Sydney Smith
George W. E. Russell

Part 2 out of 5

energy upon which their claims to distinction are founded. Such is the
country which the Chancellor of the Exchequer would drive into the arms of

Religious freedom, continues Peter, is the strongest safeguard of states.
France has it, and is victorious over Europe; England lacks it, and is in
imminent peril. "How sincerely and fervently have I often wished that the
Emperor of the French had thought as Mr. Spencer Perceval does upon the
subject of government; that he had entertained doubts and scruples upon the
propriety of admitting the Protestants to an equality of rights with the
Catholics, and that he had left in the middle of his empire these vigorous
seeds of hatred and disaffection. But the world was never yet conquered by
a blockhead. One of the very first measures we saw him recurring to was the
complete establishment of religious liberty. If his subjects fought and
paid as he pleased, he allowed them to believe as they pleased. The moment
I saw this, my best hopes were lost. I perceived in a moment the kind of
man we had to do with. I was well aware of the miserable ignorance and
folly of the country upon the subject of Toleration; and every year has
been adding to the success of that game which it was clear he had the will
and the ability to play against us."

Abraham has suggested that the Emperor is not a religious man, and that his
tolerance is the fruit of indifference. But, says Peter, "if Bonaparte is
liberal in subjects of religion because he has no religion, is this a
reason why we should be illiberal because we are Christians? If he owes
this excellent quality to a vice, is that any reason why we may not owe it
to a virtue? Toleration is a great good, and a good to be imitated, let it
come from whom it will."

And now Peter turns upon Lord Sidmouth,[55] who has been prophesying woe
and destruction from the emancipation of the Roman Catholics. Such
prophecies, he says, will, in the process of time, become matter of
pleasantry even to "the sedulous housewife and the Rural Dean." There is
always a copious supply of Lord Sidmouths in the world, and they have
always uttered the most dismal predictions about every improvement in the
lot of mankind.--

"Turnpike roads, navigable canals, inoculation, hops, tobacco, the
Reformation, the Revolution--there are always a set of worthy and
moderately-gifted men who bawl out death and ruin upon every valuable
change which the varying aspect of human affairs absolutely and
imperiously requires."

The only contention of poor Abraham which Peter will in the slightest
degree accept, is that the emancipation of the Roman Catholics will
alienate the Orangemen. But, even if this be the result of a just act, it
is far less formidable than the result of continued injustice. Brother
Abraham, "skilled in the arithmetic of Tithe," must perceive that it is
better to have four friends and one enemy, than four enemies and one
friend; and, the more violent the hatred of the Orangemen, the more certain
the reconciliation of the Catholics. Even supposing, for the sake of
argument, that the Orangemen carry their disaffection to the point of
resistance, and brave the discipline of the law, the prospect has no
terrors for Peter Plymley.--

"My love of poetical justice does carry me as far as that--one
summer's whipping, only one; the thumb-screw for a short season; a
little light, easy torturing between Lady Day and Michaelmas; a short
specimen of Mr. Perceval's rigour. I have malice enough to ask this
slight atonement for the groans and shrieks of the poor Catholics,
unheard by any human tribunal, but registered by the Angel of God
against their Protestant and enlightened oppressors."

Letter IX. opens with an enumeration of offices not tenable by adherents of
the Roman faith.

"No Catholic can be chief Governor or Governor of this Kingdom,
Chancellor or Keeper of the Great Seal, Lord High Treasurer, Chief of
any of the Courts of Justice, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Puisne
Judge, Judge in the Admiralty, Master of the Rolls, Secretary of
State, Keeper of the Privy Seal, Vice-Treasurer or his Deputy, Teller
or Cashier of Exchequer, Auditor or General, Governor or Custos
Rotulorum of Counties, Chief Governor's Secretary, Privy Councillor,
King's Counsel, Serjeant, Attorney, Solicitor-General, Master in
Chancery, Provost or Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin,
Postmaster-General, Master and Lieutenant-General of Ordnance,
Commander-in-Chief, General on the Staff, Sheriff, Sub-Sheriff, Mayor,
Bailiff, Recorder, Burgess, or any other officer in a City, or a
Corporation. No Catholic can be guardian to a Protestant, and no
priest guardian at all: no Catholic can be a gamekeeper, or have for
sale, or otherwise, any arms or warlike stores; no Catholic can
present to a living, unless he choose to turn Jew in order to obtain
that privilege; and the pecuniary qualification of Catholic jurors is
made higher than that of Protestants."

Out of that splendid list of unattainable posts, Peter Plymley chooses, to
illustrate his theme, the offices of Sheriff and Deputy-Sheriff in Ireland.
No one he says, who is unacquainted with that country, can conceive the
obstacles to justice which exclusion from these offices entails. The lives,
liberties, and properties of the Roman Catholic population are at the mercy
of the Juries, and the Juries are nominated exclusively by Protestants--and
this in a country where religious animosities are peculiarly inflamed.--

"A poor Catholic in Ireland may be tried by twelve Percevals, and
destroyed, according to the manner of that gentleman, in the name of
the law, and with all the insulting forms of justice. I will not go
the length of saying that deliberate and wilful injustice is done. I
have no doubt that the Orange Deputy-Sheriff thinks it would be a most
unpardonable breach of his duty if he did not summon a Protestant
panel. I can easily believe that the Protestant panel may conduct
themselves very conscientiously in hanging the gentlemen of the
Crucifix; but I blame the law which does not guard the Catholic
against the probable tenour of those feelings which must unconsciously
influence the judgments of mankind. I detest that state of society
which extends unequal degrees of protection to different creeds and
persuasions; and I cannot describe to you the contempt I feel for a
man who, calling himself a statesman, defends a system which fills the
heart of every Irishman with treason."

If then the Courts of Assize are, by the very nature of the case,
instruments of injustice, it is the Grand Juries which are the great scene
of Jobbery. They have the power of levying a county rate for roads,
bridges, and other public accommodations. Milesian gentlemen, attendant on
the Grand Inquest of Justice, arrange these little matters for their mutual

"You suffer the road to be brought through my park, and I will have
the bridge constructed in a situation where it will make a beautiful
object to your house. You do my job, and I will do yours."

And so, as far as the Protestant gentry are concerned, all is well. But
there is a religion even in jobs; "and it will be highly gratifying to Mr.
Perceval to learn that no man in Ireland who believes in Seven Sacraments
can carry a public road, or bridge, one yard out of its way, and that
nobody can cheat the public who does not expound the Scriptures in the
purest and most orthodox manner.... I ask if the human mind can experience
a more dreadful sensation than to see its own jobs refused, and the jobs of
another religion perpetually succeeding?"

And then again there is the grievance which consists in exclusion from the
higher posts of the Professions.--

"Look at human nature. Your boy Joel is to be brought up to the Bar:
has Mrs. Plymley the slightest doubt of his being Chancellor? Do not
his two shrivelled aunts live in the certainty of seeing him in that
situation, and of cutting-out with their own hands his equity
habiliments? And I could name a certain Minister of the Gospel who
does not, in the bottom of his heart, much differ from these opinions.
Do you think that the fathers and mothers of the holy Catholic church
are not as absurd as Protestant papas and mammas? The probability I
admit to be, in each case, that the sweet little blockhead will in
fact never get a brief. But I venture to say that there is not a
parent from the Giant's Causeway to Bantry Bay, who does not conceive
that his child is the unfortunate victim of the exclusion, and that
nothing short of positive law could prevent his own dear, pre-eminent
Paddy from rising to the highest honours of the State. So with the
army, and Parliament. In fact, few are excluded; but, in imagination,
all. You keep twenty or thirty Catholics out, and lose the affections
of four millions."

And then Peter turns to the war-cry of No Popery, which had been so
vigorously and successfully raised at the General Election of 1807, and
derides the loyal indignation then directed against the Ministers who had
the heart to worry George III. with plans of redress for Roman Catholics.--

"The general cry in the country was, that they would not see their beloved
monarch used ill in his old age, and that they would stand by him to the
last drop of their blood." This ebullition of ill-judging loyalty reminds
Peter of an accident which once befell the Russian Ambassador in London.
His Excellency fell down in a fit when paying a morning call. A doctor was
summoned, who declared that the patient must be instantly bled; and he
prepared to perform the operation. "But the barbarous servants of the
Embassy, when they saw the gleaming lancet, drew their swords, threw
themselves into an attitude of defiance, and swore they would kill the man
who dared to hurt their beloved master."

Peter's own remedy for Irish disaffection was, first, to remove all civil
penalties for religious faith, and then to subsidize the Roman Catholic
bishops and clergy in Ireland, and pay for the maintenance of their schools
and churches. He calculated that this would cost L250,000 a year. The
clergy should all receive their salaries through the Bank of Ireland; the
salaries were to be proportioned to the size of the congregations; and all
patronage should be lodged in the hands of the Crown.--

"Now I appeal to any human being, what the disaffection of a clergy
would amount to, gaping after this graduated bounty of the Crown; and
whether Ignatius Loyola himself, if he were a living blockhead instead
of a dead saint, could withstand the temptation of bouncing from L100
a year in Sligo, to L300 in Tipperary. This is the miserable sum of
money for which the merchants, and landowners, and nobility of
England, are exposing themselves to the tremendous peril of losing

If all these schemes of conciliation were rejected as dangerous and
impracticable, there remained of course the time-honoured remedy of
Coercion. This had been demanded by Spencer Perceval, when attacking the
conciliatory administration of "All the Talents," and it provoked Peter
Plymley to a characteristic outburst:--

"I cannot describe the horror and disgust which I felt at hearing Mr.
Perceval call for measures of vigour in Ireland. If I lived at
Hampstead[56] upon stewed meats and claret; if I walked to church
every Sunday morning before eleven young gentlemen of my own
begetting, with their faces washed, and their hair pleasingly combed;
if the Almighty had blessed me with every earthly comfort--how awfully
would I pause before I sent forth the flame and the sword over the
cabins of the poor, brave, generous, open-hearted peasants of Ireland!
How easy it is to shed human blood! How easy it is to persuade
ourselves that it is our duty to do so, and that the decision has cost
us a severe struggle! How much in all ages have wounds and shrieks and
tears been the cheap and vulgar resources of the rulers of mankind!
How difficult it is to govern in kindness, and to found an empire upon
the everlasting basis of justice and affection!"

Letter X. begins with some observations on the Law of Tithe in Ireland. "I
submit to your common sense, if it is possible to explain to an Irish
peasant upon what principle of justice he is to pay every tenth potato in
his little garden to a clergyman in whose religion nobody believes for
twenty miles round him, and who has nothing to preach to but bare walls."
Let the landowner pay the tithe, and charge the labourer a higher rent.
This, Peter seems to think, will meet all the difficulties of the case, and
yet not impoverish the Established clergy. And he is more than ever
persuaded that the best way to check the predominance of the Roman Church
in Ireland is to deliver the Romanists from every species of religious
disability. On this theme Peter harps in a vein which, if he were a
clergyman writing over his own name, would be justly described as

"If a rich young Catholic were in Parliament, he would belong to
White's and to Brookes's; would keep race-horses; would walk up and
down Pall Mall; be exonerated of his ready money and his constitution;
become as totally devoid of morality, honesty, knowledge, and
civility, as Protestant loungers in Pall Mall; and return home with a
supreme contempt for Father O'Leary and Father O'Callaghan.... The
true receipt for preserving the Roman Catholic religion is Mr.
Perceval's receipt for destroying it: it is to deprive every rich
Catholic of all the objects of secular ambition, to separate him from
the Protestants, and to shut him up in his castle with priests and

However sound this estimate of theological results may be, Abraham thinks
that a period of universal war is not the proper time for innovations in
the Constitution. This, replies Peter, "is as much as to say that the worst
time for making friends is the period when you have made many enemies; that
it is the greatest of all errors to stop when you are breathless, and to
lie down when you are fatigued."

