Logan Pearsall Smith, the aphorist and memoirist, was born on October 18, 1865. I have been a fan of his odd, pithy, perfectly shaped little prose pieces for years, but he seems mostly to be forgotten today.
He was enchanted by words, both as a reader and a writer. “Yes there is a meaning; at least for me, there is one thing that matters – to set a chime of words tinkling in the minds of a few fastidious people,” he wrote. And, “People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading.”
A typical example of his style is this aphorism: “The wretchedness of being rich is that you live with rich people. To suppose, as we all suppose, that we could be rich and not behave as the rich behave, is like supposing that we could drink all day and stay sober.”
He was born in Millville, New Jersey, to a prominent Quaker family. He graduated from Harvard University and then Oxford. He lived in England from his mid-twenties until his death in 1946 at the age of 80, becoming a British subject in 1913.
He was an unabashed Anglophile. “Coronets and great houses made him shiver with pleasure,” said one critic.
He wrote books on language usage, Shakespeare, Milton, John Donne and was an expert on 17th century clergymen. His lasting appeal lies in his two books of aphorisms and sketches, Trivia and More Trivia, his autobiography Forgotten Years, and his posthumously published letters, Chime of Words.
He was part of the Bloomsbury set. One of his sisters was married to Bertrand Russell, another to Bernard Berenson. Virginia Woolf for some reason couldn’t stand Smith and ridicules him repeatedly in her Diaries and based the character Nicholas Greene (a sneering and backstabbing poet) in Orlando on him.
Smith can be a bit precious at times, but usually he is direct and full of optimism.
One aphorism in particular sums him up. “There are two things to aim at in life; first to get what you want, and after that to enjoy it. Only the wisest of mankind has achieved the second.”