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Sydney Smith by George W. E. Russell

Part 3 out of 5

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Rector of Foston to a Prebendal Stall in Bristol Cathedral. This brought
him at length official station in the Church, and a permanent instead of a
terminable income. He wrote from Bristol on the 17th of February:--

"An extremely comfortable Prebendal house; seven-stall stables and
room for four carriages, so that I can hold all your _cortege_ when
you come; looks to the south, and is perfectly snug and parsonic;
masts of West-Indiamen seen from the windows... I have lived in perfect
solitude ever since I have been here, but am perfectly happy. The
novelty of this place amuses me."

From the time of his appointment to Bristol, Sydney Smith severed his
connexion with the _Edinburgh Review_, holding that anonymous journalism
was inconsistent with the position of an ecclesiastical dignitary. He had
contributed to the _Review_ for a quarter of a century; and, by a happy
accident, his last utterance, in the organ through which he had so long and
so strenuously fought for freedom, was yet one more plea for Roman Catholic
emancipation. Yet once again he urged, with all his force, the baseness of
deserting the good cause, and the danger and cruelty of delaying justice.--

"There is little new to be said; but we must not be silent, or, in
these days of baseness and tergiversation, we shall be supposed to
have deserted our friend the Pope, and they will say of us, _Prostant
venales apud Lambeth et Whitehall_. God forbid it should ever be said
of us with justice. It is pleasant to loll and roll and to
accumulate--to be a purple-and-fine-linen man, and to be called by some
of those nicknames which frail and ephemeral beings are so fond of
accumulating upon each other;---but the best thing of all is to live
like honest men, and to add something to the cause of liberality,
justice, and truth.

* * * * *

"We should like to argue this matter with a regular Tory Lord, whose
members vote steadily against the Catholic question. 'I wonder that
mere fear does not make you give up the Catholic question! Do you mean
to put this fine place in danger--the venison--the pictures--the
pheasants--the cellars--the hot-house and the grapery? Should you like
to see six or seven thousand French or Americans landed in Ireland,
and aided by a universal insurrection of the Catholics? Is it worth
your while to run the risk of their success? What evil from the
possible encroachment of Catholics, by civil exertions, can equal the
danger of such a position as this? How can a man of your carriages,
and horses, and hounds, think of putting your high fortune in such a
predicament, and crying out, like a schoolboy or a chaplain, 'Oh, we
shall beat them! we shall put the rascals down!' No Popery, I admit to
your Lordship, is a very convenient cry at an election, and has
answered your end; but do not push the matter too far. To bring on a
civil war for No Popery, is a very foolish proceeding in a man who has
two courses and a remove! As you value your side-board of plate, your
broad riband, your pier-glasses--if obsequious domestics and large
rooms are dear to you--if you love ease and flattery, titles and coats
of arms--if the labour of the French cook, the dedication of the
expecting poet, can move you--if you hope for a long life of
side-dishes--if you are not insensible to the periodical arrival of
the turtle-fleets--emancipate the Catholics! Do it for your ease, do
it for your indolence, do it for your safety--emancipate and eat,
emancipate and drink--emancipate, and preserve the rent-roll and the
family estate!"

In conclusion he gives a word of warning first to his Roman Catholic
clients, imploring them to be patient as well as firm; and then to the
various sections of the "No Popery" party in England--

"_To the Base_.--Sweet children of turpitude, beware! the old
antipopery people are fast perishing away. Take heed that you are not
surprised by an emancipating king, or an emancipating administration.
Leave a _locus poenitentiae!_--prepare a place for retreat--get ready
your equivocations and denials. The dreadful day may yet come, when
liberality may lead to place and power. We understand these matters
here. It is safest to be moderately base--to be flexible in shame, and
to be always ready for what is generous, good, and just, when any
thing is to be gained by virtue,"

The suggested prophecy had not long to wait for its fulfilment. In the
summer of 1828, William Vesey Fitzgerald, a great landowner in County
Clare, and one of the Members for that county, accepted office in the
Government as President of the Board of Trade, thereby vacating his seat.
Lord Beaconsfield shall tell the remainder of the story. "An Irish lawyer,
a professional agitator, himself a Roman Catholic and therefore ineligible,
announced himself as a candidate in opposition to the new minister, and on
the day of election thirty thousand peasants, setting at defiance all the
landowners of the county, returned O'Connell at the head of the poll, and
placed among not the least memorable of historical events--the Clare

This election decided the emancipation of the Roman Catholics, and the
cause, for which Sydney Smith had striven so heroically, was won at last.
On the 28th of August 1828 he wrote to a Roman Catholic friend:--

"Brougham thinks the Catholic question as good as carried; but I never
think myself as good as carried, till my horse brings me to my
stable-door.... What am I to do with my time, or you with yours, after
the Catholic question is carried?"

To the same friend he wrote:--

"You will be amused by hearing that I am to preach the 5th of
November[93] sermon at Bristol, and to dine at the 5th of November
dinner with the Mayor and Corporation of Bristol. All sorts of bad
theology are preached at the Cathedral on that day, and all sorts of
bad toasts drunk at the Mansion House. I will do neither the one nor
the other, nor bow the knee in the house of Rimmon."

On the 5th of November 1828, he wrote to Lord Holland:--

"To-day I have preached an honest sermon before the Mayor and
Corporation in the Cathedral--the most Protestant Corporation in
England! They stared at me with all their eyes. Several of them could
not keep the turtle on their stomachs."

The sermon[94] well deserved the epithet. It glanced, as the occasion
demanded, at the civil grievances of the Roman Catholics, and then it went
on to lay down some simple but sufficient rules by which men should
regulate their judgment on religious forms and bodies with which they do
not sympathize.--

"Our holy religion consists of some doctrines which influence
practice, and of others which are purely speculative. If religious
errors be of the former description, they may, perhaps, be fair
objects of human interference; but, if the opinion be merely
theological and speculative, there the right of human interference
seems to end, because the necessity for such interference does not
exist. Any error of this nature is between the Creator and the
creature,--between the Redeemer and the redeemed. If such opinions are
not the best opinions which can be found, God Almighty will punish the
error, if mere error seemeth to the Almighty a fit object of
punishment. Why may not a man wait if God waits? Where are we called
upon in Scripture to pursue men for errors purely speculative?--to
assist Heaven in punishing those offences which belong only to
Heaven?--in fighting unasked for what we deem to be the battles of
God,--of that patient and merciful God, who pities the frailties we do
not pity--who forgives the errors we do not forgive,--who sends rain
upon the just and the unjust, and maketh His sun to shine upon the
evil and the good.

* * * * *

"I shall conclude my sermon (extended, I am afraid, already to an
unreasonable length), by reciting to you a very short and beautiful
apologue, taken from the Rabbinical writers. It is, I believe, quoted
by Bishop Taylor in his _Holy Living and Dying_. I have not now access
to that book, but I quote it to you from memory, and should be made
truly happy if you would quote it to others from memory also.

"'As Abraham was sitting in the door of his tent, there came unto him
a wayfaring man; and Abraham gave him water for his feet, and set
bread before him. And Abraham said unto him, Let us now worship the
Lord our God before we eat of this bread. And the wayfaring man said
unto Abraham, I will not worship the Lord thy God, for thy God is not
my God; but I will worship my God, even the God of my fathers. But
Abraham was exceeding wroth; and he rose up to put the wayfaring man
forth from the door of his tent. And the voice of the Lord was heard
in the tent--Abraham, Abraham! have I borne with this man for three
score and ten years, and can'st thou not bear with him for one

This sermon was published by request, and the preacher apologized in the
preface for "sending to the press such plain rudiments of common charity
and common sense."

The beginning of 1829 was darkened by what Sydney Smith called "the first
great misfortune of his life." On the 14th of April, his eldest son Douglas
died, after a long illness, in his twenty-fifth year. His health had always
been delicate, but, in spite of repeated illnesses, he had become Captain
of the King's Scholars at Westminster,[96] and a Student of Christ Church.
His epitaph says--"His life was blameless. His death was the first sorrow
he ever occasioned his parents, but it was deep and lasting." On the 29th
of April his father wrote--"Time and the necessary exertions of life will
restore me;" but four months later the note is changed.--

"I never suspected how children weave themselves about the heart. My
son had that quality which is longest remembered by those who remain
behind--a deep and earnest affection and respect for his parents. God
save you from similar distress!"

And again:--

"I did not know I had cared so much for anybody; but the habit of
providing for human beings, and watching over them for so many years,
generates a fund of affection, of the magnitude of which I was not

Sixteen years later, when he lay dying and half-conscious, the cry
"Douglas, Douglas!" was constantly on his lips.

The prebendal stall at Bristol carried with it the incumbency of Halberton,
near Tiverton; and Sydney Smith exchanged the living of Foston for that of
Combe Florey in Somerset, which could be held conjointly with Halberton. On
the 14th of July 1829 he wrote from the "Sacred Valley of Flowers," as he
loved to call it:--

"I am extremely pleased with Combe Florey, and pronounce it to be a
very pretty place in a very beautiful country. The house I shall make
decently convenient."

"I need not say how my climate is improved. The neighbourhood much the
same as all other neighbourhoods. Red wine and white, soup and fish,
commonplace dulness and prejudice, bad wit and good-nature. I am,
after my manner, making my place perfect, and have twenty-eight people
constantly at work."

"I am going on fighting with bricklayers and carpenters, and shall
ultimately make a very pretty place and a very good house." "I
continue to be delighted with the country. My parsonage will be
perfection. The harvest is got in without any rain. The Cider is such
an enormous crop, that it is sold at ten shillings a hogshead; so that
a human creature may lose his reason for a penny."

"Luttrell came over for a day, from whence I know not, but I thought
not from good pastures; at least, he had not his usual soup-and-pattie
look. There was a forced smile upon his countenance, which seemed to
indicate plain roast and boiled; and a sort of apple-pudding
depression, as if he had been staying with a clergyman.... He was very
agreeable, but spoke too lightly, I thought, of veal soup, I took him
aside, and reasoned the matter with him, but in vain; to speak the
truth, Luttrell is not steady in his judgments on dishes. Individual
failures with him soon degenerate into generic objections, till, by
some fortunate accident, he eats himself into better opinions. A
person of more calm reflection thinks not only of what he is consuming
at that moment, but of the soups of the same kind he has met with in a
long course of dining, and which have gradually and justly elevated
the species. I am perhaps making too much of this; but the failures of
a man of sense are always painful"

One of the chief features in the restored Rectory of Combe Florey was a
library, twenty-eight feet long and eight high, ending in a bay-window
supported by pillars, and looking into a brilliant garden. This room had
been made by "throwing a pantry, a passage, and a shoe-hole together."
Three sides of it were covered with books. "No furniture so charming as
books," said Sydney, "even if you never open them, or read a single word."
He passionately loved light and colour, sunshine and flowers; and all his
books were bound in the most vivid blues and reds. "What makes a fire so
pleasant is that it is a live thing in a dead room," A visitor thus
describes him at his literary work:--

"At a large table in the bay-window, with his desk before him--on one
end of this table a case, something like a small deal music-stand,
filled with manuscript books--on the other a large deal tray, filled
with a leaden ink-stand, containing ink enough for a county; a
magnifying glass; a carpenter's rule; several large steel pens, which
it was high treason to touch; a glass bowl full of shot and water, to
clean these precious pens; and some red tape, which he called 'one of
the grammars of life'; a measuring line, and various other articles,
more useful than ornamental. At this writing establishment, unique of
its kind, he could turn his mind with equal facility, in company or
alone, to any subject, whether of business, study, politics,
instruction, or amusement, and move the minds of his hearers to
laughter or tears at his pleasure."

