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economy, whether selling his wife's jewels preaching at chapels, lecturing, reviewing, eking out a curate's humbleness by drafts on humour and imagination, he is constantly doing liberal acts; a man of charity and beneficence; bestowing free-will offerings from a life of self-denial and honourable industry; contributions which a generous nature extorted from a stock almost too small for home necessities.
Independence of opinion and of fortune he valued most highly, and pursued steadily and successfully, the one for the other, the inferior for the superior. In the wisdom of Burns the poet's manly Epistle, he "assiduously waited" upon Fortune and gathered wealth
"Not for to hide it in a hedge,
Of being independent."
He had the courage in a luxurious, artificial society, where weak men are crushed by conventionalisms, of appearing what he was and spending no more than he could afford. An instance of his business punctilio in pecuniary obligations occurs in one of his letters to his early friend Mr. Beach. The latter had a small sum of money left in his hands on settlement with his son's tutor. Beach credits the account with five per cent. interest. Sydney insists positively that it must be but four, and will be under no obligation for any more.*
His personal independence was shown in many instances during the period of his alliance with a political party out of office; an association unfriendly to his clerical advancement. In a less public light it was exhibited in the manly freedom of his intercourse with his friends. His wit spared none of their absurdities. letters, frequently models of courtesy and compliment, are always frank and truthful.
This resolute self-possession, though based on brave, natural
* Fourth English edition of the Memoirs, i. 109.
qualities, and developed with freedom, was also an affair of convic tion and the will. Bashfulness is one of the last qualities which would be assigned to Sydney Smith, but we read that he was shy even in his early manhood. His acuteness of mind, however, soon corrected the evil. He first discovered, he says, "that all mankind were not solely employed in observing him, as all young people think, and that shamming was of no use, the world being very clear-sighted, and soon estimating a man at his just value. This cured me, and I determined to be natural, and let the world find me out."*
Subsidiary to this personal courage was his hopeful way of looking at the world. He was always practising and inculcating the disposition. "Some very excellent people," he said, "tell you they dare not hope. To me it seems much more impious to dare to despair." He had an excellent rule for the happiness and wisdom of life as to the future, not to look too far into it for inevitable though probably distant disaster. "Take short views, hope for the best, and trust in God." Inclined by temperament to anticipate coming evils-for our wit, spite of his many jests, was a serious man-he resisted the atrabilious tendency, and avoided drawing drafts on the misery of futurity. "Never," he said, "give way to melancholy; nothing encroaches more: I fight against it vigorously. One great remedy is, to take short views of life. Are you happy now? Are you likely to remain so till this evening? or next week? or next month? or next year? Then why destroy present happiness by a distant misery, which may never come at all, or you may never live to see it? for every substantial grief has twenty shadows, and most of them shadows of your own making." It was said of the happy nature of Oliver Goldsmith that he had a knack at hoping: with Sydney Smith it was a principle. Cheerfulness he made an art. He liked house. hold illuminations of a good English coal fire, "the living thing," he said, “in a dead room," abundance of lights, flowers on his *Mem. i. 77, 324. t Ib. i. 167, 117.
table, prints and pictures on his walls. He was no connoisseur in the latter, and if he had been, could not have afforded the gratification of the taste, but he made poor and cheap pictures do the work of good ones by filling up the gap between with his sport and imagination.
There is a highly characteristic anecdote of the man, illustrating his habitual regard to human happiness, and his frequent solicitude for the natural welfare of children. The story is thus told by his daughter, Lady Holland: "One of his little children, then in delicate health, had for some time been in the habit of waking suddenly every evening; sobbing, anticipating the death of parents, and all the sorrows of life, almost before life had begun. He could not bear this unnatural union of childhood and sorrow, and for a long period, I have heard my mother say, each evening found him, at the waking of his child, with a toy, a picture-book, a bunch of grapes, or a joyous tale, mixed with a little strengthening advice and the tenderest caresses, till the habit was broken, and the child woke to joy and not to sorrow."
The intellectual habits of Sydney Smith were those of a quick, keen, sensitive nature, prompt to receive impressions, apt to decide upon them, cautious of its convictions, never driven at random. Impatient of restraint, ardent and vivacious, he was remarkable for his self-knowledge, and the discriminating use of his powers. He did not over-estimate them or under-estimate them; he knew precisely what he could do; the weight of the projectile, the momentum, the effect.