Abraham, and those who think with him, hold that concession to Roman
Catholics ought to be refused, if for no other reason, because King George
III. dislikes it. This is an argument which Peter cannot away with. He
respects the King as a good man, and holds that loyalty is one of the great
instruments of English happiness.--

"But the love of the King may easily become more strong than the love
of the Kingdom, and we may lose sight of the public welfare in our
exaggerated admiration of him who is appointed to reign only for its
promotion and support.... _God save the King_, you say, warms your
heart like the sound of a trumpet. I cannot make use of so violent a
metaphor; but I am delighted to hear it, when it is a cry of genuine
affection: I am delighted to hear it when they hail not only the
individual man, but the outward and living sign of all English
blessings. These are noble feelings, and the heart of every good man
must go with them; but _God save the King_, in these times, too often
means--God save my pension and my place, God give my sisters an
allowance out of the Privy Purse--make me Clerk of the Irons, let me
survey the Meltings, let me live upon the fruits of other men's
industry, and fatten upon the plunder of the public."

This brings us again to the "sepulchral Spencer Perceval," as he is called
in another place, with his enormous emoluments from the public purse, his
dream of pacifying Ireland by converting its inhabitants to Protestantism,
and his fantastic policy of the Orders in Council.--

"He would bring the French to reason by keeping them without rhubarb,
and exhibit to mankind the awful spectacle of a nation deprived of
neutral salts. This is not the dream of a wild apothecary indulging in
his own opium; this is not the distempered fancy of a pounder of
drugs, delirious from smallness of profits--but it is the sober,
deliberate, and systematic scheme of a man to whom the public safety
is entrusted, and whose appointment is considered by many as a
masterpiece of political sagacity."

And now, having exhausted the "Catholic Question" as it presents itself in
England and Ireland, Peter Plymley (who has already called attention to the
religious liberty established in France) cites the cases of Switzerland and
Hungary as illustrating the civil strength of nations free from the
legalized animosities of religion. Did Frederick the Great ever refuse the
services of a Catholic soldier? There is a Catholic Secretary of State at
St. Petersburgh. There was a Greek Patriarch associated with a
Vicar-Apostolic in the government of Venice. A Catholic Emperor has
entrusted the command of his guard to a Protestant Prince. But what
signifies all this to Spencer Perceval? He looks at human nature from the
top of Hampstead Hill, and has not a thought beyond the sphere of his own
vision. And so we reach the conclusion of the whole matter.--

"I now take a final leave of this subject of Ireland. The only
difficulty in discussing it is a want of resistance--a want of
something difficult to unravel and something dark to illumine. To
agitate such a question is to beat the air with a club, and cut down
gnats with a scimitar: it is a prostitution of industry, and a waste
of strength. If a man says, 'I have a good place, and I do not choose
to lose it,' this mode of arguing upon the Catholic Question I can
well understand. But that any human being with an understanding two
degrees elevated above that of an Anabaptist preacher should
conscientiously contend for the expediency and propriety of leaving
the Irish Catholics in their present state, and of subjecting us to
such tremendous peril in the present condition of the world, it is
utterly out of my power to conceive. Such a measure as the Catholic
Question is entirely beyond the common game of politics. It is a
measure in which all parties ought to acquiesce, in order to preserve
the place where and the stake for which they play. If Ireland is gone,
where are jobs? where are reversions? where is my brother, Lord
Arden?[57] where are 'my dear and near relations'? The game is up, and
the Speaker of the House of Commons will be sent as a present to the
menagerie at Paris. We talk of waiting, as if centuries of joy and
prosperity were before us. In the next ten years our fate must be
decided; we shall know, long before that period, whether we can bear
up against the miseries by which we are threatened, or not: and yet,
in the very midst of our crisis, we are enjoined to abstain from the
most certain means of increasing our strength, and advised to wait for
the remedy till the disease is removed by death or health. And now,
instead of the plain and manly policy of increasing unanimity at home,
by equalizing rights and privileges, what is the ignorant, arrogant,
and wicked system which has been pursued? Such a career of madness and
of folly was, I believe, never run in so short a period. The vigour of
the ministry is like the vigour of a grave-digger--the tomb becomes
more ready and more wide for every effort which they make.... Every
Englishman felt proud of the integrity of his country; the character
of the country is lost for ever. It is of the utmost consequence to a
commercial people at war with the greatest part of Europe, that there
should be a free entry of neutrals into the enemy's ports; the
neutrals who carried our manufactures we have not only excluded, but
we have compelled them to declare war against us. It was our interest
to make a good peace, or convince our own people that it could not be
obtained; we have not made a peace, and we have convinced the people
of nothing but of the arrogance of the Foreign Secretary: and all this
has taken place in the short space of a year, because a King's Bench
barrister and a writer of epigrams, turned into Ministers of State,
were determined to show country gentlemen that the late administration
had no vigour. In the mean time commerce stands still, manufactures
perish, Ireland is more and more irritated, India is threatened, fresh
taxes are accumulated upon the wretched people, the war is carried on
without it being possible to conceive any one single object which a
rational being can propose to himself by its continuation; and in the
midst of this unparalleled insanity we are told that the Continent is
to be reconquered by the want of rhubarb and plums. A better spirit
than exists in the English people never existed in any people in the
world; it has been misdirected, and squandered upon party purposes in
the most degrading and scandalous manner; they have been led to
believe that they were benefiting the commerce of England by
destroying the commerce of America, that they were defending their
Sovereign by perpetuating the bigoted oppression of their
fellow-subjects; their rulers and their guides have told them that
they would equal the vigour of France by equalling her atrocity; and
they have gone on wasting that opulence, patience, and courage, which,
if husbanded by prudent and moderate counsels, might have proved the
salvation of mankind. The same policy of turning the good qualities of
Englishmen to their own destruction, which made Mr. Pitt omnipotent,
continues his power to those who resemble him only in his vices;
advantage is taken of the loyalty of Englishmen to make them meanly
submissive; their piety is turned into persecution, their courage into
useless and obstinate contention; they are plundered because they are
ready to pay, and soothed into asinine stupidity because they are full
of virtuous patience. If England must perish at last, so let it be;
that event is in the hands of God; we must dry up our tears and
submit. But, that England should perish swindling and stealing; that
it should perish waging war against lazar-houses and hospitals; that
it should perish persecuting with monastic bigotry; that it should
calmly give itself up to be ruined by the flashy arrogance of one man,
and the narrow fanaticism of another; these events are within the
power of human beings, and I did not think that the magnanimity of
Englishmen would ever stoop to such degradations."

So ends this vivid argument on behalf of political justice and social
equality. Lord Grenville saw the resemblance to Swift, and Lord Holland
kindly reminded the anonymous satirist that "the only author to whom he
could be compared in English, lost a bishopric for his wittiest
performance." In later years Lord Murray[58] said, "After Pascal's
_Letters_, it is the most instructive piece of wisdom in the form of Irony
ever written." Macaulay declared that Sydney Smith was "universally
admitted to have been a great reasoner, and the greatest master of ridicule
that has appeared among us since Swift." Even now, after a century of
publishing, _Peter Plymley's Letters_ retain their preeminence. The
unexpurgated edition of the _Apologia_ may rank with the _Provincial
Letters_;[59] but the creator of Peter and Abraham Plymley stands alone.

[41] Abraham Rees, D.D. (1743-1825), and Andrew Kippis, D.D. (1723-1795),
were Presbyterian ministers of great repute.

[42] The meeting-house in Old Jewry was built in 1701 and destroyed in
1808. It "covered 2600 square feet, and was lit with six bow windows."
Dr. Rees was its last minister.

[43] George Canning (1770-1827).

[44] Spencer Perceval (1762-1812).

[45] When it was proposed to exclude King's College from the re-constituted
University of London.

[46] Spencer Perceval brought in several bills to compel non-resident
incumbents to pay their curates a living wage.

[47] Spencer Perceval obtained the sinecure office of Surveyor of the
Meltings and Clerk of the Irons in 1791.

[48] Spencer Perceval procured the reversion of his brother's office of
Registrar to the Court of Admiralty, and burked a parliamentary
inquiry into reversions generally.

[49] John Southey, 15th Lord Somerville, President of the Board of

[50] Spencer Perceval.

[51] Robert Bankes Jenkinson (1770-1820), 2nd Earl of Liverpool, was Lord
Hawkesbury from 1796 to 1808.

[52] Lord Hawkesbury was appointed Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports at a
salary of L3000 a year.

[53] "The allusion is to the Orders in Council under which Mr. Perceval
endeavoured to retaliate on Napoleon's Baltic decree by regulating
British trade with the Continent. Under these orders the exportation
of all goods to France was prohibited which were not carried from this
country and had not paid an export-duty here. But there were certain
articles which the Minister decided that the Continent should have on
no terms, and amongst others quinine, or Jesuit's Bark, as it was
called. Sydney Smith, writing as Peter Plymley, said, 'You cannot
seriously suppose the people to be so degraded as to look for their
safety from a man who proposes to subdue Europe by keeping it without
Jesuit's Bark.'"--SIR SPENCER WALPOLE, _Life of Lord John

[54] In 1839 Sydney Smith pronounced this "a very unjust imputation on Lord
Castlereagh." Robert Stewart (1769-1823), Viscount Castlereagh, became
Marquis of Londonderry in 1821.

[55] Henry Addington (1757-1844), created Viscount Sidmouth in 1805.

[56] Spencer Perceval had recently taken a villa on Hampstead Heath, for
the benefit of his wife's health.

[57] Spencer Perceval's elder brother, Charles George Perceval (1756-1840),
was created Lord Arden in 1802.

[58] John Archibald Murray (1779-1859), a Judge of the Court of Session.

[59] In October 1844 Eugene Robin, reviewing Sydney Smith in the _Revue
des Deux Mondes_, wrote as follows:--"Cache sous le pseudonyme de
Peter Plymley il adresse ces nouvelles _provinciales_ a un
reverend pasteur, qui est bien le parfait modele de la sottise
protestante, la quintessence des docteurs Bowles et des archidiacres



At the close of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth,
the most serious evil which beset the Church of England was the system of
Pluralities and Non-Residence. A prosperous clergyman might hold
half-a-dozen separate preferments, and, as long as he paid curates to
perform the irreducible minimum of public duty, he need never show his face
inside his deserted parishes. The ecclesiastical literature of the time
abounds in quaint illustrations of the equanimity with which this system,
and all its attendant evils, was regarded even by respectable and
conscientious men. Thomas Newton, the commentator on Prophecy, was Dean of
St. Paul's as well as Bishop of Bristol, and, before he became a bishop,
held a living in the City, a Prebend of Westminster, the Precentorship of
York, the Lectureship of St. George's, Hanover Square, and "the genteel
office of Sub-Almoner." Richard Watson (who is believed never to have set
foot in his diocese) was Bishop of Llandaff and Archdeacon of Ely, and drew
the tithes of sixteen parishes. William Van Mildert, afterwards Bishop of
Durham, was Rector of St. Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside, and also held the living
of Farningmam, near Sevenoaks, "as an agreeable retreat within a convenient
distance from town." Richard Valpy was Head Master of Reading School, and
Rector of Stradishall in Suffolk. George Butler, afterwards Dean of
Peterborough, was Head Master of Harrow and Rector of Gayton in
Northamptonshire. Nearly every bishop had a living together with his see.
The valuable Rectory of Stanhope in Durham was held by four successive
bishops. Henry Courtenay, Bishop of Exeter, was Rector of St. George's,
Hanover Square. George Pelham, Bishop of Exeter, had a living in Sussex,
and Christopher Bethell, Bishop of Exeter, had a living in Yorkshire.

