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Peter Plymley's Letters, and selected essays   By: (1771-1845)

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PETER PLYMLEY'S LETTERS AND SELECTED ESSAYS

Contents: Introduction Peter Plymley's Letters Historical Apology For The Irish Catholics Ireland and England Moore's Captain Rock

INTRODUCTION.

Sydney Smith, of the same age as Walter Scott, was born at Woodford, in Essex, in the year 1771, and he died of heart disease, aged seventy four, on the 22nd of February, 1845. His father was a clever man of wandering habits who, when he settled in England, reduced his means by buying, altering, spoiling, and then selling about nineteen different places in England. His mother was of a French family from Languedoc, that had been driven to England by the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Sydney Smith's grandfather, upon the mother's side, could speak no English, and he himself ascribed some of his gaiety to the French blood in his veins.

He was one of four sons. His eldest brother Robert known as Bobus was sent to Eton, where he joined Canning, Frere, and John Smith, in writing the Eton magazine, the Microcosm; and at Cambridge Bobus afterwards was known as a fine Latin scholar. Sydney Smith went first to a school at Southampton, and then to Winchester, where he became captain of the school. Then he was sent for six months to Normandy for a last polish to his French before he went on to New College, Oxford. When he had obtained his fellowship there, his father left him to his own resources. His eldest brother had been trained for the bar, his two younger brothers were sent out to India, and Sydney, against his own wish, yielded to the strong desire of his father that he should take orders as a clergyman. Accordingly, in 1794, he became curate of the small parish of Netherhaven, in Wiltshire. Meat came to Netherhaven only once a week in a butcher's cart from Salisbury, and the curate often dined upon potatoes flavoured with ketchup.

The only educated neighbour was Mr. Hicks Beach, the squire, who at first formally invited the curate to dinner on Sundays, and soon found his wit, sense, and high culture so delightful, that the acquaintance ripened into friendship. After two years in the curacy, Sydney Smith gave it up and went abroad with the squire's son. "When first I went into the Church," he wrote afterwards, "I had a curacy in the middle of Salisbury Plain; the parish was Netherhaven, near Amesbury. The squire of the parish, Mr. Beach, took a fancy to me, and after I had served it two years, he engaged me as tutor to his eldest son, and it was arranged that I and his son should proceed to the University of Weimar in Saxony. We set out, but before reaching our destination Germany was disturbed by war, and, in stress of politics, we put into Edinburgh, where I remained five years."

Young Michael Beach, who had little taste for study, lived with Sydney Smith as his tutor, and found him a wise guide and pleasant friend. When Michael went to the University, his brother William was placed under the same good care. Sydney Smith, about the same time, went to London to be married. His wife's rich brother quarrelled with her for marrying a man who said that his only fortune consisted in six small silver teaspoons. One day after their happy marriage he ran in to his wife and threw them in her lap, saying, "There, Kate, you lucky girl, I give you all my fortune!" The lucky girl had a small fortune of her own which her husband had strictly secured to herself and her children. Mr. Beach recognised the value of Sydney Smith's influence over his son by a wedding gift of 750 pounds. In 1802 a daughter was born, and in the same year Sydney Smith joined Francis Jeffrey and other friends, who then maintained credit for Edinburgh as the Modern Athens, in the founding of The Edinburgh Review, to which the papers in this volume, added to the Peter Plymley Letters, were contributed. The Rev. Sydney Smith preached sometimes in the Episcopal Church at Edinburgh, and presently had, in addition to William Beach, a son of Mr... Continue reading book >>




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