« PreviousContinue »
JEFFREY AND COCKBURN.
afterward that the "dirty pudding” was eaten by the almost destitute authoress. Scott's tone in the letters which refer to this subject does little credit to his good taste and delicacy of feeling, which were really attributable to his character.
Very few notices occur of any intercourse between Scott and Sydney Smith in Lockhart's “Life.” It was not, indeed,
” until 1827 that Scott could be sufficiently cooled down from the ferment of politics which had been going on to meet Jeffrey and Cockburn. When he dined, however, with Murray, then Lord Advocate, and met Jeffrey, Cockburn, the late Lord Rutherford, then Mr. Rutherford, and others of “that file," he pronounced the party to be very pleasant,
capital good cheer, and excellent wine, much laugh and fun. I do not know," he writes, “ how it is, but when I am out with a party of my Opposition friends, the day is often merrier than when with our own set. Is it because they are cleverer ? Jeffrey and Harry Cockburn are, to be sure, very extraordinary men, yet it is not owing to that entirely. I believe both parties meet with the feeling of something like novelty. We have not worn out our jests in daily contact. There is also a disposition on such occasions to be courteous, and of course to be pleased.”
On his side, Cockburn did ample justice to the “genius who," to use his own words, “ has immortalized Edinburgh and delighted the world.” Mrs. Scott could not, however, recover the smarting inflicted by the critiques of Jeffrey on her husband's works. Her “ And I hope, Mr. Jeffrey, Mr. Constable paid you well for your article” (Jeffrey dining with her that. day), had a depth of simple satire in it that even an Edinburgh reviewer could hardly exceed. It was, one must add, impertinent and in bad taste. “You are very good at cutting up.”
Sydney Smith found Jeffrey and Cockburn rising barristers. Horner, on leaving Edinburgh, had left to Jeffrey his bar wig, and the bequest had been lucky. Jeffrey was settled at Craigcrook, a lovely English-looking spot, with wooded slopes and green glades, near Edinburgh; and Cockburn had, since 1811, set up his rural gods at Bonally, near Colinton, just under the Pentland Hills, and he wrote, “ Unless some avenging angel shall expel me, I shall never leave that Paradise.” And a paradise it was. Beneath those rough, bare hills, broken here and there by a trickling burn, like a silver thread on the brown sward, stands a Norman tower, the addition, by Playfair's skill, to what was once a scarcely-habitable farm-house. That tower contained Lord Cockburn's fine library, also his ordinary sitting-rooms. There he read, and wrote, and received such society as will never meet again, there or elsewhere— among them Sydney Smith. Beneath-around the tower-stretches
a delicious garden, composed of terraces, and laurel-hedged walks, and beds of flowers, that blossomed freely in that sheltered spot. A bowling-green, shaded by one of the few trees near the house, a sycamore, was the care of many an hour; for, to make the turf velvety, the sods were fetched from the hills above—from “yon hills," as Lord Cockburn would have called them. And this was, for many years, one of the rallying-points of the best Scottish society, and, as each autumn came round, of what the host called his carnival. Friends were summoned from the north and the south-—" death no apology.” High jinks within doors, excursions without. Every Edinburgh man reveres the spot, hallowed by the remembrance of Lord Cockburn. “Every thing except the two burns,” he wrote, “the few old trees, and the mountains, are my own work. Human nature is incapable of enjoying more happiness than has been my lot here. I have been too happy, and often tremble in the anticipation that the cloud must come at last.” And come it did; but found him not unprepared, although the burden that he had to bear in after life was heavy. In their enlarged and philosophic minds, in their rapid transition from sense to nonsense, there was an affinity in the character of Sydney Smith and of Lord Cockburn which was not carried out in any other point. Smith's conversation was wit-Lord Cockburn's was eloquence.
