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Featured Poem: Recipe for a Salad by Sydney Smith

Written by The Reader, 22nd May 2017

This week's poem comes from English writer and Anglican priest Sydney Smith who became renowned with US homemakers for his rhyming recipe for salad dressing in Recipe for a Salad.

Born in 1771, Sydney Smith was an Anglican priest, a teacher, a writer and founder of the Edinburgh Review. As a preacher he was hugely popular, regularly drawing standing-room-only crowds.

Smith was a liberal thinker, championing women's rights, opposing slavery and advocating for "common sense".

Born in Essex, Smith was the son of a merchant, Robert Smith who was described as "very clever, odd by nature, but still more off by design" and is credited with having owned 19 different estates in England at various points of his life. Smith's mother, Maria Olier, was of French descent and suffered from epilepsy. As a youngster, Sydney and his three brothers distinguished themselves as a remarkable intellects, with Smith himself rising to be school captain at Winchester College.

In 1789 Smith went on to New College, Oxford where received a scholarship and obtained a Master of Arts degree in 1796. His interest in becoming a lawyer was dampened by his father, who compelled Smith to take holy orders. Ordained in Oxford in 1796, he became the curate of a village called Netheravon in Salisbury Plain. His efforts to improve education and general living standards there were celebrated, and led to his becoming tutor to the son of the parish squire Michael Hicks-Beach.

Smith accompanied the boy to Edinburgh in 1798 and while the pupil attended lectures, he studied moral philosophy, medicine and chemistry. He also began preaching as an Episcopal chapel, proving a popular speaker. This led to Smith publishing his first book, Six Sermons, preached in Charlotte Street Chapel, Edinburgh, two years later.

In the same year her married Catharine Amelia Pybus, against her friends' wishes, and settled on George Street. During his five year residence in the city, Smith was to make numerous friends who would go on to become writers for the Edinburgh Review, the publication he founded and edited in 1802.

Though he left Edinburgh soon after, Smith continued to write for the Review for a quarter of a century, and was credited as it's main element of success. Having settled in London, Smith began preaching again, in Berkley Chapel in Mayfair, at the Foundling Hospital and Fitzroy Chapel. He also began lecturing at the Royal Institution to great reception.

Smith's views were thought to be radical at the time but have proved to be in line with the progressive thinking which would shape the future - education for women, abolition of slavery, the teaching of practical subjects instead of the classics. The brilliance of his lectures was often lost to future audiences as would throw them in the fire after use. His wife managed to rescue some of the charred manuscripts, publishing them in 1850 as Elementary Sketches of Moral Philosophy.

The early 1800s brought Smith to Yorkshire to serve as curate at Foston-le-Clay where he wrote a great deal on the subject of Catholic emancipation which found its way into publication under the pseudonym Peter Plymley as A Letter on the Subject of the Catholics to my brother Abraham who lives in the Country. The pamphlet proved popular at the time and has secured a place in literary history for it's eloquence and style.

As a curate he won the hearts of his parishioners, rebuilt the rectory and kept a farm of 300 acres - all of which inspired his contributions to the Edinburgh Review.

After twenty year in Yorkshire he moved to Taunton, taking on a role at Bristol Cathedral. Although he was expected to be made bishop, the role never materialised with Prime Minister William Melbourne against appointing him. It was thought that Smith, who championed parliamentary reform, was too liberal in his views, and not well enough read in theology.

Smith inherited £50,000 on the death of his brother, giving him a comfortable, independent living for the remainder of his life. His daughter Saba, married Sir Henry Holland and though his son Douglas died young in 1829, Smith's later years were said to be cheerful, as his writings from the time, Three Letters to Archdeacon Singleton... and  Petition and Letters on the repudition of debts... demonstrated.

Smith passed away in his London home in 1845, a celebrated writer and lecturer. It's thought that his character inspired Jane Austen's romantic hero Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey. He is often quoted in English literature and is remembered by American homemakers for his rhyming recipe for salad dressing, which serves as our Featured Poem this week.


Recipe for a Salad

To make this condiment your poet begs
The pounded yellow of two hard-boil'd eggs;
Two boiled potatoes, passed through kitchen sieve,
Smoothness and softness to the salad give.
Let onion atoms lurk within the bowl,
And, half-suspected, animate the whole.
Of mordant mustard add a single spoon,
Distrust the condiment that bites so soon;
But deem it not, thou man of herbs, a fault
To add a double quantity of salt;
Four times the spoon with oil of Lucca crown,
And twice with vinegar procur'd from town;
And lastly o'er the flavour'd compound toss
A magic soupçon of anchovy sauce.
Oh, green and glorious! Oh, herbaceous treat!
Twould tempt the dying anchorite to eat;
Back to the world he'd turn his fleeting soul,
And plunge his fingers in the salad-bowl!
Serenely full, the epicure would say,
`Fate cannot harm me, I have dined today.'
Sydney Smith

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