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laughing loudest and with more enjoyment than any one. This electric contact of mirth came and went with the occasion; it cannot be repeated or reproduced. Anything would give occasion to it. For instance, having seen in the newspapers that Sir Æneas Mackintosh was come to town, he drew such a ludicrous caricature of Sir Æneas and Lady Dido, for the amusement of their namesake, that Sir James Mackintosh rolled on the floor in fits of laughter, and Sydney Smith, striding across him, exclaimed, 'Ruat Justitia! His powers of fun were at the same time united with the strongest and most practical common sense. So that while he laughed away seriousness at one minute, he destroyed in the next some rooted prejudice which had braved for a thousand years the battle of reason and the breeze of ridicule. The letters of Peter Plymley bear the greatest likeness to his conversation; the description of Mr. Isaac Hawkins Brown dining at the Court of Naples in a volcano coat with lava buttons, and the comparison of Mr. Canning to a large blue-bottle fly with its parasites, most resemble the pictures he raised up in social conversation. It may be averred for certain that in this style he has never been equalled, and I do not suppose he will ever be surpassed."t
In the occasional passages of Moore's Diary in which Sydney Smith is mentioned, always under agreeable circumstances, there are numerous instances of this peculiar vein of humour, “huddling jest upon jest with impossible conveyance," the sagacity apparently not inspiring the wit, but the extravagance giving birth to the wisdom. At a breakfast at Rogers's, "Smith, full of comicality and fancy, kept us all in roars of laughter. In talking of the stories about dram-drinkers catching fire, pursued the idea in every possible shape. The inconvenience of a man coming too near the candle when he was speaking, 'Sir, your observation has caught
*Twenty-third laird of the Mackintoshes of that ilk, was created a Baronet in 1812. He died in the sixty-ninth year of his age, in 1820, when the Baronetcy became extinct. "He was a gentleman of the greatest worth," says his obituary in the Gentleman's Magazine.
↑ Preface to the Sixth Volume of Memoirs of Thomas Moore, pp. xii-xiv
fire.' Then imagined a person breaking into a blaze in the pulpit; the engines called to put him out; no water to be had, the man at the waterworks being a Unitarian or an Atheist." This was mostly pure fun. On the same occasion, one of his apparently ludicrous sayings displayed a keen wit, with matter for profound thought, when he said of some one-"He has no command over his understanding; it is always getting between his legs and tripping him up. .** Another instance of this humourous amplification in his table talk, which is happily related in Lady Holland's Memoir, brings the very man before us, "in his habit as he lived:""Some one mentioned that a young Scotchman, who had been lately in the neighbourhood, was about to marry an Irish widow, double his age and of considerable dimensions. Going to marry her!' he exclaimed, bursting out laughing; 'going to marry her! impossible! you mean a part of her; he could not marry her all himself. It would be a case, not of bigamy, but trigamy; the neighbourhood or the magistrates should interfere. There is enough of her to furnish wives for a whole parish. One man marry her! it is monstrous. You might people a colony with her; or give assembly with her; or perhaps take your morning's walk round her, always provided there were frequent resting-places, and you were in rude health. I once was rash enough to try walking round her before breakfast, but only got half-way and gave it up exhausted. Or you might read the Riot Act and disperse her; in short, you might do anything with her but marry her.' 'Oh, Mr. Sydney!' said a young lady, recovering from the general laugh, 'did you make all that yourself? Yes, Lucy,' throwing himself back in his chair and shaking with laughter, all myself, child; all my own thunder. Do you think, when I am about to make a joke, I send for my neighbours C. and G., or consult the clerk and church-wardens upon it? But let us go into the garden ;' and, all laughing till we cried, without hats or bonnets, we sallied forth out of his glorified window into the garden."+
* Moore's Diary, May 27, 1826.
† Memoir, i. 304-5,
The best proof of the kindliness of Sydney Smith's wit is, that it did not offend the friends upon whom it was played off. It was truthful without bitterness: its playful brightness cleared the atmosphere, but the bolt never scathed. His jests upon Jeffrey, the "maximus minimus," were incessant, but they did not interrupt mutual friendship and esteem. The strongest recognition of the kindliness which underlay the mirth, is in a compliment paid by the Earl of Dudley, whose eccentricities, based on physical infirmity, might have excused sensitiveness. When Smith took leave of him, on going from London to Yorkshire, Dudley said, "You have been laughing at me constantly, Sydney, for the last seven years, and yet, in all that time, you never said a single thing to me that I wished unsaid." The fact is, that the humour of Sydney Smith was a relief from the usual social impertinences, the chief ingredient of which is malevolence, which pass, in society, under the name of wit. Take away the malignity, the spite, the perversions, the irreligion, the indecorum of most witty sayings, and how small a residuum is left. There was nothing of the slow, stealthy approach of the sarcastic, biting sayer of "good things" in Sydney Smith. His jests were in a rollicking vein of extravaganza. The tendency of this humour is to license, but Smith's conversation was innocent. Moore, who had the best opportunity of knowing the range of Smith's social moods, says, "in his gayest flights, though boisterous, he is never vulgar."* Rogers described his style to the life: "Whenever the conversation is getting dull, he throws in some touch which makes it rebound and rise again as light as ever. There is this difference between Luttrell and Smith: after Luttrell, you remember what good things he saidafter Smith, you remember how much you laughed.”†
* Diary, March 13, 1833.