From the festivities of Edinburgh Sydney Smith returned contentedly to Foston le Clay and to Bunch. Among other gifted visitors was Mrs. Marcet. “Come here, Bunch,” cries
. Sydney Smith one day;" come and repeat your crimes to Mrs. Marcet.” Then Bunch, grave as a judge, began to repeat : “ Plate-snatching, gravy-spilling, door-slamming, blue-bottlefly catching, and courtesy-bobbing.” “Blue-bottle-fly catching” means standing with her mouth open, and not attending; and “courtesy-bobbing” was courtesying to the centre of the earth.
One night in the winter, during a tremendous snow-storm, Bunch rushed in, exclaiming, “ Lord and Lady Mackincrush is com'd in a coach and four.” The lord and lady proved to be Sir James and his daughter, who had arrived to stay with his friends in the remote parsonage of Foston le Clay a few days, and had sent a letter, which arrived the day afterward, to announce their visit. Their stay began with a blunder; and when Sir James departed, leaving kind feelings behind him, books, his hat, his gloves, his papers, and other articles of apparel, were found also. “What a man that would be," said Sydney Smith,“ had he one particle of gall, or the least knowledge of the value of red tape!” It was true that the indolent,
HIS RHEUMATIC ARMOR.
desultory character of Mackintosh interfered perpetually with his progress in the world. He loved far better to lie on the sofa reading a novel than to attend a Privy Council; the slightest indisposition was made on his part a plea for avoiding the most important business.
Sydney Smith had said that when “ a clever man takes to cultivating turnips and retiring, it is generally an imposture;” but in him the retirement was no imposture. His wisdom shone forth daily in small and great matters. “Life," he justly thought, “was to be fortified by many friendships," and he acted up to his principles, and kept up friendships by letters. Cheerfulness he thought might be cultivated by making the rooms one lives in as comfortable as possible. His own drawing-room was papered, on this principle, with a yellow flowering pattern, and filled with irregular regularities;" his fires were blown into brightness by Shadrachs, as he called them -tubes furnished with air opening in the centre of each fire. His library contained his rheumatic armor; for he tried heat and compression in rheumatism; put his leg into narrow buckets, which he called his jack-boots; wore round his throat a tin collar; over each shoulder he had a large tin thing like a shoulder of mutton; and on his head he displayed a hollow helmet filled with hot water. In the middle of a field into which his windows looked was a skeleton sort of a machine, his Universal Scratcher, with which every animal, from a lamb to a bullock, could scratch itself. Then on the Sunday the Immortal was called into use, to travel in state to a church like a barn; about fifty people in it; but the most original idea was farming through the medium of a tremendous speakingtrumpet from his own door, with its companion, a telescope, to see what his people are about! On the 24th of January, 1828, the first notable piece of preferment was conferred on him by Lord Lyndhurst, then Chancellor, and of widely differing political opinions to Sydney Smith. This was a vacant stall in the cathedral at Bristol, where, on the ensuing 5th of November, the new canon gave the Mayor and Corporation of that Protestant city such a dose of “toleration as should last them many a year.” He went to court on his appointment, and appeared in shoestrings instead of buckles. “I found,” he relates, “to my surprise, people looking down at my feet: I could not think what they were at. At first I thought they had discovered the beauty of my legs; but at last the truth burst on me, by some wag laughing and thinking I had done it as a good joke. I was, of course, exceedingly annoyed to have been supposed capable of such a vulgar, unmeaning piece of disrespect, and kept my feet as coyly un
der my petticoats as the veriest prude in the country, till I should make my escape.” His circumstances were now improved, and though moralists, he said, thought property an evil, he declared himself happier every guinea he gained. He thanked God for his animal spirits, which received, unhappily, in 1829, a terrible shock from the death of his eldest son, Douglas, aged twenty-four. This was the great misfortune of his life; the young man was promising, talented, affectionate. He exchanged Foston le Clay at this time for a living in Somersetshire, of a beautiful and characteristic name- -Combe Florey.
