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S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.

Sydney Smith

  • [An English divine, wit, and writer; born in Essex, 1771; educated at Oxford; one of the founders, first editor, and frequent contributor to “The Edinburgh Review;” promoted the cause of Catholic emancipation; prebend of St. Paul’s, London, 1831; died February, 1845.]
  • Take short views.

  • One of Sydney Smith’s favorite maxims was, “Take short views, hope for the best, and trust in God.” Alexander Pope said, “It is best for us to be short-sighted in the different stages of our life, just in the same manner as it is best for us in this world not to know how it is to be with us in the next.” The prescription of Samuel Rogers, who died at ninety-two, was, “Temperance, the bath and flesh-brush, and don’t fret.” At another time Sydney Smith said, “The best physicians are, Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet, and Dr. Merryman.” This is from the Latin:—
  • “Si tibi deficiant medici, tibi fiant
  • Hæc tria; mens læta, requies, moderata diæta.”
  • Twelve miles from a lemon.

  • “My living in Yorkshire,” he once said, “was so far out of the way that it was actually twelve miles from a lemon.”
  • We cultivate literature upon a little oatmeal.

  • The motto Sydney Smith suggested for “The Edinburgh Review:”—
  • “—tenui musam meditamur avenâ.”
  • VIRGIL: Eclogues, I. 2.
  • This was rejected as too indicative of the circumstances of the founders.
  • When a bore complained that Jeffrey had interrupted him in his usual disquisition on the North Pole, by exclaiming, “D—— the North Pole!” Mr. Smith replied, “You will scarcely believe it, but it is not more than a week ago that I heard him speak disrespectfully of the Equator.”
  • In a discussion on pedigree, he said to a lady who asked about his grandfather, “He disappeared about the time of the assizes, and we asked no questions.”
  • He replied to a request to furnish the Smith arms for a county history, “The Smiths never had any arms, and have invariably sealed their letters with their thumbs.”
  • On hearing a lady at table decline gravy, he exclaimed, “Madam, I have been looking all my life for a person who disliked gravy: let us swear eternal friendship.”
  • When it was stated that a certain bishop was about to marry, he asked, “How can a bishop marry? How can he flirt? The most he can say is, ‘I will see you in the vestry after service.’”
  • There will be no difficulty about it, if only the Dean and Chapter put their heads together.

  • On hearing that St. Paul’s churchyard was to be paved with wooden blocks. He said to a child who was stroking a turtle’s back, thinking it would please the turtle, “You might as well stroke the dome of St. Paul’s to please the Dean and Chapter.”
  • He remarked, on seeing people recede before a servant carrying a steaming tea-kettle, “A man who wishes to make his way in life could do nothing better than go through the world with a boiling tea-kettle in his hand.”
  • Sydney Smith once said of his handwriting, “It is as if a swarm of ants, escaping from the ink-bottle, had walked over a sheet of paper without wiping their legs.”
  • Of a voluminous work he said, “Don’t read those twelve volumes till they are made into a consommé of two. Lord Dudley did better: he waited until they blew over.”
  • He remarked of two of his friends, “Why, look, there is Jeffrey, there is my little friend ——, who has not body enough to cover his mind decently with.”
  • He once said of the heat, to a lady, “I found there was nothing for it but to take off my flesh and sit in my bones.”
  • When a beautiful girl told him in a garden that a certain pea would never come to perfection, “Permit me, then,” he said, taking her by the hand, “to lead perfection to the pea.”
  • I wish they would allow me the wing of a roasted butterfly.

  • When ill.
  • A lady asked him for a motto for her dog Spot: “Out, damned Spot!” he replied (Macbeth, V. 1).
  • He used to remark that he had one little weakness,—he should like to roast a Quaker. “A Quaker baby!” he once exclaimed, “there is no such thing: they are always born broad-brimmed and in full quake.”
  • Of course, if I ever did go to a fancy ball at all, I should go as a Dissenter.

  • Shortly before his death he said, “I feel so weak both in mind and body, that I verily believe if the knife were put into my hands I should not have strength or energy enough to stick it into a Dissenter.”
  • When Rogers asked him how he liked dining in the picture-gallery, with candles placed high on the wall to show the pictures, Mr. Smith disapproved of it: “Above there is a blaze of light, and below nothing but darkness and gnashing of teeth.”
  • When advised to take a walk upon an empty stomach, he asked, “Whose stomach?”
  • You will find people ready enough to do the Samaritan without the oil and two-pence.

    Don’t you know, as the French say, there are three sexes,—men, women, and clergymen?

    What is childhood but a series of happy illusions!

  • “I have only one illusion left,” he once remarked, “and that is the Archbishop of Canterbury.”
  • When the Republic of Geneva forbade M. —— to shoot in the republic, he said it made no difference: he would shoot over the republic.

    No man, I fear, can effect great benefits for his country without some sacrifice of the minor virtues.

  • Turgot says, “Scrupulous people are not suited to great affairs.”
  • Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this thing?

  • When advised to have his portrait painted by Landseer. Calling with Tom Moore to see the latter’s portrait, Mr. Smith suddenly asked the painter, “Could you not contrive to throw into his face somewhat of a stronger expression of hostility to the Established Church?”
  • My idea of heaven is eating foie gras to the sound of trumpets.

