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THESE Lectures were privately printed, in the hope that Mr. Sydney Smith's remaining friends would feel some interest in the occupations of his early years. By these partial judges they have been very generally approved. Several eminent men have counselled their publication; but their fragmental and elementary state seemed to forbid it.
The following letter from Lord Jeffrey (written but three days before his sudden illness, which terminated fatally,) appears to be so decisive of their publication, that, under the shadow of such authority, and with the deepest feelings of gratitude to him for the candour and the affectionate approval shown towards their author, they are no longer withheld from the public.
“ Edinburgh, January 18th, 1850. “My ever dear Mrs. Smith,
“I cannot tell you how grateful I am to you for having sent me this book; not merely (or chiefly) as a proof of your regard, or as a memorial of its loved and lamented author, but for the great and unexpected pleasure I have already derived, and feel sure I shall continue to derive, from its perusal. Though it came to me in the middle of my judicial avocations, and when my infirm health scarcely admitted of any avoidable application, I have been tempted, in the course of the last two days, to read more than the half of it! and find it so much more original, interesting, and instructive than I had anticipated, that I cannot rest till I have not merely expressed my thanks to you for the gratification I have received, but made some amends for the rash and I fear somewhat ungracious judgment I passed upon it, after perusing a few passages of the manuscript, some years ago. I have not recognised any of these passages in any part of the print I am now reading, and think I must have been unfortunate in the selection, or chance, by which I was then directed to them. But, however that be, I am now satisfied that in what I then said, I did great and grievous injustice to the merit of these Lectures, and was quite wrong in dissuading their publication, or concluding that they would add nothing to the reputation of the author; on the contrary, my firm impression is, that, with few exceptions, they will do him as much credit as anything he ever wrote, and produce, on the whole, a stronger impression of the force and vivacity of his intellect, as well as a truer and more engaging view of his character, than most of what the world has yet seen of his writings. The book seems to me to be full of good sense, acuteness, and right feeling — very clearly and pleasingly written — and with such an admirable mixture of logical intrepidity, with the absence of all dogmatism, as is rarely met with in the conduct of such discussions. Some of the conclusions may be questionable; but I do think them generally just, and never propounded with anything like arrogance or in any tone of assumption, and the whole subject treated with quite as much, either of subtlety or profundity, as was compatible with a popular exposition of it.
“I retract therefore, peremptorily and firmly, the advice I formerly gave against the publication of these discourses; and earnestly recommend you to lose no time in letting the public at large have the pleasure and benefit of their perusal. The subject, perhaps, may prevent them from making any great or immediate sensation ; but I feel that they will excite considerable interest, and command universal respect; while the previous circulation of your 100 eleemosynary copies, among persons who probably include the most authoritative and efficient guides of public taste and opinion now living, must go far to secure its early and favourable notice.
"I write this hurriedly, after finishing my legal preparations for to-morrow, and feel that I shall sleep better for this disburdening of my conscience. I feel, too, as if I was secure of your acceptance of this tardy recantation of my former heresies; and that you will be pleased, and even perhaps a little proud, of your convertite! But if not, I can only say that I shall willingly submit to any penance you can find in your heart to impose on me. I know enough of that heart of old, not to be very apprehensive of its severity; and now good night, and God bless you! I am very old, and have many infirmities; but I am tenacious of old friendships, and find much of my present enjoyments in the recollections of the past.
“With all good and kind wishes, " Ever very gratefully and affectionately yours,
“ F. JEFFREY,”