His habits of reading were somewhat peculiar. He read many books, and was content, on principle, to secure the best use of his faculties, to remain ignorant of many others. He was constantly looking into his stock of knowledge and strengthening his defences on the weak points. In this way he laid up a large store of practical, working information. His directness and vivacity of mind led him at once to the essential points of a subject. He plucked out the heart of a series of volumes, in a morning. The happy
result may be seen in his reviews, in the Edinburgh, of books of travels-his favourite reading.
He wrote rapidly, making few corrections, a proof of his exact discipline of mind, for his writings have that conciseness which may be supposed to have required frequent revision. His handwriting, a sign of his impatience, was villainously bad. He described it, in a letter to a gentleman who wished to borrow one of his sermons: 66 I would send it to you with pleasure, but my writing is as if a swarm of ants, escaping from an ink-bottle, had walked over a sheet of paper without wiping their legs." It is amusing to notice his lectures to Jeffrey, on his cacography, which may be attributed to a similar restlessness of mind.
The clearness and purity of his style are noticeable. It is direct, forcible, manly English; brief without obscurity; rich without any extravagance of ornament; the unaffected language of a gentleman and a scholar. It has a constant tendency to the aphorism-the ripe fruit hanging on the tree of knowledge-noticeable in the writings of the higher order of men of genius; the great dramatists, the poets generally, Bacon, Burke, Franklin, Landor, and indeed most of the classic authors who pass current in the world in quotation. Wit, indeed, of all the faculties, is the most rapid and powerful condenser; it puts volumes into apophthegms; has a patent for proverbs; contracts an essay to an aphorism; bottles an argument in a jest.
Unless where peculiar Latinized expressions or technical terms are intentionally introduced for their witty effect, Smith's language is of the purest Saxon. His method is very direct. His meaning reaches us pure of all superfluities and pruned of all tediousness. It is a style, too, which is essentially his own, a reflex of his keen, impulsive, straight-forward character. In his first published sermons he has been charged with imitating the efforts of Jeremy Taylor and others of the old divines; but this transfusion, which appears very slightly, is rather a beauty. When he advanced into *Memoirs, i. 174.
the conflict of life he borrowed no weapons from others, but relied on his own manly vigour. His style, consequently, is inimitable. It is capable of no transpositions or changes. The same meaning can be conveyed only in the same words. They are those picturesque, truthful words; ready, inevitable to a man of genius; coy of their presence to the dullard.
The most pervading characteristic of Sydney Smith's writings is his wit; wit blended with the genial humour of the man. It breathes from him as the very atmosphere of his nature.
Lord John Russell, in the preface to one of the volumes of his Memoirs of the poet Moore, has happily discriminated the peculiarities of this omnipresent faculty, as it was developed in society. "There are," he says, "two kinds of colloquial wit, which equally contribute to fame, though not equally to agreeable conversation. The one is like a rocket in a dark air, which shoots at once into the sky, and is the more surprising from the previous silence and gloom; the other is like that kind of firework which blazes and bursts out in every direction, exploding at one moment, and shining brilliantly at another, eccentric in its course, and changing its shape and colour to many forms and many hues. Or, as a dinner is set out with two kinds of champagne, so these two kinds of wit, the still and the sparkling, are to be found in good company. Sheridan and Talleyrand were among the best examples of the first. Hare (as I have heard) and Sydney Smith were brilliant instances of the second. Hare I knew only by tradition, but with Sydney Smith I long lived intimately. His great delight was to produce a succession of ludicrous images: these followed each other with a rapidity that scarcely left time to laugh; he himself
*James Hare, the intimate of Charles James Fox and his circle, the friend and correspondent of Selwyn. Few passages of his wit survive his personal memory. Jesse (Selwyn and his contemporaries, iii. 285) gives the following neat specimen: "He was one day conversing with General Fitzpatrick, wher the latter affected to discredit the report of General Burgoyne having been defeated at Sara oga. "Perhaps you may be right in your opinion,” sɛ'1 Hare, "but take from me as a flying rumour."