  • Mr. Justice Buller used to say that his idea of heaven was “to sit at nisi prius all day, and play at whist all night.”—CAMPBELL: Life of Mansfield, chap. 34, note.
  • The Bishop of —— is so like Judas that I now firmly believe in apostolic succession.

    His foible is omni-science.

  • When told that Dr. Whewell’s forte was science.
  • Of Miss Fox, Lord Holland’s sister, he said, “Oh! she is perfection: she always gives me the idea of an aged angel.”
  • I had a very odd dream last night. I dreamed there were thirty-nine Muses and nine Articles, and my head is still quite confused about them.

    Mr. —— has no command over his understanding: it is always getting between his legs and tripping him up.

    There is a New-Zealand attorney arrived in London with 6s. 8d. tattooed all over his face.

    Some men have only one book in them; others, a library.

  • When an improvement in ——, after his success, was noticed, Mr. Smith said, “Praise is the best diet for us, after all.”
  • On receiving, at the time of the repudiation of the Pennsylvania State bonds, a visitor who congratulated him upon his happy circumstances, he replied, “I would that you were almost and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.”
  • But few puns are recorded of him: “Ireland safe, and Bonaparte embayed in Egypt; that is, surrounded by beys;” and, “If any one bearing the name of Grey comes this way (to Combe Fleury) send him to us: I am Grey-men-ivorous.”
  • Have you heard of Niebuhr’s discoveries? All Roman history reversed: Tarquin turning out an excellent family man, and Lucretia a very doubtful character, whom Lady —— would not have visited!

    My dear Rogers, if we were both in America, we should be tarred and feathered; and, lovely as we are by nature, I should be an ostrich, and you an emu.

  • Other comparisons were made between Samuel Rogers’s pale face and all sorts of funereal things. He once returned from Spa, saying he had to leave it because the place was so full he could not find a bed to sleep in. Lord Dudley asked, “Was there no room in the churchyard?” Being told that a portrait of Rogers was done to the life, “To the death, you mean,” suggested Dudley. Under a caricature of the poet in “Fraser’s Magazine” were the words, “A mortal likeness painted to the very death.” Lord Alvanley once said to him, “Rogers, you are rich enough. Why don’t you keep your hearse?”
  • An amusing instance is given of Lord Dudley’s absence of mind. Meeting Sydney Smith in the street, he said, “Dine with me to-day, and I will get Sydney Smith to meet you.” Mr. Smith replied that he was engaged to meet him elsewhere.
  • There are three things that every man fancies he can do: farm a small property, drive a gig, and write an article for a review.

    You can say you are bringing with you the cool of the evening.

  • When an impertinent young man wished to be taken to Lady Blessington’s, with whom he was not acquainted, and it was asked how he could be introduced.
  • To Longman, the publisher, he once wrote: “I can’t accept your invitation, for my house is full of country cousins: I wish they were once removed.”
  • After being champooed at Mahomet’s Baths, Brighton, he said, “They squeezed enough out of me to make a lean curate.”
  • Canning in office is like a fly in amber. Nobody cares about the fly: the only question is, “How the devil did he get there?”

  • From Pope:—
  • “Pretty! in amber to observe the forms
  • Of hairs, or straws, or dirt, or grubs, or worms!
  • The things, we know, are neither rich nor rare,
  • But wonder how the Devil they got there.”
  • Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot, 169.
  • At another time Sydney Smith said of Canning, “When he is jocular, he is strong: when he is serious, he is like Samson in a wig.”
  • Cultivate the love of reading in a young person: it is an unceasing source of pleasure, and probably of innocence.

    Don’t mind the caprices of fashionable women. They are as gross as poodles fed on milk and muffins.

  • He gave the following definition of marriage: “It resembles a pair of shears,—so joined that they cannot be separated, often moving in opposite directions, yet always punishing any one who comes between them.”
  • Love in the abstract.

  • “I once heard,” he said, “a young lady of my acquaintance at a dance in Edinburgh exclaim, in a sudden pause in the music, ‘What you say, my lord, is very true of love in the abstract, but’— Here the fiddles began fiddling, and the rest was lost.”
  • Your father was of a different opinion.

  • When a man, beaten by Sydney Smith in an argument, said, “If I had a son who was an idiot, I would make him a parson,” Mr. Smith replied, “Your father was of a different opinion.” Pico de La Mirandola, when nine years old, gave promise of the extraordinary genius which made him later a prodigy of learning and controversial powers. An old man remarked to him at that age, that boys who showed so much cleverness became stupid in maturity; to which the child instantly replied, “How extraordinarily witty you must have been when young!”
  • Children are excellent physiognomists, and soon discover their real friends.

    When I have the gout, I feel as if I were walking on my eyeballs.

    I think breakfasts so pleasant, because no one is conceited before one o’clock.

    Accuse a man of being a Socinian, and it is all over with him; for the country gentlemen think it has something to do with poaching.

    They will never agree: they are arguing from different premises.

  • Seeing two women abusing each other from opposite houses.
  • No furniture so charming as books, even if you never open them, or read a single word.

    I never read a book before reviewing it, it prejudices a man so!

  • Lord Lansdowne called Sydney Smith “a mixture of Punch and Cato.”