Sydney Smith (1771-1845)
From 18th Century Literary Anecdotes

THE story of Jeffrey and the North Pole, as told by Sydney Smith, . . . happened while the Jeffreys were my near neighbours in London; and Mrs. Sydney Smith related the incident to me at the time. Captain (afterwards Sir John) Ross had just returned from an unsuccessful polar expedition, and was bent upon going again. He used all his interest to get the government stirred up to fit out another expedition; and among others, the Lord Advocate was to be applied to, to bespeak his good offices. The mutual friend who undertook to do Captain Ross's errand to Jeffrey arrived at an unfortunate moment. Jeffrey was in delicate health at that time, and made a great point of his daily ride; and when the applicant reached his door, he was putting his foot in the stirrup and did not want to be detained. So he pished and pshawed, and cared nothing for the North Pole, and at length `damned' it. The applicant spoke angrily about it to Sydney Smith, wishing that Jeffrey would take care what he was about, and use more civil language. `What do you think he said to me?' cried the complainant. `Why, he damned the North Pole!'—'Well, never mind! never mind!' said Sydney Smith soothingly. `Never mind his damning the North Pole. I have heard him speak disrespectfully of the equator.'

Harriet Martineau, Autobiography (1877), i. 325-6.

SYDNEY Smith was a frequent guest at the home of Samuel Rogers, and the old poet liked to repeat his witty remarks. `At one time,' he recalled, `when I gave a dinner, I used to have candles placed all round the dining room, and high up, in order to show off the pictures. I asked Smith how he liked that plan. "Not at all," he replied; "above, there is a blaze of light, and below, nothing but darkness and gnashing of teeth."'

Rogers, Table Talk, p. 228 (slightly re-worded).

Someone speaking of Macaulay, Smith remarked:

`Yes, I take great credit to myself; I always prophesied his greatness from the first moment I saw him, then a very young and unknown man, on the Northern Circuit. There are no limits to his knowledge, on small subjects as well as great; he is like a book in breeches.... Yes, I agree, he is certainly more agreeable since his return from India. His enemies might perhaps have said before (though I never did so) that he talked rather too much; but now he has occasional flashes of silence that make his conversation perfectly delightful.'

A Memoir of the Reverend Sydney Smith. By his Daughter (2nd edn., 1855), p. 366.

HE was writing one morning in his favourite bay-window, when a pompous little man, in rusty black, was ushered in. `May I ask what procures me the honour of this visit?' said my father.' `Oh,' said the little man, `I am compounding a history of the distinguished families in Somersetshire, and have called to obtain the Smith arms.' `I regret, sir,' said my father, `not to be able to contribute to so valuable a work; but the Smiths never had any arms, and have invariably sealed their letters with their thumbs.'

A Memoir of the Reverend Sydney Smith. By his Daughter (2nd edn., 1855), pp. 244-245.

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