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SYDNEY SMITH* was born at Woodford, Essex, in the vicinity of London, June 3, 1771, of a respectable family in the middle class of English society. His parents, as will commonly be found with the immediate ancestors of those who have risen to eminence in the world, were persons of marked character. Robert Smith, the father, was a man of curious talents and impulses, with a passion for foreign travel, and a mania, not a little destructive to his finances, for building and altering country-houses in various parts of England. He married a lady of beauty and accomplishments, Miss Olier, of Huguenot birth, her father having been one of the refugees driven to England in the great expatriation consequent on the bigoted tyranny of Louis XIV. This infusion of French blood was afterward called to mind to account for certain peculiarities of disposition, the humours and the mercurial vivacity, associated with strength of purpose, of their son, the subject of the present memoir.
*The union of the honourable name of Sydney with the generic patronymic Smith, which has been illustrated by several distinguished personages, would appear to have been adopted in this extensive family from the marriage, in the seventeenth century, of Sir Thomas Smythe, created Viscount Strangford, with a niece of Sir Philip Sydney. It was one of the jests and humours of the Rev. Sydney Smith's life, to confound himself and be confounded with his contemporary, the British admiral, Sir Sidney Smith. George Sydney Smythe, the member of the short-lived Young England party who published a volume of poems, of the association of these names.
"Historic Fancies," is another instance
Five children were the fruit of the marriage, four sons and a daughter: all of them, we are told, "remarkable for their talents."*
The eldest of the family, one year the senior of his brother Sydney, was Robert, known amongst his contemporaries in the London society of wits and statesmen, from a familiar handling of his Christian name at school, as Bobus Smith. Educated at Eton, he there, at the age of eighteen, was associated with the future statesman George Canning, and the fastidious, fine poet, and finished classical scholar of after life, John Hookham Frere, in the composition of the Microcosm. This periodical, of the prolific family of the Spectator, appeared in forty weekly numbers be
* Memoir of the Rev. Sydney Smith, by his daughter, Lady Holland, Am. ed. p. 13. We take the first opportunity to notice the sentiment, propriety, and faithfulness which characterize this filial work. It furnishes ample materials for a knowledge of the man, particularly in his domestic and social relations. The development of his fortunes and position in the world is of especial biographical value.
Immediately after the death of Sydney Smith, the material for the Memoir was begun to be collected by his widow, who was about intrusting the work to the poet Moore, when his broken health defeated the plan. Mrs. Sydney then requested her friend Mrs. Sarah Austin, the accomplished German translator, to undertake the narrative and edit the Letters which had been brought together. Ill health limited Mrs. Austin's subsequent performance of the work to the Selection from the Correspondence which constitutes the second volume of the Memoirs.
Much as the genius of the biographer of Sheridan and Byron is to be respected, and with every consideration of the feeling with which he would have entered on the "life," in its political, social, and personal aspects, it is a matter for congratulation that the Memoirs have fallen into female hands. Woman alone cod have interpreted so gracefully and truly the kindly virtues of the man. His keen, consistent, brilliant writings need no particular exhibition of his political and public life. They speak for themselves. Mrs. Austin, in her preface finds another appropriate reason for the participation of the sex in the work: in gratitude for what Sydney Smith had accomplished, by his arguments, for female education. "Within our times," she remarks, no man has done so much to obtain for women toleration for the exercise of their understandings, and for the culture of their talents, as Sydney Smith." Mrs. Jameson, in her "Ethical Fragments," makes a similar acknowledgment: "See what he has done for humanity fe society, for liberty, for truth-for us women!"
tween November, 1786, and July of the following year. Nine of its papers, chiefly grave studies of history or serious reflections, are set down to Robert Smith. He was, also, joint author with Canning, of one of the essays. Leaving Eton, he became a student of King's College, Cambridge, where he distinguished himself by the excellence of his Latin verses, amongst which were some admired compositions after the manner of Lucretius on the systems of Plato, Descartes and Newton.* He received his degree of Master of Arts, in 1797, and was the same year called to the bar by the Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn. It was also the year of his marriage to Miss Caroline Vernon, daughter of Richard Vernon and Lady Ossory, aunt of Lord Lansdowne. The ceremony was performed by Sydney Smith, then a needy
* A number of Robert Smith's Latin compositions are preserved in the Musa Etonenses, where we find this elegant Latin version of the exquisite
Danae of Simonides.