The daily life at Combe Florey was eminently patriarchal. He lived
surrounded by children, grandchildren, and friends; chatting with the poor,
comforting the sick, and petting the babies of the village. Old and young
alike he doctored with extraordinary vehemence and persistency, "As I don't
shoot or hunt, it is my only rural amusement." He wrote to a friend--"The
influenza to my great joy has appeared here, and I am in high medical
practice." "This is the house to be ill in," he used to say, "I take it as
a delicate compliment when my guests have a slight illness here. Come and
see my apothecary's shop." The "shop" was a room filled on one side with
drugs and on the other with groceries. "Life is a difficult thing in the
country, I assure you, and it requires a good deal of forethought to steer
the ship, when you live twelve miles from a lemon."

The church of Combe Florey was described by Francis Jeffrey as "a horrid
old barn." There the Rector performed two services a Sunday, celebrated the
Holy Communion once a month, and preached his practical sermons,
transcribed from his own execrable manuscript by a sedulous clerk. "I
like," he said, "to look down upon my congregation--to fire into them. The
common people say I am a _bould preacher_, for I like to have my arms free,
and to thump the pulpit." A lady dressed in crimson velvet he welcomed with
the words, "Exactly the colour of my preaching cushion! I really can hardly
keep my hands off you."

An anonymous correspondent kindly furnishes me with this description of the
Valley of Flowers as it was in more recent years:--

"I visited Combe Florey, with camera and vasculum, in 1893. It is one
of the loveliest spots in that district of lovely villages, lying in
the Vale of Taunton on the southern slope of the Quantocks. The
parsonage is entirely unchanged: there is Sydney's study, a
low-ceilinged room supported partly by pillars, level with the garden
and opening into it. There is the old-fashioned fireplace by which he
and his wife sate opposite each other in his last illness. 'Mrs.
Sydney has eight distinct illnesses, and I have nine. We take
something every hour, and pass the mixture from one to the other.'
Outside still grow his Conifers, a large Atlantic Cedar and a Deodara;
unchanged too are the palings over which Jack and Jill[97] peered with
antlered heads. Old villagers still talk of his medical dispensary,
and of the care with which he drove round to collect and carry into
Taunton their monthly deposits for the Savings Bank."

Meanwhile, great events were transacting themselves in the political world,
and they had an important bearing on the tranquil life of Combe Florey. On
the 4th of May 1830, Sydney Smith wrote from London to his wife in the

"The King is going downhill as before, but seems to be a long time in
the descent. All kinds of intrigues are going on about change of
Ministry, and all kinds of hopes and fears afloat. Nothing is more
improbable than that I should be made a Bishop, and, if I ever had the
opportunity, I am now, when far removed from it, decidedly of opinion
that it would be the greatest act of folly and absurdity to accept
it--to live with foolish people, to do foolish and formal things all
day, to hold my tongue, or to twist it into conversation unnatural
to me."

King George IV. died on the 26th of June. The accession of William IV., who
was supposed to have some tendencies towards Whiggism, greatly stimulated
the demand for Parliamentary Reform; and the revolution in France, which
dethroned Charles X., gave a strong impetus to the democratic forces in
England. Parliament was dissolved on the 24th of July. On the 14th of
August Charles Greville wrote, "The elections are still going against the
Government, and the signs of the times are all for reform and retrenchment,
and against slavery." In writing to congratulate a young Roman Catholic who
had been elected for Carlisle, Sydney Smith said--

"I rejoice in the temple which has been reared to Toleration; and I am
proud that I worked as a bricklayer's labourer at it--without pay, and
with the enmity and abuse of those who were unfavourable to its

The new Parliament met on the 26th of October. On the 2nd of November, in
the debate on the Address, the Duke of Wellington made a vehement
declaration against Reform. This was the signal for an immense outcry.
There were mobs and riots everywhere. The King's projected visit to the
City on Lord Mayor's Day was abandoned. The Tory Government were beaten on
a motion relating to the new Civil List. "Never was any Administration so
completely and so suddenly destroyed; and, I believe, entirely by the
Duke's declaration." Lord Grey[99] became Prime Minister, as the head of a
Whig administration pledged to Reform. Soon afterwards Sydney Smith wrote
to a friend--

"I think Lord Grey will give me some preferment if he stays in long
enough; but the upper parsons live vindictively, and evince their
aversion to a Whig Ministry by an improved health."

The Reform Bill was brought in on the 1st of March 1831. Sydney thought it
"a magnificent measure, as wise as it is bold." Meetings of Reformers were
held all over the country to support it. Such a meeting was held at Taunton
on the 9th of March, and the Rector of Combe Florey attended and spoke.

"This," he said, "is the greatest measure which has ever been before
Parliament in my time, and the most pregnant with good or evil to the
country; and, though I seldom meddle with political meetings, I could
not reconcile it to my conscience to be absent from this. Every year
for this half century the question of Reform has been pressing upon
us, till it has swelled up at last into this great and awful
combination; so that almost every City and every Borough in England
are at this moment assembled for the same purpose and are doing the
same thing we are doing."

A great part of the controversy turned on the disfranchisement of the
"Pocket Boroughs," and this was a subject which immediately suggested a
happy apologue--

"These very same politicians are now looking in an agony of terror at
the disfranchisement of Corporations containing twenty or thirty
persons, sold to their representatives, who are themselves perhaps
sold to the Government: and to put an end to these enormous abuses is
called _Corporation robbery_, and there are some persons wild enough
to talk of compensation. This principle of compensation you will
consider perhaps, in the following instance, to have been carried as
far as sound discretion permits. When I was a young man, the place in
England I remember as most notorious for highwaymen and their exploits
was Finchley Common, near the metropolis; but Finchley Common, in the
progress of improvement, came to be enclosed, and the highwaymen lost
by these means the opportunity of exercising their gallant vocation. I
remember a friend of mine proposed to draw up for them a petition to
the House of Commons for compensation, which ran in this manner--'We,
your loyal highwaymen of Finchley Common and its neighbourhood having,
at great expense, laid in a stock of blunderbusses, pistols, and other
instruments for plundering the public, and finding ourselves impeded
in the exercise of our calling by the said enclosure of the said
Common of Finchley, humbly petition your Honourable House will be
pleased to assign to us such compensation as your Honourable House in
its wisdom and justice may think fit.'--Gentlemen, I must leave the
application to you....

"The greater part of human improvements, I am sorry to say, are made
after war, tumult, bloodshed, and civil commotion: mankind seem to
object to every species of gratuitous happiness, and to consider every
advantage as too cheap, which is not purchased by some calamity. I
shall esteem it as a singular act of God's providence, if this great
nation, guided by these warnings of history, not waiting till tumult
for Reform, nor trusting Reform to the rude hands of the lowest of the
people, shall amend their decayed institutions at a period when they
are ruled by a popular monarch, guided by an upright minister, and
blessed with profound peace."

On the 22nd of March the Second Reading was carried by a majority of one.
But directly afterwards the Government was defeated on an amendment in
Committee, and promptly appealed to the country. Parliament was dissolved
on the 23rd of April. "Bold King! bold Ministers!" wrote Sydney on the
25th. Popular feeling was now really roused. "The Bill, the whole Bill, and
nothing but the Bill" was the war-cry from Caithness to Cornwall. Lord John
Russell, who had brought the Bill into Parliament, was the hero of the
hour. He contested Devonshire at the General Election, and Sydney, who had
a vote for the county, met him at Exeter.--

"The people along the road were very much disappointed by his
smallness. I told them he was much larger before the Bill was thrown
out, but was reduced by excessive anxiety about the people. This
brought tears into their eyes!"

At this juncture Sydney composed (and published in the name of an imaginary
Mr. Dyson), a "Speech to the Freeholders on Reform"--

"Stick to the Bill--it is your Magna Charta, and your Runnymede. King
John made a present to the Barons. King William has made a similar
present to you. Never mind common qualities, good in common times. If
a man does not vote for the Bill, he is unclean--the plague-spot is
upon him--push him into the lazaretto of the last century, with
Wetherell[100] and Sadler[101]--purify the air before you approach
him--bathe your hands in Chloride of Lime, if you have been
contaminated by his touch....

"The thing I cannot, and will not bear, is this;--what right has
_this_ Lord, or _that_ Marquis, to buy ten seats in Parliament, in the
shape of Boroughs, and then to make laws to govern me? And how are
these masses of power re-distributed? The eldest son of my Lord is
just come from Eton--he knows a good deal about AEneas and Dido, Apollo
and Daphne--and that is all; and to this boy his father gives a
six-hundredth part of the power of making laws, as he would give him a
horse or a double-barrelled gun. Then Vellum, the steward, is put
in--an admirable man;--he has raised the estates--watched the progress
of the family Road-and-Canal Bills--and Vellum shall help to rule over
the people of England. A neighbouring country gentleman, Mr. Plumpkin,
hunts with my Lord--opens him a gate or two, while the hounds are
running--dines with my Lord--agrees with my Lord--wishes he could
rival the South-Down sheep of my Lord--and upon Plumpkin is conferred
a portion of the government. Then there is a distant relation of the
same name, in the County Militia, with white teeth, who calls up the
carriage at the Opera, and is always wishing O'Connell was hanged,
drawn, and quartered--then a barrister, who has written an article in
the _Quarterly_, and is very likely to speak, and refute M'Culloch;
and these five people, in whose nomination I have no more agency than
I have in the nomination of the toll-keepers of the Bosphorus, are to
make laws for me and my family--to put their hands in my purse, and to
sway the future destinies of this country; and when the neighbours
step in, and beg permission to say a few words before these persons
are chosen, there is an universal cry of rain, confusion, and
destruction--'We have become a great people under Vellum and
Plumpkin--under Vellum and Plumpkin our ships have covered the
ocean--under Vellum and Plumpkin our armies have secured the strength
of the Hills--to turn out Vellum and Plumpkin is not Reform, but

It was said by the opponents of the Bill that the existing system worked

"Work well! How does it work well, when every human being in-doors and
out (with the exception of the Duke of Wellington) says it must be
made to work better, or it will soon cease to work at all? It is
little short of absolute nonsense to call a government good, which the
great mass of Englishmen would, before twenty years were elapsed, if
Reform were denied, rise up and destroy. Of what use have all the
cruel laws been of Perceval, Eldon, and Castlereagh, to extinguish
Reform? Lord John Russell, and his abettors, would have been committed
to gaol twenty years ago for half only of his present Reform; and now
relays of the people would drag them from London to Edinburgh; at
which latter city we are told, by Mr. Dundas, that there is no
eagerness for Reform. Five minutes before Moses struck the rock, this
gentleman would have said that there was no eagerness for water.

"There are two methods of making alterations: the one is to despise
the applicants, to begin with refusing every concession, then to relax
by making concessions which are always too late; by offering in 1831
what is then too late, but would have been cheerfully accepted in
1830--gradually to O'Connellize the country, till at last, after this
process has gone on for some time, the alarm becomes too great, and
every thing is conceded in hurry and confusion. In the mean time fresh
conspiracies have been hatched by the long delay, and no gratitude is
expressed for what has been extorted by fear. In this way peace was
concluded with America, and Emancipation granted to the Catholics; and
in this way the War of Complexions will be finished in the West
Indies. The other method us, to see at a distance that the thing must
be done, and to do it effectually, _and at once_; to take it out of
the hands of the common people, and to carry the measure in a manly
liberal manner, so as to satisfy the great majority. The merit of this
belongs to the administration of Lord Grey. He is the only Minister I
know of, who has begun a great measure in good time, conceded at the
beginning of twenty years what would have been extorted at the end of
it, and prevented that folly, violence, and ignorance, which emanate
from a long denial and extorted concession of justice to great masses
of human beings. I believe the question of Reform, or any dangerous
agitation of it, is set at rest for thirty or forty years; and this is
an eternity in politics.

