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Burke and Smith

Karl Miller, 16 October 1980

Sydney Smith 
by Alan Bell.
Oxford, 250 pp., £9.95, October 1980, 0 19 812050 8
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Burke and Hare 
by Owen Dudley Edwards.
Polygon, 300 pp., £7.95, August 1980, 0 904919 27 7
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... Sydney Smith and William Burke lived at the same time and in the same country: but at opposite ends of the spectrum of class, ends which rarely met, except in court. Such people were strangers to one another, foreigners, and could hate and suspect one another in the style that has been reserved for foreigners ...

Other Eden

Amit Chaudhuri, 15 September 1988

Tigers, Durbars and Kings: Fanny Eden’s Indian Journals 1837-1838 
edited by Janet Dunbar.
Murray, 202 pp., £13.95, April 1988, 0 7195 4440 8
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... man’ – who has converted to Christianity, she says: ‘When he laughs he is like a black Sydney Smith.’ A tiny footnote points out that Sydney Smith was ‘Canon of St Paul’s and the wittiest man of his day’. Of a ‘little native boy with white mice for sale’ she remarks: ‘When I tried to ...

Catchers in the Rye

E.S. Turner: Modes of Comeuppance, 3 August 2006

Rural Reflections: A Brief History of Traps, Trapmakers and Gamekeeping in Britain 
by Stuart Haddon-Riddoch.
Argyll, 416 pp., £40, April 2006, 1 902831 96 9
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... in the late 18th century by game-preserving squires on their enclosed estates. As the Reverend Sydney Smith said, ‘There is a sort of horror in thinking of a whole land filled with lurking engines of death – machinations against human life under every green tree – traps and guns in every dusky dell and bosky bourn – the lords of manors eyeing ...

Walking on Eyeballs

E.S. Turner: The history of gout, 7 January 1999

Gout: The Patrician Malady 
by Roy Porter and G.S. Rousseau.
Yale, 393 pp., £25, September 1998, 0 300 07386 0
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... horrors of gout, will find much of the information in these pages riveting. Gout was likened by Sydney Smith to walking on his eyeballs. It not only created fiery anguish in the big toe but caused a white precipitation at the knuckles. Horace Walpole wrote of ‘chalky rills running from the fingers’ and ‘a hail of chalkstones and liquid ...

Leases of Lifelessness

Denis Donoghue, 7 October 1993

Beckett’s Dying Words 
by Christopher Ricks.
Oxford, 218 pp., £17.50, July 1993, 0 19 812358 2
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... Ricks nearly forgets Beckett, and fixes his attention on Philip Larkin, Hardy, Swift, Coleridge, Sydney Smith, Christina Rossetti or another. I can’t believe that he chose to deliver these Clarendon Lectures as a hodge-podge. It is more probable that he observed the impressionism that Beckett ascribed to Proust: ‘By his impressionism I mean his ...

Short Cuts

Rosemary Hill: Successive John Murrays, 8 November 2018

... publisher of the Whig Edinburgh Review, edited by Francis Jeffrey with the frequent assistance of Sydney Smith. The Quarterly was intended as a Tory rival and enjoyed Scott’s close co-operation. After an erratic start, its middlebrow conservatism built a large and loyal readership. The correspondence suggests, however, that as with books, a lot of time ...

Wanting Legs & Arms & Eyes

Clare Bucknell: Surplus Sons, 5 March 2020

Gentlemen of Uncertain Fortune: How Younger Sons Made Their Way in Jane Austen’s England 
by Rory Muir.
Yale, 384 pp., £25, August 2019, 978 0 300 24431 1
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... as agreeable to myself as possible’, as one officer wrote.Many led lonely and unfulfilled lives. Sydney Smith had a distinguished career in the church and was a founding editor of the Edinburgh Review, but for two years after Oxford he worked as a curate in the small, isolated, desperately poor village of Netheravon in Wiltshire – he complained of ...