"Ventus quum fremeret, superque cymbam
Some fine and eloquent Latin lines on Death, found in his desk, after his decease, are printed in Lady Holland's Memoir.
young curate, who wrote in a letter to his mother: "The marriage took place in the library at Bowood, and all I can tell you of it is, that he cried, she cried, and I cried."* This alliance was afterward of use in the introduction of Sydney to the leading whig families.
Robert became highly esteemed as a barrister, and was sent to India with the profitable appointment of Advocate-General of Bengal. Eight years of official duty, performed to the admiration of the natives, secured to him a considerable fortune,† with which he returned to London, in 1812. He soon after entered the House of Commons, as member for Grantham; but, notwithstanding his acute argumentative turn is said to have failed in his maiden speech. He spoke seldom and briefly afterward, during his extended parliamentary career; while his talents were exerted as a valuable business member of committees. In 1818, he contested, unsuccessfully, the city of Lincoln; but carried that place in the election of 1820, finally, retiring from Parliament at the dissolution in 1826. The concluding period of his life was passed in lettered and social ease and in retirement. His sympathies were intimately associated with those of his brother Sydney. The death of one followed closely that of the other. Robert survived the canon of St. Paul's but a fortnight. Thirty years
*Lady Holland's Memoir, 4th Eng. ed., p. 14.
↑ His personal estate was sworn, at his death, in 1845, as not exceeding £180,000.
De Quincey has a curious reminiscence of this circumstance in his Essay on Dr. Parr, to be found at page 137 of vol. II., of "Essays on Philosophical Writers and other Men of Letters," published by Ticknor and Fields. Sydney Smith, who wrote of his brother Robert about this time, as “a capital personage; full of sense, genius, dignity, virtue, and wit," addressed to him, in his manly, courageous way, a felicitous letter on this subject, in which personal chagrin and disappointment are smothered under kindness, and a genuine solicitude. 'Whether," he writes, "you turn out a consummate orator or not, will neither increase nor diminish my admiration for your talents, or my respect for your character; but when a man is strong, it is pleasant to make that strength respected; and you will be happier for it, if you can do so, as I have no doubt you will soon." (Letter 93 in Mrs Austin's Collection, March 17, 1813.)
before, when the former had been attacked by a serious illness Sydney wrote to him, "Dear Bobus, pray take care of yourself. We shall both be a brown infragrant powder in thirty or forty Let us contrive to last out for the same, or nearly the years. same time. Weary will the latter half of my pilgrimage be, if
leave me in the lurch."*
Robert was a man of high honour and integrity. Those who knew him intimately spoke in strong terms of his wit and powers of mind. Moore tells us, in his Diary, of his agreeable qualities, and of his being ranked, in his best time, by some people, superior to Sydney.† The remark is not unusual in such cases. Friendship readily exaggerates a question of capacity; but the execution must decide. As the ability to succeed with the public in exhibitions of mental power generally brings the desire along with it, it may, in most instances be taken for granted-certainly with the healthiest of developments-that all is claimed from the world which can be enforced. There is sometimes, perhaps, in imputing these extraordinary merits to the less-known brothers of eminent authors a compensation to self-love for the honours which are grudgingly paid to acknowledged attainments.
The testimonies, however, to the intellectual strength and charm of polished conversation of Robert Smith are not to be discredited. Dr. Parr bestowed upon him, while both were living, a Latin inscription, in his famous lapidary style, written in the presentation copy of a book. He commended his fertile and skilful Latinity; his strong, manly, vehement mode of pleading, free from captiousness or cunning, and, when the occasion demanded, even magnificent and splendid; his integrity and humanity in the regulation of life; his greatness of mind in public affairs. Sir James Mackintosh
*Lady Holland's Memoir, p. 361.
+ Diary, March 13, 1833.
The inscription is given in the Gentleman's Magazine for April, 1845, p. 441. Dr. Parr, in the enumeration of college worthies, in a note to his Spital Sermon, pays this compliment to Robert Smith, rî áxpɩßeíṛ, kai deivorhrı, και μεγαλοπρεπείῃ εὐδοκιμοῦντος.-(Parr's Works, ii. 543.)