* * * * *

"I am old and tired,--thank me for ending; but one word more before I
sit down. I am old, but I thank God I have lived to see more than my
observations on human nature taught me I had any right to expect. I
have lived to see an honest King, in whose word his ministers could
trust, I have lived to see a King with a good heart, who, surrounded
by nobles, thinks of common men; who loves the great mass of English
people, and wishes to be loved by them; and who, in spite of clamour,
interest, prejudice, and fear, has the manliness to carry these wise
changes into immediate execution. Gentlemen, farewell! Shout for the

Having done his best for the good cause in the country, Sydney Smith
returned to London to watch the results. On the 6th of June Macaulay met
him at dinner, and writes thus next day:--

"Sydney Smith leaves London on the 20th--the day before Parliament
meets for business, I advised him to stay and see something of his
friends, who would be coming up to London. 'My flock!' said this good
shepherd, 'my dear sir, remember my flock!

"The hungry sheep look up and are not fed,"'

"...He begged me to come and see him at Combe Florey. 'There I am,
sir, in a delightful parsonage, about which I care a great deal, and a
delightful country, about which I do not care a straw.'"

When the new House of Commons assembled, it was found to contain a great
majority of Reformers. A fresh Bill was introduced, and passed the Second
Reading, by a majority of 136, on the 8th of July. While it was ploughing
its way through Committee, the Coronation of William IV. took place on the
8th of September. The solemnity was made an occasion for public rejoicings
in the country, and loyalty was judiciously reinforced by the suggestion
that the King was, in this great controversy, on the same side as his
people. At a meeting at Taunton, Sydney Smith spoke as follows:--

"I am particularly happy to assist on this occasion, because I think
that the accession of the present King is a marked and important era
in English history. Another coronation has taken place since I have
been in the world, but I never assisted at its celebration. I saw in
it a change of masters, not a change of system. I did not understand
the joy which it occasioned. I did not feel it, and I did not
counterfeit what I did not feel.

"I think very differently of the accession of his present Majesty. I
believe I see in that accession a great probability of serious
improvement, and a great increase of public happiness. The evils which
have been long complained of by bold and intelligent men are now
universally admitted. The public feeling, which has been so often
appealed to, is now intensely excited. The remedies which have so
often been called for are now, at last, vigorously, wisely, and
faithfully applied, I admire, gentlemen, in the present King, his love
of peace--I admire in him his disposition to economy, and I admire in
him, above all, his faithful and honourable conduct to those who
happen to be his ministers. He was, I believe, quite as faithful to
the Duke of Wellington as to Lord Grey, and would, I have no doubt, be
quite as faithful to the political enemies of Lord Grey (if he thought
fit to employ them) as he is to Lord Grey himself. There is in this
reign no secret influence, no double ministry--on whomsoever he
confers the office, to him he gives that confidence without which the
office cannot be holden with honour, nor executed with effect. He is
not only a peaceful King, and an economical King, but he is an honest
King. So far, I believe, every individual of this company will go with

* * * * *

"There is an argument I have often heard, and that is this--Are we to
be afraid?--is this measure to be carried by intimidation?--is the
House of Lords to be overawed? But this style of argument proceeds
from confounding together two sets of feelings which are entirely
distinct--personal fear and political fear. If I am afraid of voting
against this bill, because a mob may gather about the House of
Lords--because stones may be flung at my head--because my house may be
attacked by a mob, I am a poltroon, and unfit to meddle with public
affairs. But I may rationally be afraid of producing great public
agitation; I may be honourably afraid of flinging people into secret
clubs and conspiracies--I may be wisely afraid of making the
aristocracy hateful to the great body of the people. This surely has
no more to do with fear than a loose identity of name; it is in fact
prudence of the highest order; the deliberate reflection of a wise
man, who does not like what he is going to do, but likes still less
the consequences of not doing it, and who of two evils chooses the

"There are some men much afraid of what is to happen; my lively hope
of good is, I confess, mingled with very little apprehension; but of
one thing I must be candid enough to say that I am much afraid, and
that is of the opinion now increasing, that the people are become
indifferent to reform; and of that opinion I am afraid, because I
believe in an evil hour it may lead some misguided members of the
Upper House of Parliament to vote against the bill. As for the opinion
itself, I hold it in the utmost contempt. The people are waiting in
virtuous patience for the completion of the bill, because they know it
is in the hands of men who do not mean to deceive them. I do not
believe they have given up one atom of reform--I do not believe that a
great people were ever before so firmly bent upon any one measure. I
put it to any man of common sense, whether he believes it possible,
after the King and Parliament have acted as they have done, that the
people will ever be content with much less than the present bill
contains. If a contrary principle be acted upon, and the bill
attempted to be got rid of altogether, I confess I tremble for the
consequences, which I believe will be of the worst and most painful
description; and this I say deliberately, after the most diligent and
extensive enquiry. Upon that diligent enquiry I repeat again my firm
conviction, that the desire of reform has increased, not diminished;
that the present repose is not indifference, but the calmness of
victory, and the tranquillity of success. When I see all the wishes
and appetites of created beings changed,--when I see an eagle, that,
after long confinement, has escaped into the air, come back to his
cage and his chain,--when I see the emancipated negro asking again for
the hoe which has broken down his strength, and the lash which has
tortured his body--I will then, and not till then, believe that the
English people will return to their ancient degradation--that they
will hold out their repentant hands for those manacles which at this
moment lie broken into links at their feet."

This fine speech was delivered at a crucial moment of the speaker's
personal fortunes. Whether he would or would not have made a good bishop,
and whether the Whigs were or wore not justly chargeable with
cowardice[103] in not having raised him to the Episcopal Bench, are
disputable points. It seems certain, from his own declarations, that in
later life he would have declined the honour; but there was a time when it
might have been offered, and would probably have been accepted. When he
feared that England might be dragged into war with France on behalf of
Spain, he composed a skit purporting to be a Protest entered on the
Journals of the Lords by the Bishop of Worcester, and signed it "Sydney
Vigorn."[104] The Bishop of Worcester[105] died on the 5th of September
1831, and Lord Grey gave the vacant mitre to a Tory.[106] Sydney's emotions
are not recorded; but on the 10th of September Lord Grey offered him a
Residentiary Canonry of St. Paul's--"a snug thing, let me tell you, being
worth full L2000 a year." It was not an overwhelming reward for such long
and such brilliant service to the causes which Lord Grey represented, but
it was a recognition--and it was enough. He was installed on the 27th of
September, and on the day of his installation he wrote to a friend--"It
puts me at my ease for life. I asked for nothing--never did anything shabby
to procure preferment. These are pleasing recollections."

Soon afterwards, he was presented on his appointment, and met with a
misadventure at the Palace.--

"I went to Court, and, horrible to relate, with strings to my shoes
instead of buckles--not from Jacobinism, but ignorance. I saw two or
three Tory lords looking at me with dismay, was informed by the Clerk
of the Closet of my sin, and, gathering my sacerdotal petticoats about
me (like a lady conscious of thick ankles) I escaped further

[83] Francis Wrangham (1769-1842), Archdeacon of Cleveland.

[84] William Vernon-Harcourt {1789-1871}, father of Sir William
Vernon-Harcourt, M.P.

[85] Patrick Duigenan (1735-1816), LL.D., M.P. for the City of Armagh, and
Protestant agitator.

[86] The _Yorkshire Gazette_ for April 12, 1823, contains a long
letter from "A North Riding Clergyman," protesting against the
language used by Sydney Smith. This clergyman states that the report
of the meeting at Thirsk, given by the _York Herald_ of March 29, was
"unquestionably by the Minority themselves." It "professes to be a
sketch of what was said and done at the meeting of the North Riding
Clergy. Then the public is favoured with three considerable speeches,
filling three close columns of a newspaper, on the one side; and not
with three lines, nay, not with one, of anything said on the other
side.... Surely the whole of the twenty-two clergyman who differed
from the ten were not so astounded by the eloquence and display of
their opponents as to remain absolutely speechless." It is further
said that "on the present occasion, and after assuring his learned
brethren that he was not going to inflict upon them a speech, and some
other remarks of similar accuracy, Mr. Smith immediately harangues
them in a vehement and long speech; during which, with firm resolve,
it may seem, not to possess either 'overheated mind' or body, he
nearly exhausted the 'Three Tuns' of water," For this quotation, and
for the date of the meeting, which had been erroneously stated by
previous writers, I am indebted to the courtesy of Mr. J.S.R.
Phillips, editor of the _Yorkshire Post_.

[87] (1808-1889): became 8th Earl of Carlisle in 1864 The Rev. Richard
Wilton, Canon of York and Rector of Londesborough, wrote in 1895:--"My
former venerable friend, the oldest inhabitant, gave me some graphic
descriptions of Sydney Smith's visit to the parish once or twice a
year, and the interest which was felt in the village when he drove
over from Foston, his other living, to preach an occasional sermon at
Londesborough. His reading, and manner in the pulpit, were described
to me as having been 'bold and impressive.' As soon as the sermon was
over, he would hasten out of the church along with his hearers, and
chat with the farmers about their turnips, or cattle, or corn-crops,
being anxious to utilize his scant opportunities of conversing with
his parishioners.... There was until lately living in this parish an
old man aged eighty, who was proud of telling how he was invited over
to Foston to 'brew for Sydney,' as he affectionately called him."

[88] Mr. Stuart Reid gives to this curious name the more impressive form of

[89] As Earl Marshal.

[90] "Thurloe writes to Henry Cromwell to _catch_ up some thousand
Irish boys, to send to the colonies. Henry writes back he has done so;
and desires to know whether his Highness would choose as many girls to
be caught up: and he add, 'doubtless it is a business in which God
will appear.' Suppose _bloody Queen Mary_ had caught up and
transported three or four thousand Protestant boys and girls from the
three Ridings of Yorkshire!!!!!! S.S."

[91] John Singleton Copley (1772-1863).

[92] _Endymion_, vol. I. chapter vi.

[93] The special services for "Gunpowder Treason" and other State Holy Days
were discontinued by Royal Warrant in 1859.

[94] From Col. iii. 12, 13--"Put on, as the elect of God, kindness,
humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering; forbearing one another,
and forgiving one another."

[95] This apologue (which, the preacher thought, "would make a charming and
useful placard against the bigoted") occurs in the _Liberty of
Prophesying_, and has been traced to Gentius, the Latin translator of

[96] "Having become a King's Scholar, the hardships and cruelties he
suffered, as a junior boy, from his fag-master, were such as at one
time very nearly forced us to remove him from the school. He was taken
home for a short period, to recover from his bruises, and restore his
eye. His first act, on becoming Captain himself, was to endeavour to
ameliorate the condition of the juniors, and to obtain additional
comforts for them from the Head Master."--_From Mrs, Sydney Smith's

[97] Two donkeys, which were disguised as deer for the astonishment of

[98] The Roman Catholic Emancipation Bill had become law on the 13th of
April 1829.

[99] Charles, 2nd Earl Grey (1764-1846).

[100] Sir Charles Wetherell (1770-1846), Attorney-General, and Recorder of

[101] Michael Thomas Sadler (1780-1835), M.P. for Newark.

[102] This is the "Speech respecting the Reform Bill" in Sydney Smith's
Collected Works.

[103] Lord Houghton wrote in 1873--"I heard Lord Melbourne say, 'Sydney
Smith has done more for the Whigs than all the clergy put together,
and our not making him a bishop was mere cowardice."

[104] The archaic signature of the Bishops of Worcester. Mrs. Austin
transcribes it "Vigour," and puts the Protest among the letters of
1831. Sir Spencer Walpole points out that it probably belongs to the
year 1823, when Lord Ellenborough moved an Address to the Crown in
favour of intervention in Spain.

[105] Ffolliot H.-W. Cornewall (1754-1831).

[106] Robert James Carr (1774-1841). It was said that this appointment was
due to a promise made by George IV., whom Dr. Carr, formerly Vicar of
Brighton, had attended in his last illness.



