Sydney Smith.

The works of Rev. Sydney Smith : including his contributions to the Edinburgh Review (Volume 1) online

. (page 7 of 66)
Online LibrarySydney SmithThe works of Rev. Sydney Smith : including his contributions to the Edinburgh Review (Volume 1) → online text (page 7 of 66)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


To secure a supply of it by vexatious
and invidious laws, is surely a work
of supererogation and danger. The
greatest evil which the Government
has yet had to contend with is, the in-
ordinate use of spirituous liquors; a
passion which puts the interests of
agriculture at variance with those of
morals : for a dram-drinker will con-
sume as much corn, in the form of
alcohol, in one day, as would sup-
ply him with bread for three ; and
thus, by his vices, opens an admirable
market to the industry of a new set-
tlement. The only mode, we be-
lieve, of encountering this evil, is by
deriving from it such a revenue as
will not admit of smuggling. Be-
yond this it is almost invincible by
authority ; and is probably to be cured
VOL. I.



only by the progressive refinement of
manners.

To evince the increasing commerce
of the settlement, a list is subjoined of
140 ships, which have arrived there
since its first foundation, forty only of
which were from England. The colony
at Norfolk Island is represented to be
in a very deplorable situation, and
will most probably be abandoned for
one about to be formed on Van
Diemen's Land*, though the capital
defect of the former settlement has
been partly obviated, by a discovery of
the harbour for small craft.

The most important and curious infi r-
mation contained in this volume, is the
discovery of straits which separate Van
Diemen's Land (hitherto considered as
its southern extremity) from New
Holland. For this discovery we are
indebted to Mr. Bass, a surgeon, after
whom the straits have been named,
and who was led to a suspicion of
their existence by a prodigious swell
which he observed to set in from the
westward, at the mouth of the opening
which he had reached on a voyage of
discovery, prosecuted in a common
whale-boat. To verify this suspicion,
he proceeded afterwards in a vessel of
25 tons, accompanied by Mr. Flinders,
a naval gentleman ; and, entering the
straits between the latitudes of 39 J and
40 south, actually circumnavigated
Van Diemen's Land. Mr. Bass's ideas
of the importance of this discovery we
shall give from his narrative, as re-
ported by Mr. Collins.

"The most prominent advantage which
seemed likely to accrue to the settlement
from this discovery was, the expediting of
the passage from the Cape of Good Hope to
Port Jackson : for, although a line drawn
from the Cape to 44 of south latitude, and
to the longitude of the South Cape of Van
Diemen's Land, would not sensibly differ
from one drawn to the latitude of 40 to
the same longitude ; yet it must be allowed,



* It is singular that Government are not
more desirous of pushing their settlements
rather to the north than the south of
Port Jackson. The soil and climate would
probably improve, in the latitude nearer
the equator; and settlements in that po-
sition would be more contiguous to our
Indian colonies.

D



34

that a ship will be four degrees nearer to
Port Jackson in the latter situation than it
would be in the former! But there is, per-
haps, a greater advantage to be gained by
making a passage through the strait, than
the mere saving of four degrees of latitude
along the coast. The major part of the
ships that have arrived at Port Jackson
have met with N. E. winds, on opening the
sea round the South Cape and Cape Pillar ;
and have been so much retarded by them,
that a fourteen days' passage to the port is
reckoned to be a fair one, although the dif-
ference of latitude is but ten degrees, and
the most prevailing winds at the latter
place are from S. E. to S. in summer, and
from W. S. W. to S. in winter. If, by going



J. FIEVEE.

Such nre the most important con-
ents of Mr. Collins's book, the style
>f which we very much approve, be-
ause it appears to be written by him-
elf; and we must repeat again, that
lothing can be more injurious to the
pinion the public will form of the
authenticity of a book of this kind,
han the suspicion that it has been
ricked out and embellished by other
lands. Such men, to be sure, have
ixisted as Julius Crcsar ; but, in gene-
ral, a correct and elegant style is hardly
utninable by those who have passed
heir lives in action : and no one has



through Bass Strait, these N. E. winds can
be avoided, which in many cases would pro-
bably be the case, there is no doubt but a
week or more would be gained by it ; and
the expense, with the wear and tear of a
ship for one week, are objects to most
owners, more especially when freighted
with convicts by the run.

