1828 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Horace Smith

Leigh Hunt, in Lord Byron and Some of his Contemporaries (1828) 282-88.



Of James Smith, a fair, stout, fresh-coloured man with round features, I recollect little, except that he used to read to us trim verses, with rhymes pat as butter. The best of his verses are in the Rejected Addresses; and they are excellent. Isaac Hawkins Browne with his Pipe of Tobacco, and all the rhyming jeux-d'esprit in all the Tracts, are extinguished in the comparison; not excepting the Probationary Odes. Mr. Fitzgerald finds himself bankrupt in non sequiturs; Crabbe knoweth not which is which, himself or his parodist; and Lord Byron confessed to me, that the summing up of his philosophy, to wit, that "Nought is every thing, and every thing is nought," was very posing. Mr. Smith would sometimes repeat after dinner, with his brother Horace, an imaginary dialogue, stuffed full of incongruities, that made us roll with laughter. His ordinary verse and prose are too full of the ridicule of city pretensions. To be superior to any thing, it should not always be running in one's head.

His brother Horace was delicious. Lord Byron used to say, that this epithet should be applied only to eatables; and that he wondered a friend of his, who was critical in matters of eating, should use it in any other sense. I know not what the present usage may be in the circles, but classical authority is against his Lordship, from Cicero downwards; and I am content with the modem warrant of another noble wit, the famous Lord Peterborough, who in his fine, open way, said of Fenelon, that he was such a "delicious creature," he was forced to get away from him, "else he would have made him pious!" I grant there is something in the word delicious, which may be said to comprise a reference to every species of pleasant taste. It is at once a quintessence and a miscellany; and a friend, to deserve the epithet, ought to be capable of delighting us as much over our wine and fruit, as on graver occasions. Fenelon himself could do this, with all his piety; or rather he could do it because his piety was of the true sort, and relished of every thing that was sweet and affectionate. The modesty of my friend Horace Smith (which is a manly one, and has no hectic pretensions to what it deprecates) will pardon me this reference to a greater name. He must allow me to add, at some hazard of disturbing him, that a finer nature, except in one instance, I never was acquainted with in man; nor even in that instance, all circumstances considered, have I a right to say that those who knew him as intimately as I did the other person, would not have had the same reasons to love him. The friend I speak of had a very high regard for Mr. Horace Smith, as may be seen by the following verses, the initials in which the reader has now the pleasure of filling up:—