Meanwhile the Reform Bill had passed the House of Commons and was sent up
to the House of Lords. In the summer, Sydney Smith had written to Lord
Grey--"You may be sure that any attempt of the Lords to throw out the Bill
will be the signal for the most energetic resistance from one end of the
kingdom to another." The Lords faced the risk, and threw out the Bill on
the 8th of October 1831.

Sydney's prophecy was promptly justified, and the most threatening violence
and disorder broke out in the great centres of industrial population. Whigs
and Radicals alike rallied, as one man, to the cause of Reform. On the 11th
of October a public meeting was held at Taunton to protest against the
action of the Lords and express unabated confidence in the Government. It
was on this occasion that Sydney Smith made the most famous of his
political speeches. He deplored the collision between the two Houses of
Parliament, but he was not the least alarmed about the fate of the Bill.
The Lords were no match for the forces arrayed against them.--

"As for the possibility of the House of Lords preventing for long a
reform of Parliament, I hold it to be the most absurd notion that ever
entered into the human imagination. I do not mean to be disrespectful,
but the attempt of the Lords to stop the progress of Reform reminds me
very forcibly of the great storm at Sidmouth, and of the conduct of
the excellent Mrs. Partington on that occasion. In the winter of 1824,
there set in a great flood upon that town--the tide rose to an
incredible height--the waves rushed in upon the houses, and everything
was threatened with destruction. In the midst of this sublime and
terrible storm, Dame Partington, who lived upon the beach, was seen at
the door of her house with mop and pattens, trundling her mop,
squeezing out the sea-water, and vigorously pushing away the Atlantic
Ocean. The Atlantic was roused. Mrs. Partington's spirit was up; but I
need not tell you that the contest was unequal. The Atlantic Ocean
beat Mrs. Partington. She was excellent at a slop, or a puddle, but
she should not have meddled with a tempest. Gentlemen, be at your
ease--be quiet and steady. You will beat Mrs. Partington."

Fifty years later, an eye-witness thus described the scene:--"The
introduction of the Partington storm was startling and unexpected. As he
recounted in felicitous terms the adventures of the excellent dame, suiting
the action to the word with great dramatic skill, he commenced trundling
his imaginary mop and sweeping back the intrusive waves of the Atlantic
with an air of resolute determination and an appearance of increasing
temper. The scene was realistic in the extreme, and was too much for the
gravity of the most serious. The house rose, the people cheered, and tears
of superabundant laughter trickled down the cheeks of fair women and
veteran reformers."[107]

This was his last public act in connexion with Parliamentary Reform; but
the keenness of his interest remained unabated till the day was won. On the
12th of December 1831, the Reform Bill was brought in a third time. It
again passed the House of Commons, and was again threatened with
destruction in the Lords. Sydney Smith wrote thus to Lord Grey:--

"I take it for granted you are prepared to make Peers, to force the
measure if it fail again, and I would have this intention
half-officially communicated in all the great towns before the Bill
was brought in. If this is not done--I mean, if Peers are not
made--there will be a general convulsion, ending in a complete
revolution.... If you wish to be happy three months hence, create
Peers. If you wish to avoid an old age of sorrow and reproach, create

Acting on this counsel, Lord Grey obtained the King's written consent to
the creation of as many peers as were required to carry the Bill. "I am for
forty," wrote Sydney, "to make things safe in Committee." But this extreme
remedy was not required. When it became known that the King had given his
consent, the opposition collapsed, and the Bill received the Royal Assent
on the 7th of June 1832. It was, as the Duke of Wellington said, a
revolution by due course of law.

Henceforward Sydney Smith appears rather as a supporter of things as they
are, than as a promoter of political or ecclesiastical change. Indeed there
are signs which seem to show that his stock of reforming zeal had already
run low. "The New Beer Bill[108] has begun its operations. Everybody is
drunk. Those who are not singing are sprawling. The Sovereign People are in
a beastly state." He was now past sixty, and a spirit of amiable
self-indulgence was creeping over him.--

"I love liberty, but hope it can be so managed that I shall have soft
beds, good dinners, fine linen, etc., for the rest of my life. I am
too old to fight or to suffer." "I am tired of liberty and revolution!
Where is it to end? Are all political agglutinations to be unglued?
Are we prepared for a second Heptarchy, and to see the King of Sussex
fighting with the Emperor of Essex, or marrying the Dowager Queen of

Just before the first elections under the Reform Act, he wrote to a Scotch

"What oceans of absurdity and nonsense will the new liberties of
Scotland disclose! Yet this is better than the old infamous jobbing,
and the foolocracy under which you have so long laboured."

Sydney Smith's first term of official duty at St. Paul's began on the 1st
of February 1832. On the eve of the new year he wrote to his married

"We are debating how to come up to town, and how to make a Stage Coach
compatible with Saba's aristocracy and dignity. The Coach sets off
from Taunton at four o'clock. It is then dark. I recommend her
hurrying in three minutes before the Coach departs with her face
covered up. But there is a maiden lady who knows us and who lives
opposite the Coach. I have promised to keep her in conversation whilst
Saba steps in. Once in, all chance of detection is over.

"_PS._--We think Miss Y---- has discovered us, for, upon meeting her
in Taunton, she spoke of the _Excellence of Public Conveyances_. I
said it was a fine day, and, conscious of guilt, retired."

The removal to London was safely accomplished, and on the 29th of January
he wrote:--

"I drove all this morning with Lady Holland. I had refused two or
three times last week, but, as a good deal is due to old friendship, I
wrote word that, if she would accept the company of a handsome young
clergyman, I knew of one who was much at her service. She was very
ill. I preached to her, not 'of Temperance and Righteousness and
Judgement to come,' but said nothing of the two last and confined
myself to the first topic. 'Lay aside pepper, and brandy and water,
and _baume de vie_. Prevent the evil instead of curing it. A single
mutton chop, a glass of toast and water'--here she cried and I
stopped; but she began sobbing, and I was weak enough to allow two
glasses of sherry--on which she recovered."

A few days later he wrote to his old friend Lady Morley[109]:--

"I have taken possession of my preferment. The house is in Amen
Corner,--an awkward name on a card, and an awkward annunciation to the
coachman on leaving any fashionable mansion.[110] I find too (sweet
discovery!) that I give a dinner every Sunday, for three months in the
year, to six clergymen and six singing-men, at one o'clock. Do me the
favour to drop in as _Mrs._ Morley."

It soon became evident that the Whig Government, flushed with its triumph
over Toryism, intended to lay reforming hands upon the Church,[111] and the
newly-fledged dignitary was alarmed. On the 22nd of December 1832 he

"I see Lord Grey, the Chancellor, and the Archbishop of Canterbury
have had a meeting, which I suppose has decided the fate of the
Church." "Do you want a butler or respectable-looking groom of the
chambers? I shall be happy to serve you in either capacity; it is time
for the clergy to look out. I have also a cassock and stock of sermons
to dispose of, dry and fit for use." "I am for no more movements: they
are not relished by Canons of St. Paul's. When I say, 'no more
movements,' however, I except the case of the Universities; which, I
think, ought to be immediately invaded with Enquirers and
Commissioners. They are a crying evil." "Do not imagine I am going to
rat. I am a thoroughly honest, and, I will say, liberal person, but
have never given way to that puritanical feeling of the Whigs against
dining with Tories.

"'Tory and Whig in turns shall be my host,
I taste no politics in boil'd and roast.'"

In declining an invitation to dinner he wrote:--

"On one day of the year, the Canons of St. Paul's divide a little
money--an inadequate recompense for all the troubles and anxieties
they undergo. This day is, unfortunately for me, that on which you
have asked me (the 25th of March), when we all dine together,
endeavouring to forget for a few moments, by the aid of meat and wine,
the sorrows and persecutions of the Church."

Of Sydney Smith's official relations with St. Paul's abundant traces are
still to be found. He took a leading part in the business of the Chapter.
Dean Milman[112] wrote:--"I find traces of him in every particular of
Chapter affairs: and, on every occasion where his hand appears, I find
stronger reasons for respecting his sound judgment, knowledge of business,
and activity of mind; above all the perfect fidelity of his stewardship....
His management of the affairs of St. Paul's (for at one time he seems to
have been _the_ manager) only commenced too late and terminated too soon."

A Select Committee of the House of Commons was appointed in 1841 to inquire
into the condition of National Monuments. One fragment of Sydney Smith's
evidence is quaint enough to be recalled.--

"I hope I leave the Committee with this very decided impression, that,
in such an immense town as this, free admission into the Cathedral
would very soon inflict upon that Cathedral the infamy of being a
notorious resort for all bad characters; it would cease to be
frequented as a place of worship, and the whole purpose for which it
exists destroyed; and that to this the payment operates as a decided

When examined before the same Committee, the Surveyor to the Cathedral
testified that there "had been no superintendence at all comparable to that
of Mr. Sydney Smith"; that he had warmed the Library and rebound the books;
that he had insured the fabric against fire; and had "brought the New River
into the Cathedral by mains." The Verger testified that the monuments had
fallen into a dreadful state of decay and disfigurement, and that there
were "twenty thousand names scratched on the font"; but that now by Mr.
Smith's orders everything had been repaired, cleaned, and set in order.

As regards Sydney Smith's preaching, testimony is equally explicit. He said
of himself, in a letter stating his claims to ecclesiastical preferment, "I
am distinguished as a preacher," and this seems to have been no more than
the truth. George Ticknor, writing in 1835, said that he had heard from
Sydney "by far the best sermon that I have heard in England." Charles
Greville wrote;--"He is very good; manner impressive, voice sonorous and
agreeable: rather familiar, but not offensively so." Mrs, Austin,[113] who
afterwards edited his Letters, writes:--"The choir[114] was densely
filled.... The moment he appeared in the pulpit, all the weight of his
duty, all the authority of his office, were written on his countenance;
and, without a particle of affectation, his whole demeanour bespoke the
gravity of his purpose."

This exactly corresponds with the impression of a listener to his famous
sermon on Toleration, in Bristol Cathedral. "Never did anybody to my mind
look more like a High Churchman, as he walked up the aisle to the
altar--there was an air of so much proud dignity in his appearance."

Perhaps this account of Sydney Smith's relations with St. Paul's Cathedral
cannot be better concluded than with some extracts from the noble sermon
which he preached there on the occasion of Queen Victoria's accession. It
is a remarkably fine instance of his rhetorical manner. It reveals an
ardent and sagacious patriotism. It breathes a spirit of fatherly interest
which excellently becomes a minister of religion, glancing, from the close
of a long life spent in public affairs, at the possibilities, at once awful
and splendid, which lay before the Girl-Queen.

The preacher, in his opening paragraphs, briefly announces his theme. His
starting-point is the death of the King.--

"From the throne to the tomb--wealth, splendour, flattery, all gone!
The look of favour--the voice of power, no more;--the deserted
palace--the wretched monarch on his funeral bier--the mourners
ready--the dismal march of death prepared. Who are we, and what are
we? and for what has God made us? and why are we doomed to thus frail
and unquiet existence? Who does not feel all this? in whose heart does
it not provoke appeal to, and dependence on, God? before whose eyes
does it not bring the folly and the nothingness of all things human?"

He pauses to pay a tribute to the honesty and patriotism of William IV.,
and then proceeds:--

"But the world passes on, and a new order of things arises. Let us
take a short view of those duties which devolve upon the young Queen,
whom Providence has placed over us: what ideas she ought to form of
her duties; and on what points she should endeavour to place the
glories of her reign.

"First and foremost, I think the new Queen should bend her mind to the
very serious consideration of educating her people. Of the importance
of this I think no reasonable doubt can exist; it does not in its
effects keep pace with the exaggerated expectations of its injudicious
advocates; but it presents the best chance of national improvement.