When Sydney Smith was appointed to the rectory of Foston, there had been no
resident Rector since the reign of Charles II. The churches of non-resident
Rectors were commonly served by what were called "galloping parsons," who
rattled through the services required by law, riding at full speed from
parish to parish, so as to serve perhaps three churches on one Sunday. In
many places the Holy Communion was celebrated only three times a year. At
Alderley, before Edward Stanley, afterwards Bishop of Norwich, became
Rector there, "the clerk used to go to the churchyard stile to see whether
there were any more coming to church, for there were seldom enough to make
a congregation. The former Rector used to boast that he had never set foot
in a sick person's cottage." When the shepherds thus deserted and starved
their flocks, it was only natural that the sheep betook themselves to every
form of schism, irreligion, and immorality. To remedy these evils, Spencer
Perceval, whose keen interest in the affairs of the Church had a curiously
irritating effect on Sydney Smith, took in hand to pass the Clergy
Residence Bill, and the Bill became an Act in 1803. In 1808 a new
Archbishop[60] was enthroned at York. He immediately began to put the Act
in force, and summoned Sydney Smith from the joys of London to the
austerities of Foston-le-Clay. The choice lay between complying and
resigning, for no exchange of livings seemed practicable. On the 8th of
October 1808, Sydney wrote to Lady Holland--"My lot is now cast, and my
heritage fixed--most probably. But you may choose to make me a bishop, and,
if you do, I think I shall never do you discredit; for I believe it is out
of the power of lawn and velvet, and the crisp hair of dead men fashioned
into a wig,[61] to make me a dishonest man."

Two months later he wrote--"I have bought a book about drilling beans, and
a greyhound puppy for the Malton Meeting. It is thought I shall be an
eminent rural character." The expense of removing his family and furniture
from London to Yorkshire was considerable, so he published two volumes of
sermons and paid for the journey with the L200 which he received for them.
The rectory-house at Foston was ruinous and uninhabitable, and it was
necessary to rebuild it. Meanwhile, the Rector hired a house some way off,
in the village of Heslington, and there he established himself on the 21st
of June 1809, "two hundred miles," as he ruefully remarked, "from London."
Three days later he wrote to Lady Holland that he had laid down two rules
for his own guidance in the country:--

"1. Not to smite the partridge; for, if I fed the poor, and comforted
the sick, and instructed the ignorant, yet I should be nothing worth,
if I smote the partridge. If anything ever endangers the Church, it
will be the strong propensity to shooting for which the clergy are
remarkable. Ten thousand good shots dispersed over the country do more
harm to the cause of religion than the arguments of Voltaire and

"2. I mean to come to town once a year, though of that, I suppose, I
shall soon be weary, finding my mind growing weaker and weaker, and my
acquaintances gradually falling off. I shall by this time have taken
myself again to shy tricks, pull about my watch-chain, and become (as
I was before) your abomination.... Mrs. Sydney is all rural bustle,
impatient for the parturition of hens and pigs; I wait patiently,
knowing all will come in due season."

To Jeffrey he wrote on the 3rd of September:--

"Instead of being unamused by trifles, I am, as I well knew I should
be, amused by them a great deal too much. I feel an ungovernable
interest about my horses, my pigs, and my plants. I am forced, and
always was forced, to task myself up into an interest for any higher

Six days later he wrote to Lady Holland:--

"I hear you laugh at me for being happy in the country, and upon this
I have a few words to say. In the first place, whether one lives or
dies I hold, and have always held, to be of infinitely less moment
than is generally supposed. But, if life is to be, then it is common
sense to amuse yourself with the best you can find where you happen to
be placed. I am not leading precisely the life I should choose, but
that which (all things considered, as well as I could consider them)
appeared to me to be the most eligible. I am resolved, therefore, to
like it, and to reconcile myself to it; which is more manly than to
feign myself above it, and to send up complaints by the post, of being
thrown away, and being desolate, and such-like trash. I am prepared,
therefore, either way. If the chances of life ever enable me to
emerge, I will show you that I have not been wholly occupied by small
and sordid pursuits. If (as the greater probability) I am come to the
end of my career, I give myself quietly up to horticulture, etc. In
short, if it be my lot to crawl, I will crawl contentedly; if to fly,
I will fly with alacrity; but, as long as I can possibly avoid it, I
will never be unhappy. If, with a pleasant wife, three children, and
many friends who wish me well, I cannot be happy, I am a very silly,
foolish fellow, and what becomes of me is of very little consequence."

If ample occupation be, as some strenuous moralists assert, the true secret
of happiness, Sydney Smith had plenty to make him happy during the early
years of his life in Yorkshire. Here is his own account of his

"A diner-out, a wit, and a popular preacher, I was suddenly caught up
by the Archbishop of York, and transported to my living in Yorkshire,
where there had not been a resident clergyman for a hundred and fifty
years. Fresh from London, and not knowing a turnip from a carrot, I
was compelled to farm three hundred acres, and without capital to
build a Parsonage House."

He was his own architect, his own builder, and his own clerk of the works.
The cost of building a house, with borrowed money, made him a very poor man
for several years.

"I turned schoolmaster, to educate my son, as I could not afford to
send him to school. Mrs. Sydney turned schoolmistress, to educate my
girls, as I could not afford a governess. I turned farmer, as I could
not let my land.... Added to all these domestic cares, I was village
parson, village doctor, village comforter, village magistrate, and
Edinburgh Reviewer; so you see I had not much time on my hands to
regret London."

Every one has heard of "Bunch," the "little garden-girl, shaped like a
milestone," who "became the best butler in the county"; of the gaunt
riding-horse "Calamity," which "flung me over his head into a neighbouring
parish, as if I had been a shuttlecock, and I felt grateful that it was not
into a neighbouring planet"; and of the ancient carriage called "the
Immortal," which was so well known on the road that "the village-boys
cheered it and the village-dogs barked at it"--and surely remembrance
should be made, amid this goodly caravan, of the four draught-oxen, Tug and
Lug, Haul and Crawl, even though "Tug and Lug took to fainting, and
required buckets of salvolatile, and Haul and Crawl to lie down in the

When Sydney Smith says that he was "village doctor," he reminds us of his
lifelong fancy for dabbling in medicine. When his daughter, not six months
old, was attacked by croup, he gave her in twenty-four hours "32 grains of
calomel, besides bleeding, blistering, and emetics." When he was called to
baptize a sick baby, he seized the opportunity of giving it a dose of
castor oil. One day he writes--

"I am performing miracles in my parish with garlic for


"We conquered the whooping-cough here with a pennyworth of salt of
tartar, after having filled them with the expensive poisons of
Halford.[63] What an odd thing that such a specific should not be more

"I attended two of my children through a good stout fever of the
typhus kind without ever calling in an apothecary, but for one day. I
depended upon blessed antimony, and watched anxiously for the time of
giving bark."

"Douglas[64] alarmed us the other night with the Croup. I darted into
him all the mineral and vegetable resources of my shop, cravatted his
throat with blisters and fringed it with leeches, and set him in five
or six hours to playing marbles, breathing gently and inaudibly."

After an unhealthy winter he writes:--

"Our evils have been want of water, and scarlet-fever in our village;
where, in three quarters of a year, we have buried fifteen, instead of
one per annum. You will naturally suppose I have killed all these
people by doctoring them; but scarlet-fever awes me, and is above my
aim. I leave it to the professional and graduated homicides."[65]

In this connexion it is natural to cite the lines on "The Poetical Medicine
Chest,"[66] which Mr. Stuart Reid has printed. They contain some excellent
advice about the drugs which a mother should provide for the use of a young
family, and end, majestically, thus:--

"Spare not in Eastern blasts, when babies die,
The wholesome rigour of the Spanish Fly.
From timely torture seek thy infant's rest,
And spread the poison on his labouring breast.
And so, fair lady, when in evil hour
Less prudent mothers mourn some faded flower,
Six Howards valiant, and six Howards fair
Shall live, and love thee, and reward thy care."

But parochial and domestic concerns could not altogether divert Sydney
Smith's mind from the strife of politics. He watched the turmoil from afar.
On the 1st of January 1813, he wrote to his friend John Allen, who was more
sanguine than himself about the prospects of the Whigs:--

"Everything is fast setting in for arbitrary power. The Court will
grow bolder and bolder, a struggle will commence, and, if it ends as I
wish, there will be Whigs again.... But when these things come to
pass, you will no longer be a Warden,[67] but a brown and impalpable
powder in the tombs of Dulwich. In the meantime, enough of liberty
will remain to make our old-age tolerably comfortable; and to your
last gasp you will remain in the perennial and pleasing delusion that
the Whigs are coming in, and will expire mistaking the officiating
clergyman for a King's Messenger."

While the new Rectory House at Foston was building, the Rector was wholly
engrossed in the work. "I live," he wrote, "trowel in hand. My whole soul
is filled up by lath and plaster." He laid the foundation-stone in June
1813, and took possession of the completed edifice in March 1814. "My house
was considered the ugliest in the county, but all admitted that it was one
of the most comfortable."[68] It remains to the present day pretty much as
Sydney Smith left it. A room on the ground-floor, next to the drawing-room,
served the threefold purposes of study, dispensary, and justice-room. As a
rule, he wrote his sermons and his articles for the _Edinburgh_ in the
drawing-room, not heeding the conversation of family and visitors; but in
the "study" he dosed his parishioners; and here, having been made a Justice
of the Peace, he administered mercy to poachers. He hated the Game-Laws as
they stood, and it stirred his honest wrath to reflect that "for every ten
pheasants which fluttered in the wood, one English peasant was rotting in
gaol." So strong was his belief in the contaminating effects of a
prisoner's life that he never, if he could help it, would commit a boy or
girl to gaol. He sought permission to accompany Mrs. Fry on one of her
visits to Newgate, and spoke of her ministry there as "the most solemn, the
most Christian, the most affecting, which any human eye ever
witnessed."[69] A pleasing trait of his incumbency at Foston was the
creation of allotment-gardens for the poor. He divided several acres of the
glebe into sixteenths, and let them, at a low rent, to the villagers. Each
allotment was just big enough to supply a cottage with potatoes, and to
support a pig. Cheap food for the poor was another of his excellent
hobbies. His Common-Place Book contains receipts for nourishing soups made
of rice and peas and flavoured with ox-cheek. He notes that more than
thirty people were comfortably fed with these concoctions at a penny a
head. After a bad harvest he and his family lived, like the labourers round
them, on unleavened cakes made from the damaged flour of the sprouted
wheat. His daughter writes--"The luxury of returning to bread again can
hardly be imagined by those who have never been deprived of it."

But, in spite of occasional difficulties of this description, which were
always faced and overcome with invincible good-humour, Sydney Smith's
fifteen years at Foston were happily and profitably spent. He was in the
fulness of his physical and intellectual vigour. He said of himself, "I am
a rough writer of Sermons," but his energy in delivering them awoke the
admiration of his sturdy flock.--

"When I began to thump the cushion of my pulpit, on first coming to
Foston, as is my wont when I preach, the accumulated dust of a hundred
and fifty years made such a cloud, that for some minutes I lost sight
of my congregation."[70]

His Bible-class for boys was affectionately remembered sixty years
afterwards.[71] By his constant contributions to the _Edinburgh_, he
was both helping forward the great causes in which he most earnestly
believed, and establishing his own fame. Good health, cheerfulness, and
contentment reigned in the Rectory, which might well have been called "A
Temple of Industrious Peace."[72]

In spite of some small irregularities and oddities in the furniture of the
house and the arrangements of the establishment--all of which the Rector
habitually and humorously exaggerated--the Rectory was an extremely
comfortable home. It was so constructed as to be full of air, light, and
warmth. The Rector said of it:--

"We are about equal to a second-rate inn, as Mrs. Sydney says; but I
think myself we are equal to any inn on the North Road, except

The larder of this "second-rate inn" was pleasantly supplied by the
kindness of faithful friends.

"I am very much obliged to you for sending me the pheasants. One of my
numerous infirmities is a love of eating pheasants."--"Many thanks for
two fine Gallicia hams; but, as for boiling them in _wine_, I am
not as yet high enough in the Church for that; so they must do the
best they can in water."--"Lord Tankerville has sent me a whole buck;
this necessarily takes up a good deal of my time. Venison is an
interesting subject, which is deemed among the clergy a professional
one."--"Your grouse are not come by this day's mail, but I suppose
they will come to-morrow. Even the rumour of grouse is
agreeable."--"Lord Lauderdale has sent me two hundred and thirty
pounds of salt fish."--"You have no idea what a number of handsome
things were said of you when your six partridges were consumed to-day.
Wit, literature, and polished manners were ascribed to you--some good
quality for each bird."--"What is real piety? What is true attachment
to the Church? How are these fine feelings best evinced? The answer is
plain--by sending strawberries to a clergyman. Many thanks."