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

Mr. Horace Smith differed with Mr. Shelley on some points; but on others, which all the world agree to praise highly and to practise very little, he agreed so entirely, and showed so unequivocally that he did agree, that (with the exception of one person (V. N.) too diffident to gain such an honour from his friends) they were the only two men I ever knew, from whom I could receive advice or remonstrance with perfect comfort, because I could be sure of the unmixed motives and entire absence of self-reflection, with which it would come from them. Mr. Shelley said to me 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!" Mr. Shelley had reason to like him. Horace Smith was one of the few men, who, through a cloud of detraction, and through all that difference of conduct from the rest of the world, which naturally excites obloquy, discerned the greatness of my friend's character. Indeed, he became a witness to the very unequivocal proof of it, which I mentioned elsewhere. The mutual esteem was accordingly very great, and arose from circumstances most honourable to both parties. "I believe," said Mr. Shelley on another occasion, "that I have only to say to Horace Smith that I want a hundred pounds or two, and he would send it me without any eye to its being returned; such faith has he that I have something within me beyond what the world supposes, and that I could only ask his money for a good purpose." And he would have sent for it accordingly, if the person for whom it was intended had not said nay. I will now mention the circumstance, which first gave my friend a regard for Mr. Smith. It concerns the person just mentioned, who is a man of letters. It came to Mr. Smith's knowledge, some years ago, that this person was suffering bitterly under a pecuniary trouble. He knew little of him at the time, but had met him occasionally; and he availed himself of this circumstance to write him a letter as full of delicacy and cordiality as it could hold, making it a matter of grace to accept a bank-note of 100 l. which he enclosed. I speak on the best authority, that of the obliged person himself; who adds that he not only did accept the money, but felt as light and happy under the obligation, as he has felt miserable under the very report of being obliged to some; and he says, that nothing could induce him to withhold his name, but a reason which the generous would excuse. From his friends in private he has no reason to conceal it, and he does not, as I can testify: and there is one thing more which he says he will conceal from nobody; which is, that subsequently to that obligation, he incurred others from the friend in question, which not only taxed his friend's kindness, but his patience; and that notwithstanding these trials, the other was still so generous to discern in him what was well-intentioned from what was badly managed, and has retained to this hour so kind an opinion of him, that he never makes a step in better management (for his slow progress in which he has had more excuses than most people, in sickness, temperament, and a total want of education for it,) but he is accompanied, and assisted, with the hope of pleasing him before long, with the sight of the fruits of it. Such friends, and such only, (including those whose wish to act like them is as unequivocal as their inability,) are the friends that do a man all the good that can be done him, because they are not only generous to his virtues, but as humane to his faults as other people are to their own. For my part, I scarcely ever write a page which the public thinks worth reading, and which they like because it serves to keep them in heart with nature and mankind, but Horace Smith is one of those friends whom I fancy myself talking with, and whom I wish to gratify. It is such as he that a humanist would have the world become, and that furnish a proof that the wish is not founded in impossibility. Swift said, that if the world contained a dozen Arbuthnots, he would burn his books. I am convinced, that the world contains hundreds of Arbuthnots, if education would but do their natures justice. Give me the education of a community, in which mutual help instead of selfish rivalry was the principle inculcated, and riches regarded not as the end but the means, and I would undertake, not upon the strength of my own ability, but on the sole ground of the absence of what is at present taught us, to fill the place full of Arbuthnots and Horace Smiths; not indeed, as to wit and talent, but with all their geniality and sense and open-heartedness; with the same reasonableness of gain, and readiness of enjoyment.

When Mr. Horace Smith sees this account of himself, he will think that too much has been said of his generosity: and he would be right, if society were constituted otherwise than it is. Actions of this kind are not so common in trading communities as in others; because people learn to taste the value of every sixpence that passes through their hands. And for the same reason they are more extravagantly admired; sometimes with a fatuity of astonishment, sometimes with an envy that seeks relief in sarcasm. All these excesses of homage are painful to a man, who would fain have everybody as natural and generous as himself; but the just tribute must not be withheld on that account; otherwise there would be still fewer counteractions to the selfishness so abundantly taught us. At the period in question, I have said that Mr. Smith was a stockbroker. He left business with a fortune, and went to live in France, where, if he did not increase, he did not seriously diminish it; and France added to the pleasant stock of his knowledge.

On returning to England, he set about exerting himself in a manner equally creditable to his talents and interesting to the public. I will not insult either the modesty or the understanding of Mr. Horace Smith, by comparing him with the author of "Old Mortality" and "Guy Mannering:" but I will venture to say, that the earliest of his novels, "Brambletye House," ran a hard race with the novel of "Woodstock," and that it contained more than one character not unworthy of the best volumes of Sir Walter. I allude to the ghastly troubles of the Regicide in his lone house; the outward phlegm and merry inward malice of Winky Boss (a happy name), who gravely smoked a pipe with his mouth, and laughed with his eyes; and, above all, to the character of the princely Dutch merchant, who would cry out that he should be ruined, at seeing a few nutmegs dropped from a bag, and would then go and give a thousand ducats for an antique. This is hitting the high mercantile character to a nicety,—minute and careful in its means, princely in its ends. If the ultimate effect of commerce ("perinulti transibunt," &c.) were not something very different from what its pursuers imagine, the character would be a dangerous one to society at large, because it throws a gloss over the spirit of money-getting, which in a thousand instances to one is a debasing spirit; but meanwhile nobody could paint it better, or has a right to recommend it more, than he who has been the first to make it a handsome portrait.

The personal appearance of Mr. Horace Smith, like that of all the individuals I ever met with, is highly indicative of his character. His figure is good and manly, inclining to the robust; and his countenance extremely frank and cordial, sweet without weakness. I have been told, he is irascible. If so, his city training is in fault, not he. He has not a jot of it in his appearance.