"This strait likewise presents another
advantage. From the prevalence of the
N. K. and easterly winds off the South
Cape, many suppose that a passage may be
made from thence to the westward, either to
the Cape of Good Hope, or to India ; but the
fear of the great unknown bight between the
South Cape and the S. W. Cape of Lewen's
Land, lying in about 35 south and 113 east,
has hitherto prevented the trial being made.
Now, the strait removes a part of this dan-
per, by presenting a certain place of retreat,
should a gale oppose itself to the ship in
the first part of the essay : and should the
wind come at S. W. she need not fear
making a good stretch to the W. N.W.,
which course, if made good, is within a few
degrees of going clear of all. There is,
besides, King George the Third's Sound
discovered by Captain Vancouver, situate
in the latitude of 35 3i' south, and longi-
tude 118 12' east; and it is to be hoped,
that a few years will disclose many others
upon the coast, as well as the confirmation
or futility of the conjecture, that a still
larper than Bass Strait dismembers New
Holland." (p. 192, 193.)

We learn from a note subjoined to
this passage, that in order to verify 01
refute this conjecture, of the existence
of other important inlets on the west
coast of New Holland, Captain Flinders
has sailed with two ships under his
command, and is said to be accom
panied by several professional men o
considerable ability.



such a pedantic love of good writing,
as to prefer mendacious finery to rough
and angrammatical truth. The events
which Mr. Collins's book records, we
lave read with great interest. There
s a charm in thus seeing villages, and
churches, and farms, rising from a
wilderness, where civilised man has
never set his foot since the creation
of the world. The contrast between
fertility and barrenness, population and
solitude, activity and indolence, fill the



mind with the pleasin;
piness and increase.



images of hap-
Man seems to

move in his proper sphere, while he is
thus dedicating the powers of his mind
and body to reap those rewards which
the bountiful Author of all things has
assigned to his industry. Neither is it
any common enjoyment, to turn for a
while from the memory of those dis-
tractions which have so recently agi-
tated the Old World ; and to reflect,
that its very horrors and crimes may
have thus prepared a long asra of opu-
lence and peace for a people yet in-
volved in the womb of time.



J. FIEVEE. (E. REVIEW, 1803.)
Lettres sur VAngleterre. Par J. Fiev6e.

1802.

OF all the species of travels, that which
has moral observation for its object
is the most liable to error, and has
the greatest difficulties to overcome,
before it can arrive at excellence.
Stones, and roots, and leaves, are sub-
jects which may exercise the under-
standing without rousing the passions.



J. FIEVEE.



35



A mineralogical traveller will hardly
fall foul upon the granite and the
feldspar -of other countries than his
own ; a botanist will not conceal its
nondescripts ; and an agricultural
tourist will faithfully detail the average
crop per acre ; but the traveller who
observes on the manners, habits, and
institutions of other countries, must
have emancipated his mind from the
extensive and powerful dominion of
association, must have extinguished
the agreeable and deceitful feelings of
national vanity, and cultivated that
patient humility which builds general
inferences only upon the repetition of
individual facts. Everything he sees
shocks some passion or natters it ; and
he is perpetually seduced to distort
facts, so as to render them agreeable
to his system and his feelings. Books
of travels are now published in such
vast abundance, that it may not be
useless, perhaps, to state a few of the
reasons why their value so commonly
happens to be in the inverse ratio of
their number.

1st. Travels are bad, from a want
of opportunity for observation in
those who write them. If the sides
of a building are to be measured, and
the number of its windows to be
counted, a very short space of time
may suffice for these operations ; but
to gain such a knowledge of their pre-
valent opinions and propensities, as
will enable a stranger to comprehend
(what is commonly called) the genius
of a people, requires a long residence
among them, a familiar acquaintance
with their language, and an easy cir-
culation among their various societies.
The society into which a transient
stranger gains the most easy access in
any country, is not often that which
ought to stamp the national character ;
and no criterion can be no more falli-
ble, in a people so reserved and inac-
cessible as the British, who (even when
they open their doors to letters of
introduction) cannot for years over-
come the awkward timidity of their
nature. The same expressions are of
so different a value in different coun-
tries, the same actions proceed from
such different causes, and produce such



different effects, that a judgment of
foreign nations, founded on rapid obser-
vation, is almost certainly a mere tissue
of ludicrous and disgraceful mistakes ;
and yet a residence of a month or two
seems to entitle a traveller to present
the world with a picture of manners
in London, Paris, or Vienna, and even
to dogmatise upon the political, reli-
gious, and legal institutions, as if it
were one and the same thing to speak
of abstract effects of such institutions,
and of their effects combined with all
the peculiar circumstances in which
any nation may be placed.