To the hostelry, thus well victualled, and called by its owner "The
Rector's Head," many interesting visitors found their way. Lord and Lady
Holland, Miss Fox, Miss Vernon, Sir James Mackintosh, Sir Humphry Davy,
Samuel Rogers, Dr. and Mrs. Marcet, and Francis Jeffrey were among the
earliest guests. "Mrs. Sydney was dreadfully alarmed about her side-dishes
the first time Luttrell[73] paid us a visit, and grew pale as the covers
were lifted; but they stood the test. Luttrell tasted and praised."

The neighbours of whom the Smiths saw most were Lord and Lady Carlisle,[74]
who drove over from Castle Howard[75] in a coach-and-four with outriders,
and were upset in a ploughed field; their son and daughter-in-law, Lord and
Lady Georgiana Morpeth, who with their children made "no mean part of the
population of Yorkshire"; and the Archbishop of York, who became one of the
Smiths' kindest and most faithful friends. Every year Sydney paid a visit
to London, receiving the warmest of welcomes from all his old associates.
In 1821 he revisited his friends at Edinburgh, and going or coming he
visited Lord Grey at Howick, Lord Tankerville at Chillingham, Lord
Lauderdale at Dunbar, and Mr. Lambton, afterwards Lord Durham, at Lambton.
At Chillingham he duly admired the beef supplied by the famous herd of wild
cattle, but he admired still more the magnificent novelty of gas at

"What use of wealth so luxurious and delightful as to light your house
with gas? What folly to have a diamond necklace or a Correggio, and
not to light your house with gas! The splendour and glory of Lambton
Hall make all other houses mean. How pitiful to submit to a
farthing-candle existence, when science puts such intense
gratification within your reach! Dear lady, spend all your fortune in
a gas-apparatus. Better to eat dry bread by the splendour of gas, than
to dine on wild beef with wax candles!"

Another friend whom the Smiths visited regularly was Mr., afterwards Sir
George, Philips, an opulent cotton-spinner of Manchester. Once, when
staying with Philips, Sydney undertook to preach a Charity Sermon in
Prestwich Church, and with reference to this he wrote in the previous week;
"I desire to make three or four hundred weavers cry, which it is impossible
to do since the late rise in cottons."

Writing from Philips's house in 1820 he says:--

"Philips doubles his capital twice a week. We talk much of cotton,
more of the fine arts, as he has lately returned from Italy, and
purchased some pictures which were sent out from Piccadilly on purpose
to intercept him."

His daughter tells us that, during these years of small income and large
expenses, her father never bought any books. He had brought a small but
serviceable library with him from London, and his friends made additions to
it from time to time. He wrote to a friend in 1810:--

"I have read, since I saw you, Burke's works, some books of Homer,
Suetonius, a great deal of agricultural reading, Godwin's
_Enquirer_, and a great deal of Adam Smith. As I have scarcely
looked at a book for five years, I am rather hungry."

Here are some of the plans which, year by year, he laid down for the
regulation of his studies:--

"Translate every day ten lines of the _De Officiis_, and
re-translate into Latin. Five chapters of Greek Testament. Theological
studies. Plato's _Apology for Socrates_; Horace's _Epodes, Epistles,
Satires_, and _Ars Poetica_."

"Write sermons and reviews, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Read,
Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. Write ten lines of Latin on writing days.
Read five chapters of Greek Testament on reading days. For morning
reading, either Polybius, or Diodorus Siculus, or some tracts of
Xenophon or Plato; and for Latin, Catullus, Tibullus, and Propertius.

"Monday: write, morning; read Tasso, evening. Tuesday: Latin or Greek,
morning; evening, theology. Wednesday, same as Monday. Friday, ditto.
Thursday and Saturday, same as Tuesday. Read every day a chapter in
Greek Testament, and translate ten lines of Latin. Good books to
read:--Terrasson's _History of Roman Jurisprudence_; Bishop of
Chester's _Records of the Creation_."

His daughter says that he read with great rapidity. "He galloped through
the pages so rapidly that we often laughed at him when he shut up a thick
quarto as his morning's work. 'Cross-examine me, then,' he said; and we
generally found that he knew all that was worth knowing in it." Here,
obviously, is the stuff out of which reviewers are made, and this was the
very zenith of Sydney Smith's power and usefulness in the _Edinburgh

He wrote as quickly as he read. When once he had amassed the necessary
facts, he sate down amid all the distracting sights and sounds of a
drawing-room crowded with femininity, and wrote at full speed, without
deliberations, embellishments, or erasures; only betraying by the movements
of his expressive face his amusement and interest "as fresh images came
clustering round his pen." As soon as the essay was finished, he would
throw it on the table, saying to his wife, "There, Kate, just look it
over--dot the _i_'s and cross the _t_'s;" and went out for his walk. It
should be added that his writing was singularly difficult to read, that he
was very infirm about spelling proper names, and that he was exceptionally
careless in correcting his proofs.

Of those essays which he subsequently reprinted, as judging them most
worthy of preservation, I see that by 1821 he had written fifty. Among
these were such masterpieces of humour and argument as "Edgeworth on
Bulls," "Methodism," "Indian Missions," "Hannah More," "Public Schools,"
"America," "Game-Laws" and "Botany Bay." On the 19th of May 1820, he wrote,
"I found in London both my articles very popular--upon the Poor-Laws and
America. The passage on Taxation had great success."[76] Some of these
papers will be considered separately, when we come to discuss his style and
his opinions; but space must here be found for an unrivalled specimen of
his controversial method, which belongs to the year 1822. It is called
"Persecuting Bishops." "Is _Bishops_ in that title a nominative or an
accusative?" grimly inquired a living prelate, when the present writer was
extolling the essay so named. It is a nominative; and perhaps the exacter
title would have been "A Persecuting Bishop."

Herbert Marsh[77] was Second Wrangler in 1779, Fellow of St. John's
College, Cambridge, Margaret Professor of Divinity, Bishop of Llandaff from
1816 to 1819, and of Peterborough from 1819 till his death. He was a "High
Churchman of the old school"--perhaps the most unpleasant type of
theologian in Christendom. We know, from the Life of Father "Ignatius"
Spencer,[78] that Bishop Marsh played whist with his candidates for Orders
on the eve of the ordination, and all that we read about him beautifully
illustrates that tone of "quiet worldliness" which Dean Church described as
the characteristic of the English clergy in the earlier part of the
nineteenth century. But what he lacked in personal devotion he made up (as
some have done since his day) by furious hostility to spiritual and
religious enthusiasm in others. He opposed the civil claims alike of Roman
Catholics and of Dissenters. He attacked the Bible Society. He denounced
Charles Simeon. He insulted Isaac Milner; and he determined to purge his
diocese of Evangelicalism (which, oddly enough, he seems to have identified
with Calvinism). His manly resolve to stifle religious earnestness
culminated in the year 1820, when he drew up a set of eighty-seven
questions, which he proposed to every candidate for Orders, and to every
clergyman who sought his license to officiate. Failure to answer these
questions to the Bishop's satisfaction was to be punished by exclusion from
the diocese of Peterborough. Happily, the Evangelical clergy of that period
was very little disposed to sit down under Episcopal tyranny. The Bishop's
set of questions was met by a hailstorm of pamphlets. Petitions for redress
were poured into the House of Lords. The Bishop was forced into the open,
and constrained to make the best defence he could in a published speech. In
November 1822, Sydney Smith, in the _Edinburgh Review_, came to the
assistance of his brother-clergy against the high-handed tyranny of the
Persecuting Bishop.

The reviewer begins by giving the Bishop credit for good intentions; but
maintains that his conduct has been--

"singularly injudicious, extremely harsh, and in its effects (though
not in its intentions) very oppressive and vexatious to the clergy....
We cannot believe that we are doing wrong in ranging ourselves on the
weaker side, in the cause of propriety and justice. The Mitre protects
its wearer from indignity; but it does not secure impunity."

After this preface Sydney Smith goes on to develop his argument against the
Bishop, and he starts with the highly reasonable proposition that a man is
presumably wrong when all his friends, whose habits and interests would
naturally lead them to side with him, think him wrong.--

"If a man were to indulge in taking medicine till the apothecary, the
druggist, and the physician all called upon him to abandon his
philocathartic propensities--if he were to gratify his convivial
habits till the landlord demurred and the waiter shook his head--we
should naturally imagine that advice so disinterested was not given
before it was wanted."

The Bishop of Peterborough has all his brother-bishops against him, though
they certainly love power as well as he. Not one will defend him in debate;
not one will allege that he has acted or would act as Peterborough has

Then, again, the bishop who refuses to license a curate unless he
satisfactorily answers Eighty-Seven Questions, thereby puts himself in
opposition to the bishop who ordained the curate. One standard of orthodoxy
is established in one diocese; another in another. The theological system
of the Church becomes local and arbitrary instead of national and fixed.--

"If a man is a captain in the army in one part of England, he is a
captain in all. The general who commands north of the Tweed does not
say, 'You shall never appear in my district, or exercise the functions
of an officer, if you do not answer eighty-seven questions on the art
of war, according to my notions.' The same officer who commands a ship
of the line in the Mediterranean is considered as equal to the same
office in the North Seas. _The Sixth Commandment is suspended by one
medical diploma from the North of England to the South_.[79] But,
by the new system of interrogation, a man may be admitted into Orders
at Barnet, rejected at Stevenage, readmitted at Buckden, kicked out as
a Calvinist at Witham Common, and hailed as an ardent Arminian on his
arrival at York."

The Bishop's reply to the charges brought against him evinces surprise that
any one should have the hardihood to criticize or to resist him; and yet,
the reviewer asks, to what purpose has he read his ecclesiastical history,
if he expects anything except the most strenuous opposition to his

"Does he think that every sturdy Supralapsarian bullock whom he tries
to sacrifice to the Genius of Orthodoxy will not kick, and push, and
toss; that he will not, if he can, shake the axe from his neck, and
hurl his mitred butcher into the air? We know these men fully as well
as the Bishop; he has not a chance of success against them. They will
ravage, roar, and rush till the very chaplains, and the Masters and
Misses Peterborough, request his lordship to desist. He is raising a
storm in the English Church of which he has not the slightest
conception, and which will end, as it ought to end, in his lordship's
disgrace and defeat."

Then the reviewer goes on to urge that discretion and common sense, good
nature and good manners, are qualities far more valuable in bishops than
any "vigilance of inquisition." Prelates of the type of Bishop Marsh are
the most dangerous enemies of the Establishment which they profess to

"Six such Bishops, multiplied by eighty-seven, and working with five
hundred and twenty-two questions, would fetch everything to the ground
in six months. But what if it pleased Divine Providence to afflict
every prelate with the spirit of putting eighty-seven questions, and
the two Archbishops with the spirit of putting twice as many, and the
Bishop of Sodor and Man with the spirit of putting forty-three
questions? There would then be a grand total of two thousand three
hundred and thirty-five interrogations flying about the English
Church, and sorely vexed would be the land with Question and
Answer.... If eighty-seven questions are assumed to be necessary by
one bishop, eight hundred may be considered as the minimum of
interrogation by another. When once the ancient faith-marks of the
Church are lost sight of and despised, any misled theologian may
launch out on the boundless sea of polemical vexation."

