In the Opposition and at the Bar this eloquent energy had full scope, “but as Lord Chancellor his selfish disloyalty offended his colleagues while,” as O’Connell remarked, “If Brougham knew a little of Law, he would know a little of everything.” Unquestionably his obvious failings obscured his real eminence, and even hinder us, to-day, from doing full justice to his memory.
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It was the following, somewhat heavy-handed, review which inspired the English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, with all its “extraordinary powers of malicious statement”—truly a Roland for his Oliver.
The third founder of the Edinburgh and one of its most aggressive reviewers, until March, 1827, Sydney Smith has been described as “most provokingly and audaciously personal in his strictures.... He was too complacent, too aboundingly self-satisfied, too buoyantly full of spirits, to hate anybody; but he burlesques them, derides them, and abuses them with the most exasperating effrontery—in a way that is great fun to the reader, but exquisite torture to the victim.” At the same time, his wit was always governed by commonsense (its most prevailing distinction); and, though almost unique among humorists for his personal gaiety, “his best work was done in promoting practical ends, and his wit in its airiest gambols never escaped his control.” There was, in fact, considerable independence—and even courage—in his seriously inspired attacks on various abuses, and on every form of affectation and cant. Though his manners and conversation were not precisely those we generally associate with the Cloth, Sydney Smith published several volumes of sermons, and always accepted the responsibilities of his position as a clergyman with becoming industry. Croker’s veiled sarcasm in the Quarterly (printed below) was no more bitter, or truthful, than similar utterances on any Whig.
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We know little to-day of—
The sacred dramas of Miss Hannah More
Where Moses and the little muses snore,
but, in her own day, she was flattered in society and a real influence among the serious-minded. She understood the poor and gave them practical advice. Sydney Smith, of course, would be in sympathy with her “good works,” but could not resist his joke.