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Introductory Remarks-The chivalric character of Sir Sidney Smith briefly noticed-A succinct account of his family-An anecdote indicative of his future character.
It has always been the heaviest calamity attendant upon mankind, that war has supplied the world with its great men and its heroes. History has afforded us a record of ten conquerors, and men strong in battle, for one just and good man. Such is our natural depravity, that the same remark may be applied, up to the recorded advent of our Saviour, to the Holy Scriptures themselves. It is true that Christianity has pointed out to us other and better glories than those
obtained by the waste of human blood, and the woe and wail of war. But this God-born revelation has been too often heard only to be scoffed at and disregarded. Still worse, it has many times been made the plea for slaughter and the defence of atrocities, in unlimited murder, the most revolting. Men have ever looked upon carnage as the royal road and the short cut to glory.
This being the case, it necessarily follows that the pursuits of war will hold out the most temptation to the ambitious and those conscious of much talent. The competition for military pre-eminence will always be great, and those who may be so fortunate as to obtain that pre-eminence must consequently be found to possess some great superiority over the rest of those who are striving in the same race, though this superiority seldom amounts to real greatness, even in the false worldly sense, in the true, philosophical, and christian, scarcely ever.
Let it not be thought that we undervalue the great natural talents and the high and extensive acquirements that are necessary to form the successful and accomplished commander. They certainly are of the broad, the open, and the palpable order. Though they are not veiled in the highest heaven of philosophic contemplation, or require to be brought from the deepest mines of thought and mental abstraction, yet must they be of that sound, sterling, and well-working nature that a strong mind alone can master a clear one employ them. We detest war-yet, with the general feeling, we admire the warrior.
We have commenced with this somewhat deprecatory introduction, lest hereafter, being carried away by our admiration of the military character of the subject of these Memoirs, we should be thought, in our enthusiasm, to wish to place him in a rank too elevated among those who have achieved for themselves the title of “ Great." All our panegyric must be listened to with a reference to classes of greatness far beyond the reach of the mere warrior.
And, beyond the laurels of the mere warrior, Sir Sidney Smith has won for himself a meed of which no vast desolator or wholesale conqueror can boast. With the prominent heroes, of whatever time, ancient or modern, a well-regulated mind hardly can be brought to sympathise. We admire and shudder. We look
We look upon them as sublime calamities. These fiery scourges in the hands of Providence seem to be so far above or beyond our human affinities, that we can barely entertain with them one feeling in unison. Were they, or any one of them, living, and within
the reach of our every-day communion, were it not for the impulse of vanity, we should never think of offering them our friendship, exposing to them our amiable weaknesses, or of seeking from them an interchange of familiar thoughts. Of their countenance we might be proud, and their approbation we might covet, but of their affection we should never dream.
With this class, neither in the multitude of his victories, nor in vastness of any one conquest, can Sir Sidney Smith be associated. higher degree of praise, a more lofty because a better honour, is due to him. In his person, though he has not revived the age of chivalry, he has shown what is the real splendour of the chivalric character. All his public actions seem to have been less the offspring of mere military calculation and naval science, than of the intuition of the most romantic courage and the highest moral feeling, always controlled by a prudence and intrepidity that no danger, however sudden, could surprise, and no difficulty, however menacing, vanquish. That such is the principal feature of his character the following pages will fully exemplify.
The prepossession in favour of good blood should not be regarded as a prejudice. We should not deny to the human what is conceded to the other animal races. This is less a moral than a mere physical question, though the results are most conspicuously and best shown in moral action. Revelation teaches us, and we devoutly conform to the lesson, that, in the eye of the Omnipotent, all men are equal. This is in a religious sense. But we know that, in a worldly view, not only are all men the one differing from the other, but the races of men show a distinction still more marked. William Sidney Smith possesses the advantage of good blood in a very high degree.
Sir Sidney Smith is a collateral and no very remote relative to the late Lord Chief Baron Sir Sidney Stafford Smithe, and of the Smythe Lord Viscount Strangford. These are descendants from Customer Smith, who flourished in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Consequently, the ancient and genuine orthography of the name is Smythe; but as the subject of this biography has always in his official documents spelt his name SMITH, and as in that spelling the augmentation to his family arms has been granted, to it we shall consequently adhere. Unfortunately, we have no means of ascertaining for what reason or at what time this orthography was changed. It is of but small moment in itself, though, to the antiquarian and the genealogist, it may appear of paramount importance.