Page:EB1911 - Volume 25.djvu/285

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269
SMITH, SIR THOMAS

passed in 1808, and after trying in vain to negotiate an exchange, he quitted London in 1809, apd moved his household to Yorkshire. The Ministry of " All the Talents " was driven out of office in 1807 in favour of a " no popery " party, and. in that year appeared the first instalment of Sydney Smith's most famous production, Peter Plymley's Letters, on the subject of Catholic emancipation, ridiculing the opposition of the country clergy. It was published as A Letter on the Subject 0} the Catholics to my brother Abraham who lives in the Country, by Peter Plymley. Nine other letters followed before the end of 1808, when they appeared in collected form. Peter Plymley's identity was a secret, but rumours got abroad of the real authorship. Lord Holland wrote to him expressing his own opinion and Grenville's, that there had been nothing like it since the days of Swift {Memoir, i. 151). He also pointed out that Swift had lost a bishopric for his wittiest performance. The special and temporary nature of the topics advanced in these pamphlets has not prevented them from taking a permanent place in literature, secured for them by the vigorous, picturesque style, the generous eloquence and clearness of exposition which Sydney Smith could always command. In his country parish of Foston, with no educated neighbour within 7 m., Sydney Smith accommodated himself cheerfully to his new circumstances, and won the hearts of his parishioners as quickly as he had conquered a wider world. There had been no resident clergyman in his parish for 150 years; he had a farm of 300 acres to keep in order; a rectory had to be built. All these things were attended to beside his contributions to the Edinburgh Review. " If the chances, of life ever enable me to emerge," he nevertheless writes to Lady Holland, " I will show you I have not been wholly occupied by small and sordid pursuits." He continued to serve the cause of toleration by ardent speeches in favour of Catholic emancipation; his eloquence being specially directed against those who maintained that a Roman Catholic could not he believed on his oath. " I defy Dr Duigenan,"[1] he pleaded, addressing a meeting of clergy in 1823, " in the full vigour of his incapacity, in the strongest access of that Protestant epilepsy with which he was so often convulsed, to have added a single security to the security of that oath." At this time appeared one of his most vigorous and effective polemics, A Letter to the Electors upon the Catholic Question (1826).

Sydney Smith, after twenty years' service in Yorkshire, obtained preferment at last from a Tory minister, Lord Lyndhurst, who presented him with a prebend in Bristol cathedral in 1828, and afterwards enabled him to exchange Foston for the living of Combe Florey, near Taunton, which he held conjointly with the living of Halberton attached to his prebend. From this time he discontinued writing for the Edinburgh Review on the ground that it was more becoming in a dignitary of the church to put his name to what he wrote. It was expected that when the Whigs came into power Sydney Smith would be made a bishop. There was nothing in his writings, as in the case of Swift, to stand in the way. He had been most sedulous as a parochial clergyman. Doctoring his parishioners, he said, was his only rural amusement. His religion was wholly of a practical nature, and his fellow-clergy had reasons for their suspicion of his very limited theology, which excluded mysticism of any sort. " The Gospel," he said, " has no enthusiasm." His scorn for enthusiasts and dread of religious emotion found vent in middle life in his strictures on missionary enterprise, land bitter attacks on Method- ism, and later in many scoffs at the followers of Pusey. Still, though he was not without warm friends at headquarters, the opposition was too strong for them. One of the first things that Lord Grey said on entering Downing Street was, " Now I shall be able to do something for Sydney Smith "; but he was not able to do more than appoint him in 1831 to a residentiary canonry at St Paul's in exchange for the prebendal stall he held at Bristol. He was as eager a champion of parliamentary reform as he had been of Catholic emancipation, and one of his best fighting speeches was delivered at Taunton in October 1831 when he made his well-known comparison of the House of Lords, who had just thrown out the Reform Bill, with Mrs Partington of Sidmouth, setting out with mop and pattens to stem the Atlantic in a storm. Some surprise must be felt now that Sydney Smith's reputation as a humorist and wit should have caused any hesitation about elevating him to an episcopal dignity, and perhaps he was right in thinking that the real obstacle lay in his being known as " a high-spirited, honest, uncompromising man, whom all the bench of bishops could not turn upon vital ques- tions." With characteristic philosophy, when he saw that the promotion was doubtful, he made his position certain by resolv- ing not to be a bishop and definitely forbidding his friends to intercede for him.