"Reading and writing are mere increase of power. They may be turned, I
admit, to a good or a bad purpose; but for several years of his life
the child is in your hands, and you may give to that power what bias
you please. Thou shalt not kill--Thou shalt not steal--Thou shalt not
bear false witness:--by how many fables, by how much poetry, by how
many beautiful aids of imagination, may not the fine morality of the
Sacred Scriptures be engraven on the minds of the young? I believe the
arm of the assassin may be often stayed by the lessons of his early
life. When I see the village school, and the tattered scholars, and
the aged master or mistress teaching the mechanical art of reading or
writing, and thinking that they are teaching that alone, I feel that
the aged instructor is protecting life, insuring property, fencing the
altar, guarding the throne, giving space and liberty to all the fine
powers of man, and lifting him up to his own place in the order of

"There are, I am sorry to say, many countries in Europe which have
taken the lead of England in the great business of education, and it
is a thoroughly commendable and legitimate object of ambition in a
Sovereign to overtake them. The names, too, of malefactors, and the
nature of their crimes, are subjected to the Sovereign;--how is it
possible that a Sovereign, with the fine feelings of youth, and with
all the gentleness of her sex, should not ask herself, whether the
human being whom she dooms to death, or at least does not rescue from
death, has been properly warned in early youth of the horrors of that
crime, for which his life is forfeited--'Did he ever receive any
education at all?--did a father and a mother watch over him?--was he
brought to places of worship?--was the Word of God explained to
him?--was the Book of Knowledge opened to him?--Or am I, the fountain
of mercy, the nursing-mother of my people, to send a forsaken wretch
from the streets to the scaffold, and to punish by unprincipled
cruelty the evils of unprincipled neglect?'"

From zeal for education, we go on to love of Peace.--

"A second great object, which I hope will be impressed upon the mind
of this Royal Lady, is a rooted horror of war--an earnest and
passionate desire to keep her people in a state of profound peace. The
greatest curse which can be entailed upon mankind is a state of war.
All the atrocious crimes committed in years of peace--all that is
spent in peace by the secret corruptions, or by the thoughtless
extravagance, of nations--are mere trifles compared with the gigantic
evils which stalk over the world in a state of war. God is forgotten
in war--every principle of Christian charity trampled upon--human
labour destroyed--human industry extinguished--you see the son, and
the husband, and the brother, dying miserably in distant lands--you
see the waste of human affections--you see the breaking of human
hearts--you hear the shrieks of widows and children after the
battle--and you walk over the mangled bodies of the wounded calling
for death. I would say to that Royal child, Worship God by loving
peace--it is not _your_ humanity to pity a beggar by giving him food
or raiment--_I_ can do that; that is the charity of the humble and the
unknown--widen you your heart for the more expanded miseries of
mankind--pity the mothers of the peasantry who see their sons torn
away from their families--pity your poor subjects crowded into
hospitals, and calling in their last breath upon their distant country
and their young Queen--pity the stupid, frantic folly of human beings
who are always ready to tear each other to pieces, and to deluge the
earth with each other's blood; this is your extended humanity--and
this the great field of your compassion. Extinguish in your heart the
fiendish love of military glory, from which your sex does not
necessarily exempt you, and to which the wickedness of flatterers may
urge you. Say upon your death-bed, 'I have made few orphans in my
reign--I have made few widows--my object has been peace. I have used
all the weight of my character, and all the power of my situation, to
check the irascible passions of mankind, and to turn them to the arts
of honest industry. This has been the Christianity of my throne, and
this the Gospel of my sceptre. In this way I have strove to worship my
Redeemer and my Judge.'"

True to his lifelong conviction, the preacher urges the sacredness of
religious freedom.--

"I hope the Queen will love the National Church, and protect it; but
it must be impressed upon her mind that every sect of Christians have
as perfect a right to the free exercise of their worship as the Church
itself--that there must be no invasion of the privileges of the other
sects, and no contemptuous disrespect of their feelings--that the
Altar is the very ark and citadel of Freedom.

* * * * *

"Though I deprecate the bad effects of fanaticism, I earnestly pray
that our young Sovereign may evince herself to be a person of deep
religious feeling: what other cure has she for all the arrogance and
vanity which her exalted position must engender? for all the flattery
and falsehood with which she must be surrounded? for all the
soul-corrupting homage with which she is met at every moment of her
existence? what other cure than to cast herself down in darkness and
solitude before God--to say that she is dust and ashes--and to call
down the pity of the Almighty upon her difficult and dangerous life.
This is the antidote of kings against the slavery and the baseness
which surround them; they should think often of death--and the folly
and nothingness of the world, and they should humble their souls
before the Master of masters, and the King of kings; praying to Heaven
for wisdom and calm reflection, and for that spirit of Christian
gentleness which exalts command into an empire of justice, and turns
obedience into a service of love."

Thus he recapitulates and concludes:--

"A young Queen, at that period of life which is commonly given up to
frivolous amusement, sees at once the great principles by which she
should be guided, and steps at once into the great duties of her
station. The importance of educating the lower orders of the people is
never absent from her mind; she takes up this principle at the
beginning of her life, and in all the change of servants, and in all
the struggle of parties, looks to it as a source of permanent
improvement. A great object of her affections, is the preservation of
peace; she regards a state of war as the greatest of all human evils;
thinks that the lust of conquest is not a glory, but a bad crime;
despises the folly and miscalculations of war, and is willing to
sacrifice every thing to peace but the clear honour of her land.

"The patriot Queen, whom I am painting, reverences the National
Church--frequents its worship, and regulates her faith by its
precepts; but she withstands the encroachments, and keeps down the
ambition natural to establishments, and, by rendering the privileges
of the Church compatible with the civil freedom of all sects, confers
strength upon, and adds duration to, that wise and magnificent
institution. And then this youthful Monarch, profoundly but wisely
religious, disdaining hypocrisy, and far above the childish follies of
false piety, casts herself upon God, and seeks from the Gospel of His
blessed Son a path for her steps, and a comfort for her soul. Here is
a picture which warms every English heart, and would bring all this
congregation upon their bended knees before Almighty God to pray it
may be realized. What limits to the glory and happiness of our native
land, if the Creator should in His mercy have placed in the heart of
this Royal Woman the rudiments of wisdom and mercy; and if, giving
them time to expand, and to bless our children's children with her
goodness, He should grant to her a long sojourning upon earth, and
leave her to reign over us till she is well stricken in years? What
glory! what happiness! what joy! what bounty of God! I of course can
only expect to see the beginning of such a splendid period: but, when
I do see it, I shall exclaim with the pious Simeon, 'Lord, now lettest
Thou Thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy

We turn now from ecclesiastical to social life. Though Sydney Smith still
retained his beautiful Rectory of Combe Florey, and lived there a good deal
in the summer, he spent more and more of his year in London, He held that
the parallelogram between Oxford Street, Piccadilly, Regent Street, and
Hyde Park, "enclosed more intelligence and ability, to say nothing of
wealth and beauty, than the world had ever collected in such a space
before." He frankly admitted that the summer and the country had no charms
for him. His sentiments on this head found poetical expression in a parody
of _Paradise Lost_. He felt

"As one who, long in rural hamlets pent,
(Where squires and parsons deep potations make,
With lengthen'd tale of fox, or timid hare,
Or antler'd stag, sore vext by hound and horn),
Forth issuing on a winter's morn, to reach
In chaise or coach the London Babylon
Remote, from each thing met conceives delight;--
Or cab, or car, or evening muffin-bell,
Or lamps--each city-sight, each city-sound"

"I do all I can to love the country, and endeavour to believe those
poetical lies which I read in Rogers and others, on the subject; which
said deviations from truth were, by Rogers, all written in St. James's
Place." "I look forward anxiously to the return of the bad weather,
coal fires, and good society in a crowded city." "The country is bad
enough in summer, but in winter it is a fit residence only for beings
doomed to such misery for misdeeds in another state of existence."
"You may depend upon it, all lives lived out of London are mistakes,
more or less grievous--but mistakes." "I shall not be sorry to be in
town. I am rather tired of simple pleasures, bad reasoning, and worse

His life in London, free from these kindred evils, was full of enjoyment.
He dined out as often as he liked, and entertained his friends at
breakfast, luncheon, and dinner. He admits that he "sometimes talked a
little," and "liked a hearty laugher,"

"I talk only the nonsense of the moment from the good humour of the
moment, and nothing remains behind."

"I like a little noise and nature, and a large party, very merry and

Here are some of his invitations:--

"Will you come to a philosophical breakfast on Saturday?--ten o'clock
precisely? Nothing taken for granted! Everything (except the
Thirty-Nine Articles) called in question."

"I have a breakfast of philosophers to-morrow at ten punctually;
muffins and metaphysics, crumpets and contradiction. Will you come?"

"Pray come and see me. I will give you very good mutton chops for
luncheon,[115] seasoned with affectionate regard and respect."

"I give two dinners next week to the following persons, whom I
enumerate, as I know Lady Georgiana loves a little gossip. First
dinner--Lady Holland, Eastlake, Lord and Lady Monteagle, Luttrell,
Lord Auckland, Lord Campbell, Lady Stratheden, Lady Dunstanville,
Baring Wall, and Mr. Hope. Second dinner--Lady Charlemont, Lord
Glenelg, Lord and Lady Denman, Lord and Lady Cottenham, Lord and Lady
Langdale, Sir Charles Lemon, Mr. Hibbert, Landseer, and Lord

This period is marked by one domestic incident which caused the Smiths
lasting happiness. In the spring of 1834 their elder daughter, Saba, was
married to Dr., afterwards Sir Henry, Holland. Sydney thus expressed his

"The blessing of God be upon you both, dear children; and be assured
that it makes my old age much happier to have placed my daughter in
the hands of so honourable and amiable a son."

A few years later he wrote from Combe Florey:--

"We expect Saba and Dr. Holland the end of this month. I am in great
hopes we shall have some 'cases': I am keeping three or four simmering
for him. It is enough to break one's heart to see him in the country."

In November 1834, the King dismissed the Whig Government, and sent for Sir
Robert Peel. A General Election took place at Christmas. In the spring of
1835 Peel's Government was displaced by a vote of the House of Commons, and
a Whig Government was formed again under Lord Melbourne. Henry
Labouchere,[116] M.P. for Taunton, accepted office, and thereby vacated his
seat. On seeking re-election, he was opposed, unsuccessfully, by Benjamin
Disraeli. "The Jew spoke for an hour The boys called out 'Old Clothes' as
he came into the town, and offered to sell him sealing-wax and

As soon as the Election was over, the country relapsed into its normal
calm. On the 3rd of June Sydney wrote:--

"We are going through our usual course of jokes and dinners. One
advantage of the country is that a joke once established is good for
ever; it is like the stuff which is denominated _everlasting_, and
used as pantaloons by careful parents for their children."

In the following autumn the Smiths paid a flying visit to France, The
crossing from Dover was terrific; but Sydney comforted himself with the
reflection that, "as I had so little life to lose, it was of little
consequence whether I was drowned, or died, like a resident clergyman, from

France gave him the same pleasure as it had always given him.--

"Paris is very full. I look at it with some attention, as I am not
sure I may not end my days in it. I suspect the fifth act of life
should be in great cities: it is there, in the long death of old age,
that a man most forgets himself and his infirmities."

"I care very little about dinners, but I shall not easily forget a
_matelote_ at the Rochers de Cancale, an almond tart at Montreuil, or
a _poulet a la Tartare_ at Grignon's, These are impressions which no
changes in future life can obliterate."

