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conservative rebound. Those who would derive a complete idea of the modern English development from these memorials, err. He moved in a circle of the most active, but not of the highest intellectual range.
We should never discover from this chronicle that Coleridge also talked, Carlyle reasoned, Lamb jested, Hazlitt criticized, and Shelley and Keats sang, in those days. Within the sensible zone of English life, as that term is usually understood, Sydney lived. He often ignored what was boldly original and radically independent. His scope was ever within the Whig ranks in politics and the Established Church pale in religion. What could be beheld and experienced therein, we see, but much that excites admiration without, is unrevealed. The iron horizon of caste is the framework of this attractive picture. The charm it offers is the manliness which a true soul, thus environed, exbibits. To us transatlantic lovers of his rare humor, it is the man rather than the priest, the companion rather than the prodigy, that wins attention.
We have seen, again and again, genius utterly perverted by self-love, usefulness marred by fanaticism, wit poisoned by malevolence, health shattered, existence abridged, vanity pampered, confidence destroyed, by the erratic, unprincipled, weak use of intellectual gifts. This tragic result is the staple of literary , biography, so that prudent souls have blessed the fate which consigned them to harmless mediocrity. The rare and sweet exceptions to so general a rule are therefore full of satisfaction and redolent of hope. In the case of Sydney Smith we witness the delightful spectacle of a mind that bravely regulates the life which it cheers and adorns. Humor was the efflorescence of his intellect, the play that gave him strength for labor, the cordial held by a kindly hand to every brother’s lips, the sunshine of home, the flavor of human intercourse, the music to which he marched in duty's rugged path. By virtue of this magic quality, he redeemed the daily meal from heaviness, the needful journey from fatigue, narrow circumstances from depression, and prosperity from materialism. He illustrated simultaneously the power of content and the beauty of holiness. Did Portland stone, instead of marble, frame his hearth? Innocent mirth and a clear blaze made those around it oblivious of the defect. Must a paper
border take the place of a cornice ? Laughing echoes hung the room with more than arabesque ornament. Were the walls destitute of precious limning? He knew how to glorify them with sunshine. Did he lack costly furniture ? Children and roses atoned for the want. Was he compelled to entertain his guest with rustic fare? He found compensation in the materials thus furnished for a comic sketch. Did the canine race interfere with his comfort? Me banished them by a mock report of law damages. Was his steed ugly, slow, and prone to throw his rider? He named him "Calamity” or “Peter the Cruel,” and drew a farce from their joint mishaps. Was his coach lumbering and ancient? Its repairs were forever suggestive of quaint fancies. Was a herd of deer beyond his means ? He fastened antlers on donkeys, and drew tears of laughter from aristocratic eyes. Did the evergreens look dim at Christmas ? He tied oranges on their boughs and dreamed of tropical landscapes. Was a lady too fine? He discovered a “porcelain understanding." Was a friend too voluble ? He enjoyed his “flashes of silence.” Were oil and spermaceti heyond his means? He illuminated the house with mutton lamps of his own invention. A fat woman, a hot day, a radical, a heavy sermonizer, a dandy, a stupid Yorkshire peasant, — people and
things that in others would only excite annoyance, — he turned instinctively to the account of wit. His household at Foston is a picture worthy of Dickens. Bunch, Annie Kay, Molly Miles, heraldry, old pictures, and china, -- in his atmosphere became original characters and bits of Flemish still-life, which might set up a novelist. He turned a bay-window into a hive of bright thoughts, and a random walk into a chapter of philosophy. To domestic animals, humble parishioners, rustic employés, to the oppressed, the erring, the sick, the market-woman, and the poacher, he extended as ready and intelligent a sympathy as to the nobleman and the scholar. He was more thankful for animal spirits and good companionship than for reputation and preferment. He reverenced material laws not less than the triumphs of intellect; esteemed Poor Richard's maxims as well as Macaulay's rhetoric; thought self-reproach the greatest evil, and occupation the chief moral necessity of existence. He believed in
. talking nonsense, while he exercised the most vigorous powers
of reasoning. He gave no quarter to cant, and, at the same time, bought a parrot to keep his servants in good humor. If warned by "excellent and feeble people” against an individual, he sought his acquaintance. His casual bon-mots wreathed the town with smiles, and his faithful circumspection irritated the officials at St. Paul's. He wielded a battle-axe in the phalanx of reform, and scattered flowers around his family altar. He wakened the sinner's heart to penitence, and irradiated prandial monotony; educated children, and shared the counsels of statesmen; turned from literary correspondence to dry an infant's tears, and cheered a pauper's death-bed with as true a heart as he graced a peer's drawing-room. It is the human, catholic range and variety of such a nature and such a life, that raises Sydney Smith from the renown of a clever author and a brilliant wit to the nobler fame of a Christian man.
