1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Horace Smith

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 2:429-31. 2:628-29.



JAMES SMITH (1775-1839) was a lively and amusing author both in prose and verse. His father, Mr. Robert Smith, was an eminent legal practitioner in London, and solicitor to the Board of Ordnance — a gentleman of learning and accomplishments, whose latter years were gratified by the talents and reputation of his two sons, James and Horace. James, the eldest, was educated at a school at Chigwell, in Essex, and was usually at the head of his class. For this retired "schoolboy spot" he ever retained a strong affection, rarely suffering, as his brother relates, a long interval to elapse without paying it a visit, and wandering over the scenes that recalled the truant excursions of himself and chosen playmates, or the solitary rambles and musings of his youth. Two of his latest poems are devoted to his reminiscences of Chigwell. After the completion of his education, James Smith was articled to his father, was taken into partnership in due time, and eventually succeeded to the business, as well as to the appointment of solicitor to the Ordnance. With a quick sense of the ridiculous, a strong passion for the stage and the drama, and a love of London society and manners, Smith became a town wit and humorist — delighting in parodies, theatrical colloquies, and fashionable criticism. His first pieces appear to have been contributed to the Pic-Nic newspaper established by Colonel Henry Greville, which afterwards merged into The Cabinet, both being solely calculated for the topics and feelings of the day. A selection from the Pic-Nic papers, in two small volumes, was published in 1803. He next joined the writers for the London Review — a journal established by Cumberland the dramatist, on the novel principle of affixing the writer's name to his critique. The Review proved a complete failure. The system of publishing names was an unwise innovation, destroying equally the harmless curiosity of the reader, and the critical independence of the author; and Cumberland, besides, was too vain, too irritable and poor, to secure a good list of contributors. Smith then became a constant writer in the Monthly Mirror (wherein Henry Kirke White first attracted the notice of what may be termed the literary world), and in this work appeared a series of poetical imitations, entitled Horace in London, the joint production of James and Horace Smith. These parodies were subsequently collected and published in one volume in 1813, after the success of the Rejected Addresses had rendered the authors famous. Some of the pieces display a lively vein of town levity and humour, but many of them also are very trifling and tedious. In one stanza, James Smith has given a true sketch of his own tastes and character:—

Me toil and ease alternate share,
Books, and the converse of the fair,
(To see is to adore 'em);
With these, and London for my home,
I envy not the joys of Rome,
The Circus or the Forum!

To London he seems to have been as strongly attached as Dr. Johnson himself. "A confirmed metropolitan in all his tastes and habits, he would often quaintly observe, that London was the beat place in summer, and the only place in winter; or quote Dr Johnson's dogma — "Sir, the man that is tired of London is tired of existence." At other times he would express his perfect concurrence with Dr. Mosley's assertion, that in the country one is always maddened with the noise of nothing: or laughingly quote the Duke of Queensberry's rejoinder on being told one sultry day in September that London was exceedingly empty — "Yes, but it's fuller than the country." He would not, perhaps, have gone quite so far as his old friend Jekyll, who used to say, that "if compelled to live in the country, he would have the approach to his house paved like the streets of London, and hire a hackney-coach to drive up and down the street all day long;" but he would relate, with great glee, a story showing the general conviction of his dislike to ruralities. He was sitting in the library at a country house, when a gentleman, informing him that the family were all out, proposed a quiet stroll into the pleasure-grounds. "Stroll! why, don't you see my gouty shoe?' 'Yes, but what then? you don't really mean to say that you have got the gout? I thought you had only put on that shoe to avoid being shown over the improvements.'" There is some good humoured banter and exaggeration in this dislike of ruralities; and accordingly we find that, as Johnson found his way to the remote Hebrides, Smith occasionally transported himself to Yorkshire and other places, the country seats of friends and noblemen. The Rejected Addresses appeared in 1812, having engaged James and Horace Smith six weeks, and proving "one of the luckiest hits in literature." The directors of Drury Lane theatre had offered a premium for the best poetical address to be spoken on opening the new edifice; and a casual hint from Mr. Ward, secretary to the theatre, suggested to the witty brothers the composition of a series of humorous addresses professedly composed by the principal authors of the day. The work was ready by the opening of the theatre, and its success was almost unexampled. Eighteen editions have been sold; and the copyright, which had been originally offered to Mr. Murray for £20, was purchased by that gentleman, in 1819, after the sixteenth edition, for £131. The articles written by James Smith consisted of imitations of Wordsworth, Cobbett, Southey, Coleridge, Crabbe, and a few travesties. Some of them are inimitable, particularly the parodies on Cobbett and Crabbe, which were also among the most popular. Horace Smith contributed imitations of Walter Scott, Moore, Monk Lewis, Lord Byron, W. T. Fitzgerald (whose "Loyal Effusion" is irresistibly ludicrous for its extravagant adulation and fustian), Dr Johnson, &c. The amount of talent displayed by the two brothers was pretty equal; for none of James Smith's parodies are more felicitous than that of Scott by Horace. The popularity of the Rejected Addresses seems to have satisfied the ambition of the elder poet. He afterwards confined himself to short anonymous pieces in the New Monthly Magazine and other periodicals, and to the contribution of some humorous sketches and anecdotes towards Mr. Mathews's theatrical entertainments, the authorship of which was known only to a few. The Country Cousins, Trip to France, and Trip to America, mostly written by Smith, and brought out by Mathews at the English Opera House, not only filled the theatre, and replenished the treasury, but brought the witty writer a thousand pounds — a sum to which, we are told, the receiver seldom made allusion without shrugging up his shoulders, and ejaculating, "A thousand pounds for nonsense!" Mr. Smith was still better paid for a trifling exertion of his muse; for, having met at a dinner party the late Mr. Strahan, the king's printer, then suffering from gout and old age, though his. faculties remained unimpaired, he sent him next morning the following jeu d'esprit:—