Before the year ended, he was established in London. The remaining ten
years of his life saw him, in spite of some bodily infirmities, at the
summit of his social fame. An immense proportion of the anecdotes relating
to his conversation belong to this period. "It was," wrote Mr. Gladstone in
1879, "in the year 1835 that I met Mr. Sydney Smith for the first time at
the table of Mr. Hallam. After dinner Mr. Smith was good enough to converse
with me, and he spoke, not of any general changes in the prevailing tone of
doctrine, but of the improvement which had then begun to be remarkable in
the conduct and character of the clergy. He went back upon what they had
been, and said, in his vivid and pointed way of illustration, 'Whenever you
meet a clergyman of my age, you may be quite sure he is a bad

In 1836 the Ecclesiastical Commission was established by Act of Parliament
as a permanent institution for the management of business relating to the
Church. Its constitution and recommendations were very distasteful to
Sydney Smith; and, as time went on, he found it impossible to restrain
himself from public criticism. At the beginning of the Session of 1837, he
published his "First Letter to Archdeacon Singleton."[119] The Letter
begins with an attack on the constitution of the Commission. It was stuffed
with Bishops. Deans and Canons and Rectors and Vicars and Curates had no
place upon it. The result was that all interests, not episcopal, had been
completely overlooked, and that the reforms, though perhaps theoretically
sound, were practically unworkable. Further, the reforms had been far too
extensive. The plan of making a Central Fund from the proceeds of
confiscated Prebends,[120] and enriching the smaller livings with it, was
chimerical. The whole income of the Church, equally divided among all its
clergy, would only give each man the wages of a nobleman's butler. The true
method in all professions was the method of Blanks and Prizes. But for the
chance of those Prizes, men of good birth and education would not "go into
the Church"; and an uneducated clergy would inevitably become fanatical.--

"You will have a set of ranting, raving Pastors, who will wage-war
against all the innocent pleasures of life; vie with each other in
extravagance of zeal; and plague your heart out with their nonsense
and absurdity. Cribbage must be played in caverns, and sixpenny whist
take refuge in the howling wilderness. In this way low men, doomed to
hopeless poverty and galled by contempt, will endeavour to force
themselves into station and significance."

Then again there was the difficulty of oaths. The property of Cathedrals
could only be confiscated at the expense of violated vows.--

"The Archbishop of Canterbury, at his enthronement, takes a solemn
oath that he will maintain the rights and liberties of the Church of
Canterbury; as Chairman, however, of the New Commission, he seizes the
patronage of that Church, takes two thirds of its Revenues, and
abolishes two thirds of its Members. That there is an answer to this I
am very willing to believe, but I cannot at present find out what it
is; and this attack upon the Revenues and Members of Canterbury is not
obedience to an Act of Parliament, but the very Act of Parliament,
which takes away, is recommended, drawn up, and signed by the person
who has sworn he will never take away; and this little apparent
inconsistency is not confined to the Archbishop of Canterbury, but is
shared equally by all the Bishop-Commissioners, who have all (unless I
am grievously mistaken) taken similar oaths for the preservation of
their respective Chapters. It would be more easy to see our way out of
this little embarrassment, if some of the embarrassed had not
unfortunately, in the parliamentary debates on the Catholic Question,
laid the greatest stress upon the King's oath, applauded the sanctity
of the monarch to the skies, rejected all comments, called for the
oath in its plain meaning, and attributed the safety of the English
Church to the solemn vow made by the King at the altar to the
Archbishops of Canterbury and York.

* * * * *

"Nothing can be more ill-natured among politicians, than to look back
into Hansard's Debates, to see what has been said by particular men
upon particular occasions, and to contrast such speeches with present
opinions--and therefore I forbear to introduce some inviting passages
upon taking oaths in their plain and obvious sense, both in debates on
the Catholic Question and upon that fatal and Mezentian oath which
binds the Irish to the English Church."

The gist of all these reforms, actual and projected, was that the Bishops
were enormously increasing their own power and patronage at the expense of
the Deans and Chapters. Sydney Smith, as a member of a Chapter, protested,
and then the friends of the Bishops cried out that all such protests were
indecent, and even perilous.--

"We are told that if we agitate these questions among ourselves, we
shall have the democratic Philistines come down upon us, and sweep us
all away together. Be it so; I am quite ready to be swept away when
the time comes. Everybody has his favourite death: some delight in
apoplexy, and others prefer marasmus. ... I would infinitely rather be
crushed by democrats than, under the plea of the public good, be
mildly and blandly absorbed by Bishops."

With Bishops as a body, and allowing for some notable exceptions, Sydney
Smith seems to have had only an imperfect sympathy. He held that they could
not be trusted to deal fairly and reasonably with men, subject to their
jurisdiction, who dared to maintain independence in thought and action.--

"A good and honest Bishop (I thank God there are many who deserve that
character!) ought to suspect himself, and carefully to watch his own
heart. He is all of a sudden elevated from being a tutor, dining at an
early hour with his pupil (and occasionally, it is believed, on cold
meat), to be a spiritual Lord; he is dressed in a magnificent dress,
decorated with a title, flattered by Chaplains, and surrounded by
little people looking up for the things which he has to give away; and
this often happens to a man who has had no opportunities of seeing the
world, whose parents were in very humble life, and who has given up
all his thoughts to the Frogs of Aristophanes and the Targum of
Onkelos. How is it possible that such a man should not lose his head?
that he should not swell? that lie should not be guilty of a thousand
follies, and worry and tease to death (before he recovers his common
sense) a hundred men as good, and as wise, and as able as himself?"

On all accounts, therefore, both public and private, it was very good for
Bishops to hear the voice of candid criticism, and their opportunities of
enjoying that advantage were all too rare.--

"Bishops live in high places with high people, or with little people
who depend upon them. They walk delicately, like Agag. They hear only
one sort of conversation, and avoid bold reckless men, as a lady veils
herself from rough breezes."

And for the Whig Government, which was consenting to all these attacks on
the Church and the Chapters, Sydney had his parting word of reminiscent

"I neither wish to offend them nor any body else. I consider myself to
be as good a Whig as any amongst them. I was a Whig before many of
them were born--and while some of them were Tories and Waverers.[121]
I have always turned out to fight their battles, and when I saw no
other Clergyman turn out but myself--and this in times before
liberality was well recompensed, and therefore in fashion, and when
the smallest appearance of it seemed to condemn a Churchman to the
grossest obloquy, and the most hopeless poverty. It may suit the
purpose of the Ministers to flatter the Bench; it does not suit mine.
I do not choose in my old age to be tossed as a prey to the Bishops; I
have not deserved this of my Whig friends."

It is perhaps not surprising that the Whig Ministers should have remained
impervious to arguments thus enforced. On the 10th of February, Sydney
Smith wrote to Lord John Russell (whom he addressed as "My dear John"):--

"You say you are not convinced by my pamphlet I am afraid that I am a
very arrogant person; but I do assure you that, in the fondest moments
of self-conceit, the idea of convincing a Russell that he was wrong
never came across my mind. Euclid would have had a bad chance with you
if you had happened to have formed an opinion that the interior angles
of a triangle were not equal to two right angles. The more poor Euclid
demonstrated, the more you would not have been convinced."

In 1838 Sydney Smith published a second Letter to the same Archdeacon:--

"It is a long time since you heard from me, and in the mean time the
poor Church of England has been trembling from the Bishop who sitteth
upon the throne, to the Curate who rideth upon the hackney horse. I
began writing on the subject in order to avoid bursting from
indignation; and, as it is not my habit to recede, I will go on till
the Church of England is either up or down--semianimous on its back or
vigorous on its legs.... If what I write is liked, so much the better;
but, liked or not liked, sold or not sold, Wilson Crokered or not
Wilson Crokered, I will write."[122]

He now returns to the "Prebends" which the Commissioners propose to
confiscate. Some of these, he says, are properties of great value. He
instances one which will soon be worth between L40,000 and L60,000 a year.
Some of them are held by non-residentiary Prebendaries, who never come near
the Cathedral, and who have no duty except to enjoy their incomes. Those
prebends Sydney Smith, as a real though temperate reformer, would now
surrender, and make from them a fund to enrich poor livings. But for the
prebends of the Residentiaries, who perform the daily duties of the
Cathedral, he will fight to the death. With splendid courage he asserts
that these great estates, held for life by ecclesiastical officers, are as
well managed, and as profitably employed, with a view to the general
interests of the community, as the lands of any peer or squire.--

"Take, for instance, the Cathedral of Bristol, the whole estates of
which are about equal to keeping a pack of foxhounds. If this had been
in the hands of a country gentleman; instead of Precentor, Succentor,
Bean, and Canons, and Sexton, you would have had huntsman,
whippers-in, dog-feeders, and stoppers of earths; the old squire, full
of foolish opinions and fermented liquids, and a young gentleman, of
gloves, waistcoats, and pantaloons: and how many generations might it
be before the fortuitous concourse of noodles would produce such a man
as Professor Lee,[123] one of the Prebendaries of Bristol, and by far
the most eminent Oriental scholar in Europe."

Then he reverts to his familiar argument that the abolition of these
ecclesiastical prizes would lower the social character of the clergy as a

"To get a stall, and to be preceded by men with silver rods, is the
bait which the ambitious squire is perpetually holding out to his
second son.... If such sort of preferments are extinguished, a very
serious evil (as I have often said before) is done to the Church--the
service becomes unpopular, further spoliation is dreaded, the whole
system is considered to be altered and degraded, capital is withdrawn
from the Church, and no one enters into the profession but the sons of
farmers and little tradesmen, who would be footmen if they were not
vicars--or figure on the coach-box if they were not lecturing from the

* * * * *

"If you were to gather a Parliament of Curates on the hottest Sunday
in the year, after all the services, sermons, burials, and baptisms of
the day, were over, and to offer them such increase of salary as would
be produced by the confiscation of the Cathedral property, I am
convinced they would reject the measure, and prefer splendid hope, and
the expectation of good fortune in advanced life, to the trifling
improvement of poverty which such a fund, could afford. Charles James,
of London, was a Curate; the Bishop of Winchester[124] was a Curate;
almost every rose-and-shovel man has been a Curate in his time. All
Curates hope to draw great prizes.

* * * * *

"One of the most foolish circumstances attending this destruction of
Cathedral property is the great sacrifice of the patronage of the
Crown: the Crown gives up eight Prebends of Westminster, two at
Worcester, L1500 per annum at St. Paul's, two Prebends at Bristol, and
a great deal of other preferment all over the kingdom: and this at a
moment when such extraordinary power has been suddenly conferred upon
the people, and when every atom of power and patronage ought to be
husbanded for the Crown. A Prebend of Westminster for my second son
would soften the Catos of Cornhill, and lull the Gracchi of the
Metropolitan Boroughs. Lives there a man so absurd, as to suppose that
Government can be carried on without those gentle allurements? You may
as well attempt to poultice off the humps of a camel's back as to cure
mankind of these little corruptions.

