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animal, Liberalism is to the polity. It is a principle of fermenting enjoyment, running over all the nerves, inspiring the frame, happy in its mind, easy in its place, glad to behold the sun. All this Sydney Smith, as it were, personified. The biography just published of him will be very serviceable to his fame. He has been regarded too much as a fashionable jester, and metropolitan wit of society. We have now for the first time a description of him as he was,-equally at home in the crude world of Yorkshire, and amid the quintessential refinements of Mayfair. It is impossible to believe that he did not give the epithet to his parish: it is now called Forton le Clay. It was a “mute inglorious” Sydney of the district, that invented the name, if it is really older than the century. It is a heavy parish of obtuse soil, inhabited by stiff-clayed Yorkshiremen. There was nobody in the parish to speak to, only peasants, farmers, and such like (what the clergy call parishioners par excellence), and an old clerk who thought every one who came from London a fool, “but you I do zee, Mr. Smith, be no fool.” This was the sort of life.
“I turned schoolmaster, to educate my son, as I could not afford to send him to school. Mrs. Sydney turned schoolmistress, to educate my girls, as I could not afford a governess. I turned farmer, as I could not let my land. A man-servant was too expensive; so I caught up a little garden.girl, made like a milestone, christened her Bunch, put a napkin in her hand, and made her my butler. The girls taught her to read, Mrs. Sydney to wait, and I undertook her morals ; Bunch became the best butler in the county.
“I had little furniture, so I bought a cart-load of deals ; took a carpenter (who came to me for parish relief, called Jack Robinson) with a face like a full-moon, into my service ; established him in a barn, and said, 'Jack, furnish my house. You see the result!
“At last it was suggested that a carriage was much wanted in the establishment; after diligent search, I discovered in the back settlements of a York coach-maker an ancient green chariot, supposed to have been the earliest invention of the kind. I brought it home in triumph to my admiring family. Being somewhat dilapidated, the village tailor lined it, the village blacksmith repaired it; nay, (but for Mrs. Sydney's earnest entreaties,) we believe the village painter would have exercised his genius upon the exterior ; it escaped this danger however, and the result was wonderful. Each year added to its charms: it grew younger and younger; a new wheel, a new spring; I christened it the Immortal ; it was known all over the neighbourhood; the village boys cheered it, and the village dogs barked at it; but . Faber meæ fortunæ' was my motto, and we had no false shame.
" Added to all these domestic cares, I was village parson, village doctor, village comforter, village magistrate, and Edinburgh Reviewer; so you see I had not much time left on my hands to regret London."
It is impossible not to be reminded of, and to compare this with the life of Sir Walter Scott. There is the same strong sense, the same glowing, natural pleasure, the same power of dealing with men, the same power of diffusing common happiness. Both enjoyed as much in a day, as an ordinary man in a month. The term “animal spirits” peculiarly expresses this bold enjoyment; it seems to come from a principle intermediate between the mind and the body; to be hardly intellectual enough for the soul, and yet too permeating and aspiring for crude matter. Of course there is an immense imaginative world in Scott's existence to which Sydney Smith had no claim. But they met upon the present world ; they enjoyed the spirit of life; “ they loved the world, and the world them;" they did not pain themselves with immaterial speculation-roast beef was an admitted fact. A certain, even excessive practical caution which is ascribed to the Englishman, Scott would have been the better for. Yet his biography would have been the worse. There is nothing in the life before us comparable in interest to the tragic, gradual cracking of the great mind; the overtasking of the great capital, and the ensuing failure; the spectacle of heaving genius breaking in the contact with misfortune. The anticipation of this pain increases the pleasure of the reader; the commencing threads of coming calamity shade the woof of pleasure; the proximity of suffering softens the ußpus, the terrible, fatiguing energy of enjoyment.
A great deal of excellent research has been spent on the difference between “humour” and “wit," into which metaphysical problem “our limits,” of course, forbid us to enter. There is, however, between them, the distinction of dry sticks and green sticks; there is in humour a living energy, a diffysed potency, a noble sap; it grows upon the character of the humourist. Wit is part of the machinery of the intellect; as Madame de Stael says, “ La gaieté de l'esprit est facile à tous les hommes de l'esprit." We wonder Mr. Babbage does not invent a punning-engine; it is just as possible as a calculating one. Sydney Smith's mirth was essentially humorous; it clings to the character of the man; as with the sayings of Dr. Johnson, there is a species of personality attaching to it; the word is more graphic because Sydney Smith--that man being the man that he waş,--said it, than it would have been if said by any one else. In a desponding moment, he said he
was none the better for the jests which he made, any more than a bottle for the wine which passed through it: this is a true description of many a wit, but he was very unjust in attributing it to himself.