At war

Iain McGilchrist, 25 January 1990

The Faber Book of Fevers and Frets 
edited by D.J. Enright.
Faber, 364 pp., £12.99, November 1989, 0 574 15095 1
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... and shape for cooling splits of champagne ... You have to know these things, otherwise you die.’ Sydney Smith, as one would expect, finds wit even in the excruciating pains of gout, the ‘only enemy I do not wish to have at my feet.’ W.N.P. Barbellion, alias the diarist and biologist B.F. Cummings, who died of multiple sclerosis at the age of ...

High Taxes, Bad Times

John Pemble: Late Georgian Westminster, 10 June 2010

The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1820-32 
by D.R. Fisher.
Cambridge, 6336 pp., £490, December 2009, 978 0 521 19314 6
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... never been so low – certainly not since the 1640s and 1650s. ‘The House of Commons,’ Sydney Smith said in 1819, ‘is falling into contempt with the people.’ Taxes were high and times were bad, and journalists like William Cobbett were radicalising popular opinion by lambasting ‘Old Corruption’. Parliament, Cobbett stormed, was ruining ...


Richard Jenkyns: George Grote’s ‘A History of Greece’, 9 August 2001

A History of Greece: From the Time of Solon to 403 BC 
by George Grote, edited by J.M. Mitchell and M.O.B. Caspari.
Routledge, 978 pp., £60, September 2000, 0 415 22369 5
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... child died a week after birth. The sight of Mrs Grote in a turban is supposed to have provoked Sydney Smith to the comment that at last he understood the meaning of the word ‘grotesque’, but she seems to have been an admirable person, and the memoir of her husband that she compiled as a dutiful widow is the best source for his life. He did not ...

At Tate Britain

Rosemary Hill: Aubrey Beardsley, 24 September 2020

... he gave vent to his feelings in a series of Bons Mots, small format collections of the sayings of Sydney Smith, Sheridan and others, published by Dent, which Beardsley adorned with skeletons, Pierrots, angry animals and mythic beasts, wilfully at odds with the subject matter. These anti-illustrations have now been collected by Beardsley’s biographer ...

Mighty Merry

E.S. Turner, 25 May 1995

The Diary of Samuel Pepys. Eleven Volumes, including Companion and Index 
edited by R.C. Latham and W. Matthews.
HarperCollins, 267 pp., £8.99, February 1995, 0 00 499021 8
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... a Boat in the same form, will have a mild idea of the task which faced the Cambridge graduate John Smith (a sizar, married with one child) when in 1819 he was hired to decipher the six volumes of Samuel Pepys’s diary on which Magdalene College had sat for over a century. Smith did not know the system of shorthand the ...

Great Thoughts

E.S. Turner, 7 May 1981

The Macmillan Treasury of Relevant Quotations 
edited by Edward Murphy.
Macmillan, 658 pp., £3.95, August 1980, 0 333 30038 6
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... Mr Murphy are of issues of American magazines in which collections of sayings have appeared. Thus Sydney Smith (without the Reverend) appears by courtesy of the Ladies’ Home Journal, and so do Heine and Lord Halifax (which Lord Halifax?). The sole Disraeli saying comes by way of Elbert Hubbard’s Scrap Book. Some of Shaw’s observations are given no ...

Never the twain

Mark Amory, 4 March 1982

Evelyn Waugh, Writer 
by Robert Murray Davis.
Pilgrim Books, 342 pp., $20.95, May 1981, 0 937664 00 6
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... preferences was expanding into a biography when I last heard, while Alan Bell, whose work on Sydney Smith is drawing to a close, plans to move up the street in Combe Florey and produce ‘a biographical study’. Though a West Country recluse can hardly be the centre of a literary movement, the comparison with Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury is not ...

Uncle William

E.S. Turner, 13 June 1991

The Passing of Barchester: A Real-Life Version of Trollop 
by Clive Dewey.
Hambledon, 199 pp., £14.95, April 1991, 1 85285 039 6
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... it had wallowed for much of the preceding century. Its absentee incumbents, like the resentful Sydney Smith, had been called back to parish duty; the worst excesses of pluralism had been abated and simony was no longer profitable. The Army had at last found men who were prepared to perform the duties of chaplains instead of farming out the office to ...

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