Combe Florey seems to have been an earthly paradise, seated in one of those delicious hollows, or combes, for which that part of the west of England is celebrated. His withdrawal from the Edinburgh Review, Mackintosh's death, the marriage of his eldest daughter, Saba, to Dr. Holland (now Sir Henry Holland), the termination of Lord Grey's Administration, which ended Sydney's hopes of being a bishop, were the leading events in his life for the next few years.
It appears that Sydney Smith felt to the hour of his death pained that those by whose side he had fought for fifty years, in their adversity, the Whig party, should never have offered what he declared he should have rejected, a bishopric, when they were constantly bestowing such promotions on persons of mediocre talent and claims. Waiving the point whether it is right or wrong to make men bishops because they have been political partisans, the cause of this alleged injustice may be found in the tone of the times, which was eminently tinctured with cant. The Clapham sect were in the ascendency; and Ministers scarcely dared to offend so influential a body. Even the gentle Sir James Mackintosh refers, in his Journal, with disgust to the phraseology of the day :
“They have introduced a new language, in which they never say that A. B. is good, or virtuous, or even religious; but that he is an advanced Christian.' Dear Mr. Wilberforce is an advanced Christian.' Mrs. C. has lost three children without a pang, and is so advanced a Christian' that she could see the remaining twenty, 'with poor dear Mr. C.,' removed with perfect tranquillity.”
Such was the disgust expressed toward that school by Mackintosh, whose last days were described by his daughter as having been passed in silence and thought, with his Bible before him, breaking that silence—and portentous silence—to speak of God, and of his Maker's disposition toward man. His mind ceased to be occupied with speculations; politics interested him no more. His own “personal relationship to his Creator” was
BECOMES CANON OF ST. PAUL's.
the subject of his thoughts. Yet Mackintosh was not by any means considered as an advanced Christian, or even as a Christian at all by the zealots of his time.
Sydney Smith's notions of a bishop were certainly by no means carried out in his own person and character. er remember in my time,” he said, a real bishop; a grave, elderly man, full of Greek, with sound views of the middle voice and preterpluperfect tense; gentle and kind to his poor clergy, of powerful and commanding eloquence in Parliament, never to be put down when the great interests of society were concerned, leaning to the Government when it was right, leaning to the people when they were right; feeling that if the Spirit of God had called him to that high office, he was called for no mean purpose, but rather that seeing clearly, acting boldly, and intending purely, he might confer lasting benefit upon mankind."
In 1831 Lord Grey appointed Sydney Smith a Canon Residentiary of St. Paul's; but still the mitre was withheld, although it has since appeared that Lord Grey had destined him for one of the first vacancies in England. Henceforth his residence at St. Paul's
brought him still more continually into the world, which he delighted by his “ wise wit.” Most London dinners, he declared, evaporated in whispers to one's next neighbors. He never, however, spoke to his neighbor, but “fired” across the table. One day, however, he broke this rule, on hearing a lady, who sat next him, say in a sweet, low voice, “No gravy, sir.” “Madam," he cried, “I have all my life been looking for a person who disliked gravy; let us swear immortal friendship.” She looked astonished, but took the oath, and kept it. 6. What better foundation for friendship,” he asks, “than similarity of tastes ?”
He gave an evening party once a week, when a profusion of wax-lights was his passion. He loved to see young people decked with natural flowers; he was, in fact, a blameless and benevolent Epicurean in every thing; great indeed was the change from his former residence at Foston, which he used to say was twelve miles from a lemon. Charming as his parties at home must have been, they wanted the bonhommie and simplicity of former days, and of the homely suppers in Orchard Street. Lord Dudley, Rogers, Moore, “Young Macaulay,” as he was called for many years, formed now his society. Lord Dudley was then in the state which afterward became insanity, and darkened completely a mind sad and peculiar from childhood. Bankes, in his “Journal,” relates an anecdote of him about this time, when, as he says, “Dudley's mind was on the wane; but still his caustic humor would find vent through