2ndly. An affectation of quickness
in observation, an intuitive glance that
requires only a moment, and a part, to
judge of a perpetuity, and a whole. The
late Air. Petion, who was sent over
into this country to acquire a know-
ledge of our criminal law, is said to
have declared himself thoroughly in-
formed upon the subject, alter remain-
ing precisely two and thirty minutes in
the Old Bailey.

3rdly. The tendency to found obser-
vation on a system, rather than a
system upon observation. The fact is,
there are very few original eyes and
ears. The great mass see and hear as
they are directed by others, and bring
back from a residence in foreign conn-
tries nothing but the vague and cus-
tomary notions concerning it, which
are carried and brought back for half
a century, without verification or
change. The most ordinary shape in
which this tendency to prejudge makes
its appearance among travellers, is by
a disposition to exalt, or, a still more
absurd disposition, to depreciate their
native country. They are incapable
of considering a foreign people but
under one single point of view the re-
lation in which they stand to their
own ; and the whole narrative is fre-
quently nothing more than a mere
triumph of national vanity, or the os-
tentation of superiority to so common
a failing.

But we are wasting our time in
giving a theory of the faults of tra-
vellers, when we have such ample
means of exemplifying them all from
the publication now before us, in which



36



J. FIEVEE.



Mr. Jacob Fierce, with the most sur-
prising talents for doing wrong, has
contrived to condense and agglomerate
every species of absurdity that has
hitherto been made known, and even
to launch out occasionally into new
regions of nonsense, with a boldness
which well entitles him to the merit
of originality in folly, and discovery
in impertinence. We consider Mr.
Fievee's book as extremely valuable in
one point of view. It affords a sort of
limit or mindmark, beyond which we
conceive it to be impossible in future
that pertness and petulance should
pass. It is well to be acquainted with
the oonnaaries of our nature on both
sides ; and to Mr. Fievee we are in-
debted for this valuable approach to
pessimism. The height of knowledge
no man has yet scanned ; but we have
now pretty well fathomed the gulf of
ignorance.

We must, however, do justice to
Mr. Fievee when he deserves it. He
evinces, in his preface, a lurking un-
easiness at the apprehension of ex-
citing war between the two countries,
from the anger to which his letters will
give birth in England. He pretends to
deny that they will occasion a war; but
it is very easy to see he is not convinced
by his own arguments; and we confess
ourselves extremely pleased by this
amiable solicitude at the probable effu-
sion of human blood. We hope Mr.
Fievee is deceived by his philanthropy,
and that no such unhappy consequences
will ensue, as he really believes, though
he affects to deny them. We dare to
say the dignity of this country will be
satisfied, if the publication in question
is disowned by the French government,
or, at most, if the author is given up.
At all events, we have no scruple to
say, that to sacrifice 20,000 lives, and
a hundred millions of money, to resent
Mr. Fievee's book, would be an un-
justifiable waste of blood and treasure ;
and that to take him off privately by
assassination would be an undertaking
hardly compatible with the dignity of
a great empire.

To show, however, the magnitude of
the provocation, we shall specify a few
of the charges which he makes against



the English. That they do not under-
stand fireworks as well as the French;
that they charge a shilling for admis-
sion to the exhibition ; that they have
the misfortune of being incommoded
by a certain disgraceful privilege, called
the liberty of the press ; that the opera
band plays out of tune : that the
English are so fond of drinking, that
they get drunk with a certain air called
the gas of Paradise ; that the privilege
of electing members of Parliament is
so burthensome, that cities sometimes
petition to be exempted from it ; that
the great obstacle to a parliamentary
reform is the mob ; that women some-
times have titles distinct from those of
their husbands, although, in England,
anybody can sell his wife at market,
with a rope about her neck. To these
complaints he adds that the English
are so far from enjoying that equality
of which their partisans boast, that
none but the servants of the higher
nobility can carry canes behind a
carriage ; that the power which the
French Kings had of pardoning before
trial, is much the same thing as the
English mode of pardoning after trial ;
that he should conceive it to be a good
reason fur rejecting any measure in
France, that it was imitated from the
English, who have no family affections,
and who love money so much, that
their first question, in an inquiry con-
cerning the character of any man, is,
as to his degree of fortune. Lastly,
Mr. Fievee alleges against the English,
that they have great pleasure in con-
templating the spectacle of men de-
prived of their reason. And indeed
we must have the candour to allow,
that the hospitality which Mr. Fievee
experienced seems to afford some pre-
text for this assertion.