"I am terribly alarmed by a committee of Cathedrals now sitting in
London, and planning a petition to the Legislature to be heard by
counsel. They will take such high ground, and talk a language so
utterly at variance with the feelings of the age about Church
Property, that I am much afraid they will do more harm than good. In
the time of Lord George Gordon's riots, the Guards said they did not
care for the mob, if the Gentlemen Volunteers behind would be so good
as not to hold their muskets in such a dangerous manner. I don't care
for popular clamour, and think it might now be defied; but I confess
the Gentleman Volunteers alarm me. They have unfortunately, too,
collected their addresses, and published them in a single

And now he returns to one of the prominent topics of his first Letter, and
reminds the Archbishop of Canterbury that he has sworn to protect the
rights and possessions of the Metropolitical Church of Canterbury.--

"A friend of mine has suggested to me that his Grace has perhaps
forgotten the oath; but this cannot be, for the first Protestant in
Europe of course makes a memorandum in his pocket-book of all the
oaths he takes to do, or to abstain. The oath, however, may be less
present to the Archbishop's memory, from the fact of his not having
taken the oath in person, but by the medium of a gentleman sent down
by the coach to take it for him--a practice which, though I believe it
to have been long established in the Church, surprised me, I confess,
not a little. A proxy to vote, if you please--a proxy to consent to
arrangements of estates if wanted; but a proxy sent down in the
Canterbury Ply, to take the Creator to witness that the Archbishop,
detained in town by business or pleasure, will never violate that
foundation of piety over which he presides--all this seems to me an
act of the most extraordinary indolence ever recorded in history. If
an Ecclesiastic, not a Bishop, may express any opinion on the reforms
of the Church, I recommend that Archbishops and Bishops should take no
more oaths by proxy; but, as they do not wait upon the Sovereign or
the Prime Minister, or even any of the Cabinet, by proxy, that they
should also perform all religious acts in their own person ... I have
been informed, though I will not answer for the accuracy of the
information, that this vicarious oath is likely to produce, a scene
which would have puzzled the _Dudor Dubitantiim._ The attorney who
took the oath for the Archbishop is, they say, seized with religious
horrors at the approaching confiscation of Canterbury property, and
has in vain tendered back his 6s. 8d. for taking the oath. The
Archbishop refuses to accept it; and feeling himself light and
disencumbered, wisely keeps the saddle upon the back of the writhing
and agonized scrivener. I have talked it over with several Clergymen,
and the general opinion is, that the scrivener will suffer."

And next lie turns his attention to a foolish Bishop who has argued in a
pamphlet that, if a fund for the improvement of poor benefices was to be
created, it must be drawn from the property of the Cathedrals, because the
Bishops' incomes had already been pruned.

"This is very good Episcopal reasoning; but is it true? The Bishops
and Commissioners wanted a fund to endow small Livings; they did not
touch a farthing of their own incomes, only distributed them a little
more equally; and proceeded lustily at once to confiscate Cathedral
Property. But why was it necessary, if the fund for small Livings was
such a paramount consideration, that the future Archbishops of
Canterbury should be left with two palaces, and L15,000 per annum? Why
is every future Bishop of London to have a palace in Fulham, a house
in St. James's Square, and L10,000 a year? Could not all the Episcopal
functions be carried on well and effectually with the half of these
incomes? Is it necessary that the Archbishop of Canterbury should give
feasts to Aristocratic London; and that the domestics of the Prelacy
should stand with swords and bag-wigs round pig, and turkey, and
venison, to defend, as it were, the Orthodox gastronome from the
fierce Unitarian, the fell Baptist, and all the famished children of
Dissent? I don't object to all this; because I am sure that the method
of prizes and blanks is the best method of supporting a Church which
must be considered as very slenderly endowed, if the whole were
equally divided among the parishes; but if my opinion were
different--if I thought the important improvement was to equalize
preferment in the English Church--that such a measure was not the one
thing foolish, but the one thing needful--I should take care, as a
mitred Commissioner, to reduce my own species of preferment to the
narrowest limits, before I proceeded to confiscate the property of any
other grade of the Church.... Frequently did Lord John meet the
destroying Bishops; much did he commend their daily heap of ruins;
sweetly did they smile on each other, and much charming talk was there
of meteorology and catarrh, and the particular Cathedral they were
pulling down at each period; till one fine day the Home
Secretary,[126] with a voice more bland, and a look more ardently
affectionate, than that which the masculine mouse bestows on his
nibbling female, informed them that the Government meant to take all
the Church property into their own hands, to pay the rates out of it
and deliver the residue to the rightful possessors. Such an effect,
they say, was never before produced by a _coup de theatre_. The
Commission was separated in an instant, London clenched his fist.
Canterbury was hurried out by his chaplains, and put into a warm bed.
A solemn vacancy spread itself over the face of Gloucester. Lincoln
was taken out in strong hysterics. What a noble scene Serjeant
Talfourd[127] would have made of all this? Why are such talents wasted
on _Ion_ and _The Athenian Captive_?"

And then Sydney Smith went on to a stricture on his friend Lord John
Russell, which has been quoted in a thousand forms from that day to this.
It is only fair both to the critic and to the criticized that this
stricture should be read in connexion with its history.

When, in November 1834, Lord Althorp's removal to the House of Lords
vacated the Leadership of the House of Commons, Lord Melbourne and the rest
of the Cabinet decided that Lord John must take it. He doubted his fitness
for the post, but said that even if he were called to take command of the
Channel Fleet, he supposed he must obey the call and do his best, Sydney
Smith heard of this modest and patriotic saying, and wove it into his most
celebrated passage,--

"There is not a better man in England than Lord John Russell; but his
worst failure is that he is utterly ignorant of all moral fear; there
is nothing he would not undertake, I believe he would perform the
operation for the stone--build St. Peter's--or assume (with or without
ten minutes' notice) the command of the Channel Fleet; and no one
would discover by his manner that the patient had died--the Church
tumbled down--and the Channel Fleet been knocked to atoms. I believe
his motives are always pure, and his measures often able; but they are
endless, and never done with that pedetentous pace and pedetentous
mind in which it behoves the wise and virtuous improver to walk. He
alarms the wise Liberals; and it is impossible to sleep soundly while
he has the command of the watch."

Once again, in 1839, Sydney Smith returned to the same subject through the
same medium. He rejoiced in great improvements which had been introduced
into the measures of the Commissioners, claimed some credit for these
improvements, and pointed out that they materially affected the well-being
of the parochial clergy. But, as regards the dealings of the Commission
with Chapters and Cathedrals, he remains convinced that they were rash,
foolish, and dangerous to the Church, "Milton asked where the nymphs were
when Lycidas perished? I ask where the Bishops are when the remorseless
deep is closing over the head of their beloved Establishment."

One of the Bishops had emerged from silence and security to rebuke the
correspondent of Archdeacon Singleton, and now he had his reward.--

"You must have read an attack upon me by the Bishop of
Gloucester,[128] in the course of which he says that I have not been
appointed to my situation as Canon of St. Paul's for my piety and
learning but because I am a scoffer and a jester. Is not this rather
strong for a Bishop, and does it not appear to you, Mr. Archdeacon, as
rather too close an imitation of that language which is used in the
apostolic occupation of trafficking in fish? Whether I have been
appointed for my piety or not, must depend upon what this poor man
means by piety. He means by that word, of course, a defence of all the
tyrannical and oppressive abuses of the Church which have been swept
away within the last fifteen or twenty years of my life; the
Corporation and Test Acts; the Penal Laws against the Catholics; the
Compulsory Marriages of Dissenters, and all those disabling and
disqualifying laws which were the disgrace of our Church, and which he
has always looked up to as the consummation of human wisdom. If piety
consisted in the defence of these--if it was impious to struggle for
their abrogation, I have indeed led an ungodly life.... To read,
however, his Lordship a lesson of good manners, I had prepared for him
a chastisement which would have been echoed from the _Segrave_ who
banqueteth in the castle,[129] to the idiot who spitteth over the
bridge at Gloucester."

But the Bishop had made a rather misplaced appeal for compassion, on
account of his failing eyesight; and Sydney, flinging him contemptuously on
one side, passed on to the more formidable Bishop of London.--

"I was much amused with what old Hermann says of the Bishop of
London's _AEschylus_. 'We find,' he says, '_a great arbitrariness of
proceeding, and much boldness of innovation, guided by no sure
principle_'; here it is: _qualis ab incepto_. He begins with AEschylus,
and ends with the Church of England; begins with profane, and ends
with holy innovations--scratching out old readings which every
commentator had sanctioned; abolishing ecclesiastical dignities which
every reformer had spared; thrusting an anapaeest into a verse, which
will not bear it; and intruding a Canon into a Cathedral, which does
not want it; and this is the Prelate by whom the proposed reform of
the Church has been principally planned, and to whose practical wisdom
the Legislature is called upon to defer. The Bishop of London is a man
of very great ability, humane, placable, generous, munificent; very
agreeable, but not to be trusted with great interests where calmness
and judgment are required: unfortunately, my old and amiable
school-fellow, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has melted away before
him, and sacrificed that wisdom on which we all founded our
security.... Whatever happens, I am not to blame. I have fought my
fight. Farewell"

A little later he wrote to an old friend:--

"I don't like writing to the Bishop of London: it is making a fuss,
and looks as if I regretted the part I had taken on Church Reform,
which I certainly do not--but I should be much annoyed if the Bishop
were to consider me as a perpetual grumbler against him and his
measures--I really am not: I like the Bishop and like his
conversation--the battle is ended, and I have no other quarrel with
him and the Archbishop but that they neither of them ever ask me to
dinner. You see a good deal of the Bishop, and as you have always
exhorted me to be a good boy, take an opportunity to set him right as
to my real dispositions towards him, and exhort him, as he has gained
the victory, to forgive a few hard knocks."

In the summer of 1839 Courtenay Smith died suddenly, and left no will.[130]
He had accumulated wealth in India, and a third part of it now passed to
his brother Sydney. Referring to these circumstances four years later,
Sydney wrote:--

"This put me at my ease for my few remaining years. After buying into
the Consols and the Reduced, I read Seneca _On the Contempt of
Wealth_. What intolerable nonsense!

"I have been very poor the greatest part of my life, and have borne it
as well, I believe, as most people, but I can safely say that I have
been happier every guinea I have gained."

His novel opulence did not paralyse his pen. In 1839 he published a
vehement attack upon the Ballot, from which he foresaw no better results
than the enfranchisement of every one, including women, universal
corruption, systematic lying, and a victory for the "lower order of voters"
over their "betters." Of the great advocate of the Ballot, George
Grote,[131] he says--"Mr. Grote knows the relative values of gold and
silver; but by what moral rate of exchange is he able to tell us the
relative values of Liberty and Truth?"

The paper on the Ballot was included in a collection of reprints, mainly
from the _Edinburgh Review_, which he published in 1839. The book sold so
well that in 1840 he published an enlarged edition. The articles reprinted
from the _Edinburgh_ amount to sixty-five, and a memorandum by his daughter
shows that twelve more were omitted from the reproduction, "probably
because their subjects are already treated of in the extracted articles, or
because they applied only to the period in which they were written," The
complete list will be found in Appendix A.

In the preface to these collected pieces, which are styled _The Works of
the Rev. Sydney Smith_, the author said, after recounting the circumstances
under which the _Edinburgh Review_ was founded:--

"To set on foot such a Journal in such times, to contribute towards it
for many years, to bear patiently the reproach and poverty which it
caused, and to look back and see that I have nothing to retract, and
no intemperance and violence to reproach myself with, is a career of
life which I must think to be extremely fortunate. Strange and
ludicrous are the changes in human affairs. The Tories are now on the
treadmill, and the well-paid Whigs are riding in chariots: with many
faces, however, looking out of the windows (including that of our
Prime Minister[132]), which I never remember to have seen in the days
of the poverty and depression of Whiggism. Liberality is now a
lucrative business. Whoever has any institution to destroy, may
consider himself as a Commissioner, and his fortune as made; and, to
my utter and never-ending astonishment, I, an old Edinburgh Reviewer,
find myself fighting, in the year 1839, against the Archbishop of
Canterbury and the Bishop of London, for the existence of the National

Some of the reprinted articles would be fairly ranked in the present day
under the derogatory title of "Pot-boilers"; but others are among the most
effective and entertaining pieces which the author ever penned. Some of
these must be specified. There is the extraordinarily amusing, but quite
unjust, attack on Methodism, under which convenient heading are grouped
"the sentiments of Arminian and Calvinistic Methodists, and of the
Evangelical clergymen of the Church of England." The fun in this article is
chiefly gleaned from the pages of the _Evangelical Magazine_ and the
_Methodist Magazine_. Here we have the affecting story of the young man who
swore, and was stung by a bee "on the tip of the unruly member," "one of
the meanest of creatures" being thus employed "to reprove the bold
transgressor." Not less moving are the reflections of the religious
observer who saw a man driving clumsily in a gig.--"'What (I said to
myself) if a single untoward circumstance should happen! Should the horse
take fright, or the wheel on either side get entangled, or the gig
upset,--in either case what can preserve them? And should a morning so fair
and promising bring on evil before night,--should _death on his pale horse_
appear,--what follows?' My mind shuddered at the images I had raised."

