Thursday, January 8, 2009

Bookbag: A Sydney Smith Grab-Bag

The eighteeth century parson beginning a literary review:
We take it for granted that Mr. Ritson supposes Providence to have had some share in producing him, though for what inscrutable purposes we profess ourselves unable to conjecture.
On the Scottish temper:
They are so imbued with metaphysics that they even make love metaphysically; I overheard a young lady of my acquaintance, at a dance in Edinburgh, exclaim, in a sudden pause of the music, "What you say, my Lord, is very true of love in the aibstract, but—" and here the fiddlers began fiddling furiously, and the rest was lost.
On two pheasants sent to a friend:
. . . curious, because killed by a Scotch metaphysician; in other and better language, they are mere ideas, shot by other ideas, out of a pure intellectual notion, called a gun.
On his fellow Protestant preachers:
Is it a rule of oratory to balance the style against the subject, and to handle the most sublime truths in the dullest language and the driest manner? Is sin to be taken from men, as Eve was from Adam, by casting them into a deep slumber?
On Madame de Staƫl's Delphine:
The morality of all this is the old morality of Farquhar, Vanbrugh and Congreve—that every witty man may transgress the seventh commandment, which was never meant for the protection of husbands who labour under the incapacity of making repartees.
On rural life:
Whenever I enter a village, I straightaway find an ass.
That last, as any reader of Scripture will know, is entirely ass-backwards.

Macaulay praised Smith by comparing him to the editor they shared: "In ability I should say that Jeffrey was higher, but Sydney rarer. I would rather have been Jeffrey; but there will be several Jeffreys before there is a Sydney."

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