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(FROM THE EDINBURGH REVIEW, JULY, 1855.)
A Memoir of the Reverend Sydney Smith. By his Daughter,
LADY HOLLAND. With Selections from his Letters. Edited by Mrs. AUSTIN. In 2 vols. London : 1855.
The publication of this book affords us the opportunity for which we have been anxiously watching, which we must ere long have found or made for ourselves had it not presented itself. We should be guilty of an unpardonable neglect of duty were we to allow Sydney Smith to be definitively placed amongst the illustrious band of English worthies in the Temple of Fame at the risk of seeing too low a pedestal assigned to him, without urging on the attention of contemporaries, and recording for the instruction of posterity, his claims to rank as a great public benefactor, as well as his admitted superiority in what we must make bold to call his incidental and subordinate character of wit. It was in this Journal that he commenced his brilliant and eminently useful career as a social, moral, and poliVOL. I.
tical reformer. He persevered in that career througb good and evil report, with unabated vigour and vivacity, both in writing and conversation, until the greater part of his original objects had been attained ; and the simplest recapitulation of these would be sufficient to show that his countrymen have durable benefits and solid services, as well as pleasant thoughts and lively images, to thank him for.
With, perhaps, the single exception of Lord Brougham, no one man within living memory has done more to promote the improvement and well-being of mankind, by waging continual war, with pen and tongue, against ignorance and prejudice in all their modifications and varieties; nor should it be forgotten, that, although he wielded weapons very like those which had been employed in the immediately preceding, age to undermine law, order, and religion, his exquisite humour was uniformly exerted on the side of justice, virtue, and rational freedom. Indeed, it would hardly have been possible to pervert or misapply so rare and distinctive a gift, being, as it notoriously was, the intense expression, the flower, the cream, the quintessence, of reason and good sense. We will not say that, like Goldsmith, he adorned everything he touched, but he compelled everything he touched to appear in its natural shape and genuine colours. In his hands the logical process called the reductio ad absurdum operated like the spear of Ithuriel. No form of sophistry or phase of bigotry could help throwing off its disguise at his approach; and the dogma which has been deemed questionable touching ridicule in general, may be confi