Very curious too is the case of the people who, desiring to go by sea to
Margate, found the cabin occupied by a "mixed multitude who spoke almost
all languages but that of Canaan"; and started a weekly hoy on which "no
profane conversation was allowed." The advertisements are as quaint as the

"'Wanted, a man of serious character, who can shave.'
'Wanted, a serious young woman, as servant of all work.'
'Wants a place, a young man who has brewed in a serious family.'"

On these eccentricities of mistaken devotion, Sydney pounces with delighted
malice; and his jokes, acrid as they are, seem to be the vehicles of a real
conviction. He honestly believed that "enthusiasm" in religion tended to
hysteria and insanity; that it sapped plain morality; and turned the simple
poor into "active and mysterious fools." Something, he thought, "in the way
of ridicule," might be done towards checking Methodism, and to that task he
addressed himself with hearty goodwill.

Equally unfair, and equally insensible to all the appeals of religious
fervour, is the article on Indian Missions, for which, fifty years after,
Archbishop Tait found it hard to forgive him.[133] Here again the
artificial quaintness of religious phrase and thought gave him the
necessary material for his fun. As he had found delight in the proper names
of Methodist ministers--Shufflebottom and Ringletub[134]--so he delighted
in lampooning "Ram Boshoo," and "Buxoo a brother," and "the Catechist of
Collesigrapatuam." The saintly and scholarly Carey[135] ought to have been
safe from his attacks, but the Baptist Missionary Society rather invited

"Brother Carey, while very sea-sick, and leaning over the ship to
relieve his stomach from that very oppressive complaint, said his mind
was even then filled with consolation in contemplating the wonderful
goodness of God."

And Brother Carey's own journal was calculated to raise a smile.--

"_1793. June 30. Lord's-day_. A pleasant and profitable day: our
congregation composed of ten persons."

"_July 7_. Another pleasant and profitable Lord's-day: our
congregation increased with one. Had much sweet enjoyment with God."

"_1794. Jan, 26. Lord's-day_. Found much pleasure in reading Edwards's
_Sermon on the Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners_."

"_April 6_. Had some sweetness to-day, especially in reading Edwards's

"_.1796. Feb. 6_. I am now in my study; and oh, it is a sweet place,
because of the presence of God with the vilest of men. It is at the
top of the house; I have but one window in it."

In reply to Jeffrey, who as Editor of the _Edinburgh Review_ rebuked his
contributor for "levity of quotations," Sydney Smith wrote in 1808:--

"I do not understand what you mean. I attack these men because they
have foolish notions of religion. The more absurd the passage, the
more necessary it should be displayed--the more urgent the reason for
making the attack at all."

This is at any rate an explanation, even if it does not amount to a
justification; but what is lamentable is that, as in the case of the
Methodists at home, he seems frankly unable to conceive of the passion for
spreading the Gospel which drove men from all that is enjoyable in life to
slave and die under Indian suns. He seems genuinely to believe that the
spread of the Christian religion in India will produce a revolution, and he
turns the ludicrous blunders of religious men into arguments for
slothfulness in evangelization.--

"If there were a fair prospect of carrying the Gospel into regions
where it was before unknown,--if such a project did not expose the
best possessions of the country to extreme danger, and if it was in
the hands of men who were discreet as well as devout, we should
consider it to be a scheme of true piety, benevolence, and wisdom: but
the baseness and malignity of fanaticism shall never prevent us from
attacking its arrogance, its ignorance, and its activity. For what
vice can be more tremendous than that which, while it wears the
outward appearance of religion, destroys the happiness of man, and
dishonours the name of God?"

In the second article on Methodism, he returns, as his manner was, to the
ground formerly traversed, and claims the praise of all reasonable men for
his previous strictures.--

"In routing out a nest of consecrated cobblers, and in bringing to
light such a perilous heap of trash as we were obliged to work
through, in our articles upon the Methodists and Missionaries, we are
generally conceived to have rendered an useful service to the cause of
rational religion."

But he had been rebuked by the admirers of the Cobblers, and now he turns
upon his rebukers with characteristic vigour. Prominent among these was the
Rev. John Styles, and Mr. Styles, unhappily for his cause and happily for
his opponent, made a grotesque slip which Sydney turned to the best

"In speaking of the cruelties which their religion entails upon the
Hindoos, Mr. Styles is peculiarly severe upon us for not being more
shocked at their piercing their limbs with _kimes_. This is rather an
unfair mode of alarming his readers with the idea of some unknown
instrument. He represents himself as having paid considerable
attention to the manners and customs of the Hindoos; and, therefore,
the peculiar stress he lays upon this instrument is naturally
calculated to produce, in the minds of the humane, a great degree of
mysterious terror. A drawing of the _kime_ was imperiously called for;
and the want of it is a subtle evasion, for which Mr. Styles is fairly
accountable. As he has been silent on this subject, it is for us to
explain the plan and nature of this terrible and unknown piece of
mechanism. _Kimes_, then, are neither more nor less than a false print
in the _Edinburgh Review_ for _knives_; and from this blunder of the
printer has Mr. Styles manufactured this Daedalean instrument of
torture, called a _kime_! We were at first nearly persuaded by his
argument against _kimes_; we grew frightened;--we stated to ourselves
the horror of not sending missionaries to a nation which used
_kimes_;--we were struck with the nice and accurate information of the
Tabernacle upon this important subject:--but we looked in the errata,
and found Mr. Styles to be always Mr. Styles--always cut off from
every hope of mercy, and remaining for ever himself."

At the end of the article, the writer glories in the fact that the
Government of India is beginning to harry the missionaries.--

"The Board of Control (all Atheists, and disciples of Voltaire, of
course) are so entirely of our way of thinking, that the most
peremptory orders have been issued to send all the missionaries home
upon the slightest appearance of disturbance. Those who have sons and
brothers in India may now sleep in peace. Upon the transmission of
this order, Mr. Styles is said to have destroyed himself with a

The same vigorous dislike to the Evangelical way of religion animates the
article on Hannah More; and here again the criticized writer gave the
critic just the handle which he required.

"We observe that Mrs. More, in one part of her work, falls into the
common error about dress. She first blames ladies for exposing their
persons in the present style of dress, and then says, if they knew
their own interest--if they were aware how much more alluring they
were to men when their charms are less displayed, they would make the
desired alteration from motives merely selfish.

"'Oh! if women in general knew what was their real interest, if they
could guess with what a charm even the _appearance_ of modesty invests
its possessor, they would dress decorously from mere self-love, if not
from principle. The designing would assume modesty as an artifice; the
coquette would adopt it as an allurement; the pure as her appropriate
attraction; and the voluptuous as the most infallible art of

"If there is any truth in this passage, nudity becomes a virtue; and
no decent woman, for the future, can be seen in garments."

That is aptly said; but it is a relief to turn from Sydney Smith the
Philistine--the bigoted and rather brutal opponent of enthusiastic
religion, to Sydney Smith the Philanthropist--the passionate advocate of
humanitarian reform born at least fifty years before his time. Excellent
illustrations of this aspect of his character are to be found in "Mad
Quakers," with its study of the improved methods of treating lunacy;
"Chimney-Sweepers," "Game-Laws," "Spring-Guns," "Prisons," and "Counsel for
Prisoners." Each of these essays shows a deliriously warm sympathy with the
sufferings of the downtrodden and the friendless; and a curiously intimate
knowledge of matters which lie quite outside the scope of a clergyman's
ordinary duties. As an appreciation of character, friendly but not servile,
nothing can be better than his paper on Sir James Mackintosh,[136] with the
illustration from Curran, and the noble image (which the writer himself
admired) of the man-of-war. Writing to Sir James's son, Sydney Smith

"Curran, the Master of the Rolls, said to Mr. Grattan, 'You would be
the greatest man of your age, Grattan, if you would buy a few yards of
red tape, and tie up your bills and papers.' This was the fault or the
misfortune of your excellent father; he never knew the use of red
tape, and was utterly unfit for the common business of life. That a
guinea represented a quantity of shillings, and that it would barter
for a quantity of cloth, he was well aware; but the accurate number of
the baser coin, or the just measurement of the manufactured article,
to which he was entitled for his gold, he could never learn, and it
was impossible to teach him. Hence his life was often an example of
the ancient and melancholy struggle of genius with the difficulties of

* * * * *

"A high merit in Sir James Mackintosh was his real and unaffected
philanthropy. He did not make the improvement of the great mass of
mankind an engine of popularity, and a stepping-stone to power, but he
had a genuine love of human happiness. Whatever might assuage the
angry passions, and arrange the conflicting interests of nations;
whatever could promote peace, increase knowledge, extend commerce,
diminish crime, and encourage industry; whatever could exalt human
character, and could enlarge human understanding, struck at once at
the heart of your father, and roused all his faculties. I have seen
him in a moment when this spirit came upon him--like a great ship of
war--cut his cable, and spread his enormous canvass, and launch into a
wide sea of reasoning eloquence."

For pure fun, one could not quote a better sample than the review of
Waterton's[137] _Travels in South America_.--

"Snakes are certainly an annoyance; but the snake, though
high-spirited, is not quarrelsome; he considers his fangs to be given
for defence, and not for annoyance, and never inflicts a wound but to
defend existence. If you tread upon him, he puts you to death for your
clumsiness, merely because he does not understand what your clumsiness
means; and certainly a snake, who feels fourteen or fifteen stone
stamping upon his tail, has little time for reflection, and may be
allowed to be poisonous and peevish. American tigers generally run
away--from which several respectable gentlemen in Parliament inferred,
in the American war, that American soldiers would run away also!

"The description of the birds is very animated and interesting; but
how far does the gentle reader imagine the Campanero may be heard,
whose size is that of a jay? Perhaps 300 yards. Poor innocent,
ignorant reader! unconscious of what Nature has done in the forests of
Cayenne, and measuring the force of tropical intonation by the sounds
of a Scotch duck! The Campanero may be heard three miles!--this single
little bird being more powerful than the belfry of a cathedral,
ringing for a new dean--just appointed on account of shabby politics,
small understanding, and good family!... It is impossible to
contradict a gentleman who has been in the forests of Cayenne; but we
are determined, as soon as a Campanero is brought to England, to make
him toll in a public place, and have the distance measured.

"The Toucan has an enormous bill, makes a noise like a puppy dog, and
lays his eggs in hollow trees. How astonishing are the freaks and
fancies of nature! To what purpose, we say, is a bird placed in the
woods of Cayenne with a bill a yard long, making a noise like a puppy
dog, and laying eggs in hollow trees? The Toucans, to be sure, might
retort, to what purpose were gentlemen in Bond Street created? To what
purpose were certain foolish prating Members of Parliament
created?--pestering the House of Commons with their ignorance and
folly, and impeding the business of the country? There is no end of
such questions. So we will not enter into the metaphysics of the

"The Sloth, in its wild state, spends its life in trees, and never
leaves them but from force or accident. The eagle to the sky, the mole
to the ground, the sloth to the tree; but what is most extraordinary,
he lives not _upon_ the branches, but _under_ them. He moves
suspended, rests suspended, sleeps suspended, and passes his life in
suspense--like a young clergyman distantly related to a bishop.

* * * * *

"Just before his third journey, Mr. Waterton takes leave of Sir Joseph
Banks,[138] and speaks of him with affectionate regret. 'I saw' (says
Mr. W.) 'with sorrow, that death was going to rob us of him. We talked
of stuffing quadrupeds; I agreed that the lips and nose ought to be
cut off, and stuffed with wax.' This is the way great naturalists take

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