The Bishop's main line of defence, when challenged in the House of Lords,
was that he had a legal right to do what he had done. This was not
disputed. "A man may persevere in doing what he has a right to do till the
Chancellor shuts him up in Bedlam, or till the mob pelts him as he passes."
But the reviewer reminds him that he has no similar right as against
clergymen presented to benefices in his diocese. They are protected by the
patron's action of _Quare Impedit_; and all considerations of honour,
decency, and common sense should restrain the Bishop from "letting himself
loose against the working man of God," and enforcing against the curate a
system of inquisition which he dare not apply to the incumbent.--

"Prelates are fond of talking about _my_ see, _my_ clergy,
_my_ diocese, as if these things belonged to them as their pigs
and dogs belonged to them. They forget that the clergy, the diocese,
and the bishops themselves, all exist only for the public good; that
the public are a third and principal party in the whole concern. It is
not simply the tormenting bishop against the tormented curate; but the
public against the system of tormenting, as tending to bring scandal
upon religion and religious men. By the late alteration in the
laws,[80] the Labourers in the vineyard are given up to the power of
the Inspector of the vineyard. If he has the meanness and malice to do
so, an Inspector may worry and plague to death any Labourer against
whom he may have conceived an antipathy.... Men of very small incomes
have often very acute feelings, and a curate trod on feels a pang as
great as a bishop refuted."

Another of the Bishop's ways of defending himself was to boast that, in
spite of all his interrogations, he has actually excluded only two curates
from his diocese: and this boast supplies the reviewer with one of his best
apologues. "So the Emperor of Hayti boasted that he had only cut off two
persons' heads for disagreeable behaviour at his table. In spite of the
paucity of the visitors executed, the example operated as a considerable
impediment to conversation; and the intensity of the punishment was found
to be a full compensation for its rarity."

In conclusion, the reviewer says:--"Now we have done with the Bishop....
Our only object in meddling with the question is to restrain the arm of
Power within the limits of moderation and justice--one of the great objects
which first led to the establishment of this journal, and which, we hope,
will always continue to characterize its efforts."

To this period also belong two splendid discourses on the principles of
Christian Justice, which Sydney Smith, as Chaplain to the High Sheriff,
preached in York Minster at the Spring and Summer Assizes of 1824. The
first is styled "The Judge that smites contrary to the Law."[81]

At the outset, the preacher thus defines his ground:--

"I take these words of St. Paul as a condemnation of that man who
smites contrary to the law; as a praise of that man who judges
according to the law; as a religious theme upon the importance of
human Justice to the happiness of mankind: and, if it be that theme,
it is appropriate to this place, and to the solemn public duties of
the past and the ensuing week, over which some here present will
preside, at which many here present will assist, and which almost all
here present will witness."

A Christian Judge in a free land must sedulously guard himself against the
entanglements of Party. He must be careful to maintain his independence by
seeking no promotion and asking no favours from those who govern. It may
often be his duty to stand between the governors and the governed, and in
that case his hopes of advantage may be found on one side, and his sense of
duty on another. At such a crisis he is trebly armed, if he is able from
his heart to say--"I have vowed a vow before God. I have put on the robe of
justice. Farewell avarice, farewell ambition. Pass me who will, slight me
who will, I will live henceforward only for the great duties of life. My
business is on earth. My hope and my reward are with God."

"He who takes the office of a Judge as it now exists in this country,
takes in his hands a splendid gem, good and glorious, perfect and
pure. Shall he give it up mutilated, shall he mar it, shall he darken
it, shall it emit no light, shall it be valued at no price, shall it
excite no wonder? Shall he find it a diamond, shall he leave it a
stone? What shall we say to the man who would wilfully destroy with
fire the magnificent temple of God, in which I am now preaching? Far
worse is he who ruins the moral edifices of the world, which time and
toil, and many prayers to God, and many sufferings of men, have
reared; who puts out the light of the times in which he lives, and
leaves us to wander amid the darkness of corruption and the desolation
of sin. There may be, there probably is, in this church, some young
man who may hereafter fill the office of an English Judge, when the
greater part of those who hear me are dead, and mingled with the dust
of the grave. Let him remember my words, and let them form and fashion
his spirit: he cannot tell in what dangerous and awful times he may be
placed; but as a mariner looks to his compass in the calm, and looks
to his compass in the storm, and never keeps his eyes off his compass,
so in every vicissitude of a judicial life, deciding for the people,
deciding against the people, protecting the just rights of kings, or
restraining their unlawful ambition, let him ever cling to that pure,
exalted, and Christian independence, which towers over the little
motives of life; which no hope of favour can influence, which no
effort of power can control.

"A Christian Judge in a free country should respect, on every
occasion, those popular institutions of Justice, which were intended
for his control, and for our security. To see humble men collected
accidentally from the neighbourhood, treated with tenderness and
courtesy by supreme magistrates of deep learning and practised
understanding, from whose views they are perhaps at that moment
differing, and whose directions they do not choose to follow; to see
at such times every disposition to warmth restrained, and every
tendency to contemptuous feeling kept back; to witness the submission
of the great and wise, not when it is extorted by necessity, but when
it is practised with willingness and grace, is a spectacle which is
very grateful to Englishmen, which no other country sees, which, above
all things, shows that a Judge has a pure, gentle, and Christian
heart, and that he never wishes to smite contrary to the law.

"A Christian Judge who means to be just must not fear to smite
according to the law; he must remember that he beareth not the sword
in vain. Under his protection we live, under his protection we
acquire, under his protection we enjoy. Without him, no man would
defend his character, no man would preserve his substance. Proper
pride, just gains, valuable exertions, all depend upon his firm
wisdom. If he shrink from the severe duties of his office, he saps the
foundation of social life, betrays the highest interests of the world,
and sits not to judge according to the law."

But Justice, if it is to be truly just, must be tempered by mercy, and must
have a scrupulous regard to the strength of temptation, the moral weakness
of the subject, the degrading power of ignorance and poverty.--

"All magistrates feel these things in the early exercise of their
judicial power; but the Christian Judge always feels them, is always
youthful, always tender, when he is going to shed human blood; retires
from the business of men, communes with his own heart, ponders on the
work of death, and prays to that Saviour who redeemed him that he may
not shed the blood of man in vain."

A pure, secure, and even-handed administration of Justice is the strongest
safeguard of national stability and happiness.--

"The whole tone and tenor of public morals is affected by the state of
supreme Justice; it extinguishes revenge, it communicates a spirit of
purity and uprightness to inferior magistrates; it makes the great
good, by taking away impunity; it banishes fraud, obliquity, and
solicitation, and teaches men that the law is their right. Truth is
its handmaid, freedom is its child, peace is its companion; safety
walks in its steps, victory follows in its train; it is the brightest
emanation of the Gospel, it is the greatest attribute of God: it is
that centre round which human motives and passions turn: and Justice,
sitting on high, sees Genius and Power, and Wealth and Birth,
revolving round her throne; and teaches their paths and marks out
their orbits, and warns with a loud voice, and rules with a strong
arm, and carries order and discipline into a world, which but for her
would only be a wild waste of passions. Look what we are, and what
just laws have done for us:--a land of piety and charity;--a land of
churches, and hospitals, and altars;--a nation of good Samaritans;--a
people of universal compassion. All lands, all seas, have heard we are
brave. We have just sheathed that sword which defended the world; we
have just laid down that buckler which covered the nations of the
earth. God blesses the soil with fertility; English looms labour for
every climate. All the waters of the globe are covered with English
ships. We are softened by fine arts, civilized by humane literature,
instructed by deep science; and every people, as they break their
feudal chains, look to the founders and fathers of freedom for
examples which may animate, and rules which may guide. If ever a
nation was happy, if ever a nation was visibly blessed by God--if ever
a nation was honoured abroad, and left at home under a government
(which we can now conscientiously call a liberal government) to the
full career of talent, industry, and vigour, we are at this moment
that people--and this is our happy lot.--First the Gospel has done it,
and then Justice has done it; and he who thinks it his duty to labour
that this happy condition of existence may remain, must guard the
piety of these times, and he must watch over the spirit of Justice
which exists in these times. First, he must take care that the altars
of God are not polluted, that the Christian faith is retained in
purity and in perfection: and then turning to human affairs, let him
strive for spotless, incorruptible Justice;--praising, honouring, and
loving the just Judge, and abhorring, as the worst enemy of mankind,
him who is placed there to 'judge after the law, and who smites
contrary to the law.'"

The second of these sermons is called "The Lawyer that tempted Christ."[82]
The preacher begins by pointing out that the Lawyer who, in the hope of
entangling the new Teacher, asked what he should do to inherit eternal
life, received a very plain answer--"not flowery, not metaphysical, not
doctrinal." The answer was, in effect, thus: "If you wish to live
eternally, do your duty to God and man." Whereas the earlier sermon was
addressed to the Bench, this is addressed, very directly indeed, to the

"There are probably in this church many persons of the profession of
the law, who have often asked before, with better faith than their
brother, and who do now ask this great question, 'What shall I do to
inherit eternal life?' I shall, therefore, direct to them some
observations on the particular duties they owe to society, because I
think it suitable to this particular season, because it is of much
more importance to tell men how they are to be Christians in detail,
than to exhort them to be Christians generally; because it is of the
highest utility to avail ourselves of these occasions, to show to
classes of mankind what those virtues are, which they have more
frequent and valuable opportunities of practising, and what those
faults and vices are, to which they are more particularly exposed.

"It falls to the lot of those who are engaged in the active and
arduous profession of the law to pass their lives in great cities,
amidst severe and incessant occupation, requiring all the faculties,
and calling forth, from time to time, many of the strongest passions
of our nature. In the midst of all this, rivals are to be watched,
superiors are to be cultivated, connections cherished; some portion of
life must be given to society, and some little to relaxation and
amusement. When, then, is the question to be asked, 'What shall I do
to inherit eternal life?' what leisure for the altar, what time for
God? I appeal to the experience of men engaged in this profession,
whether religious feelings and religious practices are not, without
any speculative disbelief, perpetually sacrificed to the business of
the world? Are not the habits of devotion gradually displaced by other
habits of solicitude, hurry, and care? Is not the taste for devotion
lessened? Is not the time for devotion abridged? Are you not more and
more conquered against your warnings and against your will; not,
perhaps, without pain and compunction, by the Mammon of life? And what
is the cure for this great evil to which your profession exposes you?
The cure is, to keep a sacred place in your heart, where Almighty God
is enshrined, and where nothing human can enter; to say to the world,
'Thus far shalt thou go, and no further'; to remember you are a
lawyer, without forgetting you are a Christian; to wish for no more
wealth than ought to be possessed by an inheritor of the Kingdom of
Heaven; to covet no more honour than is suitable to a child of God;
boldly and bravely to set yourself limits, and to show to others you
have limits, and that no professional eagerness, and no professional
activity, shall ever induce you to infringe upon the rules and
practices of religion: remember the text; put the great question
really, which the tempter of Christ only pretended to put. In the
midst of your highest success, in the most perfect gratification of
your vanity, in the most ample increase of your wealth, fall down at
the feet of Jesus, and say, 'Master, what shall I do to inherit
eternal life?'"

The advocate's duty to his client, with its resulting risk to the
advocate's own conscience, is thus set forth:--

"Justice is found, experimentally, to be most effectually promoted by
the opposite efforts of practised and ingenious men presenting to the
selection of an impartial judge the best arguments for the
establishment and explanation of truth. It becomes, then, under such
an arrangement, the decided duty of an advocate to use all the
arguments in his power to defend the cause he has adopted, and to
leave the effects of those arguments to the judgment of others.
However useful this practice may be for the promotion of public
justice, it is not without danger to the individual whose practice it
becomes. It is apt to produce a profligate indifference to truth in
higher occasions of life, where truth cannot for a moment be trifled
with, much less callously trampled on, much less suddenly and totally
yielded up to the basest of human motives. It is astonishing what
unworthy and inadequate notions men are apt to form of the Christian
faith. Christianity does not insist upon duties to an individual, and
forget the duties which are owing to the great mass of individuals,
which we call our country; it does not teach you how to benefit your
neighbour, and leave you to inflict the most serious injuries upon all
whose interest is bound up with you in the same land. I need not say
to this congregation that there is a wrong and a right in public
affairs, as there is a wrong and a right in private affairs. I need
not prove that in any vote, in any line of conduct which affects the
public interest, every Christian is bound, most solemnly and most
religiously, to follow the dictates of his conscience. Let it be for,
let it be against, let it please, let it displease, no matter with
whom it sides, or what it thwarts, it is a solemn duty, on such
occasions, to act from the pure dictates of conscience, and to be as
faithful to the interests of the great mass of your fellow-creatures,
as you would be to the interests of any individual of that mass. Why,
then, if there be any truth in these observations, can that man be
pure and innocent before God, can he be quite harmless and respectable
before men, who in mature age, at a moment's notice, sacrifices to
wealth and power all the fixed and firm opinions of his life; who puts
his moral principles to sale, and barters his dignity and his soul for
the baubles of the world? If these temptations come across you, then
remember the memorable words of the text, 'What shall I do to inherit
eternal life?'"

