Sydney Smith

It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do little.

Sydney Smith (3 June 177122 February 1845) was an English clergyman, critic, philosopher and wit.

QuotesEdit

Great men hallow a whole people and lift up all who live in their time.
The object of preaching is, constantly to remind mankind of what mankind are constantly forgetting; not to supply the defects of human intelligence, but to fortify the feebleness of human resolutions.
  • When I hear any man talk of an unalterable law, the only effect it produces upon me is to convince me that he is an unalterable fool.
    • Peter Plymley's Letters (1808), Letter IV.
  • But now persecution is good, because it exists; every law which originated in ignorance and malice, and gratifies the passions from whence it sprang, we call the wisdom of our ancestors: when such laws are repealed, they will be cruelty and madness; till they are repealed, they are policy and caution.
    • Peter Plymley's Letters (1808), Letter V.
  • Manners are the shadows of virtues; the momentary display of those qualities which our fellow creatures love, and respect.
    • Sermon XII, Sermons (1809).
  • In the midst of this sublime and terrible storm [at Sidmouth], Dame Partington, who lived upon the beach, was seen at the door of her house with mop and pattens, trundling her mop, squeezing out the sea-water, and vigorously pushing away the Atlantic Ocean. The Atlantic was roused; Mrs. Partington's spirit was up. But I need not tell you that the contest was unequal; the Atlantic Ocean beat Mrs. Partington.
    • Speech at Taunton (1813).
  • The schoolboy whips his taxed top; the beardless youth manages his taxed horse with a taxed bridle on a taxed road; and the dying Englishman, pouring his medicine, which has paid seven per cent, into a spoon that has paid fifteen per cent, flings himself back upon his chintz bed which has paid twenty-two per cent, and expires in the arms of an apothecary who has paid a license of a hundred pounds for the privilege of putting him to death.
    • "Review of Seybert’s Annals of the United States", published in The Edinburgh Review (1820).
  • In the four quarters of the globe, who reads an American book? Or goes to an American play? or looks at an American picture or statue? What does the world yet owe to American physicians or surgeons? What new substances have their chemists discovered? Or what old ones have they advanced? What new constellations have been discovered by the telescopes of Americans? Who drinks out of American glasses? Or eats from American plates? Or wears American coats or gowns? or sleeps in American blankets? Finally, under which of the old tyrannical governments of Europe is every sixth man a slave, whom his fellow-creatures may buy and sell and torture?
    • Referring to the lack of established culture and the established institution of slavery in the United States, in "Review of Seybert’s Annals of the United States", published in The Edinburgh Review (1820).
  • Great men hallow a whole people and lift up all who live in their time.
    • "Ireland", published in The Edinburgh Review (1820).
  • The object of preaching is, constantly to remind mankind of what mankind are constantly forgetting; not to supply the defects of human intelligence, but to fortify the feebleness of human resolutions.
    • "The Judge That Smites Contrary to the Law: A Sermon Preached...March 28, 1824", in The Works of the Rev. Sydney Smith (1860) p. 428.
  • Magnificent spectacle of human happiness.
    • "America", published in The Edinburgh Review (July, 1824).
  • It is the safest to be moderately base — to be flexible in shame, and to be always ready for what is generous, good, and just, when anything is to be gained by virtue.
    • "Catholics", published in The Edinburgh Review (1827).
  • Correspondences are like small clothes before the invention of suspenders; it is impossible to keep them up.
  • Dean Swift's rule is as good for women as for men — never to talk above a half minute without pausing, and giving others an opportunity to strike in.
    • "Parisian Morals and Manners", published in The Edinburgh Review (1843)
    • Smith might have been thinking of the final words of Swift's "Hints Towards an Essay on Conversation": "It is not a Fault in Company to talk much; but to continue it long, is certainly one; for, if the Majority of those who are got together be naturally silent or cautious, the Conversation will flag, unless it be often renewed by one among them, who can start new Subjects, provided he doth not dwell upon them, but leaveth Room for Answers and Replies".
  • The fact is that in order to do any thing in this world worth doing, we must not stand shivering on the bank thinking of the cold and the danger, but jump in and scramble through as well as we can.
    • Reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 6.
  • Every increase of knowledge may possibly render depravity more depraved, as well as it may increase the strength of virtue. It is in itself only power; and its value depends on its application.
    • Quote reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 364.
  • Men who prefer any load of infamy, however great, to any pressure of taxation, however light.
    • On American Debts, reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).

