic and Protestant Dissenters; and no more chance of a Whig administration than of a thaw in Zembla. These were the penalties exacted for liberality of opinion at that period; and not only was there no pay, but there were many stripes.

It is always considered a piece of impertinence in England if a man of less than two or three thousand a year has any opinions at all on important subjects; and in addition he was sure to be assailed with all the Billingsgate of the French Revolution. Jacobin, leveller, atheist, Socinian, incendiary, regicide, were the gentlest appellations used; and any man who breathed a syllable against the senseless bigotry of the two Georges, or hinted at the abominable tyranny and persecution exercised against Catholic Ireland, was shunned as unfit for the relations of social life. Not a murmur against any abuse was permitted. To say a word against the suitorcide delays of the Court of Chancery, or the cruel punishments of the Game-laws, or against any abuse which a rich man inflicted and a poor man suffered, was treason against the plousiocracy, and was bitterly and steadily resented. Lord Grey had not then taken off the bearing-rein from the English people, as Sir Francis Head has now done from horses.

LABOURS OF THE LIBERAL PARTY.

To appreciate the value of the Edinburgh Review, the state of England at the period when that journal began

« ElőzőTovább »