Reviews

‘an intriguing read . . . keeps the reader guessing . . . a lot to enjoy in this romp through the Cambridge Commons . . . a strong sense of place and a narrative style that is both energetic and engaging.’ [Dead Letters]

- Margaret Murphy, SHERLOCK

Low Spirits

It’s that time of year. It’s dark when I wake up and dark again by the time my daughter gets home. A succession of grey days when it never seems to get properly light sends my spirits plummeting. My friend Sue has been been feeling low, too: no secret as she has been blogging about it and I sent her something a friend once wrote out and sent to me: Sydney Smith’s letter to Lady Georgiana Morpeth.

Dear Lady Georgiana,– Nobody has suffered more from low spirits than I have done — so I feel for you. 1st. Live as well as you dare. 2nd. Go into the shower-bath with a small quantity of water at a temperature low enough to give you a slight sensation of cold, 75° or 80°. 3rd. Amusing books. 4th. Short views of human life — not further than dinner or tea. 5th. Be as busy as you can. 6th. See as much as you can of those friends who respect and like you. 7th. And of those acquaintances who amuse you. 8th. Make no secret of low spirits to your friends, but talk of them freely — they are always worse for dignified concealment. 9th. Attend to the effects tea and coffee produce upon you. 10th. Compare your lot with that of other people. 11th. Don’t expect too much from human life — a sorry business at the best. 12th. Avoid poetry, dramatic representations (except comedy), music, serious novels, melancholy, sentimental people, and everything likely to excite feeling or emotion, not ending in active benevolence. 13th. Do good, and endeavour to please everybody of every degree. 14th. Be as much as you can in the open air without fatigue. 15th. Make the room where you commonly sit, gay and pleasant. 16th. Struggle by little and little against idleness. 17th. Don’t be too severe upon yourself, or underrate yourself, but do yourself justice. 18th. Keep good blazing fires. 19th. Be firm and constant in the exercise of rational religion. 20th. Believe me, dear Lady Georgiana,
Very truly yours,
Sydney Smith

It was written on Feb. 16, 1820 so maybe the weather was getting her down, too. And very good advice it is, too.

I fell in love with Sydney Smith after reading The Smith of Smiths by Hesketh Pearson. Smith was not only a great wit, but a truly charming man, devoted to his wife and family, and a loyal friend and a good clergyman. I felt a certain fellow-feeling with him, too, as he found it hard to be appointed a country parson in Yorkshire so far from London, but it was his nature to make the best things. He loved children and wrote that if he had been a rich man he would have liked to have twenty: ‘There is more happiness in a multitude of children than safety in a multitude of counsellors’ and ‘the haunts of Happiness are varied and rather unaccountable; but I have most often see her among little children, and home firesides, and in country houses, than anywhere else . . .’ Pearson’s biography is good, but it was written in the thirties. Time perhaps for someone to write a new one?