« AnteriorContinua »
with them to his seat at Midgham in Berkshire. The mansion had been built by Captain Smith's father, and the extensive grounds surrounding it were laid out with great taste. Among the other accessories to the beauty of the place was a large piece of deep water, which immediately attracted the almost undivided attention of the embryo admiral—almost, we say, for even then he showed symptoms of that refined and graceful gallantry to the softer sex that has always marked his character. In fact, he divided his attention with a tolerable impartiality between a young lady of his own age, (eleven years,) this piece of water, and a large washing-tub.
It was the custom of Captain Smith to summon all his household to prayer every evening, and they were called together, in a kind of patriarchal fashion, by the sounding of a horn. One summer's evening the horn was blown the usual number of times; but to the customary blast no William Sidney appeared.
The father grew alarmed, and, as his fears arose, so did the echoes of the horn upon the evening breeze.
The young absentee heard the holy summons plainly enough, but he did not obey it, solely because he could not.
His non-appearance had caused great alarm, and the evening devotions were postponed in order that the household might search for the lost and beloved son. He was at length found in a situation extremely nautical, but agreeable only to himself. He had embarked in the large washing-tub his youthful protegée, and taking a long pole, he had contrived, by its means, to place his circular ship, with himself and
passenger, in the very centre of the large and deep water. We know very well, upon the best authority, which is that of the nursery, that, when seven wise men went to sea in a bowl, they made a very foolish expedition of it; we must not, therefore, greatly blame young Smith when we relate that by some inadvertence, probably a slight attention to the young lady, the companion of his dangers, he lost his pole.
Unfortunately, just as his alarmed father arrived, it fell calm, and the only motion the tub had was that unpleasant one of the pillory, going slowly round and round. There stood the future hero of many fights, with his arms folded in a manner that reminds one now of the prints of Napoleon on the Island of St. Helena.
Those on shore were totally at a loss how safely to bring the frail vessel with its precious charge on shore, for a very little shifting or tottering would have overturned it. None of the spectators could swim, and night was drawing on
apace, when, to add to the dismal nature of the scene, William Sidney's companion began to wail most bitterly. Indeed, the situation of the children became critical, if not dangerous. It fell, however, to the lot of him who had created, to unravel the difficulty. Having sufficiently enjoyed the glory of his situation, (he was always a little fond of display,) he hailed those on shore, and told them to fasten the string of his kite to a favourite dog that belonged to him. This being done, he called him to the tub, and thus conveyed a towing line on board the first craft that he had the honour of commanding.
When the tub was brought to the bank of the lake, so nicely fitted was the cargo to the tonnage of the tub, that the children were nearly drowned, because the one was attempted to be taken out a little before the other. The father and one of the servants at length snatched them both out simultaneously, and flung them on the grass. Captain Smith was so much affected that he could not, at fir:t, speak.
“Now, father, we will go to prayers,” said the young desperado.
“ We had better,” he replied, with feelings that a father only can appreciate.
Though this anecdote may be, by some, deemed puerile, we think that it strongly marks the two principal traits of character that Sir Sidney displayed through the whole course of his life-a recklessness in running into danger, and great resources of mind in getting out of it with credit.
It was at Midgham that William Sidney formed some of his most useful and distinguished friendships ; among others, the Duke of St. Albans, the Lords Rivers and Delaware, and Lord Rodney, who was a constant visiter, and with whom he first went to sea.
William Sidney Smith did not long remain under the paternal roof, and, during the small time that he enjoyed that advantage and happiness, he was deprived of the soothing attention of one who, on account of those differences so much to be deplored, with her family, was unfortunately living separate from her husband. She did not survive to witness the renown of her sprightly and favourite son, as she passed into a happier state of existence before he returned from his second trip to
She died and was interred at Bath. Those who knew well Sir Sidney Smith in his boyhood, describe him as then being a most vivacious specimen of juvenility-quick, daring, and mercu
curial, and not far removed from a little Pickle. In his person, though of small size, he was eminently handsome, with clustering and
curling black hair, dark clear complexion, and with a high colour. At the earliest age he evinced an utter contempt of danger, and a decision of character, that, under proper training, warranted the most sanguine hopes of future excellence. Among his other qualities, an aptitude for invention, and a power of adaptation of his then limited capabilities, both in the prosecution of his studies and amusements, early displayed themselves. He was a boy for whom you might fear a little, whom you could not help loving much, and whom you must admire entirely.