Elementary Sketches of Moral Philosophy (1849)Edit

  • Bishop Berkeley destroyed this world in one volume octavo; and nothing remained after his time, but mind — which experienced a similar fate from the hand of Mr. Hume, in 1737.
    • Introduction.
  • Have the courage to be ignorant of a great number of things, in order to avoid the calamity of being ignorant of everything.
    • Lecture IX : On the Conduct of the Understanding.
  • A great deal of talent is lost to the world for the want of a little courage. Every day sends to their graves a number of obscure men who have only remained obscure because their timidity has prevented them from making a first effort.
    • Lecture IX : On the Conduct of the Understanding.
  • Among the smaller duties of life I hardly know any one more important than that of not praising where praise is not due.
    • Lecture IX : On the Conduct of the Understanding.
  • No man can ever end with being superior, who will not begin with being inferior.
    • Lecture IX : On the Conduct of the Understanding.
  • It is a very wise rule in the conduct of the understanding, to acquire early a correct notion of your own peculiar constitution of mind, and to become well acquainted, as a physician would say, with your idiosyncrasy. Are you an acute man, and see sharply for small distances? or are you a comprehensive man, and able to take in, wide and extensive views into your mind? Does your mind turn its ideas into wit? or are you apt to take a common-sense view of the objects presented to you? Have you an exuberant imagination, or a correct judgment? Are you quick, or slow? accurate, or hasty? a great reader, or a great thinker? It is a prodigious point gained if any man can find out where his powers lie, and what are his deficiencies, — if he can contrive to ascertain what Nature intended him for: and such are the changes and chances of the world, and so difficult is it to ascertain our own understandings, or those of others, that most things are done by persons who could have done something else better. If you choose to represent the various parts in life by holes upon a table, of different shapes, — some circular, some triangular, some square, some oblong, — and the persons acting these parts by bits of wood of similar shapes, we shall generally find that the triangular person has got into the square hole, the oblong into the triangular, and a square person has squeezed himself into the round hole. The officer and the office, the doer and the thing done, seldom fit so exactly, that we can say they were almost made for each other.
    • Lecture IX : On the Conduct of the Understanding.; this provides the origin of the phrase "a square peg in a round hole".
  • It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do little.
    • Lecture XIX : On the Conduct of the Understanding, Part II.
  • The history of the world shows us that men are not to be counted by their numbers, but by the fire and vigour of their passions; by their deep sense of injury; by their memory of past glory; by their eagerness for fresh fame; by their clear and steady resolution of ceasing to live, or of achieving a particular object, which, when it is once formed, strikes off a load of manacles and chains, and gives free space to all heavenly and heroic feelings. All great and extraordinary actions come from the heart. There are seasons in human affairs, when qualities fit enough to conduct the common business of life, are feeble and useless; and when men must trust to emotion, for that safety which reason at such times can never give. These are the feelings which led the ten thousand over the Carduchian mountans; these are the feelings by which a handful of Greeks broke in pieces the power of Persia: they have, by turns, humbled Austria, reduced Spain; and in the fens of the Dutch, and on the mountains of the Swiss, defended the happiness, and revenged the oppressions, of man! God calls all the passions out in their keenness and vigour, for the present safety of mankind. Anger, and revenge, and the heroic mind, and a readiness to suffer;— all the secret strength, all the invisible array, of the feelings,— all that nature has reserved for the great scenes of the world. For the usual hopes, and the common aids of man, are all gone! Kings have perished, armies are subdued, nations mouldered away! Nothing remains, under God, but those passions which have often proved the best ministers of His vengeance, and the surest protectors of the world.
    • Lecture XXVIL: On Habit - Part II, in “Elementary Sketches of Moral Philosophy”, delivered at The Royal Institution in the years 1804, 1805, and 1806 by the late Rev. Sydney Smith, M.A. (Spottiswoodes and Shaw (London: 1849)), p. 423-424
    • Another Variant: The history of the world shows us that men are not to be counted by their numbers, but by the fire and vigour of their passions; by their deep sense of injury; by their memory of past glory; by their eagerness for fresh fame; by their clear and steady resolution of ceasing to live, or of achieving a particular object, which, when it is once formed, strikes off a load of manacles and chains, and gives free space to all heavenly and heroic feelings. All great and extraordinary actions come from the heart. There are seasons in human affairs when qualities, fit enough to conduct the common business of life, are feeble and useless, when men must trust to emotion for that safety which reason at such times can never give. These are the feelings which led the ten thousand over the Carduchian mountains; these are the feelings by which a handful of Greeks broke in pieces the power of Persia; and in the fens of the Dutch, and on the mountains of the Swiss, defended the happiness and revenged the oppressions of man! God calls all the passions out in their keenness and vigour for the present safety of mankind, anger and revenge, and the heroic mind, and a readiness to suffer—all the secret strength, all the invisible array of the feelings—all that nature has reserved for the great scenes of the world. When the usual hopes and the common aids of man are all gone, nothing remains under God but those passions which have often proved the best ministers of His purpose and the surest protectors of the world.
    • Quoted by Theodore Roosevelt in his "Brotherhood and the Heroic Virtues" Address at the Veterans' Reunion, Burlington, Vermont, September 5, 1901 and published in Theodore Roosevelt's "The Strenuous Life: Essays and Addresses" by Dover Publications (April 23, 2009) in its Dover Thrift Editions (ISBN: 978-0486472294), p. 126-127.