On the death of his brother Courtenay he inherited £50,000, which put him out of the reach of poverty. His eldest daughter, Saba (1802-1866), married Sir Henry Holland. • His eldest son, Douglas, died in 1829 at the outset of what had promised to be a brilliant career. This grief his father never forgot, but nothing could quite destroy the cheerfulness of his later life. He retained his high spirits, his wit, practical energy and powers of argumentative ridicule to the last. His Three Letters to Archdeacon Singleton on the Ecclesiastical Commission (1837-38-39) and his Petition and Letters on the repudiation of debts by the state of Pennsylvania (1843), are as bright and trenchant as his best contributions to the Edinburgh Review. He died at his house in Green Street, London, on the 22nd of February 1845 and was buried at Kensal Green.

Sydney Smith's other publications include: Sermons (2 vols., 1809); The Ballot (1839); Works (3 vols., 1839), including the Peter Plymley and the Singleton Letters and many articles from the Edin- burgh Review; A Fragment on the Irish Roman Catholic Church (1845) ; Sermons at St Paul's . . . (1846) and some other pamphlets and sermons. Lady Holland says (Memoir, i. 190) that her father left an unpublished MS., compiled from documentary evidence, to exhibit the history of English misrule in Ireland, but had hesitated to publish it. This was suppressed by his widow in deference to the opinion of Lord Macaulay.

See A Memoir of the Reverend Sydney Smith by his daughter, Lady Holland, with a Selection from his Letters edited by Mrs [Sarah] Austin (2 vols., 1855); also A Sketch of the Life and Times of . . . Sydney Smith (1884) by Stuart J. Reid; a chapter on "Sydney Smith " in Lord Houghton's Monographs Social and Personal (1873) ; A. Chevrillon, Sydney Smith et la renaissance des idSes libirales en Angleterre au XIX" sihcle (1894); and especially the monograph, with a full description of his writings, by G. W. E. Russell in Sydney Smith (English Men of Letters series, 1905). There are numerous references to Smith in contemporary correspondence and journals.


SMITH, SIR THOMAS (1513-1577), English scholar and

diplomatist, was born at Saffron Walden in Essex on the 23rd of December 1513. He became a fellow of Queens' College, Cambridge, in 1530, and in 1533 was appointed a public reader or professor. He lectured in the schools on natural philosophy, and on Greek in his own rooms. In 1540 Smith went abroad, and, after studying in France and Italy and taking a degree of law at Padua, returned to Cambridge in 1542. He now took the lead in the reform of the pronunciation of Greek, his views after considerable controversy being universally adopted. He and his friend Sir John Cheke were the great classical scholars of the time in England. In January 1543/4 he was appointed first regius professor of civil law. He was vice-chancellor of the university the same year, and became chancellor to the bishop of Ely, by whom he was ordained priest in 1546. In 1547 he became provost of Eton and dean of Carlisle. He early adopted Protestant views, a fact which brought him into prominence when Edward VI. came to the throne. During Somerset's protectorate he entered public life and was made a secretary of state, being sent on an important diplomatic mission to Brussels. In 1548 he was knighted. On the accession of Mary he was deprived of all his offices, but in the succeeding reign was prominently employed in public affairs. He became a member of parliament, and was sent in .1562 as ambassador to France, where he remained till 1566; and in 1572 he again went to France in the same capacityfor a short time. He remained one of Elizabeth's most trusted Protestant counsellors, being appointed. in 1572 chancellor of , the order of the Garter and a secretary of state. He died on the 12th of August 1577. In 1661 the grandson of his

  1. Patrick Duigenan, M.P. for the dty of Armagh, a Protestant agitator.