After warning the younger barristers against their characteristic faults of
self-sufficiency and affected pessimism, the preacher turns to another
aspect of the advocate's duty towards his client.--

"Upon those who are engaged in studying the laws of their country
devolves the honourable and Christian task of defending the accused: a
sacred duty never to be yielded up, never to be influenced by any
vehemence, nor intensity of public opinion. In these times of profound
peace and unexampled prosperity, there is little danger in executing
this duty, and little temptation to violate it; but human affairs
change like the clouds of heaven; another year may find us, or may
leave us, in all the perils and bitterness of internal dissension; and
upon one of you may devolve the defence of some accused person, the
object of men's hopes and fears, the single point on which the eyes of
a whole people are bent. These are the occasions which try a man's
inward heart, and separate the dross of human nature from the gold of
human nature. On these occasions, never mind being mixed up for a
moment with the criminal, and the crime; fling yourself back upon
great principles, fling yourself back upon God; yield not one atom to
violence; suffer not the slightest encroachments of injustice; retire
not one step before the frowns of power; tremble not, for a single
instant, at the dread of misrepresentation. The great interests of
mankind are placed in your hands; it is not so much the individual you
are defending; it is not so much a matter of consequence whether this,
or that, is proved to be a crime; but on such occasions, you are often
called upon to defend the occupation of a defender, to take care that
the sacred rights belonging to that character are not destroyed; that
that best privilege of your profession, which so much secures our
regard, and so much redounds to your credit, is never soothed by
flattery, never corrupted by favour, never chilled by fear. You may
practise this wickedness secretly, as you may any other wickedness;
you may suppress a topic of defence, or soften an attack upon
opponents, or weaken your own argument and sacrifice the man who has
put his trust in you, rather than provoke the powerful by the
triumphant establishment of unwelcome innocence: but if you do this,
you are a guilty man before God. It is better to keep within the pale
of honour, it is better to be pure in Christ, and to feel that you are
pure in Christ: and if ever the praises of mankind are sweet, if it be
ever allowable to a Christian to breathe the incense of popular
favour, and to say it is grateful and good, it is when the honest,
temperate, unyielding advocate, who has protected innocence from the
grasp of power, is followed from the hall of judgment by the prayers
and blessings of a grateful people."

And then comes an admonition about private duty.--

"Do not lose God in the fervour and business of the world; remember
that the churches of Christ are more solemn, and more sacred, than
your tribunals: bend not before the judges of the king, and forget the
Judge of Judges; search not other men's hearts without heeding that
your own hearts will be searched; be innocent in the midst of
subtility; do not carry the lawful arts of your profession beyond your
profession; but when the robe of the advocate is laid aside, so live
that no man shall dare to suppose your opinions venal, or that your
talents and energy may be bought for a price: do not heap scorn and
contempt upon your declining years by precipitate ardour for success
in your profession; but set out with a firm determination to be
unknown, rather than ill-known; and to rise honestly, if you rise at
all. Let the world see that you have risen, because the natural
probity of your heart leads you to truth; because the precision and
extent of your legal knowledge enables you to find the right way of
doing the right thing; because a thorough knowledge of legal art and
legal form is, in your hands, not an instrument of chicanery, but the
plainest, easiest and shortest way to the end of strife.... I hope you
will weigh these observations, and apply them to the business of the
ensuing week, and beyond that, in the common occupations of your
profession: always bearing in your minds the emphatic words of the
text, and often in the hurry of your busy, active lives, honestly,
humbly, heartily exclaiming to the Son of God, 'Master, what shall I
do to inherit eternal life?'"

[60] Edward Vernon, afterwards Harcourt (1757-1847).

[61] Charles James Blomfield (1786-1857), Bishop of London, was the first
bishop to discard the episcopal wig; and John Bird Sumner (1780-1862),
Archbishop of Canterbury, the last to wear it.

[62] In later life he said:--"If you shoot, the squire and the poacher both
consider you as their natural enemies, and I thought it more clerical
to be at peace with both."

[63] Sir Henry Halford, Bart., M.D. (1766-1844).

[64] His eldest son.

[65] Compare--"The Sixth Commandment in suspended, by one medical diploma,
from the North of England to the South."--Essay on "Persecuting

[66] Addressed to Mrs. Henry Howard.

[67] John Allen (1771-1843) was Warden of Dulwich College.

[68] Macaulay called it "the very neatest, most commodious, and most
appropriate rectory that I ever saw."

[69] In 1818 he writes to Lady Mary Bennet:--"I am glad you liked what I
said of Mrs. Fry. She is very unpopular with the clergy: examples of
living, active virtue disturb our repose, and give birth to
distressing comparisons; we long to burn her alive."

[70] Macaulay describes Foston Church as "a miserable little hovel with a
wooden belfry."

[71] As testified by Mr. Stuart Reid.

[72] Carlyle's description of Dr. Arnold's house at Rugby.

[73] Henry Luttrell (1765-1835), wit and epicure.

[74] Frederick, 5th Earl of Carlisle (1748-1825) married Lady Margaret
Caroline Leveson-Gower.

[75] In old age Sydney Smith wrote--"Castle Howard befriended me when I
wanted friends: I shall never forget it till I forget all."

[76] _See_ Appendix B.

[77] (1757-1839).

[78] The Hon. and Rev. George Spencer (1799-1864).

[79] _See_ p. 83.

[80] The Residence Act, 1817.

[81] Acts xxiii. 3.

[82] St. Luke x. 25.



The first quarter of the nineteenth century was now nearing its close, and
the most exciting topic in domestic politics was the emancipation of the
Roman Catholics. The movement in favour of emancipation, though checked by
the death of Pitt, had never completely collapsed, and now it was quickened
by the exertions of the "Catholic Association" in Ireland, and stimulated
by the eloquence of O'Connell and Sheil. Session after Session,
emancipating Bills were brought into Parliament, and were supported by
Castlereagh and Canning in opposition to their colleagues. The clergy of
the Church of England--fashioned, almost to a man, on the model of Abraham
Plymley--were dreadfully alarmed. Bishops charged against the proposed
concession. Clerical meetings all over the country petitioned Parliament to
defend them against insidious attacks on our national Protestantism. Before
long, the storm rolled up to Yorkshire, and a meeting of the Clergy of the
Archdeaconry of Cleveland was assembled at Thirsk on the 24th of March
1823. To this meeting a Resolution was submitted, protesting against the
emancipation of the Roman Catholics. A counter-petition was submitted by
Sydney Smith, begging for an inquiry into all laws affecting the Roman
Catholics of Great Britain and Ireland, and "expressing a hope" that only
those which were absolutely necessary to the safety of Church and State
might be suffered to remain. It is difficult to conceive a milder
proposition, but it was defeated by twenty-two votes to ten--Archdeacon
Wrangham[83] and the Rev. William Vernon,[84] son of the Archbishop of
York, voting in the minority. Sydney Smith's speech in support of his
motion recapitulated the main arguments which, as Peter Plymley, he had
adduced at an earlier stage of the same controversy. He urged that a Roman
Catholic's oath was as sacred and as binding as a Protestant's; that the
English Constitution, with great advantage to its subjects, tolerated, and
behaved generously to, all forms of religion (except Romanism); and that
all possible danger to civil order in Ireland was averted by the stringency
of the restrictions with which it was proposed to safeguard the gift of

"I defy Dr. Duigenan,[85] 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. If Catholics are formidable, are not Protestant members
elected _by_ Catholics formidable? But what will the numbers of the
Catholics be? Five or six in one house, and ten or twelve in the
other; and this I state upon the printed authority of Lord Harrowby,
the tried and acknowledged friend of our Church, the amiable and
revered patron of its poorest members. The Catholics did not rebel
during the war carried on for a Catholic king, in the year 1715, nor
in 1745. The government armed the Catholics in the American war. The
last rebellion no one pretends to have been a Catholic rebellion; the
leaders were, with one exception, all Protestants. The king of
Prussia, the emperor of Russia, do not complain of their Catholic
subjects. The Swiss cantons, Catholic and Protestant, live together in
harmony and peace. Childish prophecies of danger are always made, and
always falsified. The Church of England (if you will believe some of
its members) is the most fainting, sickly, hysterical institution that
ever existed in the world. Every thing is to destroy it, every thing
to work its dissolution and decay. If money is taken for tithes, the
Church of England is to perish. If six old Catholic peers, and twelve
commoners, come into Parliament, these holy hypochondriacs tear their
hair, and beat their breast, and mourn over the ruin of their
Established Church! The Ranter is cheerful and confident. The
Presbyterian stands upon his principles. The Quaker is calm and
contented. The strongest, and wisest, and best establishment in the
world, suffers in the full vigour of manhood, all the fears and the
tremblings of extreme old age.

* * * * *

"I conclude, Sir, remarks which, upon such a subject, might be carried
to almost any extent, with presenting to you a petition to Parliament,
and recommending it for the adoption of this meeting. And upon this
petition, I beg leave to say a few words:--I am the writer of the
petition I lay before you; and I have endeavoured to make it as mild
and moderate as I possibly could. If I had consulted my own opinions
_alone_, I should have said, that the disabling laws against the
Catholics were a disgrace to the statute-book, and that every
principle of justice, prudence, and humanity, called for their
immediate repeal; but he who wishes to do any thing useful in this
world, must consult the opinions of others as well as his own. I knew
very well if I had proposed such a petition to my excellent friend,
the Archdeacon and Mr. William Vernon, it would not have suited the
mildness and moderation of their character, that they should accede to
it; and I knew very well, that without the authority of their names, I
could have done nothing. The present petition, when proposed to them
by me, met, as I expected, with their ready and cheerful compliance.
But though I propose this petition as preferable to the other, I
should infinitely prefer that we do nothing, and disperse without
coming to any resolution.