In his biography we have another signal instance of the effect of blood in determining character. The Gallic element permeated Sydney's Anglo-Saxon nature; and in him it was the vivacity of Languedoc that quickened the solemn banquets of the Thames. By instinct, no less than from principle, he encouraged cheerfulness. He thoroughly appreciated the relation of mind and body, and sought, by exercise, gay talk, and beneficent intercourse, while he avoided self-reproach and systematized business, to lessen the cares and to multiply the pleasures of daily life. The minor felicities were in his view as much a part of human nature as the power of reasoning and the capacity of usefulness. In his endeavor to make the most of life as a means of enjoyment, he was thoroughly French ; in loyalty to its stern requirements and high objects, he was no less completely English. In practical wisdom he resembled Dr. Franklin; in the genuine benignity of his spirit, Bishop Berkeley; and in the power of colloquial adaptation, Burke. He sublimated Poor Richard's prudence by tact and wit; and called himself an "amalgam,” from the facility with which bis genial tone fused the discordant or reserved social elements around him. “Some sulk,” he observes, “in a stage; I always talk.” He was no abstract scholar or isolated sage, but read and wrote in the midst of his family, undisturbed by children, servants, or visitors. His idea of life and duty was eminently social; and in this also we recognize the influence of his French descent. The names of friends, acquaintances, and correspondents, in these volumes, include a remarkable variety of illustrious characters : first, the famous Edinburgh coterie — Playfair, Stewart, Brougham, Scott, Alison, Jeffrey, Horner, and their associates; then the authors and statesmen he knew so intimately in London, such as Lord Holland, Lord Grey, Mackintosh, Rogers, and Moore; then his Continental friends, Madame de Staël, Pozzo di Borgo, Talleyrand, the King of Belgium, and many more; besides the domestic and clerical associates incident to his position and family connections. Imagine a good, cheerful, wise, and endeared man, for thirty years, mingling in such spheres, dispensing words of cheer and humor, yet always in earnest as a divine, and always faithful as a reformer, and you have a picture of intellectual usefulness and enjoyment, of a healthy, active mind, which suggests a living worth but inadequately described in these volumes. Scotchmen and Quakers have been staple themes with the English wits for a century; Dr. Johnson and Charles Lamb were memorably comical about them; and Sydney Smith continued the merry warfare with credit. In each of the coteries represented by these idols of society, we find that the “mutual admiration" principle, so natural to special fraternities, holds sway. Johnson over-estimated, while he brow beat, his literary confrères ; Lamb betrays a childlike devotion to Coleridge and his disciples; and Sydney Smith praises Jeffrey's articles, Horner's character, and Mackintosh's talk, with like partiality. This is but the instinct of the love and honor drawn out by intimate association; but such verdicts, in a critical point of view, are to be taken with due allowance, — not so much in regard to the merits of the individuals thus warmly regarded, as of contemporaries not belonging to the same clique, yet, in an intellectual aspect, having equal and often superior claims upon the lover of genius and worth.
As a representative man, Sydney Smith was more endeared for his liberal, frank, and mirthful nature, than for its refinements. He lacked that profound sense of beauty, and that patient love of art, which constitute poetical feeling. He felt no interest in Wordsworth, thought Madame de Sévigné's letters
beneath their reputation, and declared himself satisfied with ten minutes of Talma's acting, and fifteen of observation at the Louvre. His passion for roses seems to have been rather a keen sense of their vital freshness, than a delicate perception of their beauty. They were precious in his sight chiefly as emblems of the spontaneous grace of nature. He delighted in transitions both of scene and of employment. He read with great rapidity, skimming, with hasty glances, the cream of literature. He had the ingenuous want of artificial elegance so often noticed as characteristic of manly genius. “Sydney,” said one of his friends,
your sense, wit, and clumsiness, always give me the idea of an Athenian carter."
The combination “most devoutly to be wished " is an alert mind and an easy temperament; but the two are seldom found together. ' Quickness of conception and aptness of fancy are often embodied in a mercurial frame; and the nervous and sanguine quality of the body is a constant strain upon vital force, and tends to produce the irritability of a morbid or the grave errors of an animal enthusiasm. Hence the most famous wits have seldom proved equally satisfactory as intimate companions and judicious allies in a serious enterprise. Imprudence, impulse, and extreme sensitiveness, thus united to uncommon gifts of mind, are liable to make the latter more of a bane than a blessing; while the same endowments, blended with a bappy organization, are the prolific source of active usefulness and rational delight. Seldom have these results been more perfectly exhibited than in Sydney Smith — a pioneer of national reforms without acrimony or fanaticism; prompt to “set the table in a roar,” yet never losing self-respect, or neglecting the essential duties of life; capable of the keenest satire, yet instinctively considerate of the feelings of others ; familiar with the extremes of fortune, yet unhardened by poverty and unspoiled by success; the choicest of boon companions, yet the most impressive of clergymen; the admired guest, and the recipient of permanent and elegant hospitality, yet contented in domestic retirement; born to grace society, and, at the same time, the idol of home; feasted and honored in the highest degree, yet true to his own axiom, that the secret of felicity is to “make the day happy to, at least, one