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A History of the Nineteenth Century, Year by Year

Sidenote Meagre literary remains It was Sydney Smith


Sir Sydney Smith, the essayist, died shortly before this. Born in 1771, he studied for orders and became a clergyman. At the opening of the Nineteenth Century he entered the field of authorship with the publication of "Six Sermons Preached at Charlotte Chapel." Then came the famous "Letters on the Catholics, from Peter Plymley to his Brother Abraham." This book established Sydney Smith's reputation as a satirist. For nearly twenty years he published no more books, though a constant contributor to the "Edinburgh Review." Some idea of Sydney Smith's pungent style may be derived from his famous remarks on England's taxation during the wars with Napoleon: "The schoolboy," he said, "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 which 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 one hundred pounds for the privilege of putting him to death. His whole property is then immediately taxed from two to ten per cent. Large fees are demanded for burying him in the chancel; his virtues are handed down to posterity on taxed marble, and then he is gathered to his forefathers to be taxed no more."

[Sidenote: Meagre literary remains]

It was Sydney Smith, too, who asked the famous question: "Who ever reads an American book?" In 1824 Sydney Smith broke his long silence as an author, with the fervent pamphlet "The Judge that Smites Contrary to the Law." This was followed by a long series of open letters on clerical and political questions of the day. Shortly before his death he brought out a collection of sermons. A posthumous work was his collection, "Elementary Sketches of Moral Philosophy." Sydney Smith's case has been held up, together with that of Swift, as an example of political ingratitude. Despite all his labors for the Whig cause, but slender recognition was given to him by his political friends in office. The excuse for not making him a bishop was that his writings were generally regarded as inconsistent with clerical decorum. Like Jeffrey, Wilson and other distinguished contributors to English periodical literature at this time, he left no truly great work to posterity.

[Sidenote: Elizabeth Fry's work]

Elizabeth Fry, the great English prison reformer, died on October 15. She it was that improved the condition of women prisoners at Newgate. Later her influence was apparent in most of the reforms introduced into the jails, houses of correction, lunatic asylums and infirmaries of England, the abuses of which were so eloquently voiced by Dickens.

[Sidenote: Peel recalled]

[Sidenote: A premature announcement]

Lord John Russell's attempts to form a new Ministry proved unsuccessful, largely because Lord Howick--who by the death of his father had become Earl Grey--refused to join the new Ministry on account of his objections to the foreign policy of Lord Palmerston. Sir Robert Peel was presently recalled. All of his colleagues retained their posts, except Lord Stanley, superseded by Gladstone. Soon after Peel's re-entry into office, the London "Times" announced that the Cabinet had decided on proposing a measure for the repeal of the corn laws. This premature announcement was one of the most startling journalistic achievements of the time. Notwithstanding all the published denials it was generally believed, and was followed by a great fall in the price of corn.

[Sidenote: War with Sikhs]

[Sidenote: Moodkee]


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