One of the principal objects of Mr.
Fievee's book, is to combat the Anglo-
mania, which has raged so long among
his countrymen, and which prevailed
at Paris, to such an excess, that even
Mr. Neckar, a foreigner (incredible as
it may seem), after having been twice
minister of France, retained a consider-
able share of admiration for the English
government. This is quite inexplicable.
But this is nothing to the treason of



ISLAND OF CEYLON.



37



the Encyclopedists, who, instead of
attributing the merit of the experi-
mental philosophy and the reasoning
by induction to a Frenchman, have
shown themselves so lost to all sense of
the duty which they owed their country,
that they have attributed it to an
Englishman*, of the name of Bacon,
and this for no better reason, than that
he really was the author of it. The
whole of this passage is written so
entirely in the genius of Mr. Fievee,
and so completely exemplifies that
very caricature species of Frenchmen
from which our gross and popular
notions of the whole people are taken,
that we shall give the passage at full
length, cautiously abstaining from the
sin of translating it.

"Quand je reproche aux philosophes
d'avoir vante FAngleterre, par haine pour
les institutions qui soutenoient la France,
je ne hasarde rien, et je foumirai une nou-
velle preuve de cette assertion, en citant
les encyclopedistes, chefs avou6s de la phi-
losophic moderne.

" Comment nous ont-ils pr6sent6 1'En
cyclopedic? Comme un monument im-
mortel, comme le depot precieux de toutes
les connoissances humaines. Sous quel par
tronage 1'ont-ils 61ev6 ce monument im-
mortel ? Est-ce sous 1'egide des ecrivains
dont la France s'honoroit? Non, Us ont
choisi pour maitre et pour idole, un Anglais,
Bacon; ils lui on fait dire tout ce qu'ils
ont voulu, parce que cet auteur, extraordi-
nairemeut volumineux, n'etoit pas connu
en France, et ne Test guere en Angleterre
que de quelques hommes studieux; mais
les philosophes sentoient que leur succes,
pour introduire des nouveautes, tenoit
faire croire qu'elles n'etoient pas neuves
pour les grands esprits; et comme les
grands esprits francais, trop connus, ne se
pretoient pas & un pareil dessein, les philo-
sophes ont eu recours & 1' Angleterre. Ainsi
un ouvrage fait en France, et offert d, 1'ad-
miration de 1'Europe comme 1'ouvrage par
excellence, fut mis par des Francais sous la
protection du g6nie anglais. O honte ! Et
les philosophes se sont dit patriotes, et la
France, pour prix de sa degradation, leur a
eleve des statues ! Le siecle qui commence
plus juste, parce qu'il a le sentiment de la
veritable grandeur, laissera ces statues e'



* " Gaul was conquered by a person o:
the name of Julius Caesar," is the firs'
phrase in one of Mr. Newberry's little
books.



'Encyclopedic s'ensevelir sous la meme
poussiere."

When to this are added the com-
mendations that have been bestowed
on Newton, the magnitude and the
originality of the discoveries which
lave been attributed to him, the ad-
miration which the works of Locke
aave excited, and the homage that has
jeen paid to Milton and Shakspeare,
the treason which lurks at the bottom
of it all will not escape the penetrating
_lance of Mr. Fievee ; and he will
discern that same cause, from which
every good Frenchman knows the de-
feat of Aboukir and of the first of June
to have proceeded the monster Pitt,
and his English guineas.



ISLAND OF CEYLON.
(E. REVIEW, 1803.)

An Account of the Island of Ceylon. By
Robert Percival, Esq. of his Majesty's
Nineteenth Regiment of Foot. London.
C. and R. Baldwin.

