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A History of Nineteenth Century Literature (1780-1

And his two chief works outside his reviews


Even in his _Review_ articles

he constantly shocked his more solemn and pedagogic editor by the stream of banter which he poured not merely upon Tories and High Churchmen, but on Methodists and Non-conformists; his letters are full of the most untiring and to this day the most sparkling pleasantry; and his two chief works outside his reviews, the earlier _Peter Plymley's Letters_ and the later _Letters to Archdeacon Singleton_ (written when the author's early Whiggism had crystallised into something different, and when he was stoutly resisting the attempts of the reformed government to meddle with cathedral establishments), rank among the capital light pamphlets of the world, in company with those of Pascal and Swift and Courier. The too few remnants of his abundant conversation preserve faint sparks of the blaze of impromptu fun for which in his day he was almost more famous than as a writer. Sydney Smith had below the surface of wit a very solid substratum of good sense and good feeling; but his literary appeal consisted almost wholly in his shrewd pleasantry, which, as it has been observed, might with even more appropriateness than Coleridge said it of Fuller, have been said to be "the stuff and substance of his intellectual nature." This wit was scarcely ever in writing--it seems to have been sometimes in conversation--forced or trivial; it was most ingeniously adjusted to the purpose of the moment, whether that purpose was a political argument, a light summary of a book of travels, or a mere gossiping
letter to a friend; and it had a quality of its own which could only be displayed by extensive and elaborate citation. But if it be possible to put the finger on a single note, it is one distinguishing Sydney Smith widely from Fuller himself, bringing him a little nearer to Voltaire, and, save for the want of certain earnestness, nearer still to Swift--the perfect facility of his jokes, and the casual, easy man-of-the-worldliness with which he sets them before the reader and passes on. Amid the vigorous but slightly ponderous manners of the other early contributors to the _Review_, this must have been of inestimable value; but it is a higher credit to Sydney Smith that it does not lose its charm when collected together and set by itself, as the more extravagant and rollicking kinds of periodical humour are wont to do. It was probably his want of serious preoccupations of any kind (for his politics were merely an accident; he was, though a sincere Christian, no enthusiast in religion; and he had few special interests, though he had an honest general enjoyment of life) which enabled Sydney Smith so to perfect a quality, or set of qualities, which, as a rule, is more valuable as an occasional set-off than as the staple and solid of a man's literary fare and ware. If so, he points much the same general moral as Cobbett, though in a way as different as possible. But in any case he was a very delightful person, an ornament of English literature, such as few other literatures possess, in his invariable abstinence from unworthy means of raising a laugh, and, among the group of founders of the new periodical, the representative of one of its most important constituents--polished _persiflage_.

The other contributors of the first generation to the _Edinburgh Review_ do not require much notice here; for Brougham was not really a man of letters, and belongs to political and social, not to literary history, while Mackintosh, though no one would contest his claims, will be better noticed under the head of philosophy. Nor do many of the first staff of the _Edinburgh's_ great rival, the _Quarterly_, require notice; for Gifford, Canning, Ellis, Scott, Southey have all been noticed under other heads.

Two, however, not of the absolutely first rank, may be mentioned here more conveniently


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