Sydney Smith is often compared to Swift; but this only shows with how little thought our common criticism is written. The two men have really nothing in common, except that they were both high in the church, and both wrote amusing letters about Ireland. And a critic, whom one would have fancied to have an opposite prejudice, has lately preferred the Drapier's letters to “Peter Plymley."* Of course, to the great constructive and elaborative power displayed in Swift's longer works, Sydney Smith has no pretension; he could not have written“ Gulliver's Travels;" but so far as the two series of Irish letters goes, it seems to us plain that he has the advantage. Plymley's letters are true; the treatment may be incompletethe Catholic religion may have latent dangers and insidious attractions which are not there mentioned-but the main principle is sound; the common sense of religious toleration is hardly susceptible of better explanation. Drapier's letters, on the contrary, are essentially absurd; they are a clever appeal to ridiculous prejudices. Who cares now for a disputation on the evils to be apprehended a hundred years ago from adulterated halfpence, especially when we know that the halfpence were not adulterated, and that if they had been, those evils would never have arisen ? Any one, too, who wishes to make a collection of currency crotchets, will find those letters worth his attention. No doubt there is a clever affectation of common sense in these, as in all of Swift's political writings, and the style has an air of business; yet, on the other hand, there are no passages which any one would now care to quote for their manner and their matter; and there are many in “ Plymley” that will be constantly cited, so long as existing controversies are at all remembered. The whole genius of the two writers is emphatically opposed: Sydney Smith's is the ideal of popular, buoyant, riotous fun; it cries and laughs with boisterous mirth; it rolls hither and thither like a mob, with elastic and commonplace joy. Swift was a detective in a dean's wig; he watched the mob; his whole wit is a kind of dexterous indication of popular frailties; he hated the crowd; he was a spy on beaming smiles, and a common informer against genial enjoyment. His whole essence was a soreness against mortality; show him innocent mirth, he would say, How absurd! He was painfully wretched, no doubt, in himself: perhaps, as they say, he had no heart; but his mind, his brain had a frightful capacity for secret pain; his sharpness was the sharpness of disease; his power the sore acumen of morbid wretchedness. It is impossible to fancy a parallel more proper to show the excellence, the unspeakable superiority of a buoyant and bounding writer.
* See the last number of the Edinburgh Review.
At the same time, it is impossible to give to Sydney Smith the highest rank, even as a humourist. Almost all his humour has reference to the incongruity of special means to special ends. The notion of Plymley is want of conformity between the notions of “my brother Abraham," and the means of which he makes use; of the quiet clergyman, who was always told he was a bit of a goose, advocating conversion by muskets, and stopping Bonaparte by Peruvian bark. The notion of the letters to Archdeacon Singleton is, a bench of bishops, placid, and pleasantly destroying the church. It is the same with most of his writings. Even when there is nothing absolutely practical in the idea, the subject is from the scenery of practice, from concrete entities, near institutions, superficial facts. You might quote a hundred instances. This is one: “A gentleman, in speaking of a nobleman's wife of great rank and fortune, lamented very much that she had no children. A medical gentleman who was present observed, that to have no children was a great misfortune, but he had often observed 'it was hereditary in families.” This is what we mean by saying his mirth lies in the superficial relations of phenomena (some will say we are pompous, like the medical man); in the relation of one external fact to another external fact; of one detail of common life to another detail of common life. But this is not the highest topic of humour. Taken as a whole, the universe is absurd. There seems an unalterable contradiction between the human mind and its employments. How can a soul be a merchant ? What relation to an immortal being have the price of linseed, the fall of butter, the tare on tallow, or the brokerage on hemp? Can an undying creature debit “petty expenses,' and charge for “carriage paid ?”
All the world's a stage ;" the satchel, and the shining morning face "—the “strange oaths;”—“the bubble reputation"—the
" Eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Can these things be real ? Surely they are acting. What relation have they to the truth as we see it in theory? What connexion with our certain hopes, our deep desires, our craving and infinite thought? “In respect of itself, it is a good life; but in respect it is a shepherd's life, it is nought." The soul ties its shoe; the mind washes its hands in a basin.
All is incongruous.
Shallow. Certain, 'tis certain ; very sure, very sure; death, as the Psalmist saith, is certain to all; all shall die. How a good yoke of bullocks at Stamford fair ?
Silence. Truly, cousin, I was not there.
Shallow. Death is certain.-Is old Double, of your towni, living yet?
Silence, Dead, Sir.
Shallow. Dead. See! See! He drew a good bow,-and dead. He shot a fine shoot. John of Gaunt loved him well, and betted much money on his head.-Dead! He would have clapped i' the clout at fourscore, and carried you a forehandshaft, a fourteen and fourteen and-a-half, that it would have done a man's heart good to see.—How a score of ewes now?
Silence. Thereafter as they be; a score of ewes may be worth ten pounds.
Shallow. And is old Double dead !
It is because Sydney Smith had so little of this Shakespeareant humour, that there is a glare in his pages, and that in the midst of his best writing, we sigh for the soothing superiority of quieter writers.
Sydney Smith was not only the wit of the first Edinburgh, but likewise the divine. He was, to use his own expression, the only clergyman who in those days " turned out” to fight the battles of the Whigs. In some sort this was not so important. A curious abstinence from religious topics characterizes the original Review. There is a wonderful omission of this most natural topic of speculation in the lives of Horner and Jeffrey. In truth, it would seem, that living in the incessant din of an essentially Calvinistic country, the best course for thoughtful and serious men was to be silent,--at least they instinctively thought so. They felt no involuntary call to be theological teachers themselves, and as refined and gentle men necessarily recoiled from the coarse admonition around them. Even in the present milder time, few cultivated persons willingly think on the special dogmas of distinct theology. They do not deny them, but they live apart from them: they do not disbelieve them, but they are silent when they are stated. They do not deny the existence of Kamschatka, but they have no call to busy themselves with Kamschatka; they abstain from peculiar tenets. Nor in truth is this, though much aggravated by existing facts, a mere accident of the present times. There are some people to whom such a course