A Memoir Of The Reverend Sydney Smith By His Daughter Lady Holland "What You Don't Know Would Make A Great Book"

Saba Holland

"What You Don't Know Would Make A Great Book"

Context: Sydney Smith, educated at Winchester and Oxford, was an English clergyman noted as the wittiest man of his time. In Edinburgh in 1798 as tutor to the son of an English gentleman, he proposed the founding of the Edinburgh Review and, with Jeffrey, Brougham and Francis Horner, shared in its actual establishment. He superintended the first three numbers and continued to write for it for twenty-five years. After leaving Edinburgh, he lectured in London, held livings in Yorkshire and Somersetshire, and was made prebendary of Bristol and Canon of St. Paul's. No political writing of his time was more effective than his in presenting the need for toleration and reform; indeed Smith has been compared to Swift, though he lacks the bitterness and savagery of the 18th-century satirist. Lady Holland, his daughter, in writing the memoir of her famous father a decade after his death, remarks that her purpose is to depict the real man–as he can never be gaged through his own work–"the mode of life, the heart, the habit, the thoughts and feelings, the conversation, the home, the occupation." Allowing the man to speak for himself insofar as possible, she quotes freely from documents and records, both public and private. One cannot read far without being captivated by the clergyman's exuberant and spontaneous wit. Lady Holland records, for instance, this illustration of his verbal dexterity:

Some young person, answering on a subject in discussion, "I don't know that, Mr. Smith," he said, smiling, "Ah! what you don't know would make a great book."