James Smith One Of The Authors Of Rejected Addresses
A writer in the Law Quarterly Magazine says:--To the best of our
information, James's coup d'essai in literature was a hoax in
the shape of a series of letters to the editor of the Gentleman's
Magazine, detailing some extraordinary antiquarian discoveries and
facts in natural history, which the worthy Sylvanus Urban inserted
without the least suspicion. In 1803, he became a constant contributor
to the Pic-Nic and Cabin
t weekly journals, in conjunction with Mr.
Cumberland, Sir James Bland Burgess, Mr. Horatio Smith, and others. The
principal caterer for these publications was Colonel Greville, on whom
Lord Byron has conferred a not very enviable immortality--
"Or hail at once the patron and the pile
Of vice and folly, Greville and Argyle."
One of James Smith's favourite anecdotes related to him. The Colonel
requested his young ally to call at his lodgings, and in the course
of their first interview related the particulars of the most curious
circumstance in his life. He was taken prisoner during the American
war, along with three other officers of the same rank; one evening they
were summoned into the presence of Washington, who announced to them
that the conduct of their Government, in condemning one of his officers
to death as a rebel, compelled him to make reprisals; and that, much to
his regret, he was under the necessity of requiring them to cast lots,
without delay, to decide which of them should be hanged. They were then
bowed out, and returned to their quarters. Four slips of paper were put
into a hat, and the shortest was drawn by Captain Asgill, who exclaimed,
"I knew how it would be; I never won so much as a hit of backgammon in
my life." As Greville told the story, he was selected to sit up with
Captain Asgill, under the pretext of companionship, but, in reality, to
prevent him from escaping, and leaving the honour amongst the remaining
three. "And what," inquired Smith, "did you say to comfort him?" "Why, I
remember saying to him, when they left us, D---- it, old fellow, never
mind;" but it may be doubted (added Smith) whether he drew much comfort
from the exhortation. Lady Asgill persuaded the French minister to
interpose, and the captain was permitted to escape.
Both James and Horatio Smith were also contributors to the Monthly
Mirror, then the property of Mr. Thomas Hill, a gentleman who had
the good fortune to live familiarly with three or four generations of
authors; the same, in short, with whom the subject of this memoir thus
playfully remonstrated: "Hill, you take an unfair advantage of an
accident; the register of your birth was burnt in the great fire of
London, and you now give yourself out for younger than you are."
The fame of the Smiths, however, was confined to a limited circle until
the publication of the Rejected Addresses, which rose at once into
almost unprecedented celebrity.
James Smith used to dwell with much pleasure on the criticism of a
Leicestershire clergyman: "I do not see why they (the Addresses)
should have been rejected: I think some of them very good." This, he
would add, is almost as good as the avowal of the Irish bishop, that
there were some things in Gulliver's Travels which he could not
Though never guilty of intemperance, James was a martyr to the gout;
and, independently of the difficulty he experienced in locomotion, he
partook largely of the feeling avowed by his old friend Jekyll, who used
to say that, if compelled to live in the country, he would have the
drive before his house paved like the streets of London, and hire a
hackney-coach to drive up and down all day long.
He used to tell, with great glee, a story showing the general conviction
of his dislike to ruralities. He was sitting in the library at a
country-house, when a gentleman proposed a quiet stroll into the
"'Stroll! why, don't you see my gouty shoe?'
"'Yes, I see that plain enough, and I wish I'd brought one too,
but they're all out now.'
"'Well, and what then?'
"'What then? Why, my dear fellow, you don't mean to say that you
have really got the gout? I thought you had only put on that shoe
to get off being shown over the improvements.'"
His bachelorship is thus attested in his niece's album:
"Should I seek Hymen's tie,
As a poet I die,
Ye Benedicts mourn my distresses:
For what little fame
Is annexed to my name,
Is derived from Rejected Addresses."
The two following are amongst the best of his good things. A gentleman
with the same Christian and surname took lodgings in the same house. The
consequence was, eternal confusion of calls and letters. Indeed, the
postman had no alternative but to share the letters equally between the
two. "This is intolerable, sir," said our friend, "and you must quit."
"Why am I to quit more than you?" "Because you are James the Second--and
Mr. Bentley proposed to establish a periodical publication, to be called
The Wit's Miscellany. Smith objected that the title promised too much.
Shortly afterwards, the publisher came to tell him that he had profited
by the hint, and resolved on calling it Bentley's Miscellany. "Isn't
that going a little too far the other way?" was the remark.
A capital pun has been very generally attributed to him. An actor, named
Priest, was playing at one of the principal theatres. Some one remarked
at the Garrick Club, that there were a great many men in the pit.
"Probably, clerks who have taken Priest's orders." The pun is perfect,
but the real proprietor is Mr. Poole, one of the best punsters as well
as one of the cleverest comic writers and finest satirists of the day.
It has also been attributed to Charles Lamb.
Formerly, it was customary, on emergencies, for the judges to swear
affidavits at their dwelling-houses. Smith was desired by his father to
attend a judge's chambers for that purpose, but being engaged to dine in
Russell-square, at the next house to Mr. Justice Holroyd's, he thought
he might as well save himself the disagreeable necessity of leaving the
party at eight by dispatching his business at once: so, a few minutes
before six, he boldly knocked at the judge's, and requested to speak
to him on particular business. The judge was at dinner, but came down
without delay, swore the affidavit, and then gravely asked what was the
pressing necessity that induced our friend to disturb him at that hour.
As Smith told the story, he raked his invention for a lie, but finding
none fit for the purpose, he blurted out the truth:--
"'The fact is, my lord, I am engaged to dine at the next
"'And, sir, you thought you might as well save your own dinner by
"'Exactly so, my lord, but----'
"'Sir, I wish you a good evening.'"
Smith was rather fond of a joke on his own branch of the profession;
he always gave a peculiar emphasis to the line in his song on the
contradiction of names:
"Mr. Makepeace was bred an attorney;"
and would frequently quote Goldsmith's lines on Hickey, the associate
of Burke and other distinguished cotemporaries:
"He cherished his friend, and he relished a bumper;
Yet one fault he had, and that was a thumper,
Then, what was his failing? come, tell it, and burn ye:
He was, could he help it? a special attorney."
The following playful colloquy in verse took place at a dinner-table
between Sir George Rose and himself, in allusion to Craven-street,
Strand, where he resided:--
"J. S.--'At the top of my street the attorneys abound.
And down at the bottom the barges are found:
Fly, Honesty, fly to some safer retreat,
For there's craft in the river, and craft in the street.'"
"Sir G. R.--'Why should Honesty fly to some safer retreat,
From attorneys and barges, od rot 'em?
For the lawyers are just at the top of the street,
And the barges are just at the bottom.'"
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