"I am sick of these little clerico-political meetings. They bring a
disgrace upon us and upon our profession, and make us hateful in the
eyes of the laity. The best thing we could have done, would have been
never to have met at all. The next best thing we can do (now we are
met), is to do nothing. The third choice is to take my petition. The
fourth, last, and worst, to adopt your own. The wisest thing I have
heard here to-day, is the proposition of Mr. Chaloner, that we should
burn both petitions, and ride home. Here we are, a set of obscure
country clergymen, at the 'Three Tuns,' at Thirsk, like flies on the
chariot-wheel; perched upon a question of which we can neither see the
diameter, nor control the motion, nor influence the moving force. What
good can such meetings do? They emanate from local conceit, advertize
local ignorance; make men, who are venerable by their profession,
ridiculous by their pretensions, and swell that mass of paper-lumber,
which, got up with infinite rural bustle, and read without being heard
in Parliament, is speedily consigned to merited contempt."[86]

So ended Sydney Smith's first political speech; and he took two years'
holiday from the labours of the platform. On the 11th of April 1825, he
returned to the charge. He had now acquired, in addition to Foston, the
Rectory of Londesborough, which he held from 1823 to 1829, as "warming-pan"
for his young friend and neighbour, William Howard.[87] As Rector of
Londesborough, he attended a meeting of the Clergy of the Archdeaconry of
the East Riding, held at Beverley to protest against the Roman Catholic

The _Yorkshire Gazette_ reported the proceedings, and commented as

"The meeting was unanimous in its determination to petition Parliament
against the claims of the Roman Catholics--one individual only
excepted, the Rector of Londesborough. This gentleman made his speech
on the occasion, enlarging on the inexpediency of refusing the Roman
Catholics their claims.... The meeting, though by no means unprepared
to hear extraordinary things from the Rector of Londesborough, as they
had reason to anticipate from the proceedings of a meeting in another
Archdeaconry about two years ago, were yet perfectly astonished to
hear him assert that the Roman Catholic religion is now changed from
what it was formerly, and that the oath of a Papist may, in all cases,
be relied upon with the same confidence as that of a Protestant.... It
is certainly due to the Rector of Londesborough to state in conclusion
that he bore his defeat with his usual good humour, and further that,
having learned previous to the meeting the intention of his curate to
attend, but that he was hesitating out of delicacy to the declared
opinions of his rector, the latter gentleman made it a particular
request to his curate that he would persevere in his original

Sydney Smith's peroration, though it failed to persuade his brother-clergy,
is so good that it deserves to be reproduced.--

"When this bill passes, it will be a signal to all the religious sects
of that unhappy country to lay aside their mutual hatred, and to live
in peace, as equal men should live under equal law--when this bill
passes, the Orange flag will fall--when this bill passes, the Green
flag of the rebel will fall--when this bill passes, no other flag will
fly in the land of Erin than that which blends the Lion with the
Harp--that flag which, wherever it does fly, is the sign of freedom and
of joy--the only banner in Europe which floats over a limited King and
a free people."

On this occasion the orator fared even less well than before in the matter
of votes. His "excellent and respectable curate, Mr. Milestone,"[88] voted
against him; and he was left in a minority of one. But he had the
satisfaction of being able to write to a friend--"A poor clergyman
whispered to me that he was quite of my way of thinking, but had nine
children. _I begged he would remain a Protestant._"

By this time the life of the Parliament, which had been elected on the
demise of the Crown in 1820, was running out, and both parties were making
vigorous preparations for the General Election. On the 29th January 1826,
Sydney Smith wrote to Lady Grey:--

"Terrible work in Yorkshire with the Pope! I fight with the beasts at
Ephesus every day.... This week I publish a pamphlet on the Catholic
question, with my name to it. There is such an uproar here that I
think it is gallant, and becoming a friend of Lord Grey's, to turn out
and take a part in the affray.... What a detestable subject!--stale,
threadbare, and exhausted; but ancient errors cannot be met with fresh

Not with fresh refutations, perhaps, but with a wonderful prodigality of
fresh illustrations and conceits. _A Letter to the Electors upon the
Catholic Question_ begins with the thrice-repeated question, "Why is not a
Catholic to be believed on his oath?"

"What says the law of the land to this extravagant piece of injustice?
It is no challenge against a juryman to say he is a Catholic, he sits
in judgment upon your life and your property. Did any man ever hear it
said that such or such a person was put to death, or that he lost his
property, because a Catholic was among the jurymen? Is the question
ever put? Does it ever enter into the mind of the attorney or the
counsellor to enquire of the faith of the jury? If a man sell a horse,
or a house, or a field, does he ask if the purchaser be a Catholic?
Appeal to your own experience, and try, by that fairest of all tests,
the justice of this enormous charge.

"We are in treaty with many of the powers of Europe, because we
believe in the good faith of Catholics. Two-thirds of Europe are, in
fact, Catholics; are they all perjured? For the first fourteen
centuries all the Christian world were Catholics; did they live in a
constant state of perjury? I am sure these objections against the
Catholics are often made by very serious and honest men, but I much
doubt if Voltaire has advanced any thing against the Christian
religion so horrible as to say that two-thirds of those who profess it
are unfit for all the purposes of civil life; for who is fit to live
in society who does not respect oaths?

* * * * *

"I have lived a little in the world, but I never happened to hear a
single Catholic even suspected of getting into office by violating his
oath; the oath which they are accused of violating is an insuperable
barrier to them all. Is there a more disgraceful spectacle in the
world than that of the Duke of Norfolk hovering round the House of
Lords in the execution of his office,[89] which he cannot enter as a
peer of the realm? disgraceful to the bigotry and injustice of his
country--to his own sense of duty, honourable in the extreme: he is
the leader of a band of ancient and high-principled gentlemen, who
submit patiently to obscurity and privation rather than do violence to
their conscience. In all the fury of party, I never heard the name of
a single Catholic mentioned, who was suspected of having gained, or
aimed at, any political advantage, by violating his oath. I have never
heard so bitter a slander supported by the slightest proof. Every man
in the circle of his acquaintance has met with Catholics, and lived
with them probably as companions. If this immoral lubricity were their
characteristic, it would surely be perceived in common life. Every
man's experience would corroborate the imputation; but I can honestly
say that some of the best and most excellent men I have ever met with
have been Catholics; perfectly alive to the evil and inconvenience of
their situation, but thinking themselves bound by the law of God and
the law of honour, not to avoid persecution by falsehood and apostasy.
I remember hearing the Catholics accused from the Hustings of
disregarding oaths, and within an hour of that time I saw five
Catholic voters rejected, because they would not take the oath of
Supremacy; and these were not men of rank who tendered themselves, but
ordinary tradesmen. The accusation was received with loud huzzas, the
poor Catholics retired unobserved and in silence. No one praised the
conscientious feeling of the constituents; no one rebuked the calumny
of the candidate.

* * * * *

"I beg to remind you, that in talking of the Catholic religion, you
must talk of the Catholic religion as it is carried on in Ireland; you
have nothing to do with Spain, or France, or Italy: the religion you
are to examine is the Irish Catholic religion. You are not to consider
what it was, but what it is; not what individuals profess, but what is
generally professed; not what individuals do, but what is generally
practised. I constantly see, in advertisements from county meetings,
all these species of monstrous injustice played off against the
Catholics. The Inquisition exists in Spain and Portugal, therefore I
confound place, and vote against the Catholics of Ireland, where it
never did exist, nor was purposed to be instituted. There have been
many cruel persecutions of Protestants by Catholic governments; and,
therefore, I will confound time and place, and vote against the Irish,
who live centuries after these persecutions, and in a totally
different country. Doctor this, or Doctor that, of the Catholic Church
has written a very violent and absurd pamphlet; therefore I will
confound persons, and vote against the whole Irish Catholic Church,
which has neither sanctioned nor expressed any such opinions. I will
continue the incapacities of men of this age, because some men, in
distant ages, deserved ill of other men in distant ages. They shall
expiate the crimes committed, before they were born, in a land they
never saw; by individuals they never heard of. I will charge them with
every act of folly which they have never sanctioned and cannot
control. I will sacrifice space, time, and identity, to my zeal for
the Protestant Church. Now, in the midst of all this violence,
consider, for a moment, how you are imposed on by words, and what a
serious violation of the rights of your fellow-creatures you are
committing. Mr. Murphy lives in Limerick, and Mr. Murphy and his son
are subjected to a thousand inconveniences and disadvantages because
they are Catholics. Murphy is a wealthy, honourable, excellent man; he
ought to be in the corporation; he cannot get in because he is a
Catholic. His son ought to be King's Counsel for his talents, and his
standing at the Bar; he is prevented from reaching this dignity,
because he is a Catholic. Why, what reasons do you hear for all this?
Because Queen Mary, three hundred years before the natal day of Mr.
Murphy, murdered Protestants in Smithfield; because Louis XIV.
dragooned his Protestant subjects, when the predecessor of Murphy's
predecessor was not in being; because men are confined in prison, in
Madrid, twelve degrees more south than Murphy has ever been in his
life; all ages, all climates, are ransacked to perpetuate the slavery
of Murphy, the ill-fated victim of political anachronisms.

* * * * *

"When are mercy and justice, in fact, ever to return upon the earth,
if the sins of the elders are to be for ever visited on those who are
not even their children! Should the first act of liberated Greece be
to recommence the Trojan war? Are the French never to forget the
Sicilian Vespers; or the Americans the long war waged against their
liberties? Is any rule wise, which may set the Irish to recollect what
they have suffered?

* * * * *

"It is no part of my province to defend every error of the Catholic
Church; I believe it has many errors, though I am sure these errors
are grievously exaggerated and misrepresented.... But, if you will
take a long view instead of a confined view, and look generally to the
increase of human happiness, _the best check upon the increase of
Popery, the best security for the establishment of the Protestant
Church is, that the British empire shall be preserved in a state of
the greatest strength, union, and opulence_. My cry then is, _No
Popery_; therefore emancipate the Catholics, that they may not join
with foreign Papists in time of war. _Church, for ever_; therefore
emancipate the Catholics, that they may not help to pull it down.
_King for ever_; therefore emancipate the Catholics, that they may
become his loyal subjects. _Great Britain for ever_; therefore
emancipate the Catholics, that they may not put an end to its
perpetuity. _Our Government is essentially Protestant_; therefore, by
emancipating the Catholics, give up a few circumstances which have
nothing to do with the essence. _The Catholics are disguised enemies_;
therefore, by emancipation, turn them into open friends. _They have a
double allegiance_; therefore, by emancipation, make their allegiance
to their King so grateful, that they will never confound it with the
spiritual allegiance to their Pope. It is very difficult for electors,
who are much occupied by other matters, to choose the right path amid
the rage and fury of faction: but I give you one mark, _vote for a
free altar_; give what the law compels you to give to the
Establishment; (that done,) no chains, no prisons, no bonfires for a
man's faith; and, above all, no modern chains and prisons under the
names of disqualifications and incapacities, which _are only the
cruelty and tyranny of a more civilized age_; civil offices open to
all, a Catholic or a Protestant alderman, a Moravian or a Church of
England or a Wesleyan justice, _no oppression, no tyranny in belief: a
free altar, an open road to heaven; no human insolence, no human
narrowness, hallowed by the name of God_.

* * * * *

"Our Government is called essentially Protestant; but, if it be
essentially Protestant in the distribution of office, it should be
essentially Protestant in the imposition of taxes. The Treasury is
open to all religions, Parliament only to one. The tax-gatherer is the
most indulgent and liberal of human beings; he excludes no creed,
imposes no articles; but counts Catholic cash, pockets Protestant
paper, and is candidly and impartially oppressive to every description
of the Christian world. Can anything be more base than when you want
the blood or the money of Catholics, to forget that they are
Catholics, and to remember only that they are British subjects; and,
when they ask for the benefits of the British Constitution, to
remember only that they are Catholics, and to forget that they are
British subjects?

"_No Popery_ was the cry of the great English Revolution, because the
increase and prevalence of Popery in England would, at that period,
have rendered this island tributary to France. The Irish Catholics
were, at that period, broken to pieces by the severity and military
execution of Cromwell, and by the Penal Laws. They are since become a
great and formidable people. The same dread of foreign influence makes
it now necessary that they should be restored to political rights.
Must the friends of rational liberty join in a clamour against the
Catholics now, because, in a very different state of the world, they
excited that clamour a hundred years ago? I remember a house near
Battersea Bridge which caught fire, and there was a great cry of
'Water, water!' Ten years after, the Thames rose, and the people of
the house were nearly drowned. Would it not have been rather singular
to have said to the inhabitants--'I heard you calling for water ten
years ago; why don't you call for it now?'"