Your lower limbs seemed far from stout
When last I saw you walk
The cause I presently found out
When you began to talk.
The power that props the body's length,
In due proportion spread,
In you mounts upwards, and the strength
All settles in the head.

Mr. Strahan was so much gratified by the compliment, that be made an immediate codicil to his will, by which he bequeathed to the writer the sum of £3000! Horace Smith, however, mentions that Mr. Strahan had other motives for his generosity, for he respected and loved the man quite as much as he admired the poet. James made a happier, though, in a pecuniary sense, less lucky epigram on Miss Edgeworth:—

We every-day bards may "anonymous" sign—
That refuge, Miss Edgeworth, can never be thine.
Thy writings, where satire and moral unite,
Must bring forth the name of their author to light.
Good and bad join in telling the source of their birth;
The bad own their EDGE, and the good own their WORTH.

The easy social bachelor-life of James Smith was much impaired by hereditary gout. He lived temperately, and at his club-dinner restricted himself to his half-pint of sherry; but as a professed joker and "diner out," he must often have been tempted to over-indulgence and irregular hours. Attacks of gout began to assail him in middle life, and he gradually lost the use and the very form of his limbs, bearing all his sufferings, as his brother states, with "an undeviating and unexampled patience." One of the stanzas in his poem on Chigwell displays his philosophic composure at this period of his life:—

World, in thy ever busy mart
I've acted no unnoticed part—
Would I resume it? oh no!
Four acts are done, the jest grows stale;
The waning lamps burn dim and pale,
And reason asks — Cui bono?

He held it a humiliation to be ill, and never complained or alluded to his own sufferings. He died an the 24th December 1839, aged 65. Lady Blessington said, "If James Smith had not been a witty men, he must have been a great man." His extensive information and refined manners, joined to an inexhaustible fetid of liveliness and humour, and a happy uniform temper, rendered him a fascinating companion. The writings of such a man give but a faint idea of the original; yet in his own walk of literature James Smith has few superiors. Anstey comes most directly into competition with him; yet it may be safely said that the Rejected Addresses will live as long as the New Bath Guide.

The surviving partner of this literary duumvirate — the most constant and interesting, perhaps, since that of Beaumont and Fletcher, and more affectionate from the relationship of the parties — has distinguished himself by his novels and historical romances, and by his generosity to various literary men. Mr. Horace Smith has also written some copies of verses, one of which, the Address to the Mummy, is a felicitous compound of fact, humour, and sentiment, forcibly and originally expressed....

MR. HORACE SMITH, one of the accomplished authors of the Rejected Addresses, was one of the first imitators of Sir Walter Scott in his historical romances. His Brambletye House, a tale of the civil wars, published in 1826, was received with distinguished favour by the public, through some of its descriptions of the plague in London were copied too literally from Defoe, and there was a want of spirit and truth in the embodiment of some of the historical characters. The success of this effort inspired the author to venture into various fields of fiction. He has subsequently written Tor Hill; Zillah, a late of the Holy City; The Midsummer Medley; Walter Colyton; The Involuntary Prophet; Jane Lomax; The Moneyed Man; Adam Brown; The Merchant, &c. The Moneyed Man is the most natural and able of Mr. Smith's novels, and contains some fine pictures of London city life. The author himself is fortunately a moneyed man. "Mr. Shelley said once, 'I know not what Horace Smith must take me for sometimes: I am afraid he must think me a strange fellow; but is it not odd, that the only truly generous person I ever knew, who had money to be generous with, should be a stockbroker! And he writes poetry too,' continued Mr. Shelley, his voice rising in a fervour of astonishment — 'he writes poetry and pastoral dramas, and yet knows how to make money, and does make it, and is still generous'" [author's note: Lord Byron and Some of his Contemporaries, by Leigh Hunt]. The poet also publicly expressed his regard for Mr. Smith.

Wit and sense,
Virtue and human knowledge, all that might
Make this dull world a business of delight,
Are all combined in H. S.