James and Horace Smith
The occasion of their happy jeu d'esprit was the rebuilding of Drury Lane theatre in 1812, after a fire in which it had been burnt down. The managers had offered a prize of 50 for an address to be recited at the reopening in October. Six weeks before that date the happy thought occurred to the brothers Smith of feigning that the most popular poets of the time had been among the competitors and assuing a volume of unsuccessful addresses in parody of their various styles. They divided the task between them, James taking William Wordsworth, Robert Southey, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and George Crabbe, while George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, Thomas Moore, Walter Scott and Bowles were assigned to Horace.
Seven editions were called for within three months. The Rejected Addresses are the most widely popular parodies ever published in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and take classical rank in literature. The brothers fairly divided the honors: the elder brother's Wordsworth is evenly balanced by the younger's Scott, and both had a hand in Byron. A striking feature is the absence of malice; none of the poets caricatured took offence, while the imitation is so clever that both Byron and Scott are recorded to have said that they could hardly believe they had not written the addresses ascribed to them.
The only other undertaking of the two brothers was Horace in London (1813). James Smith made another hit in writing Country Cousins, A Trip to Paris, A Trip to America, and other lively skits for Charles Mathews, who said he was "the only man who can write clever nonsense." His social reputation as a wit stood high. He was reputed one of the best of talkers in an age when the art was studied, and it was remarked that he held his own without falling into the great error of wits sarcasm. But in his old age the irreverent Fraser's put him in its gallery of living portraits as a gouty and elderly but painstaking joker. He died in London on the 24th of December 1839.
After making a fortune as a stockbroker, Horace Smith followed in the wake of Scott and wrote about a score of historical novels Brambletye House (1826), Tor Hill (1826), Reuben Apsley (1827), Zillah (1828), The New Forest (1829), Walter Colylon (1830), etc. His sketches of eccentric character are brilliant and amusing; but he was more of an essayist than a story-teller. Three volumes of Gaieties and Gravities, published by him in 1826, contain many witty essays both in prose and in verse, but the only single piece that has taken a permanent place is the Address to the Mummy in Belzoni's Exhibition.
In private life Horace Smith was not less popular than his brother, though less ambitious as a talker. It was of him that Percy Bysshe Shelley said: "Is it not odd that the only truly generous person I ever knew who had money enough to be generous with should be a stockbroker? He writes poetry and pastoral dramas and yet knows how to make money, and does make it, and is still generous." Horace Smith died at Tunbridge Wells on 12 July 1849.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
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