IT is now little more than half a cen-
tury since the English first began to
establish themselves in any force upon
the peninsula of India ; and we at pre-
sent possess, in that country, a more
extensive territory, and a more nume-
rous population, than any European
power can boast of at home. In no
instance has the genius of the English,
and their courage, shone forth more
conspicuously than in their contest with
the French for the empire of India.
The numbers on both sides were always
inconsiderable ; but the two nations
were fairly matched against each other,
in the cabinet and the field ; the strug-
gle was long and obstinate ; and, at
the conclusion, the French remained
masters of a dismantled town, and the
English of the grandest and most ex-
tensive colony that the world has ever
seen. To attribute this success to the
superior genius of Clive, is not to di-
minish the reputation it confers on his
country, which reputation must of
course be elevated by the number of
great men to which it gives birth. But
the French were by no means deficient
in casualties of genius at that period,



38



ISLAND OF CEYLON.



unless Bussy is to be considered as a
man of common stature of mind, or
Dupleix to be classed with the vulgar
herd of politicians. Neither was Clive
(though he clearly stands forward as
the most prominent figure in the group)
without the aid of some military men
of very considerable talents. Clive ex-
tended our Indian empire ; but General
Lawrence preserved it to be extended ;
and the former caught, perhaps, from
the latter, that military spirit by which
he soon became a greater soldier than
him, without whom he never would
have been a soldier at all.

Gratifying as these reflections upon
our prowess in India are to national
pride, they bring with them the painful
reflection, that so considerable a portion
of our strength and wealth is vested
upon such precarious foundations, and
at such an immense distance from the
parent country. The glittering frag-
ments of the Portuguese empire, scat-
tered up and down the East, should
teach us the instability of such do-
minion. We are (it is true) better
capable of preserving what we have
obtained, than any other nation which
has ever colonised in Southern Asia ;
but the object of ambition is so tempt-
ing, and the perils to which it is ex-
posed so numerous, that no calculating
mind can found any durable conclu-
sions upon this branch of our commerce,
and this source of our strength.

In the acquisition of Ceylon, we
have obtained the greatest of all our
wants a good harbour. For it is a
very singular fact, that, in the whole
peninsula of India, Bombay is alone
capable of affording a safe retreat to
ships during the period of the mon-
soons.

The geographical figure of our
possessions in Ceylon is whimsical
enough; we possess the whole of the
sea-coast, and enclose in a periphery
the unfortunate King of Candia,
whose rugged and mountainous do-
minions may be compared to a coarse
mass of iron, set in a circle of silver.
The Popilian ring, in which this votary
of Buddha has been so long held by
the Portuguese and Dutch, has infused
the most vigilant jealousy into the



government, and rendered it as diffi-
cult to enter the kingdom of Candia,
as if it were Paradise or China ; and
yet, once there, always there ; for the
difficulty of departing is just as great
as the difficulty of arriving ; and his
Candian Excellency, who has used
every device in his power to keep them
out, is seized with such an affection
for those who baffle his defensive
artifices, that he can on no account
suffer them to depart. He has been
known to detain a string of four or
five Dutch embassies, till various mem-
bers of the legation died of old age at
his court, while they were expecting
an answer to their questions, and a re-
turn to their presents *: and his Majesty
once exasperated a little French am-
bassador to such a degree, by the
various pretences under which he kept
him at his court, that this lively
member of the Corps Diplomatique,
one day, in a furious passion, attacked
six or seven of his Majesty's largest
elephants sword in hand, and would,
in all probability, have reduced them
to mince-meat, if the poor beasts had
not been saved from the unequal
combat.

The best and most ample account
of Ceylon is contained in the narrative
of Robert Knox, who in the middle of
the 17th century, was taken prisoner
there (while refitting his ship) at the
age of nineteen, and remained nineteen
years on the island, in slavery to the
King of Candia. During this period,
he learnt the language, and acquired
a thorough knowledge of the people.
The account he has given of them is
extremely entertaining, and written in
a very simple and unaffected style ; so
much so, indeed, that he presents his
reader with a very grave account of
the noise the devil makes in the woods
of Candia, and of the frequent oppor-
tunities he has had of hearing him.

Mr. Percival does not pretend to
deal with the devil ; but appears to
have used the fair and natural re-
sources of observation and good sense,
to put together an interesting descrip-
tion of Ceylon. There is nothing in
the book very animated, or very pro-
* Kuox's Ceylon.



ISLAND OF CEYLON.



39



found, but it is without pretensions ;
and if it does not excite attention by
any unusual powers of description, it
never disgusts by credulity, wearies by
prolixity, or offends by affectation. It
is such an account as a plain military



Online LibrarySydney SmithThe works of Rev. Sydney Smith : including his contributions to the Edinburgh Review (Volume 1) → online text (page 7 of 66)