* * * * *

"Mild and genteel people do not like the idea of persecution, and are
advocates for toleration; but then they think it no act of intolerance
to deprive Catholics of political power. The history of all this is,
that all men scarcely like to punish others for not being of the same
opinion with themselves, and that this sort of privation is the only
species of persecution, of which the improved feeling and advanced
cultivation of the age will admit. Fire and faggot, chains and stone
walls, have been clamoured away; nothing remains but to mortify a
man's pride, and to limit his resources, and to set a mark upon him,
by cutting him off from his fair share of political power. By this
receipt insolence is gratified, and humanity is not shocked. The
gentlest Protestant can see, with dry eyes, Lord Stourton excluded
from parliament, though he would abominate the most distant idea of
personal cruelty to Mr. Petre. This is only to say that he lives in
the nineteenth, instead of the sixteenth century, and that he is as
intolerant in religious matters as the state of manners existing in
his age will permit. Is it not the same spirit which wounds the pride
of a fellow-creature on account of his faith, or which casts his body
into the flames? Are they any thing else but degrees and modifications
of the same principle? The minds of these two men no more differ
because they differ in their degrees of punishment, than their bodies
differ because one wore a doublet in the time of Mary, and the other
wears a coat in the reign of George. I do not accuse them of
intentional cruelty and injustice: I am sure there are very many
excellent men who would be shocked if they could conceive themselves
to be guilty of any thing like cruelty; but they innocently give a
wrong name to the bad spirit which is within them, and think they are
tolerant because they are not as intolerant as they could have been in
other times, but cannot be now. _The true spirit is to search after
God and for another life with lowliness of heart; to fling down no
man's altar, to punish no man's prayer; to heap no penalties and no
pains on those solemn supplications which, in divers tongues, and in
varied forms, and in temples of a thousand shapes, but with one deep
sense of human dependence, men pour forth to God._"

At this point of his Letter, the writer turns aside to combat the
contention that, because Roman Catholics have in times past persecuted
Protestants, therefore they must now be deprived of their civil rights. If
this contention be sound, the Protestant must, by parity of reasoning, be

"The first object of men who love party better than truth, is to have
it believed that the Catholics alone have been persecutors. But what
can be more flagrantly unjust than to take over notions of history
only from the conquering and triumphant party? If you think the
Catholics have not their Book of Martyrs as well as the Protestants,
take the following enumeration of some of their most learned and
careful writers. The whole number of Catholics who suffered death in
England for the exercise of the Catholic religion since the
Reformation stands thus:--

"Henry VIII., 59
Elizabeth, 204
James I., 25
Charles I., and Commonwealth, 23
Charles II., 8
Total, 319

"Henry VIII., with consummate impartiality, burnt three Protestants
and hanged four Catholics for different errors in religion on the same
day, and at the same place. Elizabeth burnt two Dutch Anabaptists for
some theological tenets, July 22, 1575, Fox the martyrologist vainly
pleading with the queen in their favour. In 1579, the same Protestant
queen cut off the hand of Stubbs, the author of a tract against popish
connection, of Singleton, the printer, and Page, the disperser of the
book. Camden saw it done. Warburton properly says it exceeds in
cruelty any thing done by Charles I. On the 4th of June, Mr. Elias
Thacker and Mr. John Capper, two ministers of the Brownist persuasion,
were hanged at St. Edmund's-bury, for dispersing books against the
Common Prayer. With respect to the great part of the Catholic victims,
the law was fully and literally executed: after being hanged up, they
were cut down alive, dismembered, ripped up, and their bowels burnt
before their faces; after which they were beheaded and quartered. The
time employed in this butchery was very considerable, and, in one
instance, lasted more than half an hour.

"The uncandid excuse for all this is, that the greater part of these
men were put to death for political, not for religious, crimes. That
is, a law is first passed, making it high treason for a priest to
exercise his function in England, and so, when he is caught and burnt,
this is not religious persecution, but an offence against the State.
We are, I hope, all too busy to need any answer to such childish,
uncandid reasoning as this."

And then the Letter goes on to give, with the fullest apparatus of details,
dates, and authorities, the miserable tale of religious persecution
practised, during three centuries, at home and abroad, by Anglicans on
Puritans, by Protestants on Romanists, by orthodox Protestants on heterodox
Protestants; and then, to clinch his argument and drive it home, he gives
the substance of the Penal Code under which Irish Catholics suffered so
cruelly and so long.

"With such facts as these, the cry of persecution will not do; it is
unwise to make it, because it can be so very easily, and so very
justly retorted. The business is to forget and forgive, to kiss and be
friends, and to say nothing of what has passed; which is to the credit
of neither party. There have been atrocious cruelties, and abominable
acts of injustice, on both sides. It is not worth while to contend who
shed the most blood, or whether death by fire is worse than hanging or
starving in prison. As far as England itself is concerned, the balance
may be better preserved. Cruelties exercised upon the Irish go for
nothing in English reasoning; but if it were not uncandid and
vexatious to consider Irish persecutions[90] as part of the case, I
firmly believe there have been two Catholics put to death for
religious causes in Great Britain for one Protestant who has suffered:
not that this proves much, because the Catholics have enjoyed the
sovereign power for so few years between this period and the
Reformation; and certainly it must be allowed that they were not
inactive, during that period, in the great work of pious combustion.

"It is however some extenuation of the Catholic excesses, that their
religion was the religion of the whole of Europe when the innovation
began. They were the ancient lords and masters of faith, before men
introduced the practice of thinking for themselves in these matters.
The Protestants have less excuse, who claimed the right of innovation,
and then turned round upon other Protestants who acted upon the same
principle, or upon Catholics who remained as they were, and visited
them with all the cruelties from which they had themselves so recently

"Both sides, as they acquired power, abused it; and both learnt, from
their sufferings, the great secret of toleration and forbearance. If
you wish to do good in the times in which you live, contribute your
efforts to perfect this grand work. I have not the most distant
intention to interfere in local politics; but I advise you never to
give a vote to any man whose only title for asking it is that he means
to continue the punishments, privations, and incapacities of any human
beings, merely because they worship God in the way they think best:
the man who asks for your vote upon such a plea, is, _probably_, a
very weak man, who believes in his own bad reasoning, or a very artful
man, who is laughing at you for your credulity: at all events, he is a
man who knowingly or unknowingly exposes his country to the greatest
dangers, and hands down to posterity all the foolish opinions and all
the bad passions which prevail in those times in which he happens to
live. Such a man is so far from being that friend to the Church, which
he pretends to be, that he declares its safety cannot be reconciled
with the franchises of the people; for what worse can be said of the
Church of England than this, that wherever it is judged necessary to
give it a legal establishment, it becomes necessary to deprive the
body of the people, if they adhere to their old opinions, of their
liberties, and of all their free customs, and to reduce them to a
state of civil servitude?


After the discharge of this tremendous missile against the tottering
fortress of bigotry, the energetic engineer sought a brief interlude of
rest and recreation. His money-matters had of late years improved. An aunt
had died and left him a legacy, and the Rectory of Londesborough was a
profitable preferment. The income thus augmented enabled him to realize a
long-cherished dream and pay his first visit to Paris, in the spring of
1826. There he met some old friends, made several new acquaintances, ate
some excellent but expensive dinners, mastered the Louvre in a quarter of
an hour, and saw Talma in tragedy and Mademoiselle Mars in "genteel
comedy." At the Opera he noticed that "the house was full of English, who
talk loud, and seem to care little for other people. This is their
characteristic, and a very brutal and barbarous distinction it is." He
keenly admired the luxury and beauty and prettiness of Paris, and
especially the profusion of glass in French drawing-rooms. "I remember
entering a room with glass all round it, and saw myself reflected on every
side. I took it for a meeting of the clergy, and was delighted of course."
He returned to England in May; on the 2nd of June Parliament was dissolved.
"We have been," he wrote, "in the horror of Elections--each party acting
and thinking as if the salvation of several planets depended upon the
adoption of Mr. Johnson and the rejection of Mr. Jackson." In July, Thomas
Babington Macaulay, a young and unsuccessful barrister, found himself on
circuit at York. He was told that Mr. Smith had come to see him, and, when
the visitor was admitted, he recognized--

"the Smith of Smiths, Sydney Smith, _alias_ Peter Plymley. I had
forgotten his very existence till I discerned the queer contrast
between his black coat and his snow-white head, and the equally
curious contrast between the clerical amplitude of his person, and the
most unclerical wit, whim, and petulance of his eye."

Macaulay spent the following Sunday at Foston Rectory, and thus records his

"I understand that S.S. is a very respectable apothecary, and most
liberal of his skill, his medicine, his soup, and his wine, among the
sick. He preached a very queer sermon--the former half too familiar,
and the latter half too florid, but not without some ingenuity of
thought and expression....

"His misfortune is to have chosen a profession at once above him and
below him. Zeal would have made him a prodigy; formality and bigotry
would have made him a bishop; but he could neither rise to the duties
of his order, nor stoop to its degradation."

In December Sydney wrote to a newly-elected Member of Parliament:--

"I see you have broken ice in the House of Commons. I shall be curious
to hear your account of your feelings, of what colour the human
creatures looked who surrounded you, and how the candles and Speaker
appeared.... For God's sake, open upon the Chancery. On this subject
there can be no excess of vituperation and severity. Advocate also
free trade in ale and ale-houses. Respect the Church, and believe that
the insignificant member of it who now addresses you is most truly


At the same time he wrote as follows to a young friend--Lord John
Russell--who had lost his seat and published a book:--

"DEAR JOHN,--I have read your book on the _State of Europe since the
Peace of Utrecht_ with much pleasure--sensible, liberal, spirited,
philosophical, well-written. Go on writing History. Write a History of
Louis XIV., and put the world right about that old Beast.

"I am sorry you are not in parliament. You ought to be everywhere
where honest and bold men can do good. Health and respect. Ever yours,


The year 1827 opened dramatically. On the 18th February Lord Liverpool, who
had been Prime Minister since the assassination of Spencer Perceval in
1812, was suddenly stricken by fatal illness. On the 10th of April King
George IV. found himself, much against his will, constrained to entrust the
formation of a Government to George Canning. Canning was avowedly
favourable to the Roman Catholic claims, and on that account some of the
most important of his former colleagues declined to serve under him. The
Ministry was reconstructed with an infusion of Whigs; and the brilliant but
unscrupulous Copley became Chancellor with the title of Lord Lyndhurst.[91]

A Ministry, containing Whigs as well as Tories and committed to the cause
of Roman Catholic emancipation, seemed likely to open the way of preferment
to Sydney Smith. Knowing that his income would soon be materially reduced
by the cessation of his tenure of Londesborough, he wrote to some of his
friends among the new Ministers and boldly stated his claims. One of these
Ministers seems to have made a rather chilly response; and the applicant
did not spare him.--

"I am much obliged by your polite letter. You appeal to my good-nature
to prevent me from considering your letter as a decent method of
putting me off. Your appeal, I assure you, is not made in vain. I do
not think you mean to put me off; because I am the most prominent, and
was for a long time the only, clerical advocate of that question, by
the proper arrangement of which you believe the happiness and safety
of the country would be materially improved. I do not believe you mean
to put me off; because, in giving me some promotion, you will teach
the clergy, from whose timidity you have everything to apprehend, and
whose influence upon the people you cannot doubt, that they may, under
your Government, obey the dictates of their consciences without
sacrificing the emoluments of their profession. I do not think you
mean to put me off; because, in the conscientious administration of
that patronage with which you are entrusted, I think it will occur to
you that something is due to a person who, instead of basely chiming
in with the bad passions of the multitude, has dedicated some talent
and some activity to soften religious hatreds, and to make men less
violent and less foolish than he found them."

In July he wrote to a friend:--

"The worst political news is that Canning is not well, and that the
Duke of Wellington has dined with the King. Canning dead, Peel is the
only man remaining alive in the House of Commons, I mean, the only man
in his senses."

On the 8th of August Canning died, and was succeeded by Lord Goderich, who
in turn made way for the Duke of Wellington in January 1828, Lord Lyndhurst
again becoming Chancellor.

On the 1st of January 1828, Sydney Smith's Second daughter, Emily, was
married to Nathaniel Hibbert, afterwards of Munden House, near Watford, Her
father wrote:--

"We were married on New Year's Day, and are _gone_! I feel as if I had
lost a limb, and were walking about with one leg--and nobody pities
this description of invalids."

Three weeks later, Lord Chancellor Lyndhurst, yielding to private
friendship what the Whigs had refused to political loyalty, appointed the


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