† Moore's Diary, April 10, 1823. On the same occasion Moore writes: "Smith particularly amusing. Have rather held out against him hitherto; but this day he conquered me; and I am now his victim, in the laughing way, for life. His imagination of a duel between two doctors, with oil of Croton on the tips of their fingers, trying to touch each other's lips, highly ludi.
WISDOM OF THE WIT.
In his own Essay on Wit, Smith fearlessly quoted the multifarious and exhaustive definition of Barrow. He may be tried on each of its counts, and be found honourably guilty of perpetrating every jest enumerated in the indictment. The "pat allusion to a known story," is exemplified in the case of memorable Mrs. Partington; the "forging an apposite tale," in the passage from the Synod of Dort and the story of "the Village ;" while the "dress of humourous expression," the "odd similitude,” the "bold scheme of speech," the "tart irony," the "lusty hyperbole," the "acute nonsense," were peculiarly Sydney Smith's own. The reductio ad absurdum was his favourite method. He gave his fish line, and swam it to death. He well knew how "affinity of sound and words and phrases" enriched expression, and practised the art in his style, but the perversion of these things in puns he despised. We have noticed only two instances in all his writings.
If the form of his wit indicated something of levity, its spirit was sound and earnest. There was a grave thought always at the bottom. This has given his writings a permanent value, while brilliant contemporary reputations have fluttered and died. On this point an acute critic, Mrs. Jameson, remarks—and her testimony may be taken for the greater value, since she complains, that "her nature feels the want of the artistic and imaginative in his nature"-that "the wit of Sydney Smith almost always involved a thought worth remembering for its own sake, as well as worth remembering for its brilliant vehicle: the value of ten thousand pounds sterling of sense concentrated into a cut and polished diamond. It is not true, as I have heard it said," she continues, "that after leaving the society of Sydney Smith, you only remembered how much you had laughed, not the good things at which
* One of Napoleon, in 1798, "Ireland safe; and Buonaparte embayed in Egypt; that is, surrounded by Beys !" The other, in a note to the Countess Grey: "If any one bearing the name of Grey comes this way (to Combe Florey), send him to us: I am Grey-men-iverous !”
you had laughed. Few men-wits by profession-ever said so many memorable things as those recorded of Sydney Smith."*
The Letters of Sydney Smith have little pretension in their form as epistolary compositions; but they are rare specimens of a rare class; ranking, for their terseness and witty flavour, with the notes and "notelets" of Charles Lamb. They are generally brief, never attempt any regular or didactic exposition of a subject, but contain, in virtue of their epigrammatic truthfulness-to say nothing of the constant entertainment—profitable matter of general wisdom and information of the men and affairs of his day, to take their place with the published correspondence of the greatest of his contemporaries. In a few lines he settles a moral question, draws the portrait of a public man, pleasantly corrects a defect, or rallies the spirits of a friend. He wrote often to Jeffrey, and to John Murray; less frequently to Allen, Lord Holland, Earl Grey, and in the latter part of his life exchanged a gouty correspondence with Sir George Philips, and wrote warm complimentary notes to Dickens. But most of his letters are addressed to ladies; to Lady Holland, to Mrs, Meynell, to Miss Georgiana Harcourt, daughter of the Archbishop of York, the Countess Grey, Lady Mary Bennett, and others. Playful and sincerely affectionate, they are the perfection of ingenious flattery, the sweetness of the adulation being taken off by the humourous extravagance.
A paragraph is due to Holland House, a seat sacred in the history of Letters, the centre of the important social, literary, and political circle with which Sydney Smith revolved during the greater part of his life. Its traditions go back to the early years of the seventeenth century, when it was built by Sir Walter Cope. The grounds had belonged to the noble family of the De
* Common-Place Book of Thoughts, Memorics and Fancies, p. 49. †There is a pleasant account of the historical incidents connected with Holland House, in two papers by Leigh Hunt, in Nos. 204 and 205 of House