Lady Holland's Memoir (1855)Edit

  • It requires a surgical operation to get a joke well into a Scotch understanding.
    • Volume I, ch. 1, p. 15.
  • That knuckle-end of England—that land of Calvin, oatcakes, and sulphur.
    • Volume I, ch. 2.
  • Preaching has become a byword for long and dull conversation of any kind; and whoever wishes to imply, in any piece of writing, the absence of everything agreeable and inviting, calls it a sermon.
    • Volume I, ch. 3.
  • Avoid shame, but do not seek glory, — nothing so expensive as glory.
    • Volume I, ch. 4.
  • Take short views, hope for the best, and trust in God.
    • Volume I, ch. 6.
  • Looked as if she had walked straight out of the ark.
    • Volume I, ch. 7.
  • No furniture so charming as books.
    • Volume I, ch. 9.
  • Not body enough to cover his mind decently with; his intellect is improperly exposed.
    • Volume I, ch. 9.
  • He has spent all his life in letting down empty buckets into empty wells; and he is frittering away his age in trying to draw them up again.
    • Volume I, ch. 9.
  • Ah, you flavour everything; you are the vanilla of society.
    • Volume I, ch. 9.
  • My living in Yorkshire was so far out of the way, that it was actually twelve miles from a lemon.
    • Volume I, ch. 9.
  • As the French say, there are three sexes, — men, women, and clergymen.
    • Volume I, ch. 9.
  • Praise is the best diet for us, after all.
    • Volume I, ch. 9.
  • Daniel Webster struck me much like a steam-engine in trousers.
    • Volume I, ch. 9.
  • Live always in the best company when you read.
    • Volume I, ch. 10.
  • Never give way to melancholy; resist it steadily, for the habit will encroach.
    • Volume I, ch. 10.
  • He was a one-book man. Some men have only one book in them; others, a library.
    • Volume I, ch. 11.
  • Marriage resembles a pair of shears, so joined that they can not be separated; often moving in opposite directions, yet always punishing anyone who comes between them.
    • Volume I, ch. 11.
  • Macaulay is like a book in breeches...He has occasional flashes of silence, that make his conversation perfectly delightful.
    • Volume I, ch. 11.
  • You remember Thurlow's answer to some one complaining of the injustice of a company. "Why, you never expected justice from a company, did you? they have neither a soul to lose, nor a body to kick."
  • Madam, I have been looking for a person who disliked gravy all my life; let us swear eternal friendship.
    • p. 257. Let us swear an eternal friendship. Poetry of the Anti-Jacobin. The Rovers.
  • Life is to be fortified by many friendships. To love, and to be loved, is the greatest happiness of existence.
    • "Of Friendship".

Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919)Edit

Quotes reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • No one minds what Jeffrey says:… it is not more than a week ago that I heard him speak disrespectfully of the equator.
    • Volume I, page 17.
  • We cultivate literature on a little oatmeal.
    • Volume I, page 23.
  • Truth is its [justice's] handmaid, freedom is its child, peace is its companion, safety walks in its steps, victory follows in its train; it is the brightest emanation from the Gospel; it is the attribute of God.
    • Volume I, page 29.
  • It is always right that a man should be able to render a reason for the faith that is within him.
    • Volume I, page 53.
  • Let every man be occupied, and occupied in the highest employment of which his nature is capable, and die with the consciousness that he has done his best.
    • Volume I, page 130.
  • Looked as if she had walked straight out of the ark.
    • Volume I, page 157.
  • The Smiths never had any arms, and have invariably sealed their letters with their thumbs.
    • Volume I, page 244.
  • You find people ready enough to do the Samaritan, without the oil and twopence.
    • Volume I, page 261.
  • To take Macaulay out of literature and society and put him in the House of Commons, is like taking the chief physician out of London during a pestilence.
    • Volume I, page 265.
  • "Heat, ma'am!" I said; "it was so dreadful here, that I found there was nothing left for it but to take off my flesh and sit in my bones."
    • Volume I, page 267.

Recipe for SaladEdit

Let onion atoms lurk within the bowl
And, scarce suspected, animate the whole.
Original publication source not yet located; published in Common Sense in The Household : A Manual of Practical Housewifery (1873) by Marion Harland, and in The Tasting Spoon : How to Use Over 130 Spices, Herbs, Condiments, Flavorings to Enhance All Your Dishes and Add Zest to Any Menu (1955) by Loris Troup, p. 16 - Full text online
  • Let onion atoms lurk within the bowl
    And, scarce suspected, animate the whole.
  • Serenely full, the epicure would say,
    Fate cannot harm me, I have dined today.
    • Page 374.
  • Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea?—how did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea.
    • Page 383.

Letter to Lord JeffreyEdit

  • If you could be alarmed into the semblance of modesty, you would charm everybody; but remember my joke against you about the Moon and the Solar System;—"Damn the solar system! bad light — planets too distant — pestered with comets — feeble contriviance; — could make a better with great ease."
    • As quoted in "Romantic Parodies, 1797-1831" by David A. Kent, D. R. Ewen, in The Review of English Studies, New Series, Volume 44, No. 175, (1993), pp. 430-432.

External linksEdit

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Last modified on 15 April 2014, at 04:40