S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.
[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. Pauls, London, 1831; died February, 1845.]
One of Sydney Smiths 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 dont fret. At another time Sydney Smith said, The best physicians are, Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet, and Dr. Merryman. This is from the Latin:
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. Pauls churchyard was to be paved with wooden blocks. He said to a child who was stroking a turtles back, thinking it would please the turtle, You might as well stroke the dome of St. Pauls 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, Dont 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.
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?
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 latters 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?
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.
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 Rogerss 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 Frasers Magazine were the words, A mortal likeness painted to the very death. Lord Alvanley once said to him, Rogers, you are rich enough. Why dont you keep your hearse?
An amusing instance is given of Lord Dudleys 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.
Dont 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.
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.
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!