Smith was the funny man of England in the first half
of the 19th
century. His letters and bon mots were legion and hilarious. Among his
host of correspondents were Daniel Webster, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens,
and hundreds of others. He was a Minister in the Church of England but I
must say he had some highly irreverent things to say about bishops and other
One of his quotes I especially liked - "Don't mind
Jeffrey, Only last week he was heard to make insulting remarks about the
His greatest and longest running satirical battle
was with the
board of directors of the Great Western Railway that ran west out of
Paddington. He was finally denounced in Parliament as a Coward by some
Colonel Blimp, one of the Directors. All this occurred in about 1845 when
railways were in their infancy. It seems there was a great train wreck
in Paris in which hundreds were roasted to death in a fiery train crash.
Our friend wanted to force the Directors to unlock the doors on the
coaches of the GW so that the passengers could all leap to safety when
the train crashed (which they frequently did in those days). He claimed
that only idiots would open the doors and jump out when the carriage was
in motion at the breathtaking speed of 30 mph and we might be just as
well off without them. The railway had in fact left one door in each coach
open for such emergencies but Smith decried the possibility that the coach
might overturn on the side of the unlocked door thereby trapping people
in the fiery aftermath. The Director's argument that "off side doors
certainly could not be left open as the passengers might leap out into
the path of an oncoming train approaching from the other direction."
Smith noted that should the coach catch fire and he should find himself on
the off side he would quickly head for the embankment not only to avoid
the oncoming train which might not come along for a half hour or so but
also to avoid being toasted to a light brown by the raging fire of the burning
Smith felt that the safety regulations would never
until someone with at least the rank of a Bishop suffered immolation.
He said we would all regret the loss of such an eminent person but
the public gain might make it worth it.
Another quote of his "Daniel Webster is like a steam
I hope you enjoyed the tale. Most of it has been
Smith's writings. Consult Bartlett's Familiar Quotations for more Smith
material - sadly too brief.
P.S. I never found the quote I needed but I
did check out
one of his two books (there is only one for check out. I read the other
in Special Collections).